lunes, 19 de noviembre de 2007

Bora Bora to Hawaii

The Fluid Nature of Cruising
When I last left off writing I was preparing to leave Papeete with plans to return to the Tuamotus before heading north to the Line Islands. Within a week my plans had changed yet again; a common theme of this voyage and the “cruising life” in general. I left San Diego with a simple goal: to sail to the South Pacific. A circumnavigation was, to me, a far-fetched possibility; something I was never wholly committed to. As such I left my itinerary open to change from the start, always saying I wouldn’t be bound by any schedule outside of that imposed by Mother Nature (i.e. cyclone seasons and other weather phenomena). As a result I added Ecuador to the itinerary last year and included a return home for the holidays. This year I left both Ecuador and the Galapagos earlier than anticipated, spent longer in French Polynesia than expected, and switched my year end destination from New Zealand to Hawaii. My computer is filled with different routes I drew up back home that I expected to follow, and now I’m off every single one. The latest changes felt forced on me by the steady strong trades of French Polynesia.
Upon leaving Papeete I turned south, bound for a second stint at Teahupoo. As I rounded Maraa Point the wind picked up heavily on Avventura’s bow and I was forced to sail offshore. Contrary to the customs of cruising I was towing my dinghy and after an hour I feared the strain being put on the towline by the passing swells was too much. Rather than risk losing it I turned about and pointed towards Maraa Bay a couple miles astern. I soon realized I had turned about for the wrong reason as my dinghy began surfing down the six foot swells, and each time the towline came taut it did so with a loud screech. Finally on one swell the screech of the line coming taut ended abruptly and I turned to see the dinghy drifting away astern. Had there been another person on board the recovery would have been a simple procedure, but on my own it was much more difficult. I would have to step off my boat while at sea, tie on a new towline, and get back aboard again. After lowering the sails and starting the engine I tied a long rope onto my safety harness and pulled up to the dinghy. I timed my leap, tied off a new line, and returned on board without much trouble, and was able to motor into Baie Maraa without further incident.
Safely tucked away in the calm confines of the bay, I spent the next few days surfing the fun, heavy lefts and rights breaking in both Maraa Pass and the next pass to the south. The wind was calm in the anchorage, but was still howling further south along the coast and kept me from heading south any further. Every weather forecast I received called for steady easterly trades as far out as two weeks, so rather than beat against them again I abandoned the Tuamotus and set sail for another visit to the leeward Society Islands.

Tragedy Hits Moorea
Winds were light as I approached Moorea, and a whale came up to greet me a few miles offshore. As I closed with the pass at Haapiti a French Navy vessel and a Tahitian Coast Guard boat began to close in on me from different directions. They seemed to be patrolling the island, and I feared I was about to be boarded. Each vessel came within a few hundred yards of me, but both turned away and left me to enter the Matauvau Pass hassle free. I dropped anchor just inside the pass and paddled out for a sunset surf session on what little swell remained. When I reached the lineup I learned the reason for the patrol vessels. I started talking with an American who had arrived a couple days earlier and he told me a plane had crashed shortly after taking off from Moorea on the short hop to Tahiti. The boats were searching for the bodies of the crash victims. The tragedy hit the island hard; almost everyone aboard was a local of either Moorea or Tahiti. Two days later I awoke to the eerily sweet, yet somber songs of Tahitian men and women pouring out from the shore. I was anchored directly off the town’s church where a memorial service was being held for the crash victims.
As the memorial service concluded I paddled out to find the surf had picked up. I spent the rest of the day in the water trading waves with a handful of locals and a mix of tourists from the US, Australia and New Zealand; but always in the background was the underlying feeling of tragedy left by the plane crash. Word spread that a swell was on its way in the morning; but when dawn revealed small surf and a nice breeze I decided to pick up anchor and carry on to Huahine.

Huahine Barrels
The downwind overnight passage to Huahine continued to be uncomfortable for me. I made the passage two and a half times, and every time I was greeted with blustery trades, swells coming from a number of different directions, and frequently cloudy skies. Being solo I stayed in the cockpit all night keeping a close eye on my autopilot and a lookout for traffic, counting the hours as the miles fell astern. An added twist came just after nightfall when the Tahitian Coast Guard issued a Tsunami warning. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake with its epicenter off the coast of Peru, it proclaimed, had occurred at 0000 Zulu. The Oceanographic Institute predicted a 1–2 meter wave would hit the Marquesas at midnight local time. The message warned boaters in the area to put to sea and people on shore to stay away from coastal areas. I realized I was safe from danger, but feared for the cruisers I knew who were in harms way at their various anchorages.
When I anchored in the Avamoa Pass for the third time early on August 16 I found everything exactly as I had remembered it. I was told there was no Tsunami; the warning was just a precaution. Once that matter was settled I was able to relax once more. Only later did I learn of the devastation the quake caused ashore in Peru.
August 18, the eighth anniversary of my brother’s death, brought a southwest swell to Huahine. I spent the day enjoying head high lefts on the Avamoa Pass with nobody around to share them with. I couldn’t help wishing Lance were around to bask in the beauty of the scene; trading off waves, hooting and hollering as we paddled out the channel, and soaking up the aura of Huahine. As it were I had my pick of set waves, and passed the lulls remembering my brother and thinking over my life and what lay ahead. It was a magical day of six foot surf, overcast skies, and more waves than one man could handle.
I spent a handful of days anchored off Huahine on this my third visit, surfing everyday, exploring the extensive lagoon, and doing some hiking on the lush island. Other than the 18th every surf session was spent on the shallow, hollow right at the Avapehi Pass. Every wave bends sharply along the reef, and every wave opens up. It’s the sort of wave where you either pull into the tube or you end up on the reef inside (that is if you don’t sit wide on the shoulder). I wound up getting a handful of spectacular tubes, and had a great time watching a couple young locals who put themselves in the perfect spot on every wave. I was surprised to find that half of the local surfers on the island were American ex-pats from either Hawaii or California. Each had chosen the island for its year-round surf, among other things, and each gave me a rather warm welcome.
Chased from Huahine
As I returned from a sunset surf session on August 20 I noticed a Tahitian Coast Guard boat had pulled into port. A Hawaiian on the sailboat Pearl Hunter waved me over and warned me that the Coast Guard would be boarding every boat in the morning. Since I had checked out of the country in Tahiti I was technically anchored illegally, so after a few hours of sleep I awoke in the black of night and slipped out the Avamoa Pass bound for Raiatea.
A faint easterly breeze was enough to push Avventura through Raiatea’s main pass just after dawn and by the time most cruisers were waking up I was dropping anchor off the Careenage on the island’s northwest coast. I never did run into the Coast Guard again, though I stayed in French Polynesian waters almost another two weeks. The first four days were spent at Raiatea hoping for the arrival of a forecast swell that never did materialize.
On the 25th of August I went to raise anchor but found my anchor stuck. I had set a trip line in case the anchor got hooked on a coral head, but even when I pulled on this the anchor wouldn’t budge. Out of options, I donned a mask and dove in to see what was wrong. I found my anchor was hooked on a length of chain that was strung out along the seafloor, perhaps connecting two of the nearby moorings. My trip line was twisted around the anchor itself, and once I was able to untangle the trip line I climbed back aboard Avventura and was able to raise anchor without further problem. The sail to Bora Bora was picturesque, but slow. I entered the island’s picturesque lagoon in the early afternoon and anchored off Bloody Mary’s restaurant near the south end of the island.
I spent more than a week on Bora Bora enjoying the spectacular vistas. I circumnavigated the island once more by bike, this time equipped with my new digital camera to capture the scenes, and swam in the emerald waters of the lagoon. As my stay was winding down I devoted a full day to cleaning Avventura, knowing the mess she would become as I sailed the 1160 miles north to Christmas Island.
As August wound down the time came for me to depart the gorgeous islands and shimmering atolls of French Polynesia. My visa had been up for three weeks, and I had been officially checked out of the country for a week more than that. Everything was set to go when I checked the internet for the latest weather forecast and learned the trades would be light for the next 24 hours. This, coupled with the arrival of a south swell thumping the reef beside the pass, kept me at anchor one extra day enjoying countless fun-sized waves with steep drops, mushy shoulders, and a few nice locals to share them with.

