30 May 2012

Logbook: Fakarava (South Pass)

Fakarava atoll, W of the S pass

So much happened in Fakarava that I took hardly any photos. We are two anchorages past this as I write and I’m still recovering. It is difficult to believe how much cruising has improved, and then become even more awesome, and then topped itself again, since we started cruising warmer waters. We loved cruising British Columbia, but this is what we dreamed of for years. First we arrived in Mexico and had our giddy moments at Cabo San Lucas where the water was warm and clear, the air was hot and the sky was sunny. We loved our time in the islands near La Paz. The arrival in the Marquesas stunned us and yet…the Tuamotus are better. This is something we had read again and again in other people’s blogs – that things get even better when you go West. A lot of people also said they wish they had more time for the Tuamotus and I can certainly see why.

The entrance to the S Pass was much easier than we had worried about. It isn’t a straight entrance, you have to choose a channel when you are most of the way through, and we saw a least depth of 12 feet. On the other hand, the CM93 charts were accurate to what we experienced, the water is crystal clear making eyeball navigation easier and there are markers everywhere.

Napolean Raz - Fakarava
After transiting the pass and channel, we tried going to the West of the pass to anchor and got the bajeezus scared out of us by the coral heads. They were not difficult to see. The problem, rather, was that the water clarity was so incredibly good that day that things that were 20 feet under the surface looked like they were 1 foot down. We went back to the East side and dropped our hook in coral rubble – which feels gross and not reassuring for holding. After talking to some other boats, we gathered our courage, used their tips, and dropped the hook securely on the W side of the pass and stayed there for 10 or so days.

I’ll post separately about the kiting we did there but the short of the story is that we fell in with a handful of boats that all had kiters aboard and who had all been in the S Pacific for more than one season. They were all “approximately our age” and were all addicted to one sport or another, whether it was diving, free diving, spear fishing or kiting, or all of the above. These are the boats from which we made our tropical apprenticeship and whom we are still following about. They are: Namaste, Nomad, Dream Time, and Nauticam. In addition, we were able to hang out with two other Puddle Jump boats: Pandion and Cheers.

We took our kayak to the pass about dozen times and went to the ocean side during an incoming current. From there, we would drop into the water with a rope in our hand tied to the kayak and drift back into the atoll with the current. We saw a million fish, beautiful coral and way more sharks than we needed to. There are black tips that are fed by the restaurant on the E side of the pass who come over in case you have food. There are white tips mostly inside the atoll and there is a swarm of grays that usually live deep in pass at 100+ feet…except when they don’t. We saw them at 30 feet as we flew over them in the current and we also saw them hunting a fish ball which was wicked cool and terrifyingly sharky.

Carol and a black tip
We got nervous a lot. We jumped back in the kayak a lot. Gradually, over time, we stayed in the water longer when they were around and became more savvy about their behavior. Certainly after watching our friends spear fish in the middle of the white tips taught us that if there weren’t biting them then, when they were dripping fish blood, we were probably relatively safe while snorkeling. Thanks to friends, we did a short shallow dive to knock the rust off our diving skills. It had been 4 years since either of us had been diving.
We had fires on the beach, birthday parties, reef hunting expeditions, dinner and drinks on various boats and in general it felt like adult summer camp in paradise. The conversation flipped between English and French so often that poor Carol often found himself speaking the wrong language to the wrong person.

28 May 2012

Logbook: Kauehi

Kauehi

SE corner of Kauehi I’m glad that I wrote down my first impressions of Kauehi before we went to any other atolls. Now, looking at the photos for this post, I see the less-than-ideal aspects of that beach but at the time I didn’t. I’m very glad we were able to snorkel at Kauehi with two or three wee black tip sharks before arriving at Fakarava’s South pass which is loaded with black tips, white tips and grey sharks and was very intimidating for us and would have been more intimidating if it were our first shark experience.

Kauehi - Crystal clear water

The water clarity in the SE anchorage at at the beach was outstanding, much better than at the anchorages in the South of Fakarava although the clarity in the pass at Fakarava is the best we’ve seen so far.

