Friday, August 31, 2012

The Rock of Polynesia

"The Savage Island." Those are the names that have been associated with Niue (pronounced New-ay). Niue is the world's smallest independent nation sitting quite on it's own in the vast Pacific Ocean. That's where we are now safely tied to a sturdy mooring ball in perfectly clear water. It was a six day voyage (two days longer than anticipated) and a pretty tough one. It is good to be tied up to one of the 20 moorings provided by the Niue yacht Club (for a daily fee). There are 16 other sailboats here as well and it seems to be a place where people come and go the company will change.

We had to get our first clearance into the harbor through "Niue Radio" and then made an appointment to meet customs at the dock. Another boat had arrived late yesterday afternoon, so we coordinated out efforts to clear in together. Because the 259 square km Niue is one of the world's largest raised coral atolls or "makatea" - there is a fringing reef right against the island. And now, thanks to multiple volcanoes and plate shifting, the edge of the island is now quite high. That leaves little to no place to dock a dinghy – and certainly there is nowhere to drag it ashore. So when you go into the town pier, you tie your dinghy to a lift and climb up the stairs, and press a button and a crane lifts your dinghy out of the water and you move it to a "parking space" atop the pier. This is all a service provided by Niue. Barbara was nervous that our old dinghy wouldn't be able to handle the weight of the outboard and fuel on the lift and the dock didn't seem all that far. So we rowed in – and it was further than it looked! Rowing a rubber duckie isn't that easy – especially after six days at sea and a steady wind against you. But, we managed to get it to the pier and lift it out safely. We waited for quite some time for the customs agent to arrive in his truck and we did that portion of the clearing in process in the dinghy parking area. Keith, the Commodore of the Niue Yacht Club also came down to meet us – he is a gregarious New Zealander who has lived on Niue for about six years. He was very helpful with information. He then drove us on a quick tour of downtown Alofi – the main town on the island of 14 villages. He dropped us off at the Police station which is also immigration to finish our clearing in process. We then roamed through the town and had a wonderful lunch at Falala Fa (translates to Four Sisters). The currency here is New Zealand dollars. We then continued with the errands of arrival - sign up for internet (not very fast) and checked the exchange rates of US dollars for NZ dollars at a few places. The best deal was the "Bond Store" or the liquor store. So we had to buy a bit of beer and got the change in NZ dollars.

Niue is a breeding ground for the humpback whales and soon after we arrived, we heard two dive boats on the radio. "There is a whale right n front of you – I'm stopping to drift away from her and her calf." It is illegal to get too close to them and the other week in the mooring field, a whale got tangled in one of the mooring lines of a sailboat. The folks weren't on board (luckily probably). A lot of damage was done to the boat (a Hunter) with cleats torn out and the bow roller (that holds the anchor) torn off as well. The whale finally got away without breaking the mooring free from the several ton weight underwater. We want to see the humpbacks and hope we do – just not such a close encounter!

Tomorrow, we are renting a car with another boat and will tour the island. This is a place where there are lots of limestone caverns, sea caves, reef pools, grottos and rugged landscape. Good walking shoes needed! We'll get a good night's rest hopefully and be ready for some serious exploration tomorrow.

Another country...another adventure.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wind Woes: Part Two

After the previous entry was written, but not posted...things changed big time aboard the good ship Astarte. We've learned to be careful what you wish. On Sunday evening's radio net, hosted by Michael, another boat heading towards Niue reported big winds and seas. We saw lots of squally clouds and dark skies as well so we took down the whisker pole and reefed in the main. Just in time. The wind picked up pretty quickly to 20 to 25 knots with gusts to 30 and seas built to almost three meters. It was a difficult night with a big and noisy wind constantly howling and seas tossing us about. It was hard to move below decks. But Astarte handled it all quite well – the boat handles things better than the crew.

These winds continued for the entire next day. It seems a convergence zone has settled over this part of the Pacific. It is now Tuesday morning as I write this, the wind has finally settled to 15 to 20 and the seas are down to two meters. It is still rolling quite a bit but at least the waves are no longer breaking over the decks. Our dodger sure got tested in this crossing as did all the knots tying things on the deck. The rain has stopped and it is a sunny day – and that should make the salty decks, canvas, solar panels – well just about everything, dry out and get nice and "crispy." We'll need a good rain to help wash all the salt off (Just as I wrote this, a big wave just crashed over and came below decks because we had just put the door away thinking that nonsense had ended!)