Bora Bora to Christmas, With a Detour
The second day of September brought a return of the trades and saw Avventura slide out Bora Bora’s pass, this time turning to starboard, bound for Christmas Island. This would be my first true passage as a single-hander and I was both eager and anxious for the experience of being completely alone at sea.
A day of glorious tradewind sailing carried me 130 miles north; but as the sun set on my second day at sea squalls closed in with spits of rain and the wind began to die. Two days of fickle winds followed during which I was forced to burn precious diesel, and when the wind returned it was coming more out of the north than the east. I was quick to realize the wind would force me west of a direct course to Christmas Island so I decided to head for Penrhyn, an isolated atoll in the northern Cook Islands about two hundred miles west of a direct course.
With my new course set I was able to slack off the sheets a bit and watch the miles tick off astern. Days were filled with reading, evenings with a glorious sunset backed by soft music, and nights were spent getting as much sleep as I could manage (which, for the record, wasn’t much).
As my sixth day at sea wore on Penrhyn was creeping ever closer and I was faced with a familiar predicament—anchor at night or spend the night at sea with land hard by. As the sun began to set I sighted land and erupted in ecstasy. I threw my hands up in victory and danced a little jig in the cockpit. The thrill of my first landfall alone nearly equaled that of raising the Marquesas or sighting the Azores after crossing the Atlantic. Creeping closer to the atoll, I got on my VHF Radio and called, “Any vessel, any vessel, this is the sailing vessel Avventura.”
A familiar voice responded, “This is Bold Spirit, go ahead.” I had met Jeff and Kathy in the Marquesas and had seen them off and on in the Society Islands; but now their voices were my savior. I asked about the anchorage outside the atoll and they responded by giving me a waypoint of where they had spent their first night. Armed with this, and with my radar scanning the black horizon I inched my way closer to the atoll. With no moon to be seen and only three lights visible ashore I crept up to where my depth sounder spotted the bottom and watched as the numbers jumped up from over a hundred till it hit 60. Then, with the engine in neutral Avventura’s bow nestled into 45 feet of water and I dropped the anchor as the trades blew me offshore. At 10:15 p.m. I shut down the engine and settled in for a nice night of sleep.
Dawn revealed a small coco-palm-covered motu a few hundred yards off Avventura’s bow, separated from the main settlement by a stretch of exposed barren reef. Inside the lagoon I could see Bold Spirit bouncing on her anchor off the main settlement and before long I was chatting on the radio with both her and the Katie Lee (Like Jeff and Kathy, I had met Larry and Trinda first in the Marquesas and again in the Societies). They had both planned to depart that morning, but each had a sick person on board, so they determined to stay another day. That made my decision easy: I’d sail north with them and keep in radio contact the entire way. A few minutes later an official called on the radio and asked what my intentions were. I said I was only staying one more night in order to make some needed repairs before continuing north and did not wish to enter the lagoon or check into the country. After a bit of back and forth I convinced the official to let me stay outside without any hassle.
Eager to experience at least a small amount of what Penrhyn had to offer, I decided to go snorkeling around Avventura. When I jumped in the dark blue water the bottom was not to be seen (depth sounder said I was in 115 feet of water), so I followed my anchor chain in and watched as the reef began to rise from the depths. I could see my anchor clutching a coral head in sixty feet of water, and continued in over the brightly colored reef. Before long I noticed a massive sea turtle heading my way. He was swimming straight for me and I kept waiting for him to dive or divert. Finally when he was just ten feet away I was ready to dive when the turtle ducked his head and descended, gliding beneath me and continuing towards the sea floor. It felt as though the sea life of the atoll wasn’t yet used to human company.
After snorkeling I pulled out a surfboard and paddled to shore. I climbed over the reef and walked to the little motu where a handful of fishermen were cleaning their day’s catch. I introduced myself and we talked for a bit. I had a lot of trouble understanding their English, but before they left to return to town they handed me a string with four fish on it, cleaned and ready to be cooked. I thanked them and they warned me to beware of sharks on my paddle back. Judging by the black tips circling the scraps in the lagoon, sharks were an everpresent part of life on Penrhyn. I survived the paddle back without a shark sighting and enjoyed a relaxing evening with a beautiful sunset, a huge fish dinner, a visit from another boat of local fishermen, and a second night of good sleep.
The ninth of September dawned sunny and beautiful with 25 knot trades sweeping across Penrhyn and by 0830 I had raised anchor and was preparing to set sail. Bold Spirit and Katie Lee (a Passport 40 and a 45 foot ketch respectively) raised anchor at the same time but it took them an extra hour to leave the lagoon and set sail. This gave me a headstart and I had a triple-reefed main, storm staysail, and part of my jib out and was able to shut down the engine by 0900. The wind remained over 20 knots from the ENE the entire first day and just after sunset I watched as Bold Spirit slipped past me to starboard to take the lead. It was the first time I had ever undertaken a passage with other boats so near, and we set up a schedule to chat a couple times a day. I worked my way into a routine of shortening sail at night and losing ground, but regaining that ground in the daytime when I sailed a bit harder. This kept me always within a dozen miles of Bold Spirit and ahead of Katie Lee who were having the passage from hell (Larry had a wound get frightfully infected and Trinda was badly burned while cooking underway).
After two days the wind and seas eased a bit and the motion (which I had compared to beating to windward in the Caribbean) became more manageable. I was able to set a full jib and my autopilot performed magnificently. By the fourth day I nudged ahead of Bold Spirit and continued on at a refreshing clip counting the miles. The morning September 13 found me dodging squalls, and at one point I spotted a waterspout about a mile astern, but by midmorning the skies cleared and just before 1300 I cracked open a Hinano and toasted my return to the northern hemisphere some 4550 miles west of where I had left the hemisphere some 10 months earlier. That night brought a return of squally weather and winds over 20 knots and I spent the night in the cockpit adjusting the sails to keep things comfortable while maintaining my speed. By 0500 I realized sleep was out of the question, so with land less than 25 miles away I rolled out the jib and let Avventura fly with the 22 knots of easterly wind. The miles fell away at a 7 knot clip and the GPS showed land less than ten miles away, but still the horizon was of endless blue. Finally an unbroken line of trees emerged from the sea when I was just seven miles out and I had raised Christmas Island (named by Captain Cook who first arrived there on Christmas Eve in 1777). It took another couple hours before I arrived at the anchorage, but by 1030 I dropped the hook off a pier in the lee of the atoll. I had covered the 660 miles in just over 5 days, and arrived at the anchorage over 4 hours ahead of the boats I had left with.

Desolate Christmas
Christmas Island lies just 120 miles north of the equator in a region that is permanently swept by the southeast trades. This, coupled with the atoll nature of the island (meaning the highest point of dirt isn’t more than 10 feet above sea level), creates an extremely dry, desolate environment. Brown, desserty brush fills the gaps between the spaced out coco palms which are clearly starving for water. Even the few breadfruit trees on the island are so dry the fruit isn’t able to grow into maturity. Thus my first experience ashore on Christmas was of walking in through the desolate brush and taking the bus into the main town (London [the older settlement of the island is called Paris, situated across the lagoon pass from London; and the secondary town is Banana though I never saw a banana tree on the island]). The streets were lined with trash, most of which was either paper or old beer cans, and I was shocked that the inhabitants could be so lazy as to dirty their streets when all it would take is to toss it into the sea and let the permanent westerly current take it out into deep water for destruction.
The process of checking in at Christmas Island revealed a return to the third world where bribery is the norm. When the officials visited my boat they said the only fee would be $40 for my 3 month Kiribati visa; but when I went ashore to pay this I was also charged a $25 customs fee and told there would be an additional $60 a month to pay to immigration and a $20 port captain fee (without getting into the details I managed to avoid the latter two fees which, it seems, were just the ideas of crooked officials). After getting checked in the crews of Bold Spirit and Katie Lee treated me to a nice lunch at a small Chinese restaurant in town before we all made our ways back to our boats.
My time at Christmas Island was spent mostly aboard Avventura, paddling around offshore, or walking along the beach searching for shells. I found the islanders on the whole to be unwelcoming and at times mean-spirited. Stories abound on the island of sexual crimes committed against women and children, and after my wonderful experiences with the Polynesians of the Tahitian isles I was appalled at the different feeling I got from these Micronesians. I also spent some time with Chuck on Tuaroi, a 70 foot steel sailboat anchored near me. Chuck is a Californian turned Kiribati citizen who has lived in the island group since the late-70s. He’s the typical island surf bum who has found his slice of paradise and is doing whatever he can to never leave it. Chuck was very welcoming, and I had a good time exploring the surf breaks of the island with he and Ed, a Texan-turned-Hawaiian who was helping Chuck fix up his boat to begin running charters with it. During my two weeks at Christmas the surf never exceeded waist high, and frankly I couldn’t see much potential in the island.
The kindness of the sailing community provided a sharp contrast to that of the islanders. I was invited to dinner aboard Bold Spirit on two separate occasions, and on Katie Lee a third night. I learned a couple new card games and enjoyed sharing stories of travels with everyone. One day we all hopped in the island’s bus and rode it to the end of its route just past the ramshackle village of Banana. We had planned to get off and explore the area, but it all looked just as desolate as the part of the island we had already seen, so we stayed on the bus and returned to London. Two cruise ships passed through the island in the final three days of my stay; each of which had come in from Hawaii and were bound for Bora Bora after their six-hour layover at the atoll. The ships brought a temporary influx of people and money to the small community; but when they left island life returned to normal and I prepared to continue on to Fanning in search of nicer people, better surf, and a more scenic atoll.
A Record Day
At the end of September I decided my time had come to carry on. I raised anchor in the early morning hours of September 29th and sailed away from Christmas Island without feeling the urge to ever return (a first for me on this voyage). The wind quickly jumped from ten to fifteen knots and once I was clear of the island I found myself being urged on by a two-knot westerly current. Even with a double-reefed main I averaged over seven knots throughout the day and well into the night. Since it was only a 160 mile passage I stayed up all night, watching as the clock struck midnight and the wind began to ease. Before 0400 it was down to just seven knots, but with the help of the current I was still able to make over five knots of speed. Dawn brought with her spits of rain and a return of the wind as I sailed right up to the pass to Fanning Island.
I arrived off the pass at 0730 completing the best 24-hour run of the voyage to date (a measely 154 miles). Unsure of what the tide was doing or what the pass would be like I thought about anchoring on the coral shelf outside before I heard the radio come to life. Seducente, a 45 foot sloop, was just arriving from Hawaii and they were given instructions on how to enter the pass by a few boats already anchored inside. They were told it was virtually slack water, and we should come in now rather than wait outside. I told Seducente I was on my own and asked to follow them in, and since they had three people on board they readily agreed to lead the way. The lagoon entrance was straightforward and simple (just avoid the shallow shelf extending out from the north side of the pass), and with the slight help of an incoming tide we scooted right into the atoll and each dropped anchor just south of the entrance.
Minutes after my anchor was set the officials were heading out to Seducente to check them in. Afterwards Brian on Seducente brought them over to Avventura where my passport was stamped a couple more times (just to ensure it is completely full by the time I reach Hawaii) and I was charged a $25 anchorage fee of some sort (the only fee other than the visa charged here at Fanning). The two officials were very friendly and welcoming, each rather shocked I was sailing on my own, and went about their business quickly. Within an hour of my arrival I was cleared in and ready for a nice long stay at the atoll.

