Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Friday, 21 July 2017

Fish!

Phil caught a good sized Spanish Mackerel today as we motored north to Viti Levu through the reefs.  It got released as being less good eating than mahi mahi.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Hurricane Winston

As we moored in flat calm along the eastern shore of Ovslau island we came across this ferry washed bodily ashore in hurricane Winston last year.  Beyond the village stands of tall pine trees remain standing stripped of their foliage. The coconuts however seem to have mostly kept their crowns.
.

The original building in which the Council of Chiefs sat until recently. Surprisingly unaffected by hurricane Winston on 20 Feb 2016.
 Next door is the new provincial government building.



Lovely laid-back Levuka!


I went ashore this morning and completed the formalities. Everyone SO friendly and helpful. It was so much easier than I'd been led to believe.  When we arrived yesterday I called the port on channel 16 and got an immediate reply. We were directed to anchor 100-200m north of the wharf.....Slightly nervous on a off shore with a vigorous breeze blowing but it worked out OK.  Then i was requested to await the Health official, so we had lunch and within the hour Mr Aquila arrived. An imposingly large man, who I collected from the dock in a sloppy sea and got aboard with difficulty.  Once he's fumigated the boat against Zika virus bearing mozzies we returned ashore to deal with Customs and immigration.  This was handled by two charming friendly ladies in the Customs House on the wharf, and I was able to nip round the corner to an ATM to get cash to pay my bills - F $168 for Health and $5 for Ports.

As it was by then 4:30 I had to wait till today to deliver personal passport forms for the crew and walk 10 minutes to the Provincial Government offices for my cruising permit. Although they had to fax details to their offices in Suva I had my permit within 30 minutes and then my clearance from Customs to proceed.

This done we set out to explore Levuka.  It's a UNESCO World heritage site and rightly so as it retains the unique style of early 19th century colonial days.  The shop fronts along Beach Rd are freshly painted with the high square frontage carrying the names of the owners...Gulabda's, Morris Hedstrom, Ivans Hot Bread Shop, Patel's Tailoring & Radio Merchants. Inside are densely stocked emporiums staffed by families of indian descent. Everything from sari silk to radios, pots and pans to watches, lights to put under your car to machetes.  There are a small number of restaurants along the front too. The Whale's Tale, Sea Site Restaurant and Horizon; some licenced, some BYO.  Cyclone Winston's devastation showed in many places where buildings were still being repaired. The Category 5 hurricane unusually headed out to Tonga and then turned back. Levuka was completely open to its force from seaward.

Today we strolled back streets, enchanted by the shady verandahs and clapboard buildings, mostly fresh painted increases, white or pale blues and greens. Only the shop fronts were pinks, reds and yellows. Everyonebwe passed greeted us with a cheery "Bula!".  Once for each in our group.

We passed large elegant school buildings with grounds and sports field alive with playing children. The occasional whistle blast showed that the games were often controlled; girls practising netball moves ends 8 year old boys working hard at very physical contact rugby, perfecting moves and playsnthat were impressively done.  We stopped at Levuka Public school and looked in at the cream painted colonial buildings chatting to the Vice Principal and various children.  

From there we strolled up the valley road toward the steep mountain wall behind the town. Neatky laid concrete paths andvsteps led off in differentbdieections snaking around from house to house, rising high above the bay. Benches had been placed at intervals for the elderly to rest. We met a young man who cheated to us for a long while and ttold us of his previous job as a long line fisherman, lettingnout up to 60 miles of baited hooks to catch tuna. He said that wages were about F $3.50/ hour -about £1.

We climbed up to a waterfall that marked the coĺection point for the town's drinmibfbwatet and then down the to the sea front again for a sandwich at the Royal Hotel.  This grand colonial building was absolutely charming with rooms preserved since the 30s, dark lounges, a great billiard room and ceiling fans maintain a breeze. Out of the rear lounge through white psinted turnedvwoodeb window bars we could see teenagers practising rugby and hockey  in the lovely afternoon light.

Before the shops shut at 5pm we bought various essentials  and pushed a trolley back to the dock.  Here we found Mark in the Port Authority office and were oeomptlyninvited to join in their Kava session.  A largeborabge buoy had been cut open to create 're kava bowl.  The youngest member, Samson, was mixing five F$2 bags of ground kava into water and straining it through a cloth.  He pouredvitbfron a heiğtbinto the bowl and listened to the splash  to judge its strength and consistency.   Then he brought me a bowl, rtimesemembering the protocol, I clapped once and drank it down in one. Everyone then clapped three  and so did I. The taste was a bit woody and mildly earthy.
After between 10-15 circuits of the room conversation was flowing and the fishing crew left to go to sea again, waving enthustically as they moored out.

We too took our leave to ferry goods to Tin Tin in the dinghy.  However the stern anchor was firmly lodged on an obstruction on the seabed.  To our surprise a man on the Jetty handed his long thin cigarette to a child and dived in, surfacing in the gloom of dusk with it in his hand.  He then leapt into a long skiff worth his three children and sped off alkbf the lagoon.  I shouted "Vinaka buku levu!!!"  Thankyou very much! After him.

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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The other side of the World

This shows that we are exactly 180 degrees opposite Portsmouth on the chart, albeit closer to the latitude of Tenerife.  Temperature is not at all tropical at 25 degrees and cold enough at night to wear long trousers, jersey and my Musto Ocean jacket! 

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Monday, 17 July 2017

Fiji

I'm on watch at 03:00 and we are approaching the southern Lau group of islands on the eastern edge of Fiji. The quarter moon is giving a dim glow so that I can see the waves as the rise astern.  The wind has dropped to 25 knots and to maintain speed I have let out a couple of reefs in the genoa, which is poled out to port as we are rolling along downwind.   I'm aiming to arrive at the unlit Oneata Passage just after dawn so that I can see our way through.

It's frustrating that we are forbidden to stop in the outer islands until we have cleared in on the mainland. I may take a chance on a breakfast halt if I can get into the Lagoon at Oneata.

I've been reading the Lonely Planet guide to Fiji (free on Kindle!) and it seems that there is very little contact with the outside world in these remote areas. So quite how the islanders would report my presencevindont know. Butchers is a policeman on Lakeba 20 miles north!

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Dorado

It's been a rough sail overnight with 30-40knots of wind and large seas which has made a few of the crew rather queasy.  But Siobhan served up a Thai curry which was enjoyed.  I am trying to control our speed to arrive at dawn at the Oneata Passage through the outer Lau group of islands in Fiji.  Beyond that is another 24 hour sail to another unlit passage which would be safer in daylight.

This morning the sun shone and we put out the fishing line on Antony's rod and at midday Mark reeled in a good sized dorado or mahi mahi which raised the spirits of the fishermen!

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Saturday, 15 July 2017

Last minute Tonga

Just before leaving Neiafu I managed to buy the essentials for a visit to any Tongan anchorage.  It is apparently obligatory to seek permission from the village chief to anchor in their waters, and to do so one must go through the ceremony of sevusevu, by which one can be accepted by the community.  This involves presenting half a kilo of kava root to the chief, which if accepted will be pounded up and made into the kava drink.  The chief partakes amidst a ceremony of works and clapping, which we have to learn and participate in.   However the price of kava has gone up a lot and more and more it is sold as a powder.  I was able to buy 6 packets of 50grams at T$10 each - about £20 in total.  This apparently is about right for the ceremony.  We will see....... I'm not Really looking forward to drinking this drug, but at least it's preparation no longer involves the roots being chewed by old men and spat into a bowl to create the brew.

We had a last minute panic whether Customs Official who had promised to be there at 3pm to check us out appeared to have gone home.  It being a Saturday I was expecting to pay overtime fees of T$120 so was surprised and dismayed, because it would delay our departure till Monday.

However he had been taken out to a super yacht, and was eventually returned in their big tender to where we were required to be,  grinding uncomfortably up and down alongside the commercial dock. For a very large man he was surprisingly agile, and dressed in formal civil service black dress wrapped with a mat and girdled with a rope, all topped off with a hi-viz jacket marked Aus Aid.

After umpteen forms filled we were given our clearance documents and enabled to set sail for Fiji.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Tonga farewell

Our sail from the Ha'apai islands to Vavau was dotted with whale encounters, many quite close.  The northern islands appeared eventually and have a very different aspect to the low lying Sandy reefs further south.  Thickly wooded mushroom islands with undercut cliffs and hardly a beach or reef anywhere.  However we found obe lovely spot and anchored in a blue lagoon and enjoyed an unusually sunny day.  We were invited ashore to the Blue Lagoon restaurant to partake in freshly caught red snapper with local spinach, pele, in coconut cream.  The resort has 3 or 4 brightly painted cottages built out of the cliff and supported on tall spindly legs over the Blue Lagoon. The resort isnt yet open, but chef Otto made us very welcome and regaled us with stories and photos of swimming with humpbacks in the lagoon.