We are less than 80 miles from Niue, but we'll have to be out one more night as we won't make it in before dark. Niue Yacht Club, where we'll be tied to a mooring, is incredibly friendly and responsive. We contacted them about a week ago, and Keith the Commodore of the Yacht Club sends us daily mooring ball counts, weather and friendly information. We are really looking forward to getting there and meeting him. We hope there will be space when we arrive (there are 20 mooring balls and as of the last count there are 18 boats there and we know one will beat us in later today).

It's been a rough few nights and we'll be glad to be on a mooring ball to get some sleep and see this lovely island nation.

Wind Woes

When we are anchorage and want calm winds – we get 20 plus knots. Now we are on a 550 mile passage from Suwarrow in the Cook Islands to Niue, and we have less than 8 knots. We are a toy boat in the big Pacific tub and someone is just splashing away, rolling us around but not pushing us forward! The last 24 hours we have barely gone two knots. The sails are just slatting about. At one point last night, the banging sails got to be too much and we just pulled them in and drifted with a very small sliver of headsail poled out.

The forecast has a convergence coming though and unfortunately we may get the other extreme starting tomorrow. The skies are clouding up now and perhaps it's the start of more squally, stormy weather. Of course the forecast before we left had given us the hopeful news of a nice 15 to 18 knot breeze out of the ESE – perfect for a nice reach to Niue. Haven't seen that...but at least last night we had no squalls.

So we roll around and listen to the boat creak and groan as we rock back and forth in the seas. When we move forward the roll is less uncomfortable – and the boat seems less creaky. It's hard to cook or take on projects when you're rolling this much. So the days are spent listening to the morning and evening radio net, reading, getting a log entry done every so often and looking for whales. Because we caught that giant mahi – we aren't even fishing (though we are going so slow, it's rather doubtful we'd be catching). We eat a big meal at noonish and graze the rest of the meals.

Thanks for the "Isaac" updates. We appreciate all the news – it keeps us entertained on passages.

We continue to plod along...

Friday, August 24, 2012

425 Miles to Go to Niue

So ignore the previous entry...because we finally did leave on Thursday as planned – just a bit later. The weather had cleared enough to get underway and because we had officially cleared out and the weather looked like it would be the same for the next four days – we thought we should just get the anchor up and leave. "Ants, the ranger, brought back the pan from the stew, so it saved us launching our dinghy. Michael dove the anchor and thought it would come up relatively easily (it was hooked on one small edge of a coral), so we got everything stored, tied and secured above and below deck.

Just before noon, we got the anchor up – with a little snag – but it all worked out without too much drama. The sun had come out so we had good visibility to negotiate the reef and pass We made it out the cut under motor and mainsail. Once clear of the reef we shut the motor off and put the headsail out (reefed) and were under way. There were squalls in the area, so we sailed with a double reefed main and a small headsail. The seas were about two meters and coming from two directions so it was somewhat rolly. But we were underway and glad to be moving. We had a few minor showers through the night – but nothing big.

Just after sunrise, FISH ON! Barbara had put out one line after the sun came up and we hooked a very large mahi. It was one of the largest we had caught. A nice big mahi caught and landed before 0830 local time. Cleaned before 0930. It filled the remaining space in the freezer and we'll have a nice mahi dinner tonight (and for many, many nights to come).

Now we just sail and click off the miles. No more fishing – no room in the fridge. Bummer. We think we'll arrive sometime Tuesday to the smallest independent nation in the world and one of the breeding places for humpback whales.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rain Delay

In reality, it's more than rain. It is very squally and stormy right now over the Suwarrow atoll and surrounding waters. We have officially cleared out with Cook Island Ranger Harry yesterday (Wednesday) with our intended departure today. But it was very windy, rainy and stormy all night long and remains so this morning. No reason to leave in this nastiness.

