09-11-2019 – Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

In the last few months we bounced back and forth between Tahiti and Mo’orea a few times, like a metronome, alternating between the draws of the abundance of goods and services and the abundance of natural beauty. In both places we enjoyed an abundance of social gatherings. πŸ™‚ We’ve spent time reconnecting with people that we met months and even years ago, and we’ve made a number of new friendships that we will (hopefully) enjoy over the months and years to come.

After another week in Mo’orea we returned to Tahiti one final time to provision and prepare for a longer period of time in the Tuamotus. In particular we needed to refuel Lungta. French Polynesia offers duty-free diesel to boats that are “in transit”, which really only means being in the country for less than 3 years. You have to jump through a few hoops, although they aren’t all that difficult. In particular, you have to get a certificate from the customs office, by showing some documentation and filling in a form. The office is way on the edge of town, they close early on Fridays, and only one person is there during the lunch hour who doesn’t really know what needs to be done – and the certificate is only good for 6 months. πŸ™‚ Just before we left Tahiti the last time, we stopped to fuel up and the worker there pointed out that our certificate had expired less than 2 weeks ago. We had already told folks that we would meet them in Mo’orea, so we went anyhow and knew that we’d have to return to Tahiti to get an updated certificate and then get the fuel. So we took care of that, and restocked our pantry with stores for the next few months. We said goodbye to Keith & Wayne who were heading back to the States to begin their next adventure after 6 months traveling on-board Otra Vida and then 2 weeks with us.

We delayed an additional day so that we could participate in a swap meet at the marina, where a bunch of boaters gather up stuff that they no longer want/need and sell it to other boaters that do. We offered up a set of big work lights, a fishing pole, the anchor we’d just “rescued” off the bottom in Mo’orea, a couple of 110V power tools and a bunch of books; in return we came home with a BIG barbecue grill, an inflatable scuba vest, and some water shoes. We came home satisfied! πŸ™‚ There were frequent swap meets like this back when we were in La Cruz, Mexico but we haven’t seen one in over 5 years. It was fun to participate in one again!

Finally we departed for the Tuamotus. We wanted to show Camila & Damian our favorite place in the Tuamotus: Tahanea. Although we noticed that the wind was forecast to be coming from the southeast (directly where we wanted to go), we thought that we could make it most of the way sailing and without needing the motor until the very end. Unfortunately we didn’t know that there was also a 1.5 knot current running against us. We were pointed as close to up-wind as we could sail and we still moved almost 90 degrees off of that direction: we just couldn’t move in the direction we wanted! So we eventually turned on the motor. Although we were still moving very slowly, at least we were now moving in the right direction. Our motor has been running hot lately, so we have been “babying” it by running it slower than we would normally. Damian & Camila were doing a night watch while we two slept for a few hours, when the autopilot just turned off unexpectedly. They woke us up to figure out why. We’ve never seen that problem before, and we spent a while investigating the behavior. In the meantime they steered the boat using the wheel and compass – how nautical! Eventually we were able to turn the autopilot back on, except it would turn itself off very quickly if we tried to use it to steer the boat. Although this sounds useless, it happens to be an improvement over it being completely off; the display shows the position of the rudder, so the skipper can tell how quickly they are asking the boat to turn. (Since the wheel can turn 7 times around between full left and full right, we can’t mark the center point on the wheel itself.) The main control unit for the autopilot is located in the same room as the exhaust stack for the engine, and we believe that it overheated from having been too hot for too long. Ultimately we took 6 days for this passage that we expected to take only 4. We burned nearly 500 liters of fuel (120 gallons), which was about 2/3 of what we took on just before leaving Tahiti. Ouch!

After we arrived in Fakarava, we disassembled the heat exchanger for the motor and cleaned out the tubes where the cool seawater passes through. This water absorbs the heat from the cooling water from the reservoir, similar to the air rushing over the radiator in a car. But the seawater apparently leaves a deposit on the tubes, restricting the water flow. This has been a major improvement to our engine’s performance, so we now can run it faster for longer without it getting hot! Unfortunately the autopilot is still not functional, and we are hand-steering whenever we move the boat for the time being. Dan found a replacement part for sale on EBay for a great price, and we’re trying to get it shipped to us – that’s turning out to be more complicated than we had expected! We won’t travel far until it arrives.

We stayed a few days in the town of Rotoava to decompress and to show this area to Camila & Damian. They loved all the snorkeling and beachcombing and walking the town. When the supply ship came in on Wednesday, they asked about booking a passage back to Tahiti, and found that it was about half the cost of getting a flight. The next day we headed back out the pass and sailed to Tahanea. Although we had to motor part of that distance, our engine is so much cooler – we keep wondering why we didn’t think to clean out the heat exchanger a year ago! Along the way we caught a large skipjack tuna. When we cleaned and cut it up, we ended up with roughly 50 portions of fresh meat! We’ve enjoyed it a few times in the last week, and expect it will feed us for several more. πŸ™‚

We spent almost a week in Tahanea, splitting our time between the area around the entrance pass and the other anchorage in the southeast that cruisers call the “7” anchorage (because it looks like a giant 7 when viewed on a satellite image). We spent many hours snorkeling, exploring by dinghy, star-gazing, and beach-combing. One day Damian asked whether whales ever came into the atoll. We told him that we had heard of sightings by other boaters but never seen one in the area ourselves. The very next day we saw one! We went for a dive in the easternmost pass (of three), where manta rays are often seen. Shortly after we returned, some friends of ours from another boat dinghied up to tell us that they’d just seen a humpback whale in that same pass. We jumped into our dinghy and went back to see if we could still find him there. As we were approaching we saw a spout and a giant white fin rolled up out of the water, over counterclockwise, and back in with a big splash. We motored over to a place near where we’d sighted him and Camila jumped in immediately. She got a quick glimpse of him before he turned tail (making a big splash over the rest of us still in the dinghy!) and moved away. We were blessed with more than a dozen sightings, ranging from an arched back to a smelly spout to a tail splash, over the next 45 minutes or so. None of us got any good pictures, but we come away with some pretty special memories!

We met a new boat who we have become friends with, a French couple who had lived in England for many years and speak flawless English. That sure helps us, since our French is, shall we say, limited. πŸ™‚ They just crossed the Pacific this year, and spent a couple of months in two separate remote areas before arriving in Tahanea. They shared some kombucha and kefir with us, two more home-brew fermentation processes that we have been interested in trying out. The kombucha is a drink, made from sweetened black tea, which can be supplemented with flavors like ginger and fruit juices and can be carbonated. The kefir is a drinkable yogurt with a creamy tart flavor. We can produce a gallon of kombucha avery 7-10 days and 3 cups of kefir daily. We’re developing quite a collection of fermentation processes! We had them over to dinner one night and something odd happened. We heard some sounds coming from outside, as if someone had come aboard and was moving around. When we investigated we saw a booby bird with red feet and a blue beak wandering around on deck, occasionally flying clumsily into the windows. We let him be for a while, but later noticed that there were 2 of them behaving the same strange way. From time to time they would upgorge a small squid (or 2 – yuck!). At one point there was also another bird of a different type (curlew?) sitting in a corner on deck, throwing up squid occasionally. We felt a bit besieged, and talk of the Hitchcock film “The Birds” brought chuckles. We shut all the doors and windows to keep them outside, but let the birds figure out how to resolve the situation _ which they apparently did, because they were all gone in the morning, leaving only the squid remains to support our memory of the night’s happening! Perhaps there was something wrong with the school of squid that caused some sort of problem for the birds, or perhaps they just overate and were too heavy to fly. We’ll probably never know.

