Monday, August 29, 2011

Cruiser News

Mom sent us a most alarmist email a few days ago about an earthquake in the eastern part of the United States, drought in Texas, flooding from a hurricane hitting the Eastern sea board. She wanted to let us know that, oddly enough, California was doing fine. This comes as a surprise for several reasons. First, California is a natural disaster magnet. It would hardly be unusual to hear that the Golden State was suffering a flood, a fire, and an earthquake all on its own. Simultaneously. Second, we felt absolutely no connection or familiarity to the news.

When we lived in New Zealand, DrC and I regularly kept track of the doings in the United States. I rotated DrC through several RSS readers on his iPad before he settled on Flip as his preferred way to keep abreast of the news of the day. Every morning, he'd sync up his news feeds and then head off for the train. I received my news through my ear buds, downloading podcasts from NPR, BBC, Slate and the New Zealand Herald. Whenever we wanted a bit more detail, we'd head for Google News and start drilling down into the source stories. However, it is true that with time he and I both became less and less interested in U.S. news and devoted increasing amount of time to world news headlines and those for the United States. Even so, we had a basic familiarity with the major stories of the day in the U.S. It's hard to be a good world citizen without knowing what the largest economic and military country in the world is up to. I suspect our perspective and mix of news was growing more typical of folks who live in NZ, Australia, Europe or Canada.

Out here in the middle of the Pacific, our news is all self-referential. We live in small town made up of about 250 families scattered from the Tuamotus to New Caledonia. Despite a square mileage measuring in the millions, our community is very tiny and doesn't really care all that much about the "outside world." Our "paper" consists of maybe one headline with local news and five pages of weather. News like the earth quake on the east coast comes to us late, if at all, and it appears on the second page below the fold. Out here, we like the comics and the puzzles, but we don't care much about the sports page and the financial page is only useful for those who still have money in the market instead of their boats. The only really important topic is the weather. With regular monotony, everyone pulls down weather information and then begins the artistic phase of divination.

Sometimes we share other news. Usually, our stories are of the happy sort. Boats leaving Bora Bora and heading for Aitutaki. Other boats having such a great time in Suvarrow they are having trouble leaving. A friend dropping off a nephew and picking up a son in American Samoa. Loose Pointer getting a new windlass. Sometimes the news is simply awful. Two boats lost on reefs in the past two weeks. Connect 4 rips out a main. Java loses a rudder and engine on reef near Sabu Sabu. It even starts to sound like headlines when you put it like that, but let's be honest. No one cares but us. And the feeling is mutual.

The east coast hurricane was for us a slightly different bit of news. After all, this was not just a weather story, but a weather story at sea. I'm sure Don Quixote was not the only boat taking advantage of our highly developed ability to get detailed information about weather conditions anywhere in the world to learn more about the hurricane's progress. You would be amazed how much a sailor could tell you about that storm just by looking at the GRIBS, weather, and coastal alerts. For example, without reading the headlines (since we can't), I'm betting there is very little wind damage, particularly north of Maryland. That doesn't mean it isn't dangerous. If Australia last year taught us nothing else, it taught us that flooding can be the real danger in storms like these. It looks like significant storm surge, some big waves along the coastline, and a godawful amount of rain. But as a wind storm, Irene just isn't. To put it in context, during Jimena (Cat3/4) in Santa Rosalia, we saw sustained winds in the low 90s while Irene is hovering in the 30s and 40s with gusts in the 50s. That's just a bad day off the New Zealand coastline. Hmm. Well, we'll learn whether we called the GRIBS correctly when Mom sends more news tomorrow.

But on to more salient news... Frank and Gail are finally getting off Palmerston today, en route to Niue with Catacaos. A new flock of boats is leaving Bora Bora now that the wind has moderated over the dangerous middle. The southerly swell caused damage to bungalows and the marina in Tahiti. Duty free fuel is available at the dock in Nieafu. Anyone looking to trade one bottle of Red Label scotch for two bottles of crappy rum, contact Toast on the evening net.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pinned to the Rock

If there is a middle of *ing nowhere, this is it. We have finally gone far enough to find it. Google "Cook Islands Palmerston". Prepare to browse their web site as well as numerous glowing reports from visiting cruisers while you learn about one of the more unique sociological experiments conducted in the last two centuries. Give yourself time to process it.

There is a high sitting its big fat ass just south of us reinforcing the trades and dishing out 25 to 30 on the hook and a good 5 to 15 more than that out on the blue. Boats underway are reporting 5 meter seas from two quarters. Watching the waves break on the edge of the reef, I can believe it. So we are pinned here like bugs waiting for the weather to moderate. Don Quixote has two attachment points to the reef, three to those lines, and we're maintaining a round the clock watch on all the boats. We've already had two boats break off moorings and anchors. In fact, just this morning, DrC and Jaime larked off in the dinghy with Graham of Catacaos to chase down a wayward Discovery who -- after yanking out an anchor AND a mooring line -- was hell bent west, next stop Tonga.

Even so, we are all more fortunate than the lost Riri. The winds are blowing from the southeast attempting with every blast to scrape us off this rock and send us winging at high speed towards Australia with nary a pause. Riri fared less well last week when a blast broke her mooring and drove her south and east straight on to the reef. I sit here gazing at the carcass of what was a beautiful, well founded cruising boat with the dread feeling that there but for the grace of all the gods sit we. We all -- every cruiser out here -- have made a mistake that could have resulted in the loss of our lives or the boats we sail on so blithely. Luck only takes you so far. Talking with Riri's captain has been a sobering experience; Helping him get his salvage off the island to somewhere he can put his life back together again is both the right thing to do and a wave at the Fates asking for positive karma points paying forward to our next eventual mistake. Make it small, make it recoverable, thank you Fates for not taking Frank and Gail as well as Riri. Now stay away from my children, bitch.

