For a direct comparison of possible boats for your S Pacific cruise, here is a 35’ Pretorien on the left and the Westerdam on the right. The Pretorien left Canada about 16 months ago and the Westerdam left about 30 days ago. Facilities aboard are slightly different as well.
You can see we’ve moved into a high rent district here in Uturoa, Raiatea, French Polynesia. Except…we haven’t because the dock is free, at least for us. From the angle of the photo below it looks like their mooring lines are almost the thickness of our furled headsail.
The boat loaded a bunch of people in Vancouver and so we, flying our enormous Canadian flag, had a lot of visitors stop by. This included members of our home yacht club, the CFSA! As proof of the true CFSA’ers that they are, they stopped by with a frosty six pack of tall Hinanos which went down quite smoothly as French Polynesia is currently transitioning into the Southern Hemisphere summer.
And we leave you with Carol kiting over for a photo with Estrellita. Not quite the boat you would take across the ocean, but perhaps the dinghy?
We still love Bora after a second visit. Overwhelmed by tourists? Yes. But it is also incredibly beautiful and we keep meeting such nice and generous people each time we visit. If you stop in Bora, use the Bora Laverie for your wash and take some time to chat with the owner. We didn’t have much time to play while we were here this visit.
Our plan is to apply for a long stay visa for French Polynesia which must be done in our home country. We leave the boat on the hard in French Polynesia and fly back to Seattle in early December where we will apply for the visa in Vancouver. The visa should allow us to stay in French Polynesia as long as we want, which we currently are guessing is about 1.5 years after our return flight in April. More on that application process after it is completed.
We spent over a week in Bora Bora getting our legs back under us after our passage from the Cook Islands back to French Polynesia. We needed to refill the boat with propane, gas, diesel, water, and fresh food. We also scurried around making reservations, booking tickets and arranging all of the things we needed arranged to leave our boat on the hard and fly out. We had avoided making any of those plans because, as mentioned previously, we weren’t 100% sure we would make it back.
We’re also looking forward to seeing our families and friends and all of the things we’ve missed about N American cities like sitting at coffee shops and going to the movies. Lastly, we’ll buy all of the crap we think we need for the boat and haul it back in our luggage.
I still can’t believe we’ll be visiting in winter.
If you know of any fun events or opportunities, suitable for two cruisers who just bought plane tickets from French Polynesia to SeaTac (that means poor), send us an email (email@example.com). We’ll be in and out of the Seattle-Vancouver area with possible side trips to Quebec and, if we can find miles tickets or similar, Colorado.
If you want to feel like a celebrity, go to Penrhyn.
I wanted to start with my overall impression because I find that if I list pros and cons in a blog post, later when I talk to people about the post they only remember the cons. And the full picture is that by the time we left, Penrhyn had a special place in our hearts and was very difficult to leave.
Pros: It is a beautiful atoll. Very few boats visit (we were the 8th that year and it was nearly the end of the non-hurricane season) and so the people are excited to see each yacht arrive. Yachts are an important part of their trading and supply line and your extras on board are a boon to the community. The singing in church is intense. You will be a guest of honor at every event that happens and you can count on at least a few feasts in a several week stay. The culture is very different than French Polynesia. Their religiosity is much more apparent and it is impolite to do anything but go to church and eat on Sunday (including moving your boat or kayaking). I had to wear a lot more clothing here than French Polynesia and I want to say that I blame the Christian missionaries for the fact that I had to wear sleeves in the tropics.
English speakers can chat freely with the locals who learn both Cook Islander Maori and English in school. You will be greeted on shore with an offer of coffee (don’t plan on hurrying anywhere) and likely leave with an invitation for another even or a gift of shell necklaces, a pumpkin or a watermelon. Children swam to our boat, and after seeing the sharks, got a ride back in our double kayak courtesy of Carol. The speeches directed at us at the last feast, for two other peoples’ birthdays, the day before we left had us both teary eyed.
