CHAPTER 19: MAY 20th — June 17th, 2003– TWO “MOTUS” IN THE TUAMOTUS:
MANIHI AND RANGIROA
The Tuamotu Islands are the largest group of coral atolls in the world. There are about 80 atolls that spread approximately 1000 miles across the pacific in 2 parallel northwest-southeast chains about half way between the Marquesas and the Society Islands (Tahiti). These coral rings are a result of intense volcanic eruptions in a land almost before time… that left only the top few feet of the top of the volcano exposed above water. Inside each coral “crown” lays a beautiful lagoon scattered with coral and rich marine life.
Only half of the islands are inhabited and they have a total of less than 20,000 local residents. Variable strong currents, sudden storms, and poor charts have made cruising in this group of islands extremely hazardous, and for many years referred to as the “Dangerous Archipelago.” Because the atolls are only a few feet above sea level (see below photo) and the breakers only become visible when one is within 4-5 miles of the reef, many a ship and yacht has ran aground and met their final destiny in storms or with poor visibility, so wrecks litter the reefs of many atolls… including the famous Kon Tiki, putting an end to a great sea epic. Hoping for a more favorable experience (than being smashed on a coral reef), we left behind us the Marquesas and headed off for the Central Tuamotus, for a planned landfall in Makemo. This is our story.
Monday, May 19th: Day 1 of passage to Tuamotus
We left Oa Pou in the Marquesas yesterday and are currently VERY slowly underway (averaging less than 3.4 knots!!!) —-and, of course with our sailing luck, even at that speed, we are not on the right course. We're having to jybe back and forth as the wind is very light and too much from behind for us to sail a straight course. So if this doesn't improve (and it's actually supposed to get even lighter tomorrow) then we'll be setting a record of slowness getting to the Tuamotus. Oh well... this is small potatoes compared to our crossing -- as we only have to look forward to a few more days of this instead of 30! We should have gotten out the asymmetrical spinnaker today as this is the perfect wind (and direction) for it, but it just seemed like such a hassle as it is buried under the front berth. We call that space our “garage” as it is covered with spare supplies and "extras", solar panels, ditch kits, extra cushions and bedding, first aid kits, etc. Anyway we didn't have the energy to tackle it, so now we are suffering the consequences of being back on our “slow boat to china!” The first 3 days out to sea when we left Puerto Vallarta in March for our “crossing,” we had the blah's -- headaches, no energy, lethargy, sleepy, etc... and that's how I felt today. Hopefully our "sea legs" and energy level won't take 3 days this time!
Tuesday, May 20th: Day 2 of passage to Tuamotus
We have traveled fewer miles in the last 24 hours than any day of our entire Pacific crossing... We finally turned the motor on last night and had to remove all the sails, as there was no wind so they were just beating themselves to death. We’ve had the engine running all night and all day but don't have enough fuel to do this for much longer as we have another month to go until we reach Tahiti, which is the next place where we can buy diesel. Anyway, we are only going about 3.5-4.0 knots with the engine running and no sails. The seas are like glass with no wind lines, however there are still huge rolling swells (about 6 ft), so on top of us going slow, it is also uncomfortable, with us rocking and bobbing back and forth. The Tuamotus are about 500 miles away from the Marquesas, and this should have only been about a 3 1/2 day trip, but now after 2 days we are still over 3 days away... Pooohhhie! Oh well, we get there when we get there, but sitting out here bobbing in the blazing sun (no clouds, no wind, with the engine and generator running and no hatches or portholes open inside so the interior temperature is 95 degrees!) is NO FUN!!!
Thursday, May 22nd: Day 4 of passage to Tuamotus
Well we’ve gone from bad to god-awful on this miserable passage... 36 hours of no wind (<5 knots) and glassy seas. Then today the winds went from 6 knots (we had all our sails up again plus the motor going) to 20-25 and the seas from glass to 12 ft with breaking waves on top in less than 10 minutes (i.e., no nice gradual build-up.) We had to immediately jump into action to reef (make smaller) our sails so we wouldn’t be pushed over on our ears. In listening to the radio nets of reports of those who are “in front” of us (near the Tuamotus and also Papeete) are having even a worse time with winds steady 25 and gusts up to 35. We have learned the local name for what we are going thru is called a “maraamu” — or South Pacific “winter storm”. [Unfortunately we learned a valuable lesson too late. We had looked at the weather in the Marquesas and Tuamotus before leaving on this passage, but not all the way west past Tahiti to the Cook Islands… who were experiencing this weather 4-5 days ago. The lesson for us is to look several island groups to the west for what is coming our way — and sometimes very fast!] We are still 2 days away and are NOW praying the weather calms down before we get there. If Joe had his say, we would bypass the Tuamotus altogether and just keep going onto Tahiti, especially in this weather, as entering the “Dangerous Archipelago” in GOOD weather is a hard enough feat, let alone in the storm system we are in.
