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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jim's Video - Mexico to Marquesas

Here is a short 3 minute video Jim put together of our crossing to Hiva Oa, Marquesas. I think he did a nice job!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

TAHITI to Moorea, French Polynesia - Day 75 - 81

When weather wouldn't cooperate for sailing away, we stayed a few more days in Tahiti. We checked into renting a car – but no cars available. Thought about taking a bus down to see one of the most awesome surf beaches known to mankind (I would have really LOVED to see one of those muscly surfer dudes ride the pipeline!) - but it rained instead.

Jim took a hike that wasn't too muddy and got some incredible photos! Carolyne and I took a bus into Papeete and looked at some magnificent black pearls at Mihiarii Pearls. I bought one for Carolyne that she picked out with a soft sea-green hue... lovely. It was very fun perusing through all the colors and sizes and shapes. Mihiarii will drill a hole in your pearl for free if you like and you can even pick a setting for it, although the prices were inflated. Carolyne also got herself a "pareo" – basically a sarong – to remember our trip to French Polynesia... not that she could ever forget it!

My nasty head cold has moved on and now we are battling impetigo. We noticed that Carolyne had several sores on her legs that "bloomed" into a worrisome bacterial patch. We jumped on them with rubbing alcohol and triple antibiotic creams. These types of staph infections are common in the tropics, very contagious and we didn't want it to get out of control. Keeping the area clean and treating them once or twice a day seemed to do the trick.

We had hoped to enjoy Bastille Day in Papeete – but the buses weren't running for the entire weekend or on Monday and our 15HP outboard is overheating. We were stuck. So, I worked on a large canvas repair job and modification for another cruiser before we left for Moorea. What a beautiful island! I so wished we had left Tahiti days ago and could spend more time in the various bays in Moorea. It is beyond describing – except to say that it looks exactly like one might imagine when thinking of the South Pacific. It is fairytale beautiful!

In the morning we cut up some of our frozen skipjack that we had in the freezer and dinghied down the very narrow channel (dodging numerous bommies!) to an area where the hotels bring tourists to feed the stingrays. It was a gray day with large clouds threatening rain, so there were very few people there.

We forgot our anchor, so tied off on one of the channel markers and snorkeled over to a shallow area, holding our tupperware full of fish chunks above the water. Numerous black tipped sharks swam around the perimeter... thus, why we had our fish out of the water!

Once we arrived at the spot, we were waist deep and stood on the sandy bottom when 6 or so enormous sting rays swam up to us. I hardly had time to remove the lid off the container before one poked his head out of the water and began to climb on top of me. His table manners were atrocious as he began sucking and slurping – literally slurping! - toward my face. I quickly gave the ray a chunk of fish hoping to satisfy him when all his friends came galloping over to also get some kibble. They almost knocked me over! It was thrilling!

Carolyne also fed the giant beggars – she was wearing a bikini and so really got to experience sting rays slurping at bare skin. They allow you to pet their slick, smooth wings. At times we had to push some of them away because they were crowding and pushing. We had to be very careful to avoid stepping on them – they liked to swirl around our ankles and feet – and we didn't want them to sting us with their very large barbs.

The sharks came in very close but never challenged the rays for food. Instead, they circled or came within a foot of our legs, but waited patiently for a scrap to float by. It is the first time I have ever felt comfortable feeding the sea life during swimming. There was a very large stingray, however, that had a nice bloody bite mark on her face... clearly she had an earlier scuffle with a shark!

Jim took some amazing video – I mean AMAZING! I can't wait to get it downloaded to Youtube so we can share. If you ever get the chance to experience feeding sting rays in Moorea, remember that they like to eat fresh fish. We were told by several others who brought sardines that the rays put their finicky noses in the air and ignored all canned offerings.

For all my complaining of catching nothing but "stinkin' skipjack tuna" in French Polynesia, I am forever grateful to them for an experience of a lifetime! We're going back in the morning for another feeding with some of our cruising friends who have yet to have the privilege.

We hoped for a hike today, but it rained several times during the afternoon and into the evening. Maybe tomorrow. Carolyne and I did dive on some submerged tikis – rumor has it that one of the hotels put them in the water to attract tourists. And I guess the tourists do come... I found a very nice silk headband and buterfly hair clippy that someone lost! And we spotted a tiger reef eel (?) – completely albino white decorated with a scattering of black circles.