Last night the boats all moved in new directions with the wind coming from all points at various times. We got close to a nearby catamaran, but still far enough for comfort. We were a bit surprised in the more crowded part of the anchorage, we didn't hear more radio chatter. It is a tight anchorage and the boats have all tended to go to one corner to get out of the fetch of the waves. They set their anchors in the predominant wind (ESE). So these strange directions can put boats on top of each other. Add to the mix of changing winds, the stray large bommie – and chains that are intended to be 150 feet long are suddenly now wrapped and only 50 feet long. So it makes for an interesting place to be on a squally night. But it seemed to be a calm night even in a storm!

We are getting ready for the next long trek from Suwarrow to Niue – about 550 miles. It should take us five days if we have decent wind. We want to get an early start when we leave – but with all this wind change, Michael does need to dive the anchor and make sure we are now not wrapped around any coral. We have our anchor floats on – but where the anchor is could have some issues. We also need to do a last run to shore to pick up a pan (Barbara made a beef stew last night and shared it with the park rangers who crave beef!) Then we'll roll the dinghy up on deck and be on our way.

So it's the waiting game now! Also, we hear a hurricane is heading to Tampa – hope our home survives. Without internet – we can't track it!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Suwarrow Social Scene

For a remote island in the middle of the Pacific, we've done more partying and socializing than we did in the hip and populated mecca of Bora Bora! This place is really special because so few boats come here and you can only get here by some type of boat So, that when here, you become part of a special "club." Though a record number of boats were at anchor here (21 at one time), it still has that special ambiance of a deserted, or at least remote, island. Last night on the island we built one of those very special memories. There are 15 boats now at anchor from lots of different places. There is a Dutch boat "Victory", a Norwegian sailboat "Flow", Australians aboard "LongYard", and "LaFiesta", Canadians on "Lady Bug", Germans aboard "Moin", a South African/Australian/NZ boat "Adventure Bound", and a group of US boats, many with crew from various places (Argentinians, Aussies, Kiwis etc.). So a wonderful international mix that adds a special flavor to every port. A Saturday night soiree was planned ashore – yes, actually planned more than a day in advance! Michael and Chris from Lady Bug collected firewood from the island all morning, cooks aboard all the boats made sumptuous treats for the potluck, beverages were chilled and fish were caught. A big banner was made that every boat signed to commemorate the record breaking 21 boats and it will hang in the "Suwarrow Yacht Club" (an open veranda ashore). The rangers were in a festive mood as well and Harry, the head ranger did a traditional Cook Island greeting that was quite elaborate and vocal. He and "Ants" the other ranger also played guitar and sang most of the night with some of the boaters dancing to their music which was a blend of traditional Cook Island melodies as well as old rock 'n roll, reggae and shanties. The food was incredible – the best potluck we've ever attended! There were two birthday cakes for those celebrating their special day within a week. The fire kept blazing all night and after the fish was cooked and shared, marshmallows were roasted, and the embers and smoke kept any daring mosquito at bay. The glow of the fire, the music, the laughter, the food, the laughs all made for one of the most memorable nights we've had since cruising. We even managed to stay past cruisers' midnight.

We got soaked heading back to the boat around 10 pm and had a very rock and rolling night because the seas had kicked up and the wind howled staying above 20 knots most of the night. When we came in we didn't go far enough in the lee of the island due to all the boats here and we've been reluctant to move because of all the bommies. So we get rocked pretty good in the swell.

This afternoon we are going to "Victory" for some dominoes because it is just to windy to go snorkeling1 We are starting to look at weather to make our trip to Niue...probably Tuesday.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Customer Service Kudos to Gill

Three cheers to Gill! We had rain jackets (that we really liked) that were no longer rain repellant and sent them back to Gill...and they supported their product! Thank you Gill. The same can't be said for Panasonic regarding their underwater Lumix camera (still under warranty)! Gill - you have loyal customers because you understand true customer service and make a really good product.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Swimming in an Aquarium

That's what it's like here in Suwarrow! Yesterday, we went on another snorkel adventure to a spot a few miles away from the anchorage. There are patch coral reefs everywhere within the lagoon and this spot was highly recommended by the advance team on "Chapter Two." Because it was a nice calm and sunny day, several dinghies of snorkelers and some divers headed in the same direction. The area we found was alive with coral, tropical fish and some nice sized groupers. The structures were interesting pinnacles of coral separated by a white sandy bottom. All kind of interesting and colorful fish could be found – especially if you just hovered over one stand of coral and really looked. A "Wedgetail Triggerfish" was the find of the day for Barbara. It was the most exotic looking piece of artwork!

