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The Grand Adventure Begins 04/01/07



So we finally got it all together to leave for the Marquesas Islands and points west.  Of course the process had been ongoing for as long as we’d owned Arabella  (4 years), ever evolving during our Mexican cruises, but in the last month in PV before our planned departure “date” of March 21-30-ish things got intense.  We decided to get the engine looked at by an actual mechanic, and ended up replacing all the injector nozzles and the closed system water pump, plus boiling out the heat exchanger, changing all fluids, filters, belts, and some hoses…etc.  And of course the really glamorous job of rebuilding both heads went on as well, (done by yours truly), along with countless other minor projects.

Then there was the provisioning challenge- how much of just what would we need/want for the next month or so we’d be far from any store, plus the next several months knocking around the South Pacific after the passage.  I won’t bore you here with what we ended up getting, but suffice it to say, storage space got really tight aboard, and of course we probably bought more than we really needed.

Anyway, John, (who has crewed for me numerous times, beginning with my Ranger 23), arrived about the 15th of March, Barb left to drive north in the van with Buddy on the 21st, Bob, (a good friend and owner of a Hunter 410), showed up around the 28th, and we actually pulled out of Paradise (Village Marina) on the 31st, having decided to only go as far as Punta de Mita since it was a Friday, and we didn’t want to break any superstitions at the beginning of such an ambitious voyage.  OK, so we might have had small hangovers from pre-departure celebrations, and that may have influenced our decision too.  Of course any humor from leaving on April Fool’s Day went right over our heads.

So we began our voyage rested and in good spirits, and were rewarded with some of the all-time best sailing I have ever experienced, which continued for almost two weeks.  The diesel ran for a few hours to get us free of the Tres Mariettas, and for about 4 hours one night when the wind completely died, but that was it until the ITCZ.  We flew every combination of sail, from cruising chute, main, mizzen staysail, and mizzen, to main alone, jib alone, spinny alone, and even a time with the genny poled out to one side, and a free-flying (wire luffed) staysail winged out on the other side.  At one point the spinnaker halyard parted and we lost use of it, but that’s a whole story in itself.

We weren’t able to get the Hydrovane self steering system to work, (especially after the mizzen preventor failed and the jibing boom sheared off the “sail” part), and the autopilot used too much electricity unless we had the generator or engine running, so we did a lot of steering; then the “bullet-proof” Robertson autopilot went south, and we did even more.  We think that may have been part of the reason we made better time than lots of other boats, because I believe no autopilot can steer as well as a live person. Since there were three of us, we decided to do a “three on, six off” watch schedule, which had the advantage of rotating time slots every day.  As a result we each stood the dreaded “dog watch” (3-6 am) every three days, and no one person was stuck with it. Inevitably there were times when sail changes or small crises robbed us of our off watch time, or we couldn’t sleep well due to the motion of a speeding sailboat flying over waves, but we all stayed pretty well rested despite everything.  We just got a bit zombie-like after awhile, and looked for our bunks every chance we had. 

When we got near the mystical waypoint of 5 north and 130 west, supposedly a good place to dive south through the ITCZ, things became more interesting.  We had some cloudy days, our first rain-squall, flukey or non-existant wind from every direction, and on Friday the 13th of April, my log says, ”Realized we have nowhere enough fuel for the ITCZ (inter tropical convergence zone, 600 miles of no wind), going to have to sail every chance we get.  Generator won’t work, autopilot died, otherwise, the rain is really special…

Everything ended up OK, though.  After a couple more days and nights the rain squalls ceased, the SE trades started to tease us along, and after we crossed the equator (with appropriate fanfare and hijinks of course) it again became a textbook “good sail”.  We finally caught a nice Dorado (Mahi-mahi in these parts) on our last day underway.  Arriving at Hiva Oa on the morning of April 23 was almost an anti-climax, and, though all were happy to arrive, we knew there were many more sailing days to come between here and Tahiti.

The informal Ship's Journal is here


Island Time- Adjusting to a New Culture 4/30/07


It was quite a feeling of unreality to actually arrive at a destination (Hiva Oa) one has dreamed of for years, read about from many different viewpoints, and planned for as long as this.  Nothing compares to actually being there.  After the 22-23 (we’re not exactly sure) day passage, we were out of beer, cigarettes, fresh food of any kind except for some really limp carrots and a loaf of indestructible Bimbo bread.  And of course we wanted to try to contact wives and check e-mail.  So we inflated the dinghy and made our way ashore, only to discover since it was Sunday, everything was closed except one small “snack”- the name for a lunch-type restaurant.  They had pretty good hamburgers, great French Fries (fancy that, in French Polynesia) and with a couple of beers, we three paid about $75 for lunch.  That was our first taste of Marquesas prices, soon to be reinforced when we finally got a look at the inside of a “magazine” which is what they call their markets.  It was our goal that Monday to get checked-in to the country, buy the stuff we wanted, and finally make contact with the home front.  After walking the mile or so from the anchorage to the little town of Atuona, we found that checking in would be a two day process (using Polynesian Yacht Services as our agent), and the magazines all closed from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm.  Oh yeah, and you could only buy a phone card at one particular store or the Post Office, only one store (a different one) had cigarettes, and the only internet was at the post office, and also required a phone card.  All these things were taken in stride, and we accomplished most of our missions.  I bought three bottles of Tahitian rum for my upcoming birthday party, and it only set me back $150…

On our return to the boat that Monday, yours truly decided the time had come to attack the rather ripe pile of dirty laundry that had begun to give my cabin a distinctively unpleasant aroma.  There are no laundry-mat type things in these islands, but near the dinghy landing area they had a tile-covered shelf with a faucet, and I had seen a fellow cruiser massaging her laundry there. “What the heck”, says I, “it can’t be rocket surgery”, so off I went, leaving my crew amusedly reading their books in the cockpit.  I had two bulging bags of odiferous clothing, a container of detergent, and a Rubbermaid storage bin, and for the next three hours or so I discovered the immense sense of personal satisfaction one can only acquire from doing something one had never thought one would, or could, do.  That’s my facetious way of saying I will never take clean clothes for granted again.  Since then I have become very good at rotating a few things, washing them as I wash myself, and never wearing a shirt unless going in public.