That night the heavens opened and it rained hard for 30 hours. We motored up to the main port of Neiafu in lousy visibility with steep wooded banks either side rather like the River Dart on a wet day accentuated by lots ofbyachts on moorings.  I had to bucket 120 gallons of rainwater out of the dinghy before going ashore to deal with Customs and Port Authority. 

 Later we were surprised to spot another OVNI 455CC motor in and I recognised Alita. I had corresponded with Marcus in New Zealand when we first acquired Tin Tin, and so we enjoyed exchanging visits to compare notes. He and Michaela have made Alita immaculate as their cruising home. 

That night we succumbed to Mango, the nearest cafe to our mooring, and warmed up with hot food and bright lights. Tomorrow we clear out for a 3 day sail to Fiji.  

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Adventures in Tonga

We finally set sail from Nuku'alofa on a grey windy day to head 45miles north to the first of the Ha'apai group of islands. As we passed our through the reefs into the open sea we were delighted to have several close encounters with huge humpback whales. A mother and calf crossed right in front of us, diving to avoid collision as we pounded along close hauled with two reefs in. Another huge whale broke the surface right alongside and the huge knobbly back arched out of the water giving us a real sense of the enormous mass of muscled animal next to us. The images of those close encounters keep going through my head because they were so huge and immediate.

Then we were amazed to see flying whales, silhouetted above the horizon as they leapt clear of the water before smashing back in a gigantic wall of spray. Again and again they repeated this, and I wished that we could have been closer to see it happening nearby.

Then we were delighted to catch the biggest dorado yet, which Mark struggled to play and wind in. Justin skilfully filleted the fish and that evening served mahi maui with ginger pak choi and noodles.

We eventually found Kelefesia and made our way in rough seas between white water breaking over reefs to drop anchor in a sheltered area behind sandstone cliffs. To our left a pointy promontory reminded us of Gibraltar. This dropped into a fringe of coconuts backed by thick forest before rising again to higher cliffs. A white sand beach stretched out into a sandbar surrounded by pale blue water.

Mark and Philip explored ashore and found some beautiful cowrie shells. Two dogs appeared and, beyond Gibraltar, they spotted a small fishing boat.

The following morning was rainy and grey again, but we snorkelled from TinTin into a magical area of huge columns of coral topped with the broad think plates like acacia trees. Deep between these there were canyons of white sand. I came across a huge colony of pale pink sea anemones which were about 20 feet wide in a shallow dome, with their tentacles gently swaying in the current. One darker anemone near the centre housed a clown fish.

We got rather cold and I produced Lake Soup for lunch to revive everyone. Then while Philip and Mark had another go at solvingbthe generator problems, I went ashore with Siobhan and Justin. We waded round Gibraltar to find a fisherman's camp guarded by the two dogs and a large black pig rooting away under the trees. Fish were hung out to dry on frames, which was rather futile in the rain. Earlier we had watched a little fishing boat set off into rough seas, probably making for the village of Nomuko 15 miles to the north. It seemed a perilous journey for such a snall boat with low freeboard better suited for a calm lagoon!

Our beachcombing trip quickly brought the delight of a large brown speckled cowrie shell and many others of smaller size. We also found large blocks of layered sandstone in the water with deeply carved Tongan names.

Back on board I was ecstatic to find that Phil and Mark had solved both the current leakage from the generator, and also the problem that kept tripping the fuse so that it wouldn't start. That's taken three weeks of great anxiety off my mind!

It was my cooking night so I celebrated by producing an egg, cheese, ham, chilli and garlic potato soufflé cake coated in breadcrumbs. This was served with ratatouille and fresh cabbage steamed with nutmeg, cumin seeds and ginger accompanied by a cold Chilean Sauvignon blanc. Pudding was bananas baked with muscovado sugar and flambéed in Mount Gay rum, served with hot custard sprinkled with nutmeg.

Tomorrow we hope the weather clears for our sail north towards Ha'afeva island.

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Thursday, 6 July 2017

Tin Tin Fashion!





A certain sense of style.

Whales and limestone caverns

Mark, Phil and I explored more of Tongatapu by car, ending up descending deep into limestone caverns carved out through the ancient beds of coral. Spectacular stalactites and stalactites reached towards each other often forming thick pillars that must have taken ages to grow.  As we descended with our guides we could bear splashing and shrieking, and it soon became apparent that there were fresh water lakes down there. Two expat Tongan families visiting home from Hawaii and Texas were back g great fun leaping in.  Neither of my companions fancied it, but as we left I found another set of steps leading down to water and, reluctant to miss a wild swim, I stripped off and went in.  The water was surprisingly warm and delicious. I explored more of the cave u til I joined up with the families who all were thrilled to find a new area.

The next day was mirror calm so we took Tin Tin out through the reef to look for whales and were thrilled to come across several groups with mother and calf gently cruising along.

Phil, who is a determined fisherman has just lost his lure to a very big fish strike in the reef pass, so the whales were a nice compensation. We anchored  lose inside the reef and had an exceĺlent snorkel amidst completely new coral scenery, reminiscent of spreading acacia trees on the Serengeti plains.  The trees were two or three feet across and were vivid lime green,  copper, and purple and blue.  Fish didn't seem as abundant but there were shoals of lime green "leaves blowing in the breeze".

The next day Justin and Siobhan arrived and we had the whole boat shipshape after our maintenance work.  That evening we anchored TinTin off the Big Mama Yacht Club again and enjoyed the sunset together over a drink.

This morning I had everyone up early for  busy day.    I set old with Mark at 07:30  to spray paint Tin Tin' s logo onto the wreck by the yacht club, then got everyone to immigration at 09:00 in order to sign on the new crew and get our clearance to head north to Vavau. J&S then set off to explore Tongatapu by car whilst we lads restocked with vegetables and other groceries, and filled up with fuel before returning the car.  Of course here one must take it to a carwash first!  Driving anywhere was slow today as the streets are full of processions of trucks pumping out music, decked out with flags and balloons and laden with people waving flags in readiness for Saturday's rugby match vs Fiji



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Monday, 3 July 2017

Tongatapu

It's almost a week since we arrived in Tonga and the days since then have been occupied with some exploring, saying farewell to Emily and Julien, and welcoming Phil.  Tin Tin has shuttled from anchorage off the Royal Island, Pangai Motu, to the anchorage off the port of Nuku Alofa. Going ashore there in the dinghy, we tie up to the most ramshackle, decaying and badly built dinghy pontoon that I have ever seen.  It's the sort of thing I made a raft out of  when I was a Boy Scout with oil drums, and timbers roughly nailed together with 6" nails, most of which are protruding dangerously to puncture inflatables,. Many of the pontoon bits are half sunk as the oil drums have popped out, and attached to them are old boats, many of which are themselves half submerged in a swirl of plastic rubbish.  Depressing.

The town has grand government buildings with egg cosy shaped roofs in red, which echo the royal Palace on the sea front, in its intricate Victorian white. Some of the churches also point red spires skywards, giving a themed roof line.  The main streets are busy with people and vehicles, but no scooters or bikes. General stores are well stocked with a wide range of goods, and the market has a great variety of fresh produce. Everything seems to be in urgent need of maintenance and repainting,, with a few exceptions which gleam.

We hired a car £15/day and explored to see where Abel Tasman landed in 1643, driving along good roads through well tended villages. Little roadside shops have the fronts barricaded off with grills through which transactions take place, the shelves behind all arranged so that everything can be seen easily, stacked with Punjas Breakfast Crackers, CheeseBalls, and other staples.  Roadside vegetable sellers display piles of yams or taro.  Dogs wander everywhere, often limping from encounters with cars. Large pigs and their piglets graze the roadside or cross purposefully on a mission. Cows are often tethered under a tree.

Graves are very prominent and colourful in village cemeteries, with big signs proclaiming Happy Fathers Day Papa, quilts or bright cloths draped over the graves or hung on frames.  Our explorations took us to the blowholes in coral cliffs where the swell blasted great snorts of spray and millions of tons of water into the air.  Further on we found Tonga's Stonhenge, Ha'amomga na Maui, where two massive blocks of coral support a huge cross piece which fits into carved slots. Three avenues radiate through the woods from the stone to the sea, through which the sun shines on 21st June (the shortest day) the Equinox, and the longest day.  Two hundred metres away an imposing slab is reputed to be the backrest for the massive blind King who built this in 1200AD, where he could protect his back from assassination attempts, and wave his stick in front of him to keep people at a distance.