Thursday Night later on
The bad weather (that we thought couldn’t get any worse) has increased in intensity over the day and night. We have been in squall after squall with 35 knots of wind and the seas have grown to 15 ft. (with some bigger waves at over 20 ft... with breaking surf waves on top of those) on our nose, meaning we are pounding into those seas. I got soaked and changed clothes 3 times within 2 hours having to "drive" the boat (instead of the auto pilot) during these torrential downpours today. We made a decision to give up reaching our intended destination of the atoll, Makemo, in the central Tuamotus and just turned the boat to find a more “comfortable” course (that term is extremely relative–i.e., NOTHING would be comfortable in this weather, but by turning the boat so the wind and seas are slightly behind us, means we are not taking quite as much of a pounding!)
After turning the boat away from Makemo, we just looked on the chart to see where we could get to heading in our "wrong" but more comfortable direction. Since the 80 atolls, which make up the Tuamotus stretch over 1000 miles there are a lot of them out here. Anyway we are now heading to different ones north of us... but unfortunately further away... so our 3 1/2 day trip is now going to be 6 days.
The other problem is that we would actually be able to arrive tomorrow BUT it is impossible to enter these coral reefs except during slack tide (as the current coming out of these atolls is huge, --especially after big storms as what we are experiencing now-- at times faster than our boat could go, so you have to try and enter when the current is the least). The other entrance factor which narrows the time you can go into the passes also is you need to have the sun directly overhead, i.e. between the hours of 10 AM and 1 PM, as once you are inside these atolls, they are full of huge bommies-- coral heads-- that will tear a hole instantly in your boat if you hit one... so you have to be able to see them when the sun is high overhead. You see them by watching for differences in coloration in the water. So that really limits your arrival time (and departure time) to usually only one hour a day... if you get there too early you have to wait, if you get there too late... you have to wait until the next day. So imagine the frustration of having to stay outside protection that you can see right in front of you in this kind of nasty weather... which is why we will be out here until the 6th day (Saturday) before we can get "inside." THIS IS NOT FUN!!! And if you asked me today, I would be on the next plane home. But I know that the bad memories usually are short lived and assuming that it is gorgeous, we hope it will be worth it... and that we soon forget this experience.
The good news is, Mi Gitana does well in the high winds and seas as she is a big HEAVY displacement boat versus a light faster boat... it is only the crew that is suffering. With this kind of weather, neither of us gets much sleep. We get off our watch schedule and just do one hour on and one hour off at night and when a squall hits both of us are up... one watching the radar and the other on the wheel out in the rain... so both of us after only a little over 24 hours of this crap are already exhausted. Somehow though we'll make it through the next 2 days. And somehow, we'll find the mental strength to one-day leave the safety ahead to go back out and to keep going on our journey.
Friday Night, May 23rd — Day 5 of passage to Tuamotus
We are still out here in 2 story- house sized swells over 25 ft with breaking waves on top of those swells... high winds... and squalls sometimes 2-3 per hour requiring white knuckle and all the muscles in my neck, arms and hands to hold the wheel steady. We tried to get some shelter behind an Atoll this morning... going in circles for 2 hours before sunrise as we heard there was a "temporary" anchorage there. We were hoping to at least be able to drop an anchor and perhaps get some sleep before moving onto our new intended destination, Manihi. Once sunrise occurred and we could get a good look at the spot, we said “no way”... even though the motu broke some of the giant swells, there was still greater than 25 knots of wind and huge breaking waves in the spot. We decided to go to the next atoll, but knew we couldn't make it in time to go into the pass… as described above, timing the pass is critical and for this next atoll, we can only go in between 10 AM and 11 AM, so missing that time period, we have been stuck all afternoon and now all night (having to wait until tomorrow AM to line ourselves up on the pass) trying to go in circles or tack (hard to do when you have to beat into those swells and wind to go in a direction of part of that "circle".) It is now midnight and we are between squalls, and Joe is trying to get 20 minutes sleep before we tack again. Neither of us has had more than 5 hours sleep in 3 days, so we are running on “below empty.” To add to the discomfort level, neither of us have been "dry" all day either as regardless of trying to get rain gear on fast enough, when the squalls hit (even with radar, some of them pop up with no notice except all of a sudden the boat speed starts increasing) one of us has to make a run for the wheel to take control, and often not enough time to put on rain gear plus harness, etc. So you get wet and soppy. So now we are both just wearing our rain gear inside with harness on top, wet and all, instead of stripping, over our wet bodies. Plus the inside of the cabin is all wet as with the squalls, just to open the companionway and run outside-- with the sideways hail type rain, by the time both of us get out of the cabin, the inside is soaked.
