Friday, November 6, 2015

What to do about Cyclone Season

Tropical Cyclone season is December to March, which is summer here in the Southern Hemisphere. There is a pretty well defined region where cyclones develop. Tonga, Fiji and Samoa are all in this region, so all of us cruisers have to make a plan regarding what to do.

Option 1: Head south to spend the summer in New Zealand. This is the most popular choice, but it can be an uncomfortable passage to New Zealand and then another uncomfortable passage back before winter comes to New Zealand.

Option 2: Head north to get out of the traditional cyclone zone.  Some people head north, to places like The Marshalls. This is certainly heading off the beaten path.

Option 3: There are a few really enclosed anchorages (known as hurricane holes), and some people choose to stay and plan to ride it out if a cyclone comes there way.

We like option 4: Leave your boat somewhere safe and go have fun elsewhere. This is what we did 18 months ago when we left our boat in Guaymas, Mexico for the Pacific Hurricane season. That worked out okay.

Now here in the South Pacific, we were not really sure what we wanted to do until two things happened. Malcolm realized that ski season in the Northern Hemisphere corresponds to the Tropical Cyclone season and Dina found out about a new boatyard opening in Vava’u, Tonga (http://www.boatyardvavau.com/).  Dina corresponded with the boatyard and it all sounded great. The owner/operators are very professional, the boatyard is in a very well protected location in Vava’u and Tonga is in a great location to start cruising again after cyclone season.  So, the decision was made.

We have spent about 6 weeks exploring Vava’u, having fun with friends (see previous blog posts), and saying good-bye to those heading south to New Zealand or north towards the equator. There was a tiny bit of concern because the trailer used to haul out the boats was delayed a bit, but it all worked out.

On Monday we were boat #4 to be hauled out (the owners took their own boats out first). Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were spent preparing the boat. Anything that wasn’t bolted down, and a few things that were, were taken off the deck and put down below.  We also squeezed in some last minute socializing!

 
Driving up to the ramp

Hooking Up
Malcolm is a bit nervous about this!

Parking in a nice safe spot



Thursday, October 22, 2015

Whale swim

One of the biggest attractions in Tonga is the humpback whales.  As we already mentioned, we saw a lot of them in the Ha'apai group (http://www.svgoodasgold.ca/2015/09/this-time-of-year-humpback-whales-have.html).  They come to Tonga to mate and to give birth, there are lots of female humpbacks with their calves.

In Vava'u, there are a number of boats that are allowed to take people out to swim with the humpbacks. They have to follow a number of rules in order to not disturb the whales.  We talked to people who had done it, and they all had rave reviews.  That convinced us that it was worth doing.

We hopped on our tour boat and motored out to find some whales.  It was getting late in the season, but we found a mother and calf.  We went into the water in groups of 4 (plus guide) and had to swim about 100 m (100 yards) to get near the whales (the boat isn't allowed to get too close).

We swam near the whales and saw the mom submerged below us. The baby would come up for a breath near us and head back to mom. WOW!!!  After a while the mom finally came up for a breath. OMG - WOW!! By this time we had been in the water for our allotted time so we went back to the boat and gave other people a turn.

We know people who went during the high season and they got to swim about 7 times.  Due to the time it took us to find the whales, we only went in twice but it was still awesome!

We had good weather the day we went, but thanks to the rain from the previous days there was a lot of silt in the water and visibility wasn't the best for photos.
Baby whale coming up for a breath

Mom and calf heading away from us

Mom swimming with calf


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Cricket

There are lots of ex-pats living in Vava'u.  Some have tried to get the locals interested in cricket.  They are working on a cricket pitch and give lessons.  In order to help drum up some interest, they invite all the visiting yachties to come out for the day.  They do this a couple times per month.

The promise was for a day of cricket, with food available.  The locals were supposed to brings crafts and food for sale. That's what happened two weeks earlier when some friends went.

The night before we went, it started to rain.  In the morning, it was still raining a bit but that didn't deter us and about 30 other cruisers.  It turns out that the Tongan people are a lot smarter than the rest of us, as they knew to stay home as the ground turns to mud.  We arrived to find an empty field, no food, no crafts, But the rain had stopped!

We had traveled an hour to get there, so most people decided to play.
Play ball!


Malcolm decided to take photos and Dina talked with some locals who came out to watch.
Dina talking to some local girls heading home from school

Once the participants decided that the mud didn't hurt, they all had fun.  Little did they know how hard it is to wash out the red dirt, nor did they know that the pigs from the village wander around the cricket pitch and their manure mixes in nicely with the mud.
No comment necessary

Cricket bats are good for knocking mud off

Pig Manure!??!?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Flying Foxes

Our friends, Chuck and Lauri on Free Spirit, had to leave Tonga for Samoa for their “official” wedding (they have had wonderful unofficial weddings in Mexico and Tonga).  We had spent a lot of time with them here in Tonga and were sad to see them go.  We’ll have to meet up with them in 2016!

We wanted to explore the eastern barrier reef islands of the Vava’u group. It is necessary to navigate a narrow channel in the coral to get over there, so few boats head that way. We had waypoints to navigate through the channel and our friends, Alison and Randall on Tregoning, had radioed to say they were already anchored in that area and the pass was no problem, so off we went. 

We anchored at Ofu, near Tregoning, later that afternoon. After spending time in the main harbor and the popular anchorages near town, it was a treat to be anchored in a quieter place. We explored the quiet island and the isolated shores. The next morning we went exploring in our dinghy, “Tubby” along with Alison and Randall in their dinghy.