After one spot, we went on to another reef a bit further away and enjoyed another swim in the aquarium-like waters. It really is a treat to see such lovely coral and fish.

Several days ago, we took a trip to a different reef and swam with the most magnificent Manta Rays. We did this twice in Bora Bora, but here, the water was much clearer and the mantas were much larger. There were three putting on quite a show. One was massive – probably reaching 17 or so feet across his wingspan. When they would swim at you with their huge mouths open – it is quite a sight – though a tad frightening. You are glad to know they only eat plankton because it looks like you could easily get sucked into that gaping mouth. The largest was all black with very few markings. Another had a lovely white design on its back and brilliant silver white flaps protruding on the edge of its mouth The last had subtler markings. All were distinct and beautiful in "flight."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Day of Exploring

What a great day we had yesterday! We went on an all day adventure with Suwarrow Park Ranger "Ants" (Anthony) and a group of cruisers. We had arranged for the trip several days ago and we lucked out with the perfect weather day. You cannot go to other motus or distant parts of the lagoon area without being accompanied by a ranger. Seven of us loaded into the Ranger's aluminum launch and several other boats loaded into their rubber dinghies to follow. We had 19 people total (with an additional five that came over later). We went across the lagoon to Seven Island. That's the name. It was another beautiful island with white sandy beaches, incredible blue waters and palm trees. Another idyllic landscape. We arrived and had to pull the launch over the shallows. Then people spread out. Some went exploring the beach and others (including us) went out to the reefs to snorkel. Some dinghies even brought dive gear to dive the deeper ledges. The snorkeling was in some of the clearest water we had ever seen. The corals are very alive, healthy and varied. The structure was really interesting with a large mass of coral surrounded by lots of coral pinnacles and various sized and shaped structures. There were some interesting fish we hadn't seen before and we really enjoyed the time in the water, We swam/walked back to the island and enjoyed our lunch we brought along (and shared with Ants – the ranger not the insects). Several people then went "hunting." The prey were giant coconut crabs. These are considered an island delicacy and we had never tried them before. They are truly ugly creatures – right out of an alien movie or prehistoric times. They have giant claws and long legs and come in a variety of colors from bright blue to various shades of reds and oranges. They are land crabs that live under the coconut palms and feed on the coconuts. They are strong enough to break open the coconuts with their claws and they eat the meat.

The crew managed to find and catch six very large ones . The smaller that were found and captured were let free to grow up. The large ones were close to two feet long They were secured in buckets (and they had to be secured as they are strong enough to lift off the lids). After our day of snorkeling, hiking, hunting and lunching on Seven Island, we went off again to check out an old wreck on the reef. It was high and dry so we decided not to snorkel around it. So the adventure continued to "Gull" Island. This is a bird rookery and we carefully went ashore. This was a magnificent sight as it is now breeding season. The birds nesting on this island included giant frigates, terns, gannets, two varieties of boobies, the masked boobie and the red footed boobie. Some of the birds built nests in the bushes and trees, others laid their eggs right on the sand under bushes and others simply placed their eggs on the coral rocks. We saw all ages and sizes of birds The baby frigates and boobies were just fluff balls with beaks and eyes. They would just sit there and kind of look awed or stunned. The small spotted terns who were still unable to fly, were running around in the underbrush. The mother birds were flying around us kwacking – surely telling us to leave their island. We saw a frigate that had just hatched out the egg – not even covered with fuzz yet. Some birds were in various stages of learning to fly and would give a leap into the air and try to get their wings to work and land hard on the ground – but they would persistently try again and again. It was a wonderful experience to see so many nesting birds of all varieties on the same island. Hope for the future of the bird populations!

From this spot, we reloaded into the launch and went to seek out another reef and snorkel spot. We found one near the entrance to the lagoon and jumped in (Michael not as gracefully and hit his leg pretty hard against the aluminum boat – it sounded like it hurt! It did!) Again, we had incredible visibility and saw a wonderful variety of beautiful fish including a Guineafowl Puffer (Arothron meleagris), Trumpetfish, more of the wonderful Sailfin Tangs, Longnose Butterflyfish, Humpnose Unicornfish, Moorish Idols, and a few sharks to make the snorkel exciting. It was another nice reef – healthy, varied and colorful.

