Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Bora Bora

This morning Pim and I climbed Mont Nue , one of Bora Bora's peaks. It was a steep scramble through dense forest with vines and tree ferns. But at the top we were rewarded with this amazing view of the lagoon. Tintin is down there!

Leg 5 : Bora Bora to Tonga

After 2 months exploring French Polynesia (it's huge!) we are approaching the next
leg of the World ARC rally: Bora Bora to Vava'u, Tonga, via Suwarrow
(Cook Islands) and Niue. It's 690 miles WNW to Suwarrow, an
isolated uninhabited atoll and a National Park, then 540 miles SW
to Niue, and finally 230 miles to Tonga. Niue is a bit like Makatea: a
very steep-to island where it's too deep to anchor. There are limited
moorings there, so the World ARC fleet has been divided into 2 groups
for this leg.

We arrived at Bora Bora yesterday in time to watch the start of the leg
for group one - see photos. Many boats had their coloured sails out for
the start in Bora Bora lagoon, and it was a spectacle. Swade and
Stefano in their yellow shirts were organising the start. Gemma is the
figurehead on Aurora B's bow.

We are getting familiar with our pre-ocean checklist, and I think you
are too! Jobs for the next 2 days before we leave in group 2 on
Wednesday: Rig check, engine check, diesel in tanks, fill water
tanks, buy provisions, stow stuff away, rig wind steering, check
weather forecast...

We need to fill the water tanks here from the dock for the first time
in ages, because 2 days ago the water maker had problems. Shortly after
turning it on on we heard BANG!

Investigation revealed that the high pressure hose had burst. Maybe due
to chafe secondary to engine vibration. No high pressure hose and
fittings are to be found on Bora Bora, so we have changed to water
conservation mode. Tintin's tanks hold over 600 litres, so we will fill
to the very top before we go and use water carefully. No more luxury of
daily fresh water showers - but
today we all had a great shower on the
deck in a heavy tropical downpour. We can also harvest water from the
mainsail via the sail cover if needed. Other ARC boats with water
makers have generously offered to give us top ups via jerry can in
Suwarrow and Niue - so we will be well looked after.

Tintin Reunited

Last night there was a shout from the dockside: Tintin!
And there stood Nicki and Richard, rejoining us on board.
It is great to have them both back, Richard with his right arm in action again. The unplanned few months back home in New Zealand were filled with work on the new block of land, and we have heard a lot about Richards new tractor!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Taha'a Coral Garden

Our last stop before heading on to Bora Bora tomorrow has been the coral
garden of Taha'a.
We are anchored just next to a small motu on the west side of Taha'a.
There is a steady gentle current of water flowing between two
motus, from the outer reef towards Taha'a. Snorkelling in the
stream we were carried over a garden of coral the size of several
football pitches. It felt like we were flying over the coral and
amazingly colourful (and fearless) fish. Another incredible place in
the world.

Marae Taputapuatea

Our exploration around Raiatea continued from Alex's bay, as we tiptoed
just inside the reef around the south of the island with Aurora B.
The channel was pretty narrow in places between the fringing reef and
the island, but under engine and with the centreboard up we navigated
the 20 miles aound to the east side. More bright green mountains,
waterfalls and bays kept opening up to our left; on our right the
turquoise of shallow reef then deep blue ocean. Our destination was Marae Taputapuatea.

The marae is just about 1m above sea level, a large rectangular
construction with a row of standing stones at one end. Here priests were
initiated, sacrifices made (both human and animal) and ancestors were
consulted. It is said to be the most important marae in all of French
Polynesia. It held its own atmosphere.

Plateau Temehanirahi

The climb up to the sacred plateau of Temehanirahi

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Polynesian tatoos

All through the islands of Polynesia we have seen people with tatoos.
Not just any tatoos - whole arms, legs, faces, backs. They are works of
art. Tatooists of the Marquesas are recognised as the experts. Stylised
natural forms and tikis are integrated with other symbols, and each has
a significance. A turtle represents longeivity, a manta ray, the ocean;
tikis are there to protect you. Several World Arc sailors visited the
tatoo artist in Hiva Oa, Marquesas, and returned delighted with their
tatoos which were designed for them individually to represent things
important to them.

Following in the wake of Captain Cook...almost

On 25th August 1768, Captain James Cook set sail on board the
adapted North Sea Collier, HMB Endeavour, from Plymouth. This was the
first of his three voyages to the Pacific, and the aim of the expedition
was to reach Tahiti in order to observe a transit of Venus across the
sun on June 3rd 1769 and to search for the Great Southern Continent.
HMB Endeavour was twice as long as Tintin; it carried a crew of 94
people, and provisions for 18 months. The passage across the Bay of
Biscay was very stormy and some of the deck cargo, including many hens,
were washed overboard. First port of call was Madeira where Cook took
on board 3000 gallons of Madeira wine.

250 years and 2 days later, Tintin set off from Salcombe, 20 miles east
of Plymouth, also bound for Tahiti via Madeira. We had a beautifully
calm crossing of the Bay of Biscay and no deck cargo was lost overboard.

Cook's route took him around Cape Horn. We had an easier time via the
Panama Canal.

After leaving Tahiti in July, Cook spent some time exploring the
other Society Islands. He spent time here at Raiatea, which is thought
to have been the religious, cultural and political centre of the
Polynesian islands. Marae Taputapuatea (a marae is a sacred site
where human sacrifices were sometimes made) is one of the most sacred
places in Polynesia, and it is said that canoes left to colonise the
Pacific from here.

