Tuesday, June 28, 2011

But It's Not Even Ours!

As I've said in previous posts, probably Don Quixote's biggest breakage/suckage is our dinghy outboard motor. This has only been endurable due to the tremendous generosity of our buddy boat Loose Pointer who loaned us their 15HP Evinrude for the duration. Having that old motor has meant both safety as well as the freedom to zoom around anchorages, dive spots, and Papeete. There is no way I can thank you Loose Pointer sufficiently for letting us use their motor for a few months.

Instead, we'll just throw it overboard.

Okay, not literally. Or maybe literally. Actually, what we literally did was secure it poorly to our dinghy. After a very long trip around the island to the propane station and back, Jaime was making her way from the dinghy dock to our boat, and the damn thing just bounced off the back and into the water. So here's what I have to say about this:

* DrC immediately admitted this was entirely his fault. Jaime is NOT in trouble.

* We're incredibly lucky the damn thing didn't pop off while Jaime and I were in 100 feet out by the airport. Instead, this incident took place quite literally in the middle of the anchored fleet about 50 yards from the dinghy dock in only 40 feet of water. If there is a "good place" to throw your outboard into the ocean, this is probably the best.

* It's a 2-stroke and so recoverable. Once again the cruiser's wisdom of going with 2-stroke models is proven. These things are a lot more forgiving than the 4-stroke varieties.

* It is now working. It worked really well for a day, now we're seeing an electrical glitch so we're going to have to do more work on it. However, I believe ultimately we'll get the whole thing straightened out.

* All that blather in the cruising guides, sailing manuals, forums, etc etc about securing your outboard to your dinghy? Maybe with a lock and a really strong cable? Okay, stop dithering. Just do it. Please. The only thing more horrifying than throwing your dinghy motor overboard is finding out at the cocktail party that evening that a good third of the boats in the anchorage have at one time or another done the same thing. Really people? Are we all that knuckleheaded? Apparently so.

DrC immediately dove on the motor, hooked it with a piece of line, and hauled it back up again. After sluicing it down in fresh water, we straightaway took it to the local outboard mechanic to get cleaned up. If the motor had been ours, I'm not sure we would have taken it to the mechanic. We've dunked our motor in salt water before when we flipped the dinghy in San Sebastian. We know the steps to recover from these types of disasters. On the other hand, it's not even our motor! We wanted to make sure we'd done everything possible to recover it to full operational status. In the process of cleaning and blowing it out, the mechanic replaced the spark plugs which were little rust bunnies. We also believe we might have fixed a long standing idle problem. So on the whole, it's okay. This electrical skipping thing is worrisome, but again, Dan and DrC think they have a handle on it.

But. BUT. It's not even our motor! DrC and I are both a little stuck on that detail. We have parts coming in for our Mercury. If those parts prove to solve the problem, we will propose a swap. We have a 15HP 15 year old Mercury which as far as we know has never been swimming. Loose Pointer has a 15HP 15 year old Evinrude which we took swimming. If restitution requires the swap, Loose Pointer gets the Mercury. Of course, the point is totally moot if the new parts don't solve our own motor problems.

At this juncture, I want to pitch all the dang dinghy motors overboard permanently and replace them with little 2HP putt putts that weigh nothing and never stop. Maybe even electric, solar powered ones. Maybe if I put 7 of of them on the back of the dink it would be like having one big monster that nearly breaks my back every time we put it on or take it off. A smaller outboard, however, probably must wait until we ditch the children. Until we have much smaller dinghy and lower weight requirements, we are essentially stuck with the big guys.

Or we're stuck with one of them, in the fervent hope that we've now found the magician mechanic who can make both these ancient machines run smoothly for one more year.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rainbow's End

Jaime exclaims, "Oh my god. Look at all those PEOPLE!" She's standing mid-ships and gazing with an odd mixture of horror and delight at the verdant, populated slopes of the island of Tahiti. We are on approach to Papeete harbor prior to joining the rest of the fleet for the Tahiti-Moorea Rendezvous.

The rest of the family boils up from below to enjoy the view. Papeete is by far the largest port we've visited to date on this long trip. Arguably, it's the largest city we've seen since we left Los Angeles in February. It is the largest city in French Polynesia and the most people we will see probably until we arrive back in Auckland. Here we will rejoin old friends from our cruising years past: Calou, Evergreen, Watcha Gonna Do. We'll revisit with more recent friends: Britannia, Ceilydh, Discovery, and Shang Yu. And we'll finally meet in person the boats with whom we've been chatting for months on the net: Soggy Paws, Rutea, Diligaf, Chanty. And there are so many more. The place is simply bursting with cruising boats, meeting here for a very brief rendezvous before scattering all over the second half of this Pacific transit.

Over the intervening months, Papeete has taken on something of mythic proportions. This vision of Papeete as the Emerald City at the end of our endless blue water road is no doubt common amongst puddle jumpers. It starts the moment you leave shore and one of the children knocks your one bottle of sesame oil off the counter and into oblivion. You feel it when a stainless steel tang snaps or a sail rips or a line breaks. Your dreams are full of Papeete as they subconsciously protest the always slightly dirty sheets. And your glands salivate every time the word is mentioned with the thought of crisp green vegetables and cheap, fresh fruit. Papeete is the place you go after months of ocean passaging and stunning but remote anchorages. It's where you can find fully stocked chandleries, replacement parts, and large grocery stores. There are packages from home, broadband Internet connections, and laundry mats. You can find diesel mechanics, outboard experts, and sail makers.

Papeete is the drink of water after a long journey in the desert, it is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it is cruiser heaven.

It is also noisy, busy, and full of people. We're not used to people. We've been on islands where a total population of 400 is considered crowded. We're happy to have arrived, and within an hour, we're also talking about how soon we will go. It begs the question how we are ever going to settle into Auckland. We might need to make landfall in Opua (population 500) first just to acclimatize.

We have a list of things to do here in Papeete. Mera interjects here over my shoulder, "Of course you have a list, Mom." "You say that like it's a bad thing," I retort.

Of course we have a GTD list with a Papeete context. It's what I do. We've been pretty lucky as puddle jumpers go. Our list isn't particularly dramatic. The only really big ticket item is the dinghy outboard. This is the Mercury's last chance. She's either fully functional before we leave here, or we buy another one. Smaller items include a new tang for the main sheet system to replace the one we snapped, replacement sunglasses, cat food (Dulci is eating through her food supply at roughly twice the anticipated rate), packages to family, and our residency application for New Zealand.