I am taking the day off, today, staying aboard Don Quixote while the family visits ashore. My political economy, public policy trained brain is absolutely awhirl after three days here, and I desperately need some time to myself. Imagine taking 60 members of your closest family (first imagine having 60 members of your closest family whose relationship to you is not only known but all within first cousin range), put them all in the same office environment, make them work for 2 different governments in 20 administrative capacities, make them all quite Christian, then stick them on an island roughly the size of a city block, drop the island 350 miles from even the next largest stop which is about the size and population of Cicily, Alaska (Northern Exposure). Make a short temper breed true. Run supplies in and out every 3 or 4 months, taking islanders on and off in broad looping multiple year runs to get health care, provisions, and spouses. Then just to make it lively, parade roughly 50 boats with yachties from every country in the world -- renowned for their independence and eclecticism -- past these people every year. Make it a cultural imperative that the islanders offer every possible courtesy and hospitality to these foreingers in exchange for trade goods and services. Then let the whole thing simmer for about 150 years. This is officially the world's largest tempest in the world's smallest teapot.

For now we are quite safe, DrC is busy, and the girls are having an amazingly good time. As a barter for our time on the mooring, DrC is treating the islanders' health care issues in the small clinic. The kids study in the mornings, play all afternoon, spend the night with their new best friends on the island. I try to stay out of trouble. However, I'm sure you can imagine how successful it is to mix Toast in with a strong patriarchal society where we're supposed to relay everything through the men before so much as walking down to the beach. The only reason I'm not in the village center fomenting a feminist revolution is that I'm down to my last two bras and can't afford to burn them.

So probably, it's safer for everybody if I just take anchor watch till we depart. It's okay. The dolphins and I are on a first name basis now, and they promised me that they'd explain to the whales in here yesterday why the mooring lines are not to be used for back scratching. Not sure we can trust the grouper, though. There are two under the boat who have been taunting me since we arrived, "Nyah na, we've got cigueterra. Just eat me. I dare you."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Exploring: Rangiroa

<i>The "Exploring XYZ…" series is our attempt to remember everything we can about the anchorages and stops we make, mostly to benefit cruisers who follow us in future years. We anticipate folding this information into a wiki or Soggy Paws compendium as soon as possible. In the meantime, please feel free to ask questions; If we can remember, we'll share. GPS marks are for reference only. If you use them for navigation and hit something, it's not my fault.</i>

Rangiroa is the largest atoll in the Tuamotus and the second largest in the world. It stretches a really insane 40 miles west to east and roughly 17 north to south at the widest bit. The atoll is so large, it actually has an atoll within it. There are two main passes into the atoll, both found on the north west corner roughly five miles apart. The atoll is so large that in big weather, fetch and wind can build across the lagoon offering little protection to the boats huddled along the north west edge. However, in even the most reasonable and seasonal weather, there is a good chance you'll find a comfortable spot somewhere.

We arrived at Rangiroa very early in the morning after leaving Ahi the night before. The distance between these two atolls is a bit awkward for many boats. From pass to pass is about 80 miles and both passes absolutely require precision on arrival and departure. So either you can make the 80 miles in the roughly 12 hours you have between tide cycles, or you can't. More probable is that you'll do as we did with Loose Pointer -- leave one evening and find yourself skidding along way too fast during the night. You'll end up either hove to or reefed into oblivion just to keep yourself from running into Rangiroa in the middle of the night.

Entering Rangiroa on anything but a slack tide is not an option for either pass. We went in via the eastern and wider Passe Tiputa (S14 58.051 W147 37.355) at what we figure was slack. Winds and wave had been running high for some time prior to our passage, however, so the pass had an outbound current of about 3 knots even during slack. There were standing waves, leaping dolphins, dive boats, and a nicely well formed whirlpool not to mention the obvious and nasty looking tide rip just outside the entrance. That's the bad news. The good news is that Tiputa is relatively wide, very deep, and other than the waves and current, not particularly difficult. Do make a point of heading all the way in past the little motu to your right before turning to curve into the anchorage. I suppose technically you can cut through, but I wouldn't do it personally.

We anchored in the lee of the motu off the resort in 35' of pure sand, no bombies (S14 57.974 W147 38.411). During our week long stay in Rangiroa, there never appeared to be much wind/wave advantage to anchoring any closer to the small dock which serves the village (S14 58.315 W147 38.063). It is true, however, that most of what we wanted including the services of the small magazin, the dive shop, and the Aquarium were all found closer in. The motu and the pass point do provide some wind and wave protection from the prevailing east and southeasterly winds. I wouldn't want to be in Rangiroa if the wind were blowing from the south or south west. On the other hand, the locals are in the process of building a nice park on the motu to serve boaters. Thus far, there is just a small concrete dock, a fire pit, and a single table, but we have hopes (S14 57.775 W147 38.420). Our understanding is that the somewhat infamous anchorage fee for Rangiroa is in part going to pay for construction of the park.

As for the anchorage fee, it is true. As far as we know, Rangiroa is the only place in Polynesia where you pay to anchor. The gendarmerie make this very easy. They will come out to your boat to collect your fee. It was 150 CFP per person per night. This works about to roughly $1.80. Children are free. For your fees, you can assume that some are going to the park. Other bits must be going to maintain the dinghy mooring balls which are conveniently located adjacent to the best snorkeling spot. Also, the gendarmerie are somewhat indifferent tax collectors. If you're there long enough, they will come out. Some boats pretended they were not at home and never paid their fees. Don Quixote felt the fees were sufficiently small and the comforts of our location sufficiently great, we just paid.