One evening while we were in the anchorage near the passes, a sunset beach gathering was organized for the 7 (!) boats nearby. One of the boats at that party was a Portuguese couple on a big catamaran who happened to be going to Tahiti in the next week. They offered to take Damian & Camila the whole way, rather than needing to catch the supply ship as was previously planned. Very cool! We also met folks from Sweden, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. It might have been the most diverse crowd of that size that we’ve ever met! We enjoyed a pretty sunset and a nice bonfire. As we’ve said before, it’s a nice life. πŸ™‚

The next day we set sail for Fakarava. Although we still need to steer the boat by hand, the passage was really pleasant. The wind was strong enough to get us there with time to spare, so we only put up two sails for this overnight passage. This was one of those passages where we had to do a bit of careful timing; we had to leave the atoll of Tahanea as the tide was slack and also arrive at the pass to Fakarava during slack tide. The current can be quite strong if you’re even 30 minutes off. We departed at the perfect time, and had an easy exit in the afternoon. Our arrival in the early morning was a little more, um, interesting. The tide tables are only published for a few of the 80 atolls in the Tuamotus, so we calculate an offset for the rest based on how much east or west they are from a known set of data. Our Fakarava prediction was a little bit off and the current was still coming out a bit too fast when we first arrived, making for some rapids that were a bit nerve-wracking. We entered partway, then turned around and waited 15 minutes before trying again. This pass is a tough one for Lungta, because there’s a (very short) stretch that is very shallow at low tide – just 18″ below the bottom of our keel. And if we stray more than a couple of feet from this one section of the shallow area we are likely to graze the bottom (or perhaps another verb would be more appropo, like “scrape”, “grind”, or even “crash”). We went through this section with our hearts in our throats. We were coming through at the lowest point in the tide cycle during a part of the year when the tides are near an extreme, so the highs are higher than most and the lows are lower. We watched the GPS, the charts (on two different programs), the movement of the water, and the depth gauge. Camila was watching from the bowsprit, and seeing lots of pretty tiny fish on the bottom which were far too close for comfort. :-)The depth alarm went off at 12 feet, which was startling even though we knew it would happen. πŸ™‚ We were only in water less than 12 feet for a few seconds, after which the depth gauge showed slowly increasing depths – whew! We were through the worst section and could all breathe easier! We motored to the nearby anchorage and dropped our anchor with a sigh of relief.

We did one more dive with Cami & Dami in that very same pass, trailing the dinghy along with us from a long line. We had a little bit of trouble at the beginning with some gear: a small but important leak from Dan’s BCD which would have made it difficult to maintain his depth. But Camila was able to trade with him, since she has much more experience, including free-diving, and could easily and safely manage the situation. Although the pass sometimes has lots of sharks, we only saw a few. We saw a huge variety of other fish, including the ginormous Napoleanfish, which can reach 5 feet long. We saw large schools of fish from tiny anthias to large groupers, and a few unusual individuals like a yellow trunkfish and a emperor angelfish. There was a spotted eagle ray that swam effortlessly along with us for a while. We ended the dive in quite shallow water with the current racing us along at an exhilarating pace, and we jumped into the dinghy as quickly as possible before zipping back home through the tide-churned water.

The next day we relocated to a popular anchorage 6 miles to the east, hoping to reconnect with our friends on Kamiros who love to kiteboard in this location. While there we talked with a couple of Swedish guys on a small boat that were planning to go to Tahiti in a couple of days and were happy to take Damian & Camila along, saving them the cost of passage on the supply ship. We spent one last day together, and had one last “adventure”. We went on a walk in the afternoon with the Kamiros family, dinghying to the nearest beach and trying to walk to across and through to the outside coast. We passed a few rustic homes and lots of friendly dogs frolicked along with us. We did some bushwhacking underneath coconut palms, passing through an area that had been partially burned recently. We got separated from time to time as different people decided to try different routes through the scrub. In a couple of sections we encountered some small but angry wasps that packed quite a punch! Four of us got stung, most of us more than once. Later we abandoned the notion of getting across the island and headed towards the tip, where we found a few narrow inlets almost like small rivers but without a lot of current. As we were wading across we heard the dogs barking enthusiastically and then saw a big black pig run by followed by a couple of piglets and a few dogs. There was quite a ruckus as we walked along for perhaps 20 minutes, when we came across the scene again. The pig was buried in a thick bush with 4 or 5 dogs circling; the dogs were yapping and the pig was squealing. One dog had the pig’s ear in his mouth. Dan found a long branch from a coconut tree and used it like a stick to break up the pack of dogs. They all responded immediately, as if they’d been disciplined by people before. Another pig came along around this time with a few more piglets, and the whole group of 6 or 7 pigs meandered huffily back to the house where they presumably lived (along with some or all of the dogs?). The pigs didn’t seem as upset as we might have expected, although we had certainly thought that it was likely one might not survive the encounter. She had a fairly deep gash on her hindquarters, along with the abused ear. It was a distressing encounter for all of us! Elsewhere along the way we passed a short coconut palm with some yellow cocos hanging low. Luca (of Kamiros fame) scampered up ~10 feet and cut off a cluster, then opened them for all of us to enjoy a refreshing drink of coconut water. That was a treat! By this time the sun was getting low and the mosquitos were getting active. It was time to wrap up our last day with Camila & Damian.

Yesterday we delivered them to the small boat that will carry them on the next leg of their journey. We were all sad to go separate ways. They have been a gentle, happy presence in our life for over 2 months. Every day there was music, often an unofficial song of the day. From “Imagine” to “Girl from Ipanema”, from Louis Armstrong’s “Summertime (and the Livin’ is Easy)” to lotsa Latin classics, their repertoire was impressive! Dan has been learning to play “This Magic Moment” by The Drifters on the flute, and Kathy has picked up the guitar to begin learning basic chords again.

Sorry it’s been so long since the last posting: we’ve been out of internet range the past few weeks and unable to post this article. The feature we had installed to post via email didn’t work, so we’ve got something else to figure out… Hope your week is full of things that spark your curiosity and joy!

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07-31-2019 – Mo’orea, French Polynesia

It’s been a very busy month, full of boat projects and socializing with lots of new friends! Our batteries finally arrived from India, and we quickly sailed back to Tahiti from Mo’orea to pick them up and install them. We transferred 12 batteries from the truck on shore to the dinghy to Lungta anchored half a mile away, in three separate trips – followed soon thereafter by three more trips to off-load our old batteries. 8 of the new batteries got connected up to our “house” electrical system, while 4 were saved for our friends on Cinderella who was away entertaining family. The first day we only hooked up 2 of the batteries, and already they were performing better than our tired old bank of 8! What a pleasure to have stable power again! The next day we installed the remaining 6. We paid more for these batteries than the standard lead-acid ones, because these Firefly batteries use a new technology to bring better performance and longevity. With some care, we hope to get 20 years of life from them (as opposed to the 4.5 years we got from the set that’s just been retired). That’s our big news, and I’m sure everyone out there can share in our relief that this long-running saga has come to a satisfactory ending. πŸ™‚ As an added bonus, they’re pretty!

Three weeks previous, we had moved to Mo’orea to await their arrival. We had Fin with us, and we were exploring a new place. We learned that there was a shrimp farm at the head of the bay where we were anchored, and that they were open to the public on Wednesdays. We bought a kilo of delicious home-grown shrimp and had a feast! We went snorkeling once or twice, but didn’t see anything especially nice. The anchorage area gets a lot of traffic, so the reef and its residents are pretty rough and stressed. We have heard plenty of stories about sightings of mantas, eels, anemones, dolphins, even whales in the area, but we haven’t seen them first hand.

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We set off one day on a hike up to a lookout (here they call it a Belvedere) that offers a spectacular view down the length of two beautiful bays, Cook’s to the east and Opunohu to the west. Two women driving up to the lookout picked us up very soon after we began our hike up, and we zipped to the top in no time. We snapped a few photos and took a well-worn trail back to the bottom. This trail was scattered with ruins from generations long gone by, with some archaeological and botanical commentary posted here and there. But we didn’t actually spend much time reading the signs, because almost the moment we started down it began to rain. At first it was gentle and misty, but it rapidly grew to be a fairly heavy downpour. We watched our steps carefully – and successfully – so that we didn’t slip and fall in the sticky mud. We “hopped” from one tree’s “rain shadow” to another to take a break from the chilly rain, but couldn’t avoid becoming completely drenched. Near the bottom we passed a crowd of people playing at a zipline park. There were lots of children enjoying themselves, and the sounds of their excitement were delightful! By the time we reached the road again, the shower had passed by, and we arrived at the dinghy with clear skies directly overhead. It appears that Mo’orea creates much of its own weather, gathering clouds in its high peaks and funneling the prevailing winds to create stronger gusts in the valleys.