From there we headed back to Anchorage Island. We offloaded all our stuff and the crabs and paid our debts (it was $5 per person and a little gasoline – a bargain!)

A potluck (which seems to be a nightly feature here) on the island was planned where the crabs would be grilled. When we went to shore, the fire was blazing and the crabs were nervous! The crabs were big enough that one crab would take up the entire grill that covered the fire. Luckily each crab took only about five minutes to cook with "Ants" as the evening's crab chef and handling the crabs with asbestos fingers! He would flip them over with bare hands and remove them to a wooden board where he'd de-claw and crack them with a hammer. Everyone then grabbed a bit and enjoyed this very tasty treat. Some said they tasted just like coconuts – but we didn't taste that flavor. It was a nice white crab – rich and tasty. Along with the crab there were lots of other tasty treats on the table so it was another wonderful potluck meal.

The whales seem to be a regular feature in the lagoon. The other day we saw more whales – this time we clearly saw three whales – one of which was a very small baby. Very cool.

The time here is quite special and though there are lots of boats (a new anchorage record of 19 boats was hit today). The good news is even with all these boats we do have room and everyone is quite friendly, social and interesting. It is an international crowd and we are enjoying meeting new folks.

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Whales in the Lagoon

This morning an announcement on the radio, "yachties, look to the west and you'll see a sperm whale playing in the lagoon." A few hours later anther call, "yachties, look towards the entrance of the lagoon and you'll see a pod of humpbacks coming in." The park ranger "Ants" (Anthony) was making the announcements and you could look out and spot the whales. We did see the giant sperm whale leap out of the water (amazing that something that big can actually leave the water) and then saw as he (or she) did lots of tail flaps, splashing up big spray. Whales inside the lagoon is pretty cool! We couldn't spot the humpbacks though...bummer.

Suwarrow is a magical place – but it is very windy! And that constant heavy breeze does unfortunately also make where we are anchored quite an uncomfortable as the waves roll in. So the key is to get off the boat and go exploring. Yesterday we snorkeled from the boat to a nearby reef. A few of the local reef sharks accompanied us on the trip. The coral here is some of the healthiest and most varied that we've seen so far. And the fish – wow! The colors, shapes, designs and numbers of them are incredible. We saw We saw Pacific Sailfin Tangs displaying their large dorsal fin, a very shy Regal Angelfish hiding in its hole, the incredibly designed Achilles Tang which is dark black with vibrant orange markings on its tail and back. The vibrant Striped Surgeonfish that looks like an artist went crazy and not a real fish. There are so many bright colors and weird shapes it really is hard to capture with words (and with no underwater camera anymore(curse Panasonic!) – words are all we have!) It was a very pleasant snorkel and we're told that the reef we went on is not very good compared to other places around here!

We also got to Anchorage Islet, the one motu people are allowed to visit. It is where the ranger station is located and a gathering spot for the boats. There is the Suwarrow Yacht Club (a ramshackle structure with lots of flags signed by cruisers), many palm trees, a memorial to author Tom Neale who wrote a book about living on Suwarrow as a hermit for many years, and a small building with lots of posters of the local fish, whales etc. and a book exchange. Across the island on the windward side is "Shark Bay" and a giant "Danger No Swimming" sign. You could instantly see why! Many, many sharks were circling in water that was barely deep enough to hold them. It is here that the rangers feed the sharks daily with the remains of their fish cleaning. So we won't be swimming there!

We'll explore the island more over the next week or so. Last evening (Friday), we had Harry and Anthony, the two rangers, over to Astarte for a dinner. It was a good chance to get to know them and learn more about this incredible place. When we asked them what they would like for dinner – the answer was anything but fish! They are sick of fish and chips, fish curry, fish stew, fish chow mien, fish and rice, grilled fish....they listed every fish making style possible. And at dinner, we learned why! It seems, they have been waiting for their supplies to come since they arrived here. They are supposed to be getting a refrigerator along with the frozen meat they purchased in early June. It has not yet arrived, and they actually think it may never arrive! So they are making do with lots of fish and local coconut crabs as well as some tinned food. They generosity of cruising boats also helps as there are regular (almost daily) potlucks on shore. The rangers usually provide some fish and the cruisers bring lots of additional dishes to share. They did seem to enjoy a non-fish feast aboard Astarte – complete with a decadent filled chocolate cupcake dessert.