Friday shows a good weather window, so we'll probably take off then towards Bora Bora... maybe stopping along the way – or maybe not. What we don't want is to be too far away from Bora Bora when we have to check out of the country on the 24th and then have bad weather - forcing us to sail in unseemly conditions. The French authorities, we have been told, are not flexible when it comes to getting out of their territory on time.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I Have a Cold in Paradise and Jim Got Hit by a Car

TAHITI, French Polynesia
Day 68 – 73

I have a cold.
Jim is fine - but he got hit by a car.
This is not what I had in mind.
This is a sarcastic whiny post and I'm not changing it...
but the photos prove it's not ALL bad!

As I write this entry I am reminded of the first few months we were cruising in Mexico. We arrived before Christmas in 2008 and by February of 2009 I was in tears. I told Jim that no matter how hard I tried that I felt isolated and was having trouble connecting with people. We ventured on and by April we met so many wonderful couples and families and single handers, ...
and we had friends with grown children, little and big children and no children at all. It was enchanting – the sea life and the cruiser life.
Carolyne and cruising kids swimming in Tahiti

Cute cruising girls!

Carolyne took this photo in Apataki

Black pearls - only $2,000US

Black pearls - $3,000US

We had so looked forward to Tahiti!
Meeting new people and solving our boat instrument issues...
I wish I could tell you that we are having the time of lives...
that Tahiti is everything we thought it would be...
that we have been going to parties and pot lucks and enjoying hilarious conversations with friends...
that we have connected...
that we found reasonably priced replacement parts for our Raymarine C80...

But that would be a big, fat lie.

I have hesitated writing – hoping that things would change.

Tahiti has been a huge disappointment.
We have wasted days and days... attempting boat repairs.
We started by hiring a repairman to come to the boat and solve our electrical issues, which he couldn't...
taking the bus downtown Papeete multiple days visiting all the chandleries (thrice) and Assytem and Ocean 2000, Ace Hardware...
and we actually did find the exact display that we needed –
just the display and nothing else...
at a price of $4,000US!

I wish I could say that we haven't been so tired and discouraged when we returned to the boat...
that I didn't get sick with a nasty head cold (which has put me in a very snotty mood...haha)...
that we are down to a mere 16 days left in French Polynesia and we have to get to Bora Bora to check out...
without radar...
without a depth sounder...
without wind speed and direction...
and with the loss of all those instruments and our enthusiasm and my constantly honking red chapped nose, we just didn't think that jumping through more hoops to make it to the inconvenient Puddlejump Party (starting downtown Papeete where we're not and ending on the island of Moorea in a crowded anchorage) would be anything more than added stress to the tick-tock-tick-tock of our remaining time here and finding a solution to our instrument problems.

So we continued our search for a remedy to the boat.
And if it isn't already obvious that we are in the wrong place at the wrong time...
Jim gets hit by a car.
You heard me right!
Thankfully, it wasn't serious. But the car hit his leg and he was thrown on top of the hood. The driver was mortified and very remorseful. Luckily, Jim wasn't hurt... the driver had only just accelerated so didn't “collide with him” going very fast. She was very worried and Jim assured her he was okay and he and Carolyne continued their search for boat parts. And then at last...
a Raymarine part, discontinued, new in the box and only $100US. A depth sounder that also gives us wind speed and direction! We still have no radar, but we are partially cured!!

Why didn't we ship the part we needed repaired to the Raymarine facility in Australia you ask? Because French Polynesia has a new regulation requiring one to hire an agent at a cost of roughly $200US... even if your part only costs $20US. That doesn't include the cost of shipping... or the cost of the repair. And there is still the timeline factor... and we are running out of time.

As for me... I had one very fun day in Papeete when I took Carolyne and Cassidy (sv Lil' Explorers) to visit the shops and local amusements. We did have to hit the chandleries first, but after lunchtime we had fun window shopping and visiting the large market. The girls bought little presents for family and we had lunch at a snack van we found along the way.

I also discovered a real self-serve washing machine facility at the marina. The cost is $9US per load, but all of our clothes were clean-clean-clean for a mere $30US.

