Friday, June 27, 2014

Collecting vs. Making water on Luckness

For people who follow my blog closely, you'll remember that my water maker stopped working while I was in the Marquesas, several months ago.  At the time, I converted the water maker to manual operation and was spending roughly an hour a day, manually pumping the water maker to create just over a gallon of water.  It started to get tedious pretty quickly.  But I'm not afraid of doing tedious things and I was making water ever day this way.

On the passage from Nuka Hiva to Fatu Hiva, an upwind bash, I tried to make water.  I quickly realized how difficult that would be.  You need to put quite a lot of force into the pump to operate it and doing so in a boat which is pitching and rolling in a seaway was difficult.  Its hard to push down with any force when the whole boat is flying upward as it does when climbing the face of a wave, before crashing down on the other side.  Downwind passages are more peaceful, although again making water manually would be very tedious.

Around this time, a friend of mine, Dave Mancini, who is cruising s/v Swan around Mexico at the moment, forwarded some information about how he and his wife Rhonda dealt with water as they cruised through the South Pacific on their earlier passage.  Swan is a Pacific Seacraft 34, so very similar to Luckness.  Swan doesn't have a water maker and relied on collecting rainwater on their entire journey.  They went through French Polynesia, Tonga, Fiji and then up to the Marshall Islands and back to Washington state.  Dave seems to pass along all sorts of good info every time I see him or exchange email with him.

In the past whenever I thought about collecting water on a sailboat I would think about it in terms of some sort of canvas collection system I would sew together, incorporating a hose of some sort which would lead to a jerry jug.  Or perhaps some sort of canvas I could add to the mainsail to collect the water the sail captures.  These techniques seemed complicated.

Dave's technique is simply to plug the scuppers on both side decks on his boat.  Once you do this, the entire boat becomes your water collection surface and as the water drips off everything it finds its way to the side decks where it collects.  He then puts a rag over a funnel, places it into a jerry jug, and uses a tupperware bin to scoop water from the side deck into the funnel.  Finally he adds 1/2 teaspoon of bleach to the jug before adding it to his water tank.

I've tried this technique now, several times.  Its super easy and can capture a lot of water.  Since hearing about this from Dave I've started to hear other cruisers talk about it as well - when it rains I've heard others talk about going to plug their scuppers to collect water.  However I've also mentioned this technique now to several people who have boats where this would work, and they didn't know about it and liked the idea.

So.  If you have a sailboat, and your sailboat has high bulwarks, and the scuppers in your side decks are easily plugged, this technique can work for you.

Dave uses four rags to plug the scuppers, as their are two holes on each side.  First let the rain fall for a little while to clean any salt off the surfaces.  I go around when this is happening and use a rag to wash away any dirt I can.  Let it rain long enough so that the water pouring down the scuppers is clean.  Then plug the scuppers and let some water collect.  Put a rag over a funnel, put it into a jerry jug, and pour water into the funnel.  The rag is a good idea as I constantly find little bits of dirt and hairs in the rag after pouring clean water through it.

Plug the scuppers with rags, once the water is clean
Let the water collect...
Prepare the funnel, rag filter and jug
Scoop water, pour into jug, repeat
I didn't have any real rain while I was in the Marquesas.  When I first got to the Tuamotus it rained heavily the first day I was there.  I thought I would try plugging the scuppers just for fun, to see what would happen.  Both of the side decks were full of water within 1/2 an hour.  I wasn't prepared yet to filter it and use it for drinking water - but I was able to have a fresh water bath after my passage, soap on one side rinse on the other.  I then drained both side decks, plugged them again and started rinsing salt out of towels and clothes.  I was sold on this technique.

My water maker, when it was working, only made 1 1/2 gallons of water an hour.  It used between 6 and 8 amps to do this, so power was a concern on cloudy days (I prefer not to run my engine to charge my batteries.)  With so little water available I would never consider having showers or washing my clothes onboard.  This all changes when water becomes plentiful, as it does with this technique - at least in areas with rain.

Back to the Tuamotus and my first experiences.  A few days after my first experiment some more squalls started to roll through.  I started hoping that the passing squalls would hit me directly rather than wishing that they would miss as I did in the past.  I wanted to collect the squall water!  I had two close misses that day and was able to collect 5 gallons of water which I treated with bleach (1/2 a teaspoon) and poured into my tank.