Along the way, we discovered a good sized colony of Flying Foxes (a large, tropical fruit bat). We had already seen one small Flying Fox up close back on Ha’afeva in the Ha’apai group, but this was much better.  There were several trees just full of the bats hanging there. As we got close, the noise from the dinghy motors bothered them and dozens of them took to the skies. It was so impressive that after some snorkeling we went back to Good as Gold, got out the good camera, and went back to the bats for some photos.
Flying Foxes hanging in trees

Flying Fox soaring

Flying Fox mother with baby clinging on to her belly

Flying Fox coming in for a landing


Alison and Randall began their southward trek to New Zealand and we moved over to one of the easternmost islands of the Vava’u group, Kenutu. We anchored on the west side to be protected from the near constant easterly trade winds. We went ashore and found the path to the eastern side of the island to watch the open ocean crashing on the cliff faces.  It was quiet impressive!
Waves crashing

Monday, October 12, 2015

Caves

Entrance to Swallow's Cave
One of the most interesting places we’ve seen here in Vava’u is Swallow’s Cave. We were anchored nearby with Free Spirit and Sea Note, and were told it is best to go there in the late afternoon when the sun shines into the cave. It was a bit far for our little dinghy, so we grabbed our snorkel gear and hitched a ride with Ray on Sea Note. He’d been before and enjoyed it so much he was going a second time.

Above the water, the cave is probably about 40 feet high, 40 feet wide and goes back about 100 feet from the entrance. Ray drove his dinghy in and tied up to a rocky outcropping inside the cave. Ray told us the water was plenty deep enough, so we put our snorkel gear on and jumped in, not knowing exactly what to expect!


WOW!! The water in the cave is crystal clear, the sunlight is streaming in from the cave entrance and there are thousands of little fish swimming in tight “fish balls” which move around throughout the cave. It is surreal. We spent quite a while swimming in the cave, watching the fish balls moving all around us and exploring the nooks and crannies.


Dina snorkeling above the fish balls

A week later several of us went with David on his boat Anahata, to explore Mariner’s Cave and Swallow’s Cave. The first stop was Mariner’s Cave, which is hard to find because the entrance is about 6 feet under the water. On her second attempt Claudia, from La Belle Epoche, found the cave for us all.

Getting in to Mariner’s Cave is scary the first time. It requires diving down 6 feet and swimming into the pitch black entrance of the cave mouth for about 15 feet until you can surface in the large air pocket inside the cave. David had been there before so he went into the cave and came back several times to show us nervous people that it was no big deal.

Malcolm’s first attempt was aborted when his brain told him that swimming into a dark underwater cave is SCARY! Malcolm and Chuck were ready to forget about this stupid cave when Dina followed David in. Then Chuck said, “Great, now us guys have to do it”. David came back out to lead Malcolm and Chuck in. Dina was left inside laughing about how easy it had actually been. 

There is enough light coming in the cave mouth that we could see how easy the entrance actually was.  As we floated there the surge came in from the ocean outside. Each surge compressed the air inside the cave and created an instantaneous dense fog that quickly dissipated when the surge ebbed. We felt the pressure change with each surge and had to clear our ears as though we were diving. Exiting the cave was easy because we could see where to go and were no longer afraid.

We left Mariner’s Cave and went over to Swallow’s Cave, in time for the late afternoon sun. Most of the people on David’s boat were going to scuba dive in the cave. When we got there, another boat was dropping off some divers. It might have been fun to dive to the bottom of the cave, but with so many divers at the bottom, the fish balls were all hanging out closer to the surface. Those of us snorkeling were completely surrounded by fish balls for another great experience.







Saturday, October 10, 2015

Vava'u, Tonga

We’ve heard that over 500 yachts visit Tonga every year. Most of the sailboats coming across the Pacific will be heading south to New Zealand or Australia by the end of the year. Tonga is well positioned as the place to stop heading west and turn south to get out of the traditional cyclone (hurricane) zone. Tonga is also a great place to spend the winter (April-Oct) if you already have your sailboat in New Zealand.

This means there are a lot of cruisers in Vava’u! It is a bit odd for us, as we have spent the last two months exploring some quiet places. Of course it is great too; we get to catch up with people we have met along the way.

Neiafu Harbour, Vava'u Group

The Vava’u group of islands is a lot more developed than the Ha’apai group. There is a real town here, a bunch of restaurants and some boat services. Happy hour at the Mango CafĂ© is at 4pm and they offer beers for $4 TOP (about $2 USD). Many days here are spent getting some jobs done on the boat, meeting friends at the Mango at 4pm for some beer and then heading to another restaurant for dinner. It is great to catch up with everyone, but it is getting monotonous.

Luckily, there are over 40 anchorages in Vava’u, all within 10 miles of each other. Most of the islands in Vava’u are low hills, with jagged rocks that rise quickly from the water. The scenery reminds us of the Gulf Islands and the San Juan Islands back home, except the pine trees here are interspersed with palm trees. So, after buying some provisions in town, we head out to do some exploring.






Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Whales in Ha'apai

This time of year, humpback whales have come to the warm waters in Tonga to breed and give birth. We saw some humpbacks as we approached the Ha’apai group and have seen more every day since. Sometimes we see (and hear) the large adult whales breaching (coming up out of the water and splashing back down) in the distance and sometimes they come close to us. We’ve seen some young calves with their mothers and some males trying to show off to get the attention of a nearby female. 

Here are some photos and descriptions of our best experiences....

We took advantage of a few days of quiet wind to anchor out at a tiny island (Hakauata) which seems to be a kindergarten for humpbacks. As we approached the island, one young whale came swimming over to check out Tubby. It was about a boat length away when its mother finally swam between it and our boat and escorted it away. A second youngster was practicing breaching right in the tiny bay where we wanted to anchor. It was inconvenient, but we put the boat into neutral, got the camera and watched it practice jumping and twirling. After a while it must have been nap time because the activity stopped and the youngster and its mother swam away.  That gave us some space to move in and anchor, after which we spent the rest of day up on the balcony watching the occasional whale pass by. It was a rough day! The next morning we were woken by the blows (breathing) of a large whale sleeping next to us!