These are in addition to the obvious requirement that we provision up. Basically, we need to add enough fresh to the boat to last to Tonga, 6 to 8 weeks down the road. Of course, we still have all the dry and canned goods as well as staples we put on in Mexico. We're working through the majority of our staples (other than the cat food) at about the rate we'd anticipated. There are some notable exceptions. We're eating more canned spaghetti sauce than I would have thought because we've been using it as a marinera dip for fried eggplant and panko chicken nuggets. On the other side of the equation, we're awash in cake mix. Don't ask, because I have no clear idea why.

So here we are sipping sundowners as the sun disappears behind Moorea contemplating the wonder which is anchoring between a mountain and a barrier reef. We're at the rainbow's end, the heart of the cornucopia which is modern commerce with everything we might possibly want at our fingertips. Yet all I can think of is how fast can we stock up, fix the motor, and sail north back into the middle of nowhere.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Aquarium

"Every beach resort town has an aquarium," DrC glanced dismissively over his shoulder at the area the dive instructor told us about. Unsaid was the corollary, the aquarium is usually a nice place to swim, but the sobriquet was primarily a marketing ploy.

We all nodded our heads in agreement. It's true. All the dive shops and tour operators say there is an area of the reef or shoreline which is so amazing it's like swimming in an aquarium. Usually, the instructor with whom you are speaking at the moment knows The Best Aquarium in the area. It's their stock in trade. There was an "aquarium" at every stop we made when we were on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. We've read about "aquariums" in the Mediterranean, in Hawai'i, and obviously off every island and atoll in the South Pacific. DrC was really saying, "Don't get your hopes up."

It was late in the day in any case, so we toodled back to the boats and settled in for the night. Rangiroa is the second largest atoll in the world and the largest in the Tuamotu island chain. It is so large that you can't see the entire atoll from the anchorage. You bring your boat in through one of two passes on the northwest coast and then anchor in the lee of the hooks made by the passes themselves. At 35 NM across, the sheer size of the lagoon ensures that unless the wind is blowing from a north-ish quarter (which basically means just about never), wind waves can build up enough in the lagoon to make for a bit of a bouncy anchorage. On the other hand, you could be as lucky as Don Quixote and go in during a lull in the usual trades. With the classic southeasterly blowing at 5 to 15, the anchorage near Passe Tiputa is snug, stunningly beautiful, and good holding… a cruiser's delight.

We spent nearly a week tucked up near the pass in Rangiroa. While there are limited services available near Passe Tiputa, intrepid cruisers can trek down to the other pass about 4 NM west to a largish magazin complete with obscenely expensive veg and fruits stored in their cooler as well as beer and wine and bread products that are not the ubiquitous baguette. The tiny magazin near the anchorage has the standard tienda/magazin style basics. They also sell baguettes in the morning at 06:30. A little publicized fact of South Pacific cruising life is that if you want fresh bread, you have to be at the magazin by no later than 07:00 before the stock sells out. An even lesser publicized fact is that virtually every magazin in the islands will take a pre-order. Pay the shop keeper the day before to hold <i>n</n> baguettes for you. Then you can go in any time the next day that the shop is open to pick up your order. Okay, they are not as warm or as fresh, but you also do not have get into your dinghy before the dew evaporates. Also note that magazins routinely close their doors from noon to 13:00.

So why did we spend so long in Rangiroa? You could say that we were pinned down by the weather… first by no wind, then by too much wind. Sailors could teach Goldilocks lessons in pickiness. However, the real reason we spent so much time there and failed to blog or write home or do laundry or frankly get anything done was the aquarium.

The aquarium at Rangiroa is The Aquarium. Accept no substitute. The Aquarium is a shallows and coral reef just south of Passe Tiputa. As you enter the atoll, it's a hazard that requires that you head way south before rounding the tip of the reef and coming back into the anchorage. Once hook down, you thank The Aquarium for doing a rather fine job of dampening southeasterly wind waves and smoothing your sleep. But the real wonder of The Aquarium begins when you dinghy over and tie up to one of the small moorings conveniently provided for cruisers and tour operators alike. Pull on your fins, spit on the inside of your mask, lick the salt off your snorkel and then flip backwards off the edge of the dinghy into the largest tropical aquarium in the world. Literally under your boat you'll find a swarm of variegated damsels, colorful perch, trumpet fish, and angels. The fish swarm your dinghy and the mooring lines as the dive operators routinely drop bits of food into the mooring field. They cluster around your prop in colorful moving bouquets and swim up to your face mask as if as curious about you as you are about them.

Then strike out across the enormous coral reef with new vistas opening up at every slight kick of bright blue fins. The terrain ranges from 30 feet to less than a foot. The Aquarium lies in the lee of a tiny island so there is little swell even when the wind is blowing. There is also an odd current effect which results in fresh sea water blasting through the area just about 50 yards off the reef twice a day, but none of that current effects the actual aquarium itself. This results in water with such clarity that you can see as far as the light will travel, easily 75 feet in the pass. The water is effectively invisible in the shallower areas. Like sharks? Go to the shallows where the juvenile black-tipped reef sharks take shelter from the big greys in the pass. Like to dive? Pull on your gear and drop down to the edge where it drops off towards the pass and see the deeper, larger animals. Rays, moray eels, octopi, parrot fish, and every variety of reef fish imaginable are in ridiculous profusion. And this doesn't even begin to describe the coral which is vibrantly healthy, vigorously growing, and found in dozens of varieties.

This is one of those cruising finds which I almost don't want to publish. Too many people and The Aquarium will be no more. Hell, global climate change may kill the entire reef. But for now, The Aquarium ranks as one of the highlights of our South Pacific voyage. It's in the top three with the day we greeted the Te Moana canoes and our hike up to the waterfall in Daniel's Bay.

As DrC hauls himself back into the dinghy after our umpteenth snorkel, he asks me, "Did you see that yellow one feeding on the bottom of the dink?"

"$75. At least," I reply.