We enjoyed learning about them, the islands, their country and life in this place. It was a memorable evening. We mentioned that the Olympics were taking place in London right now, and it made us realize how remote this atoll really is. They didn't know, and yet their interest in what was happening at the Olympics was intense. They wanted to know how the various countries were doing. We didn't have many details (other than what Kathryn shared with us). We also know its the Olympics because many of our regular "readers" and writers have been silent for awhile. Everyone must be hooked to their TVs!

We get whales – you get synchronized swimming!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Atoll Life

Suwarrow Atoll is in the middle of the Cook Island group – and really in the middle of nowhere. Part of the "Northern" Cook Islands it is a National Park with two rangers who call this place home about eight months of the year. They close it down during the heart of the Southern Hemisphere's tropical cyclone season (December to March). The atoll is nine by eleven nautical miles with only about 100 acres of land area on the very low - lying islets. Much of the land area as well as the fringing reef is awash during heavy seas.

The two rangers here now are Harry and Anthony (who calls himself "Ant"). They really are two very different fellows. Harry is very serious and official; Ant is the more social and fun-loving one. They came aboard Astarte after our arrival and were very nice. The Cook Islands, like many of the island groups we've visited, love their paperwork and there were plenty of various forms to fill out and sign. After we handed over our $50 US, got a receipt (quite unusual), offered a beer to our ranger guests, we were completed with the clearance formalities. We will hopefully get to know the rangers better over the next few weeks here.

Anchoring here was almost more challenging than getting here! The anchorage is a small area, near one motu where you are allowed to anchor – called appropriately "Anchorage Islet." It is surrounded by a coral reef but quite deep in most areas and there are bommies everywhere. Some spots have coral heads in abundance. And in other deeper spots – they are either harder to see or there are fewer of them. There are already ten other boats at anchor, so finding the perfect spot took us some time. Because we are in the midst of coral heads, we deployed our anchor float system. We are in about 30 feet of water, lots of bommies and running about 150 feet of chain. We had to do the anchor dance twice in order to get settled where we wanted to be. Michael than dove the anchor and was greeted by five sharks when he got in the water (where is "anchor boy" when you need him?)

The water here is wonderfully clear. You can sit aboard and watch the sharks swim around. Once we were safely anchored we took the "after six days afloat" deep breathe and relaxed. This is a spot that you can do just that – relax. It is incredibly beautiful. We face a sandy beached island filled with palm trees. There is crystal clear water all around in varying hues of blue. The breeze makes the temperature comfortable. The crashing of waves over the reefs is a pleasant sound and adds to the ambiance. This is a spot many of our friends have said "is the highlight of our South Pacific cruising." There are snorkeling spots galore around the various reefs – including one spot nearby that the manta rays regularly visit. And here, because the water is much clearer than Bora Bora – it should be even better viewing if we're lucky enough to see them. So we'll look forward to exploring what's beneath the water a lot while here. We will also hope to get to go with the rangers on some of the trips they provide to other motus (you can't go by yourself).

The boat is getting put back in order after the passage. It was a good passage overall. We sailed the entire way once out of the Bora Bora pass. Of course motoring into the one narrow Suwarrow entrance. We caught our first Yellow Fin tuna which is mighty tasty, and only lost one lure (unfortunately the one that brought in the yellow fin!) Something just bit it off as we were coming towards Suwarrow. The windvane "Otis" did most of the steering (about 95%) and he wandered a bit as is his style, but overall did okay. Heavy seas seem to be a problem for the Astarte and Otis combination, we think because we get tossed around the stern quite a bit with the following steeper waves.

We are settled into a little piece of paradise – and after a really good night's sleep, some boat projects, and a bit of cooking, we'll enjoy the company of our "advance team" friend's from SV Chapter Two tonight.

Life is good – sharks and all!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Anchored in Suwarrow

We arrived in Suwarrow about 1300 local time and took an hour finding just the right spot between coral bommies. We have "cleared in", which translates to a $50US Park fee and some paperwork to fill out. Will miss the pot luck tonight on shore, because we are looking forward to more than 3 hours of continuous sleep. Will add more details later.