The uninhabited islands, all the whales, the sun and the friendly locals all made it hard to resist staying out among the islands, but we did need to head back to Pangai for a few more provisions. We almost didn't make it into the town harbour due to all the freakin' whales! Our first encounter was with two who were tail slapping and breaching. We lost track of them, but then they surfaced about 10' off our port bow! Yikes! They are big! Next we saw a few more and circled around for 10 minutes to watch them. Lastly we saw a mother and calf surface a little ways in front of us. We put the boat in neutral and ran to the bow as they swam over to us! As they turned away, the calf must have been 5' off our bow and the mother went under our boat! It was awesome!

A few days later we headed to a northern anchorage in the Ha’apai group in preparation for the 50 nautical mile jump to the Vava’u group. Along the way we passed what Malcolm describes as “Whale school”. First we saw a youngster attempting a few breaches. That was really cute and we got some nice photos. Then mom demonstrated how it is really done! Wow! Junior did a few more, as did mom. Ten minutes later a tiny calf was slapping its tail nearby. We slowed down to watch, and sure enough we saw mom slapping her tail as though she was showing her baby how it’s done. After a bit of this, mom did some pectoral fin slapping. We saw the baby’s tail in there next to mom but no baby pec’s today.



On our way north to Vava’u, Malcolm was on lookout when two very large humpbacks breached about 10 boat lengths directly in front of us. We were sailing along nicely with big wind and there wasn’t much time to do anything other than continue on our present course and assume the whales knew we were there. One popped up again, a lot closer to us, but off to the side a bit! Dina came up to the cockpit and we were looking forward when one of them came up beside us for a breath and perhaps a look at us. The noise from its breath was quite loud! The whale was just 15 feet away! As we continued north we watched behind us and saw the two whales breaching some more.

Remote islands in Tonga - Ha'apai group

Tonga is made up of four different island groups, each separated by 50 to 100 miles. We are in the Ha’apai group, which is sparsely populated and less visited than the other areas.


We found a “crowded” anchorage (two other boats!!) in behind the lovely island of Ha’afeva. When we went ashore, many of the villagers were heading back from church and would stop and talk to us. A few invited us to their homes for lunch. We accepted an invitation for the next day and were asked to invite the people from the other yachts.

It was a windy and rainy night, but our host still went out and grabbed some lobsters off the reef for our meal. Tom and Lynn from SV Roxanne also accepted the lunch invitation, so the four of us grabbed some items from our “giveaway” piles and headed to the village. The food was great, with fresh lobster and fish complemented with some cassava (kind of like potato). Our host invited us out lobster hunting (it isn't fishing as you just grab them with your hands or spear them) but there is no way Dina is going into the water at night. Malcolm is allergic to lobster, so he’s not going either.

This region of Polynesia has some large fruit bats, called flying foxes! They can be the size of small dogs, and they are quite cute! Dina had been asking about them, so our lunch host found one to show her and brought it to the dock (She asked him not to kill it! The locals do eat them). It was a small one, black with a brown head, huge eyes and sharp little teeth (they do bite, otherwise we would have a boat pet). We hadn’t expected him to do that, so we didn’t have the camera with us. Try a google image search for “Tonga Flying Fox” and you’ll probably see lots of photos, some of them better than we would have done.

Next stop was the island of Matuku, just 5 miles south. We arrived on a school day during the lunch recess. There were 20 kids on the beach waving at us when we pulled in. Malcolm took a small kite ashore and was swarmed by the kids who led us down the beach to their school. The kite was a big hit, as was the camera. Tongan children love to have their pictures taken. After a while, the teachers arrived and the kids went in for afternoon classes. We walked around the island, which took about an hour, and then back to the boat.



We caught up with SV Roxanne again at Tofanga island. Tom is an avid kiteboarder, and lent us his trainer kite and showed us the basics on the beach. Malcolm is ready for the next step (dragging through the water), but Dina needs a bit more time on the beach. Tom didn’t have a harness for us to borrow, so a bit of man-handling was required. Dina is going to try it again, in less wind and wearing diving weights, so she will get dragged across the sand a little less... Glenn, the owner of the dedicated kitesurfing resort, Fanifo Lofa, was also on the beach with a few of his friends from New Zealand. They offered encouragement and impressive demonstrations. Looks like we are in the market for a kite and gear!


We’ve spent three weeks in the Ha’apai group, visiting about 9 islands, and we could happily stay longer. However, we’ve eaten most of the food on board and, probably more importantly, drank all the alcohol. Since there isn’t much to buy here in the Ha’apia group, we will head to the hustle and bustle of the Vava’u group, 50 miles north, where lots of our friends, and most of the boats that crossed the Pacific, are located.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Arrival in Tonga

We had a lovely 3-day passage from Beveridge Reef to Tonga. It was sunny, with consistent moderate wind, light swell and at night the moon and stars brightened everything. 

We sailed west from Beveridge Reef and entered the Ha'apai group of islands in central Tonga through the wide and calm pass between Uoleva and Uiha islands. The islands are similar to the Tuamotus - white sand beach, palm trees, surrounded by reefs.

We anchored off the beautiful beach of Uoleva island. There was a smoking volcano off to the west and whales in the distance. We were having gin and tonics up on the balcony, looking at the sunset and watching for whales, when a Belgian and French couple, from SV Utopie, dinghied over to say hello. They were the only other boat in the bay.

The next day we took a long walk on the beach and found the Uoleva Yacht Club! At the bar, there were Chileans, an Austrian and a Montrealer, in addition to the South African and Zimbabwean owners! That evening, we went to the Yacht Club for a wonderful dinner with the couple from SV Utopie.

We stayed in Uoleva for a couple of days before heading a few miles north to Pangai, the administrative capital of the Ha'apai group, on Lifuka island to clear cusroms and buy some provisions. The health official couldn't be bothered to come to the wharf so just customs and immigration came aboard. The immigration woman drove us to the grocery store. Lots of Chinese and Kiwi products. Malcolm stocked up on lots of new varieties of cookies and we will be trying interesting brands of chips... Apples, clementines, onions, tomatoes...all sorts of goodies. We bought a Tongan rum, too!