Monday, 26 June 2017

The island of Niue

Arrived in Tonga after two day sail from Niue, and anchored in the main bay by Pangaimotu island, where there were ten other yachts already, just off a stilted shack proclaiming itself the Big Mama Yacht Club, in large white letters on the bow of a rusting wreck. Other fishing and cargo boat wrecks lay around the bay.

Niue had been a lovely few days, where we picked up a mooring off the wharf along with about ten others. Going ashore was an adventure as one had to hoist the dinghy out with a crane to store it on the wharf. A short walk up the hill brought us to the Main Street which seemed crisp and clean, with low buildings widely spaced along its length offering a variety of services. The most impressive service was from Niue whose little office was open 24/7 as it was also the switchboard for the island's 1600 inhabitants. Here one could buy wifi time, and we were impressed with the ease with which it all worked, unlike French Polynesia.

We walked along to the Niue Yacht Club to pay our mooring fees, finding a friendly welcome from Alexi and a charming room full of people reading, doing internet stuff, and enjoying cold beer or wine from the cooler.

Nearby the Niue Visitor Centre was most helpful, ringing car hire companies and offering to drive us there. Eventually we hired a couple of cars for a day and explored the island. I found the roads very charming, although badly potholed, they we overhung with flowering red hibiscus, palm trees and other lush vegetation, and seemed to sway round the coast line without ever trying to be in a particularly straight line. Tracks led down to the oceans edge periodically, descending the coral cliffs to little inlets. In one we found twenty one outrigger pirogues on a slipway, all covered with palm fronds. Some were made of glass fibre, but most were hewn from a tree trunk p, and were dry, thin and light, with the adze marks still evident inside. The outriggers were mostly thin logs, cross braced with thin aluminium tubes to aluminium cross members, and all lashed tightly with thick fishing line. Al had broad bladed paddles, shaped to a sharp point, and one had a Y shaped fishing
rod.

We met a boy of about 12 years coming out to practice rugby kicks in front of the blue and white church. Mark chatted to him about the game, and it turned out that he is a Lions fan, and could discuss every game they had played and hold forth on the merits of each player, and critique the strategy. His name is Pele Bourne. Wonderful!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Beveridge reef

This morning we could see the wreck of a motor boat away to our left, which we had  taken for a block of coral last night.

Here's the view of the distant breakers across the blue lagoon.

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Desolate sanctuary

With strong winds gusting 30 knots we arrived at Beveridge reef at 13:00 on Saturday 17th June. Invisible until quarter of a mile away, there was suddenly a line of white surf ahead backed by a vivid slash of aquamarine. At night, unwarned, we would have been wrecked in 5 minutes. As it was I had to gybe in a hurry, and sailed along the line of surf about 100feet away, until we rounded the northern tip of the reef and entered more sheltered water. We had been given coordinates for an entrance to the lagoon, but it was so rough that I doubted whether we could safely enter. As we motored round the reef just outside the breakers, the sight was dramatic as the strong wind tore the heads off the rollers.

To my surprise I found that the reef was like a short spiral and we curved round into the lagoon through a wide reasonably sheltered channel. Then we motored into the teeth of the gale to an indicated anchorage position just inside the reef, where the water changed from Bombay Sapphire in 12metres to pale aquamarine in 3metres over white sand.

Our anchorage was secure, if a little choppy and buffeted by the endless roar of surf and wind, and we stayed for the night.

Despite the gale we took the dinghy right up to the reef edge to snorkel, and were very glad we did. The water was so clear that s the vital watermaker has slowed from 90litres an hour to 30litres. So today Mark is running a full cleaning programme with alkali and acid solutions and I hope to see it restored.

Next we set sail for Niue, 120 miles directly downwind in this game, before heading to Tonga. It looks as though this wind will remain unabated for the next week, so it will be a rough ride.

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Sunday, 18 June 2017

Aitutaki friendship

Emily, Mi'i and Julien with TinTin in the background. Mi'i made Emily this beautiful hat.

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Looking for a reef

We set sail from Aitutaki on 14/6/17 with a wonderful farewell from Mi'i and Richard, who had been so kind to Emily and Julien. They brought us gifts of fruit from their garden in a superb bag woven from palm leaf, and a most elegant hat for Emily in pale green also woven from palm and decorated with lovely red hibiscus flowers. Richard had been in the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya as well as many other parts of the world, and Mark and I enjoyed our chat with him.

We had refilled the boats tanks from our diesel cans and were lucky to get help from Aquila who took me to his gas station to refill 260 litres and then delivered me back to the dock. People are so kind!

Now after three windy says of sailing in big 4metre waves we are approaching Beveridge reef which has been recommended for a stopover en route to Niue. However it's not an atoll but a semi submerged ring of coral, reputed to have an entrance to a lagoon with great snorkelling. However with the cold wind from the South and vigorous weather and big seas I am reserving judgement till we get there. The challenge has been to time arrival to be in good daylight. Above 7 knots we would arrive on Day3 or we'd need to go slower at 5 knots and arrive on Day4. So far it's been a mix of 5 to 10 knots and I think we should be there mid afternoon on Day 3 in 10 hours time.

We are back into our watch regime with Emily and Julien taking one together. The quality of cooking has been amazing. Last night it was too wet to eat in the cockpit so we had the rare pleasure of sitting round the saloon table. It felt véry civilised even though the boat was surging along at maximum speed in big waves and it was hard to keep the food on the plate!



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Monday, 12 June 2017

in Cook's wake

Now we have set sail for Bora Bora towards the Cook Islands, of which very few offer a safe harbour except Aitutaki where the US military have blasted a narrow channel through the reef which is only 2 metres deep - our keel will have to come up to get in.

I have been reading the Journal of Captain Cook as he made his way to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus across the sun in 1769. Mostly he notes weather, and navigational issues such as position fixed by the sun and moon and stars. Occasionally a sailor falls overboard and is drowned, but no one gets scurvy due to his insistence that everyone eats the antiscorbutic diet of sauerkraut and where possible fresh vegetables. To get the sailors to eat it he first serves it only to the captains table and then of course everyone wants it. Once in Tahiti his journal becomes much more interesting in his careful description of the people he meets and their customs.

Having read so much about Cook's astronomical observations I got out our two sextants today and Julien and I practiced taking sun sights. However the process of calculating the sight reductions to get our position still requires considerable study and practice.

After three days sailing the wind has come dead ahead, and then died so, much to our frustration, I resorted to the engine in order to keep to arrive at Aitutaki in daylight. After seeing no one for days we were called on the radio by yacht Salty, and spoke to Nic and Donna, who had supped with us a few nights ago. They are not visiting the Cook Islands because the cost of administration is significant, and hence are sailing on awaiting better weather to head west. I have budgeted NZ$500 just for the formalities of clearing in and clearing out of port authorities.

As I write the wind has backed to the south and the engine is at last silent as the boat heels to a freshening breeze, or maybe as Cook put it - a Genteel breeze.

Talking about Cooks, Julien demonstrated an iron constitution by cooking a delicious lasagne in rough conditions, heeled hard over in a horribly lumpy wave pattern. I still find that I get a bit hot and queasy when cooking.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Blue lagoons

We anchored just inside the pass through the reef at Tahaa, by this little motu.   There was a very happy party going on with a floating thatched hut and I enjoyed sketching this to the sound of infectious laughter across the water.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Bora Bora

The Bora Bora Yacht Club turned out to be an excellent spot to moor our dinghy, dispose of our recycling and general refuse, and above all to connect to fast wifi.

As Emily and Julian were going to be off scuba diving we pumped up a second dinghy so that they could be independent. Mark and I had various things to deal with in the yacht club, while it poured with rain, and then after a bite to eat we sped round to the town to find the gendarmerie, where I spent a long time filling in forms to leave the country. With luck they will al be approved tomorrow so. That we can leave on Thursday morning for The Cook Islands. However it necessitated scooting back to the yacht club to photograph and email the documents back to Papeete, to a generally unresponsive harbour master. By the time that was over it was nearly 5 pm.

Meanwhile Emily and Justin met Nic and Donna - all thirty somethings- and we ended up having supper together on board TinTin, which was great. They are absolutely inspirational adventurers, and for the last seven years have cycled from California through South America, crossed Mongolia alone on horseback for six months, and motorbiked from Malaysia to the UK. Now they are sailing from South America to Australia and are keen on getting their on boat to explore further and even raise a family on board. Extraordinary!

Sailing round Tahaa lagoon

To reach Bora Bora we had to go round the island of Tahaa, and luckily we were able to do so inside the lagoon under sail. It was a rare treat in these rather windless days to hoist all sail and heel to the wind and hear the water chuckling under the forefoot. Imagine a clock where we had entered the lagoon do the outer sea at about 5 o'clock, and had the choice of sailing clockwise or anti clockwise to reach 7 o'clock. Everyone was keen to go round the long way, and we had just enough time to do so.