California Fun at Fanning
With the official business taken care of it was time to set foot on the island and check the surf. I paddled ashore and walked across the short spit of land to the ocean side of the atoll. There, peeling off the point just outside the lagoon entrance, was a nicely-shaped little left reeling off unridden wave after unridden wave. I was quick to rectify the problem, and on my first day at Fanning found myself surfing better waves than I had seen during my two week stay at Christmas.
Running off no sleep, I was only able to surf for a couple hours before I was thoroughly drained of all my energy. I meandered my way back to the lagoon through backyards and swampland, and while paddling back the crew of Seducente waved me over to their Dufour 45. I climbed up their swim ladder and was introduced to Kevin, Brian and Andrew and quickly handed a Bud Light. Now a Bud Light may not sound like the king of beers to all of you with your choice of Corona, Pacifico, Heineken, a nice bottle of wine, or the mixed drink of your choice; but I had been drinking Ecuadorian, Tahitian and Australian (Victoria Bitter and XXXX) beer for the past eight months and Bud Light tasted just fine to me.
Seducente had just arrived from Hawaii where they had spent nine months completing a refit. The boat hails from Alamitos Bay (up in Long Beach where I found Avventura) where the three guys had left last July for the Marquesas. They had sailed between the first two hurricanes of the season and arrived safely in the Marquesas. They then spent a few months bouncing around French Polynesia before sailing directly to Hawaii. Now they’re headed back to the South Pacific with Australia as the stated destination. Kevin and Brian were old friends who’d known each other since high school, and Andrew is the twenty-four year old son of one of their good friends. It didn’t take long to realize the three guys got along better than almost any sailboat crew I’d ever met. The atmosphere on board was laid-back and loose, and we became quick friends. Within a half hour I was invited back for a nice steak dinner and a few more beers.
My time at Fanning has since been non-stop fun. From surfing the always empty left point break to snorkeling in the lagoon pass or on the rusty wreck of an old tug near the anchorage; from horeshoes (I claimed the first-ever Fanning Island title, only to have it stripped by a pair of local youngsters minutes later), bochy ball, football and stickball on the beach to nights relaxing aboard Seducente or Avventura. We have had potluck dinners on a sunken barge (which now serves as the dock for a cruising boat or two), have spent time meeting and talking with the locals, and spent one grueling day getting my anchor chain cleared off a coral head in 18 feet of water (I learned to dive and hold my breath for over 30 seconds the hard way—by force of necessity). Through it all I’ve been considered a welcome guest aboard Seducente where I’ve been treated to more meals and drinks then I’ll ever be able to repay. Their crew has made the first two weeks of my stay here as enjoyable a time as I’ve had cruising this year.

NCL—The Other Fanning Island
The day dawned like most have in this tropic paradise: clear, sunny skies with light trades blowing through the calm and quiet anchorage. But ashore preparations were already underway to transform the island into a playpen for the Ema-tongs (spelling uncertain, but it means gringo in Kiribati). October 24 was cruise ship day at Fanning. The Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) leases a large chunk of land on both sides of the pass here. Ships used to call on a regular basis as part of an extended Hawaiian cruise, but this year there hadn’t been a ship for over six months. Thus the island had been preparing for and anticipating the arrival for weeks, cleaning and prepping the facilities, airing up the tires in the bicycles, putting the Hobie Cats back together, cutting down all coconuts from the palm trees, and bringing in new, clean sand for the beaches. After weeks of watching the preparations the time had come to join in the fun.
As luck would have it the first north swell of the season showed up at the same time, so I was quick to paddle across the pass and catch a few waves. Unfortunately it was also a full moon and the spring low tide exposed rocks normally hidden and left the waves shorter and with less form than usual. Thus after just a handful of head high waves I abandoned the surfing endeavor and headed ashore. On my way back along the rocky point I ran into the first of the cruise ship passengers, a fisherman from Oregon. He told me a bit about the cruise (11 days in all, visiting all the major Hawaiian islands except Molokai, and calling here for the day), and asked what I was doing here. My answer shocked him a bit, and after a fifteen minute conversation he went about casting into the pass and I headed into the NCL complex.
The area that had been empty for so long was now crawling with hundreds of people eating buffet lunches, drinking Coronas and Pina Coladas from the bar, and sitting in lounge chairs on the beach. I found the crews of Bold Spirit and Katie Lee, and we were quick to blend in and join in the fun. With the advantage of having met and befriended many of the locals (including Bob, the islander who runs the NCL complex) and of being white and thus somewhat blending with the passengers, we engorged ourselves on hamburgers, pizza, pasta and potato salads, pineapple-upside-down-cake, and, best of all, fresh oranges, apples and WATERMELON. To realize what a delicacy this was let me just say my provisions have been left to rice, various dry beans and pasta for the past month. My last hamburger was some four months earlier in southern Tahiti, and aside from bananas I hadn’t had fresh fruit in a full two months!
I spent the day sitting at a picnic table with the group of cruisers watching the somehow foreign antics of the ship’s passengers, enjoying the food, and chatting with a few of the ship’s crew. It was a nice change of pace to see and chat with other white folks who spoke English fluently; but watching the small taste of the island the passengers got just made me appreciate all the more the vantage point I am able to get out here on a sailboat, visiting places cruise ships won’t, staying as long as I choose, and getting a taste of the local culture and people that the cruise ship passengers can never see. One of the major drawbacks of being a passenger on a cruise ship is you will never see a place the way it normally is. Norwegian Cruise Lines took great pains to transform the island to be “safe” and enjoyable for the passengers, and in doing so it killed the atmosphere of the atoll. The natives all set up stands and sell their various handicrafts, but there is but little interaction and no chance to see what life on the island is truly like. I haven’t come across a better way to see the world than by sailboat, and if there’s anybody who has please let me know what it is.
Stupid American Moments of the Day: I was asked today, “Is Tahiti like this (Fanning), or is this a little more primitive?” Let’s see…grass huts here, skyscrapers there. Also, as a truck tour was loading in people to take them down the road to “see the island” a lady said, “Well I don’t want to go unless the truck is full because we might get stuck out there and it could be dangerous.” The motu is five miles long, has but one dirt road, and the locals are among the nicest people on earth!
Highlight of the day: As the day wound down and the bartender began packing up the booze I went over and started chatting a bit with her, and by the end of the conversation I walked away with a six pack of Coronas and a bag full of limes—score one for the cruisers! Not to mention I left with a handful of oranges and a few apples, all of which were going to be left ashore, and which Bob had said we were welcome to.
Now the cruise ship is preparing to power away once more and island life will return to normal for the next six weeks. The locals will put away their nice, clean clothes, the bikes will be locked up, the Hobie Cats put away, the chairs stacked up, and the coconuts allowed to grow once more. In short the island can return to the tropical paradise it was when I arrived here.

Spirit of Aloha in the “Cruising Community”
Perhaps it’s the remoteness of this atoll, my young age among a cruising community dominated by retirees, or the sense of shared experiences, but never before have I felt the “Spirit of Aloha” thrive like it has here. Every boat that has passed through has been nothing but kind and welcoming, willing to share all they have with me and help in any way possible. It all started before I even entered the lagoon, when three different boats came on the radio to share their advice on the entrance, after which Seducente led me in. The California boys on Seducente fast became close friends, and their boat literally served as my second home in the atoll during their two week stay (they had originally planned on just making a three day pit-stop). Their help getting my anchor chain unwrapped was invaluable, not to mention they helped recharge my refrigeration, served me countless meals, and brought a laid-back playful air to the cruising world.
Next came Alegria, a beautiful ketch an older Australian couple had purchased in Hawaii and were sailing home. They had two younger crew members on board, James and Amber (in their twenties), who became a part of the youthful contingent of Seducente and myself. Each time we headed out to snorkel through the pass or head in for an afternoon of at the beach they came along and added to the fun.
Then there’s Robby and Loraine on the wooden ketch Southern Cross. They have been to Fanning on at least three separate occasions, each lasting months at a time, and their knowledge of the island and its people has done nothing but enhance my stay. Robby has written for cruising magazines in the past and he’s been ready and willing to dispense with advice on every topic under sun. Add to this their hospitality and arranging on a handful of “barge parties,” and Robby has truly lived up to the “Spirit of Aloha” he is so often preaching.
And, of course, I couldn’t leave out Bold Spirit or Katie Lee. As I said earlier, I sailed north from Penrhyn in their company till Christmas Island where I left a full two weeks early. Upon their arrival here their warmth and kindness continued. Both Jeff and Larry spent an entire morning helping me try to repair my outboard (without much success, though not from a lack of knowledge on their parts), and when that failed they led me across the pass to a calmer anchorage and helped me get Avventura situated once again. They have dragged me along on a number of visits ashore and have even ferried me to and from the surf break a couple times. And to top off the outpouring of generosity Larry and Trinda gave me a bundle of bananas while Jeff and Kathy gave me a “care package” of canned goods and five gallons of diesel out of their excess for the sail north.
The outpouring of generosity I’ve experienced is unlike any you come across in the day-to-day life ashore in the States. But once the docklines are thrown off and you sail into foreign waters Mother Nature seems to instill in sailors that “Sprit of Aloha” Robby preaches. Though it is not a universal truth (anyone who doubts this need only read my book, Voyage of the Atair), the vast majority of “cruisers” are always ready and willing to lend a hand when and wherever needed. So next time you’re stuck in traffic or dealing with a rude customer, client, waiter, etc. just remember that there are still good people out there willing to pass along their knowledge and assist others in ways almost inconceivable back home, and without the promise of anything more than kindness and gratitude in return. Larry and Trinda, Jeff and Kathy, Robby and Loraine, James and Amber, Kevin, Brian and Andrew—thanks for all you’ve done for me, and for making my stay at Fanning so enjoyable and memorable.

A Black Eye to End a Glorious Stay
After such a wonderful time at Fanning, with the arrival of November it came time to start think about sailing north to Hawaii. The 1000 mile sail is spent mostly in the northeast trades, which strengthen as the winter progresses and begin shifting further north. This means the sail gets more and more difficult the longer you wait, so once it was clear the hurricane season was a thing of the past Katie Lee, Bold Spirit and I knew the time had come to head for our cyclone season destination. I set about preparing Avventura, cleaning her hull and waterline, stowing all gear, and inspecting her rigging. We had one last potluck dinner and bonfire on the beach, I said good-bye to the local friends I had made on the island (especially to Teuta and his family who had been so welcoming and generous, and who left me with a departure gift of a bunch of bananas, 3 papayas, a bottle of syrup they made from the sap of coconut palms, and a few small fish), and November 4 was decided upon as the day of departure.
Unfortunately nature decided I was not yet ready to leave. I awoke at midnight on November 4 in a cold sweat. My head felt on fire while the rest of my body was shivering, and I knew I was in the throes of a fever. Before I was able to get back to sleep I found myself in the head, throwing up and with a rough case of diarrhea. Every half hour till dawn I found myself back in the head feeling as bad as I had in ages. As the sun rose on a new day I was forced to watch as Bold Spirit and Katie Lee began their passage north. Though I stopped vomiting by mid-morning, I was in no shape to put to sea by myself and determined not to leave till I regained my strength. It took a full two days of recovery to get back to feeling healthy, during which time Robby and Lorraine from Southern Cross treated me like their own kin, bringing me chicken soup and checking on me a few times a day.