P1040144 (1280x960)We spent three nights at Kauehi and just like our landfall in the Marquesas, we spent a lot of that time simply sitting in the cockpit and staring at the scenery. We also kayaked around, walked on the motus, kayak-snorkeled* and finally fully snorkeled.

We misjudged the pass on the way in and had a bumpy ride through outgoing current but on the way out we used the visual cues to refine our timing and had a smooth exit for an overnight sail to Fakarava.

When you are too much of a wuss to jump in, you can still lean over and snorkel: kayak-snorkelling

26 May 2012

Muchos Kudos

For furler fixing help we would like to say a big thank you to Vicki aboard Southern Cross who was flying into Nuku Hiva and stuck spare parts for our furler into her luggage for us. Knowing that a friend was hand carrying the parts, rather than being at the mercy of various postal systems, made it easy for us to put that issue aside while we were still on passage and to enjoy ourselves without stress in our first few anchorages. But how did we order those parts? My Dad gets a huge thank you for reading my sketchy descriptions via radio email and then calling riggers all over Washington State, identifying which parts we actually needed, ordering those parts and getting them to Vicki before she boarded the plane. Thanks Dad.

SV Pandion let us use their amps, their sewing machine, their main salon and their thread in order to fix the sunbrella on our main furling jib which had come loose on passage rendering the sail unusable. Now we are back to having two headsails and it eases our minds to have a spare during a period of time when we will be making a lot of passages.

Finally, we got our stern anchor good and stuck in the soft suction-y mud of Atuona on Hiva Oa and three boats came to our rescue. Bruno and Yvonne on Momo attempted to free our anchor with their dinghy and then by putting our rode on their electric windlass. SV Uma tried some dinghy and hand maneuvers with Carol. Finally, Michael of Wondertime used his hookah rig to free the anchor which was embarrassingly easy when down at depth digging in the murky water with his hands. Luckily our anchor, while enormous, was very light (a Fortress) and he reappeared with it in his arms shortly after descending.

Thank you, thank you and may we spread the good will by helping others in the future.

25 May 2012

Logbook: Hikeu and passage to the Tuamotus

Hikeu, Ua Pou

P1040073 (1280x960)We went off the charts for one stop on the island of Ua Pou in the Marquesas. It is bay called Hikeu and Liz on Swell had recommended it as a chance to visit an uninhabited bay. We were excited to explore off the charts (on our charts, off the depth indicators into a solid gray area) and perhaps to have a valley to ourselves.

The bay was beautiful as she had described and had fruit, as she described, but unfortunately for us, between her visit and ours, development had commenced.

Fruit from HikeuWe left after one night on passage for the Tuamotus. We had  weather wind for 48 hours of good wind, and then weird wind. You would think that after our passage from Mexico we would have waited? Nope. We were ready to go and although we will wait to stay safe, apparently we won’t wait just to be comfortable. 2 days of good sailing, a bit of being becalmed, then the front passed, and we sailed in clocking wind the rest of the way.

A passage that often takes 4 days took us just over 6 and we arrived in the Tuamotus at Kauehi at dawn. The atoll made a surprisingly crisp radar return before sunrise and we delayed our arrival until the morning slack. We mistimed the slack and ending up fighting an outgoing current but we chose a straight ahead, clear pass for our first and so all went smoothly.

It was interesting how this passage felt after having sailed from Mexico to the Marquesas. We weren’t complacent, but we were a lot more relaxed. We finished getting “ready” the first afternoon while underway. Very different than our last 6 day passage (Tofino to San Francisco).

23 May 2012

Logbook: Hakatea (a.k.a. Daniel’s Bay)

Hakatea The anchorage at Hakatea is surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs – lovely – and has a friendly village to walk through on your way to a lush green valley with a waterfall which you must swim under (or hike over) boulders to access. We did the hike with Southern Cross and it was one of our favorite experiences in the Marquesas.