He grins, "$100. And there were at least a dozen." My husband, long time owner of salt water fish tanks, has found his aquarium at last.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

All is Well

Folks have been asking why the deep dark silence on the blog. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that the cause is simple. Snorkeling. The best snorkeling in the world. I simply haven't written anything. I've spent all my time reading, relaxing, and snorkeling. And eating baguettes. However, now that we've finally pulled the hook out of Rangiroa, perhaps I can get reinvigorated.

So nothing bad. We're all good. Boat is good. Cat is still annoying. Children are still hairy. Or something like that.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Another Pass Passed

After finally retrieving our hook from the coral crevasse of the lunch anchorage at the Ahe entrance, the overnight crossing from Ahe to Rangiroa was anticlimatic. The winds were light, a bit variable, and more than sufficient to get us from waypoint A to waypoint B. In fact, last night our most serious dilemma was trying to figure out how to slow down.

Yes, after years of bitching about the incredibly slow speeds of our condomaran, last night we were confronted with the peculiar dilemma of trying to figure how to make her go slower. Ahe and Rangiora are only 80 miles apart. Since you have to leave on atoll on a slack and then wait until a slack before you can enter the next atoll, it is an overnight, roughly 16 hour journey. The problem is that with 15 knots of wind up her tail, Don Quixote was feeling frisky. She started out of the gate eager for a run at a brisk 6.5 knots on the spinnaker. Clearly that would have us shooting right past our destination and on to Tahiti. So we changed her shoes for a slower jib/main combo thinking that that heavy boots would slow her down.

Well, they did. A little. Now she was catering along at a mere 5.5 knots. Not wanting to repeat our mad dash to the finish line of the last atoll, we allowed her to keep the bit in her teeth through most of the evening until my graveyard shift starting at 2AM. At this point, however, we had 12 miles to go and 8 hours to do it in. It was time to hobble our girl. I furled the jib, double-reefed the main, and sat back smugly waiting for her to become a big white double-hulled rock in the light early morning breezes. No can do. She was now lumbering along downwind and down surf at 3 to 4 knots. Unless we wanted to smack into the atoll, she was still going too fast.

DrC's solution was to heave to. Hove to? Heaving to? Weird verb/adjective. Hard to know how to say it. So around we go into the wind with our butt to the atoll, sails all katty whompus at a slight angle to the waves. Now we were traveling at a mere 1.8 knots crab stepping sidewise relative to our destination but still closing the gap. Well hell. Apparently Don Quixote actually doesn't have multiple speeds. She has one speed. Go. She doesn't go fast. But apparently, she doesn't go slow either. We drifted along hove to (still doesn't sound right) for a few hours before turning around a few hours after dawn to blow like a fat white coconut down the waves towards the pass entrance.

We got there a little early, but DrC had the can't hardlies. So into the pass we went against the ebb tide. Entering Passe Tiputa today just prior to slack was not precisely easy, but it wasn't the hair raising, nail biting, E-ticket roller coaster of our entrance into Ahe. Let's just say that transiting an atoll pass is considerably easier in 12 knots of wind than it is in 28 and leave it at that. I also like going into a current rather than with it as you get a lot more rudder control. Tiputa is wide, well marked, and deep. Other than a rather spectacular rip off to one side, it was pretty smooth. The trip was highlighted by dolphins doing gymnastics in the standing waves for all the world like big grey jet skis playing in the surf. Welcome to Rangiroa!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pay to Play

This morning we enjoyed breakfast in our relaxed and calm anchorage before pulling the hook to move to a position near the Ahe atoll lagoon entrance. The cruising guides say that just inside the passage there are a few places to drop the hook to allow folks to engage in some drift snorkeling. Now from a planning purpose it seemed ideal. We'd be able to spend a few hours near the pass and then head out with the slack mid-afternoon on our way to Rangiroa. This was a classic case of the best laid plans.

I have no idea what idiot mood folks were in naming that area near the pass an anchorage. If by anchorage, the authors meant "really deep, really steep, and littered in all directions with chunks of rock and coral, then by all means. It's perfect. As far as I was concerned, the entire thing smacked of completely dodgy bordering on seriously stupid. On the other hand, there was not a lot of wind, the water quality was brilliant, and of course you can always dive on your anchor, right?

So we dropped the hook and set ourselves down for a few hours. The kids and DrC headed out with Loose Pointer to drift snorkel. Now this pastime is like none other. You pull on all your gear and scramble into the dinghy. Then you drive the dinghy out the atoll pass into the open ocean. Here you leave a dinghy captain in the boats and everyone else flops into the water. Then you fly! Floating at between 3 to 5 knots with visibility easily 50 feet, you are swept through a tropical aquarium. Everywhere you look are brilliant, glowing fish, variegated corals, and the stunning blues of the water itself. We saw morays and white tipped reef sharks, large clams, and octopus. Every fish with a named role in Finding Nemo made a visit as well as all their cousins in every possible color. Eventually, you get swept into the lagoon where you meet up with the dinghy, hoist yourself aboard, and then fire up the motor to do it again.

The real trick to drift snorkeling is to time the weather and the tide. You want a day with moderate winds, virtually no cross chop, and an incoming tide. You do NOT want to drift snorkeling on an outbound tide. Frankly, if anything goes wrong with your dinghy, your motor, or rendezvousing with your dinghy, you want the default location for the whole lot of you to be inside the atoll, not out in the middle of the Pacific. Increased winds and chop, of course, make the waters more dangerous. They also reduce water quality substantially diminishing the value of the experience anyway. Make sure you have a dinghy captain or attach yourself to the dinghy with a relatively short line (long lines get easily caught in the coral). Do NOT put out an anchor on your dinghy. That's a recipe for disaster as the dinghy stops while you get swept along at 5 knots. Finally, make no mistake that drift snorkeling is anything like drift diving. When you snorkel, you stay on the top of the water and generally towards the edge of the channel. There is, therefore, very little danger of getting swept under or into a dangerous eddy. Drift diving, however, involves going deep where the currents can run considerably stronger and back eddy in dangerous ways. It is a good idea to drift dive with someone experienced in the process in general, and in that pass in particular.

Ahe is a marvelous place to drift snorkel given the right conditions. The water quality can be stunning (as it was today), the pass virtually free of vessel traffic, and the pass reasonably safe for swimmers at all levels. DrC and the girls went initially with Loose Pointer while I maintained anchor watch. After an hour or so, however, it became clear that the boats were not going anywhere. On the other side, DrC didn't want me to miss the experience. So I joined the family for my own swimming flights while the girls hung out in the reef just inside the entrance clear of the current poking into little corners and finding all sorts of additional creatures.