Tupaia was a navigator priest from Raiatea who joined Captain Cook and helped the expedition
with translation and diplomacy, as well as navigation. His memory is
being celebrated in Polynesia this year, especially here on Raiatea.

At the regatta we met Tahi, the helm of the green sailing canoe team
(he's in the photo of the sailing canoe in our regatta blog). It was
fascinating to talk to him. He is a direct descendant of
Tupaia, and a traditional navigator and Polynesian cultural expert.
In the past he has worked with the British Museum and the Maritime
Musuem in Greenwich on restoration of Polynesian canoes. The
importance to Polynesians in maintaining their cultural identity with
traditions (particularly in dance, drumming, tatoos and canoeing) has
been evident during our time here.

Tahiti Pearl Regatta

Follow this link to see a Tahiti news report about World Arc boat Nica at the regatta.
You might spot Pim on board. As loyal as he is to Tintin, when offered a chance to crew on Nica for the regatta, he jumped at it!

Raiatea

We're currently moored up next to Aurora B in a wonderful anchorage 3/4
the way down the west coast of Raiatea. And today we are doing...very
little. Which is just great.

The previous blog talked about the first 2 races of the Tahiti Pearl
Regatta. The 3rd and final race was a lap of the island of Taha'a,
inside its reef. We had a wonderful day's sailing. The crew of the
previous days was augmented by Ed and Gemma from Aurora B. The start
was shambolically organised, with the line running downwind instead of
upwind as in the race instructions. We realised this about 3 mins from
the start when we found ourselves alone in a great place for the line
with everybody else on the other side of the line, confirmed when race
radio said that downwind sails were allowed over the start. By
accident or design, we actually had a brilliant start - at the head of
the pack with all the colourful spinnakers behind us. Somewhere
there is a picture looking back towards superfast Nica. It won't
happen often! As some of the faster boats overtook us, we had the great
sight of the spinnakers flying against the background of the reef and
Bora Bora. Flukey winds around the back of the island kept the trimmers
busy, and then we beat along the north coast. In the flat water,
Tintin's tacking angles were much better, and it was fun having tacking
battles against large cats, small racing boats and sailing canoes - all
while keeping in the channel.

The party in the evening was great - on a small motu next to the
anchorage. The organising Committee excelled their already high
standards of ineptitude by not including Nica in the prizes for the
cruising division, when they had clearly won. It seems they had
incorrectly recorded the results and not sought to check them. Amongst
the WARC fleet, approaches to resolving this varied - but calmness and
logic won; Nica were acknowledged as worthy winners.

It was a slow start to the day after the party. Jo & the world ARC
women had a ladies day on Nica. Nica is an amazing - very green -
Finot Conq fast cruising boat (See front of Yachting World from Nov
or Dec last year). 54ft, about 1/2 the weight of Tintin and very
fast. They did the 3,000Nm from Galapagos to Marquesas in 14 days and
were there to meet WARC Swade and Andrew from the airport, when SWade
and Andrew were there to greet us! Maren and Gorm are a lovely German
couple who sailed her double-handed around the world and very generously
invited the ladies from the assembled World ARC boats for a day
aboard.

Five of the crews headed south to the bay we are in now. Beyond the
palm fringed shore a sheer bright green mountain wall rises, known as
the 100 waterfalls. After rain, the mountainside cascades with water.
We haven't seen it yet, but we were treated to a beautiful evening
last night when the wall changed from green to gold and then pink as
the sun set. We had a lovely evening invited to the house of Alex,
one of the paddlers in the 3-man Va'aa sailing canoes. Originally from
Europe, he and his family have settled here and he now makes
beautiful lightweight paddles and racing canoes, in a mixture of carbon,
bamboo and local hardwood veneer. His house,
open and airy facing the surf and the setting sun was simply idyllic.
We were guided through the coral reef in the dinghy to his house by
his 10 year old son, Manu, in his own little outrigger canoe.
Why don't we all move here?

Yesterday, we were up early to climb to the sacred high plateau in
the centre of the island. It was a super walk, quite muddy and slippy
in places and almost cold on top. We were fortunate to get good views
from Huahine in the east to Bora Bora in the west with the reef all
around.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Tahiti Pearl Regatta

We've had a very hectic few days at the Tahiti Pearl Regatta.
Apparently it's the foremost (only?) international sailing regatta
within thousands of miles, and we thought we'd have a bit of fun
putting Tintin through her paces.

The regatta started at Raiatea. Our crew is mixture from other WARC
boats. Joe from Charm is our racing consultant. Quite why he wants
to race on battleship Tintin when his own boat is MUCH faster (254NM in
24 hours across the Pacific), I'm not sure - but he really seems to
enjoy the challenge of making Tintin move, and we are really glad to
have him on board. Josie is also aboard for a few days, having been
released by Raid for the duration of the regatta. She's a marine
biologist and has has provided many interesting insights - not least
explaining the 'spy-hopping' behaviour of a pod of Pilot whales we saw
when coming across from Moorea. Pim is racing on Nica - the fastest
and most photogenic boat in the fleet.