And to add on from that... we have both had multiple saltwater baths! I can't imagine how bad this would be with an aft cockpit (Mi Gitana’s cockpit is a center one, meaning we are steering the boat from a little behind the center of the boat giving us more protection from the seas) --as these huge waves have really been crashing on the boat. We still get occasionally soaked (and I mean instantly soaked!) when a 25 ft. wall of water comes over the side and onto anything (such as me!) in its way. Anyway, you can tell by my tone and frustration (especially seeing land, shelter a mile away all day and not being able to get into safety) that this has NOT been a very good trip. In fact, this has been the worse, most grueling sailing we have had and both of us are really discouraged, even mentioning the “STB” phrase (“sell the boat”) in serious tones... I'm hoping though that it will be like pregnancy though and after we get the rich reward of our beauteous destination, that we will forget the pain and agony we went through to get to that point. (With childbirth, if you remembered how painful it was the first time, no one would ever have a 2nd child...)
Joe is the one who always gets the short end of the stick also, and I think right now he also feels like giving up. He does at least 90% of all the physical labor type jobs on the boat (raising the sails, reefing, pulling in the lines, anchoring, PLUS all repairs etc.) and right now, he's just worn out. Lately there's been too much work and very little pleasure, as he worked non-stop on boat projects in the month before we left PV, then the crossing, then anchoring, un anchoring, and the labors of sailing all the time since being in the Marquesas... Well it's been a lot of work for him, especially remembering, previous to this endeavor, we would sail to a place in Mexico, stay a month (at a marina, which cuts down on a lot of hassles), then sail a small distance (relative to what we are doing now), then stay another month, etc. Not like now, where even when we got to the Marquesas, we moved every few days... and that's also what's ahead of us in order to make Fiji by October...
Assuming we get in the pass safely tomorrow, we will be staying put for a while... even though this was NOT our original planned destination. For sure until this winter storm system passes, which may be a while still. ! It will take us a while to get to an even keel again, so to speak.
We have made radio contact this evening with another boat, Patriot, (one we know from our Puddle Jump group), who is currently at anchor in Manihi and have offered to help get us into the atoll’s pass tomorrow at around 11 AM. So there IS an end in sight!!
Sunday, May 25th
Our rich reward has finally arrived. We DID make it into the pass at Manihi on schedule on Saturday, and our friends on Patriot, went out in the storm to the entrance (standing on a concrete wharf on land) talked us in with their hand held VHF radio. Imagine taking a heavy, full-keeled sailboat up a narrow, shallow raging river with swirling whirlpool like-rapids, in a 5-6 knot current with breaking waves… Well that’s what it’s like to enter one of these passes. (AND NOTE, that’s when the conditions were “good” to enter!!!) We luckily made it with no problems… however a boat that entered 1 hour after us, ended up “stalling,” i.e., with all their power and engine at full RPM’s, they got stuck in the rapids — actually hit bottom, and for a while, couldn’t go forward. Eventually another boat got out there and literally pushed them forward so they could continue.
We got safely anchored by 1:00 PM, and never felt so grateful to be on the hook. The squalls continued though throughout the day but we held ground well, and by 3:00 PM we were passed out for the next 14 hours!
Today, it is a miraculously different day. We are looking out at aqua colored water at a sandy “motu” covered with coconut palms. With the storm gone, being at anchor here is like being on a tropical lake —with beautiful colorful fish swimming around our boat… PLUS what is really wonderful is we feel absolutely no motion on the boat which is great after a month of rolly seas crossing the pacific and then almost another month at rolly anchorages in Marquesas and the absolutely awful weather enroute here. We may never leave!!!
Tuesday, May 27th:Trials and tribulations–aftermath of the passage:
We had only one project on our list for Sunday, the day after we arrived (and after our great sleep)— to get the dinghy in the water (about a 1 hour job if all goes well) so we could start “exploring” the area (plus get into the village for some reputedly great French baguettes). To show you how “typically” nothing goes as easy or as quickly as it should: when we moved the dinghy, we found the large bag underneath is was full of water, so that entailed taking everything out, and laying it out to dry and trying to "de-rust" some objects. Then we noticed we were being dripped on from above, and when checking overhead where the sails were in a sail bag resting on the boom, that the sail bag was full of water plus all the sails were full of water, so that involved raising 3 of our 4 sails and letting them flop a while in the wind to dry out and then having to fold them back up in their bags (gallons of water came out when we did so). But when zipping up the sail bag on our main sail, we noticed the huge zipper that is 25 ft' long, had come unstitched (probably threads rotted in the sun) and just pulled loose. To fix this, will require standing 6 ft' above deck with one of us pulling up the bag to get tension off while another tries to do a temporary sew job by hand with 4 inch needles and special twine like thread through multiple layers of canvas and the zipper. (Eventually the entire sail will need to be removed and the bag taken into a sail shop when we ever get into civilization). Then I went downstairs to get something out of one of our storage areas and found (where all my food is kept) that the entire locker (about 8 ft' long) was full of water and my food stores were submerged. With that, (plus the build up of the last few days), I was so frustrated, I just broke down and cried and bawled for about an hour -- thinking "I just can't take this anymore!"