After we'd all super saturated our senses on snorkeling, we hauled ourselves wearily aboard Don Quixote with enough time to eat lunch and pull the hook for the slack tide. Then the real work started.

Our anchor and a good fraction of the 150' chain we'd put down had simply disappeared. It took Jaime in the water, Aeron and Mera on the bow, and DrC in his oxygen tank diving, with me at the helm backing and fro'ing for nearly 45 minutes before we finally got ourselves detangled from that mess. All I can say to those considering the Ahe passage snorkeling, just drive your dinghy 5 miles from the village anchorage. Don't even try to take your yacht. In the meantime, Loose Pointer was having their own windlass problems. At one point, the two of us had pretty much given up hope that we'd get out of there tonight and on our way. But in a seemingly miraculous unsnarling of ground tackle, suddenly both boats were free, out of the pass on the beginning of the ebb tide, and sails up for the overnight trip to Rangiroa.

On the whole -- despite the extra exhausting effort and the tense moments when we thought were going to kiss our new chain and our loyal Bruce goodbye -- it was worth it. Given the opportunity to do so, we'll absolutely do it again.

The Captain is Bored

Last night over chocolate cake and the last of the red wine from Mexico, we and Loose Pointer agreed that while the weather permitted a departure in the morning, we would stay another, relaxing day in the flat comfortable Ahe village anchorage. However, as if this conversation had never taken place, this morning my husband wakes up with a gleam in his eye and starts to lay out some complicated plan to move the boat to the pass and go drift snorkeling. His plan involves motoring, anchoring, riding pass rapids -- several times, and shifting the boat to a place considerably less calm and protected. My lack of enthusiasm is met with a dignified pout.

An hour later and over coffee, the good doctor brightens, "Let's make water. Want to make water?"

"No Dean. I do not want to make water. I want to drink my coffee, eat my breakfast biscotti, type a few messages to family and friends, and then perhaps we can do some school with the girls."

"Oh. Okay. Maybe later."

Barely 15 minutes pass and then, "Let's do the laundry. We can get the laundry done. Want to do the laundry?"

It's like living with a Labrador puppy.

It is the special burden of our boat. DrC can't sit in one location for more than three days without starting to make work. Out of thin air, the man invents things to do. He is finding the atolls particularly challenging as the very geography eliminates his favorite make-work way to pass time, impossibly challenging cross country hikes on goat trails. I knew there would be a problem when we managed to explore every square inch of the village in less than an hour. Unless I could divert him into some other activity, we were going to have to move in 72 hours even if a weather window didn't open.

Yesterday, the family was able to distract him with fish. Fish in general and coral fish in particular make a fine DrC-distractor. He can stare at them for hours. If he weren't so skinny right now, he'd float around in the reefs of the lagoon all day. Unfortunately, the water is cool, the wind is still pretty strong, and DrC is as thin as a rail. He can't hold body heat for very long. We only bought ourselves about 2 hours of distraction.

But things are looking up. Loose Pointer reports problems with their water pump. It's sucking air. Thank you all that's sacred to boats in the middle of nowhere. The captain is now determinedly rummaging in his tools looking utterly content with the world. We may be able to avoid pulling the hook after all.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Highs Have It

Day Two of being pinned down in the Ahe village harbor while we wait out the unusually strong and stationary high south of us. This enormous 1035 high parked its big fat a* at S25 somewhere and has been doubling the trades for days now. The winds got up to the west Tuamotus where we are the day before arrived (see my last moderately harrowing tale of our trip into Ahe). Now with the system stationary, the winds just keep blowing. And blowing and blowing and blowing.

It's not a dangerous situation whatsoever. We're seeing 20 on the boat with a few 23 gusts but mostly 17-18. No waves action/fetch at all. Good solid holding ground. Beautiful view. Temperature lovely. Boat cool and pleasant. Actually, a great place to sit and do nothing. Unfortunately, nothing for DrC and the girls is hard to sustain for more than 48 hours. By tomorrow, I'm betting they'll simply explode out of the Don Quixote box.

Ahe is renown for its incredible water quality for diving and snorkeling. However, I'm afraid we're going to see none of that. The winds are causing the water visibility to be pretty poor. Granted, it's light years better than anything in the Sea of Cortez and even considerably better than the best anchorages in the Marquesas. It's still not spectacular. Nonetheless, we may try to burn off some restless energy taking the dinghy over to the coral heads in the middle of the lagoon and letting everyone drift around and look at fish for awhile.

Today, we enjoyed the local population. We wandered around the village for an hour to take in the sights of which there are precisely none. The village motu is about a quarter mile wide and a half mile long. While pretty, we literally walked every single street in our single hour. The most interesting aspect of the motu village is their modernized solar panel electrical grid and the tremendous investment made in roof top catchment for water collection. We learned a lot examining these installations. We took a lot of pictures as a similar system would be a brilliant way to go off the water grid in New Zealand.

We were also visited by the young men working the pearl farm here. They brought over bags full of "seconds", or black pearls simply not good enough for the market. Ironically, I've always liked the irregular pearls better than the perfect ones anyway, so this was a great opportunity. The girls pawed through the 100s of pearls arrayed on a t-shirt in our cockpit while I chatted in French with the gentlemen. They were very friendly, very handsome, and both friendly and more handsome when my eldest emerged from her cabin. It was all a mutual admiration fest after that. We traded for a dozen or so of these irregulars, the girls each getting a small handful which they can make into jewelry or give as gifts to friends or family. For what we paid for the pearls, I personally felt just the opportunity to meet folks from the islands and interact with them for an extended period of time made the entire exchange worthwhile. I'm also now the proud owner of a Polynesian pearl. My two major goals achieved for Polynesia -- tattoo and pearl -- it's now time to move on.

Unfortunately, until Mr High decides to get over his snit and move his fat butt out of 25S, we're basically stuck here.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Seamus Visits

Seamus O'Murphy, a sailing cousin of Murphy of the Clan Murphy's Law, apparently reads my blog. After waving my red hubris flag yesterday, Seamus stirred the pot and made the rest of the trip a seriously challenging 24 hours. First, I would like to say that 20 to 25 is not the same as 30 to 35. In fact, they are so dissimilar as to not even be the same species of forecast. To the people at the weather service who predicted 15 to 20, you suck. Second, Don Quixote can and HAS done 16 miles in less than 2 hours. It was scary, it was hairy, and it was barey, but it can be done when and if necessity calls for it.