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While we were there, a weather system called a Maramuu passed by. A low pressure which passed over New Zealand continued east, and created a week’s worth of fairly strong winds throughout this whole country. A lot of boats scurried to find a secure place to anchor either out of the wind or protected from waves – or both. We found that our original anchorage had a slick muddy bottom and that our anchor slipped through it rather than grabbing a solid hold. So we moved to the outer end of the bay where the bottom was coarse white sand and we stayed put throughout the blow. (We did choose to put out two anchors for added security.) Every day we saw a few boats relocate, presumably because either they or a neighbor were dragging their anchor. But there were no serious problems in this area. It was almost an anti-climax to all of the anticipation and preparation that everyone did. πŸ™‚ We later heard some dramatic stories from other areas that were not as well protected.

One of our neighbor boats was a couple that we had met in Mexico in 2012, shortly after we began our travels, and we hadn’t seen them since. It was a lot of fun to reconnect with Jaye and Irwin after all these years! They had arrived in French Polynesia almost three years ago, though, and their boat’s permit was about to expire. They needed to leave the country after only a week – but their plans are to go to the Cook Islands for just a month and then return immediately, which will restart the clock on the permit for having the boat in the country. We had a few meals together, including a potluck party on the beach to celebrate Irwin’s birthday. They introduced us to a local man named Stevenson who is building a farm on some family property up in the hills. He was full of stories about traditional knowledge and his own personal life, and we had a nice connection with him. We hope to visit him in his home some time soon.

Another boat that was quite near us in the anchorage was Alila, which is owned by Mike, the guy who helped us install our new freezer compressor, and his German girlfriend Jutta (pronounced very much like Utah). They invited us over to dinner, and we have shared several wonderful meals together since then. He lives on the boat full-time, while she spends roughly half the time in Mallorca, Spain where she still runs a business. When they are together they live a fairly busy life, full of laughter and teasing. They loaned us their electric-assist bicycles one day (we only thought we were coming over to see how they worked, but Mike said that taking a test drive was the best way to know). They move when you turn the pedals, like any bicycle, but the electric motor kicks in and really gives a boost. We rode them up to the Belvedere that we had visited the previous week, and it was a breeze! Then we rode back down and continued counter-clockwise around the island another 5 miles or so before coming back to the beach where we had started. Now we need to figure out how to purchase a pair of them for ourselves! Later on Jutta came over and spent a day with Kathy repairing a bag for one of the bicycles, replacing the broken zipper with flaps for velcro. I think we’ll be friends for quite some time to come…

Around this time, Fin tracked down and talked with a volunteer organization called Coral Gardeners. They are bringing awareness to the plight of coral to the tourists and locals here in Mo’orea. They collect broken bits of still-living coral and nurture it so it can be reattached to a larger head of coral. His energy and scientific background are a great fit for them, so they’ve taken him on as their newest worker. He stopped by to say hi (and retrieve a charger he had left behind) a few days later, and looked happy to be making a real contribution. We’re pleased to see him doing well and hope that we will see him again down the road. The day after he left we were paid a visit by a young couple on a paddleboard. They were going through the anchorage looking for a boat that might take them to the Tuamotus. Damian is a dive instructor from Argentina while Camila is Chilean and works at the same shop as him. They have been living in Rapa Nui (previously known as Easter Island) and are here for a 3-month vacation. They are both musicians, and are traveling with a guitar, a flute, a clarinet, a trumpet, a ukelele, and an assortment of whistles. In addition she carries two hula hoops and he brings along a pair of fire sticks and another which has dancing LED’s that make amazing patterns when he twirls them. They are always busy doing something creative, from playing music together to crocheting to making something tasty from fruit they’ve gathered in the woods. They are avid chess players and are quite competitive; the four of us are at roughly the same level. They’re gentle, thoughtful, and extraordinarily even-tempered – in short, really wonderful people to be around!

After three weeks in Mo’orea (how did THAT much time pass?!) we returned to Tahiti and gratefully took possession of our new batteries. We were expecting two boats to arrive, one from the SE and the other from the NW. The first, Otra Vida, was bringing our friends Wayne & Keith, who had stayed with us a couple of months in 2015 and Keith returned in 2017 for a month of boat-watching while we were visiting our families in the States. They have been traveling with Martin and Patty (British & Peruvian) for a few months, from Patagonia to Rapa Nui, Pitcairn, and the Gambier and Tuamotu archipelagos of French Polynesia. We had been emailing one another for weeks, looking for the best time & place for us to share an anchorage. We’d been hoping for the spectacular, pristine natural environment of the Tuamotus, but when the time became right we were in the busy anchorage near the capital city of Pape’ete. We had a great time reconnecting with our “old friends” and getting to know our new ones, over a couple of meals. Surprisingly, the Otra Vida team already knew our musical friends, because they had met while in Rapa Nui. Quite the small world – or small island in this case. πŸ™‚

Then things changed up a bit, when Wayne & Keith joined us on Lungta, while Martin & Patty took off on their own for 10 days for a romantic interlude. Our house is full of energy and industry! Dan and Wayne tackled a project together, removing a patch of rot in the pilothouse and then patching the area with epoxy. Dan redesigned the area to include some louvers for better airflow through the pilothouse, below the windows. Meanwhile Damian and Camila did a lot of sanding, polishing and cleaning on the boat’s exterior and Kathy did some sewing projects. A few new boats arrived during this time who already knew the Otra Vida crew – and sometimes also our South American friends. We’ve spent a lot of time socializing with these new-found friends and others on boats that we knew previously.

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One day, 14 people from 4 boats gathered together on a single boat and traveled a couple of miles to a spot where there was an old airplane wreck that could be dived. Some of the divers used SCUBA, some dove while holding their breath (good practice for spearfishing), and some only stayed at the surface and snorkeled. We pulled together a ragtag collection of dive gear for 4, and the 6 of us took turns. This is the first dive we’ve done in many years, and it was a fun outing!

Our friends on Otra Vida have decided to stay in French Polynesia for a while longer but Keith & Wayne have visas that will expire soon. Rather than change boats again, they will just stay with us for their last week. We spent a few days wrapping up the boat projects, and crossed back to Mo’orea again – along with several of the other boats in this circle – and we’ve also met up with Alila again. Our 4 crew-mates have been in the water this morning, marveling at the turtles and rays all around. It’s a very vibrant and fluid social scene at the moment!

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06-21-2019 – Mo’orea, French Polynesia

It’s hard to believe that yet another month has passed, the moon has made another circuit around our planet. At the end of our last posting, we mentioned that we had picked up a crew mate, Fin. He is still onboard Lungta, and contributing to our quality of life. He’s great in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning. He’s also helped with a couple of refinishing projects around the boat, including the entire pilothouse and the caprail around the perimeter of the boat – both areas are looking beautiful again!

We went back to Tahanea with him the very day we posted our last blog update, arriving 27 hours later after a rather uncomfortable sail. (We were traveling into the wind, and the waves were “bumpier” than we had expected.) We arrived at the entrance pass at exactly the right time (thanks to our trusty engine), but it turned out the current was still flowing out a bit faster than predicted. This meant that our passage over the bar was slower than it would have been, even though we were motoring through the water at a good clip. It was a relief to arrive inside the quiet lagoon and drop our anchor! We enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep and in the morning we went for a snorkel in the pass where we’ve seen mantas before. Again the current was rushing out more than we’d expected. This implies that there had been stronger winds or waves for the previous few days, probably from the southeast, pushing more water over the barrier reef into the lagoon than usual, which then pushes its way out as the tide comes down. Interesting how conditions in one place cause changes in other places and times. πŸ™‚ We enjoyed the snorkel, watching reef sharks patrol the reef looking for lunch while big schools of larger fish aligned themselves with the current.