The practice race on Wednesday went well, but Thursday was less
successful. It started badly when Joe discovered a laptop and wallet
with cards etc stolen from their boat while they slept. He heroically
dealt with the hassle and police bureaucracy before the start, but
during the start sequence, we were involved in a collision with another
boat. Moving fairly slowly, we T-boned a lightweight racing
catamaran. There was only going to be one winner of that impact!
Fortunately damage to the other boat was limited to a smashed window,
bent chain plate and cracked daggerboard. The skipper, when we met
afterwards, was very reasonable and we are on surprisingly good
terms. Tintin was completely unmarked. The 3rd thing that day was that
the genoa on Joe's boat, Charm, ripped at the head during the race,
which will require major surgery.

Anyway, the race was a beat for 22Nm east back to Huahine. It's not
Tintin's best point of sailing and we were near the back of the fleet -
and subsequently asked to retire due to the start line incident.

Today was a new - and better - day. Same distance but downwind back to
the island of Taha'a. Using Charm's v large yellow chute we kept up
with larger and supposedly faster boats, with an exciting finish
through the narrow pass in the reef in a squall, dead down wind, dodging
a sailing canoe and neck and neck with a larger yacht. We were in time
for impromptu drinks on big, green, superyacht Nica and a paddle in one
the amazing 3-man Va'aa sailing canoes that are doing the regatta. Jo
(not Joe or Josie) has been helming all the time, and has been doing a
great job while I just pulled ropes on the foredeck.

The organisers are putting much effort in producing media for the
regatta, so have a search for Tahiti Pearl Regatta and see some of the
amazing images.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Moorea and beyond

Although a busy place, our week in Papeete was a very good one. Not
only did we achieve a great deal, but we had time to reflect a little
on our time in the Marquesas and Tuamotus before we launch on with
visiting more new places. We are crammed to bursting with amazing
memories and stunning vistas and lovely encounters with Polynesian
people.

We said goodbye to Andrew and Swade who resumed their World Arc duties
once we arrived in Papeete. it was a complete pleasure to have them on
board.

A gentle sail/motor took us 25 miles to our next port of call,
Opunohu Bay on the island of Moorea. It is where Captain Cook dropped
his anchor in 1777. The spectacular scenery reminded us a bit of the
Lofoten Islands in Norway (just add palm trees!). The towering
mountains drop right down to the water, with just enough room for a road
and a few houses before the shore. Then there is the lagoon and the
coral reef which encircles the island. The Society islands are like a
mixture between the geography of the Marquesas (young volcanic peaks
with no reef fringe yet) and the Tuamotus (where just the coral rings
remain, the volcanic cores having eroded). I think that is because they
are younger than the Tuomotus but older then the Marquesas, give or
take a few million years!

It was perfect drone flying weather - see photo.

Ashore we climbed a small peak called the Magical Mountain, a
lovely walk through fruit trees giving way to pines higher
up. The birdsong was beautiful. We returned to Tintin with a supply of
passion fruit which had fallen to the ground.
Tourism is bigger here in the Society Islands than in the Marquesas or
Tuamotus. Quad bikes are a popular way to see Moorea
island and jet skis roared past our anchorage from time to time.
Overwater bungalows of the Hilton and the Intercontinental hotels stand
on the reef either side of the entrance to the bay. Balancing the
desire to preserve the lagoons and their fragile ecosystems with the
development of tourism is a challenge.

Tintin's engine died on us en route from Papeete to Moorea, giving us
the opportunity for more boat maintenance in exotic locations... Rob
diagnosed air in the fuel system, and yesterday we narrowed it down
to a leak at the base of one of our 2 primary fuel filters. Luckily we
have built in redundancy with 2 inline, so we could switch easily while
Rob sorted the problem.

Now we are on our way to Raiatea, 100 miles west. We have had an easy
night sail on a settled sea. Together with a few other ARC boats, we
are entering the Tahiti Pearl Regatta, sailing races between the
Leeward Society Islands of Raiatea, Huahine and Taha'a, on 9,10 and 11
May. We will be joined by Joe Grosjean (from Charm, another ARC boat)
and Josie Chandler (from RAID). The regatta website has a video of
last year's racing - worth a look. It should be fun!

Richard has the all clear from his surgeon to join us at Bora Bora,
which is the best news, so we will welcome him and Nicki back on board
on 19th May before we set off on 22nd to Suwarrow (Cook Islands) then
Niue, then Tonga.

STOP PRESS
We have just been visited by a pod of pilot whales as we make our
approach to Raiatea. 5 all surfaced then dived together, with others
"spy-bopping" ie just poking their heads out above the surface to look
around. Apparently pilot whales are unique among cetaceans in that
they can see in air as well as underwater. (Josie, on board with us en
route for the regatta, is a marine biologist so we are quizzing her at
every opportunity!)

Saturday, 4 May 2019

The World ARC

Here's is the complete line-up of world ARC crews, plus a few Tahitian
dancers.  We received a great welcome at the Papeete Town Hall on
Wednesday evening and are now preparing to move on to Moorea.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Papeete Life

We did well to arrive in Papeete before the bad weather.  We have had a
couple of days of rain but with a barely a gust in the marina but boats
arriving have reported 30, 40 touching 50 knots of wind with big seas. 
Several crews arrived  very frayed at the edges and a bit traumatised by
the experience. Fortunately, there seems to have been no lasting damage
to boats or people. Talking to them reinforced the feeling that we're
glad we've arrived. This is despite the fact the Papeete is definitely
the least pleasant location we've been to for 6 months!

It's a different life in Papeete to the rest of the trip. There's a real
feeling within the fleet of 'Phew, we've just sailed pver 6,000miles
since St Lucia - always pushing on.  Now we've arrived in Tahiti and
we'd just like to stop for a while'. The fleet is altogether now for the
first time since the Galapagos Islands nearly 2 months ago.  We are
enjoying seeing everybody again, catching up and taking stock - and of
course the inevitable boat jobs.