The cons have to do only with the check in and check out procedure, more specifically the anchorage for doing so. The anchorage on the East side of Penrhyn, by the village of Te Tautua is fantastic. White sand, very few scattered coral heads, and under 20 feet. No fetch in the prevailing winds and the atoll breaks the wind. It is a much better anchorage than Suwarrow.
In contrast, the anchorage on the West side, by the village of Omaka is foul with coral (even in the spot marked as sand in the Compendium), and the water by Omaka is too cloudy to see what you are dropping in. We had our anchor caught when we tried to leave and had a bit of panic until we drove around and freed it. PLUS, you have more than 8 miles of fetch building and you are close by a lee shore. This is where you have to check in.
Partial solution: After checking in, it is possible to then check out by asking someone in Te Tautua (on the East side) to take you across to town in their aluminum skiff. We gave them a full tank of gas and went with them when they were already running an errand – win for everyone.
People complain about the fees for the Cook Islands which are high although nowadays the regular fees are well known so they shouldn’t catch anyone by surprise…but sometimes other fees are tacked on or at least proposed. We paid $50USD at Suwarrow for clearance into the Cook Islands (including health certificates) and for a 2 week stay. We paid nothing additional upon entering Penrhyn. On clearing out of Penrhyn we paid around $130 ($55 per person exit fee and $2.50 per day for a port fee based on size of vessel). However, the immigration/customs officer was out of town and the town secretary said there was an additional $50 fee for the officer’s time. Because this additional fee was not on the list of fees from Rarotonga (the capital), we politely declined to pay and with only minimal back and forth that fee was dropped .
Penrhyn is off the beaten path of cruisers. Most boats go the Southern route (Rarotonga and Aitutaki) or stop only at Suwarrow. Penrhyn is thus farther North than most people travel. We went there and left against the wind, but cruisers coming from Bora Bora should have a downwind sled ride and a similarly nice sail from there to Suwarrow or beyond as long as no convergence zones appear (a problem in the entire region).
There were three places in the Cook Islands where we left a trail: Suwarrow at the ranger station and in Penrhyn in the cruiser logbooks that are now at both villages (Omoka and Te Tautua). We were the very first entry into the Te Tautua logbook and we were quite honored.
I love the idea of these cruiser traditions. You might remember the map we left on Wallace Island, BC or our plank at Hot Springs Cove, BC. If you visit these places in the future and see our mark, please take a picture and send it to us.
At Suwarrow I made a palm frond wreath, the type that can be made for a headdress or a necklace and put our card in the center.
Here is our entry in the Omoka logbook next to a card from SV Freya. When we went to return the book a card dropped out and it was friends of ours in Victoria BC. We re-took our picture of our log entry with their card.
And our entry on the first page of the brand new Te Tautua logbook in which I misspelled Penrhyn *sigh* twice:
Where next? Who knows.
Imagine your run to the grocery store. Now imagine that you haven’t seen a grocery store in more than a month and have been living off whatever was in your fridge and cupboards.
This is our most recent run to a grocery store in Penrhyn. First we hitched a ride in an aluminum runabout to the other side of the atoll to the main village (30 minutes). Then, after some chatting at the main village, we hopped on some plastic chairs on the back of a small flatbed truck and rode the 2 or so miles to the store. Here is the store and our ride, notice the sweet plastic chairs.
Here is a close up of the main part of the store (beer stacked on right – Victoria Bitter if you are curious tastes about as watery as Hinano):
Close up of our ride and the nice guy driving us. Oh, and the hoses on the back of the truck that we were sitting by…I don’t want to know what they are normally used for.