And, 3 days later, we are still trying to fix these problems... and have really had little time to "play" or enjoy this place...but that IS going to change!
When we got here there were 3 boats and now there are 6 and no one seems to be leaving anytime soon. About every night someone organizes a bon fire on the beach. Most of the boats are from South African, (De Ja Vous, Golden Sovereign, and Jaldanamar,) which we saw in almost every anchorage we went to in the Marquesas. We have finally gotten to meet them, and are really enjoying their company as they are a very social, jovial bunch with lots of kids (3 teenagers, and 2 little ones).
Friday, May 31st:
We are still finding bilges and cabinets full of water from the storm. One by one, we open each storage space and clean and dry it out, and then wait another day before opening another one to see what awful surprises we have there. Note, in all the years we have owned the boat (6) we had NEVER had any leaks... but I guess the waves and the amount of rain in all the squalls put the boat to it's water limit. And of course the problem is intensified with having teak decks, as we'll never find the origin of the leaks. So now after taking everything out of the settees and floorboards, we are re-evaluating what we can store where with the least amount of damage in the future… now assuming there will be forever more leaks. I know ...it's just part of living on a boat -- but it's a really suck-y part of it!!!
We can’t get over how truly beautiful it is here... the antithesis of the Marquesas. Where as they are volcanic with huge lush mountains (similar to Hawaii... only without civilization and high-rises), here in the Tuamotus, no ground is above about 2 ft. above sea level... white coral/sand beaches with only palm trees on them and the interior of the atoll in the lagoon where we are is mostly aqua water with coral reefs and lots of tropical fish. A totally different type of beauty. This atoll, Manihi, does have a little village with a couple of tiny "stores" (the biggest being half the size of a 7-11) and a baker who makes great baguettes, 2 small churches, a combination bocce ball/ basketball court, and a post office. No Bank... and like all the other places we've visited, no bars or restaurants. Also, like the rest of our experience so far in French Polynesia, we are glad we bought a lot of "provisions" before leaving Mexico... as everything is VERY expensive. We bought a 6-pack of sodas for about $7.00. Beer is about $3.00 a beer or $24 a 6-pack... A bottle of Rum or wine is between $25-30 dollars for rotgut stuff. A frozen chicken is about $7.00. There is no fruit or fresh vegetables. The only bargains are the baguettes at 70 cents! Also after leaving the Marquesas where we almost overdosed on tropical fruits, here there are none as nothing other than coconut trees will grow in this coral/sand ground and with the limited rainfall.
Across the lagoon (about a mile from the village) is a beautiful remote resort where guests fly into the tiny airport nearby from Papeete, Tahiti. Some of the "Deluxe" rooms are little cabins on stilts over the lagoon with docks that connect them to the shore... these go for about $600 per night. Plus food (since there are no restaurants here, I assume everyone has to buy this as an extra) is $120 per person PLUS about a 10% tax on everything, so about $1,000 a night to stay there. We walked around it one day and since it's the only place on the atoll with a bar, we had a drink. For drinks they charge you for the alcohol then a second charge for the mixer... so about $8.00 a pop for the cheapest drink... hence we only had one drink before moving on.
The Tuamotus used to make most of their money-making copra (dried coconut), but in the last 10-15 years pearl farming has been introduced, and supposedly the best black pearls in the world come from here. So the lagoon is full of these shed- like structures up on stilts all over the place where the individual pearl "farms" plant the seeds in the oysters and harvest them. On one day a local woman invited us to see her "farm" and she came by in her big boat (like a large Mexican panga) and picked up all of us cruisers in the bay -- 6 boats, about 16 people, including kids) to take us to see her operation. They took us with our masks and fins to snorkel over their staked out area to see the oysters hanging from lines. Jane (the local woman) said she and her brother had 250,000 oysters that they harvested every 6 months... (in groups… not all at once) -- so lots of pearls. They brought up one "string" of oysters and cut them open for us and it was just amazing to see a beautiful round blue/green/black pearl in the center of the oyster. We also visited their "showroom" (a shack with a counter) and looked at their pearls, and I did buy a few of the good ones. They also had a half-gallon empty Jack Daniels Bottle that was full of the "not good" ones. For those they would "trade" items for. Several in our group ended up with bags full of 100-200 of these flawed pearls for next to nothing.