We were warned by the villagers that someone had their skull crushed in the day before by a falling coconut! I had always heard that more people die from falling coconuts than shark bites in the tropics and still don’t know if that is true. Also, another person said it is the first time they know of that happening in the area. Still, when we hiked by a pile of hard hats, we took advantage of them. Plus, helmets are dead sexy.

Sexy hats

We took great video of the falls so I’ll save that for another post someday, somewhere when we have real internet.

The hike (and company) were fantastic and alone would have made the bay worthwhile but P1040049 (1280x960)on our way back to the boat two different people tried to teach Carol how to husk a coconut. The story goes something like this: The four of us walk through the village and an industrious family who is interested in selling us fruit offers us some lemonade which we accept. Southern Cross has brought a hat as a gift which they had asked for on a previous encounter. They also feed us banana fritters (delicious – heck, they are fried, right?) and even after we decline a purchase offer a coconut husking lesson which Carol jumps on. After a number of pointers, Carol husks the coconut successfully.

     

We decide we want to try again and so we pick up a coconut when we are not far from our dinghy. As we are walking to our dinghy we meet some water taxi dudes* who jokingly tell us that they are customs and we must show our papers. We show the coconut and tell them this is our document. They find this amusing and ask us if we can husk the coconut and we say “kind of”.

 Estrellita, poisson cru and Hakatea

They bust out their machete, hack off a stick, sharpen it, and show Carol how to husk a coconut with the stick propped between rocks. With a few blows from the stick they split the coconut in half. Then they sit on the stick with the husk as padding and shred half of the coconut into the other half with the pointy stick.

Shredded coconutCoconut trailside

P1040052 (960x1280)Carol trades for some fish and while they are on the boat completing the transaction, the guy tells Carol to grab some salt and a bowl. He hacks off a new piece of fish and takes it back to the beach. He chops up the fish and limes and salts it in the bowl.

While he is doing this the other guy has taken some long tough fibers from the inside of the husk and they take the grated coconut and squeeze it through the fibers to create coconut milk.

Several smaller sticks are sharpened into chopsticks and voila – we all eat poisson cru by the trailside.

P1040058 (960x1280)P1040064 (1280x960)

Again, I took video which will have to wait. This was an amazing experience – the kind I want to collect.

* For those of you who heard the bizarre headlines about cannibals eating a sailor in the S Pacific (no evidence of cannibalism, just murder), these water taxi dudes had ferried a boatload of police officers, investigators and other related people to investigate this crime which had occurred in the vicinity of Hakatea. Depending on who you believe, a German boater and a Marquesan man went goat hunting and there was (or was not) drugs, was (or was not) sexual activity between the men that (was or was not) consensual after which the Marquesan killed the German and (did or did not) sexually assault the German’s female companion who was still on the boat. The story going around the cruising world is that the German was killed by the Marquesan and lured the woman off the boat to go find him and assaulted her. The story as told by the Marquesan taxi dudes is that the German got the Marquesan really high on something he wasn’t used to, tied him up and assaulted him and when he got free the Marquesan dude freaked out and killed the German (with no explanation about the woman).

21 May 2012

Logbook: Taiohae

We are at a brief (paid) internet stop at Fakarava atoll and catching up on a few posts.

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We stopped at two anchorages on Nuku Hiva: Taiohae and Hakatea.

Estrellita on Nuku HivaTaiohae is the main town and is where we dealt with resupplying and also with making our repairs to our furler bearing and our jib. We also had a chance to meet Pandion and to hang out with the crew of Southern Cross. The town itself is more spread out than Atuona which we slightly preferred.

The most fun we had while in Taiohae was a drive around the island with Southern Cross and their two crew members from the passage who needed to make an afternoon flight out of the island’s airport. Mark did a most excellent job of white knuckle driving.

Nuku Hiva - Sign to airportThe drive was filled with gorgeous views, previews of bays we could visit and a hairy bit of driving on a steep sided, sometimes washed out road with interesting signage.  We had a delicious lunch of goat at Yvonne’s while en route.