And unloading our supplies back into the runabout for the return trip into the wind (1 salty hour):
Afterwards, we unloaded the boxes from the runabout onto our deck before the runabout could knock a chip out of our fiberglass. There are never enough fenders for a metal boat to come alongside. Then, while unpacking, we lost our shit when we discovered a stowaway – our first cockroach aboard! We crushed it, tossed it overboard and watched a fish eat it (fast fish!), disinfected the place where we crushed it in case we squeezed out eggs or something, and then shivered with the extreme heebie jeebies convincing ourselves that it did, indeed, just come from the box and there weren’t any more aboard.
Total time for grocery trip: 7 hours.
I have come full circle past frustration into enjoyment of these type of errands. Part of that is a change in location; it is more fun to deal with logistics here than it was in California and the scenery doesn’t hurt. Part of that is a change in perspective. We no longer say “we are going to get propane”. We say “we are going on a propane expedition”. This implies that the terminus is uncertain and the timing as well. The expedition may or may not be finished today. We are simply starting the process today.
I also have come to love how our errands end up bringing us into other people’s lives and them into ours. To see us struggle breaks barriers and evokes offers of help. The helpful responses from people makes me feel good about humanity.
For those who haven’t already read the Pacific Puddle Jump recap article in the September 2012 issue of Latitude 38, you can download the entire thing as a .pdf here or just the second half with that article here.
We loved reading previous years’ recap articles as we were preparing—particularly the tables at the end which include lists of breakage for the passage for the boats who responded. You can find those on the PPJ site (see “recaps”).
We participated in the 2012 survey (out of 200 registrants about 25 did) so you’ll find our responses throughout. However, although we are correctly listed as Estrellita in the final table, we are listed at Estrella in the text and the photo of me (Livia) at the start of the article is labeled as a picture of “Carol from Estrella”. The latter is my fault for not labeling the photos considering our names confuse everyone who hasn’t met us.
Suwarrow is summer camp for cruisers. It is a place where many people experience their “first times” with many living off the land activities such as coconut crab hunting, coconut husking and grating, green coconut opening, etc. Having experienced those activities in French Polynesia, we were looking forward to the other reasons to visit Suwarrow – beautiful snorkeling and fun parties. We were not disappointed.
We expected Suwarrow to look just like a remote atoll in the Tuamotus and it did. It is, after all, another atoll in much the same reason.
The snorkeling was really excellent. We went on two of the expeditions, run by the park rangers and conducted with their aluminum runabout. On one we visited a bird nesting colony (loud, moderately interesting) and then snorkeled in the pillars near Seven Islands. This area has multiple reefs that you can swim between with many pass throughs and pass overs. Nice healthy coral on the leeward side and even on the windward side despite the fact that the Cooks get pounded by hurricanes. Many, many fish.
On the second we snorkeled at Perfect Reef which is a large reef that you can snorkel on top with depths in the 15 or so foot range, snorkel the edge where the reef comes up to the 10 or so foot range, or snorkel on the edge of the reef where the coral is vibrant and drops off into the deep blue watery depths. We did all of the above. Next we went to Lewin Reef which had a very nice edge/drop off. Both were worthwhile but I preferred Perfect Reef to Lewin.
We met a lot of great people at Suwarrow. At one point there were at least 4 Victoria BC boats in the anchorage (Estrellita, Ladybug, Picara and Sea Turtle) and at one point there were 32 boats in the anchorage which the rangers said was a season high and probably an all time high.
The problem with Suwarrow is finding a good place to anchor. There is a lot of sand but a lot of tall coral heads to get caught on. The wind is a little switchy and the motu only offers protection to a small number of boats and no protection if the wind veers to far to the South.
Still, we think that the best time to be in Suwarrow would either be 20 years ago when you could be the only boat, OR now with 30 other boats. Once you no longer have the island to yourself, you might as well make it more the merrier and enjoy the rich socializing and mix of different nationalities. Of course, we lucked out and snuck into the front row good part of the anchorage snagging the spot of a recently departed vessel.