Bashing through the Trades
As the days passed I continued chatting with the northbound boats and monitoring their fast progress, longing to be out in open water. When I awoke on November 7 my stomach felt settled enough to put to sea, and though I still had a bad case of diarrhea I decided the time had come to depart the security of Fanning’s lagoon. I picked up anchor, turned out the pass, and was shoved out of the lagoon by a five-knot ebbing current. At the end of the current Avventura began bucking into the standing waves where the current met the open ocean, and I was quickly feeling queasy once more. As I turned north I left the effects of the current and was soon able to set sail. After an hour or so I was rounding the northwest tip of Fanning and began to steer on-the-wind. After over ten days of steady trades blowing over fifteen knots my departure day saw the wind die to the ten knot range and I found myself happy to make four knots. What’s more, the wind was out of the east and I was barely able to make any of the easting I needed.
(Before I continue I should throw in a quick description of the conditions one expects to find between Fanning and Hawaii. The wind between Fanning and about 8 degrees north is generally out of the SE or ESE around fifteen knots. From 8 to 10 degrees north in the late fall you generally encounter the ITCZ [Inter-tropical Convergence Zone], or the “doldrums,” where you encounter squalls separated by periods of calm winds. Once north of the convergence zone you enter the realm of the northeast trades, which at this time of year tend to be out of the ENE between 15 and 20 knots, shifting more northeasterly and strengthening as you approach the Big Island. Given these conditions the common technique is to get as far east as you can before you enter the ITCZ. My goal was to get to 155 West by the time I reached 8 North, which should then allow one to reach Kona, Hawaii without having to tack.)
As my first day at sea wore on the wind remained light and I encountered the first squalls of the leg, something that would become a common theme over the thousand mile trek. A big cluster or line of cumulus clouds would descend on me from the east, and as soon as the squall hit the wind would pick up considerably and, most of the time, rain would begin to fall. The nice thing about squalls is that they pass through relatively quickly, and the longest one I encountered along the way lasted just a couple hours. But each squall requires you to reduce sail and be alert and ready for anything. As the sun began to sink in the west of my first day at sea I noticed a squall approaching and before I could roll in the jib any the wind jumped from 12 knots to 35 or 40 knots and Avventura was shoved down on her side. The rail gradually began dipping further and further into the sea until the cabin roof was underwater and the windscoop aft was touching the sea. I quickly threw off the jib sheet and Avventura righted herself as I began to crank in the jib. The first burst of wind was the most ferocious, and just a couple minutes later the wind was down to twenty knots, I put a third reef in the mainsail, and settled in for my first night at sea.
Day one saw me cover a depressing 87 miles, but as the second day began the wind started to stabilize herself in the fifteen knot range and the miles began to tick away. Squalls continued to be the order of the day and in my logbook, starting at 1700 I made entries for three straight hours that read: “Running from a squall; Squall caught me; Squally bullshit. Annoying.” But as night fell the wind shifted south of east and I began making the easting I desired. Day two saw me sail 100 miles, and day three brought the first twenty knot winds of the leg and propelled me another 132 miles to the northeast. Day four saw me caught in the middle of the ITCZ, struggling to sail through the squalls and waiting out the intermittent calms. By nightfall the squalls were rolling through every half hour, and I found sleep impossible. When I found myself becalmed once more at 0300 on November 11 I pulled in the jib, started the motor, and laid down to let the autopilot do her work. Perhaps my log entries on November 11 give the best glimpse of the conditions and my state of mind: “0255: Engine on. Tired. Sick of Squalls. 1300: Dodging squalls. 1400: Dodging squalls. 1500: Sunlight between the squalls. Bashing hard. 1600: Losing some easting.”
Despite the squally weather I did tick off 107 miles on day 4 and another 110 on day five. By dawn on the twelfth the ITCZ was south of me and the trades had settled into the ENE blowing 22 knots. The squalls became fewer and further between, but seemed to have the knack for knowing when I was just about to fall asleep. A couple would pass each night and another one or two during the daylight hours; just enough to keep me on my toes and cursing Neptune and Poseidon. Putting the squalls aside the trip was a quick, uncomfortable bash to windward with four straight days of winds over 20 knots and six foot northeast swells. Avventura’s lee rail was often underwater, and I consistently had a triple-reefed mainsail, my storm staysail, and half a jib out making around five knots. The miles fell astern (Day 5: 110, Day 6: 132, Day 7: 123, Day 8: 125, Day 9: 139) as I listened depressed to Bold Spirit report their arrival in Kona after nine days at sea. I was thankful to find the winds hold steady from the ENE and continued pushing Avventura into the swells, anxious for landfall and a good night of sleep.
My final night at sea was spent in the cockpit keeping an eye on the autopilot as I beared off to a beam reach and set a direct course for Kona. The swells built into the 8 foot range and a few last squalls greeted me as I spotted lights for the first time in nine days. By 0400 on November 16 I was safely tucked behind the Big Island and the trades came to an abrupt halt. Dawn revealed land close off my starboard side as I powered north towards my first anchorage. Now that seas were calm the 48 straight hours I had been awake began to catch up with me so I decided to make some coffee (for one who hates the taste of coffee that’s saying quite a bit), only to find the stove wouldn’t light. I knew I would be cutting it close on my propane supply, and sure enough I had run out the very moment I sighted land. Instead I was forced to caffeine pills to keep alert through the morning.
Just before noon on Friday, November 16 I was approaching the bustling port of Kona. A cruise ship was anchored offshore and two parasail boats were running circles frighteningly close to me as I weaved between a tourist-trap submarine, jet skis, fast zodiacs, and moored boats. I found my way into thirty-five feet of water beside Bold Spirit and Katie Lee and found a sand patch amongst the coral to drop my anchor in. As the clock struck 1200 I shut down Avventura’s engine, threw up my arms in triumph, let out a few good hoots, and dove into the clear water to check on my anchor. Seeing I was well dug into the sand, I returned to the ever-faithful Avventura and cracked open the two Hinano beers I had saved for the occasion. Never has a beer tasted better than at the end of a long and arduous single-handed passage. I had covered 1085 sea miles in 9 days and 5 hours (a couple hours more than Bold Spirit took, and a full 2 days faster than Katie Lee who encountered rigging problems along the way), and for the first time in three months found myself in a place with internet, telephones, big hotels, and bustling with activity.
To arrive in Hawaii on my own after sailing the 2500 miles from Bora Bora single-handed was a thrill to say the least. Many sailors who have made the trip north from Fanning call it one of the most difficult of their sailing lives, and with the squalls many have told me it is quite a feat to make the trip solo. I learned the hard way, by getting around ten hours of sleep total in nine days. I was able to avoid the full brunt of seasickness, but never felt great throughout the voyage. My diet consisted of eating somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 bananas, a few cans of beans, some pasta and rice; and sending e-mails and talking by radio with Bold Spirit and Katie Lee marked the highlights of my days (aside from the natural displays of sunrises and sunsets, along with the eerie approach and departure of squalls). It was a passage I would not like to make again single-handed; but all the squalls made my arrival that much more satisfying.
As the afternoon wore on I sat in the cockpit soaking up the sun and watching with eyes wide open as boats filled with white tourists sped past. Bold Spirit and Katie Lee stopped by as they returned from their days ashore and handed me a Subway sandwich and welcomed me to the islands. Just another example of their endless generosity, for which I am ever-grateful. I stayed awake long enough to watch my first Hawaiian sunset in years before falling into bed and passing out. By now I have checked back in to the US and have been able to stretch my legs ashore. I’m glad to be back to the land of internet, grocery stores, and English-speakers; but at the same time I already long for the isolation and solitude of Fanning Island, and am in many ways disgusted to be anchored in a spot where I can see a Wal Mart sign staring back at me. The beauty of the South Pacific and the isolation of Fanning Island will, I imagine, always be in the background calling out to me; but for now it’s time to enjoy a winter in the beautiful Hawaiian islands.

(This blog was written in segments at different times between Fanning Island and Hawaii. Pictures will be following as soon as I can get them posted at Happy Thanksgiving to all, and yes I am fully recovered from my Fanning sickness and the 9 day sail north.)