We can't believe we are in Tonga with our boat! Malcolm brought down the "Q" flag (hoisted to signify we hadn't cleared customs yet) and after he hoisted the Tongan flag, he said, "OMG, we are flying the Tongan flag on our boat!"

Friday, August 14, 2015

Anchored in the middle of the ocean

There are a few places in the Pacific where there is a coral reef just under the surface. It is good to know where these are so you don't hit them, and good to know where they are in case they are an incredible destination such as Beveridge Reef.

It feels very strange to be anchored in 10 feet of water almost 200 miles from the nearest land. The water on the inside of the reef is very calm even though the ocean waves are crashing on the reef just a short distance away.

No land here means no silt, no dirt, nothing in the water. That leaves us with the clearest water we have ever seen. No land here also means that water is continually coming in over the reef so the water doesn't warm up even though it is shallow. Even though the water temperature is 20° C (that's 72° F) we put on our wetsuits to go snorkeling!

It is 25 feet deep off the back of the boat and we can easily see the details on the sandy bottom, some little fish and sea cucumbers. The water is clear and light blue like swimming pool water. We took Tubby to the inside edge of the reef to snorkel along the coral shelf.

The coral is stunning and the fish are numerous, diverse and huge. Three good size white-tip sharks emerge from behind the hulk of an old wreck. Another is sleeping just under a shelf, Dina didn't even notice him while she was looking at a 3' long turqouise coloured fish!

The visibility is hard to describe. Some people say you can see over 100 feet under the water. Sitting in the cockpit, the boat barely rocking, seeing and hearing the crash of the surf on the reef... The whole experience was surreal considering we were literally in the middle of the ocean.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Last stop in French Polynesia

Heading west from French Polynesia there is one last stop. With nothing around it for over 100 nm, Mopelia is the remotest place we have visited so far. It is a beautiful circular atoll made up of coral reefs and sandy motus with a lovely lagoon in the centre. About 30 people, including a few families, live on the atoll and process coconuts for the copra market (the basis of coconut oil). 

The entrance pass to Mopelia is "interesting". It is not very wide, not very wide indeed. Once you get into the pass you can see the shallow coral ledges just a boat width away on either side. To make it really interesting, there is a constant ebb (out flowing) tide that varies in intensity. It only took us about 2 minutes to motor through the pass. That is a long time to be holding your breath and gritting your teeth.

We stayed in Mopelia for 12 days, ostensibly waiting for a good weather window for the 800 mile passage to Beveridge Reef and on to Tonga. It was a great 12 days spent relaxing, exploring the atoll and getting to know interesting locals and other cruisers.

How do you spend 12 days on a remote island?

Go fishing with some locals: Dina went out fishing a couple of times. She got to wade into the water with one end of a net while they circled the fish. She also received a lesson in how to clean the fish and got to practice on all 18 they caught.

Have fish dinner with some locals: We brought some food ashore to go with the fish that Dina helped catch. The fish is fried, grilled or prepared raw as poisson cru.

Have a pot luck with some locals: The crews from several yachts hosted a pot luck for the locals as a way of thanking them for their hospitality.

Go exploring at night to see coconut crabs: These crabs resemble fat spiders the size of small dogs more than marine crabs - google an image!l.

Have sundowners on the beach with an international set of cruisers: Not many cruisers stop at Mopelia, but those that do enjoy a United Nations of beach bonfires. We enjoyed the company of honourable representatives from Sweden, Switzerland, France, Australia and the USA.

Go for a walk to see the waves crashing on the reef: It is beautiful and calm on the inside, but the surf is constantly pounding the outside of the reef.

Visit the local family who have a garden: They were happy to share bananas, papayas, beans, tomatoes, coconuts and even tern eggs and beautiful shell necklaces.

Make some meals ahead of time in preparation for the passage: Curry Chicken with Green Papaya on rice, Seared Tuna medallions, Fried Tuna, Steamed Lobster Tails (provided by locals cooked on Free Spirit), Coconut Candy (opps, too much cinnamon).

Use those tern eggs: The tern eggs worked well for two quiches, which are in the freezer. The tern eggs also worked for a couple of omelettes for lunch. Hmmmm....terns eat fish and their eggs taste quite fishy. We'll have to see how the quiche turns out.

Make some bread: Why did we have yeast on board that expired 10 years ago? Why did we try to use it? Try again with yeast that expired only one year ago, and use coconut water (fresh!!) instead of water and sugar. This "coconut bread" turned out okay.

After 12 days: Say good bye, squeeze out the narrow pass and head west.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Saving the best of French Polynesia for last?

Just 20 miles west of Bora Bora is the beautiful island of Maupiti, our second to last stop in French Polynesia. Like Bora Bora, it has a beautiful mountainous island surrounded by a coral reef. What is missing are all the hotels, cruise ships and tourists.  We have been in French Polynesia for 3 months and been to many great places. What we found when we squeezed in through the narrow channel in the reef at Maupiti, however, was the prettiest island and the most amazing blue water.

There is a town, where we went ashore and met up with Chuck and Lauri from Free Spirit. The town has a church, a couple of stores and a school, all of which service the 1000 residents. We walked along the road to the best beach. It was tempting to pick the mangoes and bananas we saw growing all over the place, but they all belong to someone.

Dina waved down a passing truck, and the four of us hopped in the back and got a ride to the beach. As promised, the beach was beautiful. After a little picnic, we did the obligatory snorkeling which was pretty good. As the afternoon heat started to build it was time to head back to the boats and make some cold drinks. This time we got a ride part way into town in the back of another pickup. We walked along the shore to our dinghies and Malcolm took several photos of Good as Gold and Free Spirit anchored in the beautiful lagoon. Unfortunately, he forgot to clean the salt water off the lens from the snorkeling so none of the photos turned out.