A note: everything on Suwarrow is organized by the cruisers. If you want an expedition, get 10 people and talk to the ranger. If you want a potluck ashore, hail the anchorage. If you want the rangers to talk about Cook Islander culture, ask them. Also, don’t forget to invite the rangers to eat with you at the potluck.
If you haven’t read “An Island to Oneself” by Tom Neale, it is quite a good read. I read it on passage to Suwarrow and it was nice to arrive with it fresh in mind. The book is about Tom Neale’s stay, by himself, on Anchorage Island in what was then called Suvarov. Factoid: Suvarov was the name of the ship of the whitey who stumbled upon the place first. The Cook Islander native language did not have a v-sound and so Suvarov was pronounced Suwarrow by the locals. When the Cook Islands became a nation they officially changed the spelling. Now Cook Islanders speak English as well as Cook Islander Maori and can pronounce the v-sound, but despite much confusion amongst us cruisers, the current name of the island is Suwarrow.
More pictures of Anchorage Island:
Definitely a new favorite place.
Mopelia had 13 residents when we visited and only a few of those stay there year round. The atoll is under the administration of Maupiti and run as a communal operation mostly producing copra but including pearl farming. In order to reside in Mopelia you must have permission from Maupiti and part of that permission involves proving that you will work the land in some way. If anyone reading this plans to visit Mopelia, consider stopping by the mairie at Maupiti first and asking if they have anything needing carrying to Mopelia. The workers there should be able to get back to you after contacting the people who have family in Mopelia and you may be asked to carry goods or even people. The residents told us that the supply ship is paid by the government and only comes when paid. Apparently that isn’t regularly because the “monthly” supply ship had recently visited after a nine month absence.
Mopelia is unlike the rest of French Polynesia that we visited. It 100 miles from the nearest other island and without regular boat service and without an airstrip, it is isolated. In that sense it felt more like our visit to Penrhyn in the Cook Islands later. I imagine it is how the Australs and Gambiers might feel in French Polynesia but we haven’t visited any yet. As a result, just like in any isolated community, visitors are much more of an event. We had some of our best reef walking ever in Mopelia. Absolutely stunning. Super clear water in the lagoon with that iridescent blue that we found in the SE side of Bora Bora. We met a bunch of fun people and shared a number of meals ashore and hosted on our boat.
We had the entire atoll to ourselves for the first night (i.e., no other boats) and for a few days had a few other boats visit the N anchorage. Toward the end we shared the SE anchorage with SV Eclipse, a French flagged vessel that was a delight to meet and who shared their photos of their visit to Antarctic in their cored fiberglass boat. They said they would not normally go in a cored fiberglass boat but, drum roll, they had been there before. I (heart) French sailors.
It would be difficult to write a logbook entry for Mopelia without mentioning the pass. I almost chickened out of going to Mopelia several times based on the scary reports in the guidebooks. The pass is narrow – very narrow. The current can be strong and the reef edges are right at the surface (see picture below). There is also surprisingly little information out there in guides or on the internet (see right – this is from an older guidebook). This dearth of information is particularly interesting because this atoll is due West of Bora Bora and the many boats transiting from Bora Bora to Suwarrow pass nearby. Either everyone is keeping it a secret (whoops!) or the pass is scaring people away.
In 2012 there were two markers marking the sides of the reef (see below). The mark on the left (N side) was the first marker we passed and the mark on the right (S side) was the slighter later (i.e. they are not goal posts, but staggered). We stayed left of center for the first half and right of center for the second half. As we entered the lagoon there were a few bommies to avoid and we curved gently to the right to keep a center bommie to our port. When we were there the main ones inside the entrance were marked with multiple buoys although apparently they were added when the supply ship had difficulty entering and so they may not be maintained.