So Tuesday rolled around, and we again did an expensive foraging foray into town, this time spending 35000 francs ($350) on a couple of bags of food and a couple cases of beer.  I returned later and spent some more of the beautiful but fast-disappearing bills on a few items for the b-day party, and we began to plan for the event.  We had made friends with several of the folks sharing the tiny anchorage with us; since we were within a few meters of each other it was easy.   Wednesday, Linda from Wyntersea dropped off a wonderful pineapple upside-down cake she made for me, and later we had an international group aboard for cocktails: 2 Dutch, a German, a Pole, 2 Belgians, a Romanian, 2 Canadians, an actual American family of three, and ourselves.  Arabella was low on her lines, and it looked like a used dinghy lot all around her, but we had a great couple of hours before we took off for the restaurant for a great dinner.  Sometime during dinner, we finally noticed the beautiful tall lady with the low voice who was serving us might actually not be a lady.  She had a pretty face, all made up, nice hairdo, etc. and was the first of many such we’ve seen since. Seems like it’s a really well accepted part of the culture here, drag as a way of life.

Anyway, after a bit of recovery from the night before, we hoisted anchor on Thursday and headed all the way to the next island, Tahuata, a whole 10 miles or so away.  The captain was feeling his 55 years, but the stalwart crew did all the work as a kind of belated birthday present.  We checked out a small bay that was supposed to have lobsters jumping into your dinghy, but they must have sold more than one copy of that guidebook…                                                                                                                                                                                         So we moved on down the coast a mile or two to famous Resolution Bay.  This is the beautiful bay Captain Cook liked so much he named it after his ship.  There was a small, very sleepy village there called Vaitahu, with two magazines, no restaurants, but a very nice Catholic church.  As we strolled around we heard beautiful harmonies as the choir practiced for a few hours.  Wish we’d had a tape recorder.  We were invited into a yard nearby by a friendly fellow named Lulu, and shared a few Hinano beers with a group of men while trying to converse in French, Spanish and Marquesan, with a bit of English.  They wanted us to return the following day to receive their gifts of bananas, pamplemuse (delicious grapefruit-type things) and citrons (limes) but we never found them.  Instead a nice couple waved us into their yard and loaded us up with papayas, bananas, limes, and served us delicious limeaid.  We were invited to their wedding the 26th of May, but sadly had to decline, since we’ll be in Tahiti by then.

So again we pulled the hook and headed back to Hiva Oa, but this time around the corner, on the southwest end, to a bay called Hanamenu.  It was another grueling 2 hour voyage across the Bordelais Channel, which did have a nice breeze blowing that day.  Hanamenu was supposed to be a deserted village, with a great swimming hole nearby, but apparently a group is resettling there and we didn’t want to infringe.

After a peaceful night there, we took off early for the island of Ua Pou, some 60 miles away to the west.  We arrived at the very scenic harbor of Hakahau mid afternoon to find some of our new friends from Hiva Oa anchored there: Dirk and Linda from Jade, our Dutch friends who had birthday dinner with us, and Jack and Linda from Wyntersea, who had been at our party, and had been buddy-boating with Jade since the Pacific Northwest, all down the West Coast to Manzanillo and across.

We spent a nice couple of days enjoying the beautiful skyline of volcanic spires and the mellow ambiance of the village there, with one great dinner at the one restaurant, where the webcaptain had the best sashimi ever.  Pretty sure it was Wahoo, whatever they call that fish around here.  For once we got away with a pretty good deal- about $160 for 7 of us, including two bottles of wine.  Almost had to be a mistake.

That almost brings us up to date, since we sailed the 25 miles or so to Nuka Hiva yesterday, and are anchored in Tiaohae Bay, in front of the capital city of the Marquesas, Tiaohae.  Here they have lots of amenities like several restaurants, shops, actual wifi internet, a dentist, who I shall be visiting tomorrow (today is Labor Day, May 1, and all is closed), and we can get fuel and propane.  Somebody (wonder who?) forgot to make sure both tanks were full before leaving Mexico, and it’s a good thing our special Barbeque tank had some in it… 

Depending on what happens with the captain’s bad tooth, we’ll be heading out of here one of these days soon, heading for the next island group, the Tuamotus.  It’ll be a 5 day passage most likely, and who knows what we’ll find in the way of phone or internet, so we may not be in touch again until Tahiti.  The Winlink system, which allows one to transmit and receive e-mails at sea through the Ham radio using a special modem, quit working weeks ago, and never worked very well when it did work.  My theory is it doesn’t like my Kenwood radio, and also doesn’t like the new Windows Vista that my new computer uses.

That about wraps it up for this thrilling installment of the Adventures of Arabella, and if the internet connection will allow it, I’ll try to upload a few choice pics for you to enjoy.  If not, look forward to a mega-gallery or two once we hit Papieete.

Till then, Happy Sails to you,

Mike, Bob and John, the three amigos

New Puddle Jump Pics

Checking Out of the Marquesas  05/26/07

So we had a slight change of plans, and the crew flew out of Nuku Hiva instead of continuing on to Papeete, where they had to be by the 31st.  They were replaced by Admiral Ladysailor herself, who flew in May 15.  It was a happy change for Arabella, because finally we are back to the two of us who know, understand, and love her, and we share the same attitudes about life and cruising.  Also the time constraint is removed- no more deadlines to meet or hurrys to be in. I understand some people are bound by their “real life”, but this is my real life, and I like to enjoy every minute of it.  Now we can relax and experience this beautiful place at a cruiser’s pace.  Bottom line is, this should have been “plan A”.