Since then I have had several occasions when I have had heavy rain.  One day while I was in Papeete I collected 15 gallons for my water tank and it continued to rain.  I then started washing clothes.  I would collect 5 gallons, use it in my double sinks to first wash clothes and then start rinsing.  Rinsing takes a lot of water so I went out to pour 5 more gallons into the jug, using 10 gallons to wash my clothes.  On days when its raining hard, or lightly but constantly, you'll have more water than you'll be able to use.  I filled my water tank, washed clothes, washed myself and then unplugged the scuppers to let both side decks drain as they were completely full, with water overflowing over the top of the cap rails.

Collecting rainwater is awesome!  I haven't made water with my water maker in the last two months. Between collecting water and getting water from shore when its available, my tanks are always full.  Thanks to Dave for passing along his advice on how he did it on Swan.  Any other owners of PSC 34/37 or other boats with high bulwarks - take note, this may apply to you as well.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Swimming with Sharks and Sting Rays

While I was in Moorea, I spent many hours swimming around with sharks and sting rays.  It was completely amazing.

There is an area on the north coast of Moorea, inside the coral reef, across from the Intercontential Hotel, a mile and a half west of Opunohu Bay where I was anchored.  There is a sand shelf there with water between 3 and 5 feet deep - shallower as you walk toward the reef and deeper as you walk off the shelf.  Tour boats arrive here every day, and I expect, have been arriving for many years.  The boats carry something like 20 people each and when I arrived there were two boats there as well as a few smaller private boats.  The tour boats bring along some fish and feed the sharks and sting rays.  When the boats arrive, so do the sharks and rays.

I had heard that the tour boats arrive at 10am, so I got to the area around 10:30, anchored my dinghy out of the way and then strolled through the shallow water over to the crowd.  As I strolled over, I started seeing reef sharks swim by, as well as sting rays.  Seeing all the tourists in the water taking photos of the sharks and rays, as well as the tour guides being in the water as well, was encouraging for me.  If they could do this, so could I.

I made a short video of what I saw while I was there.  In hindsight the footage I captured doesn't really capture the moment very well - I was busy having fun and not thinking too much about getting video to edit later.

The link is:

Before arriving in French Polynesia I was a little freaked out by being in the water with sharks.  I had read from other people's blogs that over time you get used to it, and that by the end of your time in FP swimming with sharks was a good thing, not something to be feared.  Its true.  Swimming with sharks is really cool.

The sharks in this area are all reef sharks, not dangerous.  I have heard of the rare accident between a person and a reef shark, but these aren't typical.  One story had a person in shallow murky water and a reef shark bumped into them.  When the person then pushed the shark away, the shark bit their hand.  The sharks in the water that I've seen have been somewhere between 'totally disinterested' in me, to 'very mildly curious.'  They look at you as they pass by, but there is no interaction.  If you reach out to try to touch one, they move away.  You need to respect that you are swimming with a wild animal - but a well fed animal, totally in its element, unthreatened by us.

Sting Ray's are actually pretty cute.  Its hard not to watch a ray swim by without appreciating the elegance of its motion.  The slow flapping of its wings (are they called wings?) and their motion has always had my interest.  It turns out that they are also very fast.  At the end of the video the guy, whose name I didn't get, throws his fish into the water and a ray gets it.  What the video doesn't show is that then that ray was chased by several sharks and other rays around the area hoping it would give the fish up.  The chase was very fast and I don't know which animal ate the fish in the end - but their lazy movement around us is misleading about what these animals are really capable of.  Sharks seem faster in a straight line but the ray's are pretty fast and can turn on a dime.

I was given a bit of fish by one of the cruisers who arrived and the rays started climbing up my chest to try to get it.  Their skin is really soft - they don't mind your stroking them as they swim around you and they feel soft and kind of rubbery.

I was glad that I first arrived when there were a lot of tourists in the area, as that served to give me courage to get and stay in the water.  Jumping into shark infested waters is not an intuitive act.  The tour boats left within a half an hour or so and then some other cruisers and tourists arrived in kayaks, dinghies, SUPs, etc.  Many of these people were intimidated about getting in the water - I think having a big crowd do it before you without incident helps build your courage.  I didn't feel at all threatened by the sharks or rays in my several hours there.  As they say, it was all good.

This was a simply awesome experience, a highlight of my time in French Polynesia.  If any of you get the chance to do this - I highly recommend it.

I think my favorite marine animal is still the dolphin.  But I didn't really have a second favorite.  Ray's are now my second favorite.  Sharks are the third I guess - although this will be restricted to reef sharks for now.  I don't plan to swim with the Great White, Hammerhead, Lemon or those other sharks that can and do consider people part of their food chain.  Reef sharks are cute, those others?  Not so much.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Moorea to Bora Bora

Last week I moved anchorages on Moorea from Cooks Bay to the outside of Opunohu Bay near the coral and then later to the head of the bay.  I really loved Moorea.

