Friday, July 31, 2015

The SPCZ

The South Pacific Convergence Zone, aka S-P-C-zed, is hanging low over us. It brings 90-100% overcast skies and light drizzle. This just didn't seem like the best conditions for visiting Suwarrow and there are no real hints that the convergence zone was going to move off somewhere else. It apparently likes to hang further N and E in El Nino conditions, moving it closer to the equator and where we are. So after sailing for two days in a line mostly pointing toward Suwarrow we changed course this afternoon to head to the island nation of Niue. Its about 750 miles away. We'll pass close by Palmerston Atoll, a part of the Cooks. We may decide to stop in there for a few days. This island is populated by three families, all descended from one Englishman (or maybe Scots) and his three Polynesian wives.
The winds are 15-20kts and the seas are small, making for some comfortable sailing.

Paul



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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Rayage

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After we checked out of Bora Bora we went and anchored behind a motu across from town to wait on weather. The plan was to go to Maupiti, an island 25 miles to the west. It has a south facing pass into the atoll, so we wanted to wait for the large south swell to go down before attempting the pass. On the sand banks near where we anchored they take tour boats out to feed and play with the sting rays. Does “crikey!” ring a bell? (Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter) We took the dinghy out and as soon as we anchored it a dozen rays swam up close to see what we brought them for late afternoon snacks. It was a little unsettling when you jumped in to 3-4 feet deep water and these guys all swarm under you. They are about 3-4 feet across. No food from us.

Since we are already checked out of French Polynesia we aren’t really supposed to go to Maupiti. But, there are no Gendarmes in Maupiti and the locals are friendly. Right now there are about 10 boats in the atoll and probably 8 of them have already checked out. The other thing strange about checking out was the fact that when I gave them Chris’ US passport the visa in it was expired by 30 days. We had a letter from Immigration indicating that they were going to issue Chris a carte de sejour (extended visa), but it wasn’t ready yet. No one asked for the letter, so I didn’t volunteer it. No problems – just a normal check out.

maupitiP7260130 We motored over to Maupiti and followed the ranges into the narrow pass. Surf breaking close by on either side and 3-4 kts of current against us, but it was pretty easy with the 4 ft seas. Inside the pass are some moorings that are right next to an area where the manta rays hang out. There’s a large rock in about 20-25 feet of water that the current passes by and they just seem to hang near.

 maupitiP7260096 As Chris is fond of saying, “It’s always a good day when you can swim with mantas”. If the wind cooperates we will do one more snorkel with the mantas in the morning after procuring fresh baguettes, then its off for 5-6 day sail to Suwarrow, in the Cook Islands.

Paul

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mauru’uru French Polynesia

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We checked out of French Polynesia at the Gendarme's office in Bora Bora yesterday (more on this after we leave). That gives us 24 hours to high-tail out of here – or maybe just a little bit more. We plan to head off on Sunday morning assuming good weather. Above is a typical Bora Bora scene with high-end, over-the-water hotel rooms and the iconic Hiro’s Bell in the background. Our 4 months in FP has been really good. What a friendly, easy place to cruise. Great snorkeling in the Tuamotus, stunning scenery in the Marquesas with a genuine Marquesian culture to go with it, and easy jumping around, great heiva celebrations and some decent snorkeling in the Societies.  Each group is unique, except for the universal Polynesian warmth.

boraboraP7190145 Bora Bora actually has some surprisingly healthy and easy to access coral reefs with a huge variety of corals. Not a lot of big fish, but still some good dives.

spmap Above is an old map of the South Pacific (click on it to biggerate it and see the text I added). We are in Bora Bora now with plans to head northwest toward a small atoll in the middle of the Cook Islands (which is actually a country) named Suwarrow (or sometimes Suvarrow). Then we hope to head southwest to another tiny country/large-rock, Niue. On the old maps Niue is called the Savage or Danger Island, as the natives were thought to be particularly unwelcoming to foreign ships and sailors. After that we’re off to the Kingdom of Tonga, once known as the Friendly Islands based on Cook’s 1773 reception there. It’s a nation with hundreds of islands and many good anchorages to explore.

Mauru’uru, French Polynesia, thank you for everything!

Paul and Chris

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Huahine Heiva

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The ‘Heiva’ is a month long celebration of Polynesian culture held in July each year through out the islands. There is some competition going on almost every day – from competitive copra (coconut) husking, to all sorts of outrigger racing, and strongest man and fruit carrying races, along with judged singing and dancing groups from each village on the island. Tourists are welcome, but the total focus is friendly, island wide competitions between the villages and the locals are definitely into it. This picture above is of the ten outriggers that started the long distance 6-man race. They keep this pace up for an hour and half.

HuahineIMG_1373 This is the 12 girls dual outrigger finish in the rain. They take the ama (float) off the outriggers and then lash two canoes together.

huahineIMG_1388 And the mixed 12-man winners. The teams are fielded by each village on the small island.

huahineIMG_1599  Getting ready for 6-man races on the beach at the main village in Huahine, Fare.

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If I had a program, I could tell you what town these girls were from by the color of their outrigger.

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And just to keep everyone honest, here they are weighing all the competitive outriggers the day before the race.

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We went to the dancing and chanting competition on two nights in the large, sand filled arena of Fare.

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Except for the headwear this team looked almost Indian.

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Without subtitles it was a little difficult to figure what all was going on. At least the colors were photogenic. We think these are the banners for each village, identified by color.

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The first night of the dances started about an hour late with some really extensive pre-dance speeches by the dignitaries. This elder seemed to get things going with her speech.

 

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The dancers and the singers seem to be about evenly split between the guys and gals.

 

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Kicking up some sand and enjoying it.

 

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This dance was a real crowd pleaser by the orange team.

