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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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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Toau, Tuamotus, French Polynesia -Day 41-45

Rain, rain and more rain.

Since I'm bored to death with the weather, I thought it might be interesting to show what our expenses so far. Keep in mind that from April 4th we were making our 23 day passage, during which time we obviously couldn't spend a penny. We arrived in the Marquesas on April 27th.

We visited 4 of the 6 islands. Our favorite was Hiva Oa. We all would have loved to have seen Fatu Hiva – we hear it is gorgeous and some cruisers say it was their favorite place. Other cruisers reported that the locals there are obnoxious with their begging, demanding in particular, alcohol. One cruising friend said she declined a trade of fruit for booze only to return to her kayak and find it full of fruit anyway, same local standing there with hand open. The other island we missed was Ua Huka, a botanical garden dream-come-true.

We researched whether we would be able to afford cruising in French Polynesia, the reputation being that it is too expensive. Our friends who have passed through here previously said, "Yes. It is terribly expensive. But there isn't much to spend your money on." And this is very true!

Island- Hiva Oa:
$123 Tour of island
$78 Traditional Marquesan meal
$10 Park fee
$17 Gaugain museum
$128 Food & Sundries
$160 Fuel (I think the fuel amount is right... I will have to double check once we have internet again and I can review a previous blog post)
TOTAL: $516

Island- Tahuata:

Island- Ua Pou:
$92 Tour of island
$30 Groceries
$12 Fruit
$12 Souvenir
TOTAL: $146

Island- Nuku Hiva:
$91 Fuel
$180 Groceries
$65 Internet (it is possible to receive internet at the boat – cost is $5 per hour and you must have high gain antennae – Jim used this exclusively for work. Cheapest and best internet we found was at Taiohae, Nuku Hiva at the little internet cafe run by Henri and located just at the dinghy dock. Order a drink at $2.30 or any of his meals and you can have very good internet all day.)
$57 Butane (this was cost for filling (2) 10 lb. bottles – Yikes!)
$31 Clothing/Souvenir (I bought a Gauguin inspired wrap-around for my selfish self!)
TOTAL: $424
Three people cruising French Polynesia
April 04 – June 10, 2014:

And as I write this, a helicopter has appeared, dipping down disturbingly amongst the boats that are anchored here. They seem to be looking for something – or someone. Why else would they come all the way out here? Now he has landed on the beach. What do they want?

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Toau, Tuamotus, French Polynesia Day 38 – 41

This is not a hip-hopping joint... this is a relaxing, tranquil paradise. Except for boat chores, of which we have many.

I have had to do some sewing since arriving – our French courtesy flag was ripped to snot. I fixed that. And some of the zippers that connect the panels to form a cockpit enclosure were ruined or failing – so I repaired all of those and greased them up with Vaseline so they won't dry out too bad and get chalky and break teeth. Now when it rains (which is almost every day) we will be protected completely.

Carolyne and Jim swam around the boat this afternoon and saw sharks. Carolyne got a little nervous when one swam up fast from the bottom to see what she was... it was fairly large, but a black tipped reef shark and they are not usually aggressive. I asked her what she was doing and she told me she was feeding leftover rice to the fish. I asked her to please not feed the fish WHILE swimming – although it is so cool! Jim's shark experience was while he was diving the mooring ball we are attached to – he got down to the bottom and when he realized there were several 6'+ sharks lurking nearby he decided he was done swimming.

The Remora's are our favorites to feed. They are "hitch hikers" or "shark suckers"... they have a bizarre disc on the tops of the head that allow them to clamp onto a host (in our case they are on the boat hull.) When a fish, a shark for example, bites into a fish, the Remora zips down at great speed and eats up the little bits and pieces. Then, she zooms back and clamps onto the predator fish where she is safe and undetected.

We took the dinghy out to the coral reef and snorkeled one sunny, bright morning. Wow! The fish are amazing – varieties I have never seen before. Very colorful.
Longnose Butterfly
Moorish Idol
Azure and Bluechin Parrotfish

The clams are amazing – thick lipped blue, brown and purple. Carolyne and I spotted a blistering red octopus. The colors are brilliant and coral is dazzling – purple, blue and pink hued. I am kicking myself for not getting a better identification reference for all the plant and animal life we are experiencing.