At mid-day, we traveled down to our favorite anchorage where our German friends had been waiting. It was wonderful to see Eva & Hans and their son Luca again! We spent much of the afternoon just hanging out in their cockpit visiting, and then more time every day for the next two weeks, sometimes sharing a meal, sometimes walking the beach, sometimes consulting on boat repairs. The whole family has gotten into kiteboarding, especially Luca who (was) volunteered to give Fin an intro to the sport. (It turned out that our kite was not functional because the tropical heat has melted the glue in the seams for the bladder that gives the wing its shape. We’ll have to figure out how to repair that before we can use it again.) Our relationship with the family has deepened in the short time we’ve known them, kind of accelerated by the transitory nature of our lives; we really feel a kinship with them! We enjoyed a few nice snorkels and an evening or two of trolling our fishing lines behind the dinghy – and Fin used the speargun to good use a couple of times!

While we were in this anchorage, another boat came in for a couple of days. It turns out that this was a boat that Fin had met previously, and he was excited to see them again. They are an Australian family of four, spending a whirlwind year traveling halfway around the world, ending up back in Australia just in time for the eldest boy to begin his last year of high school. They have had many adventures, but are traveling with a sense of hurrying to make sure they make every moment count – quite the contrast from Lungta’s slow pace. πŸ™‚ It was heartwarming to see the two boys enjoying a really fun day with Luca, wake-boarding behind the dinghy on a kite-board. We had them over to dinner one night, where Dan and Michael had a deep and far-ranging discussion about human nature and how to live a good life. The family moved on after only a couple of days, partially because they were low on provisions and partially because they were anxious to see what the adventures lay in the next island ahead.

After we’d been in this anchorage for a week and a half, the winds threatened to change, so we relocated to the eastern edge of the atoll, to a spot that was new to us but familiar to the folks on Kamiros. We got a later start than we should have, so by the time we arrived the sun was quite low, making it difficult to see the coral obstacles along the way. At one point we had a very close call, missing a shallow coral patch by only a yard or two. Our friends had an even closer call, colliding with a coral bommie and grazing their centerboard. It wouldn’t retract afterwards, indicating that something had bent. Fortunately, the next morning they were able to identify where the problem was, and remove the damaged part so they could repair it themselves and avoid a costly boatyard visit. (When we were in Fakarava last month, we had run into a couple that we met here last fall; they had hit a bommie and damaged their boat badly enough that they were running pumps continuously until they could get to Tahiti to be hauled out for repairs. Yikes!) This was a reminder to all of us how important it is to be diligent and aware while cruising around the Dangerous Archipelago (a nickname for the Tuamotus before GPS). We took a dinghy explore to a nearby islet (called a “motu” here) and walked near the outer reef, collecting debris and a few shells. (Unfortunately it turned out that our favorite was already occupied by a very shy hermit crab, who didn’t pop out to say hello until we had already gotten back to the boat.) We were surprised to see small blacktip reef sharks swimming around the very shallow stream between the motu and the outer reef. Fin emerged from the thicket carrying an armload of coconuts, from which he made coconut milk over the next week or so. We also did a little snorkel between two motus, where it was super calm and there were some interesting formations in the coral bottom. It was kind of a nursery, so there were lots of tiny fish flitting all around.

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Unfortunately our battery/generator/freezer series of issues continued to plague us. The latest twist was that the freshwater cooling pump developed a leak, which began as a small spray from around the bearing but rapidly developed into a serious stream of water, dumping the contents of our radiator on the floor of the hold every time we charged our sad batteries. This would of course be followed soon afterwards by our generator overheating and turning off. We tried to insert another electric pump in the circuit in its place, but couldn’t successfully cobble together a system from the pieces we had on hand. It was amazing to watch Dan and Hans play off of each other, each one learning from the other and making incremental improvements. Ultimately, though, we realized that we were not going to be able to get this generator working “in the field”, and we had to go back to Tahiti to find the necessary parts. We were able to delay for a few days, though, by using our backup gasoline-powered portable Honda generator.

Our sail back to Tahiti was relatively uneventful; the biggest event was when Fin landed a big tuna – the biggest we’ve ever caught (34″)! We’ve got many delicious meals ahead of us (and a few already inside of us)! πŸ™‚

We returned to the busy anchorage nearer to the city because we wanted to get things done as quickly as possible so we could return to the island paradise that we love. πŸ™‚ We had a couple of full days running around town: successful but expensive. In particular, a miracle happened when we were searching for a water pump for the generator. The motor inside our generator is made by Kubota, so (after checking the shops that service boaters) we looked for a Kubota dealer. We got directions from a local, but when we walked all the way out there we couldn’t find the building he had described, only car dealerships. πŸ™ We were tired and a bit discouraged, but Fin suggested going an additional block down the road. He wandered off and was gone for quite a while. When he returned he said he thought he had found something. We followed him to a shop that supported Hondas and some big equipment from Komatsu. We showed them the old pump that we wanted to replace, and the guys behind the counter showed us a shiny new one that was virtually identical. Score! They said that they don’t carry this product, but had received it in error when they ordered a different part a few months earlier. They hadn’t yet written it off and thrown it out, but had thought it useless to them. It was gold for us! Unfortunately, the price was closer to gold than “useless” – we paid $450 for a pump “now” that would have cost us less than $100 if ordered from Amazon. But there’s an opportunity cost to having it TODAY, and we were willing to pay it. πŸ™‚ We installed it the next morning, and it was indeed perfect. What luck! Now we are able to safely lift and deploy our anchor, run our freezer and clean water with our watermaker. Next on the list is to get our new batteries, which we have been anxiously anticipating since March. They are due to arrive some time in the next couple of weeks – we are so ready to be done with all of the power juggling that has been necessary these last few months!

While we were in the Marina Taina anchorage, we were paid a visit by a couple that we had met way back in 2012 in Mexico. Jaye and Irwin remembered us as well as we remembered them, although we haven’t seen each other since that short time that we shared an anchorage. It was exciting to see them again and catch up on where our lives had taken us in the meantime! We had dinner with them one evening at a group of food trucks, called roulottes. This is a popular form of eatery throughout French Polynesia, but is usually found in the more populous places that we are normally not drawn to. It was a fun outing. Another day we were able to help them out with our “rescue dinghy” service. πŸ™‚ They had been returning from a trip into town when their dinghy’s outboard engine just stopped. They couldn’t get it started, but began paddling back home. Unfortunately it was late in the day, and after a while they realized that it would be quite dark before they got back. So they called us on the radio and we zipped out to give them a hand. 10 minutes later we arrived at their back door, with their dinghy (connected by a long rope) close behind. They are preparing to leave French Polynesia in the next few days, just as their visas expire, so we are unlikely to see them again for a while, but it was really nice to get reacquainted after all these years!

Most of the nights we were in this anchorage, we could hear drumming coming from a park just on shore. It was a delightful way to wind down from our days of city and repairs! We kept saying we wanted to go ashore to watch, but never found an evening which was “just right”. Perhaps we will have another opportunity…

Our major repair completed, and two weeks until our batteries arrive, we have decided to pop over to the island “next door”, Mo’orea. Mo’orea is only 10 miles away, which makes it an accessible place for locals and tourists to visit, but it is still a spectacular natural environment. It’s a young atoll like Tahiti, where the barrier reef surrounds a rough volcanic island covered in lush tropical jungle. The island of Mo’orea is particularly rugged, with many spires and sheer cliffs, which create deep shadows and also concentrate and funnel the prevailing winds in unexpected ways. The many mountains often create their own weather, and are frequently shrouded in clouds even when the rest of the area is clear and sunny. Two rivers carry silt down from the mountains, feeding into the bay where we are anchored which has a thick muddy bottom as a result. Although the water right here is dark and murky, just a mile away the waters around the reef are beautifully clear and great for snorkeling and diving. We hope to do both in the coming days.

