06-23-2021 – Taina Anchorage, Tahiti, French Polynesia

The last several weeks have been more eventful than usual – and the next several will continue that trend! We’ve left the Tuamotus for a while. We intend to return as soon as we can, but we have a few things on the calendar before then!

Here are a couple of paragraphs that I wrote for a friend about things that caught my eye while we were still in Rotoava:

We woke up early this morning, just after 5am, to go to a veggie stand that is set up every Tuesday & Friday. They have locally-grown produce, and we like the idea of shopping local whenever possible. The sky was still dark, but first-light was visible in the east. As we dinghied over to the tiny beach the sky lightened up continuously, adding pastel colors to the clouds: butter yellow, lavender, baby pink. Our route was to go parallel to the coast until we saw the landmark for our beach, then turn left, pull out our flashlights/headlamps to watch for shallow bommies and navigate our way to shore. But before we took that left, we noticed that the pickup which brings all the veggies wasn’t parked where we expected and there was no light coming from where the table would be set up. So we decided to wait a few minutes to see if they arrived. We bobbed peacefully along in the quiet water, watching the morning sky ripen and the town begin to come alive. No one showed up here, though, so we turned around and headed home. We heard the church bells ring, and as we passed the church we noticed a group of well-dressed people standing outside. Perhaps it’s a holiday? We don’t know. But it was a different kind of morning…

The last couple of days we’ve had a huge school of tiny fish clustered around the boat, silvery blue, constantly in motion, left and right, expanding and contracting, often synchronized but sometimes all chaotic. I’ve enjoyed looking at the boundary between Lungta’s shadow and the direct sunlight on these fish, reversing dark fish on light background with shiny fish on dark background – kind of Escheresque! Fish often congregate under boats – or other floating debris, like logs – presumably for some sort of protection from predators. But this protection is only partial. The schooling is also a protective thing, which protects only a portion of them, albeit a large portion. We’ve had an unusual amount of additional activity around Lungta these last few days: tuna fish coming in from the pass, which is about 5 miles away. Often when we see tuna while snorkeling, they are solitary or traveling in small groups, but this week we’ve seen a dozen, two dozen, perhaps even 30 at a time. Sometimes they seem to be herding the fry tighter together, before taking a run through the center of the school. When they’re herding they travel as a team, using their broad sides to create a wall of sorts; when they’re feeding it’s a free-for-all, each one zigging and zagging randomly on their own path. When they’re feeding they often break the surface, making a big splash, and occasionally leap completely out of the water in a shiny silver arc. The splashes at the surface attract the attention of a type of tern called a noddy, with a black body and a white smudge on their forehead which looks like another bird shat on his neighbor below! The noddies call out to each other with a sound like a squeaky door hinge, but cut off the instant it begins as if you didn’t want anyone to hear it in the middle of the night – ‘eh’, ‘eh’, ‘eh’. They swoop all over the area looking for fish and when they find some they make this sound to attract their friends. They dive down to the water’s surface but don’t want to get their feet wet; they delicately dip their beaks in the water to retrieve a fish that swam too close to the surface and then quickly change direction, swooping back up again. When there are a lot of them near the boat we’re hearing this melee of splashes and ‘eh’-calls, intensely intermingled for a few seconds or a minute, then it all dissipates again as the clusters of small fish, predators, birds all break up and regroup elsewhere. It’s pretty cool to be in the middle of all this LIFE! (Except, perhaps, for the individual small fry who get eaten!)

  

Almost exactly a month ago, our daily life changed. We’ve been setting up a major shipment of things that we need (or want 🙂 ) from the States, ordering all these items to be shipped to a company that has a warehouse in California and bundles them together onto palettes that are then put onto a ship bound for Tahiti. Our original plan was to have the stuff put on the weekly supply ship that comes to Fakarava, where we could sidle up to the dock and load our stuff on-board in the same way we got the washing machine. But plans have a way of evolving… With the delays to our friends visiting, we realized that we might have a nice window to make a trip back to the States before or just after our shipment arrived. So we decided to relocate to Tahiti, where we could leave the boat under the watchful eye of a friend for several weeks while we ‘disappeared’. The idea quickly gained traction, and we changed gears pretty quickly!