We did a little anchorage-hopping around Nuku Hiva to get Barb’s sea legs working, kicked back and got some business taken care of (taxes, and bills, uggggg) but thanks to the great wifi hotspot in Taohae Bay, we could do it all from the comfort of the boat.  Changed oil and filters, topped off fuel and water, loaded provisions and set off for Manihi, our first stop in the Tuamotu Group, on 5/24. Right now we’re about halfway there, sailing along in bright sunshine, and all is good.  One thing I discovered, though, was a sneaking suspicion of mine was correct.  I was talking with Maotai at the Yacht Services branch there at Nuku Hiva, and noticed he collected lots of used oil from yachts, and he mentioned, “we take it to the station and they just dump it into the tank”.  I had been hoping it was the used oil tank, but no, my fears were proven justified when I changed a fuel filter enroute.  There, in the dim light of the engine room, I saw what had made the 120 liters of fuel smell like burnt old crankcase oil.  It was recycling, Nuku Hiva style.  Engine seems to run fine on it, just hope my filter supply doesn’t run low.

5/28 (continuing)  So here we are pleasantly, though literally, stuck in the lagoon at the Tuamotu island of Manihi, wrapped up tight on some coral heads 65’ below,  invisible to us.  At first we thought we’d made a poor choice of location for the anchor, (probably did) but I wouldn’t be surprised if 90+% of those who drop the hook anywhere around here experience the same fate.  At least we don’t have to worry about dragging into that major coral island-type deal right behind us…

Entering the pass to come in caused us a bit of trepidation, I don’t mind admitting, since it was “our first”, but luckily our timing was good and fears were unfounded.  We slid right in towards the end of the afternoon flood, and then the fun began, since the C-map electronic chart had no details for this particular atoll, and the cruising guides were less than complete in their information.  So we just kind of winged it and eventually found the marked channel that goes around inside the whole circumference of the atoll.

Anyhow, it’s beautiful here, the locals are extremely kind and generous people, and it’s so nice to be on an unrocking-boat after the little (4.5 day) passage from the Marquesas.  Maybe the 23 days of rocking and rolling on the crossing just put me off it or something, I don’t know…

We’ve been promised a diver, but he hasn’t made it the last two days, so we may be looking to ask the Pearl Hotel dive shop guys for help.  Have a feeling it may be a crummy job nobody wants to do, working blind down 65 feet wrestling anchor chain off coral heads.  Maybe there’s a big business salvaging anchors and chain- who knows.  Meanwhile we won’t mind being here a week or two and figuring it out.

06/08/07 It turned out to be just over a week before we finally bid sad farewell to our “newest favorite place”.  There’s something cool about being inside a hollow island, which is kind of what an atoll is, where you are protected from the sea, but you can see it all around you through spaces between the motus that surround you.  There was some honkin’ wind for several days, and we were glad to be safely stuck inside our island sanctuary while the seas kicked up outside.

On our last Sunday, the webcaptain went into town to see if the store might be open for a bit after church, but struck out.  There were some locals sitting around under a tree playing music, though, who invited me over and offered a few Hinanos for a very enjoyable afternoon’s entertainment.  I invited a few of them out to the boat for a curry dinner the next night, and we had a great time sharing stories and enjoying more of their fantastic music.

Anyway, as we exited the pass, after the Blue Nui dive shop guys got our anchor loose for a mere $80, we happened to be below when smoke-appearing stuff began billowing out around the engine room door.  We were grateful Arabella waited until we were safely out before she blew out her exhaust riser.  Oh well, says we, we be sailing folk, and this here’s a sailing boat, so what’s the problem?  We’ll figure something out before we need the engine again, no doubt.  It did curtail our time in the Tuamotus, though, because we didn’t figure it out until we were almost to Tahiti.  Sailing in and out of atolls is for a braver, (or dumber?) guy than me!  I found it hairy enough just motoring in and out of one, at the correct time of day, with the tide just right…

OK, back to the exhaust riser.  For those who don’t know about sailboat engines, there is a short length of pipe through which the HOT exhaust gasses exit the engine, before they get mixed with water and thence expelled through the hull just above the waterline.  This vertical section of pipe is wrapped up mummy-style with asbestos cloth, which is why I never saw what must have begun as a small crack, finally becoming the complete break in the threaded nipple piece.  Show me someone who unwraps their exhaust line periodically to check for cracks and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t look anything like me.

So we had a special repair problem.  Whatever we used to patch the pipe had to be airtight and extremely heat resistant, plus vibration resistant…and no, I don’t carry muffler tape aboard, though I will from now on.  I was hoping I had some epoxy putty aboard, but all I could find was Marine-Tex (an epoxy with filler, used mostly to patch fiberglass), which wasn’t exactly the right stuff.  I also had some self-amalgamating tape aboard that Buddy’s old dad, Mike McNeal gave me for a new-boat present four years ago, and I remembered he said it was silicone, and heat resistant.  My first repair attempt consisted of filling the break with marine-Tex, then wrapping up the area with the tape, and it lasted for a minute or two before failing.  I thunk and thunk about it, and finally the next day a lightbulb exploded in my head and I visualized a sturdy Mexican can with both ends removed, split and wrapped around, secured with hose-clamps, and filled with Marine –Tex.  By golly, that worked long enough for us to get inside the lagoon and anchored here at Tahiti.  It was a bit scary since we had to sail as long as we could, so arrived an hour or two after twilight had turned into pitch-blackness.  There were good lighted markers into the lagoon, though, and thankfully it was so dark we didn’t see how featureless and treacherous the entrance is, if you didn’t have the markers.

By the way, the passage was a mixed bag, pretty good sailing in sunshine the first day, sun and squalls the second, then the third day really overcast, rainy and ugly, (with no wind) turning into a glorious afternoon and sunset as we beam-reached at 6 knots approaching Tahiti.