People who have not experienced blue-water cruising might wonder about
boat jobs - 'surely you just sail the boat? and if nothing breaks, it's
all good'.  Well, sort of.  We have a strong boat, we prepared well and
- touch wood - have had no major failure so far'  Still however, the
list of jobs was extensive.  My notebook of jobs for Papeete had the
following:

-    Fix Snowy.  This is the only journey-limiting problem.  The seam on
the inflatable floor had come apart and there was a hole in one tube. 
We had tried multiple time to fix both, but air always continued to
escape.  Snowy is now in hospital and due for release tomorrow

-    Service the loos.  Take them apart, clear out the crap, replace any
worn parts (only a spring this time).  Nice job.....

-    Waggle all the seacocks to ensure they still open and shut (plastic
handle on 1 is cracked, but safety is unaffected)

-    Grease the steering cable (slight squeak gone now)

-    Financial Admin, paying bills at home, ensuring there is money in
the right place etc

-    Buy petrol for outboard and compressor

-    Recheck the travel on the engine gearshift selector cable (you
don't really want to know)

-    Buy a new shower head to replace the leaky one in our heads
(remarkably, we found an exact replacement)

-    Add dyneema soft shackles to the mainsail cars as an addition to
the bungee currently holding the sail to the mast

-    Update necessary bureaucracy re crew changes

-    Get a new electric dinghy pump.  After 12 noisy years, the old one
expired.

-    Download charts for cook Islands, Nuie, Fiji & Tonga

-    Restick the table leg to the hull where Richard and I pulled it off
in Jan

-    Service both genoa winches.  Now not squeaking any more

-    Laundry.  Great to have it done by someone else, but always seems
to come back at nearly double the original quoted price.

-    Fix SSB problem.  It kept freezing after 10 minutes use. The tale
of importing the replacement part into Tahiti is extremely long and
dull.  But it's now fixed under warranty so hopefully will not re-occur.

-    Paint marker lengths on chain.  Red at 10, 40 & 70m, Yellow at 20,
50 & 80m, Green at 30 & 60m

-    Write chain marking scheme on inside of anchor locker lid because
we keep forgetting

-      Improve the plate on the guardrail for holding the outboard so
that it actually is big enough for the outboard.

-    review list of scheduled maintenance

-    Buy all the dry stores & drink required for approx next 2 months

Yesterday, we did a lap of the island with Betrand, a friend we've been
on parallel tracks with since Fakarava.  He is on his boat 'Mupi' alone
for a couple of weeks as his wife flies home on family matters.  It was
an interesting drive but what stood out for me is just how little the
middle of the island is developed or even considered.  There are barely
any roads going further inland than, say, 1/2 a mile.  The fantastic,
lush, vertiginous mountains look completely unexplored.  One can visit
the base of 100m+ waterfall - climbing to the top is not an option.  The
island's entire focus is the coastal strip and the sea inside the reef.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Papeete

Tintin is moored up right by the bustling waterfront of central Papeete, the main town of Tahiti and the Society Islands and the administrative capital all of French Polynesia. It's a sharp contrast to the quiet atolls and bays we've been cruising for the last month.


The ARC boats are gathering here a few days earlier than planned due to a forecast for strong winds and high seas. We had a calm day yesterday for our arrival, but boats arriving now describe a "bouncy" time last night en route from the Tuamotus with squally weather.

Its calm here though, despite tropical downpours at regular intervals.

We are enjoying regrouping once more, and making the most of shoreside luxuries. My first onshore shower (ie unlimited warm water) since February in Panama, truly wonderful! 

Some members of the crews made the most of our proximity to bars and nightclubs to celebrate our arrival ...buying croissants at 4am on the way home for our breakfast. Thanks Pim!

We are making a gentle start to our to do list. Reprovisioning early this morning in pouring rain at Papeete's central market was unforgettable. So many weird and wonderful colourful fruit and veg. On a Sunday people come with their produce from all over the island, setting up stalls from 4 am, and selling out or closing up by 9 when most people go to church. A whole row of stalls sold lei- fragrant flower garlands, and flower tiaras, worn to church by many.
The coconut doughnuts ....yum.

We aren't going to hurry away, there is an incredible inland landscape to explore here in Tahiti, almost fantasy-like with sharp peaks and steep green valleys. But I'm sure that after a few days we'll be wanting to find an anchorage behind a reef somewhere, as we explore the next island downwind of us: Moorea.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Makatea Caves

Maketea

Between Rangiroa and Tahiti, we stopped at the island of Makatea.
Unlike the other Tuamotos there is no airstrip or lagoon - the only
option is to use one of the 3 mooring buoys anchored in about 60m of
water on the edge of the pacific abyss. If the wind is in the wrong
direction, there would be no landing possibility.

We had a quiet overnight passage and arrived as the sun was rising,
picking up one of these buoys alarmingly close to the breakers on the
reef. We waited until a decent time and then called Mayor Julien to
confirm our arrangement for a tour of the island and lunch starting at
9:30am

There were the remains of a large port facilities, but it was all broken
up and the entrance to the tiny harbour was narrow (5m) between crashing
waves. Our tender, Snowy, has a couple of leaks and this tested our
faith in the little boat, but she did fine!