On our left the thin strip of inhabited land slid by, with the coast road linking communities. Behind it rose the mountains up to 550 meters, cloaked in various textures of green. The acacia trees give a wonderful layered mantle to the slopes, with elegant white trunks showing bright and dividing into an fan of pale branches under each canopy. Then there are feathery trees that climb the hills giving patches of grey green vertical texture. Amongst these there are patches of vivid green from a broad leaf tree, that make a vibrant scalloped surface. Along the coast, and occasionally in clusters that venture up the scalloped valleys, rise the palm trees, shiny In the bright sunlight, with yellowish green leaves and highlights of orange at the focus of the fronds where the nuts cluster.

Our course was well marked by red and green beacons warning of dangerous coral heads, but for much of the to ewe we in inky blue water 100 feet deep. Looking out to the reef where the swell rears up and then curls over in a long tube of collapsing surf, it amazed me that all that energy is dissipated by the coral fringe, and no hint of swell disturbs the lagoon, despite the furious deep roar of the ocean hurling itself into foam. While we sailed Mark zoomed around in the dinghy taking photos.

Having navigated safely round to the next pass we dropped anchor for lunch in 10 feet of pale blue water over white coral sand. Across the reef beyond some Palm clad motus, or reef islands, the astonishing shape of Bora Bora rose in a jagged peak to 750 meters, seeming close and huge despite being over twenty miles away.

Knowing that we need to be in harbour whilst still light, we hurried out to sea, and with a fair wind of 16 knots raised the spinnaker and were soon making 6.5 knots in the right direction, rapidly overhauling a large catamaran ahead. We hadn't put the spinnaker up for ages, so Mark took to the dinghy again to get some rare shots of us with the ParaSailor up as we approached Bora Bora.

I felt relaxed enough to enjoy sketching the approaching island, which was a dramatic study in greys and indigo shadows under orange-grey clouds and curtains of rain, with intense evening sunshine breaking through the gloom to light a path on the water.

Just before sunset we motored through the wIde pass into the lagoon and picks up q mooring at the Bora Bora Yacht Club. It was my turn to cook, and as rooted through cupboards and lockers seeking inspiration until I ended up making a lightly spiced couscous topped with butter roasted asparagus and followed by a lemon sponge cake served with Fromage blanc and apple purée. The unused tins of spinach, sweet corn and a fig compote remained on the side to puzzl the rest of the crew.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Mainsail

Heres thr mainsail going back onto the roller boom after various minor repairs  

Re rigging the genoa

We sent the sails off for repair in Tahiti. Here's the genoa neatly folded before fitting it back on the forestry  

The perfect tropical island

Emily & Julien find land

This perfect little island on the barrier reef at Tahaa was where they went to watch the sunset

Huahiné (and badly drawn outrigger canoe)

I was surrounded by lots of small boys passing me the coloured pencils and advising me.  So the canoe was their request, but it paddled off so fast that I didn't sketch it well  

Powerful Pirogue paddlers

Poolside Tahiti

Sketch of Moorea

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Raiatea and Tahaa islands

Rather sadly we left Huahiné after breakfast, wishing to stay longer to explore, but we are en route to Bora Bora and a couple of scuba dive appointments for Julian and Emily. So we set off towards the island of Raiatea and its northern partner Tahaa. I chose to enter the lagoon system in Tahaa, not visiting Raistea and the rather built-up looking town of Uturoa, though reputed to gave a great market and some famous bars.

The Tohotaea pass was easily entered between two small wooded islands, and we quickly came to anchor in the lee of one in pale blue water, rippling with electric green in the sunlight. Emily and Julian prepared a lovely lunch during which we became aware of a riotous and hilarious party going on near the island. A floating thatched hut on a traditional looking Polynesian barge was the centre of fun, and through binoculars we could see that it was surrounded by groups of people up to their waists in the clear water, the women wearing floral crowns and the men hats woven from green palm leaves. The party went on till sunset, and we were astonished at the constant infectious laughter emanating in great roars and shrieks from the party goers who were all happily drinking away. Later I rowed over and chatted to a man with a water taxi, who told me that renting a floating hut for a party was very reasonable, and that you could get one all day for just $750, asserting that his son often hired one to entertain friends! I don't know of that included food and drink though.

We spent a lazy afternoon snorkelling in the clear cold water coming through the pass, where the coral looked very healthy and vast numbers of fish filled the sea like flocks of birds in a blue sky. Then the sun set and peace returned as the moon rose.

Tahiti farewell

Saturday 3rd June 2917 After a week of dealing with maintenance and repairs we were all glad to put to sea onFriday afternoon. There had been a succession of engineers dealing with generator, engine,, refrigeration, electrical systems and sails, p,us all our own efforts finding spares and doing much needed maintenance. Our dock position on a main pier by the Casa Bianca restaurant and bar had given us a constant stream of people passing us and stopping to chat. It also gave us easy access to Happy Hour, at which point the strains of the day could fall away, chatting to other sailors.

On our last night we were joined by Fabien, skipper of an enormous yacht, Annatta, and it's engineer, Toma, together with Etienne, local agent. Toma enquirer after "the Hairy Gonad" which puzzled us a little, but Etienne disappeared to his office and came back with a refrigerated coconut and five espresso cups. A couple of wooden plugs protruded like horns from the hairy coconut and when removed , out poured a delectable liquor with the strength of rum and the aroma of coconut. The rum had been stored in their for two months and was delicious...thanks to Etienne for sharing that delight with us!

During the week Emily and Julian had hired a scooter, and explored Tahiti thoroughly as well as running errands to find essentials in shops all over town. In addition they had a number of scuba divers, and Julien started o the process of getting his PADI diving qualification. I rather wanted to do the same, but there was too much to do on the boat.

Before we left the security guard had serious words with us, once he discovered that we were sailing to his native island of Huahine. Apparently there is a sacred site at the southern tip of the island, where underwater tikis exert a powerful mana and we would be in danger if we trespassed. Many boats had disappeared there.

The following morning after a windless night motoring, we gave the sacred site a wide berth, and entered a pass further up. It's a beautiful island and as we anchored in crystal clear light blue water above white sand, the hills impressed us with the richly varied forest cover, made up of so many different textures and shapes of canopy.

Ashore we tied to a dock at the Huahine Yacht Club, and wandered along the seafront. The music that had been coming across the water emanated from a lustily singing lady, microphone in hand, under an awning, whilst a group of muscle men were pumping iron, and other workout routines in time to the beat. Every so often she would count them down to change position, and the small crowd on plastic chairs and in pickup trucks would applaud.

Huahiné surprised us with its Super U shop, which opened out, Tardis-like, into a vast store stocked with an astonishing array of goods from fishing rods, yoga mats, cat food, frozen foods, and clothes. I found some Tahiti Moorea mugs and a bright floral shirt which, with Emily's approval, I am now wearing. It was election Saturday, so all alcohol sales were banned, which is interesting

Eventually I perched on a dockside bollard to sketch the view of the bay and was soon surrounded by small boys on bicycles, who I organised to select and hand me the right colour pencil as I needed it. One lad begged the use of my pen and worked up some nice tattoo patterns on his arm, but has to wait till he is 19 to have it done properly.

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Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Neighbours

We were having lunch in deck when a man approached and kindly offered us 4 passion fruit.
Christian and his wife Agnes live on a nearby yacht, with the deck piled high with boxes, that turned out to be beehives. They had just returned from their hives ashore, and Christian had a swollen eye from being stung.  One of their bees joined Tin Tin for a bit too.   We quickly established that we could buy some honey, and now have a large bottle of delicious aromatic honey with a skim of pollen on top as they do not use a centrifuge.

Opposite us is a large gleaming white yacht called Alumni from Guernsey sporting a discrete German flag on the cross trees.    The grey haired skipper keeps it immaculately clean and tidy and, always fascinated by other boats, I went over to admire.   It transpires that Hans and his wife Sylvia have been cruising for 8 years doing a circumnavigation and a half including a long period in Patagonia.  They used to have friends and family all the time, but no one wanted to join them for the long passages........  understandable!  They had their boat designed by Bill Dixon in Southampton, and built in aluminium in Germany. Everything run on hydraulic pumps it seems so very easy to sail solo.  He offered to show me his walk in engine room, but sadly I didn't have time then, and now they have headed home for 2 months.

Living alongside the dock for a week means that we get to meet interesting people and see new boats. At the end of the dock is the largest cruising catamaran, which was raced solo by a Frenchman......(name to be retrieved later) and for cruising has now had 20 tonnes of ballast added so it doesn't spend the whole time up on one hull !