Dina, Chuck and Lauri headed into town early the next morning, to avoid the heat of the day, with the intention of hiking to the top of the island. Malcolm made sure that Dina had a camera and the lens was clean. At some point, a walk becomes a hike and at another point a hike becomes a climb. Our guidebook was good to recommended the lovely beach, but the publishers need to fix the phrase "hike to the top" in their next edition. Almost the entire hike was hand over fist, and there were some fixed ropes to help people! Needless to say, they made it and the view was awesome. Thanks to Malcolm ensuring the camera lens was clean, Dina's photos are great! Chuck used his hand held VHF to call Malcolm from the top. With the binoculars, Malcolm could see them waving. Due to the treacherous terrain, the descent took longer than the climb. The three of them made it back safe but tired.

We were anchored by the town, which was good for beach excursions and little hikes, but we needed to be anchored out near the entrance channel for what was next.

Months ago, back in the Marquesas, we talked to a French cruiser who has been cruising around French Polynesia for several years. Dina took lots of notes and wrote his recommendations on the little charts in our guidebook. The main item that stuck with Malcolm was that the island of Maupiti has a healthy Manta Ray population and they are easy to find near the entrance channel.

So, after a bit of rest for the three climbers, both boats moved a mile south. Rumour has it that the manta rays hang out every morning near the channel marker 200 meters from where we anchored. By then it was 4 in the afternoon, so we planned to find the mantas the next day. In the meantime, we snorkeled to check the anchor. Of course the anchor was fine, so was the big (5' wing span) manta ray swimming near it! It was just a teaser for what the morning would bring.

Before breakfast, we jumped off the back of our boat and we didn't have to go far before we saw a manta, then a second one and we still weren't at "the spot". We watched these two mantas for a bit and then swam toward the channel marker. Sure enough, we saw several manta rays swimming about 20 feet down and several scuba divers resting on the bottom (about 10 feet below the mantas) watching them. At first it seemed odd to have the divers down there, but it really helped us see how big these mantas can be. All the mantas were over 4' across and some were over 6' across!

The mantas were all swimming against the current so they basically stayed around the one spot. They swim with their mouths opens and filter plankton and tiny creatures for food. We positioned ourselves above them and also swam against the current. During this swim, we saw up to 5 mantas at a time. They would "fly" around each other and try to get in good positions for feeding. Malcolm took lots of photos, but didn't have the camera ready when a manta did a back flip!

With huge manta rays in your backyard, a gorgeous mountain vista and crystal clear water surrounding your "home", it is hard to pull up the anchor to leave, but we know more awaits.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Another week in Bora Bora

Once Heather left, the rain arrived. We had two straight days of rain followed by a third day of occasional rain. Many other boats had arrived in Bora Bora, the last stop in French Polynesia before officially checking out of the country and heading west to Tonga, via the Cook Islands, or north to Hawaii.

As usual when there are boats moored near each other, there was lots of socializing. Most of us were on mooring balls at the MaiKai Marina. It is the closest to town, were the Heiva festivities were taking place (plus groceries, banks, fuel, propane, etc.). We would often gather for drinks and appetizers on a boat and then all go to the Heiva. Or using the internet at the marina bar would turn into a party.

With Chuck and Lauri, from Free Spirit, we rented a car to tour the island. There are some beautiful views of the central mountain as well as the stunning lagoon and the motus that ring the island. We stopped at the Sofitel resort for fancy drinks and a fabulous view then continued on to Matira Beach to enjoy our picnic lunch. From the beach we could see sting rays. We all jumped into the crystal clear water with our snorkeling gear and swam with them.

Our visas for French Polynesia were expiring so we topped up our diesel, water, propane and gas for Tubby, provisioned and spent about 20 minutes doing our official check-out with the Gendarme. That evening we watched the Heiva finals for individual dancers and orchestras and left Bora Bora the next morning.

First few days in Bora Bora

We had a nice afternoon sail to Bora Bora. There wasn't quite enough wind so we used the motor, along with the sails, to give us an extra push. We could see Bora Bora in front of us the whole way. Somehow that makes it a bit nicer and a bit easier. 

Bora Bora is a rugged volcanic island surrounded by a coral reef. The mountain is quite spectacular and the waters are beautiful. Heather hadn't been to a beach in French Polynesia yet and didn't get to go to any beaches when she visited us in Mexico! Most of the nice beaches on Bora Bora have resorts on them and are private, but there is one nice public beach. We anchored nearby, packed our dinghy (Tubby) with a picnic lunch, some beach towels and books, and spent a lovely afternoon on the beach.

Back at the boat we moved for the night to a mooring ball in front of the famous restaurant bar "Bloody Mary's". The idea is that they provide the mooring balls and you go in and spend money. We checked our shoes at the door (the entire floor is sand) and went to the bar where Dina ordered a Bloody Mary, Malcolm ordered the little known Spiced rum and Dr. Pepper, and Heather ordered a tall blue thing with a piece of fruit on the rim.

During WW2 there was an American base on Bora Bora and there are a few remnants of their stay. In addition to the huge airport runway and some decaying concrete docks, there are some gun installations. We moved the boat north to get closer to one of these and a nearby marea with petroglyphs. Malcolm and Heather went exploring while Dina stayed on the boat (it was too deep to anchor securely). The petroglyphs were not that great, but the gun installation provided a great view and a reminder of how things were in the past.

The annual Heiva was in full swing while we were in Bora Bora. During the day there are sports, crafts and agricultural contests such as javelin throwing, weaving and fruit production. At night there are choral, dance and orchestral contests. The evening events are quite elaborate. The dancers' costumes are impressive and the mostly drumming orchestras are intense.