Today we’ll try to get a slip somewhere and begin the process of getting Arabella back into shape.   We’ll have to find a good mechanic-plumber to fix the exhaust riser, an electronics guy to fix the auto-pilot, and send Lucy a list of stuff to bring when she flys in next month.  (06/15 note: we found a spot at the Tahiti Yacht Club dock, a stern-to med style with 220 power, but we're loving the convenience of being dockside with water and power to spare (now that we solved the transformer problem) and the mechanic has taken our exhaust manifold and mixing elbow away to work on getting them right again.)

Meanwhile we think we’re going to enjoy the Society of the Society Islands!  Tune in later for more hilarity and hijinks from the good ship “Hairybelly”.

Best to You,

 Mike ‘n Barb  (we sure do miss our Lil' Buddy)

New Marquesas to Tahiti Pictures are up! (Click Here)

Boat Repair in Papeete 07/11/07

The Tahiti Yacht Club has turned out to be the best place we could have looked for to get Arabella back in shape.  Michel, the nicest and most relaxed guy we’ve ever encountered in the capacity of marina manager, and one of the best sailors around, personally came out to tow us in with the club’s large RIB and get us med-tied to the dock with no fuss, though it was tricky maneuvering.

This place is small and friendly like a family.  Michel didn’t even ask me to fill out any paperwork, show proof of insurance, my docs, anything.  Just smiled and said “You’re not in California anymore” and handed me a key to the great shower rooms and laundry room. Our next-boat neighbor is a retired French Customs sailor who served as Chief Engineer here and the Caribbean island of Martinique.  His name is also Michel, but he likes us to cal him Michael.  He immediately offered to drive us around anywhere, anytime, and is a delightful individual who has rebuilt a fire-damaged Amel Maramu to almost-new condition.  Did I mention it’s only $17/night here, and water and power are included?  Michel called Supermechanic Herve of Api Yachting for me, and set up a visit for the following day.  Herve did a great job replacing my rusted galvanized exhaust header and mixing elbow with beautiful “inox” (what they call stainless here) in about a week, though he was already totally booked and busy running his sail loft and small haul-out yard.  He then arranged for us to get hauled out at another yard, since his was full, so he could work on our leaking dripless packing and pull the tranny out for rehab.  That was done in another week, during which time we enjoyed the drums and singing competitions held nightly during Haieva, the big annual festival, and had a beautiful view of the main pass into Papeete, the green mountains, Moorea, the harbor, and the sunsets. We also had a great view of the best fireworks we’d ever seen July 2nd, which was Autonomy Day, the local version of Independence Day back home.

While waiting for these repairs, the webcaptain and Ladysailor tried to see as much of Tahiti as our limited budget would allow, and even took a ferry across to Moorea to welcome the Tahiti Tourism Cup rally fleet July 7.  We splurged that day and rented a car for 4 hours, though it took only two to drive completely around.

We’re back at the yacht club awaiting the arrival of daughter Lucy in a few days, then we’re off to Moorea, Raietea and Bora Bora.

By the way, after the Marquesas and Tuamotus,  the selection, quality, and price of everything is a very welcome change for the better.  It’s still far from inexpensive, for example the wifi costs $5-6/hr, but that’s cheaper than Barra de Navidad!  We’ve made some great friends here, and will be very sad to go.  No wonder they limit all visas to 90 days.

 Update 07/26/07, In Raietea

Lucy left yesterday, and the boat feels a bit empty.  We did have a great visit, though, and hope she took lots of lifetime memories home with her.  We spent the weekend after her arrival in Papeete doing the tourist thing, and Monday our good friend Michael drove us completely around the island, at least as far as roads go (the road stops at Tuahupoo, a legendary surf spot on the “small end”, Tahiti Iti) and ended the day with a drive up to Le Belvedere, a small restaurant/bar atop a mountainous perch overlooking Papeete.  It was a breathtaking view, and a heart-stopping drive on a one lane, two way road.  Somehow, thanks to Michaels great diving, we survived!

By Wednesday we were ready for the overnight 80+ mile passage to Huehine, a fine sail all the way, during which Lucy got to experience night sailing and watch standing all at once.  She did great, but was disappointed the autopilot didn’t work once again, as were we all.  We arrived at the anchorage early enough to enjoy a day of swimming, napping, snorkeling, and hanging out on the beach.  As we pulled up the hook the following morning, however, the windlass began to trip the breaker a few times, then quit entirely, probably due to a thermal cut-out, so the webcaptain got to show off his manly strength pulling the rest of the chain and anchor aboard.  We won’t go into what his back felt like later that day.

After another fine sail across the 20 mile or so channel to Raietea that got us in by early afternoon, we lucked into a mooring ball right outside Carenage Raitea, for only $12/night.  It was here we were introduced to Richard Neufeld, a Canadian “electronicien”, who thinks he can fix the windlass and autopilot.  We’ll find out today, I guess, since he’ll be done with them.  In the meanwhile we’ve had a relaxing time here, while the wind howled for a couple of days.  There is an extremely well stocked “magasin” nearby, accessable  by dinghy, and day before yesterday we rented a little car for 4 hours and did a drive around this beautiful, unspoiled island.  We finally got a look at a pearl farming operation, and watched the technician expertly extract black pearls and replace them with fresh “nuclei”, round shell-balls which take about 18 months to become covered with the lustrous nacre that makes them so valuable.  Apparently the oysters can make up to 7 pearls in their lifetime, but are usually only asked to make 4 before being “retired” (and consumed).

We also visited the most important ancient religious site in the islands, outside of Easter Island, and dropped in on a vanilla plantation, where the orchid-like plants produce those valuable beans that make the ice cream taste so good.

Anyway, we’re on borrowed time here, since our visas have run out, at least mine has, and we’ve yet to visit Bora Bora.  We’re hoping to have our electro-mechanical systems up and running in the next day or two, then we’re off for a quick visit over there, then we’re off to Raratonga in the Southern Cooks.

