Friday, May 30, 2014

On my way to Tahiti!

This post finds me underway to Papeete, Tahiti. I'm sailing to Tahiti!

The last post was from Kauehi. I left there on the 19th for an overnight sail to Fakarava. It is only 25 miles pass-to-pass, which would be doable in a daylight passage, but I wanted to ensure I had enough time after entering the atoll to find a suitable place to anchor, and to wait for good light if there were squalls rolling through. It was a conservative decision, but I make lots of those.

The sail was uneventful, which is how I like it. I ended up sailing with a deeply reefed main and staysail with the wind in the mid teens in order to keep my speed low as I sailed around outside the Fakarava north pass. I went through at around slack at 8:30am and made my way across the atoll and about half way down the eastern side to an anchorage.

I'll make two points here. The CMAP electronic charts I have are spot on. They have been close to perfect in my experience so far in French Polynesia. I've also heard good things about Navionics. The second point is that for anybody preparing to explore these areas, definitely visit the web site by s/v Soggy Paws. They are cruisers who have compiled a set of compendiums for many areas of the South Pacific. There is one for the Tuamotus which has been very helpful. You can find the compendium in the Files area of their website.

The anchorage I first stayed in was described in the compendium as having lots of sand. I was the only boat there at the time and motored all over looking for the big sand patch I was imagining. I finally realized that it didn't exist, looked for a relatively large one and anchored. I then dove on my anchor, didn't like it, found a new spot close by while in the water, moved and re-anchored. That was pretty easy. I'm experimenting with my anchor setup by adding the pearl buoys to my anchor chain. I won't say much about that, its described in the compendium in a chapter where they talk about anchoring in coral.

I stayed at that first anchorage for a night and then moved over to the SE corner of the atoll, Hirifa. This time I was expecting a lot of sand again, and as I approached and motored around the anchorage I wasn't disappointed. The water seemed to be a uniform light blue color with occasional dark patches. I picked a large uniform patch and anchored. When I dove on my anchor I realized that there was about 25 feet of visibility in 35 feet of water, and in fact the bottom had quite a lot of coral. My chain was draped over a few patches of low coral quite close to the anchor. I moved the boat to a new spot and aimed the anchor for being just behind a dark patch where it looked like there was a large sand patch. When I dove the anchor I again saw the chain draped over coral - but if I could move it back about 10 feet it would be in a large bit of sand. So I raised the anchor 10 feet off the bottom, let the boat drift 10 feet and dropped anchor again. After diving the anchor I confirmed it was a good spot, added the pearl buoys and called it good.

There was a small wind event arriving in two days, 20 knots forecast when the wind had been in the low to mid teens for a few weeks before. After the event the wind was forecast to die out for a while. So I and six other boats waited in what is a very sheltered anchorage and then moved on afterwards. I waited a couple days and then moved over to the Fakarava south pass. This is the pass which has the reputation for outstanding snorkeling and is the reason a lot of boats come to Fakarava, myself included.

Sorry for all the anchoring talk, its a thing down here. You have a choice of two anchorages for the south pass, either the east side or the west side. The east side is closer to the pass but is deeper and very corally. The west side is also very corally but not as deep. The west side is also close to many motus which make interesting exploring and are beautiful to look at. I choose the west side. The compendium favors this side as well, and described a large area, room for 20 boats, with lots of sand between the coral. I spent an hour motoring around, again, looking for the big sand patch. It didn't exist. I finally choose a spot in 22 feet of water and made it work for me. I again dove the anchor, added the pearl buoys and then spent a day on the boat watching how it acted in building winds. There was a reef 100' to my leeward and several coral heads within 10 feet of the surface at the extreme edge of my swinging radius, so I would be on top of one or the other often.

When I was cruising through Hawaii two years ago, I had to anchor in coral many times and thought that I was getting to be pretty good at it. I realize now how easy Hawaii is. I was always able to find a large area of sand. The Tuamotus are much more challenging, and single handing down here makes it ever more challenging. I've added to my knowledge of anchoring in coral now. One thing I realize is how little I like doing it. Give me a good sand or mud bottom any day.

By now the wind had increased in strength to be regularly in the low 20's, but the anchor was holding fine. Time to start exploring. Here is where the story takes a little detour into frustration. My dinghy engine had started causing some problems when I arrived in the Marquesas, the carb was leaking gas. This had mostly stopped and the engine was again running reliably. However, when I went to explore in my dinghy in my last stop in Fakarava, by the south pass, the destination I had been looking forward to for months, the engine again started causing a problem. It would stall every time I throttled up. From my anchorage, downwind was the interior of the atoll, and I didn't feel confident that I could row the dinghy against the wind I had, back to the boat. The engine was unreliable. There were no other boats in the area at that time. I had a decision to make - do I take the risk with the engine and see all the sights I so wanted to see, or do I pass on it and carry on to Tahiti where I hope to get the engine fixed. I again took the conservative, and slightly disappointing decision to carry on, stay safe, but miss the sights. I had some good snorkeling in Fakarava's east side, lots of fish and coral to explore. But the south pass is the place that makes Fakarava famous. Drat.