And another positive note... we did NOT get holed by the large red ketch that broke off its mooring at 2am last night - but hit the bungalows right behind us instead!!
No, I am not kidding!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Finally - Some Photos

 Internet in Papeete is rather expensive and inconvenient so far. But I waste no time... here are some of our pics along the way in the Tuamotus. Thank you to Courage and Shannon on sv Lil' Explorers who contributed to some of the fantastic photos!!

Recreation in paradise for Captain Crankypants

Many buildings extend into the water at the atolls. These are on Toau.

Little girl on Apataki atoll

That brown patch is an unmarked reef - yes, we are sailing by it!

Cassidy and Carolyne with our larger stinkin' skipjack tuna.
We bled this one out really well and he tasted yummy!

Helicopter landed on beach with law enforcement on Toau

Finally - the psychedelic drogue is finished!!

Cassidy and Carolyne crewing aboard sv Lil' Explorers.
Hotspur is the triangle in the foreground.
First view of Toau atoll
Crystal clear water in Toau made for fantastic snorkeling

Jim - laid back

Having to be very careful NOT to hit these!
Carolyne and Cassidy exploring paradise

Lion fish trying to hide under coral

Carolyne and the Lil' Explorers

Giant Clam
Carolyne with our stinkin' skipjack tuna.

Hotspur at anchor among the coral heads in the Apataki atoll

The haul out facility in Apataki

Company coming to visit

Carolyne aboard Lil' Explorers helping to watch for things that might go BOOM! in the water

Common small boat stowage on the atolls

Jim and his coconut conquest

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Apataki atoll to TAHITI, French Polynesia - Day 61-67

Weather caused us to move to the northern end of the Apataki atoll. 30 knot winds, gray overcast skies and frequent downpours turned our daily water world excursions into afternoon movies with popcorn on board. We wait for a comfortable weather window to sail to Tahiti. We want to time our departure during slack tide so that our exit from the atoll is uneventful - it would be wonderful if we had a sunny day so that we have a clear view of underwater obstacles, and once we've departed Apataki a comfortable point of sail to Tahiti with perfect wind would be divine. Is that really too much to ask?

Getting parts ordered is our #1 priority once we reach civilization. That seems to be the case with many cruisers out here. Unfortunately, we just learned from UPS that shipping to and from French Polynesia has become a bit convoluted and very, very costly. Once a relatively easy and painless process, now you are required to hire an agent. So, regardless if you have a $20US part or a $5,000US part it will cost about $200US just for the paperwork and processing... that does NOT include the cost of shipping.

Sailmail became problematic – the Manihi station went down. Sending and receiving became a tedious process, many times we had to start over after our connection dropped us. Winlink was no better. Making contact became a headache.

The night before our departure from Apataki, Carolyne asked if Cassidy could accompany us on the voyage and we agreed. So with 2 teen girls in tow we headed out for the 2 night crossing. As luck would have it, our weather was so benign that we had to motor sail. The perk of that is we caught another... skipjack tuna. It was a fatty, so we kept him and bled him out real well. The next morning I dropped a cedar plug in the water and we hooked a dorado! This is the first dorado we have had on the line in ages... and as we got him to the boat and Jim began to gaff him, he slid of the hook and disappeared. The fish fairies got a good laugh at that. I felt depressed. We tried again and again but caught nothing else.

Night crossings with 2 teens girls in the cockpit giggling until 11pm, painting their nails all afternoon and giggling, and during meals... more giggling. They really are too cute!

Arrival to Tahiti! We had to call the Harbor Master for permission upon entering, had to call again 5 minutes from the airport canal and then had to call again 5 minutes before exiting the airport canal into the anchorage near Marina Taina. We debated upon getting mooring ball at $40US per week, but couldn't find one so we dropped the hook in the very crowded anchorage. Turns out that prices for the mooring ball increased July 1st to $80 per month so we are very happy to be anchored for free.

Tahiti is beautiful – green – friendly, friendly people... and very, very expensive. New and exciting!

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Totoro anchorage, Apataki atoll in French Polynesia - Day 52 - 60

sv Lil' Explorers showed up.
There have been sightings of Carolyne since, but the teenage girl, when befriended by another of her species and gender, becomes recluse and aloof – coming back to her herd only when hungry or in need of chocolate. We took the opportunity to have Courage and Shannon over for grown-up dinner while Cassidy and Carolyne babysat Cassidy's 5 younger siblings, ages 1 year to 8 years.