As we arrived, a lad was displaying the the huge 'Napolean' fish he had
caught. A lurid blue with big teeth and a bulbous forehead, it was
definitely a prop from a sci-fi movie.

Julien appeared shortly after and so began an extraordinary few hours
on an amazing island with wonderful man.

The island has a population of 84 now, but it wasn't always like this.
From 1906 to 1966 a French company mined phosphate here and the
population was over 3500. It was dug by hand from between the rock on
the summit plateau before being taken by train and conveyor to the
waiting ships using port infrastructure we had seen. Ships of up to
250,000tonne had moored where we were tied up and filled with the
valuable phosphate. In 1966, General De Gaulle decreed that the
future of French Polynesia was nuclear. The island was given 2
weeks notice and on Sept 6th mining ceased and almost everybody left.
Only 30 islanders remained. As Julien said, on Sept 6th 1966 time
stopped for Makatea.

At the top of the hill we stopped at the old workshops. Huge lathes,
mills and other machine tools which used to be all driven by overhead
drive shaft and belts are now there gently crumbling into the jungle.
As we drove slowly to the village, he pointed out the foundations of
the old store, managers' offices, church, abattoir, bakery etc - all of
them just a few raised lumps of concrete poking out from the
vegetation. An old steam train - just like Percy the green engine -
rotted gently in the trees.

There is clearly resentment at how they were treated, but Julien told
us passionately how he wants the island to take control of its future
and build business opportunities. An Australian company is serious
about restarting mining operations on the island and if it goes ahead,
part of the agreement is to make good all the holes that were left from
the previous operation. He's also organising a 4-day eco-retreat
holiday for 350 people in June. Camping on the gorgeous east coast,
they can climb, abseil kite-surf. Julien says he has secured agreement
to redevelop the harbour to add a breakwater and landing area to allow
and all-weather landing. This is a must-have if the island is to
thrive. To mark a new beginning for the island, he wants to change
its name to 'Papatea' - land of the white stone. All through our tour
and lunch his drive to improve the island shone through and I think the
whole crew wished him every success and just hope his dreams aren't
dashed by the reality of corporate and government decision-making.

In amongst all this, he had asked his son-in-law to show us some
caves. We trooped down into the dark not knowing what to expect, and
were surprised to find ourselves stripped to our underwear swimming
around in cool freshwater through spectacular underground grottoes.
The calcified rock formations made amazing Gaudi-esque forms, and I
think we were quite awestruck.

After the tour he gave us a great lunch - the tuna was a highlight and
showed us a 1961 documentary about mining on the islands and we could
recognise so many of the places we had seen earlier, but in the
documentary the place was humming wit activity.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Introducing the new members of team Tintin

Here they are:

Pim is on the left, then Andrew and SWade Pickersgill, and Captain Haddock.

Andrew and Swade are the brilliant ARC team looking after us as and the associated bureaucracy as we move from country to country. They are hitching a lift to Tahiti.

Pim is our own flying Dutchman who survived perilous whale impact boat damage on his Atlantic crossing. We reckon lightening rarely strikes twice. It's great to have him on board.

Tahiti Iti

More about our memorable visit to Makatea on Wednesday will follow. But right now we are circling the dramatic south coast of Tahiti Iti, the peninsula of SE Tahiti.
We set off yesterday morning from Makatea with a perfect breeze on the port beam. But as darkness fell the sky clouded over and we has a frustrating night of wind from almost every direction, rain, black skies despite the big moon, and a very unsettled sea. Reefs in and out, engine on and off. With a crew of 5 now we had the luxury of only 2 hour watches. This morning, as so often is the case, the squalls have abated and we see blue sky ahead.

The island of Tahiti is green and mountainous, 2 volcanic cones (segmented by steep valleys) which are joined by a low isthmus. There is no road around the SE side of Tahiti Iti. Sheer bright green slopes fall down straight to the coast, with waterfalls cascading in the gullies. There is a reef fringing the shore, about 1 mile wide all around the coast. We can see waves breaking on the reef and white clouds of spume, warning us of the shallower water.

Now we have turned the corner of the southern tip and suddenly the motion of Tintin is much easier as we move with the swell and wind. Our plan is to navigate through a pass in the reef and make our way up to Phaeton Bay and anchor for the night in the shelter of the isthmus. Tomorrow we will continue to Papeete, 30 miles away on the NW side of Tahiti Nui (the larger part of the island) where we will rendezvous with the rest of the ARC fleet over the following few days. We are looking forward to catching up with crews we haven't seen for weeks. It will be our first marina berthing since Panama City in February, and a chance for us to tackle the list of boat maintenance jobs in a stable boat.

Makatea bound

Planning our journey on from the Tuamotus to Tahiti, one little island
on the chart caught our attention. Makatea, 4 miles across: not a coral
atoll like the Tuamotus, nor a volcanic peak like the Marquesas, but a
flat topped ancient atoll which was lifted out of the sea 60 million
years ago when Tahiti's volcano erupted.

Makatea stands alone, 60 miles away from the Tuamotus and 150 miles
from Tahiti, and not far off our route between the two. The sea
shelves very steeply just off its shore to 400m deep and more.

From our pilotage information about French Polynesia we learnt that
there are 3 mooring buoys on the leeward side of the island, in 50m
depth, just as the reef shelves up steeply. We also found a phone
number for Julien, the mayor of the village who is willing to show
people round. So we rang him up and arranged to get in touch on our
arrival. We set off from Rangiroa at tea time, out through the pass in
gentler conditions than our arrival, and set sail overnight for Makatea.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Tuamotos

We've been touring around the amazing Tuamotos for 10days. Sadly the
children have to leave to return to the UK, but we had an incredible
time. These islands are straight out of a magazine - crystal clear
azure water with palm fringed beaches stretching out to the horizon on
either side.