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05-21-2019 – Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

We had a great visit with Kathy’s sister Jean and her boyfriend James. They were only able to stay two weeks, but we enjoyed every minute. πŸ™‚ They flew into Pape’ete and spent the night before taking a domestic flight to Fakarava. We picked them up at the airport, but didn’t need to take a taxi. There’s a small dock alongside the parking lot, where we tied up our dinghy. The plane was about half an hour late, which seems to be typical. πŸ™‚ The airport is tiny; it’s a one-room building, with one area marked off for the check-in agent and baggage handling and another for a snack bar. There were no gates, just a single doorway which was used for both arrivals and departures. The public intermingled with people who had already checked in and were waiting for the plane to arrive. The runway runs along what feels like a peninsula but is actually just a portion of the long, skinny island which forms the majority of the atoll of Fakarava. There’s a gate for airport vehicles to travel along the runway, but since there are also private homes at the end of the island it’s rarely closed. The same guy who checks passengers in also opens the door to the tarmac for arriving and departing passengers.

Jean & James both had limited space in their luggage, because they were carrying several items for us. No matter how well we plan during our nearly-annual visits to the States, we always end up needing spare or repair parts along the way. We kept it to a minimum, but they brought filters for our generator, a circuit breaker for our 110V panel, 4 feet of 1/2″ brass for our windlass, a replacement pump head for our watermaker. James also brought 4 beautiful custom mugs that he had made for us, each with unique logos including the Ohm and the Knot of Eternity, which we have used in various places around Lungta and our web-page.

The next morning was slow and relaxed. We went for a snorkel at our “house bommie”, a coral garden near our boat. It’s the prettiest we’ve found in this town. Jean noticed a creature that we had never seen before, and there were dozens, as if a clutch of eggs had recently hatched. It has a head shaped like a seahorse, but it’s body is long and snake-like. They move slowly and awkwardly along the coral surfaces, but when spooked will swim freely. When we looked it up in our fish identification book, we learned it is called a networked pipefish. So now we know! Every time we’ve snorkeled at that reef since, they’ve been around.

We moved the boat at the end of the day to a new-to-us anchorage right near the north pass, in preparation for an early morning departure, on our way south to Tahanea, our favorite atoll (so far). We had a nice passage the next day. In the afternoon we were watching a big flock of small black birds that were fluttering in a tight cluster for quite a while. Clearly there was a ball of small fish below that they were feeding on. From time to time the birds would disperse a bit before relocating somewhere nearby. After a while we got fairly close and then – bang, one of our (two) fishing rods let out a whizzing sound indicating that there was a fish on the hook! James is an avid fisherman, although mostly freshwater, and was excited to play the fish and reel it in. Before he was done, though, our second lure hooked another, and then we had two fish in play, one on each side of the boat! We brought two beautiful yellow-fin tunas aboard and took them down to the kitchen sink for cleaning and dividing into portions. While that was underway, we caught a third one; all three were 10-15 lbs, and we packaged up somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 servings into our freezer. We decided to stop fishing because we couldn’t squeeze one more bit of fish in!

We sailed through the night and arrived early the next afternoon. After dropping the anchor, we had enough time to take a little dinghy explore along the shore and a short walk on the beach. We contacted our German friends on Kamiros who were already in Tahanea. They had just relocated to the eastern anchorage for better protection from an upcoming blow, which hadn’t yet appeared on our forecasts. We looked at a longer-range forecast and found that there was going to be a big blow in just a couple of days that was expected to last a week, and was going to kick up some seas that we would not want to be out in. If we decided to just stay put and wait it out, it was possible that we would be unable to get Jean & James back to Fakarava in time for their return flight. What a disappointment! We rearranged our plans, deciding to stay in the anchorage nearest the pass, rather than join our friends half a day’s sail away, and head back to Fakarava after only two days of exploring Tahanea. But we made the most of that time, snorkeling and beach-walking each day. It was a short but lovely stay.

On the third day we retraced our steps through the pass and returned to Fakarava, but this time we entered through the South Pass. Because we were preparing for the strong weather, we tucked into the SE corner where we hadn’t been before. More than 20 boats were already there, and a few more arrived over the next 24 hours. A pair of the boats is owned by a couple who run a kitesurfing school. There were half a dozen kites flying, with surfers of various levels of accomplishment below. πŸ™‚ Some were doing jumps way overhead, while others were being dragged downwind and needed to be retrieved periodically. We dinghied over to watch the action and wander a shallow sandbar roughly in the middle of nowhere. Later we walked around a small island that was part of the outer barrier of the atoll. We found a bamboo raft that had been washed ashore which intrigued us. It had a beacon of some sort attached to it, which was sturdily built to withstand the elements and had solar panels inside to keep it powered up. It was labeled with a serial number and some initials. Dan decided to take it home, perhaps disassemble it a bit, to see if we could figure out what it was for, but we haven’t yet made much headway on that project. πŸ™‚ Later we found a similar raft without the beacon washed up on a beach further north on Fakarava.

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The weather was less dramatic than we had worried about, so we decided to make another hop to a place halfway up the atoll that we would have all to ourselves. It wasn’t the most comfortable sail ever, but it wasn’t bad. We ended up stopping in a new place just a little bit south of where we took Marine the previous week. This new place has now become one of our favorite spots in Fakarava. There are a few really nice bommies to snorkel, some good shoreline to poke around, and a short but slightly-overgrown trail to get to the outside shore of the atoll. We spent hours walking the beaches on both shores and collecting purple sea urchin spines that make a pleasant tinkle when they bump together, and just might become a wind chime/mobile one of these days… Jean & James have now made a pair of bracelets from these spines as a souvenir of their visit. Kathy and Jean swam out to a remote bommie one afternoon and enjoyed a sisters’ snorkel.

One day about halfway through their visit, we had a frustrating failure of our freezer. The motor just stopped running. It seemed to be the compressor that was the problem, but since it’s virtually new we were reluctant to jump to conclusions. We sent out a couple of emails asking for help/advice but didn’t have much confidence that we’d get anywhere. Kathy’s nephew (and Jean’s too!) Nick has completed a program on HVAC, and he responded pretty quickly with some useful observations about a proposed course of action and the tools we have on hand. Unfortunately, it didn’t look encouraging for a field repair. We decided to just eat what we could from the freezer over the next few days and return to Tahiti to work on it after the visit. We were surprised at how slowly the freezer warmed up, enjoying three evenings of ice cream for dessert and lots of fresh-caught tuna. A couple of days later we got another response to our emails, from the guy who had helped install the new compressor. He suggested that the problem might be a plug of ice from some water vapor in the tubing, and that if it had melted it might be worth trying to run the freezer again. So we did, and it worked just fine. It’s not often that a major equipment failure repairs itself!

We returned to the town of Rotoava the day before Jean & James’ return flight. We spent some time being tourists in the town, visiting a shop that has locally crafted souvenirs (mostly jewelry featuring pearls and seashells) where Jean found a few nice baubles for herself and some friends back home. Dan also bought a beautiful necklace for Kathy with mother-of-pearl beads. We also returned to the reef on the outside for one last beachwalk, enjoying bleached starfish and gathering cowrie shells. It was sad to say goodbye, but exciting that Jean & James both expressed an interest in coming back next year.

After they left, we started making plans to go back to Tahanea, but the winds had blown themselves out for a week or more. So we settled in for a bit, and began a biggish boat project that we’ve been threatening for a year or so: refinishing all the wood in the pilothouse. We had installed wood flooring before leaving Portland in 2011, but made a rookie error that had been troubling us for all these years. We didn’t allow for the wood to expand as it got wet, so when it did it buckled. We needed to remove it and trim it down, giving it room along the edges. In addition to stripping and varnishing the floor, there was another (roughly) 50-60 square feet of walls and cabinets to sand and oil. It’s taken us a couple of weeks to complete this project, but it’s coming together beautifully!