At the dock in Passe Tiputa, you'll find a few dive shops and a snack shop that operates only during the lunch hour. The meal prices are reasonable (for French Polynesia), the beer is cold. The magazin is open mornings and afternoons, not during the day. As with most Polynesian magazins, either get there early or pay for bread the day before if you want fresh baguettes. Otherwise, there isn't much for to see in the village north of the pass.

For more information on the snorkeling, see a previous post entitled "The Aquarium."

Airport - S14 57.379 W147 39.366
Pearl Farms - S14 57.276 W147 40.492
Landing Beach near western town - S14 56.684 W147 42.222
Marina - S14 56.717 W147 42.383
Bank/ATM - S14 56.688 W147 42.493
Air Tahiti - S14 56.688 W147 42.493
Clinic and Pharmacy - S14 56.683 W147 42.529
Church - S14 56.666 W147 42.561
Magazin S14 56.685 W147 42.531
Grand Magazin S14 56.703 W147 42.332
Laundry - S14 56.673 W147 42.170
Restaurant Pizzaria Filippo S14 56.675 W147 42.140
Shell Station S14 41.833 W147 41.833

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Exploring Huahine

<i>The "Exploring XYZ…" series is our attempt to remember everything we can about the anchorages and stops we make, mostly to benefit cruisers who follow us in future years. We anticipate folding this information into a wiki or Soggy Paws compendium as soon as possible. In the meantime, please feel free to ask questions; If we can remember, we'll share. GPS marks are for reference only. If you use them for navigation and hit something, it's not my fault.</i>

Huahine is located in the Society Islands north and west of Tahiti. It's a big blog of an island with barrier reef along around, but easily navigable only on the west side and parts of the southeast. Unfortunately, a combination of weather and a broken outboard pinned Don Quixote to the reef for nearly a week with almost no opportunity to explore. I think this is a shame as the island looks beautiful from the reef. I'm sure we would have had a good time. Really I am.

We anchored in two locations on Huahine, both on the southern side. Our first anchorage was on the reef south of the town of Fare. You can enter the reef at Passe Avamoa (S16 42.597 W151 02.716) with little fanfare. I suppose if you were facing a nasty westerly the pass and it's companion Avapehi a mile to the south would be a little bit interesting. In the standard east south easterly even blowing > 20 knots, we found the entrance easy to find, easy to navigate. Just inside Avamoa and to the north is Fare. Many people anchor just west of the village and literally within rock throwing distance of the pass entrance. The problem is that many people anchor there. We couldn't find a spot where we wouldn't bang into our neighbors, so we kept going. If you continue south into the channel, there are all kinds of spots to drop the hook on the reef. From Fare all the way down to Avea, anchoring on the reef is a question of finding a wide spot out of the channel with a nice patch of sand and few bombies. It's easier to find a place if you have a low draft, but we saw enough deep keeled monohulls out there to know that if you're serious about it, you too can find a hole. Keep in mind that some locations are merely coral over rock. This is not the time to just drop and go. Current and winds will scrape you right off the reef if you don't set the hook well. Ultimately, we ended up between the two passes on the edge of the reef (S16 43.239 W151 02.346), out of the way of passing traffic and in a sweet spot for Internet access using both Ioaranet and WDG-Hotspot.

Our first day on Huahine, we thought we had a motor. So we loaded up our walking gear, piled into the dinghy, and motored into Fare. Fare is a very welcoming place for visiting cruisers. There is a well stocked grocery with a farmers market in the mornings just across the street. A bank, post office, hardware store, and several snack shacks round out the provisioning locker. The town has built a nice dinghy dock for visiting cruisers and charter boats complete with a wooden hut and welcome sign. Remember, however, that people have had dinghies, outboards and fuel tanks stolen by less savory residents from this very dock so lock up when you visit Fare. Just to the west of the dinghy dock is the restaurant ??? (S W). You can get food during the middle of the day, but the real appeal is at happy hour from 1700 to 1800 during which all drinks are half off. This is the one place in all of French Polynesia where a pitched of beer will not require that you pawn the family jewels.

There are quite a few interesting archeological sites within easy biking distance of Fare. You can rent bikes by the half or whole day from one of two locations in the town. Unfortunately, the price for a half day was just a smidge out of Don Quixote's price range at 5000 CFP for 4 hours per person. Ever the optimistic hikers, we set off down the road. The road runs around the island along the coastline, for the most part, dipping inland to run along the edge of the northern lake before getting to the points of archeological interest. It is a very long walk. Just before you hit the sites, you'll pass through the village of Maeva. This is a very good place to get cold drinks and snacks at the magazin on the street. If you don't mind long walks, it's actually a very flat and pleasant journey of about 5 km each way. We stopped for water, snacks, coconut husking, more snacks, and a lot of bitching and complaining… mostly mine as I started to get heat exhaustion. At the end of the day, you could argue the half price pitcher was a medical necessity.

Our next few days were spent trapped on Don Quixote. The wind dialed up to 20, gusting 30 and more off the hills neatly pinning us to the reef. At this point, I'd like to say something about the trade winds in this part of the world. Typically, they blow from east to south east. The average is about 18. This means the one speed you rarely see is 18. In roughly two week cycles, the winds alternate between the 25 to 30 range or the 8 to 15 range. Depending on your idea of perfect sailing conditions, you'll choose either light trades or reinforced trades to move from island to island. When the winds dial up out at sea, you'll find that the leeward side of the islands is not always a protected location. Winds can bend around points, rip through ravines, or drop suddenly down the side of islands peaks and scream through the anchorages. Our wind generator shuts down at 35 and it does did so on several occasions while we waited out the reinforced trades on Huahine.