After visiting 4 islands, Moorea, Raiatea,Tahaa and Bora Bora, Heather took the high-speed ferry to the airport in Bora Bora for her flight to Tahiti and then home to Victoria.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Exploring Raiatea and Tahaa

Our next stop was the islands of Raiatea and Tahaa.  It was a 15 hour sail, so we left Moorea in the late afternoon in order to arrive the next morning in the daylight. The wind was good, but the seas were a bit sloppy. It was a bit uncomfortable for us, and not what we wanted for Heather's first offshore passage. She was a little seasick, but was quite stoic and managed to sleep through most of it.

The two island of Raiatea and Tahaa share the same barrier reef, so we could explore a lot while staying inside the calm waters of the lagoon. As we entered the lagoon near the SE corner of Raiatea, Malcolm was quite impressed with the various shades of blue water and Heather was quite happy the boat was no longer rocking.

Our first stop was at Hotopuu Bay. This bay is quite deep so we had to find an underwater hill where we could drop the anchor. Malcolm and Heather took Tubby out to explore Taputaputea marae (ancient Polynesian temple) at the entrance to the bay. This marae was the most important religious and historical site in Polynesia at one time. After walking around the 5 acre site, they took Tubby out to get a better look at a motu (little island on the reef) and watch the waves crashing on the outside of the reef.

The next morning we went a short way north to Faaroa Bay. We anchored at the head of the bay and took Tubby up the Aoppomau river. The river winds through the tropical jungle, with palms overhead and yellow hibiscus lining the bank. Along the way we met a local, James, who lives beside the river on his family's farm. He invited us up to see the farm where they grow vanilla and various fruits. We bought a bunch of bananas, lots of star fruit, a few papayas and a soursop (like a cross between a pineapple and a watermelon).

We continued north to the main town of Uturoa, and anchored near the reef just off the town. After anchoring, we did a little snorkeling right from the boat. The next morning we hiked up Mount Tapio for a great view of these two islands, the lagoon, the island of Huahine 15 miles east, and the island of Bora Bora 20 miles west. It was clear enough for us to also see Maupiti, which is about 40 miles west. After that, we grabbed a few drinks at a waterfront cafe with reasonable Internet access, reprovisioned at a large grocery store, and went back to the boat.

We motored north through the lagoon to Tahaa, and stopped at Haamene Bay. We heard the Hibiscus hotel had free moorings and a turtle rescue operation. It was a lovely hotel, in a lovely location, but they had to shut down the turtle sanctuary a few years earlier due to new government regulations. That was quite disappointing. In the past, cruisers would be allowed to take the tagged turtles to release them at a certain location nearby. That must have been amazing!

Since there were no turtles, we continued on. We circled the island to the north and anchored near Motu Matarare on the west. Here there is a small channel, between two motus on the reef, where the current comes in and carries snorkelers over some lovely coral populated by lots of tropical fish. This spot is so popular that the fish are accustom to people and come close hoping to be fed. We did this drift snorkel twice. Malcolm took lots of photos and some actually turned out okay.

The weather looked good for a nice afternoon sail to Bora Bora, so we left Tahaa and headed west.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Heather Arrives in Moorea

After the big city of Papeete in Tahiti, we sailed in nice conditions for about 4 hours to Cook's Bay on the northern side of Moorea. It is a beautiful, long cove surrounded by stunning green, lush mountains.

It is also a very deep cove. We motored around looking for a place to drop our anchor in less than 30 metres! We found a spot near the head of the cove and not too far from the Bali Hai hotel where all the Pacific Puddle Jump events would take place.

The next morning we rented a car from Albert's, as everyone does. We paid for 8 hours, but as the attendant wouldn't be there after 5 PM, he told us to keep it until the next day. We picked Heather up at the airport and started a land circumnavigation of Moorea.

We stopped at restaurants, shops, fancy hotels, beaches and lookout points. We also drove up to the famous Belvedere for an awesome view of the north shore of the island. Since we had the car in the evening, we drove to the Hilton for a cocktail and to attend Dr. Michael Poole's seminar on whales and dolphins. He has been studying marine mammals in the South Pacific for over 30 years.

At that point, Heather's jetlag was kicking in so we returned to the boat for a quick dinner and sleep.

The next day we watched as about 65 sailboats arrived and anchored, and often re-anchored, in Cook's Bay. It was great to see so many of the people we have met through the Pacific Puddle Jump. That evening the Bali Hai hosted a cocktail party, dinner and traditional dancing. The next day we participated in traditional outrigger canoe races, traditional Polynesian crafts and games, a traditional lunch, more dancing and prizes.

We need to get Heather to Bora Bora by July 2 for her flight home to Victoria. We will not have enough time to explore both of the islands that are between Moorea and Bora Bora, so we asked Heather to read about Hauhine and Raiatea islands in the guide books and...we are off to Raiatea!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Couple of Days in Tahiti

We awoke in the bay protected by Point Venus, Tahiti. We were tired from the rough passage from Tikehau. Some cruising friends knew we had pulled in overnight and radioed to tell us the new marina in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti and just around the corner from Point Venus, was having a half price opening special. After the rough passage, we weren't too keen on continuing on to Moorea right away, even though it would just be 3-4 hours. Then we heard there was fresh water right on the dock at the new marina and several friends were there.....so we went there and ended up staying 3 nights!

After being on quiet islands and villages of a few hundred people, Papeete was a busy and crowded city. It felt like the traffic was endless (sometimes there were 20 cars going past) and it seemed like everyone was driving so fast (maybe 50kph/30mph). We ate out too much - but the local food trucks were great! Dina bought more pearls - the Tahitian pearls come in so many beautiful hues: green, purple, blue, champagne, silver! And we socialized quite a bit - we caught up with cruisers we hadn't seen since the Marquesas, or in the case of Eve on SV Auntie, since Mexico!

The concern about finding good internet for Malcolm's Skype call with a potential employer regarding a job during cyclone season was also solved by being in Papeete. More about that later.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Safety Rules 101

We have a safety rule: we will travel based on the weather, not based on a calendar date. It is a good rule. We shouldn't break it.