Nuku HivaNuku Hiva Nuku HivaClearing the road  The roadTaiohaeNuku HivaNuku HivaYvonne's restaurantNuku Hiva  Nuku Hiva

18 May 2012

A tropical apprenticeship

We haven't had internet since we left Taiohae in the Marquesas so we will be posting SSB-to-blog until we do. I've written a number of photo posts for when we find wifi. Currently we are in Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotus and having a great time.

We've fallen in with a group of people who, for the most part, have spent multiple seasons in the South Pacific and we are learning a lot of fun things from them and on our own about our new environment.

We have learned:
-- How to walk the reef at night looking for lobster and snails.
-- How to drift snorkel.
-- How to catch a coconut crab, although we still haven't eaten one.
-- To be more comfortable in the water with black tipped, white tipped and grey reef sharks.
-- How to make bread on sticks over a fire.
-- That we like the taste of marbled grouper but that parrotfish make good poisson cru.
-- How to cut open an immature coconut tree and collect heart of palm (delicious and crunchy).
-- Some coral head and reef navigation and anchoring skills although we have much to learn.
-- That if you ask around you will often find more provisions and supplies available than the guidebooks say.
-- To bring our own dishes to potlucks on the beach (duh).
-- That we have (so far) spent much less money here than we did in Mexico because all of our play is free, stores are few and far between and eating out means potlucks and fellow cruisers' boats.

We have run out of most fresh supplies and are down to onions, potatoes and the sprouts we make in jars so we will be heading to the town on the N side of this atoll soon. Then our current plan is to move to Toau.

07 May 2012

How expensive is French Polynesia?

At the risk of revealing our eating habits in public, I thought I would share some of our actual costs so you can decide for yourself.

Below is the result of two separate shopping trips to Magasin Larson in Taiohae on Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas in April 2012. Prices are listed in Polynesian Francs (CFP). I always calculate our exchange including ATM fees which made our rate 1 Canadian dollar = 87 Polynesian Francs. I haven't looked at the USD/CAD exchange recently. Last time I looked we were somewhere in the ballpark of parity. If someone wants to google and post the current CFP-USD exchange here that would probably be helpful.

At the time that we were shopping, we were well stocked with fruit that was given to us and we still had some veggies from Mexico. Also, we were still loaded with non-perishable staples (and booze) from Mexico so we didn't need any rice or pasta or canned goods.

2 baguettes 66 each
2 bags for baguettes 20 each
2 small containers of UHT whipping cream 268 each
7 liters of UHT milk 142 each
4 steaks 845 total
10 Frozen hamburger patties 1095 total
2 packages hollandaise sauce 130 each
6 packages three peppers sauce 190 each
Brie 569
Another brie 656
1 large can cassoulet 569
7 small tins of pate 240 each
9 bars of dark chocolate 250 each
4 boxes of coconut cookies 125 each
1 box of lemon cookies 160
2 large cans spaghetti sauce 266 each
2 large cans tropical fruit cocktail 191 each
1 large Hinano beer 270
Beer bottle deposit 60
1 Strawberry soda syrup 580
3 packages of rice noodles 255 each
8 small blocks of pseudo cheddar 192 each
Dried mushrooms (100g) 550
Strawberry mentos 100
1 cold Fanta soda 145
1 chocolate syrup 525

Tax 722

Total 16869 (~193 dollars)

05 May 2012

Kauehi

We are anchored in our first atoll and it is everything we imagined it would be.

Because it is our first, we have no baseline for comparison and in a way I am glad for that because we sit here convinced that we are in the most beautiful spot in the world...and when we go somewhere more beautiful, it will have the same effect on us.

White sand (coral bits) beach. Palm trees. Surf crashing on the outside of the motu and flat water inside. The boat sits still and flat in water so clear we can see our anchor 47 feet below. A turtle circles our boat. Small black tip sharks swim patterns around the coral heads in the shallow water as we peek our heads into the water with masks, still seated in the kayak. A pearl farmer visits and tells us when the supply ship is coming to the village a few miles away. We alternate playing, lazing about recovering from our passage and doing small boat tasks. A full moon glistens on the anchorage and keeps the sand shining white at night.

Estrellita is happily anchored all alone in the SE corner of Kauehi in the Tuamotus.