Small update 08/05/07- We had a nice run to Bora Bora, not much wind, and we wanted to test the engine and charge batteries, so we motor-sailed across.  One disturbing development was a high oil pressure reading (it's always high, but this was really high).  Took out pressure relief valve, and it seems fine, so may replace the oil filter and see if that helps.  We've been on a mooring in front of Bora Bora Yacht Club for a couple of days, and are getting ready to head in for a Tahitian-style barbeque today (Sunday).  This place is really beautiful, with perfect tranquility except for the airport shuttle boats zooming back and forth all day leaving big wakes.  I guess we're just getting ready for several days of rockin' and rollin' on our way to Raratonga!  Probably leave in the next day or two.  Added a few pics of Bora Bora for you.

Here’s hoping for some nice weather for that 6 day passage!

 Happy sails, one and all,

 Mike and Barb

Au Revoir to French Polynesia 08/17/07

Here we are, in tiny Avarua Harbor on tiny Rarotonga in the Southern Cook Islands, med-moored to the quay (thanks to helpful cruisers helping us get in) waiting for a weather window to continue on to Niue, then Tonga.  We had a pretty uneventful 4 day passage from Bora Bora until the last 24 hours blew up to 30 knots with up to 15 foot seas.  We’re happy to say Arabella took it in stride, romping along at 5-6 knots under double-reefed main alone, and we did too, once we stopped trying to fight it and just settled down and hung on.  Wind and seas were almost directly abeam, so we were sailing in the trough.  Not usually where you want to be, but somehow it all worked fine, with just an occasional bucketful of seawater into the cockpit.  You can read the First Mate’s log for her take on it, she’s the “color man” and I just give the play by plays.

Anyway, I guess there’s a minor tropical disturbance, or depression, or whatever they call it nearby, and we opted to stay put until things moderate some.  “Raro” is beautiful, the people are lovely, and since they are affiliated with New Zealand, English is the official language. Wow!  If they didn’t drive on the left side of the road it might almost feel like home.  Ever since we’ve been cruising, people have been speaking languages we don’t understand, although we were starting to get to about a kindergarden level in Spanish.  Then we got to the Marquesas, Tuamotus, and Societies and had to start over trying to figure out French.  I took it for a couple of years in school (6th and 7th grade, IIRC) but that was a long time ago, and I got consistent C- grades in it.  Not much sank in, as you might guess.

So this little blog is going to be about what we loved, and what we didn’t love, about French Polynesia, that rather large area encompassing the Isles Marquise, Gambier, Australs, Tuamotus, and Societies.

Probably the main thing we didn’t love, apart from the language barrier, was the expense of being there.  Maybe if we didn’t drink, smoke, use the internet, need to buy fuel or fix the boat it wouldn’t have been so bad, but food was pretty expensive too.  The deals were the fresh tuna and the baguettes, and maybe the local produce from the public market.  We kept wondering how the locals could afford to live there, and decided they must all be rich.

What we loved was just about everything else.  The scenery was varied and all breathtakingly beautiful, the indigenous people proud, fun-loving, beautiful, and down-to-earth, and the French polite, also fun-loving, and gracious in their role as hosts and administrators.  We learned a lot about how civilized Europeans live, and how the Islander’s ways are no less civilized, just different in a few different customs.  It really opened our eyes to see how Americans are regarded with a mixture of envy and distain.  The distain part is mostly directed at the government, but there are things about our society that they just don’t understand, though they regard California (and Los Vegas) as some kind of Promised Land, much as so any of us regard the South Pacific.  It’s really kind of funny.

A few random observations:  There is no “work ethic” per se among the Polynesian people.  They work when and if they have to, but there are more holidays and times when businesses are closed than you could believe.  As a result, the Chinese that were brought in to perform menial labor a century ago now own about every business there is.  Apparently a similar situation exists in Fiji, except it’s the Indians (those’d be the ones from India) who were “imported” and now own everything.

Another thing is the way booze is controlled.  The stores, except for the big ones in Tahiti, all close about noon Saturday and don’t open Sunday, so there is no way to buy any alcohol but from a bar all weekend.  There were no “liquor stores” at all.  On the weekend, the cold beer was unavailable at the big store, because I guess locals would sit outside the store and drink all day.  This despite the outrageous cost ($2-3 per 12 oz beer by the six-pack in Tahiti, and up to $4-5 in the Marquesas).

Hardly anybody jogs, but everybody paddles outrigger canoes for exercise.

When using an ATM, if you’ve exceeded your daily limit or have insufficient funds, it merely says “receipt printer out of order” and gives you back your card.  How nice not to be embarrassed in front of the people waiting in line!

There are tons more things, but I can’t think of them now.  Need to learn to scribble things down as I think of them.

We’re hoping for a nice mellow passage to Niue and Tonga, then relaxing for awhile before heading for Fiji.  I sprained my knee in the midst of the exciting passage from Bora Bora, and it needs to heal.  By the way, do you know why they call it a “sprain”?  Well, let me try to sprain it to you…bad-a-boom.

Hope all is well with each and every one of you who reads this.

With warm South Pacific love,

Mike and Barb


NewTahiti, Huehine, and Raietea pics are up!

It Takes Two to Tonga  09/13/07

Malo e lelei! (Greetings in Tongan, as you may have guessed),

We have found our new favorite place here in the Vava’u Group of the Kingdom of Tonga.  This place is so beautiful, people so friendly, such a variety of completely calm and protected anchorages, great prices on a wide selection of goods and services, English spoken by everyone… that we are in total cruiser bliss.  And did I mention it’s beautiful?

Anyway, to backtrack a bit, we finally left Rarotonga August 22, and had a mostly easy 4.5 day passage to Niue, with light air the first couple of days, then a bit of wind (20-25 knots) with showers here and there for the remainder of the time.  We were wondering when we would get to the warm, gentle South Pacific tradewind sailing we had always heard about!  We were a little worried about whether or not a mooring would be available for us in Niue, since it has a reputation for being a hard place to anchor, and we heard there were a lot of boats there already.  Sure enough, the moorings were all full when we arrived, and we had a couple of days of precarious anchoring until the crowd thinned out and we finally were able to snag a ball.