We didn't want to move the boat, and by this time our dinghy had reported back that the motor was just not going to work for love or money. The water off the transom looked so benign, clear and blue and reflecting back the sandy bottom like a Los Angeles swimming pool. The reef in that part of Huahine is truly nothing to look at so don't bother snorkeling. But the water is so tempting, we spent a lot of time in it despite the howling winds. I can vouch that the Huahine reef is a great place to scrub the bottom of the boat.

A few days later, our buddy boat arrived. We moved about 3 miles south along the reef line. While it meant we were close enough to dinghy back and forth between the boats, it did nothing to improve the wind situation. It was also a complete Internet dead zone. So the next day, we gave up Huahine and sailed over to Raiatea in a brisk beam wind. We have this island marked for "future exploration." We sure did a lousy job of it this time through the islands.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cooking Tip: Yeast Buns

If you are going to be traveling far and wide in the middle of an ocean, you can not buy bread. You have to bake it. This makes lunch difficult. In fact, for Don Quixote, lunch is the most annoying meal of the day. DrC and the girls insist on eating something. I don't always have leftovers from the prior day, and without bread we are often left with the rather unpalatable options of crackers and cheese, mac and cheese, or Top Ramen. Lovely.

For this trip, I've fallen into a semi-regular habit of making yeast buns every morning. If you use a very active yeast, you can get the bread made, rise the dough, and bake it all before school is out. Call it about 3 hours total. Because we leave the boat as soon as the rolls are done, the added heat from the oven is not so much of a worry. A few tips when making bread on a boat:

* Buy local yeast - Yeast is a funny beast. It likes a certain set of conditions. Different yeast likes different conditions. Brewers are very familiar with the fact that yeast selection is key to the final flavor of the brew. Some yeasts like cold conditions, others warm. Some like a lot of sugars, others do better in an environment of scarcity. What is true for beer is also true for bread. Our New Zealand yeast hates the warmth of the South Pacific. Our bread absolutely sucked (e.g. it took 36 hours for it to rise) until I bought new yeast in Nuka Hiva. Ever since, it poofs like a balloon in short order with the tiniest bit of honey. So do not "stock up" on yeast. Buy enough for your passage and a little bit more. Then buy more at your destination. Local yeast makes good.

* Use warm water - Don't try to dissolve your yeast and honey in cool or cold water. Yeast likes warmth.

* Watch out for things that slow your yeast down - Yeast likes white flour, it likes a bit of honey. Everything else slows it down. That's not really a problem, but keep it in mind when you are saucing up your dough. All the tasty whole wheat and all grains, corn, rye or oat bran, additional sugars, spices, or chunks of this and that slow down your yeast. Factor that into your planning. If you add too much of these things, you can anticipate super slow rising. I make a truly heavenly cinnamon raisin roll now, but it takes 12 hours to do the two rises. Of course, it's totally worth it. We just have to plan ahead.

<b>Toast's Basic Roll Recipe</b>
Combine -
1 cp very warm but not hot water
1 tbs honey
1 tbs yeast
Stir until honey dissolves and yeast melts into a yellowy smelly goo. Let sit for about 10 minutes until the whole thing looks like a frothy milk shake.

Add -
About 4 cups of flour. I start with 2 cps of the worthless white stuff and then try to mix up the rest with grains that might actually have nutritional value. I know people who go all whole wheat, but I just can't wait that long.

Stir the dough together. You'll have to add more warm water. Just be careful. I probably add about another cup. Use a spoon until you've reached a point that the dough is elasticky and basically sticks together rather than to the bowl. If you add too much water, add more flour. The most important thing about bread is to learn the basic texture that means Happy Dough. If you are not already familiar with Happy Dough, make it with someone who knows this state. They'll show it to you in all it's transitional glory. Then get ready to go crazy if you are into precise measurement because the ratio of water to flour is dependent on the weather, humidity, temperature, yeast, sugars, and the whims of fate and chance. You must simply play with it.

Once your dough is Happy, plunk it on a floured surface and work it for about 5 minutes. You can't really overknead it, so just keep going until your shoulders are a bit sore, and the family is bitching about breakfast. Cut your dough into six to twelve chunks and roll into balls. Roll the balls in an oil, toss them in your final pain, and stick them someplace warm and protected from flying creatures. Wait until they explode and take over the pan, then throw them into your oven until they turn a lovely golden color on top.

* * *

But wait Toast! Those sound singularly dull! Which they are. I don't think basic yeast rolls are very interesting any longer. Sure, you can mess around with flours to make things a bit better, but blah. If we ate those every day, the kids and DrC would probably fire me. Once the dough is about ready to cut, I knead in a bunch of additives. Pretty much everything goes in at the last minute except powdered spices/herbs and sugars. Those should be added while you're still balancing your water and flour mix to make Happy Dough. Basically, you can go two ways with your rolls: sweet or savory.

<b>Sweet Stuff</b>
Add any of the following in any combination you'd like to make a sweet roll:
Sugars - White sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, canned fruit "juice", powdered milk, chocolate drink mix
Spices - Cinnamon, vanilla/orange/lemon/almond/hazelnut/etc extracts, all spice, cloves, nutmeg, powdered cocoa
Fruit - Mince fresh or canned anything, dried raisins/blueberries/cranberries/apples/apricots/peaches, dried shredded coconut
Nuts - Walnut, hazelnut, sliced almonds, pine nuts

Don Quixote favorite sweet roll -- Powdered milk to sweeten the dough and a brown sugar, butter, cinnamon raisin swirl with minced walnuts.