After arriving in the north of Fakarava, we headed to the south pass
for the diving....which was extraordinary. We (Rob, Lizzie & Bridget)
we dropped at the ocean end of the pass and drifted in with the tide.
The coral was built up into wonderful towers but the main 'attraction'
was the sharks who congregated there to feed - thankfully not on
humans. As we held on coral to hold us still in the stream, we gazed
out into the deeper part of the channel where there must have been over
50 sharks - mainly black-finned sharks about 1.5m long swimming gently
into the current waiting for lunch to drift. Strangely (perhaps
stupidly) it didn't seem scary and the fish that alarmed me more was a
pair of tuna, about 2m long. They looked positively evil!

From there we went a few miles east to the corner of the atoll, a place
called Hirifa. There was a house there, but no-one answered our
knock. Impossibly beautiful.

We then spent a couple of days and an overnight passage to get here -
Rangiroa - stopping at Tu'au en-route.

I had calculated the theoretical time of low tide at the entrance pass
and we arrived 30mins after that hoping the stream would be mild. In
fact it was streaming out at upto 5knots with large standing waves. it
felt a bit hairy, but Tintin is such a capable boat there was barely
water on deck and all was well.

Today we went diving at the entrance to the Rangiroa pass - on the wall
of the reef as it plummets into the depths. A few sharks this time but
we swam with dolphins. Up to 5 at a time, and one mother with a baby
that the guide reckoned was only a few weeks old. Once the was us from
the surface, they came down to our depth to have a look but we were
clearly more interested in them that they in us. They came quite
closely to have a good look and then drifted slowly away. The whole
thing was very cool.

Bridget was done a video of the kids' time out here which I'm sure will
be posted when she gets decent internet. Worth a look.

Easter Weekend in Rangiroa

Rangiroa is the largest atoll in the Tuamotus, with a population of
about 3000 spread out among the islands that sit on the coral reef.
We waved off Lizzie, James , Bridget and Paddy at the
airstrip on Thursday after a memorable and wonderful time together on
Tintin.

We have cycled around the motu and spent time watching the dolphins
leap from the waves in the pass. A pod of about 60 dolphins live here,
together with the sharks, manta rays, moray eels, barracudas and
millions of amazing fish. Each time we go snorkeling I see another
incredible colourful fish that I am sure I have never seen before. And
more different vivid corals. Or am I the goldfish forgetting it all
after one lap?

On Friday and Saturday there was an outrigger canoe regatta across the
anchorage - the first race went out through the pass to the ocean, and
the fleet of about 20 canoes spread out over the long distance. Support
boats with outboards created huge wakes - more challenges for the crews
at the back of the field. There are 3 men in each canoe, very fine
narrow boats with an outrigger on the port side to help stabilise the
boat. The best crews were amazing to watch, their timing perfect and
steering minimal.

The best part of our Easter weekend though was our visit to the local
Catholic church yesterday morning. 11km away at the other end of the
island, the church is perched by the other pass into Rangiroa, Avatoru.
We were advised to arrive early for the 8am service, and were glad we
did; at 7:30 it was almost full. All the people were dressed in white,
women and girls with flowers in their hair, the best easter bonnets we
have ever seen.
The service was conducted in a mixture of French and the local
Polynesian language, the priest changing from one to the other half way
through his sermon. Most of the singing was in Polynesian but luckily
for us, they had a screen with all the words for us to follow,
and Alleluia is the same!
The singing was amazing. Harmonising beautifully, the voices raised the
roof. There were 10 christenings and 4 first communions folded into the
service.
When we left the church there was a bus outside, so we jumped on with
everone else. It was taking islanders who live south of the Tiputa pass
back to the wharf by our anchorage to catch the ferry home. All the
way , there was amazing singing in the bus, and laughter, and such joy.
We were made so welcome.

We have been joined on board by Andrew and Swade, ARC organisers,
with us until Tahiti, and by Pim van Hooff, with us for longer! It is
great to have their company. Plans are to move on tomorrow nivht , next
stop Makatea.
All is very good.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Tuamotos

We've been touring around the amazing Tuamotos for 10days. Sadly the
children have to leave to return to the UK, but we had an incredible
time. These islands are straight out of a magazine - crystal clear
azure water with palm fringed beaches stretching out to the horizon on
either side.

After arriving in the north of Fakarava, we headed to the south pass
for the diving....which was extraordinary. We (Rob, Lizzie & Bridget)
we dropped at the ocean end of the pass and drifted in with the tide.
The coral was built up into wonderful towers but the main 'attraction'
was the sharks who congregated there to feed - thankfully not on
humans. As we held on coral to hold us still in the stream, we gazed
out into the deeper part of the channel where there must have been over
50 sharks - mainly black-finned sharks about 1.5m long swimming gently
into the current waiting for lunch to drift. Strangely (perhaps
stupidly) it didn't seem scary and the fish that alarmed me more was a
pair of tuna, about 2m long. They looked positively evil!

From there we went a few miles east to the corner of the atoll, a place
called Hirifa. There was a house there, but no-one answered our
knock. Impossibly beautiful.