Totoro is a calm anchorage, well protected. There is a haul out facility there. Prices are pretty steep and Jim wondered whether or not he would leave Hotspur there during hurricane season if he had to. Tony runs the business with his family and offered to cook us dinner. We read that the prices are very high for dinner and the food is mediocre so we declined. However, we did visit his grandparents and bought fresh brown eggs! We were still baking with our Mexican eggs (I had about a dozen and a half left) and after 2 ½ months unrefrigerated they finally became questionable. I threw them away. We purchased large, brown, lovely eggs – 600 FP francs equates to almost $7 US for a dozen... the most I have ever paid for eggs in my life and I paid that gladly and with a big greedy smile on my face! We had eggs over easy, bacon and homemade toast with butter for the first time for breakfast in 6 weeks ... what a treat!

We sailed about 5 nautical miles north, unable to dodge an enormous pearl mooring field that caused us quite a bit of anxiety, as it spread out for miles and miles. The pearl mooring field is littered with hundreds and hundreds of buoys – it is dodgy territory and those cruisers with sail drives are asking for trouble – not that we have sail drives – but our friends do. We sailed across the field but it was an anxious time for us and lines were spider webbed just below the surface. At one point, Hotspur raced across one right below the waterline, pulling the row of poly balls on either side of her down into the water as the rope slid beneath Hotspur's keel. They popped back up once we sailed over - nothing tangled down below and it seems the buoys were disturbed but not destroyed. Sv Lil' Explorers was behind us and had more trouble, as they have only a single sail drive – yes only one – the other was taken out on a reef at Toau. With the strong wind they had more difficulty with agility. But we all managed through it and anchored together just around the point.

The upside to this pearl farm is that it is a serious operation, not listed in any of the other cruising guides we have, and might be the perfect place for a tour. That is definitely on my list for the Tuamotus.

Jim has become quite adept at climbing coconut trees using his sailing harness and tether. There are hundreds of trees bursting with coconuts. The ones that drop to the ground are quickly claimed by the large red hermit crabs (about the size of Jim's fist) – we have seen 5 or 6 of them at a time hungrily devouring the insides after painstakingly pinching off pieces of the outside until they've reached the middle. Jim likes the sweet milk out from the green coconuts. Carolyne and I prefer the older brown nuts – the flesh is firmer and thicker – and it makes a healthy, tasty snack. With the Vitamix we brought on board we can easily make fresh coconut cream.

Beachcombing is less exciting – the coral reefs batter the shells before they are laid to rest amongst the coral bits. Occasionally you might find one that still has its natural shine, but mostly the shells are trashed. If you do find a keeper, it is usually inhabited by a mollusk or crab. That was the case with the most amazing shell we have ever found in our travels – ever! Carolyne discovered a very large leopard cowrie – as big as my hand! We were snorkeling in a lagoon that hosts a variety of sea life and creatures – including lion fish! Our snorkeling experience has been the best here, I believe. And, we are enjoying the company of another kid boat in this beautiful oasis!!

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Toau to Apataki, atolls in French Polynesia - Day 45 – 51

We enjoyed a wonderful potluck with a clutch of kid catamarans, one lovely family from Colorado Springs, Colorado! The kids were younger than Carolyne, but she seemed to enjoy her time with them. This group comprised of US, English and Australian cruisers all plan to end their cruising in Australia, in hopes of selling their cats there. For the past six years we have heard that Australia is "the place" to sell your boat – so far, it has continued to remain a seller's market in Sydney and Brisbane for quality, maintained vessels and we wish our new friends the best of luck!

It is time for us to move again. We have thoroughly enjoyed Toau and its wonderful inhabitants. Specifically, Gaston and Valentine. They have been so wonderful, even allowing us to use their rainwater collection for doing laundry, swapping fish for cookies or bread, allowing us to frolic with their piglets and puppies, and visit their fish traps. The moorings there at Anse Amytok are 700 francs ($8 US) per night. They are well maintained and the weather was moody so we were glad to have secure moorage. Gaston and Valentine offered to trade goods in part for some of the expense. They were interested in ground coffee, Tylenol, paper towels, liquid laundry detergent, olive oil, polarized sunglasses, cigarettes, fishing hooks and lures... but mostly - wine, beer or rum! Their "restaurant" was open sporadically and the meals cost 3500 francs ($40 US) per person.