Once that decision was made, I left the next day to exit Fakarava's north pass. I exited the pass at 4:30pm and started sailing immediately. I had decided to motor inside the atoll even though my charts ended up being excellent and the wind was good. I feel more comfortable having good visibility in all directions to spot coral heads and to be able to easily and quickly manouvor. I saw lots of others sailing around.

The winds where I am now are excellent, in the low to mid 20's from the ESE, so I'm making good time to Papeete. If I arrive late in the day, or at night, I plan to anchor in the Point Venus anchorage which I have heard is easy to anchor in at night and is close to the Papeete pass.

My time in the Tuamotus was pretty social, I met the crew of many new boats which was cool. However, while in the Tuamotus I didn't visit any of the villages, so by now my fresh food is almost completely gone. I have a few carrots left. I'm looking forward to city life again.

All is well onboard. My next post will be from Tahiti!

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Anchored in Kauehi

I'm anchored in the SE corner of Kauehi, an atoll in the Tuamotus. It is absolutely beautiful here.

I last posted to the blog from Taiohae Bay in the Marquesas. I left there on May 8th, heading toward Kauehi where I arrived four days later. If you don't care about sailing talk, skip ahead four paragraphs. I was able to start sailing as soon as I motored clear of the bay as there was 14 knots of wind from the east. I started out on a nice beam reach in flat seas and in my log book I described it as "sweet, gentle sailing", doing mid six knots in 12 to 14 knots of wind. On my second day out I started to deliberately slow down as I wanted to time my arrival so that I arrived at slack water in the pass through the atoll into Kauehi. I estimated that the slack would occur at 9:10am on the 12th, three days away, so I had to average just over 5 knots for that time. The GRIB weather forecasts showed steady wind over the time I would be sailing, so finessing my speed seemed like it might work.

I rolled in my genoa to its second reef point, with a reefed main, in 15 knots of wind and slowed down to my target speed. By day three I started to encounter squall after squall. The wind was now behind the beam and I wanted to slow down some more, so ran with a double reefed main and rolled in some more genoa, still in 15 knots of wind. The wind increased and I eventually raised my staysail and rolled up my genoa in order to keep the speed low, doing 5.5 knots in 20 knots of wind. I had too little sail up for the conditions and the motion of Luckness started to suffer as the sail couldn't maintain the boat heal angle in the swell and so we were rolling quite a lot.

On the final day I was on time for my arrival. I had been rolling some genoa out to speed up and then rolling it away as needed. In the last couple hours a squall ran through and stole my wind and I ended up 35 minutes late to the pass. Oops.

During the passage I came across five other sailboats, which is a new record for me. I think a lot of people must have been waiting in the Marquesas for a good weather window and once it arrived a pulse of boats set off. I was the fourth boat of four through the pass that day. The first boat timed their arrival perfectly, reporting slack at a little after 9am. I went through 35 minutes later on a rising tide with the current running at three knots, with me, into the atoll. The pass was very easy to navigate. This is known as a very easy pass and that is one of the reasons I had headed here.

I motored directly to the SE corner of the atoll, which was deserted. I had the place to myself for two days and then boats started arriving and later departing. The anchorage here is in sand among coral heads, I'm still learning how to cope with anchoring in coral and will talk about that at some point.

After having anchored, I spent hours enjoying the sights. It felt like I had arrived in a South Pacific postcard. The views here are what I expected to see when I thought of the South Pacific. Its just stunning.

There is no swell inside the atoll, so the motion of the boat at anchor is much calmer than I experienced in the Marquesas. There have been a few 35knot squalls roll through, so it gets a bit lively at times, but generally this is a calm place to be.

I've been snorkeling and there are some nice reefs with good water visibility and lots of fish. There are sharks here. After all the anxiety I had built up waiting for my first shark encounter, it ended up being very calm and relaxed. The sharks are something like six feet long, black tip reef sharks. They come over to take a look and then keep on swimming. When snorkeling with others here you might hear someone yell over that they've seen a shark, and then the other snorkelers head over toward that area looking for it too. Its not how I expected to react.