Anne and the Shark Pack


video


Holiday over - now it's Maintenance Week!

Anne finally got a flight back to the UK after frustrating cancellations and delays in Tahiti and then in Los Angeles.  After six wonderful weeks together it's hard to be on my own again. Indeed I felt like jumping on a plane and coming back too, but the schedule is a bit tight to get to Tonga in time for the next crew change, so I had to resist the impulse.

We have sailed together from Hiva Oa, to Ua Pou, then Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas islands, and then for three days to reach the Dangerous Archipelago of the Tuamotos. What a change from volcanic islands of soaring spires to the flat land of the atolls, bounded by a narrow strip of coral and palm trees sheltering lagoons that  can be twenty miles across.

After visiting Manihi, Ahé, Apataki, Toau and Fakarava we set sail again for a few days to Tahiti and neighbouring Moorea, where the two topographies combine to some extent to give mountains encircled by a sheltered lagoon with surf crashing onto a bare reef which has no dry land or palm trees.

We have met lots of people local or transient, and many sailing couples have a lifestyle living on board and slowly exploring together over several years, with regular periods back in their home country. Perhaps we will find time to travel like that later.

Meanwhile work is going reasonably well on getting things back in order.   Thought you'd like to to hear the fun we have in this Pacific paradise!


  1. The generator has been serviced and water pipe replaced.  Needs a new water pump that the next crew will have to bring out. 
  2. Sails have gone off for minor repairs.
  3. New nav lights have been wired in by Mark
  4. Both outboard motors have been serviced as they weren't starting or running smoothly.
  5. The bow thruster failure diagnosed as two failed batteries.  Being replaced today.
  6. Our mid-Pacific mended electrical system has now had two new switches fitted.
  7. The freezer which had been only managing -5degrees C has been regassed by fridge people, and is now heated up to +27degrees C! They have to come back...... 
  8. I fixed a load of appalling electrical connections for the freezer, which explains why it turned on and off.
  9. My iPhone died completely - so cheap(ish) Android phone acquired and expensive pay as you go credit installed.  I can now contact local workmen successfully.....phew!  You can call me on +689 87278645 if you need to....doesn't cost me anything I think, but it will be expensive from Europe!!!!


Oh yes, having finally found a cafe in Carrefour which gives internet access
I have now fixed the link to Emily's blog on TinTin's page.




Monday, 22 May 2017

Tahiti

We motored out of the pass at Fakarava as the sun set and set sail for Tahiti. Winds were light to start with, so to make sure that we arrived I time meet Julien, we motor sailed the first night til the wind picked up enough to maintain my desired speed. After two nights we woke to find the slopes of the 4000' mountains of Tahiti angling steeply up to left and right into cloud ahead.

As we closed the land it took form and colour, showing deeply ravined valleys, richly covered in vegetation. To our right the land formed a low promontory called Venus Point, where Captain Cook set up his observatory to observe the transit of Venus across the face of the sun to determine the distance between the Earth and sun.

Beyond this the surf broke heavily on the outer reef, beyond which yachts were anchored on flat water. We could see lots of buildings up the lower slopes of the mountain, and much development on the shore line with large rocks ahead. I called Port Control on VHF Ch 12 and was allowed to enter the port behind a fast cat from Moorea. They then told me off for going left towards town quay rather than right to the Marina. I tried my best Polynesian politesse with " Mauru uru!" or thankyou, and then set off round the airport runway, needing a chat with port control at each end so that we could pass safely between flights landing and taking off.

We were lucky to get a place in the marina immediately, and it was a great luxury to be able to walk on and off the boat whenever required, and to have as much electricity and water as we wanted. The row of super yachts was impressive, and when we gate crashed the super yacht crew party that night we learned that Annata had the tallest mast in the world until last year, when a newer yacht took the record. We met a nice skipper, Fabien, and some hospitable crew who plied us with punch and small eats. It seemed that none of the aches were put out to charter, and all hung endlessly in port awaiting the whim of the owner. One Maltese deckhand, Luke, said that they had waited for 9 months for orders in San Diego. The owner had only been on board for three days in 14 months. They never put up the mainsail unless the owner was on board, for fear of damaging it, and in any wind over about 25 knots would have to take sail down. Every time they sailed they broke things it seemed. It
became a 9-5 job, endlessly polishing the boat, waiting for the owner to call.

Next day we explored Papeete a bit, and found it a charming town along the harbour front with a dual carriageway boulevarde shaded with mature trees. It seemed to have every kind of shop available. One evening we returned to visit the roulottes, which are food vans, twenty of which form a well organised open air food market in the evenings, with well laid out grid of dining tables under pretty lights. The range of food was impressive with a preponderance of Chinese, but also grilled meats, traditional burgers or galettes. We settled for Chinese, and I had one of the national dishes - chow mein.

Anne and I took the dinghy out to the reef, and came across a great Saturday party where boats anchored along the calm inner dege, and people partied in waist deep water on sand. Barbecues were set up, each on a singles spike driven into the ground, music pounded from big speakers, and young and old boogied in the clear aquamarine water. Surfers were paddling Cross the lagoon to the breakers. and one hitched aloft with us and we drove him out to the edge of the break.

We hired a car for a day and drove halfway round the island on the thin strip of flatland between the sea and the impressively steep mountainsides cleft with deep vertical ravines, all clothed in mature rain forest. We stopped at Vaiapu to see the water gardens. Here a sacred waterfall roars down into a pool, and here the legend of the conversion of a spirit into man is rooted. We enjoyed the gardens through which the clear waters from the falls meander in streams and pools, overhung with massive trees, giant ferns, bamboos and palm trees. We climbed a steep trail up the mountain to a viewpoint 200 metres above the plain which gave excellent views of the lagoon, and the lower island Tahiti Iti. In flips flops the muddy path and steep slippery steps were rather a challenge, but thankfully there was a new installation of thick rope handrails which stopped us skidding off the cliff. At the bottom we washed our feet below the waterfall, slightly nervous about the four foot l
ong eel that came fearlessly to investigate as soon as we entered the water. It reminded us that when we swam in the waterfall pool in Fatu Hiva there was something that slithered disconcertingly past us in the water.

The time came to say farewell to Justin, but with the nice thought that he and Siobhan will join us in Tonga soon. Julien arrived and he and Emily spent a few days in an AirB&B nearby. Finally Mark arrived laden with much needed spares - engine mounts for the generator, cooling water hose, navigation lights, deck hatch locks, and all sorts of items that I'd emailed him to get.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Arrival in Papeete

Finally arrived in Tahiti!

Fakarava & South Sea Tales

The atoll of Fakarava offered us a lovely place to it and enjoy the view at La Paillote, which served Breton galettes and Breton cidre on the Sandy shore of the lagoon. Their little dock made it easy to come ashore in the dinghy and wifi meant that we could catch up on communications.
We. Also dropped in at a little art atelier, where the bearded man in nothing but colourful Hawaiian surf shorts showed us his creations of driftwood and shells. His paints glowed on the shel backlit by the sunshine with the blue of the lagoon bright through the split cane sunshades. Nearby Stephanie at Fakarava Yacht Services took in our laundry and rented us bikes for the morning. We cycled out 12km to the end of the atoll by the pass into the lagoon and had a look at the old lighthouse built like a skinny Mayan temple out of coral blocks and concrete.

It's great to be able to read books that relate to the places I am in. Fakarava features in several of Jack London's gripping South Sea short stories, of which I've downloaded 138 onto the Kindle free of charge! He had a huge amount of experience in South Seas trading, the great Klondike Gild Rush, and writes very vividly of the challenges of life in those times. I first came across him in a book of biographies of sea faring authors. His best known book is The Call of The Wild. By chance I then found his name branding an antique Hawaiian surf board in a Galician sea side house where Anne and I stayed with my sister Sarah and Antony in 2016

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Anne's journal of Polynesia :part 2 : the Tuamotus

Of these 70 or so atolls , about half are inhabited : some only with 100 or less residents : these are connected to the bigger world with an airstrip with a weekly flight ( even if only big enough for a ten seater ) and the weekly freighter which moors on the wharf usually near the pass. Tahiti is 100 or so miles away .....2 days sail for us tomorrow. The whole archipelago stretches 1,000 NW to SE.

Each community lives for pearl fishing or copra ( for coconut oil). Tourism had not reached the four islands we have so far visited Manihi, Ahé, Apataki, and Tao, but even this one Fakarava, being the second largest, has only a little more in terms of services: most people come here to dive. We've found a lovely waterside cafe , four bikes to hire to cycle around a good part of the atoll 25 k . Every island "capital" has at least one church : sometimes 3 ( the villages are empty during services, with a really strong delivery through the open windows of hymns and music with drums and guitars ) They are simple but beautiful, and well kept in every case. Every village has shop with a very limited range of anything , and is only is "full" a couple of hours after the boat/ freighter delivery ! There is tremendous activity as these delivery vessels come in once a week : everyone joins in .