<b>Savory Stuff</b>
Add any of the following in any combination you'd like to a savory roll:
Veg - Sun dried tomatoes , olives, mushrooms, frozen or fresh spinach, onion, potato. Anything left over from the night before. Hell anything that isn't super wet. If it's wet, drain it or roll it in a bit of flour before you try to add it to your dough.
Spices - Mixed herbs, basil, garlic, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, thyme. Yeah, again... pretty much anything. My kids didn't like the fajita seasoning, but your mileage may favor. That's the only combo they balked at.
Cheeses - The drier cheeses work better than wetter ones. Again, flour your cheese if it's wet or oily. I like to fold the cheese into the middle where it won't crispy critter while it bakes. On the other hand, that dried Kraft parm cheese adds tremendous flavor just mixed straight into the dough.

Don Quixote favorite savory roll - Provincial herbs, garlic powder, and sun dried tomatoes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold

We're out here doing a Goldilocks on the weather again. I think most non-sailors assume that the big worry out here is storms, the convergence zones, high winds, big waves. These are all a concern, no question. When the trades get strongly reinforced by a southerly low going by or a nasty front on the leading edge of a trough swings through the region, you can see some rough weather and rougher seas. The crossing from French Polynesia through the Cook Islands and over to Tonga and Fiji is known as the Dangerous Middle for a reason.

On the other hand, sailors experienced with the long haul passages of the big oceans are equally familiar with Don Quixote's current problem which is winds too light to go anywhere. With a very mild high south of here, the usual 15 to 20 knot trade winds are moderated down to almost nothing. This morning on the net we heard report after report of boats motoring around or simply bobbing in the swell. Motoring in these conditions becomes necessary mostly for comfort. With a 2 meter swell from the south and in the absence of a steady wind, a boat tends to move beam to the sea and roll heavily and slowly and nauseatingly. This is discouraging, boring, and incredibly enervating for the crew. Because you are in the middle of the ocean, you must continue to maintain a watch as powered vessels can still run you down if you fail to pay attention. After a day or so of this, many sailors get frustrated and fire up the engine.

Of course, if you are sitting at anchor and the weather report is 5 to 10 from the east for the next five days, you have more options. You can, for example, go diving. Go for a walk on the beach, swim around the boat, do boat chores, get ahead on school, play the guitar, pick lint out of your navel. There are sundowners by the beach camp fire in the evenings, sudoku in the cockpit as the sun rises while sipping a hot cappuchino. Bread to bake, beans to boil, sprouts to start. You can just sit here in Mopelia, in other words, waiting for more favorable conditions.

Unless you are traveling with DrC.

I'm not sure how much longer all this life in paradise thing is going to last with him. He doesn't like being in one spot for too long. This week in Mopelia is proceeded by a week in Bora Bora and prior to that almost a week in Huahine and a week in Tahiti. It's all very frustrating for Mr. Man Of Many Anchorages. Yesterday, I sent him out on the reef to dive with the other boats. Today, we pitched him overboard with his eldest to do pass drift dives. As a side note, the divers are reporting the best conditions since the Tuamotus with outstanding coral formations, diverse sea life, sharks, whales, sting rays, and a ship wreck to investigate. Unfortunately, I am at a complete loss for what to suggest for tomorrow. Even the most optimistic reading of the gribs doesn't give us any wind for at least another three days. That Swiss Family Robinson tree house is beginning to look like a better and better idea.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How Quickly Traditions

Every evening at 4:30pm (0200 UTC), I grab my laptop to record positions, tune in the SSB, and listen to the net. During the last calls, I make a list of what we'll need for the evening. Then as I prepare the raw materials, DrC and whichever girls I have aboard bag up our possessions and get them shifted to the dinghy. Then we motor ashore.

We learned last night that our passing Night Fly is their own signal. They take their evening shower, gather their own dinner things, and head into shore after us. Usually, by the time Warren and Maria arrive, we have the fire started. It takes longer for the coals to burn down enough to put in the dinner pots.

Dinner is really not very good here on Mopelia. To save propane and because we have almost no fresh food left, we're having a lot of one pot, canned and preserved suppers. Last night, for example, was pasta with a beurre blanc, herb and weird cheese sauce. The French sell a subsidized cheese here that tastes remotely like cheddar, comes in large cheap blocks, and doesn't need to be refrigerated until you open it. Unrefridgerated cheese and canned butter are really helpful to cruisers with limited cool space on long passages. On the other hand, I'm not entirely certain this stuff is actually cheese. For example, it doesn't melt in a hot pot. That's a bit disturbing.

The adults drink their sundowners while the girls play with the fire and cook dinner. Jaime is particularly engaged by the burning dinner process, and she is rapidly developing good fire circle techniques. We eat, we eat a sweet, we chat, we relax as the moon comes up. Then when the growing moon is high enough to see the coral bommies on the return trip, we bundle into the dinghy and head back to the tiny lights on the horizon that mark the boats.

Every night for a week. Last night, there was a slight shift as we moved over to make room for Loose Pointer. Easy peasy adjustment to an already well established routine. Adding Loose Pointer to a Don Quixote tradition is non-issue. I know Kathryn will be over here sometime this morning for fried dough, for example, even though I don't believe we mentioned it. We always make them fried dough when we haven't seen them for awhile. Usually, she wakes her boys, but some mornings we have get her all to ourselves which is awesome. Like DrC, she is a quiet but very interesting woman and a pleasure to spend time wiht. The less people around, the more we get to hear her opinions and ideas. And of course, we would hear a great deal more if I just kept my mouth shut. Jaime insisted I write that, and sadly she is absolutely correct.

Tomorrow weather permitting, we are finally going to leave Mopelia. Mera actually came ashore mid-day having finally run out of things to do to enhance the beach house. DrC has given up trying to catch parrot fish. Jaime is diving into her iPod, and I watched a movie yesterday. We're winding down. Today, however, we'll make the most of our last day here. We'll swim and walk on the beach and gather a million coconuts.