We then spent a couple of days and an overnight passage to get here -
Rangiroa - stopping at Tu'au en-route.

I had calculated the theoretical time of low tide at the entrance pass
and we arrived 30mins after that hoping the stream would be mild. In
fact it was streaming out at upto 5knots with large standing waves. it
felt a bit hairy, but Tintin is such a capable boat there was barely
water on deck and all was well.

Today we went diving at the entrance to the Rangiroa pass - on the wall
of the reef as it plummets into the depths. A few sharks this time but
we swam with dolphins. Up to 5 at a time, and one mother with a baby
that the guide reckoned was only a few weeks old. Once the was us from
the surface, they came down to our depth to have a look but we were
clearly more interested in them that they in us. They came quite
closely to have a good look and then drifted slowly away. The whole
thing was very cool.

Bridget was done a video of the kids' time out here which I'm sure will
be posted when she gets decent internet. Worth a look.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Fakarava, our latest most favourite place

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Fakarava atoll has us running out of superlatives. Each different anchorage for the last 3 nights has been "the best ever". This surely can't continue.

We had a peaceful overnight sail down from Takaroa, and timed our arrival at the Fakarava's North pass for slack tide early on Wednesday morning. This was a different sort of pass entirely to Takaroa, being about half a mile wide and just about 100 metres long. Standing at the bow approaching the pass the colour of the water changes from the deepest cobalt blue to marine blue/ green then shades of turquoise as it shallows up and the floor changes to sand, with darker browny shades for coral. The water is crystal clear. To our left and right were low lying palm covered islands (" motus") fringed with coral reef and beach, where the Pacific swells crash into white breakers.

First stop, we anchored off the village of Rotoava. Lizzie, Paddy and I went ashore to buy food and lingered by the freezers in the air conditioned grocery store. Aah, so nice and cool! Rotoava Is a friendly and very relaxed place where things don't need to be rushed. The village sits either side of a road, with open Pacific Ocean beyond on one side and the atoll's sheltered lagoon on the other.

Our aim was to get to the southern pass to snorkel and dive along the famous Wall of Sharks, so we continued down the eastern edge of the lagoon to anchor overnight at Pakakota, 10 miles away. Ashore at dusk we met Matthieu, a local sailor who sold us cold beer, gave us access to the best Wi-fi we have found in Polynesia, and offered sage advice on the best way to dive at the southern pass. Sunset across the lagoon was stunning, a few tiny islets with palm trees appearing to float on the western horizon. These little islands are in the very shallow part of the lagoon about a third of the way across to the other side (where the volcanic peaks once were, many millennia ago). The far (western) side of Fakarava atoll is just reef with no islands.

By yesterday afternoon we were anchored by the south pass. Rob, Lizzie and Bee linked up with Eric, local dive master, to dive and see the sharks close up. James, Paddy and I took the dinghy through the pass, then jumped out to snorkel as we drifted with the current on the flood tide through the pass, the sun dancing through through the water all the way to the sea floor. It was an incredible experience, drifting with the current past coral and colourful fish with occasional flybys below us from black or white tip reef sharks (who paid us no attention what so ever).
I must admit that I has felt ambivalence bordering on negative feelings about jumping in the water knowing it was shark infested. But my fear melted away immediately when surrounded by the mesmerisingly beautiful world below the waves.

Today we have come a few miles east to the southeastern corner of Fakarava, and we have found a sandy anchorage with no coral bommies to dodge, a rose pink coloured sandy spit, and water of the most wonderful blues to float on. This is THE best anchorage. The drone was flown and we are all in awe of this little part of our planet.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Takaroa

We're now on passage overnight from Takaroa to Fakarava, passing close
to Apataki.

All these islands are atolls, which I would find hard to
believe could exist if I hadn't seen them. Atolls form when
mountainous volcanic islands like the Marquesas develop coral reefs
around their coasts - like Tahiti. The central volcanic islands
is gradually eroded as coral keeps being added to the reef leading,
over countless millenia, to these strange shaped islands. They are
anything from about 5 to 50miles around, thin bands of reef and very
low-lying sandy land encircling a lagoon. The strips of land
('motus') are invariably narrow, typically 100-200m but can stretch for
many miles around the lagoon, often interspered with gaps where there
is just reef - sea between 0 and 3foot deep. Most islands have
'passes' - small gaps in the reef that have been formed by the tidal
currents flushing in and out of the lagoon. The currents can flow very
strongly in these passes as they empty and fill the entire lagoon
through a very narrow gap.

Information about the pass on Takaroa was sketchy. We could calculate
the theoretical time of high and low tide - which is a guide to the
slack water - but that doesn't take into account other factors such as
they need to empty the lagoon of water that is pushed over the reef by
the swell on the windward side. We approached Takatoa about 40mins
before low water. The island supply ship, the St X Maris, was just
leaving - which was just as well as it occupied nearly the entire width
of the channel. It had docked at the town quay which lies at the
entrance to the channel and reversed out on what we thought was the last
of the ebb tide. We entered the channel - James on the first set of
spreaders to look for reefs, Bridget on navigation and the others using
polarised glasses to guage the depth. The tide was still flowing fast
in the channel - about 3 knots, but we could see at the head of the
channel an area of disturbed water where the entire flow entered the
channel from the north over a shallow patch before turning v sharply
west. For those that know it, it was like the tide running out past
Scoble point in Salcombe, but 3 times as fast and with a wall of reef
20m to starboard. The stream took the bow and for a brief moment I
wondered if it wuould spin the boat around completely before the stern
caught the stream as well alllowing me to steer to port. At full revs
we made 1.5 knots through the little cataract before breathing a sigh
of relief as we entered the lagoon proper.