I've walked around several of the motus, walking over to the windward side of the atoll and around back to where I started. The beach on the windward sides are all broken coral, very abrasive to walk on. The leeward sides are sometimes sand, sometimes rougher. These are geologically young islands, sand is still being formed here. There is quite a lot of litter washed up on the windward sides of the atolls, lots of plastic bottles and other pieces of debris. I was on a mission to hunt down a few pearl farm buoys, as I was going to use them as part of my anchoring system, a technique I had read about. The article I read suggested that you not buy a buoy for this purpose as all the atolls have lots of pearl farm buoys washed up onto their shores and to just go collect a few of those. I was pretty skeptical about this, but it turns out to be true. I walked around four motus and all of them had at least two of these buoys washed up onto their shore. On one of them I found ten. The buoys are made of hard plastic, about a foot in diameter. Its astounding to me that these buoys are so plentiful and I wonder how many of them must be set adrift for there to be so many washed up on the shores I happened to visit.

Between exploring the motus, snorkeling and joining the social hour on the beach at 4pm I've also been working on a few boat projects. My monitor wind vane control lines needed to be replaced as one of them started to chafe badly on the Antal ring that is leading it around a stanchion. The amsteel had eaten through the polished coating of the ring and got down to more abrasive material underneath, at which point the chafing accelerated. I've also been removing hard growth from the hull, removing rust from metal, etc. Generally keeping up with the chores needed to keep the boat in good shape.

My last neighboring boat left this morning for Fakarava, and I'll be leaving tomorrow, Monday the 19th for the same atoll. There is much more to pass along, but in the interests of keeping this post from becoming too long, I'll cut it off here. I'll forward photos when I next get access to the internet.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Daniels Bay

I've returned to what has become my home-in-the-Marquesas, Taiohae, once again.  I arrived here from Hakatea, also known as Daniels Bay, which is only four or so miles West of here, yesterday.  I had been waiting for the weather to improve between here and the Tuamotus before starting my passage over there.  The problem was that the winds were too light and from odd directions.  Over the past four or five days the forecasts have been showing an improving trend starting around now, and I plan to leave tomorrow, May 8th, for Kauehi in the Tuamotus.  So, with all the wi-fi that there is in Taiohae, and armed with fresh pictures from my latest little trip, I felt I should update the blog one last time from the Marquesas.

Daniels Bay is yet another absolutely stunning anchorage and valley.

One of the big claims to fame here is that there is a two hour hike up the valley to a waterfall, which is reputed to be the third highest in the world.  I walked the trail to the waterfall twice, its the best hike I've come across in my stay in the Marquesas.  When you get to the base of the waterfall, you can't see very much of it, but can stand in the falling water.  On the approach to the waterfall there is a viewpoint along the way which allows you to see most of the waterfall, and that's cool.  The highlight for me on this hike is the walk itself.  It is absolutely the case where "is the journey, not the destination."  The waterfall is cool.  The walk through the valley is stunning in places.

You start walking through a little village, on a little road which quickly leaves the village and heads down the valley.

The valley is steep on both sides.

Pamplemousse tree.  Pamplemousse is what a grapefruit wants to grow up to be.
Pamplemousse is sold in all of the fruit markets I've been to here.  Its sweeter than grapefruit.  Refreshing on a hot day.  Its usually 100 francs per fruit, around $1.20 USD.

Along the way there is a lot of evidence of the Marquesians who used to live here before the European's arrived and they were almost wiped out with disease.  There are stone walls along paths, stone platforms beneath houses which look suspiciously like they have been there for hundreds of years, and actual ruins further down the trail toward the waterfall.  It would have been awesome to have been in this valley when its population was in the thousands rather then the tens who live here now.  Of course, back then the people were cannibals.  My walking around as a stranger in this valley might have been received differently back then.  The people are super friendly these days.

A view across the valley to the waterfall
About 3/4 of the way up the valley you come to the ruins of an old village.  Its awe inspiring to walk around this place trying to picture what it must have been like back then.

For anybody who may be doing this hike in the future…  The walk up to this point is perfectly obvious.  At this point, you can go wrong.  From the ruins there are three paths.  One heads off to the right and follows the base of the cliffs on the right hand side.  That's not the path you want.  There is also a path on the left which heads down and across the river.  That's not the path you want either.  You want the middle trail, it goes through the ruins, beside the river briefly and then crosses the river to the other side.  After that crossing you will come to a sign warning about falling rocks and the waterfall is fairly close up a narrow canyon.

Finally you come to the base of the waterfall.  The meadows there are stunningly beautiful if the light is right.  If the light is wrong, they are simply beautiful.

From the pools shown, you can swim across, scramble up the rocks, swim another little pool to the base of the waterfall.  If you want to see the views at that point, you are going to have to go for yourselves!

The next blog update will be either on passage to, or from the Tuamotus.