A new boat came in and tied up in front of us. They landed a large Dorado just outside the entrance and were fileting the fish on their transom – the blood was dripping into the water. They began laughing and pointing and then we saw the fins cutting through the waterline. The young guy held onto a side of Dorado skin and the shark stuck his head out of the water, and like a dog, wrestled the skin into his mouth and shook vigorously. Although it was very cool to watch, I wish they wouldn't feed them so close to our boat.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Toau, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

Day 36 & 37

The weather laid down for us our last night during passage: 15-20 knots. Jim was exhausted and so I took over night watch at 1am. We were nearing the Toau atoll but still about 14 miles off. It was pitch black outside, no radar... I didn't want to take any chances and Jim needed to get several hours of sleep so we hove-to with 2 reefs in the main. We discovered as we did so that turning Hotspur's bow 75* off the wind allowed her to continue moving upwind very slowly (2 knots) and would keep us from drifting back (and then having to beat back during daylight), like we would have to do if we were totally hove-to. Once the sun was up, I pulled out the jib and Hotspur took off – she loves to run, as Jim says. Jim was so tired he didn't come lunging on deck to see what potential catastrophe I might be causing. Believe it or not, I can sail this boat.

The atoll is larger than I expected. It looks like stubby green shrubs sticking out of the ocean, scattered in a line from faraway. As we got nearer, the shrubs became islands with a reefy just-below-water-rim connecting some. I'm sure in the pitch black dark of night they would have been almost impossible to make out.

The entrance at Anse Amyot is clearly marked by day (the lights on the buoys at night don't work and we would never have tried an entrance at night for the first time anyway) and it was an easy passage into the anchorage by lining up the sight markers. We hooked up to one of Gaston's and Valentine's mooring balls and relaxed. They own the island.

Carolyne jumped in the crystal blue water immediately – the view is stunning. Coconut trees and blue deep water that looks like coral is just a foot underneath – when actually it might be 10' or more below. It is simply beautiful. We are looking forward to some excellent snorkeling and can't wait to use our Go Pro underwater camera!

Carolyne baked a tuna casserole and made a fresh green salad, veg we procured at the market in Nuku Hiva. That evening she made her very first pizza – and it was delicious. She loves to cook and it is a huge help to me.

And we slept – hard.

NOTE: The Pacific Seafarer's Net announced a missing person and health and welfare on 2 sailors we met in La Paz, Mexico. If anyone has information about either of the 2 men, please contact Pacific Seafarer's Net – even if you don't have a HAM license – this is am exception.

Missing Person:
Mark Bristow
33' sv Circe
enroute from Baja California Sur to the Marquesas

Health & Welfare:
Andrew Green
sv Athena
enroute Tahiti to Am Samoa
not heard from since mid-April

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Enroute from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus

Day 33-35

We have left the Marquesas en route to the Tuamotus – a 4 night passage because we are going to Toau, an easy entrance at Anse Amyot. Since our radar and depth sounder are no longer functioning, we feel this is a safe place to enter and exit. We won't arrive in daylight, so we will heave-to and wait until the morning before we attempt the entrance. And we so hope there is space available.

This has been a very trying passage for us. The weather has been rough and we're anxious about our electronics not working. We have a back-up for the chart plotter and we have paper charts, too. But losing the radar and the depth sounder has made for added tension and worry. Plus we are so disappointed we will not get to see some of the areas we had hoped to see.

Other problems that we have encountered this passage:
Cleat for roller furling line broke
Jim's outhaul repair on boom un-repaired itself
Pulley located on boom busted
Large fender disappeared
Carolyne's lines securing her surfboard chafed through and it blew over
Lee cloth on top bunk broke free and stowed items tumbled – thank goodness no more eggs!

As I write this (June 1, 2014 ), we have completed 3 of the four nights – sustaining 20+ - 32 knot winds with intermittent gnarly squalls. We've had no breakers, but plenty of charging white horses stampeding against the hull and waves splashing the decks on occasion. (Jim put on his foul weather gear to go forward and re-secure the anchor and came back soaked!) It has been very uncomfortable and everyone is ready to be at anchor. We are trying really hard not to be cranky. We have only had one really nice day – calm enough for fishing. Speaking of fishing:

Dear Fish Fairy,

Thank you for the 3 Skipjack tunas you have benevolently bestowed upon us in the past 2 months. However, we don't want any more of them. The last one we caught this passage we almost threw back because we were hoping for some variation. But we kept it – thinking we should be grateful. Much to my horrid disgust, it had worms in its innards. I thought I might puke! There is nothing more damaging to one's appetite. Since I am the one to clean the fish and cook the fish, I would appreciate you taking my request seriously. I realize that aquatic parasites can't live in mammal hosts and that is a very interesting scientific fact. But, from a culinary standpoint I would argue that meal "presentation" begins in the mind of the presenter – and I don't like what I have seen. Please spare me. Please!

Sincerely, Meri

PS. I might consider a yellow fin, dorado or wahoo (less than 50 lbs., please, because we aren't greedy!) an acceptable apology... parasite-free, of course.

And God bless Dinty Moore beef stew, Hormel chile and Van Camp's pork and beans!

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