Safety rules are good, but we were in Tikehau and HAD to go 175 nautical miles to Moorea to meet up with our daughter, Heather, who was arriving on Friday. The forecasted winds were a bit high, but it would just take 24 to 36 hours..... The sail to Moorea was awful. We had strong winds, plus gusts and big swells. We reefed the main and put up the solent (the smaller headsail). After a while, we put in a second reef in the main. We were still over powered and doing 10+ knots. With the large swells the boat was surfing at 13 knots.

We were wet due to a couple of rain squalls, plus the swells crashing against the boat were splashing us. Due to the motion and the noise, neither of us could sleep when off watch so we were exhausted. We also realised we were not going to arrive in Moorea until after sunset (another safety rule we have is about not arriving somewhere unknown in the dark). We were going to be stuck in these conditions for an extra 10 hours.

As usual, Dina participated in the Polynesian Magellan radio net (locally called the Poly MagNet). She reported our uncomfortable situation. Another cruiser we know, Steve on SV Liward, radioed that Point Venus, on the NW corner of the island of Tahiti, is a wide open bay that is easy to enter at night. We took his advice, changed course and headed for Tahiti, just east of Moorea. Point Venus has a big lighthouse and there are hotels and lights from the cars on the oceanfront road. We anchored easily in the large bay in the dark. Point Venus blocked most of the wind and ALL of the waves. We slept soundly for 11 hours!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tikehau - Manta Rays and a picnic


We had an awesome day at Tikehau! It is our last atoll in the Tuamotu Island group before we cross to Moorea in the Society Island group in French Polynesia.

We had a lovely overnight passage from Toau. At dusk, a brown-footed boobie landed on the lifeline and, with his large webbed feet, proceeded to balance there the entire night. It was asleep but would move it's tail to balance. Must be a bird thing.

We arrived at the pass just after sunrise and went through without a problem. We motored the 8 nautical miles south through the lagoon to anchor of the main village. It is small; one grocery store, one bakery, but two dive shops! We took a walk across the motu to the ocean side and walked to the end and back around to the lagoon side.

The next morning we dinghied over to a nearby beach resort (that means several individual thatched roof bungalows on the beach and a restaurant building) to see about an excursion to snorkel with the manta rays. We met Serge, from the Tikehau Village Pension, www.tikehauvillage.com. He was preparing to leave on an excursion with 8 of his hotel guests, all visiting from France. He had room for us too. We had an awesome time swimming with the manta rays! They were 6-8' across. Then we went to a "fish trap", like a large pen that the fish swim into but can't seem to figure out how to get out. Our guides speared a bunch of fish in the trap for our lunch. At an uninhabited motu we had a fantastic lunch. There were three types of grilled fresh fish, BBQ chicken, roasted breadfruit, poisson cru, potato salad and a Tahitian specialty - canned corned beef sauted with green onions. After lunch, we walked along the pink sand beach to a lagoon to snorkel. We fed the tropical fish, saw giant oysters and an eel. Then we had fruit salad before heading back to the resort and Tubby.

The next day, we strolled through town, chatting with people. When we returned tp the boat we checked the weather. We realised a strong system was moving in and if we didn't leave right then, we wouldn't be able to comfortable and safely leave for a week! Since we were picking up our daughter, Heather, in Moorea on June 19, we hoisted Tubby and the anchor and set sail for Moorea.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Next stop: Toau

Toau is yet another atoll in the Tuamotus. This one has some channels into the lagoon, but we went to the western side where there is a false pass (basically a cul-de-sac). Rumour has it the snorkeling there is great and after spending two hours in the water we'd have to agree.

We went to shore and met Valentina and Gaston, the local residents. They had just caught a tuna and sold us two kilograms (4.5 pounds) for less than $20. Malcolm seared some of it up for a delicious dinner and froze the rest.

Funny thing happened in the anchorage the next morning... A South African flagged sailboat, Toccata, arrived in Toau and anchored nearby. We called them on the radio with the intention of telling them where two mooring balls were hiding. They came on the radio and said, "Hello. Is your sailboat a Montevideo 43?" We were shocked! We so often dread people asking what kind of boat we have as no one has heard of the 15-20 Montevideo 43's built in South Africa. We usually just say, it is 'a South African boat'.

It gets weirder. We invited Toccata over for coffee and tea and to see our "Monte". The parents, daughter and son-in-law are sailing together. The young couple are considering purchasing a Montevideo 43 that is currently for sale in Cape Town. As we discuss our boat's history, it turns out they know the original owner of our boat! It is such a small world!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Live music and Pearls

The anchorage in the SE corner of Fakarava was very pretty. Lots of sand and very few coral heads to worry about. Steve, on SV LiWard, arranged a party on the shore for all 7 boats in the anchorage. The locals (6 of them) made fried fish, french fries and BBQ'd meat and chicken. Steve is a musician, so he set up mics and speakers and he played guitar and sang with two of the local men who play guitar and ukulele. One of the women sang. It was a lot of fun!

The next day we headed to Rotoava village near the northern pass of Fakarava. Although we heard the diving is good here too, we didn't dive or snorkel. Instead we went to town, ordered pastries and ate some ice cream. The following day, after a breakfast of pastries, we headed to the Havaiki Resort (in town) with some friends for their pearl farm demonstration. It was very informative and fun. We participated in the Pearl Lottery. That means we chose an oyster from the pile and were lucky enough to find a good sized Tahitian pearl inside. We weren't feeling 100% (something to do with the unhealthy breakfast perhaps?), so we didn't eat the raw oyster. Instead we all went to the waterside cafe at the resort for cheeseburgers.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Wall of Sharks

It is approximately 55nm between the pass at Tahanea and the southern pass at Fakarava. We wanted to sail overnight at about 4 knots of speed to arrive at the pass close to slack tide in the morning. We were going too fast with just the genoa so we furled it and hoisted just the main sail. Even with a reef in the main (not using the full sail), we were still sailing over 5 knots. We gybed a few times (made a zig zag course) to arrive after sunrise. Regardless of the speed and arrival, we had a very uncomfortable sail. The wind was from aft but the swells, whether they were on the aft quarter or directly behind, kept the boat rolling from side to side. Neither of us got much sleep. Fortunately, the anchorage here in southern Fakarava is great and we've slept soundly here.