We’ve run into a boat that we met in Nuku Hiva last June. Moggy is a newish catamaran that has been beautifully updated by Lyn & Dave. Their attention to detail is phenomenal, perhaps even a bit obsessive. πŸ™‚ While still in the Marquesas, they purchased a second catamaran which had been confiscated by the government after a drug raid that recovered roughly $17 million worth of cocaine. The boat sat un-cared-for for 18 months and was in poor condition. But not any more! Dave & Lyn have worked their magic and are hoping to sell the boat for a nice profit before leaving French Polynesia. In the meantime, they each sail one of the boats whenever they travel. We visited them one evening for “sundowners” and met a woman from yet another boat whose husband was away for a few weeks for a family emergency. (In fact, he left on the same plane as Jean & James.) Marta is from South Africa, but her parents were Belgian & Dutch. She married and embarked on the cruising life nearly 40 years ago. She’s full of sparkle and stories, and we’ve enjoyed spending a few evenings with her as well.

We have also recently met a couple of young British men in the internet hotspot who had been suddenly kicked off of the boat they had been on for more than 3 months. They had expected to reach Tahiti before leaving, knew no one in Fakarava and had nowhere to stay. We invited them to stay on Lungta for a few days while they regrouped. One of them (Ben) already had an airline ticket from Tahiti to London for a week later, but the other (Fin) had no additional plans. We spent a day lining things up, including getting a domestic flight for Ben to Tahiti, and then took them on a short trip to our new favorite anchorage that we had “discovered” with Jean & James. We spent another fun three days snorkeling and enjoying the beach with them. We had a small bonfire one night, complete with marshmallows, which was fun. Fin and Ben are both extremely considerate crew mates, great in the kitchen and pleasant to hang around with. Plus, they’re anxious to help with our boat projects and learn to sail! It was sad to see Ben disappear so quickly, but it looks like Fin will be with us a while. We’re about to try our luck again with a jaunt down to Tahanea, and hopefully spend some time with our friends on Kamiros again. All is well aboard Lungta – hope each of you can say the same about your life!

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04-19-2019 – Fakarava, French Polynesia

Lungta sat patiently in Port Phaeton for almost six months, but as the title above indicates, we have now moved on.Β In the last month in Tahiti, Kathy and a couple of other sailing women joined a Polynesian dance class. The teacher had won a national competition a few years ago and was quite well known. The first evening we came, she had been doing a television interview just before, and was heavily made up and glamorously dressed with a big flower behind one ear. There were roughly 25-30 women of all ages joining in twice a week. As each person arrived, they greeted all of the others with a kiss on both cheeks – this charmed us boaters! πŸ™‚ The class actually began in August, but they welcome newcomers year-round. It’s intended for beginners, but was gearing up for a year-end performance. The teacher welcomed us in English and showed us the very basics of the hip movements, but taught the class completely in French otherwise. Basically we 3 just watched the other students and clumsily mimicked whatever we saw them doing. πŸ™‚ Each class began with some training exercises, moving the hips in clockwise circles or figure-eights while walking one step at a time forward or backwards across the room and moving the arms in sweeping arcs or cheerleader-like angular motions. It was a challenging aerobic workout as well as a mental challenge to coordinate the different movements! After those “warm-ups” we practiced some of the dances that they were working on for the performance in May. Most of them had been taught previously and they were just zipping through them to keep them fresh in the mind, but a new one was taught in the four sessions Kathy attended. We thought of it as The Breadfruit Dance, because it was telling a story with the hands and arms about growing, harvesting and processing a breadfruit into fabric. The music was slow and glamorous, and the movements were graceful and fluid – at least when everyone went the same direction! It was fun and an interesting view into the local culture. Even though we didn’t speak much French, not to mention the Tahitian language, we could tell that the women were comfortable in their bodies and with each other, because of all the laughing and teasing. A few of them had small children underfoot and everyone would look out for them, sometimes even holding them while dancing. The whole mood was playful and supportive.

Our last couple of weeks in Phaeton, life got suddenly social. We met a couple of French boats whose crew we enjoyed. The women on those boats joined Kathy and Ava in the dance class, and the men hung out together. One of them was a French couple that were politically passionate and even participated in a few of the “yellow vest” protests. The other was a single-hander named Laurent who had just taken on a crew-member named Marine. We first met Laurent when he came over and asked for some advice on repairing a sewing machine, which he had borrowed from another boater who had previously needed assistance with that same machine. πŸ™‚ He was an engineer, and clearly a good one, from the way he dove into the task. We probably spent three hours together, searching for the source of the problem, cleaning up rust and changing various settings. Ultimately Laurent figured the problem out, after nearly disassembling the entire thing! The local marina hosted a pot-luck “meet and greet” sort of event one night, which we all met at. There was a huge turn-out, and the evening turned into a night of food, laughter, music, and yes some drinking. πŸ™‚ A day or two later we went for a hike with this fun group of French folks. We just went down the main road and took a left when we came to a dirt road that looked interesting. The path went almost straight up into the steep hills. We passed numerous fruit trees and flowering shrubs. From time to time we could hear water running alongside the road but we never actually saw it. It was hot and we were sweaty, and it felt great to be strenuously active! We never reached the end of the road or arrived at a landmark, but after a couple of hours there was a general consensus that it was time to turn around. The views of the bay were beautiful, and we were glad to have spent the day moving, outdoors, and among friends.

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Finally we decided that it was time to move on. We were low on fuel, and needed to go to a bigger marina to refuel. French Polynesia offers us the opportunity to get diesel duty-free by jumping through a few hoops, one of which was to visit a participating fuel dock (duty-free saved us about 30%!). Marine decided to join us for a couple of weeks, because Laurent’s plans were changing and she was enthusiastic about visiting the Tuamotus. So one Friday we pulled up our anchor and motored out the entrance of the bay and through the several dog-legs of the pass. It was to be Marine’s longest passage to date, and she was excited to be moving again. A pod of dolphins raced out to greet us as we exited the breakers outside the pass. Although we thought we’d sail that day (the forecasts showed pleasant winds in the direction we wanted to go), we ended up motoring the entire way because the island itself was blocking the wind and changing its direction to be not what we’d hoped for. We arrived at the anchorage near Marina Taina just before sunset and just managed to find a place among the hundreds of boats. There were some floats quite nearby which we nervously realized were probably marking a wreck which was noted on the chart – a couple hundred feet away! We looked down into the clear water and couldn’t see any sign of trouble below, just the plastic bottles tied to lines that went straight down. Over the next few days, we bumped into those bottles but never had any trouble. The anchorage is protected from the ocean’s waves by a very shallow reef, which causes big waves to break – waves that are appealing to surfers. From inside the anchorage we can see out to the open ocean, though, which seems a little like the “invisible” walls of an Infinity pool. It’s a little odd to have a clear view of the open sea without feeling the effects of its waves! We also had a nice view of Tahiti’s sister island, Moorea.

We spent almost a week in this anchorage, preparing for our next passage. We got fuel, we got fresh food, and we turned in the paperwork to renew our visas for another year. Yes, we’ve been enjoying our time in French Polynesia so much that we’ve decided to stick around a bit longer. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here almost a year (well, actually 10 months), and there’s still so much more to see and do. So, true to form, we’ll extend our stay longer than our original plans. But we’re leaving next year, you can believe it! πŸ™‚

In addition to our planned errands, we also spent some time working on an unplanned project. Ever since we replaced our freezer’s compressor with a shiny new QUIET one, the motor has been struggling to keep up with the heavier load. It draws roughly 3 times the power of our previous one, but runs a third of the time, so the total power draw is the same, but it works harder when it’s running. We spent somewhere around a dozen hours over the course of a week, and the motor was only barely limping along. Then one afternoon it just stopped, and nothing we did could get it to run again. Now we were desperately in search of a repairman or a replacement. The first place we stopped was a chandlery in the marina near our anchorage, which is owned by a “salty” Frenchman named Michel. He sold us that replacement compressor system for our fridge a few months ago, and we were impressed with his inventory and integrity in doing business. We thought he might be able to recommend a place for us to begin. Instead he told us there would be nothing. We brainstormed a few different possibilities, including switching our boat from 110V to 220V (AC) or supporting some sort of hybrid of the two, but he was very skeptical that we could find anything that would fit our needs. The conversation drifted back to using the 24V (DC) that we currently use. He mentioned that he had a few old motors that had accumulated in the back of his shop, but said there were no guarantees what he would find. We went into the storeroom with him, and he quickly found one that was perfect for us! He refused to charge us for it, but he warned us: no bringing it back if we decide that we want it in black or red instead of white! We spent another 3 or 4 hours testing it, mounting it, and tweaking the belt and pulley, and then voila! We have a working freezer again – hooray!