On other days we have snorkeled around the reefs next to the boat and yesterday we got out all our dive equipment and did a dive under the boat to look at some of the coral heads. Coral heads in anchorages are a cruiser's nemesis. When the wind shifts around in the anchorage, thereby circling the boats, the chain (to the anchor) also wraps around coral heads (called here "bommies") making your 4:1 scope about 1:1 and obviously a nightmare when you go to pull anchor. That was one reason we dove yesterday to see how bad it is going to be when we go to pull anchor in a day or two.
Up until yesterday, we have had 6 boats here at the anchorage for most of the 7 days that we've been here. 4 of them left (including the fun 3 South African boats mentioned above) yesterday heading to where we plan to go also next... Rangiroa. They had a farewell barbeque bonfire on the beach last night where everyone brought fish (lots of fresh grouper in the atoll), chicken, etc and put them on some handmade grate like structures over the ashes of the fire. Rum and beer seemed to be the beverage of choice. They had discovered how to open the coconuts with machetes and were using the coconut water/milk mixed with rum and grenadine as a cocktail. Even Joe who does not like big group affairs seemed to have fun.
Sunday, June 1st:
We should have known the great weather was too good to last. It was squally all last night and today with the dark Wizard of OZ skies. Rain comes down in buckets and the wind goes up to 23 knots for about 20 minutes and then it is all over... until the next one comes along. So I am glad we are here instead of out there enroute to Rangiroa with our friends that left yesterday. Joe, this morning, went down with a big 5-gallon bucket into the dinghy to bale it out. Then this last squall came along and filled it up again. When one storm came along last night, Joe and I were in the cockpit playing dominos (Mexican train) and we went down to check to be sure the hatches and portholes were closed. Well we evidently forgot one and later went down to discover our entire settee ("living room couch”) was soaked with water.... and then after it had totally saturated, even more water went flowing down to the floor and under the floorboards, filling up those spaces (with supplies) with water (…The ones we had JUST finished drying out!!!) So now the boat is torn apart again with all the fans blowing trying once again to dry out the boat. What a mess. No tears this time, but it's still frustrating.
We were going to try and leave tomorrow (Monday) or Tuesday, but for sure tomorrow is out. All the chores we have to do to get the boat ready to go (only a 24 hour trip... but it's still open ocean travels) to Rangiroa, cannot be done now until this storm system departs. We're not really on a tight schedule but we are running out of fuel (even at anchor we use diesel for the generator every day) and wanted to make at least one more stop to one more atoll before going into Papeete (where we can get fuel). I'm sure most of the atolls are pretty much alike, but Rangiroa is the 2nd largest atoll in the world and is famous for its diving -- especially shark diving. Now, I usually avoid being anywhere near a shark, but I guess they take down groups of people to watch the sharks, and no one has gotten eaten yet... so I thought I'd give it a try. It has a lot more people on that atoll, several high-end resort hotels, and maybe even a restaurant or two. So anyway, that is our next stop... ASSUMING we get a good weather window!
Monday, June 2nd:
Wow, the squall we had last night was really tremendous, with 40 plus knots of wind right here in the anchorage. We had to stay up all night for an anchor watch as we are surrounded by coral reefs and the last thing we needed was to have our anchor drag and end up on top of one of them. The winds have died a bit since then, but still steadily above 15 knots and lots and lots of rain. So we are sitting here just waiting for the weather to improve. I think we will stay it looks now at least until Wednesday or Thursday, as a boat we know is coming in and said they could spare 10 gallons of diesel. That will help us a lot as we need to run our generator 4 hours a day in order to run our refrigerator and our water maker and charge our batteries. Plus we even with the bad weather, we are enjoying it here.
Saturday, June 7th: Enroute to Rangiroa, Tuamotus
We’ve finally left Manihi this morning, almost a week after we planned. Perhaps we were being a little gun shy after our last trip from the Marquesas to Tuamotus (Manihi) as the miserable memories of that trip are still pretty fresh on our minds. We've been getting about 4-6 weather reports a day on the computer (incoming messages) plus listen to the weather on the ham radio every morning. So also perhaps too much weather information also delayed our trip more than necessary, as there were a lot of conflicting reports. But whatever, we left today on the first sunny day we've had in a week and have had (knock on wood) pleasant sailing now since then (we left at 9:30 this AM) for our planned 24 hour 100 mile trip to Rangiora... another atoll in the Tuamotus, South of us and closer to Tahiti.
We didn't do much this last week either, as above, the weather every day was rainy and grey skies. We managed to get ourselves usually drenched most every day trying to get to town between squalls -- and never quite making it. It is about a 15-minute dinghy ride to get into the village and there is absolutely nothing IN the village, but we usually made the excuse to go there to get fresh baguettes from the little store that baked them. Joe would usually eat a 3 ft. baguette by himself every day as "snacks", plus we would also have parts of a 2nd baguette daily for grilled garlic bread or for a sandwich.