Niue is a very interesting island, with unique terrain.  It is 4 times larger than Rarotonga, but known as “The Rock” because it has no encircling reef, and is composed of limestone and lava, thrusting up very steeply from deep ocean.  There are no beaches; instead a uniform steep cliff rises about 100 feet straight up, with thousands of blowholes, caves, and crevasses to cause spectacular explosions of white water as the Pacific swells come crashing in.  There are no mountains; the center part of the almost circular island is flat or slightly dished, and the entire island is covered with lush rainforest.  There really isn’t a harbor, either, but on the leeward (Northwest) side there is a shallow bay sheltered from the worst of the wind and swells, where the main town is located, and the 16 moorings are maintained by the Niue Yacht Club.   There used to be several more, but three years ago they had a direct hit from a cyclone, and the two-ton concrete blocks simply disappeared, along with most of the buildings ashore.  Much has been rebuilt, but there are many reminders of the devastation still apparent all over the island, and abandoned homes everywhere due to half the population moving off-island in the aftermath.   This place sets a new standard for uncrowded, mellow, and relaxed, with the clearest water we’ve ever seen, and some of the friendliest folks you could ever meet.  We thought we’d only be there a few days, but instead spent a delightful week and a half enjoying the gracious hospitality and natural beauty we found there.

The passage to Tonga was a pretty easy 48 hours, with only one very spunky, windy (30+ knots) and wet little squall to spice up the sail.  Barb was lucky enough to be on watch when it hit us, and looked like the proverbial drowned rat as the cockpit almost filled up with rain in about 5 minutes, overcoming the capacity of the two drains.  We decided then we didn’t really need the headsail, and once again we were blasting along at 5-6 knots under double-reefed main alone for the rest of the way, trying to sail slowly enough not to arrive before dawn September 9th.  The two day trip actually took three days, however, since we crossed the International Dateline and Saturday suddenly became Sunday.

Once we found the channel that winds it’s way into this very protected anchorage off the town of Neiafu, we knew this was going to be a really special place.  When we were finally out of the ocean swells, with seemingly hundreds of perfect green islands everywhere we looked, Tonga seemed to embrace us in her warm arms.  Supposedly there are 40 anchorages within a 2 hour sail, few coral heads to worry about, and inviting beaches everywhere.  We were greeted by a humpback whale as we came in, showing off for us completely fearlessly.  The internet works well, with fast wifi here on the boat, and we’ll be posting a bunch of new pictures in the very near future.

We’re thinking this will be where we’ll come back to first from New Zealand when we get back on the boat in 2008, and who knows, maybe spend most of the season right here, since we really won’t have time to explore more than a tiny fraction of it this time.

That’s about it for now, but I may add some more in a day or two, so stay tuned!

 With best wishes for everyone,

 Mou nofo a e,

 Mike and Barb

Rarotonga and Niue Pix

Fiji Here We Come 09/24/07

It’s been a fast two weeks here, and though we’re really reluctant to leave, the season is ending fast, and we have friends who want to visit us in Fiji, so it’s time to say farewell to Tonga.  We know it’s not too hard to sail back here from New Zealand, though, and we’ll come back next season for sure.

The town of Neiafu was full of great restaurants, like the Dancing Rooster that featured an all-you-can-eat barbeque dinner every Wednesday night, with chicken, fish and lamb on the grill, and several delicious side dishes and salads, all for 30 panaaga, or about $15.  Needless to say, they probably lost money on me!  But it was a fun night (we actually went twice) for socializing with other cruisers.  You can count on that group never passing up a good deal on good food.

It was also big fun watching the Rugby World Cup playoffs at the local watering holes, mainly Tonga Bob’s.  There were enough Ozzies and Brits around to explain the game, and I discovered it’s a pretty exciting (and rugged) game.  The game between the US and Tonga came on about 12 AM local time, which was a little inconvenient,  but it was pretty close until the end,; Tonga only won by 10 points or so, IIRC.  There were only about three of us in the room rooting for the US, but we were tolerated… barely!

One day we took a guided tour of the island on dune buggys, which was a real hoot, barreling down muddy tracks hacked out of the jungle and stopping at several lookout points on the remote edges of the island.  The dune buggy tour business was associated with the Aquarium Café, which also provides the WiFi as well as some of the moorings available to rent.  It was one of several businesses owned and operated by Americans or Canadians here, mostly ex-cruisers who decided they’d finally found their Shangri-La here in Tonga.  To say this place is cruiser friendly would be a major understatement.  There is a morning radio net sponsored by these local folks, when they provide weather reports, tide info, buy-sell-swap-giveaway, etc. as well as “commercials” to alert new arrivals to what is available here.

So… we finally cleared out and got away from Neiafu harbor on Friday, thinking we’d hit the high C’s Saturday.  It was not to happen, though, because as we left the anchorage at Morelle, we noticed that the engine wouldn’t make more than 1600 RPMs, even at full throttle, not a good thing.  Usually it will run easily at 2000, and will give 2500 before the governor kicks in.  It seemed like a good idea to turn around and see what was up.  That was actually a serendipitous turn of events because Saturday night was the big Tongan feast night at Ono beach, and the Annual Music Jamfest party was also scheduled that night on the other side of the same anchorage at La Paella restaurant.  We really didn’t want to miss those two things, and it was as good a place as any to have a look at our mechanical problem.  After a friend had a look at our prop to make sure there wasn’t a bag on it, or some line wrapped on the shaft, we thought maybe we had a clogged fuel filter or air filter.  The puzzling thing was that the engine revved up fine in neutral, but we reasoned that maybe it demanded more fuel under load.  That turned out to be correct, because after changing the oil and replacing the oil and fuel filters, she fired up and ran like a top when we took a spin around the bay here. 