One day while we returned from a trip into town, we found a note on our dinghy. It was from our good friends Eva & Hans on the boat Kamiros, who we met when we were in the Tuamotus in October. They had just arrived in Tahiti because their daughter Lola was going to be leaving in a few days after a 4 month visit. We saw their boat on our way back home that afternoon, and were sooo happy to see them again. πŸ™‚ We had them over to dinner one night, and enjoyed a wonderful evening of catching up and comparing notes on life. We enjoyed getting to know Lola, who hadn’t been aboard when we had met previously, and seeing 15-year-old Luca growing into an adult. This family is definitely one of the treasures that we have found while in French Polynesia! It was hard to say goodbye, but there is good reason to believe that we will see them again in a few weeks, because they are also hoping/planning to visit Tahanea again.

We found a good weather window and jumped on it, leaving early on a Friday morning. Historically, sailors say that it’s bad luck to leave on a Friday, but we modern mariners throw caution to the wind and risk the consequences. πŸ™‚ Although the winds were pretty much what was forecast, there seemed to be a current going against us that made the going a bit slower than expected. The waves kicked up by the winds were also somewhat bigger and less organized than we’d hoped, and the trip turned out to be a fairly uncomfortable one. πŸ™ We had some beautiful sunsets and sunrises along the way, including one green flash; it’s been many months since we’ve seen this phenomenon! This was the first time that Marine had ever seen it, and it was kinda cool to share it with her. Fortunately our passage only took 4 days, instead of the 5 that we had predicted. We arrived mid-day on Tuesday, just in time to cross the pass of Fakarava (well, we “nudged” our progress a bit using our motor – no one wanted to spend an additional night on passage).

The supply ship came in the next morning, and we went ashore early to be sure we got some of the fresh produce. The dock was abuzz with activity, as cargo was unloaded and people came to pick up their purchases. There was a table set up where a crew member was checking off the packages as they were claimed. There was someone siphoning fuel from a 55-gallon drum into half a dozen jerry cans. A forklift was moving pallets of construction materials around. It was exciting just to be nearby! That afternoon we went for a nice snorkel and visited the internet cafe for a couple of hours.

There’s an event called the World ARC, which is an organized round-the-world excursion. It’s divided into segments, which boaters can sign up for separately – for several thousand dollars each! Because they have the goal of circumnavigating in one year, they move pretty quickly. Anywhere from a dozen to 40 boats might be travelling en masse, and when they pull into an anchorage it doesn’t go unnoticed. πŸ™‚ The ARC rolled into Fakarava a day or two after we did. The anchorage got crowded, the produce in stores dwindled, as did the internet bandwidth, and the radio traffic increased. We decided to get outta town! We took a small excursion south a dozen miles, about a third the length of the island, to a place less visited. Along the way we encountered a maze of round floating balls, marking a pearl farm. We had to dodge back and forth between them, continuing to keep an eye out for shallow patches of coral and staying within the angle supported by the wind. It was an interesting puzzle! When we arrived at our intended spot along the shore, we were pleased to find that there was no one in sight. We hung out there for three days, snorkeling every day and wandering the beach a bit. We blew up our air mattress and slept on deck one night (but moved inside when it began to rain). We talked with a local who has a small house on the beach nearby. It was a real advantage to have Marine help understand his French, which was interspersed with Tahitian and Pau Motu! He opened up a few coconuts and shared the juice and meat with us, and even gave us a couple more to take home with us. These were the heaviest coconuts we’ve ever had – and very sweet!

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Marine is a very pleasant house-mate. She’s a 20-something French girl, traveling the world on her own. Sometimes she participates in “work-away” arrangements, where she works a certain number of hours a week in return for room and board. She is thoughtful and energetic, and was always ready to go (as long as it wasn’t *too* early in the morning!) She loved snorkeling with us, although was always a bit nervous about any sharks. She generously spent several hours working with us on improving our French, and we also learned a lot about the mentality of the French people and some basics about the Algerian people from whom she was descended. Last but definitely not least, she also cooked a few great meals while she was with us!

We’ve now returned to the town in the north of the island. The airport is just a few miles away, and there’s a fixed dock there where we can bring our dinghy. Marine will continue on her travels, and Kathy’s sister Jean and her boyfriend James are due to arrive in a few days. Lots of moving around…Β  All is well on Lungta, and I hope the same is true for all of you!

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03-11-2019 – Baie Phaeton, Tahiti, French Polynesia

We find ourselves in a comfortable state, balanced between a boat-project work mode, beautiful natural surroundings, enough “civilization” that we aren’t wanting for much, and a small group of boaters that provide a bit of a social scene. We’ve entertained the notion several times of moving on, but haven’t actually done anything about it. πŸ™‚

We’ve repaired the unsightly crack in the side of our hull that had bothered us. It turns out to have been in the top fairing layer after all, and not to involve the structural cement at all. We took significantly longer to do it than we’d planned, as we got side-tracked into numerous other projects. Just as we finished up this task and actually thought we would leave Tahiti the next day, we met a couple on a boat who needed some help. They had just returned from a long trip back to the States, excited about some projects for which they were bringing back parts to get them going. The biggest project was to replace the standing rigging on their boat, all of the stays that support the mast and keep it under tension so it can support the sails. One of these wires had broken during a passage, and although they did a brilliant job of jerry-rigging (does this story shine light on the origin of that word/phrase?) the integrity of their entire sailing rig was seriously compromised. They had purchased new rigging, planning to switch from the stainless rod rigging that had been in place to Dyneema rope made from high-tech fibers that are super-strong and UV-resistant. They needed to remove the mast from the boat in order to do this work, and were trying to arrange for a crane to come to the small marina in this bay. Dan’s eyes lit up as he considered how we could use Lungta’s main mast as a crane to do this work for them…

In addition to this exciting major project that they were trying to do, though, they had a lot of smaller problems that added up to a minor disaster. While they were away, their boat had leaked quite a bit during the seasonal rains and lots of mold had taken hold inside, some doing damage to sections of the deck and interior. Also, they have an electric motor (how cool is that?!), but the battery bank that powers it had completely lost its charge. They were seriously discouraged! We invited them to stay with us for a while and offered to try to charge up the batteries. The next day we towed their boat over to Lungta with our dinghy, and tied them alongside us for the duration of Operation Cinderella. πŸ™‚

Cinderella’s crew are Ava and Pajo, an energetic pair who left from Seattle last year. Pajo completely changed over the engine from a big diesel to a much smaller electric motor. They are strong advocates of renewable energy, and have no fossil fuels aboard. They use a sailing/rowing dinghy or stand-up paddleboards to get to shore instead of the gasoline-based outboard engine that we (and most other cruisers) have gotten used to. They often refer to their boat as a “power bank” because of all the solar power that they collect.