Each atoll has one or sometimes 2 "passes" which empty the water to and from the inside lagoon according to the various states of the tide . Because of the speed of the race , it is very tricky to navigate , but after the first, Paul's got increasingly confident though it can be very hairy. The passes are where fish of all sizes congregate and sharks, all for general feeding . Emily has dived in these doing "drift dives " that take you gently through the gorges and currents of the pass. Once inside the pass it is all eyes for coral, as very few channels are marked : again amazing navigation and guts from Paul and Justin jointly to find us the most idyllic anchorages with no one else in sight just off coral reefs for snorkelling . Entering these waters is really only possible in full sunlight otherwise you can't see the changes in colour to alert you to a collision with coral .The quality of the coral has varied in each atoll , but the abundance, range, size, behaviour, and colour of fish is astonishing . In some places the coral seems almost dead , in others live and vibrant. We can only assume a dramatic change of some kind , or that the parrotfish are succeeding in their work of munching it and turning it into a film of sand over everything . You can hear them munching under water , but I guess they can't cull them . They are the loveliest rainbow fish .

Some atolls are so huge, and like a big lake you can't see the other side or the ends : our smaller ones have even so been at least 5 miles radius . As well as the passes , the sea swells in over the coral bank in places along the edge creating a ring of little islands called "Motos". Some of the shacks on the Motos look like Robinson Crusoe's makeshift shelter , others seem more substantial . This applies to the range of houses in every village : some are barely more than sheds and some are well tended buildings and plots . The government (French) supplies everyone initially with materials , but each household has to fund the construction costs and presumably the maintenance thereafter : which explains the variation.
Each main community also has a central building like a "Bastide" built strikingly and strongly on concrete stilts , where everyone shelters for the duration of storms . The last devastating cyclone hit in 1983 , but there have been numerous other storms since .

Tourism has definitely not reached the smaller reefs / islands .Few people are indifferent , most often offer a cheery hello , and sometimes long conversations will ensue . This is how we find out the most , chatting to fisherman on the jetty thus leading us to our pearl farm visit . You can do these on a "tour " in the larger Islands.

There are no harbour dues, no landing fees, but when we've moored against a wharf , eventually a good many people rock up to chat ( for hours ) ! Always a good source of local information and gossip , using the ubiquitous tricycle as a platform for conversation. These wonderful vehicles ( imported from China and universal here ) provide a seat to chill on and chat , and with baskets on the back to carry produce , a friend , children , dog or simply as a way of getting around the limited lanes and streets of their community.

Many unpushy dogs lounge around , most clearly attached to someone (sacks of dog food available in the shop) . When at Apataki there were several waiting for their owners working at the pearl fisheries just off shore . Cat's not widespread ( we've seen 3 ) and chicken which are wild and endemic everywhere in polynesia . No rats though one hears horror stories of them getting into boats via the mooring ropes . Justin found one nibbling his toe in his bunk 42 years ago on Ahé , so we were not unconcerned especially there, and I've seen the harbour banks at Gosport teaming with them !

Not a lot of bird life , since the trees and vegetation is limited except in bigger Motos ( mostly just coconut palms ) occasional heard beautiful song across the water , diving birds , boobies and noddies. The life here us UNDER the water !

Our pearl fisherman Oro took us to his farm which is a shack on stilts in the middle. of the lagoon . They are all like this except some big enterprises. He showed us each process from start to finish : from seeding and grafting through the four years of an oyster's life : the thrill of extracting a pearl and re seeding the oyster. The pearl culture industry developed in the 1960's , and it was like the gold rush , with some farmers making a huge profit in a very short time . Oro's father earnt 25 times what he earns now , but it is still a good living despite the market dropping out in the 80's. Some employ scores of people , he has 5 . The concession for his plot is not cheap : he has 38 hectares . He explained that the problem was that although the "industry " is regulated , it is chaotic and like any commodity vulnerable to the whims of the international market .

Emily and I have just swum off an idyllic beach : white sand and every shade of blue and Palm fringed : still mindful of the pesky "Nonos"*.We have been reading the pilot guides and advice about sailing the Australian seas: we have all unanimously decided that there can be no greater hostile environment in the world in or out of the water , compared to here where there is nothing unpleasant except for the invisible sandfly* and he is bad enough, but no death ensues.

Tomorrow we sail towards Tahiti and the capital Papeete which promises to be very different as the city capital of Polynesia, but apparently the island itself and those associated in the Society Islands are stunning with the mixture of volcanic peaks surrounded by reefs : the best of both such different worlds put together . However we are braced for the difference between our voyage of exploration in deserted places to meeting a higher density of other boats and more developed communities . This will be the first the sailors have seen since February in Panama. One of Emily's dive group said he saw Obama last week on Moorea who is there writing his memoires, so it's back to "civilisation "!

Monday, 15 May 2017

Generator repair

The generator makes 240volts AC, which recharges the battery and runs things like microwave and washing machine. Most importantly it runs the desalination unit which makes fresh water for us to drink, cook and wash with. One litre of diesel makes 90 litres of water so it is very efficient.

Recently we have been finding the bilges full of water almost up to the floor boards. Dipping a finger in confirmed it was salty sea water. Eventually we found the leak was in the generator. The yellow and black pipe carrying seawater to cool the engine had gone soft and had split the picture shows it squirting vigorously. Yesterday I taped it up as a temporary measure until we got to Papeete, but then the engine overheated and cut out. Today we set about fixing this and cutout the soggy bit of tube and re routed it so that it would still fit. When I cut the tube you could see that it had collapsed and almost blocked the cooling water flow. Justin did a great job in a confined space refitting the pipe and now it's working well again. B

But before all that took place we hired bikes and rode about 12km along coral trails along the thin atoll to the pass where we sailed through. On the way we passed the airport with its runway sandwiched between the sea and the lagoon. An old lighthouse but of coral blocks has been replaced by a red and white tower with solar powered lights.

This evening Justin treated us to a lovely fish supper at a little place with a terrace over the lagoon. We were the only guests served by a family team including a RéRé, a large man dressed S a woman.
Beneath us reef sharks, 4-5feetling swirled like extra in a Bond movie, but were then chased away by a dog which leapt into the water.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Sharing Toau atoll.

We slipped into Toau atoll to total mirror calm yesterday afternoon . But as we came down the coast we were shocked to find four yachts already in residence. We chose another area miles away and anchored in blissful isolation but within 30 minutes two more boats arrived and anchored near us. Then this morning we found a small cruise ship anchored in the pass. Clearly we are approaching tourist land, and will look back with nostalgia on these special places that we had to ourselves

Friday, 12 May 2017

Signs of change

We moored alongside a concrete wharf in the southern village on Apataki. Strolling around in the evening, we came across a dozen children playing noisily in the light blue waters of the shallow harbour, with one or two fishing skiffs moored bow to the low concrete waterside. The small boat harbour lies in a shallow side lagoon off the main pass, with a couple of pearl industry shacks on stilts on the edge of the deep water. As we approached one or two of the boys began throwing big black Sea cucumbers at us, like huge slugs or outsized rotten bananas. It felt really unwelcoming and threatening even though they were only 8-10 year olds. It was the first sign of foreigners being unwelcome. We've seen a few children who are amazed at our beards (Justin and I that is). The adults here seemed much less interested in us that in Ahé or Manihi too. People are polite though. I set out last night looking for a recycling bin for all our tins. Every house has net receptacles on the roadside made from pearl fishing materials for plastics, glass and tins, o,us bags of green waste, and things like old scrap metal or wood are piled separately for collection. No public bins existed so I asked at a house and they let me use their bins.

Today, Friday 12th May dawned calm and after a six o'clock breakfast we set sail out through the pass, narrowly escaping contact with coral thanks to the pearl fishermen who yelled at us just before I went out a dangerous way between coral heads. We motor sailed into a light headwind for 40 miles to reach the atoll of Toau, where we anchored in mirror calm conditions off white coral and coconuts. Looking across the lagoon was like a vast infinity pool on the edge of the world, glassy surface for miles, with one or two tiny islands at the far side, but most impressive was the view of the six foot swell rearing up and curling in great white breakers to crash on the coral, yet with impossibly still water right up to the inner edge.

Mysteries abound and today's surprises were the failure of our depth metre and the speed and distance log. Dismantled again, but no apparent problems I could fix. Then wondering if they had got submerged in the bilges I lifted a floor board to find water almost up to the top!. Where is it coming from? Are we sinking? Last time I looked was 8 days ago, so we will have to check daily. Once the water had been pumped out the depth meter started working again, but the log/ speed is a mystery!