When we arrived, we both snorkeled to check the anchor and Dina even got in the water AFTER seeing a small (less than 5') shark swimming around the boat.

The pass here in the south of Fakarava reputedly has some of the best diving in the Tuamotus. We got picked up by the wonderful French couple who run the local branch of Top Dive here in Tetamani village and headed out to the pass. Malcolm went on the first drift dive. The dive boat drops you near the ocean side of the pass and the incoming current brings you into the atoll's lagoon. On the first dive, Malcolm saw three "walls of sharks". These are large groups of sharks (20+) all slowly moving into the current. They are looking for tasty fish that are disoriented in the incoming current.

There are certain well defined areas of these sharks, where the current is to their liking and they are in tight groups, hence the term, "wall". A better description would be "peleton" of sharks. They swim slowly against the current making little progress. If one gets too far forward it will peel off and the current takes it to the back of the group. The divers drift along the coral beside them.

We both did the second dive. We saw black-tip, white-tip, grey reef and black fin sharks. Some were pretty big, like 8'. Some were young, maybe 18". Fortunately they were not too curious although they did swim near by. We have been told that sharks feed mainly at night and only eat during the day if there is easy prey. We were also told that the sharks do not like the bubbles divers make (maybe we were told this just to make us feel better...).

There is a pizza restaurant here on the atoll at the Pension Motu Aito Paradise. It is hard to see from the anchorage, but it is a lovely, family-run "hotel" with 6-8 Polynesian-style bungalows connected by garden paths. The first night we planned to go there, the restaurant was flooded due to the recent rain and high tide. It closed due to "weather" the second night. On the third night we were able to have our pizza party with 3 other boats and the French couple who run the local Top Dive. The restaurant owner, and pizza chef, Manihi, is very nice and welcoming.

The next morning we both dove again. This time we started further out in the pass and rode the current well into the lagoon. We began about 20 metres down on a patch of sand and quickly encountered 4 sharks sleeping in the sand. As we went through the pass there were a lot of sharks! They were very close to us, even above us feeding on small fish at the surface. We probably saw well over 100 sharks in total. The dive ended with us drifting over the shallower area as we turned the corner into the lagoon. As expected the current sped up and the ride was like flying along above the coral reef. It was awesome and Dina has conquered her fear of these sharks.

After diving we headed to a quieter anchorage about 8 miles away.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Tahanea

We left Makemo just after sunrise so we'd have lots of time to get to Tahanea. This also corresponded to slack tide so heading out of the pass wasn't too bad as there was just the current from the "overflow" effect.

We had a great sail to Tahanea with trade winds moving us nicely. Tahanea is a smaller atoll that is on the way to Fakarava. Our arrival in Tahanea corresponded to slack tide as we had planned. Coming in through the channel was a bit lumpy with all the confused waves but it wasn't too bad. We anchored in nice clear water again and could see some coral heads down below.

Malcolm was going to swim over the anchor and see whether it was set nicely. This is a pretty common practice, especially with coral heads around. Dina is very nervous about swimming with sharks. Every atoll has lots of reef sharks so she isn't going to do much swimming or she has face her fear. She decided to go with Malcolm. It would be two minutes, one out to the anchor and one back.

The anchor was fine. The reef shark looked fine too. Dina was frozen. Malcolm watched the shark swim away and heard Dina scream. Chuck and Lauri had paddled up behind us in their kayaks and Chuck's black "shark fin" shaped paddle was a foot away from her.

Even though our friends from Free Spirit had accidentally scared the heck out of Dina, we had them over for drinks and appetizers. Since we hadn't seen them in a while we just kept talking, eating and drinking and talking and drinking. Eventually we called it a night.

The next morning Dina invited Chuck and Lauri to snorkel with us. That would give the sharks other targets. It was pretty good snorkeling and Dina stayed in the water and wasn't too concerned about the two black tipped reef sharks we saw. Malcolm got a photo of one. They are looking for tasted fish, not people.

Afterwards we got ready for an overnight sail to Fakarava. Apparently the best diving in the Tuamotus is in Fakarava.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Makemo

The water here inside the lagoon at Makemo is so clear. We are anchored in 40-50 feet and can see the bottom!

We had a wonderful time in the village when we arrived. We placed a pastry order at the bakery and the next morning Malcolm went to collect croissants, pain chocolate, apple turnovers, twisted pain chocolate and baguettes. Not all for us! We took orders for the other boats, too!

We thought about going back for cheese as the stores here are surprisingly well stocked. After "breakfast" we couldn't move our pastry-filled bellies to go back into town to buy anything. Instead it was a good reading day.

The next day we motored 15 miles through part of the lagoon. Most of it is 40 to 60 feet deep, but there are coral heads scattered around. Malcolm hung out at the bow keeping watch. You need to look for the colour change and perhaps a funny wave pattern. We did just fine, although we had been quite nervous. We arrived at a much quieter anchorage. No town, just a lovely beach and 5 other boats.

The following morning we explored the beach and took a classic "Tropical beach" photo. We still don't have Internet access so we are doing the "blog update via email". Hopefully the photo looks good.

Our friends on Belle Epoque suggested a pot luck dinner on the beach for all the boats in the anchorage. In addition to some good food, good company and a little bonfire, we got to see lots of sargeant crabs (like large hermit crabs) on the beach and one little rat.

We knew the wind was still good so we made plans to sail to Tahanea. Perhaps we will catch up to Chuck and Laurie on Free Spirit.