Pacific Critters

As of noon local time, Tuesday, August 7, we have about 120 miles to go to our Cook Island destination. As of this "Day Five" it has been a pleasant trip, though as is usual for us, a bit too much rolling sea. But the sun has been shining, the wind is consistent enough for us to go about 5 knots and all is good aboard the good ship Astarte

The good news is we caught a good size yellow fin tuna yesterday late afternoon. It was wild. We hooked three tunas all at once – well, one shook off but another instantly re-hit the lure. We must have luckily floated right into a feeding frenzy of yellow fins. Both the lines were buzzing, fish were jumping high out of the water and we were scrambling to land at least one of these tasty treats. We tied off the hand line and Michael went for the reel which was humming off the spool. A very large fish was trying very hard to get that hook out of its mouth. One managed to get free, but you could see that another instantly bit the lure again. It was a big fish...and managed to bend the hook and almost straighten the split rings of the lure to get free. We had a rapalla lure on the pole (Richard these are similar to some of the ones you brought us – but this was already rigged!). Then we went after the hand line and sure enough the tuna was still hooked here – (the lure was the blue "feather duster" - a blue and white feathered lure with a big eyed plastic head). We snagged him onboard, l did the obligatory photo shoot as proof of the capture and then Michael filleted him. He should provide at least 6 meals.

This morning, the Pacific gave us another treat. A whale surfaced less than 80 feet away from the boat on the starboard side, swimming parallel with us. We think it was a fin whale and it stayed very close to the boat just swimming at the surface effortlessly. It was about the same length as us. Then it disappeared and we didn't know where (a bit nerve wracking as it is a pretty big creature). Then we see him again, on the port side, about 50 feet away from the boat, again just swimming parallel with the boat. It looked like it was surfing the swells. Then it crossed probably less than 20 feet in front of the boat and we lost it. It stayed with us for some time. A very memorable sight.
Little projects are getting done, but mostly we're simply getting from one place to the next doing our three hour watches, baking bread, snacking, fishing, reading, looking for birds, whales and other creatures of the deep. We participate in a morning and afternoon radio net and Michael has been tapped to be a "net controller" tonight. It's been fun keeping up on the pother boats heading in the same direction and those going elsewhere. At this point, we at least know of most of the boats – if we don't know the people personally. There are three boats ahead of us heading to Suwarrow – two should be getting there today and Buena Vista and us will probably reach there tomorrow. We hope we can make it in by tomorrow – if not we'll have to spend another night out waiting for sunlight to get into the atoll. Lots of reef and coral heads to avoid and you need good light to manage that! So we'll be prudent and wait and not push our luck. If we can maintain 5 knots all day and through the night, we'll make it by tomorrow – if we slow down – we'll probably have to spend another night waiting for landfall.

Happy 21st Nathaniel and Christopher.

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cook Bound

No the galley slave is not tied up – but we are headed to a new island group – The Cook Islands. We enjoyed our time in the French Polynesian chain (The Marquesas, The Tuamotus and the Society Islands). After dreaming about them for decades – especially when were living in Oregon, it was nice to have visited them and they lived up to our expectations. When the seas are less rolly and we're inclined to sit below and write a longer log entry, we'll share the highlights of the French Polynesian trip.

For now, we are making a steady 5 nautical miles an hour – or 120 mile days so far (it's a 685 mile trip). We are now flying just our head sail as it is just about a dead downwind sail. The seas are pretty high – around 2.5 to 3 meters and unfortunately (as is our lot in life) not that nice swell spaced at long intervals – but rather kind of a sloppy sea coming from varied directions with wind chop thrown in as well. But at least we're knocking off the miles and making progress. The sun is out and we've had very brief spitting rain every so often. Hope it stays that way for the next few days. We'll take the big seas as long as we have a steady breeze and no bad squalls. (Of course we'd still prefer flatter seas or at least better spaced swells).

We haven't caught any dinner yet – but in fairness to our fishing prowess – we didn't put a line in the first twp days because of the big seas and unsteady sea legs (and unsettled stomachs – cleaning a fish didn't sound so pleasant).