martes, 7 de agosto de 2007

Beating Against the Trades, Twice

Sailing in the trades. The phrase alone conjures up images of deep blue, whitecap-ridden seas running up from astern as the wind fills the sails and thrusts you downwind to your next tropical port. The “cruiser’s” ideal circumnavigation would be one where the wind was always aft of the beam. Speed, comfort, and the general ease of such downwind runs make for idyllic passages. But, as July wound to a close I found myself facing the task of turning against the trades. After two weeks in the Leeward Society Islands I had to return to Tahiti in time to meet Liz Clark (off Swell) in Papeete to take delivery of much-needed parts from the States.
Knowing the beat to windward was inevitable I continuously kept an eye on the weather, waiting for a calm window to sneak back to Tahiti. On July 25th, while at Raiatea, I received the latest weather forecast and it wasn’t good. After blowing fifteen knots for a handful of days it was predicted to pick up in the coming days to 25 knots out of the southeast—the direction I needed to go. Liz was set to arrive at the end of July and the forecast showed my best chance to get back was to leave right away. Thus I shot off an e-mail home, picked up anchor, and departed Raiatea through the Teavapiti Pass on its northeast coast. The wind was blowing 15 knots out of the east-southeast as I set sail and headed for the north end of Huahine. My plan was to pass just north of Huahine before tacking south and, with a little luck, sailing straight for Tahiti. Mother Nature had other plans.
As the day wore on the wind began to back to the east and I was forced to steer further and further north until 2000 when I was east of the longitude of Huahine and tacked to the south. As the night wore on the wind picked up and was blowing 25 knots by midnight. I sat crouched in the cockpit staying out of the chilly wind but keeping an eye out for ships while sailing as close to the wind as Avventura could manage. As the new day dawned the wind rose to 30 knots and more in the gusts, and the southerly swells were slowing my progress. At 0730 I decided to tack and see if I could sail a better course heading more easterly. As the boom swung over to the port side the mainsheet came apart and the boom swung wildly out over the side as the sail flapped in the vicious wind. I quickly started the engine and doused the mainsail. It turns out the stainless steel piece which held the mainsheet onto the traveler had broken at one of the two welds. (The mainsheet is the rope that allows you to control the angle of the mainsail to the wind, and on Avventura it is connected by this stainless steel piece to a four foot long track along which the mainsheet is able to slide to further adjust the angle of the sail—the traveler.) I spent the next hour searching for a spare part that could serve to jury rig a new mainsheet and eventually found a block that fit onto the track. After an hour of bashing into the swells I was able to set the main once more and stabilize Avventura.
The wind refused to cooperate with me, and as the day progressed it shifted into the southeast causing my course to suffer. Then as the sun reached for the horizon an easterly swell began to show amidst the still dominant 6 foot southwest swells. By the time darkness descended over the sea the easterly swells had risen to eight feet and had a ridiculously short 9 second period. I was no longer able to hold a southerly course and began losing miles to the west when I decided to tack. As Avventura settled in on the new tack I was disgusted to fin her heading nearly due north. The easterly swells coupled with the southeast wind made progress to the east all-but impossible. The hours ticked away and I began to calculate out how long it would take to return to Tahiti. I contemplated powering the entire way, but could not make any speed into the swells and I was getting low on diesel. I had to make a decision—fight the wind and ridiculous short-period swell (both of which were forecast to continue for another handful of days) and arrive in Tahiti some three days late, or return to Huahine and find another way to get my things.
After bashing into a couple decidedly larger swells (12 footers by my estimation) the decision was made. I turned about and began surfing down the large, confused swells. With just a triple-reefed main and a staysail for stabilization I was making over five and a half knots. The first traces of dawn saw me rounding the north end of Huahine once more, and as the sun rose I dropped the hook in the Avamoa Pass once more. Stoked to be safely tucked into a quiet anchorage, and exhausted from 48 sleepless hours, I cracked open a Hinano and sat on the foredeck soaking in the warm sunshine.
As luck would have it Robyn’s Nest and Chica Bonita, two cruising friends I met first in Ecuador, arrived later in the morning and I spent the next couple days surfing fun lefts in the Avamoa Pass and treated to nice meals on Chica Bonita after sunset. It was nice to spend a few final days among good friends who have helped make this voyage that much better along the way. I shared some of my best waves this trip with the trio of South Africans on Robyn’s Nest in the Galapagos; and plenty more good times followed, from our bar-b-q in the Tuamotus to reuniting in Southern Tahiti. It was all capped off by celebrating Dave’s 17th birthday aboard Chica Bonita in Huahine with homemade pizza and perhaps the tastiest homemade cake I’ve ever had. So here’s wishing all the best to the crews of Robyn’s Nest (John, Scott, Dave, Chris and Lucy) and Chica Bonita (Mike and Heather) as they continue on towards New Zealand.
Despite the good time I was having in Huahine I was still a hundred miles from Tahiti where I had to be to get my parts. Things started to turn in my favor as Liz changed her flight to August 2nd and the wind began to die as July wound down. On July 30th I was able to get up the mast and change jibs (somewhere in the dreaded windward slog my working jib sustained a large tear), and with a favorable weather forecast I was determined to try my luck and head for Tahiti in the morning.
Knowing I would be going another full night without sleep I turned in early and slept soundly through to 0200 when I was awaken by a blast so loud it seemed to shake my bunk. As I awoke I immediately knew what was happening and leapt out the forehatch prepared to abandon ship—a freighter was surely bearing down on me. I was anchored on the edge of the Avamoa Pass, and as I emerged into the dark of night I saw the black hulk passing some fifty yards astern with ample sea room and no need to panic. I guess the captain was just taking his frustration out on me; but either way I had been scared out of my mind and found getting back to sleep impossible. Instead I weighed anchor and headed for Tahiti, again.
The conditions could not have been more opposite as I headed southeast once more. The wind never rose above 12 knots and I motorsailed the entire time, passing just south of Moorea twenty-four hours after leaving Huahine. As dawn opened the first day of August I entered the now-familiar Taapuna Pass and once more anchored off Papeete’s Marina Taina with two days to spare before Liz passed through.

Moral of the blog: never be bound by a firm schedule when sailing. Only bad things can come from it. You cannot change the weather, and should never force yourself into sailing with a bad weather forecast. I’ve learned the lesson well.

By now I have received my parts from the States (thank you Liz) after they decided to take a detour in Liz’s luggage through Paris, and again have a working SSB Radio. I will soon resume posting Position Reports through Yotreps. In the next day or two I will be taking my leave of Papeete and heading for a week or so in southern Tahiti before I defy the trades once more to return to the Tuamotus. I will depart there in early October (or thereabouts) for Christmas and Fanning Islands in the Line Islands before continuing on to Hawaii in late November. Thus I will be largely incommunicado until early December. I will try and send updates sporadically through the SSB Radio Email; but here’s wishing everyone a happy end of summer and all of autumn.

lunes, 6 de agosto de 2007

Society Islands

The Society Islands. Their names alone conjure up images of idyllic beauty. Huahine. Raiatea. Tahaa. Bora Bora. Images of rugged green islands rising from azure lagoons surrounded by a line of white surf pounding on a barrier reef. Of palm trees swaying in the trades, white sand beaches, friendly natives, vibrant coral reefs and reef passes bordered with surf. I spent the last two weeks of July enjoying these mythic isles.
On the sun-filled, calm morning of July 17 I picked up anchor and motored out Tahiti’s Taapuna Pass heading west. The plan was to pass by the south shore of Moorea and if there was no wind I would pull in at Haapiti and surf the fun left for a couple days. However as I skirted Moorea’s southern coast, after reeling in my first (and to date only) fish of the Society Islands (a small skipjack), the wind filled in from the east and I decided to push on for Huahine. I was quick to raise the main and kill the engine, and before long the wind was up to 25 knots out of the east. The swells were a bit confused, coming from both the south and northeast, but with a double-reefed main and a partially-furled jib I was making over six knots and was set to arrive in Huahine at dawn. I spent the night in the cockpit keeping one eye on the blustery wind and another on Sand Dollar, a sailboat that remained less than a mile off my starboard side all night long.
At daybreak I entered the Avapehi Pass on Huahine and before long settled in at the island’s main anchorage inside the Avamoa Pass. It was soon obvious that the six foot swell that was in the water was too east for Huahine’s surfspots, so instead I swam ashore and set about exploring the island. Huahine is a quiet, laid-back island filled with welcoming locals who want to keep their home from becoming an obnoxious tourist destination. I passed my time walking along the white sand beaches of the northwest coast, paddling around the lagoon, and surfing small waves at both the Avamoa and Avapehi Pass (with the right swell, something with a lot of west in it, there are two good rights and a fun left between the two passes).
After a couple days of relaxation and exploration on Huahine I was ready to move on, so I picked up anchor and motored over a glassy sea to Tahaa some thirty miles west. Tahaa is Raiatea’s less-famous little sister. Situated just off her north tip, Tahaa and Raiatea share a single barrier reef. Unlike the rest of the Society Islands it is possible to sail all the way around Tahaa inside the reef in the calm and brilliant waters of its lagoon. I entered the lagoon through the narrow Toahotu Pass on the island’s east shore, passing between two small palm-clad motus and emerging into the deep blue waters of the lagoon. I followed a marked channel around the south side of the island leaving the green sandy shallows to port and the rugged island to starboard. One thing I found in the lagoons of the Society Islands is the water is either more than sixty or less than six feet deep. This makes finding a good anchorage difficult, and I spent two full hours scouring Tahaa’s west coast in search of water less than eighty feet deep to anchor in. After poking my nose into Patii Bay I checked the length of Hurepiti Bay and explored the inlet of Tapuamu Bay, never finding a good place to anchor. On my way back down the west coast of the island I took a long look at the PaiPai Pass and realized there wasn’t enough swell for the left to work properly. As the sun sank low in the sky I gave up hope of finding a decent anchorage and picked up a mooring buoy in Apu Bay.
With the engine shut down I opened a beer and watched the sun slip behind the western horizon as a hermaphrodite brig entered Apu Bay under the power of sails alone. In a rare display of seamanship these days the young captain shouted out orders to his crew of paying passengers and eased his 150-foot-plus ship into place, dropped the hook, and let the wind fill the foretopsail and back the ship on the anchor. It was an impressive showing in an age where most sailors of small ships can’t anchor under sail, let alone a big square-rigger. The ship is from New Zealand and apparently sails around the South Pacific carrying paying passengers who are taught how to sail while stopping at the beautiful islands along the way.
I left Tahaa early the next morning, slipping out of the PaiPai Pass where I was quick to shut down the engine and set sail. A light breeze trickled in from the east-northeast, and since there was still no surf I headed for Bora Bora, perhaps the most famously beautiful island in the world. The wind remained light throughout the morning and I sat in the cockpit enjoying the warm sunshine, reading, writing in my journal, and loving the cruising life. After four hours of slow but steady sailing I arrived at Bora Bora’s lone reef pass with an eight knot breeze still trickling in from the east. Perhaps inspired by the display of seamanship the previous night I decided to keep the engine off and sailed my way in the pass. The rugged, somehow familiar peaks of Bora Bora loomed ahead and the light green shallows and dark brown of the reef lingered on either side as Avventura ghosted up the blue pass and approached the Bora Bora Yacht Club. Just before the anchorage I dropped the main, powered my way into 87 feet of water, and dropped the anchor with all 250 feet of chain out.
Once I deceived myself that the boat was safe with less than 3-to-1 scope (as a rule I always set 5-to-1 scope; more in an unprotected or windy anchorage) I launched the dinghy, grabbed my board, and motored out to the pass. While sailing in the pass a local was stand-up paddling into a left breaking off a finger of reef on the south side of the pass, and I was itching to get in the clear blue waters. The wave was a strange sectioning left with a steep takeoff followed by sections where the wave would hit fingers of deep water in the reef and turn to mush only to later become hollow again. The surf was far from world-class, but the setup was hard to beat. I was the only one out and the familiar green form of the island loomed across the lagoon of green and blue water above a beach of white sand. Sitting in the “lineup” it struck me that nowhere else in nature have I seen such vivid colors. The blues of deeper water, the intense green of the sandy shallows, the sharp browns and purples of the coral reef, the motus of blinding white sand capped by green palms swaying in the trades, and the dark green hulk of the island itself with patches of light, exposed rock reflecting the bright sunlight. The colors alone rank Bora Bora among the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It was easy to see why it is among the most photographed islands on earth. As the sun reached for the sea I returned to Avventura thrilled by another great day of cruising.
July 22nd brought scattered showers and a 25 knot east wind to Bora Bora. The anchorage at the Bora Bora Yacht Club was shielded from the bulk of the wind, and I was determined to spend the day exploring the island. I headed ashore in the early morning and met the manager of the “yacht club.” He told me they rented bikes, and in minutes I was pedaling north along the coast. After a detour inland into a local neighborhood I circumnavigated the island, enjoying the ever-changing vistas across the greens and blues of the lagoon and up at the drastic island peaks. Near the south end of the island I left the bike beside the road and hiked up to a spot overlooking the lagoon on both sides of the island. It was a truly beautiful place and I only wish I had had a digital camera along to post the pictures. Instead I shot a roll of film to be developed whenever it is I return to San Diego.
After completing the 32 km circumnavigation I returned to the yacht club just in time for an impromptu barbeque at the yacht club. The manager insisted I stay and eat, and served me up a massive helping of grilled chicken, sausage, and breadfruit. The grilled breadfruit was delicious and if you ever find yourself unsure of what to do with the strange veggie just throw it on the grill. As I ate conversations were started between the handful of cruising boats whose crews were ashore. It was quite a diverse gathering with a couple Japanese men, two Norwegian couples, a Canadian single-hander, an American single-hander, and the American couple from Katie Lee. I enjoyed the conversation for a while, but after lunch the sun came out and it was simply too nice a day to spend chatting away. I excused myself, stopped at Avventura to get my board, and returned to the reef pass to try my hand at the left once more. The wind was blowing so hard offshore it made trying to turn almost laughable but I had a good time messing around in the small waves.
Monday morning brought a return of sunshine and clear skies and I decided to head for Raiatea. As soon as the anchor was up I raised the main and shut down the engine, sailing away from Bora Bora and continuing southward. After a few hours of sailing to windward I reached the lee of Raiatea. The wind died so I furled the jib and motored in the Rautoanui Pass on the northwest side of the island. Entering the pass I gazed wide-eyed as perfect left tubes peeled off the reef and a dozen locals dropped into barrel after barrel. I headed straight for the nearest anchorage and set the hook in eighty feet of water inside Pupau Bay. As soon as the anchor was set I returned to the pass in my dinghy and paddled out in the perfect six-foot surf. My first wave I dropped in behind the peak, got a nice little tube, and pulled out just before it closed out on the reef. That proved to be my best wave of the day, though a handful of nice little cover-ups followed as I traded off waves with the friendly locals. Only the setting sun was enough to chase me from the surf, and I reluctantly returned to Avventura to spend the night in my own private anchorage.
Rising early the next morning, I was disappointed to find the swell had dropped. After a short but fun morning session in the small waves I dedicated the remainder of the day to boat work including a trip up the mast to replace a burnt-out light bulb as well as complete a few other minor tasks. The boat work spilled over to the morning of July 25 as I dedicated myself to solving the riddle of the broken bow navigation lights. After a couple hours of toil I was able to rewire the lights and get them working once more, and by late morning I headed to a nearby marina to use the internet feeling good about the day. When I checked the weather forecast for the coming week my mood began to change. East to southeast winds were forecast for the entire week, picking up from 17 knots on July 25th till it would be 25 knots from the 26th till the 30th. I had to be back in Tahiti by the 30th to meet Liz Clark who was flying back from the States with much-needed parts for me before continuing on to her boat, Swell, in the Marquesas. My best hope to return to Tahiti was to leave immediately. Thus began my first windward bashing in the trades…