The long story isn't really long, merely nautically technical. During our mid-morning watch, the wind starting picking up as predicted. However, instead of slowly rising from 10 to 20, it blew right through 20 and on to 25, pausing for an hour or two to consider the situation before proceeding to 30 with gusts from 32 to 35. We took this largely just aft of the beam with everything reefed down and the jib down to a steerable scrap. Along with the wind came a nicely formed, really rolly wind wave with lovely foamy fear inducing spray filled white caps.

Then the squalls rolled in.

So remember yesterday what I said about learning new things by confronting new challenges? Well. Now we know how to read the radar and identify squalls. Bully for us. I don't know how many times we passed through a squall cell. I lost count. I got tired. I actually briefly fell into a sleep so deep that DrC hove to for a half hour, and I didn't even feel the change in the boat. Steering was dodgy at best for Jaime, impossible for Mera and Aeron, so DrC and I took the brunt of the watch schedule. Jaime was game and tried, but she would saw back and forth in the waves and the dark so we had to pull her off after an hour or so. The wave slap as we surfed over the top of breaking surf was driving us nuts. She did try, though. Give her credit for that. And when either DrC or I needed any help, from changing a sail to getting water or securing some sliding bit of equipment, she popped up to help.

Then we entered a race.

The race was between Don Quixote and the tide. Passages into atolls should -- and frequently must -- be taken at slack tide. We had two windows to get into Ahe today, one at about 9:15AM the next about 3:30PM. Obviously, we wanted to get in on the morning tide as going in at the later slack would mean hoving to outside the pass and bobbing around in wind and swell for another 6 hours. We realized very early on last night that we had to push the boat to make it. However, given the conditions, we were not taking any risks or putting out any canvass more than necessary. But by an hour before dawn, it became clear that pushing ourselves and the boat hard, we could make the morning pass window. Now when I say hard, I mean harder than we are used to, harder than we knew we could do. For the last two hours, we boldly put out about a 1/3 of the jib and surfed at 8 to 8.5 knots. We covered 16 miles in about two hours, arriving just as the mast of our buddy Loose Pointer disappeared in the gap in the trees.

Then we went on a roller coaster ride.

I stand by my words last night that atoll passes are very similar to the passes we took in the Inner Passage up in Canada. You have to time them, the edges are scary, they narrow in frightening ways, currents can be fierce, and wind makes everything worse. I didn't realize until this morning that they can also have an element of crossing a bar such as those we did off the Oregon coast and in San Blas, Mexico. The pass went quickly, thank you all that's holy at sea, but as Dan of Loose Pointer noted, "That was one hell of an E ride!" Jaime took a video from the mast which is alternately horrifying and amusing as Don Quixote bounced up and down 15 feet in the steep standing waves.

Then we anchored between a rock and a hard place.

The anchorage here in Ahe is very small, made smaller by coral heads and a pier that must be kept clear for the weekly supply freighter. It is one thing to read about threading a course through coral heads and another thing entirely to navigate through them when the wind is blowing 17 knots and fetch waves are rolling through the lagoon. Crossing the lagoon by playing dot-to-dot with the markers was spooky, but fortunately once we got into the tiny harbor, we found it surprisingly calm and even somewhat sheltered from the wind. We managed to hook a rock/bommie on our very first try. A half hour of swimming, shouting, backing and circling later, we got off that first rock and set the hook firmly in sand with a bommie float to keep from recreating our first encounter. Ultimately, we ended up just barely out of the channel, just barely far enough away from Loose Pointer to keep from banging into our buddy boat and just barely in front of another coral head. We have room to swing, we have about 20 feet to drag (but Seamus, be kind!), we have room to avoid our neighbors. Barely.

Finally, we slept. All afternoon.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Crossing the Front

The front we've been waiting for has finally arrived in the form of 20 knots. It's bouncy but pretty easily doable. The last 140 miles should go blazingly fast, albeit a bit roughly. Weather is fascinating stuff. We could tell we had finally encountered the front by a very distinct squall line with swiftly shifting winds. Now that we're behind the high/low front line and into the anticyclone high, the skies are clear, the wind brisk and steady, the seas building gradually.

Our one concern with the current conditions will be getting through the pass in Ahe. All passes in the Tuamotus are dodgy, frankly. There must be a berzillion blog entries and cruising guide explanations on how to get through one or more of the Tuamotuan passes. I see no reason to add to that literature beyond documenting our own experience. On the other hand, writing a nail biting encounter isn't going to help the grandparents relax at night so maybe I'll just lie. The good news is that Ahe is supposed to have one of the easier passes, on the leeward side of this system, and there is only one day for the seas to build. The bad news is we're probably going to arrive after the mid-day slack tide and have to wait a few hours cooling our heels and splashing around holding station outside the pass until the evening slack to get in tomorrow. That'll be lots of fun. I sincerely hope that the atoll itself does a decent job of dampening the waves and swell while we wait.

A glance outside the window shows a sea condition that a year ago would have made me nervous. Five years ago, I would have been in my cabin quivering. Now, however, the family is calm, confident, and unworried. With good reason, Don Quixote, 20 knots just aft of beam, and 3 to 5' wind waves is pretty much a no brainer. Which is as it should be. If a boat out here (and a crew) can't handle this kind of sea, it doesn't belong on the ocean.

Which revisits an issue I've mentioned before, but it is worth restating. Crossing the South Pacific may be considered one of the easiest transoceanic journeys possible during this time of year, but it is nevertheless still a welcome-to-the-next-level proposition. Cruisers out here absolutely must up their game at any number of levels. Lack of services, enormous distances, provisioning challenges, and a complete lack of marine rescue support are obvious. Someone with weeks of experience cruising in the Pacific Northwest or around the San Francisco Bay area or jaunting out to Catalina for a weekend is probably not fully baked and ready yet.