We got a fairly early start the morning that we pulled their mast out. Dan & Pajo cranked Kathy to the top of both of our masts, in order to rig our mast to act like a crane. We brought one end of a halyard from the main mast out to the end of the boom which sits near the other mast – 40′ above deck. There’s a sheave (or wheel) embedded in the end of the boom, that we fed the line through so it would pull directly up from a point out to the side of Lungta rather than from the center of the boat, and she tied another line to the tip of the boom which allowed us to swing the boom out at whatever angle we needed. Then we tied the main halyard to a sling that Pajo had wrapped around the balance-point of Cinderella’s mast. When Pajo disconnected all of the rigging supports, the only thing supporting their mast was Lungta’s “crane”. Dan pulled up on that halyard using our beefy electric windlass (which is normally used for raising and lowering our anchor). The mast went through a hole in the deck and a hard waxy substance called Spar-Tite had been poured into the gap around it to prevent leaks. This stuff turned out to be VERY hard, resembling epoxy rather than wax, and it was stuck VERY well to both the mast and the deck. We spent a lot of our time trying to break that seal, from beating on it with a hammer to prying with a crowbar to trying to melt it with a propane torch. Eventually we managed to get it loose and the mast popped free. We raised it enough to get the end off the deck, then gently maneuvered it around to lie horizontally along their deck, with 10′ sticking out both fore and aft. A successful day!

Pajo spent the next two weeks (or was it three? time passes by without much notice around here!) repairing rotten spots in the deck where the mast’s hole had leaked over the years, cleaning up the Spar-Tite to hopefully make it easier to slide the mast back in, and replacing the rigging lines. Because the new rigging was so different from the old, he had to change out the fittings to which the lines attached – and that means cutting some holes into the mast into which the fittings were inserted. Gulp! There were a few issues in how they fit, and Dan and Pajo enjoyed the challenge and camaraderie of coming up with good solutions. Installing the mast again was very similar to the process of removing it; we used the same setup to create the Lungta crane, we all took the same roles, and the Spar-Tite gave us some grief in getting the mast to move through that same hole. As before, we somehow managed to make it work, and we celebrated the day’s work with a cup of Dan’s homemade sake.

Have I told you that Dan has been brewing rice wine onboard Lungta? It turns out to be a surprisingly simple process, and the result is quite pleasing. All it takes is a cup of rice, some sugar, bread yeast, water – and time. He stretches a balloon over the mouth of the bottle, with a tiny pinprick of a hole to let gas from the fermentation out without allowing any bacteria in which might destroy the taste. The balloon stands up tall, gently inflated. He swishes the mixture up every day or so, but after about a week the balloon droops which indicates that the fermentation process is nearing an end. After that we wait and watch it clarify as the solids settle out, another week or two. Once it is clear, we siphon the sake into a wine bottle leaving the remaining solids from the yeast and rice behind. Alcohol in French Polynesia is very expensive, as is virtually everything that needs to be imported thousands of miles from other countries. There is a fairly heavy tax on alcohol as well, to discourage the destructive effects of alcoholism. Cruisers often stock up on alcohol before crossing the Pacific, and sometimes use bottles of alcohol as a valuable trade item with thirsty locals. πŸ™‚ We once had a friend of a friend who had discovered while preparing for a long passage that they could cover the entire floor of their interior with six-packs of beer and walk on them without crushing the cans.

We’ve also lately been enjoying sprouting lentils for garnishing meals and just plain snacking. We found a store in the “big city” which sells environmentally conscious products, in bulk. We were thrilled to find dried fruits, various flours, granola and cooking oils, most of it organic (or Bio, which is the European standard). Many of these products, familiar in the widely stocked American markets, like buckwheat, sesame oil, and dried apricots, are unusual in this area.

Shortly after we met Cinderella, our bank of twelve batteries that powers everything on our boat (except the engine’s starter) suddenly stopped functioning consistently. They are more than 4 years old, and that is a typical lifespan of batteries in this sort of environment. Unfortunately, batteries are another item that become costly after shipping them thousands of miles. We started to look around for a local shop that could supply 12 6V batteries (“golf cart” batteries), and compare that to the cost of purchasing them from the States and having them shipped and brought through customs. Our friends on Cinderella had some good suggestions of new battery technologies that have come out recently which offer much better performance for much longer – but at a higher cost. Cinderella decided to upgrade their nearly-dead batteries at the same time, and negotiated a super deal for the large purchase. The biggest downside is that it will take nearly two months all told for us to get these batteries, since they will come directly from the factory in India. We will get a better rate bringing them through customs too, as a “boat in transit” rather than importing foreign goods into the country in the standard way. It looks like we will be here for a while longer… But our batteries seem to be holding up well enough that the only change to our life is that we are running the generator more frequently to recharge them – and we are more attentive to the state of the voltage! The new batteries are 12V instead of 6V, so they are a different dimension. We are getting 8 instead of 12, but can only fit 6 of them in the space where 9 have been previously. We just built a new box to hold the remaining 2, sitting on the fuel tanks, to protect the tanks from any acid leaks that may occur some time in the future and the batteries from any spills of water or diesel that might happen.

We had a few days where our generator was acting up, turning off because the temperature was too hot (thanks to our trusty little Arduino temperature monitor!). We spent a couple of days tracking the source of the problem down, checking for blockages in the hoses that bring cooling seawater into the heat exchanger and removing the generator’s water pump to check that it was in good shape. We have a screen filter in the system to keep large debris from getting pulled in, and it was filling up a little more quickly than usual, but it didn’t seem excessive. So for a few days we would just clean that out whenever the generator “overheated”, even though it wasn’t all that bad. A few times we found a small fish in that strainer basket, perhaps an inch in diameter. Mostly they were dead by the time we got to them, but once the little guy was swimming around perkily. The thought occurred to us that perhaps the presence of the fish was obstructing the water enough that the generator couldn’t cool down properly. So we brainstormed about how to keep the fish from getting sucked into the thru-hull for that system – which was only half an inch in diameter! Eventually we built a “pergola” for the fish, by taking two pieces of stiff stainless steel wire and bending them tightly enough to fit in the hole, but counting on their springiness to prevent them from coming out. Together they make the entrance to the hole small enough that the fish are no longer able to go inside, and yet it doesn’t impede the flow of water like another screen might. It seems that we are just on the edge of having enough water to cool our generator, so we’ve now added “enlarge generator input thru-hull” to our to-do list for the next time we haul the boat out of the water.

As you can tell, life this month has been pretty full of boat projects, both ours and those of our friends. But we’re doing all this in a spectacular natural surrounding. The island nearly completely encircles our anchorage, with a gap of only about 10 degrees where we can see the big waves crashing on the barrier reef protecting us from the open ocean. There’s a beautiful waterfall halfway up the mountain behind the marina that we intend to hike up to one of these days but haven’t yet. The weather is hot, but beautiful and variable. One week we have lots of rain – and rainbows – and the next is full of sunny days.

Although this bay appears to be pretty remote, an hour’s drive from the city, it hosts a lot of recreational activity. There is a sailing school here that has small classes virtually every day, with at least four different types of boats. The tiniest ones are a fleet of homemade Optimists, the size of a bathtub, made from 4 pieces of plywood. The students are small children, ranging in age from perhaps 5-10 years old. Kathy likes to call them “chickies” because when they are towed out from the marina in a string they look for all the world like a bunch of ducklings following their mother. It is delightful to hear their excited voices echoing across the water! On days with no wind, they dump the boats over and practice getting in again. Older students practice on Lasers or Hobie-Cats, and there are also wind surfers from time to time. Dan spent a couple of days refurbishing Ziji, our sailing/rowing dinghy and we have gone out for short sails nearly every day since. Our friends on Cinderella have a similar dinghy, as do another American couple on a boat called Louise.

There’s an annual competition in this country kinda like the Olympics where athletes from the far-flung regions come together to find the best of the best. There are competitions in each of the island groups in various events, and then in July the winners meet in Tahiti for a big showdown and celebration, called the Heiva. There are lots of outrigger canoes in the waters of this area, with both individuals and groups practicing nearly daily. There are men’s teams, women’s teams, and even teams of kids working out. I’m not sure what other events they offer, but I know there’s a dance competition and lots of food. It sounds like a great celebration of the culture! (And it also turns out to be a great tourist draw as well.)

As you can see, life is pretty mellow right now, with lots to do and enjoy. We’re looking forward to a change sometime soon, but not especially in a hurry (although it would be nice to get our battery situation addressed!) All is well on Lungta!

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