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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Suwarrow and Changing Plans

Due to light winds and a disabled spinnaker, our 5-6 day trip to Suwarrow turned into 7 ½ with an estimated arrival time at pitch black of night... 8pm to be exact. Goody - yet another round of night watches, bobbing outside the atoll waiting until the following morning for daylight to show us safely into the entrance.

Why Suwarrow? Well, Suwarrow is an Atoll National Park. The Cook Island Compendium tells of a fairytale-esque, uninhabited paradise that is compared to a "mid ocean Eden". "When cruisers die and go to heaven", one collaborator writes, "Suwarrow will be one of the destinations available to them." For us, it seemed like the perfect stopping place to rest up during the 1,150 mile leg from Bora Bora to American Samoa. And we couldn't resist the images conjured in our minds based on reports over the last 10 years. The impressive snorkeling and lovely sea creatures we would encounter, the delicious coconut crabs we would catch and devour over a roasting fire pit on the beach, the warm and friendly welcoming of the two rangers that are stationed there for 6 months of the year that would take us on fantastic tours of the area... the glowing reports of Suwarrow had us hooked!

Instead of flipping a coin (do we wait outside Swarrow for 11 hours or do we skip it altogether?), at 6pm and 12 miles away we called our friends on the SSB already anchored in Suwarrow for confirmation of availability and what they'd learned so far. (We had been staying in touch with each other same boat time, same boat channel since leaving Bora Bora same boat day.)

There was only one anchorage allowed for boats, our friends reported, and it was surprisingly small. Five boats were anchored already, but there was room (probably) for one more. The rangers are very firm - no longer are visitors allowed to explore the surrounding motus and islands, they told us. The rangers living there used to offer daily tours around the area, but do so no more. And so far, our friends told us, it cost them $50 for the privilege of dropping their anchor... a fee imposed on cruisers if they have not cleared from Rarotonga first... although many cruisers report being charged the fee even if they have... which, we understand, the rangers get to keep.

This disappointing dispatch - and knowing that just last week a beautiful sailboat (sv Amiable, with whom we were anchored in Bora Bora) dragged in Swarrow, hit a reef and is sadly a complete loss - was enough for us. We didn't blink an eyelash. The weather forecast was virtually the same for the next week. We would continue on to American Samoa without stopping.

Maybe Suwarrow used to be the touchstone of heaven. Maybe its unbelievable reputation has attracted too many cruisers over the last few years and the newer, younger rangers don't feel like putting much effort into playing host to so many visitors. Or maybe too many regulations and restrictions have lessened the empyrean experience. Who knows? Regardless, we are disappointed to have missed a taste of the Cook Islands. We should have chosen to visit Penrhyn instead – if nothing else, it certainly would have been a better point of sail... even without the spinnaker.

Meanwhile, a big "thank you very much" to the person who told Carolyne that there is a McDonald's AND Carl's Jr.AND KFC AND Pizza Hut in American Samoa. She chatters endlessly about what she plans to order and eat. She has monologued so much about it that even I am craving the taste of a salty, greasy Micky D french fry... except that I know I can't only eat just one. So much for the "cultural experience".

We arrived safely in American Samoa 8/18/2014 after 11 days from Bora Bora. We finally had to turn the engine on the last 24 hours. It was slow going as it was. And the Golden Arches beckoned from the anchorage.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Spinnaker Heaven!... for about 10 minutes

It's been three nights now since we departed Bora Bora, being illegal aliens for 16 days while waiting out weather.
We're headed to a small island in the Cooks called Suwarrow (pronounced SU-VER-OV by some, and SWARROW by others).

But the old seaman's farewell adage "Fair winds and following seas" is a quandary.
The 'fair winds' part we get; the 'following seas' part is baffling.
We despise that point of sail.
Following seas mean a ride on a mighty elephant sod out of its mind, weaving dramatically from side to side, inserting high rise hiccups periodically and leaning WAY over to one side - and then to the other - as if it eventually might just topple over altogether in a heap of drunken lethargy.

Jim had re-rigged our spinnaker halyard (thanks to suggestions from our fellow Tartan TOCK sailor's online group) and we were very happy with the result. So as a remedy for our current state, we hoisted our asymmetrical spinnaker on the starboard side, mirroring the genoa on the port. It was time to dance a jig! We picked up a knot and a half of speed and Hotspur settled nicely! Hot doggy!! This would cut off an entire day of our passage if the wind kept up!

But our jubilee was short lived. While Jim applied mylar tubing to a possible chafe zone on the sheet, I danced my way aft to chase off (for the ump-teenth time) a determined Boobie bird warming his feathered fanny on the solar panels. I was waving my arms and jumping and shouting when out of the corner of my eye I saw colors shimmy in the sky. My brain registered a Deja vu in time to see our fabulous spinnaker snake it's way through the air and plunge head first into the sea, waving stupidly like an festive party streamer. (Jim says the spinnaker has spent more time in the water than out... but really, I think that's just his cup-half-empty talking.) Abandoning the Boobie,Jim and I were able to retrieve the sail - sock and all. We discovered that the large U-bolt at the mast broke off. The bolt was probably original (thus 38 years old) and was likely rusting underneath a coat (or 2 or 3) of paint. So, once again we have a salty spinny detached from its salty sock, both drying on deck.