The helicopter I spoke of previously that landed on their island was looking for marijuana after someone filed a complaint – a disappointment to the officials who flew all the way from Tahiti and found nothing to set ablaze. Valentine explained that when the officials find a "plantation" (over 50 plants) that they burn the crop, but no one is arrested because the jails in Tahiti are overfilled. Smaller crops may or may not be destroyed. A handful of plants isn't considered illegal. I just finished reading 'The Chaperone' by Laura Moriarty and am reminded about the futile efforts of abolishing alcohol during America's Prohibition in the 20's. The cost to send a helicopter to remote locations has to be hefty. Sure seems like a huge waste of tax payer money to me for any government to authorize a helicopter to be sent on a fool's errand.

Since Carolyne's teenage friend on sv Lil' Explorers still had not arrived, Carolyne and Jim spent the last afternoon at Toau on the beach, apparently tormenting the wildlife. Jim thought he stepped on a shell – but the shell that looked like a "wizard's hat" quickly turned red and angry. Unknowingly while wading to shore, he had disturbed a pair of octopuses. The one that met Jim's shoe became infuriated and changed himself from the cool and subtle colors of the coral into the image of a raging red devil. And as Jim hustled out of the water and the octopus charged. So taking the manly approach to save face, my husband plunked a few pieces of coral next to the livid invertebrate as a warning. The octopus responded by looking Jim straight in the eyes and then with extended arms, began violently smacking the top of the water, beating it into a frenzied froth, no doubt a signal to Jim that he was in for a serious octopus whoopin'! Before Jim could top that (probably with a large boulder sized piece of coral), the blazing octopus stomped off, indignant but the winner, into a hidey hole. The ruckus alerted a small shark that zipped around the shallows before Jim could wreak further havoc on his 8-armed enemy. Carolyne called her father off the octopus-revenge-hunt to study a 3' long jelly-like worm she found, that when touched slinkied itself into a tubular glob. Jim was so revolted that he forgot all about his nemesis at the waterline.

We left in the morning and headed to Apataki, the next atoll. Thanks to locating a flurry of excited birds in the sky dipping into the ocean, we hustled over a large fish boil and caught... yet another skipjack tuna. Clearly the fish fairies are toying with us. We let this one go even though he was quite large. Although not bad eating, the skipjack is just not the same quality as a dorado, yellow fin or wahoo (as if you have not heard me whine about this previously). I don't mind waiting since we still have a little beef left in the freezer. But since we didn't catch another fish the rest of the day, we will probably keep the next skipjack we land (since that is all we can seem to catch) and look for a palatable way to grill it. Carolyne did make a very tasty tuna casserole with the leftovers from the last one we kept.

We timed our passage to the Apataki atoll to coincide with the slack tide at the entrance at Pakaka. The water was crystal clear, the sun was shining – we could see coral heads miles deeps. We passed by the village and entered the lagoon. Navigating through oodles of pearl moorings was easy enough and so we anchored in front of a cluster of coconut trees. Carolyne went swimming and we enjoyed being the only sailboat. But because a large, barely submerged coral head was so close to our transom, we decided to uproot and find a less hazardous spot for the night. On the way, the tide flow was incoming and we were shocked at the rapid speed of the water entering the lagoon. Churning wavelets rushed in for miles – we thought we were seeing a raging river. We anchored where our friend John on sv Nakia anchored back in 2010 (see the Soggy Paws Compendium) and spent a blustery night... glad that we moved.

I will talk more in detail about the black pearls and pearl farms later. We expected to find some good deals; we are pretty surprised how expensive they are. Apparently the French government has taxed the doodle out of the farms. Many pearl farmers have gone under, including the one on Toau. The pearl farms that still exist don't sell 'cheap' wares unless they are spectacularly inferior. Perfectly shaped lustrous pearls without pits, divots, scoring or other natural imperfections sell for... well, too much for us. We heard a story about a cruiser that purchased a black pearl for his wife that was not perfect but was the size of an eyeball – he paid nearly $1,000 US for it! That's sadly not in our cruising budget.

We have had no internet since leaving the Marquesas. We are still relying on Sailmail for posting and will have no photos until we get to Tahiti. Please bear with us if you have emailed us and we have not responded.

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