On one day we in the dinghy over to the resort hotel that I told you about in the last note (the $1,000/night place) and had a pizza for lunch that Joe had been drooling about since we arrived here and he heard they had pizzas. It was actually a pretty good one with plenty of his favorite bacon on it, as well as real mozzarella and about 6-7 other ingredients. We had been warned by another cruiser who had been to Tahiti previously and had eaten pizza that they put an egg in the center of their pizzas, which we found bizarre, but sure enough, when we got the pizza, amongst all the other goodies was a gooey egg with runny yellow and whites right in the center of the pizza! Wonder where that idea came from?
On our way back to the boat (which is quite a distance -- about a 30 minute ride) from the hotel, the winds and the waves had increased and we were beating right into the waves. We got drenched with salt water, but then got drenched by a rainstorm also so were "rinsed off" and showered clean by the time we got to Mi Gitana.
I also went out to some more pearl farms with some cruisers from another boat (Swiss and Dutch) one day and bought and traded for a few more imperfect black pearls. We actually got to see at a couple of the farms this time, how they "seed" the oysters, which was interesting. First they have to find a “perfect” oyster (has to do with the color of the “mother of pearl” inside the shell) in which they sacrifice, and cut up into small pieces (with surgical instruments and precision) bits of the “mantle” of the oyster. Then with a speculum type vice and clamp, they partially open another oyster and insert a small seed (tiny “pearls” they grow in the Mississippi river and then import to Tahiti) into the “gonad” of the oyster they are seeding along with the small bit of mantle from the “sacrificed” oyster. This is done by a specialist using tiny dental instruments. They are then strung (about a dozen per “string” and put back out into the lagoon where whey will “grow” layers onto the seed for anywhere from 9 months to several years, before harvested. Anyway, it was interesting to watch.
I've been looking for a large sized "perfect" black pearl to have set in a pendant, but it looks like most of those quality and size, are sold to the buyers in Tahiti. We are told that we should buy what we want and can find in the Tuamotus (where they come from) as once we get to Tahiti, the prices are double... and of course, once they hit the states to a jewelry store, they are quadruple. Don't know if that's true, but we'll see. But I’ve got quite a collection by now of about a dozen “good” ones and another 40 or so, not so good ones that were mostly “freebies.”
Sunday morning, June 8th:
We are still underway (for our 100 mile trip to Rangiroa–due in there about noon today) and so far, it has been a mild passage -- we even had glassy seas and had to motor for half the way. (We WERE able to buy some fuel from a couple of cruisers in the anchorage at Manihi a few days ago, so at least we had the ABILITY to turn on our motor).
Last night we did have a bit of excitement on our passage. For the first time in a long time, I put out 2 fishing lines. (We didn't fish the entire cross-the-Pacific passage as the seas were so huge and the boat was rocking so badly, that it was too dangerous to leave the cockpit -- which we need to do to reel in the fish and to get it aboard) Anyway since the seas were only about 3 ft' yesterday and we were on a comfortable beam reach sail, I put out the lines. But all day, we had nothing. Then just as the sun was setting, we went outside to reef the sails (We have learned our lessons and always make the main sail, at least, and usually the other sails, smaller -- that's reefing-- at night time in case a squall comes up, so we don't end up on our side). Anyway, I looked out as Joe was going forward to start to lower the main, and saw we were surrounded by spinning bottlenose dolphins, and at that same instant the one fishing pole, started whizzing. I yelled to Joe and he returned to the stern of the boat and grabbed the line, but about half or more of the line had gone out already. Anyway he could hardly reel it at all and was sure he had something big on it. We were also afraid that perhaps we had snagged a dolphin. After a few minutes and not getting it reeled in at all, Joe wanted to cut the line. But I knew I'd lose all my line and another lure (of which after all we've lost in the last 18 months attempting to catch a fish, we're getting quite low on good lures). Anyway, one of the reasons it is so hard to catch a fish on a sailboat is you cannot easily change courses or slow down or speed up if you need to. Since we were under sail power and no engine with all our sails up, we could not do much to slow or maneuver the boat to ease the reeling in process. I was able to hold onto the pole while Joe took in the jib (forward big sail), which did decrease our speed from 5 knots to 3 1/2 knots, but it still was hard to reel in the fish. But little by little Joe got the fish in closer. At one time I thought we had gotten a dolphin as I thought I saw it's dorsal fin on the surface and Joe said he saw a huge fish jump on the surface. Finally -- and now the sun has gone down and it's nearly pitch black-- we got the fish to the side of the boat.