Just like the Hulk and David Banner, Captain Crankypants replaced my sweet and logical husband. Snarling and swearing, the captain grabbed a boat hook and started towards the only thing he that might take his brooding mind off the spinnaker... the wide-eyed Boobie. The Boobie, beak open and backing away, must have known this was no longer time to test the limit... for it had been reached. Something in the eyes of the deranged captain scared the squatter and he flew the coop - never to return. Smart bird for a genuine bird brain.

And Carolyne, knowing that Jim and I suffered a rather crappy morning, cheered us both up quite nicely with a savory comfort meal of homemade fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy. And dang... that girl can cook - and what's more I didn't have to!! And the rest of the day was joyous. There really is nothing like a good meal to boost a crew's morale!

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Last Post with Photos for a While... I think...

(The photos are loading in random places, the internet is terrible and I don't have time to fool around with this... so sorry!)

As fate would have it, the weather just is not cooperating.
and then
 in other words...
In the spirit of French Polynesia (and out of total boredom during rainy days) 

James and Josh - sv Carpe Diem

Nina - sv Mojombo

Captain Gary of sv Mojombo in search of manta rays -  with son, Zeke, and Josh of sv Carpe Diem

Sadie - sv Carpe Diem

Sis and Bro - Nina and Zeke
So we're still in Bora Bora – weather is bawling and scrawling in “The Dangerous Middle” and we want to sit tight until it looks like things simmer down a bit. No point going out to get beat up when we can just wait it out.

Good news is that Jim found a used Raymarine C80 chartplotter/radar/bla-blah-blah on Ebay and we bought it. We're having it shipped to American Samoa. I will be so happy to have all our electronics back! I know they are just a crutch... but what a convenient crutch they are! The radar allows us to see squalls in the middle of the night and we can prepare for those. We have a back-up chartplotter that we're using on Jim's Android, but I like the one that is BIG and right in front of my face when I'm at the helm. Call me picky.

It has rained the last several days so I brought out the sewing machine and began redecorating. Our canvas curtains were stained and ugly. So I washed them by hand real well and then after they dried I put some loud and cheerful Polynesian fabric on them. Then our old throw pillows looked so ugly that I ran out and got some more material and made throw pillow covers. It cost all of $30 for the fabric and I have a considerable amount left. (The mola design on the yellow pillow is a gift from the kids a couple years ago in La Paz. I finally got around to doing something with it and I jut love the way it turned out!) Fabrics here are more expensive than Mexico, but the prints are gorgeous! My decorating is a little loud... but how it brightens up the boat! I think I'll throw in a little purple...

The pareos (or sarongs) they sell here range from $20 - $35. The designs are exquisite, though. Carolyne went into the fabric shop and found a remnant in red with large blue tropical flowers on it. It cost $8.50 and I hemmed the edges, leaving the selvages natural. She wrapped it around her twiggy body and it looks perfect! We went back tot he fabric shop a few days later when she was wearing it and the old lady noticed her right away and commented on her skirt... knowing that the material came from her shop. The owner of the shop was so pleased!

I have been trying recipes with breadfruit. I'm no good at it, I must confess. The riper the fruit, the sweeter it is. It has a banana quality to it. Yet the smell, not offensive at all, bugs me. I don't like it. I have eaten breadfruit prepared fro me by a Marquesan lady and I like it. My way sucks.

Carolyne has made friends with a lovely pair of Tasmanians... Zeke and Nina on sv Mojombo. They are really cute teenagers and Carolyne goes to the pool with them daily and they play games together. A few days ago she accompanied them to the other side of the island with their parents and they swam with the manta rays. (I had wanted to do that!) Carolyne said that the rays were HUGE (the size of garage doors!) and that they were feeding on the plankton, so the visibility was obscured and they were feeding deep. So not as cool as the sting ray experience we had in Moorea. No one got any photos.

Captain Crankypants doesn't really like to play games and yesterday with the rainy weather I insisted that he indulge Carolyne and me in a friendly game of Balderdash with the entire family of sv Mojombo. It was a great way to spend the afternoon with exceptional people, homemade scones with cream and apricot preserves, and Carolyne's no-bake cocoa and oat cookies.
And the captain found... he actually enjoyed himself!

Looks like the weather may be dissipating and we may head out today... I am waiting for the “go ahead” from the captain.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bora Boring? Hardly! Day 82 - 90

Baby Rocket and James & Jess - sv Adamastor

Carden, Carolyne and Morley
We hadn't expected much from Bora Bora. It was simply the destination in which to check out of French Polynesia. We had been told it was just another tourist trappy and expensive location - boring. So far, we have been enjoying it tremendously! And what a beautiful way to wrap up the last moments of French Polynesia!!
Chris - awesome crewman aboard Adamastor

Amber - sv Rockstar
Jeff - sv Rockstar

Jammin' at all ages aboard Hotspur

Werner-sv Thalisse
Cruiser potlucks and game nights are plentiful. The Maikai marina offers free swimming pool privileges, free outdoor showers, free internet, free trash drop-off and free dinghy dock to cruisers. Hotspur has hosted a number of potlucks aboard and we have had memorable times aboard other boats.

Beautiful island girl!

Street side stalls with lovely local fruit and veg

A beautiful local women making jewelry with black pearls

Locals playing really good music beside the shore
We absolutely love it here!


Hiking with friends
Military bunker
Remnants of WWII

Amber taking in the spectacular view

and James, too

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!