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.