So we are now fishing, sailing and heading to a new destination.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Underway to The Cooks

We posted the last update a couple of days late. We are now, August 3rd, underway to The Cook Islands. We left yesterday. The engine seems to be o.k. At 4:30pm local time about 550nm from Suwarrow. Which we hope will be our first landfall.
Been sailing for two days and making about 5k. We will post more later as we get our sea legs.

A Bad Morning on Astarte

Okay, its not all that bad – we were, after all, at least in Bora Bora in a beautiful anchorage with crystal clear water. We were prepared to leave this idyllic place bright and early to head around the island to get the last fuel and provisions and internet check before taking off to the Cooks. The engine got turned on and then, a horrible noise from the engine compartment. Michael quickly opened the engine room to a terrible sight. The engine was spitting diesel and oil from places where those fluids should not be coming. We quickly turned off the engine. There is that scary moment of thinking that something really bad had happened to our engine – something that looked too big for us (read Michael) to fix ourselves. And we're sitting in an anchorage that to get to the town on the other side we must go through a very narrow, snakelike channel between large stands of coral – a pass that would be hard to sail through.

We restart the engine so Michael can take another look at where the liquid is squirting and make a better assessment of the problem. When we start it – all seems normal. Was it a weird hiccup and now all is well? So we get restarted, pull the anchor up and start moving and then , another big noise and the engine starts to rev very fast. Michael yells to re-drop the anchor and he tries to shut the engine off. It won't turn off – it is revving very fast and spewing black smoke. The fuel shutoff won't turn the engine off so he must go down and cover the air intake to cause the engine to shutdown. The anchor is reset and now Michael has a better idea of what might be the problem. It turns out, we think, that the fuel lift pump had a hole in the diaphragm and was slowly pumping diesel into the crankcase. It apparently is a problem that occurs occasionally. What makes the engine rev, and not stop is an overfull crankcase. Michael had heard of this problem from some mechanic and learned the only good way to stop the engine, is to cut off the air supply. It is always good to talk to mechanics and try and remember what you hear!

Luckily, we have a spare fuel lift pump. Barbara promises to never complain again about the collection of spare parts Michael has aboard. This part we picked up last year and brought back with us. Some folks from a Chilean boat anchored nearby came over to ask if we were okay and if they could help. The engine revving and us re-dropping anchor in this peaceful spot obviously made the neighbors notice. They were very nice but they weren't mechanics and were nice enough to offer moral support. It was nice to hear Spanish again! Michael went back to work and managed to install the new lift pump and change the oil (bummer – he just did this three days earlier) so it cost us another oil filter and more oil. Once it was all back together – we started it up again and it all seemed to work smoothly. So we pulled up the anchor amongst cheers from the neighboring Chilean boat, and we started moving. Then, the yell came from the cockpit, drop the anchor. The engine was again making a noise. So we got the boat re-anchored yet again and Michael went back into the engine room. This time, he was getting air in the line and realized when he thought he re-opened the fuel line, he actually had shut it. So he bled the engine again and it restarted. We pulled the anchor up yet again and started on our way. We kept the anchor ready to drop quickly and got all the sails ready to deploy quickly if we needed them. We had to snake our way through some very narrow, crooked channels so we hoped the engine would keep purring and the oil pressure would stay solid.

After we made it by each marker, another sigh of relief was breathed. Then we made it all around and re-tied to a mooring (one was available) at the Maikai Yacht Club. Whew. We went and got the last of our fuel – some gasoline for the outboard and 5 more gallons of diesel for what we had used around Bora Bora. Michael will change the oil one more time in the morning (along with the oil filter) to make sure that all the diesel is out of the crankcase and that oil is the only thing where oil should be! And, hope that we have really found the issue. More oil, another oil filter and the work is a small price to pay to be certain all is good before we make the next 700 mile passage.

I (Barbara) am so grateful for Michael. He figured out what was wrong and had the parts and where-with-all to fix it. There may be other issues down the line that we can't fix or won't have the parts – but this time – like so many other times – he was able to do it. We handled the situation calmly and got the boat to a safe place so that he could work on the engine. These are scary moments on board – especially when you are in a place that doesn't offer a lot of boating services. Hopefully tomorrow morning, the final oil change and re-check and re-start will prove uneventful and we can make our way out of the Bora Bora cut and on our way to the next destination.

We are grateful to have been in a safe place and to have had the parts on board. Whew!