Now this does have some of the properties of "how do you prepare for...<i>xyz</i>" where the only way to prepare is to actually do it. Yet, there are also aspects to this trip that we can look back to the last 5 years and point to an experience that taught us what to do and how to handle a challenge. Vancouver Island taught us how to provision for multiple months. The tides and passes of the Inside Passage will no doubt help us enormously timing and crossing the passes of the atolls. Anchoring in Desolation Sound taught us how to anchor deep while we learned how to quickly set and pull a stern hook on the Pacific Mexican coastline. Isla Isabella and similarly rocky anchorages taught us how to unthread an anchor chain from a bed of rocks, while DrC's insistence in sailing around in the Sea of Cortez during the middle of strong northers taught us that Don Quixote loves 25 knots, relax!

Which means, there must be challenges out here which will prepare us for the next level of cruising. So far, we've been extremely fortunate. Our passages have gone well, anchorages have been pleasant, and the most dangerous thing we've faced is a 5 foot sailfish in the cockpit. I can't say I'm looking forward to those challenges. I know that it may seem like DrC and I are adventurous souls who seek out danger and thrills, but it's just the opposite. We both work hard to minimize the dangers of our lifestyle. Personally, I find weather fascinating and terrifying. There is nothing I hate more than seeing a strong system forming in the gribs.

But here we are. Yesterday, the family prepared for this last mad dash to Ahe. We knew the weather was coming so in light breezes and calm seas, we cleaned the boat, stowed everything, took showers and rested. We did school and then secured all our books below. We aired out bedding, dried towels, and resorted out lockers to make room for everything that had migrated out of the box in the calm month in the Marquesas. Then DrC and I sat in the cockpit and shared a Tang and rum (better than it sounds actually) and took deep breaths as we watched the green flash of the sun set. The calm before a storm is worth enjoying, and we know now how to handle the storm.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

What a Day

Guest Blogger: Aeron Conger

All that could be heard was the gentle pitter patter of cat feet on our fake wood floor. There was a slide, a whoosh, a bang, and a meow from a slightly dazed cat and I knew it was going to be an interesting day.

"Mommy can I have some Nutella on my pancakes?"

"No Aeron you may not have Nutella on your pancakes."

A chorus of awwwss rang out from the dining table. "All right everybody eat up! Today we will be seeing a cultural event that is amazing and you 're lucky you get to see. So hurry up." Mom reports.

"And tomorrow we will be visiting Ancient Rome so don't forget your chariot!" I joked.

"BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM!" The welcoming drums were loud enough to vibrate your kneecaps and send your teeth chattering. As we rounded the point the seven ships came into view. They were in a procession one right after the other.

The villagers were welcoming the seven boats who started in New Zealand and were ending their adventure in Hawai'i. It was truly an amazing sight!
We finally made it to the shore just in time to see the celebration. Men in the village were doing a Polynesian version of a haka- A traditional war dance- To both welcome and scare their guests.

Once the men and women were done welcoming their now completely stunned guests, it was time for the speeches. We sat there for what seemed like hours baking like the fish that the villagers were going to serve. Each boat did a traditional dance from each of their cultures. There were seven boats with seven different cultures so as you can imagine it took awhile. There was Samoan, Fijian, Hawai'ian, Maori, some form of African, even Polynesian! My ears are still ringing from all the battle cries, blessings to all different Gods, beautiful songs, and traditional songs.

It was a truly amazing experience. The guests were able to show off their beliefs, their cultures, and their people. After that the islanders gave anyone who was visiting, like us and the guests, a great feast of fresh fruit. There was a watermelon, pamplemousse, coconut and banana. There was also a very good pastry. :)

You cannot pay for an experience like that. It was incredible. I am Aeron Conger, I'm ten years old, and I am the luckiest girl in the world.

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Night Watch

We are on our second major Puddle Jump passage, this time from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus. This journey is roughly 500 nautical miles and should take four days. The forecast is for light winds for the first few days, then the last bits of a front with slightly stronger and perhaps squally conditions for the last day or so. By the time the front gets to us, however, we'll be experiencing the top, dissipating edge of a system moving almost due east well below our track. The usual southern trades have been particularly mild for nearly a week. Moreover, tonight there really isn't a system anywhere within a 500 miles. There are no wind waves, almost no swell. The wind is from the east at a steady 10 knots, just enough to keep the chute open without flap, luff, strain, or collapse. We're heading directly down our course at roughly 5 knots so smoothly that the autopilot is barely hunting, the tiller hardly moving. The family is asleep below, rocked more gently in these calm conditions than at any time since we left Mexico.

The skies are absolutely clear and moonless. I have never seen so many stars, not even on nights spent star gazing at over 9000 feet in the Sierra Nevadas. The Milky Way blazes across the ski bright enough to light the deck. Our wake is alight as well with the bright paparazzi flashes of the southern phosphorescence. Unlike the sparklers of the Sea of Cortez, here they pop and flash and linger for moments before burning out. They appear behind, in front and on all sides churned by our wake and passing fish.

Dulcinea prowls the deck, her lean form to be seen alternately on the salon, the main sail cover, stalking flying fish on the foredeck, or at the tiller checking the instruments and our progress. With no swell, the flying fish are having difficulty making it as high as the deck, aggravating my cat but ensuring the night is free of fish guts oozing between the toes. The night is cool enough for a sweatshirt but warm enough for shorts. I clip in and pad around the deck in my bare feet checking the rig, secure in the unusually dry footing. All is well as I lie on the tramp and chat with the dolphins flipping in and out of the bow wake. All is well with the spinnaker lines and the purring, rubbing, furry animal who tries to trip me along my route. All is well on the horizon where our buddy boat is just visible on the horizon as a single point of light.

Returning to the helm, I sip a cup of hot mint tea. Oddly, the warm fragrant steam reminds me of my childhood and sneaking into the kitchen in my mother's office to make the world's sweetest, lightest cup of Bigalow tea. I spin through the selections in my playlist: Enya, Kottke, Vangelis, Enigma, Phillip Glass. But none of them feel right, so eventually I drop the iPod into the helm box and sit back to listen to the night. It turns out the stars actually do make music.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Nuka Hiva Traditional Double-Canoe Regatta Event

Guest Blogger: Mera Conger

My Mom is very fond of the idea of serendipity, or "trail magic". It is the idea that if you travel and explore and see, something cool or exciting could and would happen, something you didn't expect. We struck gold with that theory while in the Marquesas, sailing on our catamaran, s/v Don Quixote. At the time we were at anchor near the town of Taiohoe on Nuka Hiva, bobbing gently in the swell. Mom was on shore shopping and getting a tattoo, (not kidding), when she heard about a sailing regatta of 7 double-canoed traditional boats coming in to Comptrolleur, a near-by bay, in a few days. There was going to be a celebration, and foreigners were welcome to attend.