The feast, with delicious local foods and great local music and dancing, and the fantastic jam session later, made for a truly unforgettable evening.  We were really glad Arabella decided she wanted us to hang around.

We decided to wait one more day to leave, because we had forgotten to buy a few things in town before we left, and the kind folks at La Paella offered to pick them up for us today (Monday) when they made their weekly trip into town.  Since we’re already cleared out of the country, we can’t go back to town without checking back in, and that would be a big hassle.  So this afternoon we plan to finally take off for Fiji, even though there is a fat high pressure system to the south, and the breeze should prove to be pretty robust.  At least we won’t have a slow passage, though.  The approach to Fiji looks rather challenging due to a bunch of small islands and reefs to the east of the main islands, but we will try to have daylight when we get there to help pick our way through.  We hope to be in Savusavu by Friday.  

09/27/07 Update

We're back in Neiafu after a harrowing night at anchor being blown by a sudden storm almost into the rocks, and realizing we need clean laundry, food, water, booze, and some internet based weather reports.  It turned out to be no problem re-checking into this place, and it was like coming home when we hit the streets here.

Last night was like some kind of anti-cruising ad, with a mellow evening turning into pure caca in a matter of seconds.  Suddenly the wind reversed direction from northwest to  due south and started blowing 25-35 knots!  We went from a comfortable situation to a boat (and maybe life threatening) one so fast we could hardly make it up to the cockpit in time to observe it.  Barb was like some kind of Viking Goddess as she abandoned cooking dinner and took the helm as we started the engine and strove to keep Arabella off the rocks that were suddenly close and hungry to eat her up.  Later Barb said it was like playing one of her computer video games, keeping our bow pointed away from the rocks and not letting us get too far ahead of the anchor.  Finally we deployed another anchor to hold us away from the rocks, but Barb held us off with pure willpower for at least two hours.  Shortly after the other anchor was set, the wind began to die down, and by 2:00 am it was as calm as if it had never blown and rained ice pellets at all.

The engine previously seemed to be fixed, but today wouldn't do 2000 RPMs, so we are still in the dark as far as what exactly it's problem is.  Likewise we have no clue why our generator suddenly won't charge the batteries without changing speeds and acting erratic.  It's all part of the FUN of cruising!  That's it!  Gotta love it or go nuttso.

09/30/07 The weather is supposed to moderate for the next few days, so tomorrow we prepare once again to leave for Fiji, and Tuesday hit the open ocean once again.  Please wish us luck!

Tonga Pix

A Wet Ride to Fiji - update 10/07/07

We sailed away from Vava’u on a bright sunny Tuesday morning last week, confidently in company with our friends on Jade, who had paid a weather guru in NZ for a “good weather window”, along with Wintersea, Sand Dollar, Noordeson, and a few others.  We were supposed to have moderate winds and no rain until perhaps Friday, but of course we should have known it was not to be.  These weather guys work from the same computer models we always consult, and a computer is only working from statistics and probabilities- there are no crystal balls involved.  Anyway, at least we didn’t see any wind over 30 knots, and no seas over 15 feet, but the rain was relentlessly, soakingly, intrusively constant, and all agreed it was about the crummiest 3.5 day passage they’d ever experienced.  The main concern was lack of visibility while traversing the reef and small island studded waters surrounding Fiji, since none of the lighthouses were working, and we had to rely on our electronic charts being accurate- something we don’t usually like to do.  We suffered a huge rip in our mainsail, luckily below the second reef, and lost a blade off our wind generator during an especially strong gust.  A tired bird may have tried to land on it, or it may have just blown off, we don’t know.  The good news is, everybody made it safely, and once here, we have been enjoying some nice sun, with only occasional light showers.

After a few days here, we’re again thinking we have found our new favorite place.  The Waitui Marina, (which is really a mooring field of high-tech Helix Moorings) here at Savusavu is in a beautiful setting, with green hills all around, and a view of the large bay bounded by the distant rim of the ancient caldera.  It is run by a very nice couple who have cruised extensively and also have a business manufacturing LED arrays for yachts.  When you arrive, they notify the authorities, and bring them to your boat, for a very painless and actually quite pleasant check-in.  There is a good restaurant here, featuring fantastic Eastern food for extremely good prices, a great bar upstairs with a sweeping view of the harbor, free very clean and nice private shower rooms, free rubbish disposal, a nice dinghy dock with free water handy, a laundry service, and a central location close to a supermarket and liquor store.  It's almost too perfect--we may never leave!  They say the helix Moorings are cyclone-proof, and we just may test them out this season.

The island people here are even friendlier than the Tongans; an interesting blend of indigenous and imported Fijians, mostly from India, along with the descendents of the colonial settlers.  We met a really fun older gal at the Planter’s Club last evening who pointed out the hilltop where her great, great, great, great, grandmother was buried.  After the six generations her family has lived here, she still retains a British accent and the old world civility and manners one would expect to see in upper class English society.  By the way, the Planter’s Club is a bastion of the colonial-era descendents, but has relaxed its Whites Only policy and now has members of all races, but with some exclusivity remaining.  All "bona fide" visitors to the area are welcome, even though I was the only one there wearing a tie-dye shirt and sporting pony tail hair.  I was politely asked to lose the ball cap, though.  We’re still trying to figure that one out, but suspect it dates back to colonial times.

So Katherine arrives Wednesday, and we are looking forward to a fun couple of weeks enjoying her company before we have to think about getting ready to either make the 1100 mile passage to New Zealand, or get the boat ready to leave here.  We waited too long to reserve a spot at Vuda Point, where they dig a hole for the keel and set the boat down into it, but we may get lucky if there is a cancellation.  Otherwise, we’re hoping the autopilot part Katherine is bringing us will cure the malfunction, and we won’t have to hand steer as we have been since the Marquesas.  Everybody we talk to can’t believe we haven’t had a functioning autopilot for so long, but we’ve just gotten used to steering, I guess. Hand steering for 9 or 10 days straight would be too much though, and we’re not going to try it with just the two of us.