In the area I was anchored, there had been coral damage from a cyclone many years ago.  Swimming around that area was really nice, but there weren't very many fish.  One of the locals had created and sunk a number of tiki's in the anchorage area, which was cool.  They ranged in size and were all variety of shape.

A Tiki!
One of the big attractions of this area is that you can dinghy over to an area where tourist boat operators have been feeding the sting ray's and sharks for years - they now come to the area when boats arrive and you can mingle with them.  Its a shallow sand shelf, 3 to 5 feet deep, and you can literally walk around and watch the sharks and sting ray's swim by you.  I'll spend more time on this in a future blog post.

Sting Ray!
I left Moorea for Bora Bora at 9am on June 20th where I arrived the next morning.  I'm currently on a mooring off of the Mai Kai Marina.  They have pretty decent wifi here in the harbor and I've been geeking out a little, spending quite a lot of time online catching up with what is happening in the rest of the world.  I was finally able to watch some of the Apple WWDC video's, just to prove my geek credentials.  I'm in Bora Bora watching video's of a new programming language (Swift!  Looks awesome!) and other software development stuff.  Its been nice to catch up a little.

I'll check out of French Polynesia on June 30th and then head further west.  I think I have a plan for where I'll go now - although I've been changing my mind quite a lot over my route so won't mention it until I give it a few more days to mellow.

Leaving Moorea
Sailing in pretty calm seas and good wind
Bora Bora!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Tahiti and the start of my stay in Moorea

I left Tahiti, Friday June 13th and arrived in Cooks Bay on Moorea a few hours later.  This place is a visual feast.  

Cooks Bay reminds me a little of The Bay of Virgins on Fatu Hiva, Hanavave, only a little toned down.  Hanavave is an all out assault on the senses.  If feels as if your eyes are being battered by the beautiful images, how much more of this amazing scenery can you take, you keep asking yourself?!  Then there are the smells and sounds.  Its an all out battle, Hanavave trying to numb you senseless.  Cooks Bay is a little less so.  The mountains surrounding the bay remind me of Fatu Hiva, but they are further away and the bay is many times larger.  On the other hand, The Walk (each anchorage has a walk) here, to Belvedere, a ridge with a view of the area, is further and higher than the walks in Hanavave.  Unless you got crazy and walked to the other side of the island on Fatu Hiva or something.  The walking here is further than the standard cruisers approved walks there.  All in all, its a beautiful spot.

Now for the bad news.  My 90 day visa for my stay in French Polynesia is going to run out in a few weeks.  So while I would like to spend more time here, I'm not going to be able to.  I'm gong to change anchorages once and then move along to Bora-Bora, which will be my last stop.

Now, backing up, I should account for my two weeks in Papeete, Tahiti.  I spent longer than I expected there.  All the advice I had read and heard was to try to get in and out quickly, not much more than a week.  I spent two weeks there.  Toward the end of my first week I decided to fill my primary propane bottle, my 20lb tank only had 2 lbs left.  I have a secondary 10lb tank, but my next opportunity to get a fill would be in Tonga.  I felt better with lots of propane aboard, it gives me more options along the way…  Unfortunately, the way it works here is that you walk your tank down to the Mobil station close to the marina I was anchored close to, drop it off and then come by after its picked up, filled and delivered.  They pick up and deliver three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  I dropped the tank off  on a Wednesday after the gas company had visited, so the tank was picked up on Friday.  The following monday was a holiday, so I picked it up on the Wednesday - a week after dropping it off.  I could have done that better if I had known how the system worked.

Papeete was nice, but it gets better after you leave there and start visiting the other Society Islands, from what I've read, heard and am now starting to experience.

This was my sunset view from the anchorage north of Marina Tiana.  Looking toward Moorea.

While at anchor in Papeete, a trough rolled through.  (For you non-sailors, a trough is an elongated low pressure weather feature, without associated fronts.)  From what I had read of South Pacific weather, I knew that forecasts for local winds around these features were going to be inaccurate.  The grib forecasts were showing light wind, but I planned to be onboard for the duration of the trough passage.  I was glad that I did, as it ended up blowing 30 to 35 knots, from the south, for around 6 hours.  

The trough.  South winds to the west, north winds to the east, rain in the middle.

The grib forecast above is really what you want to see.  Normal trade winds.