The google earth photo shows our track. Judging from the Latitude
scale on the left, the pass is about 30m wide.

Anyway, safely inside, we poked around for an anchorage eventually
settling on a spot about a mile north of the entrance. It was great to
get the anchor down, safely wedged under a coral head(!) so we could
relax, swim & sleep. Paddy - his first trip on a boat being this
450mile ocean passage - seemed particularly pleased to stop for a while.

Lizzie and Bridget went diving, hunting for sharks and sorting out a
tripping live for the anchor. Lizzie has developed an alarming habit
of shouting 'Shark' v loudly, and then jumping in the water to chase it.

We all slept well and woke up in time to host the radio net at 9:00am.
But we couldn't hear anybody! It's surprising how silly one feels
doing a long, cheerful introduction to the day's net and the get in
return ..nothing. Rather like having a conversation with somebody
before realising they left the room minutes ago.

The morning was lovely. A gentle breeze wafted over the flat sea meant
the boat was cool and flat. All the crew were content to relax
onboard, waving to locals passing in their proa canoes but actually
DOING very much at all.

Leaving the pass was slightly less hairy than entering - we timed it
so the stream in the main pass was pretty slack, but there were still
overfalls at the corner.

We've got a few boat jobs to do in Fakarava:
- rethread lost spinnaker halyard in the mast
- investigate non-reception on the SSB
- investigate gearbox which was re-developed the habit of not
going into gear when asked
- Find out why our tender, Snowy, continues to gradually leak
air.

Blue water Cruising is, indeed, boat maintenance in exotic (in
this case v exotic) locations!

Monday, 8 April 2019

Slight change of plan

The more observant of you may have noticed that we have taken a slight
right turn yesterday afternoon. We had intended to make for Kauehi, a
lovely atoll with a big entrance. However, it became clear that we
would be arriving as the sun would be setting. We would be faced by
the choice of entering and moving across the atoll in failing light or
heaving-to outside for the night. Instead, we have taken a slight
right turn and are heading for Takaroa.

Takaroa is closer than Kauehi and we hope to arrive at midday - slack
tide and the sun high. We'll spend a day here here before moving on.

Tonight is clear and calm, but there are almost constant flashes of
lightning from the east. Beautiful but a bit worrisome!

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Off we go again

We are delighted that plans made nearly year ago have worked and Paddy,
Lizzie, James and Bridget have made it to this side of the world to
join us for a few weeks. Tintin is full and ready to go! The lure
of exploring coral atolls has led us to wave the incredible
Marquesas goodbye.

Two days ago we set off from Nuku Hiva, to cross 500 miles of
South Pacific Ocean to reach the Tuamotu archipelago. These islands are
also part of French Polynesia. They are low lying coral atolls: each
island looks like a slightly squidged circle on the chart. The inside is
lagoon, the edge is coral reef, some of it a few metres above the high
water line with beaches, coconut palms and maybe a village. Some are
just a couple of miles across, others up to 50.

We are heading for Kauehi, an atoll with one entrance (or pass) - a
gap in the reef which will allow boats to go in and out. The current in
some of the Tuamotu island passes can reach 9 knots so we need to
time our arrival carefully. If the wind is strong and against the
current, large standing waves can build up in the pass, best avoided!
Once inside the lagoon we will need to keep a sharp lookout for coral
heads as we navigate to our chosen anchorage.

Friday and Saturday gave us good sailing conditions with a wind across
the beam and a reasonable sea state. Yesterday evening lightening lit
up squall clouds far away on our horizon, while we had the starriest
sky above our heads. But at 1:30 am I was woken by the boat heeling
sharply and Rob suggesting we reef, now. No lightening close by
but we were under a dark storm cloud and the wind speed doubled quickly
to 35 knots. Lifejacket on, headtorch on, up into the cockpit where it
was noisy, windy, occasionally quite wet and very dark, white horses
just visible all around. James appeared close on my heels and between us
we quickly reefed the main and genoa down to 3rd reef. All at once it
felt calmer and much more manageable, Tintin doing what she (gender
fluid!) does best: floating and carrying on regardless in the direction
we want her to go, easy on the helm, riding the waves.

This morning the wind has dropped and we are now motor sailing to avoid
being tossed around uncomfortably in the swell.
The crew has all emerged, Bridget reporting quite a lot of airtime in
the forward cabin last night (when lifted from the bunk due to the bow
in the waves) and Lizzie complaining of having been woken twice in the
night by seawater coming through slightly open hatches and landing on
her face! It's already 33 degrees by 7am so sometimes the desire to have
airflow in the cabins below wins out against the risk of getting a
dunking.

James is our fisherman. On Friday we lost a hook and
lure to something that must have been very big. Yesterday the line got
tangled with the towed generator again. (We must learn from past
mistakes but optimism sometimes overrides experience).
I have been briefed by James (in case he is asleep) what to do if the
reel buzzes and spins: stop the boat, increase the friction in the
reel , and wake him up.

It sounds so easy.

At about 8am, the line went whizzing out. Shouting "Fish, James, FISH!" very
loudly by his bunk didn't work. Toe pulling and more shouting
eventually did.

Rob was on the line, and saw a really big blue marlin jump clear of the
water at the end of it, then swim off. Line broken, again. We will keep
trying!