Look for another update around the end of the month, and by then we may know what we’re doing!

All the best to you from Beautiful Savusavu, Fiji,

Best to all,

Mike and Barb

Digging Denarau  11/01/07

It seems like much longer than a bit over three weeks since the last update…I guess time’s fun when you’re having flys.  We had an extremely wet 2 weeks in Savusavu and Katherine got to have an exciting time doing absolutely nothing during her visit because we just didn’t want to move the boat in the crummy weather, and on top of that Barb was sick with a cold practically the whole time. We did go snorkeling one day and saw a few fishies, but it was very frustrating for me because I had hoped to show Katherine a much more interesting time.  I had hoped to take the boat on a leisurely trip over to the Nadi area- showing her more of Fiji, as well as getting her close to the airport for her return flight.  But with the crummy weather continuing, we began to think we’d just leave the boat right there on a helix mooring at Waitui Marina in Savusavu and fly home shortly after Katherine left.  The problem was, the PSS “dripless” packing system (the seal around the prop shaft) was leaking so badly that the bilge pump was going every half hour, making me none too happy with that plan.  If the batteries went flat or the bilge pump failed for whatever reason, the boat would be on the bottom pretty quickly.  Another factor in the mix came in the form of an e-mail from Vuda Point Marina saying they’d had a cancellation and there was a “hole spot” available for Arabella.  This was really a preferable option from the peace-of–mind standpoint, even if we fixed the leaky shaft seal, since we’d be so far away from the boat for so long during cyclone season.

The real clincher to this whole scenario was a dramatic improvement in the weather right after Katherine departed.  All of a sudden the “slow-moving low pressure trough” that had been hovering over Fiji for weeks decided to move on, and there were 4 days of calm, sunny, wind-free conditions predicted.  It meant a motorboat ride, but what the hay, the engine needed some exercise, and it would give us a great opportunity to test our newly repaired autopilot as well.  By the way, the new $1600 hydraulic linear drive unit that Katherine brought dropped in perfectly, but turned out not to solve the whole problem-the old one was just tired and noisy.  The real problem turned out to be a blown diode in the junction box (a $0.006 part) which Michael from Bebi electronics replaced for a mere $100.

So we decided to bug out of Savusavu (on Vanua Levu) and head over to the Nadi area (on Viti Levu).  In addition to the foregoing reasons, we could get our torn mainsail to the sailmaker for repair and get me to a doctor in Suva for some health issues that needed looking into.  Though we left port on a Friday, supposed to be bad luck, we did the required 360 degree turn as we left, which is supposed to undo bad juju.  It must have worked, because we had an absolutely delightful 4 day trip right up until the last 5 miles or so.  In company with our friends on Increscent Moon, the first day we only tried to get 30 miles or so, making it to Koro Island by 4:00 PM.  We don’t know why there was absolutely no info about this island in any cruising guides or tourist guides, but it was a really sweet spot to stop after our first leg, and we left about 6:00 am for the next stop on Nangani Island, about 40 miles, which we pulled into about 2:30 pm, in time for a little snorkeling.  There was some great coral and lots of fish to see through very clear water.  Another early start the next day got us all the way up to the Northeast corner of Viti Levu (the “main island” of the Fiji group) and another 10 miles or so west across the top of the island to a place called Tinaki or something like that.  It was not too special a spot, but had good holding, so we slept well.  The last day we again got an early start, and had an uneventful ride all the way to Lautoka, when the sky got dark and ugly really fast.  As we rounded Vuda point, the wind was suddenly right on the nose and blowing in the high 20’s, but we only had to make it about 5 more miles across the bay to Port Denarau, so it could have been much worse.  We had decided to haul out as soon as we arrived and deal with the leaky shaft situation, which we could have done right there at Vuda, but for some reason Denarau called to us.   We’d heard the sailmaker was right there, they had a brand new travel-lift, and there would be a hotel nearby.  Actually the whole place is brand new, extremely reminiscent of Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta, while Vuda, we’ve since learned, is a bit more like Marina Vallarta, without the deferred maintenance issues.  I had promised Barb a hotel room with a bathtub, and we had our choice of 5 or 6 five star hotels right near the boatyard after we got the boat hauled about 4:00 pm.  Monday.  I don’t think we looked like the kind of guest they are used to seeing straggling into the lobby at the brand new Radisson, but they let us have a room for a mere 180 Fiji dollars a night (really only about $120 US) and we really enjoyed blowing our budget there for a couple of days.  Now we’re at a very nice place right next to the yard, The Golf Terrace, which is a fully equipped 1 bedroom apartment for only $150 Fiji, or about $100 US.  This place doesn’t have a bathtub, but does have a very nice full-sized kitchen and a washer and dryer.  The nice folks at PYI are going to send me a brand new PSS shaft seal for a great price, and the parts to make my old one into a good spare.  It should arrive here by Monday, and hopefully we’ll be back afloat by Tuesday.  The new mainsail (the old one is totally rotten) will be done by the time we return here next March or April.  We’ll move over to Vuda next week and get Arabella  planted in the ground, and hope to be home in Oregon by mid November.  As wonderful as Fiji is, and it really is wonderful, we can’t wait to get back to cold, rainy, windy, foggy, drippy old Oregon and our old musty house,  our good friends, family, and of course our little Buddy dog.  I’m sure after a few months there, we’ll be just as anxious to return here, but that’s the beauty of our “commuter cruiser” lifestyle.

So I guess that about wraps it up for now.  Hope everyone had a fun Halloween, and here’s wishing you all an early Happy Thanksgiving.

Happy Sails,

Mike and Barb

Some Fiji Pix


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