The second surprise was when we refilled the diesel tanks from our deck-borne fuel cans. For over 50 hours of motoring and 50 hours of motoring at high speed we only needed 280 litres, so that our fuel consumption seems like only 60% of the published figures, giving 3.1 instead of 5 litres per hour for the engine and just 1 litre per hour for the genset instead of 1.9 published.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Apataki

Tin Tin tied up to the pearl farm wharf with dogs keeping the rats off :-) or waiting for their owners to return from work across the water

Lovely flower gardens and tin shacks, little winding sandy lanes, views through palm trees to blue lagoons ( through rain!)

Ahé alongside

Tin Tin moored at the wharf in Ahé. The first time alongside since Shelter Bay, Panama.

Locals chatting on trikes, having spent lots of time alongside TinTin chatting to us.

Stuck in port-Wind on the nose

Yesterday we were anchored in the north of Apataki atoll in clear blue water 60' deep, and after doing maintenance went snorkelling in on nearby coral heads. Turns out to be the best we've had so far. At last the coral seems alive and well with a huge variety of fish. Elsewhere it's been mostly dead. I even saw a reef shark and swam vigorously after it filming with the GoPro.

There are constant repair challenges on TinTin. Making do with the assortment of kit on board can feel quite like Scrapyard Challenge or Apollo Thirteen. Latest is that the anode on the prop has almost disintegrated since installation mid Feb in Panama. The last one was barely corroded when we changed it in Feb, having been installed in Sept. Luckily Justin spotted it was loose, and then discovered it had lost a bolt. Amazingly I found a substitute with same thread, but longer shank, but a couple of nuts allowed us to tighten it. Justin was very courageous at diving down and removing the old one and fitting the new one. We hung a bucket over the prop to catch any bits that fell off. I tried doing it, but felt claustrophobic pressed up under the hull, with my mask askew and filling with water.

More frustratingly the speed/ log goes off unexpectedly so we don't know how fast or far we travel. Dismantled that, but no sign of a problem. However not solved. When dead I need to tap it hard with three fingers on top and it reboots. Most frustrating!

Then the aft heads won't pump to the holding tank but go direct to sea, which is inappropriate in harbours. Disassembled entire toilet, found all pipes and valves thickly crusted with calcium deposits. Valve handle had been forced and cheesed off so it didn't turn the valve. Cleaned it all down one lovely hot sunny day while the girls sunbathed, and it now works again!

We have been having northeasterly winds till last night, when it's gone southeast and right on the nose to our next destinations - Fakarava atoll. Pouring with rain and blowing hard with a 2 metre swell breaking in great white spray over the coral reef, so unusually we are sat in port, tied up to a pearl farm wharf. Opposite us are twenty people working hard in an open building on stilts in the lagoon, hauling up strings of young oysters, cleaning them, drilling holes in the shells, restringing them and hanging them in fresh net bags to go back for fattening up before grafting black pearl material to generate oysters.

Anyway the challenges remain, but I only have to look outside to see that I am in the most fantastic place. In fact we have to keep reminding each other not to take it for granted!

BLACK PEARL, THE DECLINING JEWEL OF THE TUAMOTUS

Black Tahitian pearls were once the black gold of the Tuamotus. Though farming officially began in the 1960s, the industry didn't have the technology to make it viable till the 1980s. For the next decade and a half, the world market price for these 'rare' pearls was so high that many farmers became ridiculously rich ridiculously fast. By the year 2000, so many farmers had begun mass-producing that the market became saturated and prices began to drop. With very little centralisation or government organisation, the future of pearling now looks bleak. The Tahitian pearls that are 'farmed' are cultured; a cultured pearl is created by an operation called a graft. This culturing process takes approximately four years from the time the first oyster spawn are collected to the harvest of those oysters' first pearls.

For more information on pearl grafting, go to www.pearl-guide.com/tahitian-pearl-farming.shtml.

Lonely Planet Guide

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Ahé's Old Sea Dogs!

Old Sea Dogs....
We arrived off the pass into Ahé at 15:00 as planned, and Justin helmed us into the lagoon. It felt wide and clear, and as it was,high water there was only a knot of current against us. The channel to the village crosses the lagoon for 5.5 miles and there are red and green beacons on the main coral heads making for an easy passage. The pilot book suggests anchoring off the village in 12 fathoms (24 meters) which is a bit beyond the scope of your chain, and so when e saw a Swedish yacht, Tina Princess, moored alongside we took the other side of the wharf. We were soon tied up and welcomed by an old man in a red T-shirt called Eric, who cycled over for a chat. No sign of a harbour master.

Ashore we wandered the concrete streets and found everything seemed less well cared for than in Manihi. There are apparently three shops, one of which is a snack bar. Everything seemed very deserted on Sunday night, but we came across a group of men sat by a field who each held a bundle of spears with sharpened steel points. They were out for a practice session before the inter-island competition of coconut spearing. The coconut sits atop a thirty foot pole, and the teams aim to stick spears into it. I was invited to cast a spear but the length of my throw was pathetic, and they told me I was too old! As we watched the three men launched their spears, rather like billiards cues, toward the lone coconut, behind which the moon had risen brightly. One man got two in, and the others one each.

Back at the quayside people gathered to chat, sat astride their tricycles. Wilson, an effeminately dressed ReRe, was most chatty and as Emily got supper easy to eat on deck, we became uncomfortable with the prospect of eating in company, but like all polite people they said goodnight and Bon appetit when we sat down to eat.

The next day we found the shop open, and terribly sparsely stocked, except for pumpkins and potatoes which we bought. Bread only comes occasionally from the bakery in Manihi on the inter atoll supply boat, Dory.

Justin and I took the rubbish and recycling to the public repository, and then walking back to the boat we spotted an old man in a pink thirst and camouflage sun hat hobbling across to intercept us. It turned out that this bearded, toothless old man was an American called Bill, who lived here with his adopted daughter and son in law. He had come by boat and reckoned he'd been here the years. Then it transpired that he'd met his wife in Manihi in 1975 and had been in Ahé for the Bastille Day feast that Justin had attended, when the visiting yachtsmen had been guests of honour. Bill had then sailed off with his new wife in his 32 foot yacht, Gallant, to Hawaii for 8 years where they'd lived working in boat yards and fisheries. Now back in Ahé cared for by family he was very impressed with French healthcare, which sent a special plane to take him to Papeete when he broke his leg in September. Not something he would experience in America as a poor uninsured citizen.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Pearls!

We were collected in a big fast workboat by the mayor's son, Oro, and his mate Norbay and sped across the lagoon to a collection of sheds on stilts in the middle. Here we were shown the skilful process of farming pearls. They hauled cages out of the deep clear and Norbay pulled out a rope of old looking oyster shells, cut them off , and then opened them a crack and nested half a plastic clothes peg to keep them open. The tray of prepared shells was passed to Oro, who chose one with the right colour mother of pearl , and opened it. From this he cut a thin strip of the lip which secretes the pearl. This was carefully cleaned and then chopped into 2mm wide squares.

I had always thought that pearl farmers popped a grain of sand into the oysters and then had to wait many years for a pearl. However, Oro showed us the technique learnt from his father, who in turn had learnt from the Japanese. He mounted a shell in a clamp at his work desk, inserted metal foreclosure which prised it open. He then took one of an array fine tools reminiscent of dentistry and fished inside the oyster, pulling out a perfect blue black pearl, balanced on a little ring at the end of his probe. He then selected a ball made of shell, which was larger than the pearl, and with great care inserted it back into a special sac in the oyster. Each oyster is used to make 4 pearls in successive years. The shell for the spheres comes from Mississippi and is sent to Japan to be manufactured. The balls are treated with antiseptic to avoid infecting the oyster. The first seeding of the oyster is critical, as a small shell sphere is placed in contact with the small 2mm square of tissue harvested from the donor oyster. It must be carefully done so that the host grows pearl of the right colour and surrounds the ball of shell perfectly. If an oyster produces a nice spherical first pearl it is reseeded with a larger shell ball, but there is no need to add the piece of tissue that is used to seed it the first time, as it will now continue to produce the same colour pearl each time. Poor placement results in misshapen pearls, or in rejection of the ball. If the oyster produces an irregular shaped pearl it is not used again. Oro said that 50% success rate was the minimum he could accept. He had hired 4 Chinese workers last year but although they had worked fast, their success rate was terribly low, but he didn't find that out till a year later. He said he would hire locals next time.