After that there was no question, we had to go. Off we went to Comptrolleur with Loose Pointer, a buddy boat that was cruising with us. When we got there we found that several of the traditional boats were already there. They were beautiful, well-kept, and well-made boats. They did look like two large canoes stuck together to form a catamaran. At the back end of each of the boats was an enormous paddle. The sails were in strange triangle shapes with evocative cultural patterns and designs on them. There were similar designs on the sidesd of the boats as well. On the deck of the boat, it looked like someone had taken a huge 3D oval, cut it in half lengthwise, and stuck it to the back of the boat. I found out later that was where the galley or kitchen was located. All the boats were flying flags of the nationalities of their crew and nationality of the place they were currently in, which was French Polynesia. Altogether they made a brave sight.

The next day was the day of the welcoming ceremony and party. I was very excited as we motored over to the beach in our dinghy, just behind the likewise advancing traditional boats. The ride was bouncy and wet, but we slowed down nonetheless as we got near, Mom did not want to disturb the procession of boats and the music onshore. There was a huge gathering of people there. Drums beat out a fast rhythm and several women wailed, cried out, and sang in an unfamiliar language. For part of the way, we raced with a strong Polynesian man in a kayak who was riding our wake.

It was very cool to sit there watching in what could be called a front-row seat, waiting patiently till it was polite to go ashore. I noticed while I was watching that each crew on the individual boats was wearing a different uniform. It took forever for the boats to coordinate themselves. I remember after a while we weren't waiting so patiently. Finally however, the crews started to move forward, and so did we.

Once on the beach, my family and Loose Pointer were a very appreciative audience to an awesome cultural event. The first "act", if you will, was a welcoming dance from a group of people in the shore party. The men and women weren't really in their prime, the costumes were falling apart, and the dance wasn't exactly what you'd call high class, but who cares? It was exciting and heartfelt and very cool. The drums were very much the heart of the proceedings, I could feel their booming in my feet and chest. This dance was similar AND different from the hakas in New Zealand.

For the second "act", it was performed with everyone: the crews, natives, and foreigners, in a loose, large circle. A fat man in red announced in a microphone who would perform next and one by one, the crews came forward and performed a dance or haka traditional to their nationality. Some were unable to resist giving a speech beforehand. I couldn't understand any of it and was fascinated by all of it. My favorite dance was the Samoan dance; they looked like they were having a good time. I didn't know what was going on for most of time for the announcer rarely spoke English, but he did say in English when the crews' dances were over that now was the time for gifts and the maori stones to be given. I knew it was important, because everyone looked serious and respectful.

At one extreme end of the circle of people, near where the announcer stood, there was a raised platform of rock that looked almost like a throne. It was decorated with palm leaves. Two, tall, strong lengths of bamboo-like stick were thrust in to the ground on either side of the "throne", like guards. I surmised that this was where the maori stones would be placed. One after the other, the delegated person or persons from each crew once again stepped forward, holding a stone. They first proceeded to the opposite end of the clearing from the platform, then walked slowly and solemnly forward while the drums beat furiously. Sometimes a speech was made, sometimes not. Once there was a whole ceremony for the giving. Several times I wanted to move for a closer look, but could not bring myself to break the respectful stillness of the crowd. The sund was frying the back of my neck, I was desperately thirsty, and they would NOT stop TALKING!

Once all the gifts and sacred stones were given, the sponsor for the whole regatta came forward, was introduced by a female announcer, gave his reasons for sponsoring, and was applauded. Or at least, I think that is what happened, for most of the time he spoke in French with an American/New Zealand accent. It was so FRUSTRATING not to know or understand what people were saying. Several other speeches were probably made, I do not know, I had given up and wandered down to the beach. At long long last, all the talking and dancing was over. Everyone moved to find shade and to socialize, the crews to the now uncovered fruit table to gorge. MOST unfortunately we did not linger for the feast. I for one was relieved. It was an amazing cultural experience, but boy could those French Polynesians TALK.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Raining Cats

Our patience with cruising life is never challenged more directly than when it rains. The last time rain factored regularly, persistently and drearily in our cruising world was in the Pacific Northwest. There we learned the wonders of wet. A cruising boat in a rainy climate is never dry. It is never dry on the outside. It is never dry in the cockpit. It is never dry in the salon or the companionway or in the heads. The curtains, cushions, and counters are not dry. The floors, beds, and cupboards are not dry. Clothes are not dry and sponges are sour. The cat is in a really bitchy mood, and the place between your legs just a few inches above your knees where the fat in your thighs rubs gets sticky, sweaty, salty and painful. Boy howdy this cruising life is FUN.

As we sit in steamy French Polynesia, quite literally stewing in our own juices, we can't help but reflect on our lives in New Zealand. It rains all the time in the Auckland area. As near as we can tell, the dry season is roughly two weeks long in mid-January... during a drought year. Unlike our homeport of Seattle, when it rains in Auckland, the weather gods are serious about the enterprise. It is never more apparent that New Zealand is just a really big island in the middle of the ocean than when it rains. You can literally see the rain bands as they pass over your head in squall after squall. Don't like the weather? Wait 10 minutes. Squall, sun, squall, sun. During a squall, the rain comes down hard enough to be painful, the water runs in rivers down the sidewalks, the tin roofs sound like so many tin cans full of pennies being rolled down a steep concrete driveway. So the short answer to what it will be like to live on Don Quixote during a New Zealand winter is: hellish. Unless we undertake some rather serious renovations, repairs and changes, we'll spend several years gradually dissolving.

Our to do list for arrival in New Zealand is an increasingly frequent topic of sundowner conversation. As with all South Pacific cruisers, our first priority must be to "fix broken shit." Everyone breaks stuff. Everyone wears stuff out. New Zealand and Australia are the golden zones to get this equipment repaired and replaced. Both countries are expensive, but there are options, expertise, and outstanding shipping. The priority on Don Quixote will of course be to fix those items which are issues of safety and/or longevity of the boat. So far, fortunately, our list of brokenness which meets this category is limited to the dinghy motor, which presumably we must solve in Tahiti anyway.