Since the other fish we have managed to pull in on our journey, we have all drowned as it takes so long to get it in, we thought we were pretty smart with this new method of fishing that was pretty neat -- just let the fish drag behind the boat until it's tired and / or drowns and then it's not hard at all to pull it up the side of the boat with a net or a gaff. However, there is one big flaw in that method... which we learned last night. When we got the fish in the net and up on the back of Mi Gitana, it was dead all right. And about half of the fish (about a 25 pound, 4 ft tuna of some kind) was missing. The fin I had saw and the big fish Joe had seen must have been a shark that ripped over half of the fish off leaving the head up to the gills and part of the tail for us. Actually there was probably still a few good chunks of edible fillet left, but Joe was worn out from bringing it in, and again it was pitch black, so he didn't feel like trying to clean the bloody mutilated mess sitting on the fan tail of the boat in the dark to get what the shark left behind. So again, we are sushi-deprived, and still have not had a fish dinner/lunch, snack of any kind now since we left Mexico 2 months ago!!! But I did get my line and lure back!
So that's our fish tale... we have still in 18 months of cruising only caught 1 tuna -- not counting the dorado that got away, the shark that we threw back in, a too-small-to keep bonito, and one boobie bird... but perhaps our luck will change some day.
Wednesday, 11 June:
We arrived through the pass (a lot easier as this one is wider, plus no storm going on made it a less stressful entrance) and anchored with no problems at about noon on Sunday. Unfortunately, since that day, the weather (high winds and waves) here has made us mostly boat bound. We ran into our South African boat friends (3 boats that we met in Manihi) here and the first evening we arrived, the water here was actually calm and the skies clear... so they organized another of their famous bonfires and bbq (with more fresh caught local grouper) on the beach in which we were invited to attend. We didn't know that would be the last good weather we would have, at least up until now. It is no fun to get in the dinghy to go around the lagoon or into town when you get drenched with salt-water waves pouring over you. One night we had winds here at the anchorage of 43 knots and all the boats here were worried about dragging anchor so we had engines running (incase of dragging) and needed to watch with flood lights our position in relation to the other boats around us. We quickly found a big disadvantage of being in a big Atoll such as here, versus a medium/small one like Manihi. If the wind is coming from any direction except directly off shore, instead of having only a few miles to go across the lagoon and pick up fetch height, here in this huge lagoon (really more like an “internal sea”), it had 40-50 miles from one side of the lagoon to the other to gather height; so being anchored here for the last few days has been like being anchored in the open ocean with huge waves, white caps, etc. No way to have fun in the dinghy speeding around as you're lucky not to capsize or at least take on huge waves. So that was a bit stressful. But today is another day with the sun is out and the winds lighter and hopefully the waves will also decrease eventually.
Despite the wind and waves, it really is gorgeous here -- and we're looking forward to being able to enjoy it eventually. The coral lagoon water is aqua/turquoise as in Manihi, and is well known as one of the world's greatest dive spots, so that was one of the main reasons we chose to come here, but it's hard to dive when it's choppy as the visibility is poor.
Rangiroa is the 2nd largest atoll (2nd to Kwajalein Atoll in Micronesia, if you’re curious) in the world: 45 miles long and 15 miles wide. A coral belt surrounds it and it's made up of 240 motus or islets whech are separated by 130 channels, of which only 2 are passable in a boat. It has distinguished itself as a tourist destination in the last 20 years and is also the most populated --almost 2,000 people (10% of the total population of the Tuamotus). Its reputation is based on diving and excursions on the coral sand bottom lagoon… with most of the tourists being French — and some Japanese.
Right near where we are anchored is the atoll’s premier resort (part of a chain, Pearl Resorts, and same one that was owned in our last place on Manihi). Similar to that one, it has the little grass hut “suites” on docks right over the water and inside the rooms they have glass bottom floors so the residents can see the ocean and the fish below them. They have a big buffet with a Polynesian dance show a couple of nights a week... expensive, but if it ever gets calm enough for us to leave the boat (especially after dark when the squalls come up), we will probably splurge and attend it. After our usual habit of eating out 3-4 times a week in Mexico... we have eaten out only 2 nights since we left there over 2 months ago... so I am sick of cooking and we are both sick of eating the same things on the boat. That has been a real disappointment that because of the remoteness of the places we've been, there have been almost no restaurants ashore. But we still at least get our heavenly baguettes (which here are even a better bargain at 40 cents!)
Speaking of cheap... one more thing that is NOT cheap is fuel. We hired a man ($20) to take us to town (village about 6 miles away... so expensive trip!) to take us and our "jerry cans" to buy diesel. We borrowed several of these 5-6 gallon jugs from several other boats and took 10 of them into town (9 for diesel for Mi Gitana and one for gasoline for our dinghy.) The diesel was about $4.50/gallon and the gasoline was about $6.50 a gallon! It then took us 2 trips to get the these jugs back in the dinghy to the boat (getting drenched in the waves)... and another few hours for Joe to get them into Mi Gitana... so getting fuel ended up being a 5 1/2 hour project. As I've been saying all along, nothing is ever easy!