martes, 3 de julio de 2007

Tahitian Exploration II

2007, July 3. Tuesday—9 a.m.
During the night of June 25th, while anchored inside of Little Vairo Pass (the right I ended the last blog at), the swell picked up noticeably. With Little Vairo nearly maxed out it was time to head further south to the big boy, Teahupoo. I followed close on Windekind’s stern as we weaved through a couple narrow, shallow channels inside the lagoon. Within an hour we both anchored in a small basin just north of the Havae Pass, home to the famed Teahupoo left.
With the hook set I hitched a ride in Windekind’s dinghy and we headed out the pass to check the surf. The conditions were calm, wind slightly offshore, and fifteen people were out in the six to eight foot perfect waves. From the channel I felt for the first time the true power of Teahupoo. As the swell approached from the southwest it leapt from the sea nearly horizontally onto the shallow reef of the pass. A massive tube rolled down the line, too fast to ride, till it finally reached the drop zone where somebody would brave the steep drop, pull into the massive pit, and either pull out before the closeout section or wind up caught inside scratching to get off the reef. The inside is what looked so fierce. Whitewater would suck down off the reef with each approaching wave, defying nature and creating an uphill slope of water you’d have to climb to get onto the reef. After watching a couple sets roll in I was actually surprised by how manageable the waves looked. Myself and the three other surfers in the dinghy decided it was time to paddle out.
Thirty minutes later Windekind’s dinghy was moored in the channel and Eric, Will Austin (15) and I were paddling to the lineup. Eric immediately paddled deep into the peak and picked off two quick waves, one a nice barrel, and the other ate him up. I was on the 6’ 6” Mike left on board, and quickly found it wasn’t big enough for the wave. Every wave I paddled for rolled beneath me, heaved up, and left me behind.
The swell was picking up with each set, and when I turned around from paddling for a wave I saw the crowd scratching for the channel and followed suit. Next thing I knew a heavy fifteen-foot wave was breaking over the reef, throwing a massive barrel that could easily have fit Avventura inside it. I was able to duckdive under the lip and opened my eyes to watch as the monster rolled on. I was relieved to find no waves behind it; but when I looked inside I saw Eric and Will in the cauldron of whitewater left in its wake. Eric was clinging to the back half of his board, Will’s was gone altogether (broken board to go with the snapped leash as he later learned), and another broken board was drifting around in the cauldron. One wave took out three boards, and with that we headed back to the boats to regroup and reload.
On Avventura I quickly threw a sheet of fiberglass and gobs of resin over where my 7’ 0” had buckled (my first session in Tahiti, at Taapuna) to give it some added strength. Just as the resin was drying the Windekind guys picked me up for round two. I threw some sandpaper in my pocket and hopped in the dinghy with the freshly-repaired board. Eric was the first to paddle out while the rest of us watched from the dinghy. The swell had not only picked up, but was shifting further west as the day wore on, making it harder to get out of the waves once you were in and causing for some big, heavy closeouts. On Eric’s first wave he dropped in deep, pulled in to an impossible tube, was eaten alive, and emerged from the soup with another broken board. He swam back to the dinghy frustrated, not about the broken board, but that he hadn’t made it out of the barrel. Within minutes of his return we all paddled out, Eric on a brand new board, and me on my 7’ 0”.
Eric and Will continued to charge the set waves as the wind picked up a bit and the crowd fled the growing swell. On Will’s second wave he pulled in from behind the peak and was eaten by the eight foot (?) wave. In the tumult he smacked his knee on the reef returning to the lineup bleeding and saying he was done for the day. As Will returned to the dinghy a group of Australian surfers paddled out. I mostly sat watching as Eric, one of the Australians, and a Hawaiian guy traded off waves I didn’t have the guts (or the board) to paddle for. Every third wave they seemed to make to the channel, but the rest were unmakeable and led to the inevitable underwater dragging and long hold down that seems to come with every Teahupoo wipeout. When you did come up you still had to take the next couple waves on the head.
Little Austin caught a couple insiders, putting me to shame and increasing my paddling efforts to get into a wave. I managed to get myself into one of the smaller waves, made the drop and a bottom turn, and raced for the channel. No monster tube spitting behind me, no awful wipeout; but at least I can say I caught a wave at Teahupoo.
A half hour after catching my lone wave I was on the inside when the wave of the day came through. I saw it coming early and Little Austin and I scratched for the channel as the Hawaiian (called Biff, which seemed to be a running joke with the Windekind fellows) took off right at the peak. The wave hit the reef and grew into an eighteen foot face (my guess; definitely the heaviest wave I’ve ever seen up close) as Biff paddled into it. As he got to his feet the bottom fell out of the wave and after air-dropping for a short while he began to cart-wheel down the face. A couple seconds later he hit the water for good, only to be sucked back over the falls as I duckdove under the lip. Biff’s wipeout was enough to chase me back to the dinghy and end my day of “surfing” Teahupoo. Two sessions, one wave. Not a great showing, but to surf it again I’d want a bigger board so I could get into the waves before the bottom dropped out, as Eric, Will and the Aussy were able to. As for Biff, he wound up in the hospital where they had to remove chunks of coral from his back; which I’m told looked like a sheet of blood despite the vest he had been wearing.
On the way in from Teahupoo I was invited to the famous “Pizza Tuesday’s” on Windekind. I headed over around sunset and we passed the night having a few beers, eating homemade pizzas and playing cards—a nice way to unwind from a heavy day of surf.

Dawn revealed a more westerly swell and Teahupoo was no longer an appetizing place to surf, so Windekind and I headed out the Havae Pass, skirted along Tahiti’s barrier reef, and returned to Big Vairo Pass (Tapuaeraha Pass on the charts) where we had surfed three days earlier. We anchored in the same little cove off the “Ifremer Centre Oceanologique du Pacifique,” a marine biology research station. [As a sidenote this little cove proved to be a great anchorage in 45 feet over a muddy bottom, one of the few shallow places within dinghy distance of Big Vairo Pass, supposedly one of the better waves in Tahiti and more mellow. GPS POS: 17˚48.49’S by 149˚17.64’W]
Unfortunately soon after leaving Teahupoo the wind picked up to fifteen knots, blowing sideshore and adding an unwanted chop to the good-sized sets that were rolling through Big Vairo Pass. After waiting unsuccessfully for the wind to die we paddled out for an afternoon session anyways. The surf was much more manageable than Teahupoo. Though still sizeable, there was a much gentler face and shoulder to be ridden after a steep drop. Though the good waves were hard to pick out of the jumbled mess the wind and swell had created, I had a fun session and caught a couple good waves. Adding to the enjoyment was the simple pleasure of watching the massive rooster tails sweeping off the big rights across the pass. The downside of the wind, coupled with the cooler water the swell churned up (81˚), was that after an hour and a half I had goosebumps on my arms and was conscious of being cold in the water for the first time since the Galapagos.
The following morning saw the arrival of Robyn’s Nest at the anchorage, and I was glad to hear they had come into a good swell at Faaite just two days after Mike and I left. With their arrival came the passing of a weather front over the island (same as had happened on the day I arrived in Tahiti a couple weeks earlier), which brought with it thirty knot southwest winds and periods of heavy rain. The front brought four days of lousy weather during which Windekind decided to brave and return to Papeete while Robyn’s Nest and I hunkered down in our little cove. I awoke on day two of the nasty westerly weather with a sore throat, beginning what has been a five day sickness to date. My sickness still lingers on, perhaps accounting for the fact that I can’t find any sort of writing rhythm in this damned blog. Sorry about that, but I wanted to get it out in spite of this.
After a few days of waiting out the weather, while still feeling sick, I decided to brave the conditions and return to Papeete in search of medicine. Despite periods of thirty knot winds and no autopilot that could cope with the eight foot swells I made it back to Papeete on the evening of July 1. I entered the Papeete Pass as the sun set, and awaited permission to use the Faaa Chanel for fifteen minutes while planes came in low overhead. The harbor authority finally gave me the go-ahead and I scurried along before the next plane came in to the channel-side runway. I carefully followed the channel markers around a bend in the reef to the opposite end of the runway where I tucked into a cove off the Intercontinental Resort (formerly the Beach Comber) and dropped the hook in the dark; collapsing in my bunk moments later.
Yesterday I moved back to the normal anchorage off Marina Taina and made it to a pharmacy where I picked up a couple medicines which, though everything is written in French, I was told will help me. After a day of medicating I’m beginning to feel better and am hopeful that the fourth of July will see a return to my former good health. Either way I’ll be taking it easy till I recover fully, because being sick in the tropics is no fun.