His friend Norbay had worked there for six years, but had now set up on his own as an eleveur. He put strings of fuzzy material in the lagoon to which oyster seeds would attach. Once he had grown them to a reasonable size, Oro would buy 20,000 a month at 50 cents each. During the season he and his seeding team would work for three months seeding 500 oysters a day each. He reckoned he had 300,000 oysters on the buoyed lines radiating from his work island. However it is hard to get started as he must pay the government to lease his 38 hectare concession,many then it takes four years before any return can be had. He remembers that his father eclipsed 16million Pacific Francs (CFP) for 700 pearls taken to Tahiti for sale. His last harvest was 10,000 pearls, but they only sold for 9 million CFP. Sales happen every three months in Papeete, where Chinese and Japanese buyers come, look over the pearls I offer and make sealed bids to each vendor. As well as dropping prices, there have been years when the oysters died from pollution resulting from over-exploitation of the lagoon.

As a finale he cleaned off a number of rejected oysters and cut out the muscle, laid them in a shell and squeezed lime juice over them. Crunchy and delicious!

He sped us back to his home and invited us in. The big screen TV came on for the soccer World Cup final between Brazil and Tahiti, and Norbay was excitedly cheering on his nephew at No. 8 and his mate, Jo, the goal keeper. Sadly Jo let in 6 goals, and Tahiti scored zero. Nonetheless it was a victory to be in the final. What was new to me was that it was the beach soccer final! A good one to add to the Olympics!

Oro brought out pearls and jewellery made by his sister, and we pored over them looking for a beautiful memento. A string of black pearls was about £350, and a bracelet £50. Unfortunately we were low on cash, but everyone came away as a satisfied customer!

Meanwhile my planned exit for Ahé was getting short on time, and so after giving us a fresh coconut to drink, and showing us the sack of coconut crabs that he was sending by plane to his mum in Tahiti, he dropped us back to the boat. We were away quickly and motoring flat out managed to force our way out past the incoming flood tide by 12:30 and set sail the 29 miles to Ahé, last visited by Justin 42 years ago. Once in the lagoon we will have to traverse 5 miles of coral heads to reach the village, or if the light fails us try to anchor just inside the lagoon.

Manihi atoll

Our first day in Manihi was bright and sunny with little fluffy trade wind clouds. The shore nearby was white coral emerging from a rainbow of blues starting deep sapphire near Tin Tin and becoming ever brighter and more dazzlingly aquamarine by the beach. Whilst we had breakfast we could see two white fins with black tips splashing around in the shallows - three foot long black tip reef sharks hunting. Emily was out on her paddle board and got a close view of them.

We set off with the dinghy to snorkel around the coral heads and saw fascinating clams with deeply wavy shell opening and iridescent blue and emerald green lips which retracted as soon as they sensed one's presence. The coral looked mostly dead, but there were some brain corals and a few others. There were Angel fish, zebra fish and various others. After lunch we went on foot to explore the motu (island forming part of the atoll ring) and walked happily under shady trees, spotting large holes made by coconut and land crabs. Wrecked pontoons, pearl fishing equipment and debris from an old shack spoke of recent cyclones, the other of which was 3 months ago.

We were soon across the thin wooded strip and facing the ocean, where the swell broke lightly on the reef. We walked out across a wide shallow area, disturbing a small reef shark. Emily later saw an octopus and more reef sharks. On the shore the coral debris is banked up by the waves, and amongst the grey bits of coral are old shells, one or two of which were worth collecting. Back on the coral beach we saw dozens of hermit crabs all dressed in different shells scrabbling around on the water's edge.

Later that afternoon we took the dinghy a mile back to the village, and walked down a long sandy lane bordered by rather elegant and nicely maintained bungalows. Some on the lagoon side had docks for their boats. Everything seemed very lush and green, and we saw rather inviting gardens with deep shade. The village had three little shops, one of which also opened as a snack bar/ restaurant at 6pm. We found the first store very well stocked with carrots, apples, pears and grapes as the supply boat had just come in. We loaded up and left our bags there for later while we explored.

The village has a nicely presented harbour, dredged of coral to look like a bright blue swimming pool, with smart low dock walls on three sides, and fast open boats moored bows to. Children were swimming in the dock happily, with a little one year old being looked after by his five year old sister while the mothers sat in the shade of a tree.

Once we got round to the pass, we could see the strength of the tide, and watched local boats with big 200 HP engines forcing their way into the lagoon against the outflow. A Commune de Manihi launch was ferrying from the wharf across the pass to the side which connected with the hotel and airport. A little square with seats under a big tree allowed people sit outside the little store and watch the boat traffic. Further on was the pink painted church that had stood out as we entered the previous day. It is dedicated to Saint Jerome, and marked 2013, so may have been rebuilt after a cyclone. The priest was meditating in the front row of the stalls, while we popped our heads in to admire lamp shades made of shells

It was getting towards sunset, and lots of people were gathered outside houses and on the dock drinking big bottles of Henana Tahitian beer. We joined in the Friday evening spirit and beers in hand chatted to a group of fishermen on the dock. Tomorrow, Saturday, was the final Election Day for the French President so there was some talk about Macron and Le Pen, but nobody seemed to know what they stood for. We were invited by a man, one of whose ancestors was an English lady called Leighton, to visit his son's pearl farm on Sunday, and readily agreed. His wife is the mayor.

Saturday was then spent doing maintenance - Anne and Emily festooned the boat with washing, whilst Justin tackled navigation lights, cupboard door locks and dismantled the electric winch for greasing. I dismantled the aft toilet to discover why it was pumping into the sea when one didn't want it to. It was a longer job than I'd thought, but I found that the critical valve was jammed, so I hope it will now function OK. I then dismantled the instrument panel to see why that wasn't working and it was then 2pm and time for lunch. We made a foray ashore and I installed myself in the shade for a happy hour sketching and painting the sweep of the shore round the lagoon, fringed with coconut palms.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Atolls at last!

Relaxing on deck now that the sun is out again, anchored inside Manihi atoll. Nearby a shack on m a tiny reef island is home to a long haired hermit Robinson Crusoe we were told.

Atolls!

We set off from Nuku Hiva and, having left the dramatic spires and cliffs behind in the night, we had two days of glorious Trade wind sailing with lines of fluffy white clouds, sunshine and blue water, and an 18 knot breeze that bowled us along smoothly at 6.5 knots. However on the last night big black clouds came up and gave us 40 knot squalls and torrential rain. This continued for a whole dark day until just as we arrived at the first atoll a few patches of light blue appeared and lightened our mood.

Deciding where to go is an interesting test of navigation, juggling distances, times, winds and tides. We have three pilot books on board covering the area and they give differing amounts of detail and advice for entering atolls. I had read through all these and shortlisted the places that seemed most suitable. An atoll is an extraordinary ring of coral protecting a central deep lagoon from the pounding of the Pacific surf. Much of the coral ring is covered with coconut palms and other trees, but in between there are breaks where the sea washes through over the coral. The constant pouring of surf over the windward end of the atoll forces water out of the other end where there is usually a pass that can be navigated into the calm of the lagoon. However I found it tricky to know how best to plan this approach.

I'd settled on Fakarava as a first stop as it has a wide easy pass, but one still has to aim to make the transit at slack water because otherwise it's a roaring river flowing in or out and one cannot necessarily keep control. So when is slack water? Various books offer various suggestions, such as one and a half hours after low water, or at the time of the moon's meridian passage. All agree that it actually depends entirely on how big the surf is, pushing water over the reef. The next factor to consider is to arrive with the sun high, so that one can spot the coral heads underwater which are a hazard to navigation, so an evening arrival isn't safe.

Having found the tide times for various atolls and looked at distances and times of arrival I changed our plan and with 24 hours to go we headed to the nearer more northerly atolls of Manihi and Ahé, aiming to arrive at midday. Sure enough, with a bit of motoring when the wind went light, we were there on time, and I was faced with my first entry into an atoll. High tide was at 13.20, so the tide was still flooding in for an hour or two, but as we arrived the pass looked calm past the jetty and little pink church. Beyond I could see white water breaking in rapids as it rushed in through a narrow gap between the coral reefs, but it didn't seem too much to handle.

With centre plate up we passed serenely towards the channel, waved at by several fishing boats in what seemed like a welcome rather than a warning. At the wharf people sat under an old tree and watched us go through. Ahead the white water reminded me of shooting rapids in a canoe. Aim for the V in the waves to stay in the deepest water. We shot through into the lagoon, and as I watched the depth meter it dropped to 2.5 meters - a close thing if the keel was down.

Immediately after the inner reef I swung hard right and then we were in deep water with 20 miles of lagoon stretching into the distance. Channel markers along the edge made it easy to miss the main coral heads and we were soon anchored a mile from the village in deep blue water just off a white coral beach lined with tall Palm tress. Perfect! We had arrived in Manihi atoll, and were the only yacht in the lagoon.