And of course tonight we'll go to the beach to build a large fire and share our evening with our anchorage neighbors.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Stars Scattered Across the Pacific

Every day -- now twice a day -- Don Quixote warms up the SSB and dials in a frequency to participate in a cruiser net. During the net, boats which are underway call in and report their position, weather conditions, and status of the crew and boat. After the boats underway check in, often boats at anchor will announce their positions and offer information on services and conditions at various anchorages. The net serves as a social connection with other cruisers, source of valuable information about anchorages and weather, as well as a source of safety in the form of getting the news out when a boat is disabled, requiring assistance, or simply lost.

It will surprise no one that very early on we volunteered to be net control for the Pacific Puddle Jump Net. And of course, in this context of chatting up fellow cruisers, "we" actually means Toast. Having said that, DrC takes net controller responsibilities very seriously. When on passage, the net is often during the middle of my off watch so DrC does the net, either reports or control. He is highly competent at the job, and I only wish he would take it more often. I think he puts on his doctor voice; he sounds so firm, confident, and reassuring on the net. In this respect, he's a considerably better net control than I am as his voice is more clear over the radio.

Early on, we got in the habit of adding way point markers on our laptop charting software for the boats we track. During the Puddle Jump when we were net control every night, we tracked the progress of roughly a dozen boats in addition to our buddy Loose Pointer. We use a star marker and the boat name to mark their position each day. During the passage, the boats were strung like a string of Christmas lights from the Marquesas to points along the Mexican coastline. A few started farther north, more came from the direction of Panama or the Galapagos, but by the time the boats reached mid-crossing, the stars formed a clear pattern coelescing on Nuka Hiva and Hiva Oa.

We don't track all the boats on the net any longer. There are simply too many, and I confess that we don't actually care about all of them. Sure we maintain a record of the boat positions when we are on net control to pass on to future nets if there is an emergncy or lost boat. But now our charts are studded with stars only for those boats with whom we have a personal connection. Given the sociability of the girls and myself, it's not surprising that this still amounts to a whole lot of boats. But they are no longer linked in a chain from any clear source or destined for any specific location. Instead it looks like someone up ended a box of jacks over the entire central South Pacific. We have friends stretching from Pago Pago to Roratonga, Bora Bora to Tonga. There are boats on Aitutaki, Suvurrow, and Palmerston. To see them all, we have to zoom out basically from the Tuamotus to Australia.

This scattering trend is only going to continue, our relationships dissolving into the Pacific like blue dye in a glass of water. Some of these boats are the homes of acquaintances with whom we've merely spent an enjoyable day. Others, however, hold in their hulls people we have come to care about deeply. It's both exciting and a little painful hearing them report in from places so very far away. We change their coordinates, check their progress, listen eagerly for details on their activities. After the net, we zoom out and contemplate our celestial landscape whose horoscope changes daily with the winds and whims of the people we love.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Our Latest Excuse

Loose Pointer is coming! Yeah! Among other things, their imminent arrival provides the perfect excuse to not leave today.

We were supposed to leave today. That was the plan, at least. The weather is perfect for a sail to Palmerston North or Beveridge Reef or maybe even all the way to Tonga. We were going to up anchor, head out the pass, and continue our journey west safe in the knowledge that the low and the trough had passed and a nice moderate high was setting up to the south ensuring standard or slightly reinforced trades for days and days and days.

But Mera and Aeron want to build an extra room on to their fort as well as extend the path all the way to the beach.

And Jaime wants to see if she can improve her fire cooking skills with chicken and dumplings and fruit baffs tonight.

And DrC is contemplating ways to catch parrot fish from the beach.

And I still haven't found a mango tree. I know there must be one here if I can just find it. We've found some really nice aluminum pots perfect for a solar oven and cooking in the fire. If I just keep poking around, I'm sure we'll stumble on fruit trees.

And Loose Pointer is coming. They might have spare propane and vegetables. We've agreed to trade them 80' of high test chain for a bag of bokchoy and a cabbage. From where we are at the moment, that feels like a super good deal.

For us.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Keeps Giving

Mopelia is the gift that keeps on giving. Yesterday, we enjoyed school on the boat. I'm not being facetious. We actually had a pleasant morning despite chemistry, resolving exponents, and conjugating the verb aller. Daddy made pancakes (yes... Toast is resorting to a "what I had for lunch" post), we enjoyed our daily cappuchinos, and then DrC and I studied the MetService Pack to try to make sense of Bob's words of wisdom on South Pacific weather. Then we bundled about 500 pounds of supplies into the dinghy and went ashore.

When dropping children ashore on a deserted island in the middle of the South Pacific, remember to pack the following:
- sun screen
- copious amounts of fresh water
- machete (sharp... the dull one is not going to cut the coconuts with sufficient speed and enthusiasm)
- swim suits
- ant repellent
- something to feed the hermit crabs
- screw driver
- towels
- shoes (exploring the jungle is really challenging in your bare feet as there are "tons of prickly dudes everywhere")
- food (sandwiches are good, fruit is okay, something salty for mid afternoon is appreciated)
- matches
- dockline
- first aid kit
- deck of cards

The girls built a camp site complete with chairs, tables, and shelves. They also did a fair job of gathering wood for the evening fire. By the time we returned to camp, they had attracted 100s of bright red hermit crabs

While the girls homesteaded, DrC and I explored. There was a village here a decade ago that was swept away during what appears to have been a really nasty hurricane. There are surprisingly few ruins left to mark the village. The hurricane and storm surge did a really good job of scraping the island bare. You can tell precisely where the ocean came in versus just waves. While the vegetation has grown back lush and verdant, the main body of the island is mat of interwoven trees, bushes and palm fronds in a distinctive single direction showing evidence of the path of the storm and the directions of the wind and waves. Despite much searching the only vegetative evidence of the former occupants of the motu were an enormous ornamental pampass grass and a bougainvelia as well as a few immature banana trees. We were hoping to find a grand daddy mango or a few papayas, but unfortunately, no such luck.