Again, sorry for the disjointed, choppy writing and lack of rhythm to this blog; I’m attributing it to my sickness and the medication-induced drowsiness and malaise. I’ll be posting more pictures soon at

lunes, 2 de julio de 2007

Tahitian Exploration Part I

2007, June 25. Monday.

With Mike’s departure my run as a solo sailor began. As a way to ease into this, and in search of a refuge from the exhaust fumes, traffic jams, and money-spending opportunities of Papeete I’ve tagged along with the Santa Barbara surfers on Windekind the past couple weeks paying a visit to Moorea and exploring the west coast of Tahiti. This has also had the added advantage of surfing with other familiar faces in the water, always a welcome thing in the heavy waves the Society Islands produce.
On June 16 Avventura followed Windekind (a Sundeer 56) out the Taapuna Pass and south along the Tahitian coast bound for Teahupoo. A small swell was set to hit the following day, and it seemed like the perfect chance for me to surf the famous wave. As we approached Pointe Maraa the wind started blowing twenty knots on the nose, so rather than beat into it we changed our destination to Moorea. After a few hours of sailing I entered the Matauvau Pass and dropped the hook on the steep slope of a sand bank in thirty feet of water. Inside the lagoon all was calm and we were the only two boats in sight.
Moorea rivals the Marquesas in terms of its dramatic beauty. The island juts up from the peaceful waters of its lagoons into rugged spires and pinnacles, covered in dense vegetation and with but a few houses dotted along the coastal road. The anchorage in the deep blue waters of the lagoon was bordered by a shallow shelf of sand about 7 feet deep, appearing almost white in the midday sun. What’s more, the Matauvau Pass has a nice left which sweeps into the pass itself and, unlike many waves in the region, lets you off in deeper water away from the reef. I spent a couple nights anchored here, surfing three times in fun, chest-high surf with usually ten other people out. Unfortunately the damned internet surf forecasters were wrong—the swell never hit, so with more work to be done on Avventura, I returned to Papeete on Monday afternoon.
Five days of work and crowds in Papeete and I was anxious to leave again. A small swell provided some fun surf on the Taapuna Pass (yet another good, hollow left which, on my first session out buckled my lone big-wave board), but being the closest wave to the capital it was always crowded. So after the arrival of two more people on Windekind (Now there are 5: the captain, Eric, his two brothers Garland and Austin, Will [who was on board with Eric when we met in the Galapagos], and Danny.), and with hopes of surf in the coming days we took off through the Taapuna Pass on the morning of June 23, slowly heading in the direction of Teahupoo.
After an hour of motoring with no wind, as I neared Pointe Maraa the wind once again picked up to twenty knots on the nose. With our first anchorage tucked just around the point Avventura continued to pound into the wind and swells for an hour before arriving at the Maraa Pass. Eric came out in the dinghy to explain the entrance to me and I set the hook inside the lagoon in 53 feet of water with all the chain I carry out (250 feet). After relaxing for a couple hours I grabbed my board and headed out for an afternoon session with Eric and his brother Austin. The pass is known for its right, but with the wind and swell direction the left was setting up better ands we traded off overhead sets, surfing by ourselves. As the sun sank into the sea we caught waves in and returned to our respective boats. In the evening I headed over to Windekind for a card game before returning to Avventura for a peaceful night’s rest.
As the sun rose on a new day I picked up anchor and motored out the Maraa Pass, bound for points further south. The wind was still howling from the direction I needed to go, but with the next anchorage around a dozen miles away I sailed off-shore in the twenty knot breeze for five miles before tacking back towards shore. Unfortunately the wind dropped as soon as I tacked and before long I was motorsailing towards the Tapuaeraha Pass. I arrived over an hour after Windekind and dropped the hook in a little cove perfect for one boat in 45 feet of water with no wind at all. As soon as the hook was set I put my board in the dinghy and headed over to Windekind to see who wanted to surf. Will and I headed out first, to be joined later by Eric and 15-year-old Austin. The wave is reputed to be one of the longer and more mellow lefts in Tahiti, but the current swell had more west in it and the waves were breaking fast and hollow over a very shallow coral reef. Austin continued to live up to his new-found reputation as a reef-seeker, winding up caught inside on the reef a number of times leaving those of us in the line-up to cringe. Somehow he came out unscathed every time, and when the next wave came he’d take off without a hint of fear and go racing down the line backside.
The crowd thinned out as the afternoon wore on and every now and again a good, just overhead set would roll through providing long, fun waves. Riding the 6’ 6” Mike left behind in preparation for Teahupoo, I was somewhat out of my element and learning to surf all over again. By the end of the session I was getting in a handful of turns on the waves and pulling into a couple little tubes, always mindful of the shallow reef lurking just inside of me.
As night fell Windekind moved over and anchored near Avventura and I headed over for poker night. Being a poker rookie, I paid the 500-franc buy-in (about $6) just for fun, considering it cash out the window (a fair repayment for the tuna dinner I had on board the previous night). I never expected to win, but after winning a big pot by making a straight on the “river” I suddenly had a good size stack. Along the way I sold off chips to let people back in and once I had my 500 francs returned to me I played more aggressively, and somehow walked away with everybody’s money on a set of Jacks. Beginner’s luck to be sure, and I’ll save my winnings for the next poker night if I’m around for it.
With the dawn of a new day came the promise of a new wave to surf. Just after 9 o’clock Avventura followed Windekind through the at times narrow channel inside the lagoon to Passe Te-Ava Itii. We dropped the hook in 80 feet of water in the deep lagoon and again I was quick to grab my board and swing by Windekind to see who was ready to surf. Will, Austin and I were the first to head out to the rare Tahitian right. I took out my 7’ 2” for the first time since snapping a side fin off doing a turn at Taapuna, and on my fifth wave I took off too deep, pulled into the tube, and wound up caught inside for a set. I went to duck dive the second wave and felt my fins hit the reef. When I made it back to the line-up I checked and saw I was missing the center fin (I had left the center fin in from the old set, and am convinced the set was cursed). I surfed the rest of the session with a twinny, at first being more cautious, but by the end of the day I was taking off at the peak, trying to pull-in to backside tubes (unsuccessfully), and finishing off each wave with a sweeping cutback where my fins would slide out down the face. We had the entire two and a half hour session to ourselves, just the three Reiter brothers, Will and myself, trading off waves in a state of surfer’s bliss. The sun was out, the water was the perfect temperature, the wave broke in deeper water than the previous two had, and the rugged south Tahiti coastline fell into the calm waters of the lagoon where the two sailboats sat at anchor. By the end of the session the wind had picked up, allowing me a good opportunity to finally get this blog typed up. As for Teahupoo, the swell forecast calls for a small swell to hit tomorrow afternoon and a big one for the coming week. We will probably head that way tomorrow, and then probably make our way to a lesser wave for the big swell set for next week.