 

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We use the dinghy dock in front of the Huahine Yacht Club bar and  restaurant to land and go into town. They also have a daily ‘Happy Hours’, a rare good deal in French Polynesia. A pitcher of the local beer, Hinano, for a little less than $9.00. Of course from the sign you’d think that happy hour started at 5pm. You’d also think that if you read the sign on the other side of the building. Once inside you might spot a small sign on the side wall that says Happy Hours 5:30 to 6:30pm. And in practice, there’s no exceptions – wait your turn at 5:30.

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Steve, with the guitar, off of Liward, put together some Saturday night entertainment for the Happy Hours crowd. We met Steve and his wife, Lili, in Shelter Bay, Panama (the first time we went through the Canal, 3 or 4 years ago) where he put together a group called the ‘Shelter Belters’. The singer here is Talulah, who is Paul and Andy’s granddaughter’, visiting them on their boat Talulah Ruby III. She’s off for the summer from music college in England. What an amazing voice. Definitely has the potential to make it big – you heard it here first.

Paul

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Catching Up on the Societies – Taha’a

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The islands of Raiatea and Taha’a (Ta-ha-ah) share the same outer atoll reef so we could sail between the two islands inside the lagoon. We headed up to Taha’a and took a free mooring at the Hibiscus hotel. More a restuarant/bar than a hotel. We had a nice dinner of mahi-mahi and poisson cru (fish in lime and coconut milk) and setup a tour of a local vanilla farm the next day. This is Teva, the owner of the vanilla farm and tour guide showing us his total involvement with the vanilla bean.

TahaaIMG_1274 We hiked out from Teva’s house on the water up a trail through the valley to his green houses. On the way we passed these fighting cocks. No really legal in French Polynesia, but Taha’a doesn’t have many gendarmes, aka real police.

TahaaIMG_1277 The beans are organically grown in a screened in green house. The screens keep the bugs out and the plants in shade. The beans do not take a lot of labor to grow, but the process of hand fertilizing the flowers (they’re orchids) and picking the beans time consuming.

TahaaIMG_1281   This is the vanilla beans in various levels of dryness. They are taken out for a few hours a day in the sun to dry and then covered and brought back inside to control the drying process speed. This is Teva’s wife, Linda. The smell is wonderful.

TahaaDSC_0911 We headed over to the west side of Taha’a and anchored near this high-end hotel with its rooms set out over the lagoon. Like something out of Conde Naste magazine.

TahaaP6290060 We went here so we could try snorkeling the ‘Coral Gardens’. This is a shallow cut that you park the dinghy on the inside of, hike out along a trail on the small island and launch yourself into the shallow cuts current. In the center it is about 3 feet deep with the sides being really shallow.

TahaaP6290074 One problem with the cut is that sometimes you can’t see anything because there are too many fish in the way…

 TahaaP6290071 We don’t usually do this, but as this was a spot where tons of tours go through – we joined in with the crowd and brought old baguettes in a plastic bag with holes in it. It drew a mob of very tame butterfly fish.

RaiateaIMG_1335 We did get a little rain while there, along with a double rainbow

TahaaIMG_1306 We didn’t have time to take John and Lisa over to Bora Bora, but they did get to see Bora Bora’s iconic silhouette at sunset.

Paul

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Catching Up on the Societies – Huahine and Raiatea

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We did an overnight sail from Moorea to Huahine. John and Lisa got to stand their first night watch. The conditions were a bit rambuncous, but they did great. We went in on the eastern side of the island. It is the much less visited side. I enjoyed it, but it seems this picture is what I really remember. We anchored in 85ft of water. Immediately a local boat came up and in very friendly French told us that we were anchored on a pearl bed. He asked me to lift my anchor very slowly so he could make sure we didn’t catch any oyster cages. It came up clean, no problems. I asked where I could anchor and he told behind the reef that was in front of us. So we anchored over there, also in 85ft, for a few days. When we picked up the anchor we had it hooked in this massively long oyster float held together with a large cable. I ended up having to go in the water and secure a line to the cable and then fight the anchor out of the large black bucket that it is caught in in this photo. In both of these places there were no floats on the surface to indicate that there were oysters below.

HuahineP6230001   One thing you do on the east side of Huahine  is go into the bay and walk up to the area with the sacred blue-eyed eels. No good pictures of these as I only had my small camera with me and somehow I didn’t grab John’s eel shots. The black bump in the middle of the picture is an eel wanting to be fed.

HuahineP6230007 This gal is the local eel whisperer. With a smile, innate animal skills and a can of open mackerel she has then eating out of her palm- literally.

 

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We sailed outside the reef from the east side to the west in very light winds (after getting free of the oyster trap). We were easing along at about 2-3 kts with the headsail out and saw this guy fishing. He came scooting up to us motioning us to stop. I thought we must be heading into a net of his. As we were only going about 2 kts it didn’t take long for him to come up close. His crew struggled with lifting up this massive tuna they’d just caught. They just wanted to show us what a cool catch they had. We waved and cheered and took pictures and then they ran off to fish some more.

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We did find a great secret spot for shelling on the east side. We only collect empty shells – its a vegetarian thing. Chris left her beach walk’s haul of shells in the dinghy. Turns out this one was not empty. It was occupied by a hermit crab who decided to walk down the yellow dinghy painter to try to escape to see another beach.

RaiateaDSC_0697After a 20 mile motor in no wind over to Raiatea we anchored near this ancient ‘mare’, a sacred site. It was well preserved and has some interesting signage telling about the ritual use of the mares, which we hadn’t seen at other sites. In the photo background is the outline of Huahine.

RaiateaDSC_0704 Like all mares there was a sacred banyan tree. Those little people to the right of the tree’s air-roots are Chris and I.

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Blue outrigger on a Raiatea river we went up in the dinghy.

Paul