This was a very polite trough however.  The winds arrived in Papeete after I had had my morning coffee, looked around at the anchorage for an hour, had breakfast and cleaned up.  Around 11am the wind arrived.  It blew strongly all day, and then just before dark it fell off to the mid teens and then a little later, to almost a calm.  I appreciated the timing.  From what I know, none of the boats at anchor, dragged.  This is either a testament to the good holding (sand and mud); the skill of the fleet at setting their anchors; the quality of their anchors; or the fact that 30 to 35 knots of wind isn't really that much wind.

During the worst of the weather, a boat on a mooring had its jib get away.  It started flapping in the wind, tearing itself apart on the spreaders.  I would look over and see pieces of dacron floating away in the wind. The sail was on a furler and they were unable to furl the sail.  The people onboard had some help from others, and one sailor was climbing the forestay trying to get the sail under control - without success and at risk to himself.  Later they climbed the mast, moved over to the forestay and cut the sail off the furler from the top down.  The sail is a complete loss.  Tragic. Nobody was hurt however, Yay.

I visited downtown Papeete a few times.  The most famous place to keep your boat in Tahiti is off of the sea wall, downtown.  If you've read about sailing and Papeete, you will have read about mooring downtown.  You used to stern tie directly to the wall with an anchor out.  You would then later be on your boat with people walking along the seafront looking down into your boat, saying hello and chatting.  Later they installed piers which you could stern tie to, giving a little more privacy and fitting more boats into the same space.  Right now there is a big construction project for this whole area - almost the entire cruising fleet is currently staying around Marina Tiana, either anchored (for free), moored (for a reasonable fee) or in the marina itself.  For those of you who have been here, I'll pass along a few photos of what its like now:

Looking along the downtown seafront.  Construction fencing on the left to keep people out (didn't work obviously) and a brand new, empty, pier.

Progress is still being made along the pier.  This is the current end of construction.

New pilings being built and the remaining gap that needs new to be built

I assume this is one of the old mooring areas.  I don't know why its empty, but the word I've heard passed around the cruising fleet is that you can't stay downtown right now.

I realize now that I don't have any pictures of downtown Papeete, other than the ones above.  Its a city.  Cars, traffic, stores, tourists, a few historic sights.  Its nice, but isn't really what I'm interested in.

The sail from Tahiti to Moora is short, a few hour daysail.

Cooks Bay panorama
Cooks Bay

I walked from Cooks Bay up to Belvedere, a ridge something like three or four miles away, uphill.  It gives a good view of Cooks and Opunohu Bay, which is the next bay to the west.  Its a bit of a hike, but it was nice to get some exercise again.

From the right: Cooks Bay; Me!; Opunohu Bay
It was fun being up there.  Lots of tourists drive up, or join tours which end up there, or rent a scooter and scoot up. I walked.  I'm so hard core.  Everybody who ends up there is enjoying themselves, we're all on holiday and have stories to tell.  So I get talking to people.  When the people I speak to hear what I'm doing or have done, sailed single handed from Seattle to the bay they are looking down on, they say things that remind myself about where I am and what I'm doing.  Talking to my fellow sailors in the cruising fleet, what we all do is pretty normal.  It was satisfying to hear those outside impressions again.

I'll probably move along to Opunohu Bay tomorrow, the 17th.  Unless I change my mind.

All is well here, I hope the same is true of all of you.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Photos from the Tuamotus

Here are a few photos from my recent travels.  This covers the Tuamotus and entering Papeete, Tahiti.  The two atolls in the Tuamotus I visited were Kauehi and Fakarava.  Both exceedingly beautiful.

Luckness at anchor off the SE corner of Kauehi (in the middle.  The Southern Cross on the right, Bandit on the left.)

Leeward side to the left, lagoon leading to windward side on right
Between each motu there was a flow of water from the seas crashing on and over the windward reef

One of my many pearl buoy sightings.  I saw over 20 of these washed up on the shore

The windward side of a motu

Typical windward shoreline
The windward shore was covered in litter, some of it quite surprising.  Most of it was plastic

Leeward shorelines were often softer.  Sometimes sand, sometimes shell or coral

Fakarava's Hirifa, SE corner
The shore is broken in a few spots with mini lagoons
Luckness anchored in Hirifa, Fakarava

A black tip reef shark
Can you spot the octopus?
Same octopus as in previous photo, before it noticed me walking beside it along the shore.  Once it noticed me, it changed its colors in an instant, blending into the sand beneath it

A typical sight.  Squalls approaching

Approaching Tahiti, sometime around 7am
Approaching the Tahina Marina north anchorage, which is just beyond the huts
I'm planning on leaving Tahiti next week.  Next up: Moorea.