miércoles, 13 de junio de 2007

Faaite Pics

Faaite Heaven

2007, June 4. Monday—8:15 A.M.
Faaite. Your average atoll in many ways, skipped over by most “cruisers” on their way from the Marquesas to Tahiti. But for those of us cruising surfers it is heaven on earth. An atoll is formed after the crater of an extinct volcano slips beneath the surface of the sea and over millions of years a coral reef builds up on the rim of the crater till it protrudes from the sea with sandy islets called motus. Atolls are hazardous to navigation by the fact that the only things visible from afar are the coco palms that adorn the low sandy motus. Add to this the currents flowing both in and out of the atolls and between the various atolls of the Tuamotus, and it is no wonder the island chain was once known as the “Dangerous Archipelago” and avoided by sailors altogether. But in the modern age of GPS and electronic chart and tide programs the archipelago has become more accessible, so as the years pass more and more sailors stop off in the Tuamotus.
After a hectic five day sail down from the Marquesas, made interesting by squally winds the entire time ranging from a comfortable ten knots to an obnoxious 35 knots plus; on the afternoon of May 23 the coco palms of Kauehi Atoll rose from the sea to break the monotony of putting in and shaking out reefs with the passing squalls. Unfortunately our arrival at the atoll’s entrance was timed with the setting of the sun. To enter the reef passes without the sun overhead is dangerous because it makes spotting the coral heads more difficult, so after looking over the pass from the exterior I decided we’d push on to Faaite rather than wait outside for the night.
Faaite is unique in more ways than one. Its reef pass faces west and outside the pass is a shallow shelf of sand and coral that allows one to anchor outside the atoll in the lee of the main motu. Thus with the arrival of daylight Avventura settled in on her anchor just south of the main current roaring out of the atoll. With no swell in the water Mike and I spent the first few days exploring the various motus, snorkeling in the brilliant clear waters of the lagoon and its pass (visibility over 80 feet), and getting to know the friendly Polynesian inhabitants. A couple of the local surfers introduced us around, and since they were the only two English speakers on the atoll, Francois and Carmen became fast friends. Francois works for one of the two surf charter boats that run around the archipelago, and he also seems to be related to everybody on the island which made him a good friend to have. One afternoon he introduced us to the “local beer,” a hideous concoction allowed to ferment for three months till it was somewhere between beer and rum. We gathered with a group of local men in the shade of a tree overlooking the lagoon drinking, learning a bit of Paumotu (“ma-ru-ru,” thank you; and “ai-ti-ta-paea,” your welcome) and talking with the group in broken English.
Faaite began to show its true colors one Tuesday morning when a south swell began to trickle in and the reef pass came to life. A beautiful little left began to peel over the shallow coral reef of the south side of the pass while a scary right-hander dumped on the north side of the pass in front of a nasty patch of dry reef. Later in the morning, after my first taste of the fast, hollow left, a huge power-cat charter boat showed up with big “O’Neil” stickers plastered all over it. It turned out to have eight pro surfers on board out here on what is called “O’Neil—The Mission,” a week-long “free-surfing contest.” Among the surfers on board were Ian Walsh, Roy Powers, Raimando (a Tahitian known for towing in at big Teahapoo), Australian Derek Howse, a young French surfer, a 17-year-old Maui kid named Clay who was really good, and a few others I never met. Also on board were some 26 members of the “media” along for the ride. All of a sudden the perfect empty waves had a crowd waiting.
The swell arrived right on cue the next day and, lucky for me, the pros decided to surf the gnarly right (7 of 8 were regular-footers), leaving the left for me to share with a handful of media members and a couple locals on boogie-boards. For the first time in my life I was introduced to a true South Pacific gem of a wave, a fast hollow left breaking over a shallow coral reef with the same shape every time and two separate tube sections that could be connected all the way through on the good sets. Over the next three days I caught more great waves and more clean barrels than I ever have before. The swell peaked at 6–8 feet, and for a couple hours I had it to myself with the pros and media all filming over on the right. I surfed two straight 8-hour days, and after another three-hour session on the third day I could no longer paddle from fatigue and rashes.
The swell backed off Friday as the pros left the atoll in our hands once more. Throughout their stay they had been exceedingly nice, especially Raimando and Derek Howse, both of whom I talked to for quite a while. Howse was really interested in my voyage and said his father was thinking of buying a sailboat on the east coast of the USA and sailing it back to Oz. Raimando served as the event host since he was the local of thr group. He always had a huge grin and called me into many a set wave, including my first legitimate barrel of the South Seas. He also provided some good information about surfspots in Tahiti and the Society Islands.
Despite how nice they all were I was glad to see the charter-cat leave with word that the swell would return on Saturday. Sure enough, the surf came up on cue and I surfed another 6 hours, just myself and Carmen (the self-proclaimed “barrel King of Faaite,” a statement he backed both on his boogie board and surfboard) surfing the biggest and best waves of the swell. We traded off sets, hooting the entire day as each of us ventured deeper into the pit and came out screaming. A few of the young local kids gathered on the inside shoulder on their boogie boards and every time I came out of a tube they’d give the “shaka” sign and say “Good wave!” I returned the shaka with a big grin, gave a hoot, and paddled back out for more. Never have I seen such beautiful emerald tubes forming one after the other, and to have the break virtually to myself was too good to be true. Another cruising boat had pulled up and anchored in the pass and they say they took some pictures, so if I get them I’ll be sure to post them ASAP. In the end I got the two biggest tubes of my life and the longest barrel-ride, at least four seconds connecting the two hollow sections.
Sunday saw the swell die out and it is back to waiting for the return of the surf, hoping it picks up before Saturday when we need to leave for Tahiti so Mike can make his June 14 flight home. For my part I'm thinking of returning to the Tuamotus after spending time in Tahiti making some much-needed repairs to Avventura, especially in fixing her autopilot and SSB tuner. But for now it’s another handful of days in paradise before we return to civilization.

miércoles, 16 de mayo de 2007

Magical Marquesas

The Marquesas have been little short of magical. Thousand foot cliffs dive into the ocean as often as beaches dot the Costa Rican coastline. Lush valleys cut into the rugged interior of the islands filled with coco palms, mango trees, banana trees, grapefruit and lime trees, breadfruit trees, and other trees bearing delicious fruits I still don’t know the names of. The trades blow steadily at sea, but most anchorages have been surprisingly well-protected. The air temperature hovers around the mid-eighties while the water is a perfect 83 in the ocean and a delicious low 70s or so in the inland streams. And these lush, stunning islands are inhabited by under 10,000 people in total (or so I’d guess). Even Taiohae, the capital city of the group, has just 2 small grocery stores, 1 bank, 1 police station with a handful of employees, and under 2500 inhabitants. I’ve yet to come across a local who didn’t return a greeting or give a friendly smile, and despite the tragic language barrier the Polynesians still come off as some of the nicest people in the world.
Remote. Dramatic. Stunning. Lush. Warm. Such are the best words I came come upon to describe these islands. Their remoteness has been their greatest blessing, and at times feels like my greatest enemy (only because all communications are via satellite and thus very expensive, including the slow internet connection here). Being 700 miles and a $700 flight from Tahiti has prevented the tourist invasion from reaching these islands. Nature still reigns supreme. The interior of many islands remain inaccessible, the beaches are deserted (partially due to the nonos which tend to terrorize cruisers but frequently leave me alone—I guess I must smell really bad), mangoes fall to the ground to rot, coconuts are swept down gentle streams, packs of wild horses roam freely, and the locals still smile at us voyagers who do pass through.
After our stay on Fatu Hiva and stop in Atuona (where I posted the last blog if memory serves) Avventura called at the island of Tahuata, returned to the northwest coast of Hiva Oa, checked in at Oa Pou, and sailed up here to Nuku Hiva. At every anchorage there has come a time when I think it is perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever visited. Each place has its own striking, unique beauty. On Tahuata it was the calm clear waters of Hanamoenoa Bay with its shimmering white sand beach lined with coco palms and without any inhabitants. Here we snorkeled with a vast array of tropical fish, and once thirst set in we opened coconuts on the beach, squeezed in some fresh lime juice from a tree inland, and quenched our thirst before returning to the inviting waters to cool off once more. The beauty of Hanamenu Bay, Hiva Oa came from stealing dozens of fallen mangoes from the herds of wild horses who fed on them, from bodywhomping the head high waves at a beach nearby, and failing to overcome my fickle fear of heights some twenty-five feet up a thirty-five foot high coco palm. Instead we settled for the milk and meat of freshly-fallen nuts. Here Mike came across our first wild breadfruits and we were introduced to the tasty “Polynesian potatoes.” Here also we savored Trinda’s homemade key lime pie aboard Katie Lee before sailing away in the black of night for a great overnight run to Oa Pou where we arrived in water where I could see rocks on the bottom 95 feet down according to my depth sounder.
Oa Pou saw the crew of Avventura wipe the dust off their surfboards and paddle into a few small lefts at a break right beside the anchorage. We also sought local advice and went on a couple unsuccessful adventures in search of better waves (I’m sure there must be a wave in the last bay on the north end of the windward side of the island, though we never did make it there.). The first wave search was by dinghy to the gorgeous, empty bay just east of the anchorage at Hakaha where we bodywhomped small shorebreak in crystal clear water. The second adventure took us on a hike, and when we apparently took a wrong turn we ended up on the road to the very bay we had visited by dinghy. Instead of returning we hiked up to the cross for a splendid view of the anchorage and town before calling it a day.
A nice daysail brought us to the island of Nuku Hiva where we made landfall in Comptroleur Bay and dropped the hook in the middle finger of the bay where, over a century and a half earlier, Herman Melville deserted the whaling ship Acushnet and lived amongst the locals in the valley of Taipivai. From these experience came Moby Dick and Typee. We anchored well off the small town all by our lonesome and spent just 24 hours exploring the surroundings. We hiked up what is perhaps the most beautiful valley I’ve come across, cut by a large stream and filled with coco palms between two steep sides, and visited our first old Marquesan sacred site. In a grassy clearing in the hills above the valley 3 structures were erected out of lava rocks, all platforms where religious ceremonies must have taken place, and all adorned with tikis, stone carvings of the Marquesans’s gods, and strikingly similar (especially according to Thor Heyerdahl, see Fatu Hiva) to the larger stone figures of Easter Island. Back down at sea level I collected a bottle of sand from both the black sand beach at the base of the bay and a white sand beach half way out the west point where we also collected cowry shells and I saw my first Marquesan wavy-top shells (the only place other than southern California I can remember coming across them).
The past few days we’ve spent anchored off the capital in the bay of Taiohae. The first day I ventured ashore and hiked up the hillside to another Marquesan sacred site before carrying on up a small path, collecting mangoes and breadfruit along the way, and ever winding higher till I reached a glorious view of the bay below. Before long the path connected with the main road and I walked higher till the road began to curve off towards Taipivai and a car came by heading back to Taiohae. I stuck out my thumb and the truck pulled over (I have hitched rides about 7 times in the Marquesas, and have never had a car drive past when I stuck out my thumb. Twice I was picked up without sticking out a thumb. The people are so friendly you don’t think twice about accepting or asking for a ride from a total stranger.) and I hopped in the back, returning to sea level in fifteen minutes after a two hour uphill hike. Since then my time has been mostly spent working on Avventura. I spent a day and a half repairing the mainsail, re-stitching areas where the stitching chafed through on the crossing (my fingers are still numb); learned my tuner is broken beyond the point where I can fix it; changed the fuel and oil filters, and in the process discovered a leak in the engine’s cooling system which I traced to a leaky hose in the back of the ship’s water heater which took nearly 6 hours to diagnose and fix. My to-do list remains long, but it feels like time to move on so tomorrow we’ll weigh anchor and head around the point to Daniel’s Bay where I can knock off a few more items.
The Marquesas have exceeded all of my high expectations, and I have enjoyed my time here thoroughly. The lone drawback seems to be the lack of surf. We have heard there is a wave at Daniel’s Bay and are anxious to see if we find anything; but mostly I look forward to the reef passes of the Tuamotus where there should be waves. The plan is for 3 nights at Daniel’s Bay before making our way down to the Tuamotus (500 miles away), with perhaps a stop first on Oa Pou’s leeward side. Plan is to stop at as many as 6 atolls: Kauehi, Faaite (surf), Fakarava (surf), Apataki (surf), Ahe, and Rangiroa (possibly surf) before heading for Tahiti. I extended my visa today and now have until August 15 before I have to be out of French Polynesia. I plan to use every bit of that time exploring the beauty of these islands. As my SSB Radio will be out of commission till Tahiti at least I cannot guarantee I will be able to keep in touch or even update position reports, but I will do my best. Till then fair winds and following to seas to everybody on the water and Pura Vida.

PS This was written in haste and not spellchecked or re-written, so please accept my apologies for any errors in advance. It’s after 9 p.m. which is late for us “cruisers.”