We’ve decided that when we get to Tahiti we are going to try and find a marina to stay at versus to anchor out. We really need a break from life on the hook, and even though not totally easy, everything is easIER when tied up to a dock... where we have electricity (versus having to make our own), water (versus having to desalinate our own) so we can take daily (versus every-other-day) showers longer than 30 seconds of water each, and we don't have to worry about anchors dragging, and we can go to shore without arriving in soppy wet salt-water soaked clothes and muddy/sandy feet... etc. I think we are both just getting worn out and a break is much needed. By this time last year, we were home also, but this year because we changed seasons going south of the equator, we have a 1-year on-the-boat time before we get our break to go home.
Friday, June 13th:
The weather has been perfect here for the last 3-4 days so we have really been enjoying ourselves. The nightly/daily squalls have gone away, and the lagoon has been calmer for taking our dinghy to shore without getting soaked! I have done 2 things that I wanted to accomplish while here -- get some of my black pearls set (they have small jewelry roadside stands that will set the pearls that we got in Manihi into pendants and earrings in 18 K gold), and also have done 2 scuba dives.
The diving is world renown here and I am thrilled that I got to experience it. Yesterday I went on a drift dive where they take you outside of the pass entrance to the atoll (on the ocean side) and drop you off at about 100 ft down and you drift in with the 3-4 knot current into the pass. Along the way we saw hundreds and hundreds (no exaggerating) of gray reef sharks as they await their meals in the middle of the pass with the incoming current. Normally, sharks are something in my past diving experiences which make my breathing and heartrate increase and I avoid any closeness at all, but this dive is written up as being "famous" for the shark encounter, so I wanted to experience it (with a dive master accompaniment of course). It was really spectacular to be so close to so many sharks... and have them ignore us (thank goodness!). We also saw a large manta ray, 3 large moray eels, and a large turtle plus of course thousands and thousands of fish. It was an advance level dive, so I did this one without Joe as he is still considered a "novice." Then this morning, Joe and I both went on another dive (with the dive shop again, so they go down with us and sort of "guide" us through the reefs) again outside the pass but in much calmer waters and not so deep but in a magnificent coral "garden" with lots of colorful fish. Tomorrow we have organized a snorkel and dive (for those who have equipment) trip to another place with several other boats here at anchor to do on our own (not a paid trip) at a reef inside the atoll not far from our boats anchorage. We will go over by dinghy and tie up to a mooring ball and go over the side, leaving our boat on the surface. It is a place where the hotel and resorts organize snorkel trips and the glass bottom boats go for the passengers that don't want to "get wet." We will try to get there before the hotel guests get there so we are not in their way -- and it is not so crowded. Anyway, the diving is what we mostly chose this atoll for and we are finally getting to do something that we wanted to do.
We also did finally get to have a marvelous dinner at the Resort Pearl Hotel (Kia Ora). I got to wear my new black pearls (the settings turned out beautiful) and Joe even put on a shirt with a collar (that’s “formal” wear for him) and we dinghied across a short ways to the restaurant on the lagoon with a gorgeous full moon. They also, along with the dinner, had a great Polynesian dance show which we enjoyed. It has been so long since we had had a meal out that we really gorged ourselves — which wasn’t hard, as everything tasted so wonderful. They had a desert bar at the end with a couple of gallons of Chocolate mousse and every imaginable French pastry-- and between the 2 of us (who usually are lucky if, when we go out, that we even split one desert) ate 7 deserts, and sucked them down with a pot (not a cup, mind you) of espresso coffee. We paid for our gluttony for the rest of the night as we were on a caffeine and sugar high with indigestion and bellyaches until 4AM when we FINALLY were able to both fall asleep!
Tuesday, June 17th:
We left Rangiroa yesterday under wonderful conditions and said our goodbyes to a wonderful time (which for a change, way outweighed the bad!) in the Tuamotus. WE are now enroute to a new island group called the Society Islands, and are more familiar names to those of you back home — Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, etc. where we plan to spend another month in our last group of French Polynesia.
Right now (and I'm knocking hard on wood!!!), we are on a wonderfully smooth and "easy" passage (2 days/ 2 nights) to Papeete in Tahiti... Really great for a sail. I forgot sailing could be pleasant after all of our recent passages. But we're moving 5-6 knots (medium/fast for us) in the direction we want to go even... with small (<3 ft') seas, the best conditions we've had, I think since we left California 18 months ago! Anyway, hopefully it will last for the next couple of days so we can have some more GOOD memories of what our life out here is supposed to be like.
This will end this chapter of our adventures. The next chapter hopefully will be out in about a month as we make our way through 3-4 of the 10 Society Islands, before departing to the Cook Islands.