The waters are teeming with parrot fish and black tip reef sharks. Both swim right up to the shoreline within feet of the beach. It would be really nice to catch a few of the parrot fish, though cigueterra is probably a concern. We're tempted to try it anyway. It feels like you could stand in the water up to your ankles and just flip dinner on to shore. I'm beginning to wonder if black tip reef sharks taste good. They come in all sizes here from about the length of your hand swimming practically on the beach to big four to five feet guys circling the boat.

Lower down on the food chain is a phenomenal coral bed. We walked up the motu to the north and around a bend. A huge shallow opened up with a break in the reef to the north east. From shore, it appears like the entire area is well grown with sea grass and algae. However, when we put our masks on and dipped into the water for a swim, we were astonished to sea that the area is a coral forest with not a spot of algae or seaweed. For the first time, we are seeing stag coral in vibrant, vigorous health. There is a surprisingly limited variation in the reef fish and they are predominantly small (2 inches or less), but the coral is mind bogglingly diverse and vigorous. Even here there are clear signs of storm destruction with tree trunks and broken chunks of coral liberally scattered about. Yet the broken chunks are not dead. Instead, they've settled back down and are happily pumping out coral polyps by the jillions.

We spent the evening on the beach by a campfire. Night Fly joined us for a sundowner and burnt meat. Night Fly is a Dutch couple who are considerably more adventurous than your average cruisers. We enjoyed their company, their fascinating tales of sailing in Patagonia, and their keen intelligence and humor. It is good to be stranded in paradise with capable, interesting people. The steak sandwiches were delicious, the coconut needs to be roasted about twice as long as you think but it makes for a nutty, sweet and delicious dessert.

It's hard to say how we'll spend the day today. Surely we're running out of things to do. Or maybe not... DrC was eyeing the spear fishing gun and the parrot fish, and I still want to find a mango tree.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

South Seas Paradise

We accidentally stumbled on an amazing place yesterday afternoon. These are the moments from which the notion of trail magic derives.

The problem was a trough... a big mass of low pressure air full of moisture that was spearing south west right over our path between Bora Bora and Aitutaki. It didn't look too bad, actually. Boats west of us who weathered it were talking about heavy rain but only 20 to 30 knots in squally conditions. Honestly, we've been through considerably worse in the past few months. On the other hand, who wants to go through that kind of gunk if you don't have to? So we started looking for alternatives. Fortunately, about 130NM west and slightly south of Bora Bora is a speck of an atoll known in English as Mopelia. The pass report in Charlie's sounded a bit horrifying but reports from recent visitors in the Soggy Paws compedendium suggested otherwise. Since the weather conditions were as yet quite mild, we thought we would do a drive by. If pass conditions warranted, we'd go in, drop the hook for 24 hours to allow the trough to blow south and past, then continue on to Aitutaki.

Except, I am not entirely certain we're going to even go to Aitutaki now. We might skip Niue as well. Hell, we might just sit here as other boats have reportedly done until we run out of water, fuel, propane, and food and are forced west. Because Mopelia IS the postcard of a South Seas paradise island. It is deserted -- about a decade ago a hurricane blew through and scraped every living soul and all their worldly goods into the ocean. It is beautiful -- a crescent shaped motu now regrown with lush vegetation dominated by coconut palms swaying in the nor-northeasterly. There is diving in the pass, coral fields everywhere you look, sharks, rays, reef fish, a white sand beach stretching from the turquoise reef to our left as far as we can see to the right. Our anchor is very well set in 20' of sandy bottom with nary a snag or a bommie to worry us. Even as we sit here feeling the trough blow over with 20 plus winds, there is no fetch, no swell, and a feeling of solid anchor-not-moving-ishness that only another cruiser can truly appreciate.

Today, we are having a cappuchino and scones and helping the girls do school. Then we are going to hand them a machete, a screw driver, an enormous bottle of tang, and a baguette and put them ashore to rove like wild creatures fending for themselves and feeding off the land. After relaxing and being adults on a boat in the middle of paradise, we may or may not load the dinghy with sundowners, meat slabs, more baguettes and some potato salad and join them ashore for a bonfire this evening. There are no mooring balls, jet skis, or customs fees. There is no one to tell us we can't walk on the beach. There is no one to stop us from gathering coconuts and cutting down mangoes and bananas. If we get really inspired, we might dinghy a few miles to the south end of the motu where apparently there are a few families still clinging to a rocky islet. These families we are told live 500 yards apart, do not speak to one another due to a long standing feud, and will trade canned corn beef for fresh lobster. All of this remains to be proven, however. I'm not reporting it. I'm merely idly speculating on how I might spend my day.