A note regarding current: we were given the advice that if the pass at Maupiti is mellow, then the pass at Mopelia will be mellow as well because the two lagoons fill from similar wind and swell conditions. True or not I don’t know but we left Maupiti for Mopelia and both passes were mellow. Final note on current, I’ll write more about this later after I do some more research but as I understand it, Mopelia is a part of the region governed by solar tides not lunar which is why approx 6am is low tide and noon is high tide year round. Thus, we had to balance the desire for less current (incoming tide after 6am) and good visibility (sun high in the sky closer to noon). Having a wee 29HP motor, we arrived at the pass early and waited around, nosing near the pass, until we felt like the visibility was sufficient and entered at 8am experiencing a maximum of 2 knots of outgoing current.
From the entrance we followed the advice of friends in Papeete and pointed our bow directly at the Southern edge of the Eastern motu, heading due West only after passing through two large reefs which you can see in the satellite photo to the right. We found the visual navigation straightforward, and despite comments in the guidebooks to the contrary, the lagoon is no longer filled with pearl farming buoys. Alternatively you can make your way to the N side of the Eastern motu which we did not do.
There is a road between the anchorages which brings you past the homes of most of the residents.
We loved it. If conditions allow and we are passing by, we are likely to stop by on our way West whenever we head that way again.
Every time we get ready to give away our copy of “The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew” I decide to give it another read and end up learning something from it that I didn’t learn the last time I read it.
In that book is one of my all time favorite cruising photos: Larry Pardey posing on deck with his kingfish.
This one is for you Larry and Lin:
If you’ve never read the book, it is worth a read because it tells the day-by-day story of one of their longest passages interspersed with recipes and useful reference facts such as how much bleach to add to water in your tanks if you feel the need, good references on the longevity and best storage of fruits and veg, and life-without-refrigeration tips.
The other reason we haven't blogged about our plans was because, frankly, we weren't sure we would make it.
Not that we thought something bad would happen but we thought there were at least even odds that we would have to turn back. We had never set out on a windward ocean passage and as we asked around for advice we were mostly met with wide eyed looks and statements like "but that's the wrong way". A few French boats gave more specific, but so very Frenchie advice such as "just don't put the rail in the water" (um, not even a possibility) and "it will probably take two weeks, but you'll make it" and "I have a friend doing that route but not until the November" (in the hurricane season).
As we slowly close on Bora Bora, on our second and final leg, we begin to allow ourselves feel that we are actually going to get there. We fell in love with French Polynesia and it looks like we are going to get a chance to savor it again.
There are a number of factors working against sailing SE in this part of the world:
1) The winds are primarily from the SE quadrant (i.e., noserly).
2) The swells are primarily from the SE quadrant.
3) There is a light west setting current which widens tacking angles.
4) The distances for our legs are too large to complete an entire leg while taking advantage of an unusual wind direction (e.g., NE) which is, alas, always too brief.
Still, there are a number of factors we have working for us:
1) Estrellita is a Wauquiez Pretorien. Some cruising boats go to windward. Some don't. Pretoriens do.
2) One of her crew was called "Ti-Fou" (lil'crazy) in a former life. The other has been known to commit to other grueling, senseless endeavors such as dissertations and marathons.
3) We have a lot of free time. While limited by the impending hurricane season, if a windward passage takes twice as long as a downwind passage, so be it. We are not Moitissier. Passage making isn't as fun as exploring islands, but neither is it so painful that we will change our cruising desires to minimize it.
Back to my night watch...
One of our favorite things to do so far in the South Pacific is to walk the reefs in atolls and from these pictures I think you can see why.
We pack up a lunch and some handy supplies (hatchet for coconuts, lunch, spear, lots of water, ziplocs for any food we gather), and head out for walk that usually ends up taking most of the day.
It’s not that we walk far; it is that the reefs suggest interesting things to do. We might catch a fish and make a beach fire to cook it, find a swimming hole, open some coconuts, or just poke through the stuff that has washed up on the windward side of the atoll.
The very healthy reefs have beautiful life even on the top of the reef on the ocean side.
I (heart) atolls.