Next level of repairs are those that dramatically improve comfort. It is into this category fall many of the changes we will undertake to waterproof the boat. Ridiculous as it might sound, it is almost impossible to keep the inside of a boat dry. In fact, one of the singular luxuries of owning a boat is that when it gets really dirty inside, you can just pull out the bedding and the books and take a hose to the thing. It's generally already wet anyway. However, for the long haul of living aboard, we must keep things drier. This requirement will no doubt result in moving up in the priority list items such as replacing the hatch lens and seals for the three cabins, replacing the dodger and rain covers, and upgrading the fans throughout. Ventilation is one of the best ways to reduce interior humidity. I have this from an expert. We'll install outdoor carpet in the cockpit, establish "transition zones" for shoes, wet clothes, etc. and find a way to desiccate cat paws and fur. Somehow.

In the meantime, I'm working on flexible hatch covers. The idea is to use a vinyl sheet to cover the hatches so that water is repelled and rolls of the sides without pooling in the hinges. However, I don't want to block light, and we need to be able to open and close the hatches at will. I have a prototype I'm rather pleased with. If this works, I'll make a full set so we can all pop the hatches open without fear of drowning in the run off.

There are many other projects to undertake, some cosmetic, some maintenance, some enhancements. They will probably dominate this blog next year, in fact, so I might as well hold off writing more about them.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

No Good Deed

"Don Quixote Don Quixote, Loose Pointer."

"Loose Pointer, this is Don Quixote! How does it look?" answers my cheery youngest.

Loose Pointer's voice is grim, "We've been hit. We're stopped and are assessing damage."

Loose Pointer was riding point (pardon the redundancy) on what was supposed to be a very short, very easy hop around the corner from the main anchorage on Nuka Hiva to the beautiful little cove known amongst the anglos as Daniel's Bay. This bay features stunning vertical scenery and a gorgeous walk up to the base of the third longest waterfall in the world. We had all been looking forward to spending a few quite days enjoying the remote beauty as a last stop before leaving the Marquesas for the much more nautically challenging and considerably less lush Tuamotus.

I dash down below, grab the mike and the binoculars and run through the usual litany of emergency questions, starting of course with health. The accident was quickly determined to be mechanical -- Kathryn and Dan were okay -- but no one was happy with the report, "The bilge is taking on water." Ugh. Don Quixote motored within shouting range as both boats turned around and headed back to town. If Loose Pointer needed any help, we were going to find it there and not in the remote Daniel's Bay.

The first time we sailed into Baie de Taiohoe, we were impressed with its green lush beauty and picturesque town. The bay clearly displays its caldera origins with entrance between Les Sentinels, two very prominent rocks which guard what was probably the egress for an impressive volume of lava, ash, and gas at some point. However, we have been trying to escape this place for over week now. First, we had to wait for market day. Then we had to return to get our propane tank filled, which inexplicably took nearly a week. Now this. At this point, entering the bay feels frustratingly like moving backwards.

We waited while Loose Pointer dropped their hook and assessed the damages close up. The expected call came in after about a half hour later, "If we could borrow the Don Quixotian who speaks French for a visit to the gendarme?" Of course. I had already changed in what I think of as my "clean and respectful outfit." It is a skirt and a top which I deliberately avoid wearing except on special occasions, such as a visit to the gendarmarie to report an accident.

So here is the story. Loose Pointer was minding her own business motoring towards the entrance of Daniel's Bay at about 4 knots in moderate following swell. She was going so slow as we had both elected to tow our dinghies for the 4 miles trip. A fishing boat was inbound to Nuka Hiva from the south at about 20 knots. The fishermen were both in the back working on their catch preparing it for sale. The boat was either on autopilot or the tiller was lashed. In any case, the boat was itself headed straight for the island and in a few minutes would have neatly smashed itself on the rocks. Presumably, the fishermen do this trip a lot since we've seen this craft moored in Taiohoe daily for the past week. In any case, for some reason it never occurred to them there might be another boat anywhere on the South Pacific. The swell and the tiller arrangement made it look like the fishing boat was changing course, then it would appear to change back. Dan said he thought several times that the fishermen were in control but it was nearly impossible for him to determine what course they were planning to take. Without an ability to predict their course and being the much slower vessel, he maintained course. By the time it because clear that the fishing vessel was completely unguided, Loose Pointer was much too close and was only able to fall off enough to avoid a head on collision.

The fishing boat hit the port aft, rode up the edge of the deck, and took out the deck hardware on that corner. This include the wind van strut, the BBQ, and the wreckage of a whole of stanchion and life lines. Fortunately, Kathryn was on the opposite side of the boat at the time dumping compost while Dan was in the cockpit at the helm. Adam was with us. The bilge water turned out to probably be rain water from the deck leaking in from somewhere over the past rainy week. No one was hurt. Keep saying that because I look at the damage, and it makes my heart sick. We saw the fishing boat afterwards, and the thing is a tank. It barely shows a scratch.

The gendarmarie were spectacularly unhelpful. Note to cruisers: if you are in an accident in the French Marquesas, do not bother to report unless 1) someone dies or 2) someone sinks. For our troubles, the gendarmes became extremely interested in our paperwork, insisted that we check in, and made me return not once but twice the next day to clear Don Quixote in and out of Nuka Hiva. The fishermen were not hurt. Neither did they attempt to make any sort of restitution with Dan. Presumably, c'est la vie. The captain did give Dan some oahu. I'm not impressed. I wanted to stamp on his head.

"I just want to leave this place," sighed Kathryn this morning over coffee. She and Dan are not happy. The rain, the propane, the dodgy dock, the sharks, and now the accident have left a really bad taste in our mouths. Loose Pointer is fixable; With just some sawing, bending, and rope, she'll also be able to travel from here to a place where good quality repairs at a reasonable price are possible. For my part, while I understand in some abstract way why reporting to the gendarmes was a waste of time, I'm a little bent that they used my arrival in their office on a mission of assistance combined with my fluency in French as an excuse to require of Don Quixote every possible piece of paperwork and clearance procedure.

Above all, I am really beginning to dislike the French pronunciation of our boat name which comes out sounding a lot like 'donkey shit'.

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