Or I might rummage around to find a book I've only read five times, take a beach blanket and a cold drink, and go lie on the beach. I think we finally found paradise.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Exploring Raiatea and Taha'a (Part II)

<i>The "Exploring XYZ…" series is our attempt to remember everything we can about the anchorages and stops we make, mostly to benefit cruisers who follow us in future years. We anticipate folding this information into a wiki or Soggy Paws compendium as soon as possible. In the meantime, please feel free to ask questions; If we can remember, we'll share. GPS marks are for reference only. If you use them for navigation and hit something, it's not my fault.</i>

The following day, we met Ceildyh on shore to run errands and go on a hike. The errands took absolutely forever. There is something sweet and comical and absurdly frustrating about standing in a Polynesian post office (S16 38.140 W151 29.489) for an hour. The walk was on paved road; Take your dinghy to the dock at the end of the bay (S16 38.211 W151 29.455), walk north towards town, make a let at the church (S16 38.244 W151 29.187), and up up up the hill. We went up to a point on the ridge-line where you can see both south into the pass between the two islands as well as down into the bay. It is a relatively short walk through beautiful country with a nice view, even if you don't really go off road anywhere. Watch out on the pin turns for speeding vessels and enormous islanders on tiny, totally overburdened scooters traveling at insane speeds. The town also includes a bank (S16 38.159 W151 29.507), magazin (S16 38.134 W151 29.538), hardware store (S16 38.129 W151 29.542), snack shack (S16 38.142 W151 29.496), and gendarmerie (S16 38.149 W151 29.456). While we were in town, the girls stumbled on an art fair in the community building (S16 38.147 W151 29.468), but I couldn't say if that would be there all the time.

In Haamene, we also took time to visit the Hibiscus Foundation which can be found close to the entrance. The foundation was begun in 1992 by folks who want to aid in the rehabilitation of the South Pacific turtle population. They work with fishermen to rescue turtles caught in nets. They care for injuries and feed the turtles until someone sponsors a turtle release. This year, you could get a turtle of your own for 100 Euro, take it to a designated release location, and set it free. The funds go to the care and medical treatment of the turtles. Unfortunately, we couldn't afford to do this ourselves. My recommendation to future cruisers is that you get a group -- maybe buddy boats -- and plan on doing this together. Even if you can't sponsor a turtle release, it is worth stopping at the restaurant. We were too early to have dinner, but the comments in the book suggest the food is excellent. The lodge is full of flags and burgees from all over the world as well as dozens of books and 100s of articles on turtles in the South Pacific in general and specifically about the foundation. DrC and I had a cold beer while the kids spent an hour or so watching the turtles in the pen outside and exploring the turtle books.

Just outside Baie d'Haamene on the east side of Taha'a is Passe Toahotu. This pass is bounded on either side by a small coconut covered motu. The cruising guides suggest navigating through the pass only in settled weather, but I frankly think that is a fair statement for all the east side passes. When the trades are blowing and the swell is up, all of them are a bit exciting. Toahotu doesn't appear any more narrow or dodgy than the passes to the south, so use your own judgement. We anchored off the northern motu in about 15 feet of sand with bombies (S16 38.476 W151 25.825). We saw catamarans considerably closer to the reef and ranging all up and down the reef line. This gets to a larger point which is that the east side of Taha'a and Raitea feature many such "wide spots in the road" where a vessel can comfortably set a hook protected from fetch and swell by the barrier reef in even a brisk reinforced trade. This particular spot near Passe Toahotu is apparently featured in the charter trade maps as an easy hook with good snorkeling as we were surrounded in charters. I wouldn't say the snorkeling was spectacular, but the water is clear and the motus make for a beautiful backdrop. If you're serious about seeing fish and coral, take your dink as far towards the reef as you can, drop a small hook, and swim to the reef. We saw some nice healthy coral and lots of fish out by the reef. I suspect if you were a truly intrepid type, you could even dive on the other side of the breaking waves, but I'm afraid I'm a bit to risk averse. The motus are both private, but we saw several dive boats stop ashore as well as guide some drift snorkelers through the passe.

The next day after school, we pulled the hook and headed south to Raiatea again. We passed Uturoa (snatching a quick send-receive on WDG-Hotspot internet as we went by) before motor sailing about halfway down the east side to Baie de Faaroa. Like Haamene, Faaroa cuts deep into the island. While it does not feature the convenient bends of its Taha'a counterpart, the northeast orientation means that boats deep in the anchorage are likely to receive protection from nearly all winds you'll encounter during a typical cruising season. At the end of the bay, you will find good, mud holding in about 50' just off the estuary. There is a very strong signal at the end of this bay to the WDG-Hotspot wifi (S16 49.077 W151 24.938). At the end of the bay is an emergency services building and community center. You can see the kayaks and outrigger canoes from shore. If you pull in to the small landing, you can use the outdoor showers to bath. I recommend trying to contact someone at the emergency services building to request permission. Though probably not strictly necessary, it would be polite.

For a really nice adventure, take your dinghy and enter the estuary to explore up river. There are two tall sticks in the water to mark the entrance and a shallow bar (S16 49.163 W151 24.991). If you are fortunate, you will encounter James Alfred Taero (Tah-air-oh) (Cell 319781), a local guide and farmer. He will take you to a shared farm/plantation (S16 49.724 W151 25.277) and introduce you to the local flora and fauna. During this visit, you will learn all about what "is good for me, not good for you" as well as what is "big and poisonous, not good to eat". You are also likely to shlep home with a whole bag full of samples. Bring your back pack. If requested, James will also take you on a long walk to visit a vanilla farm and view the incredibly beautiful surrounding countryside. The walk is steep and not for the faint of heart, but it leads through the local farm country and winds up into the hills, and in our opinion it was well worth the effort. Again, take a backpack for your samples as well as a lot of water. It is not clear at all how James makes a living. It was abundantly evident to us that he does not expect you to compensate him in any way for the time he'll spend with you. You are his guests, and he apparently takes great pleasure in showing you the valley and teaching you about the flora and fauna. Having said that, by dint of much persuasion, we were able to convince him that where Ceilydh and Don Quixote come from, you don't visit someone's house without bringing a vase of flowers, a potted plant, a plate of cookies, or some other "host gift." While something of a cultural hurdle, I think he finally understood well enough to accept our gifts without insult. Trust me that if you spend a day with James, you will want to give him something of yourself. The day is a true pleasure and very different from our ordinary hikes, snorkels, and town visits.

(continued Part III)