But Mother Nature wasn’t immediately on-board with the new plan. 🙂 We ended up waiting almost two weeks to find a weather window that we liked for the passage. The wait was long enough that it made the decision for us whether our trip to the States would happen before the shipment arrived – or after. But it was worth the wait, because the big waves we were unenthusiastic about riding did eventually calm down and the sea was pleasant for our entire trip. There was one unfortunate event that affected our whole passage, though. Just as we got out of Fakarava’s pass and turned our sights west towards Tahiti, the autopilot started to make some funny choking sounds, and shortly after that it coughed and went silent. The motor that drives the hydraulic pump of the steering had given up the ghost at an inopportune moment! The steering wasn’t broken, just the convenience of having it actively controlled automatically. In practical terms, what that means is that someone had to be sitting at the wheel constantly fine-tuning our direction every few seconds. If an adjustment didn’t get made in time, then the boat’s momentum would overshoot – and often that means that it would overshoot in the other direction after a correction, making for a series of oscillations before being squarely on track again. This active steering takes more focus and effort than just watching to make sure all is well, which we were unable to keep for more than an hour or two. Usually during passages we take 3-4 hour shifts, trading off when the person at the helm can’t keep their eyes open any more. But with the autopilot out the shifts were much shorter, and so were our “off-duty” naps. We were very short on sleep for a few days! So we decided to run the motor for the entire trip, speeding up the journey enough to knock off one full night of travel from the 3 day trip.

The first night was a bit magical because it was the full lunar eclipse, which happened between about 11pm and 1am. At first the full moon rose in a spectacular orange display, and later it was fun to watch the “bite” out of the disk become a little bit bigger each time one would dart outside to take a peek before running back inside to correct course. The night got eerily dark, after having been so bright just a short while ago, and there was an odd reddish-brownish glow to the area where the moon belonged. Then the process reversed itself, and in a few short hours the bold spotlight of a full moon disavowed that anything unusual had ever happened. 🙂 As the sun was going down the next night, we were surprised to realize that we were already seeing the profile of Tahiti appearing on the distant horizon, made easier to find because of the bank of clouds that often gathers near the tall mountains of the Society Islands. The second night, of course, had a virtually full moon to keep us company, and in the wee hours of the early morning we enjoyed seeing the outlines of Tahiti progressively getting closer.

  

As we rounded the top of the island and then pulled into the pass, we began to breathe easy that we would soon be able to rest after our tiring journey. But there was one more wrinkle to face! We arrived at the anchorage and began to search for a large enough ‘hole’ to drop our anchor in between all the boats that were already there, with enough distance between us and our neighbors to assure that we wouldn’t collide when the wind changes direction. Sometimes this process can take a while! 🙂 We had found a place that seemed marginal, and paused next to one of the nearby boats, calling out to ask him how much anchor chain he had deployed – when our engine suddenly just turned off! So we lowered the anchor immediately – but this is a slow process, taking roughly 4 minutes to get 100 feet of chain deployed, as we drifted back slowly but steadily during that time, ending up uncomfortably close to another boat behind us. Amid some uncertainty of exactly how much fuel our engine consumes and how much was now left in our tanks, we were concerned that we had run out! We first dropped the dinghy in the water to assure our neighbor that we were not intending to stay so close to them, and would move as soon as we got our problem resolved – and they told us that their engine was also out of commission and they were actively working on it at that moment! 🙂 When life feels complicated, it is often a surprise to find that everyone else is fighting the same sorts of problems as you are!

So we checked out our fuel situation, and found that we did still have plenty of fuel, but that it was not evenly distributed between our two tanks and the one where the engine was drawing from had been sucked dry. It’s good news to find an explanation and have a clear course of action to address a problem, but that doesn’t always mean that course is going to be easy. 🙂 The first step, to transfer fuel from one side to the other was straightforward, but the next step of getting it to the engine was a bit more challenging. When the fuel lines are all bled dry, the air in the lines needs to be completely eliminated before the engine can start again. There are 3 different stages in the system that need to have the air “bled” out before the fuel can be reliably sucked into the next. It took a couple of hours to accomplish that work, during which lots of tools were deployed, a few parts were broken and replaced, and Dan gradually became covered with oil. (Our engine is 50 years old, and is not a place you’d want to spread out your lunch.) It took persistence and a bit of innovation to recover the fuel supply to the engine, but we succeeded. We relocated the boat a little further from the neighbor behind us and dropped our anchor again 200′ away, where we’ve been ever since. Our thoughts of an afternoon nap were gone, but our efforts to navigate and steer manually and to replenish our fuel system were eventually rewarded with a good night’s sleep!

Back in Tahiti, in the crowded anchorage near the Taina Marina, we’re able to get lots of tasks done more easily. There are many shops and services here that we can’t find in a tiny remote community, and internet is faster and more reliable. We can take a 20 minute bus or dinghy ride into the city for shopping or office visits. The day after we arrived, we dinghied into town and straightened out our visa renewal. (We had sent in our applications and supporting documentation via email, which they don’t usually accept but we’ve heard that they have sometimes during Covid. We got an automated acknowledgement, but never a direct reply to our request, and our current visas expired on June 13th. They accepted our paper application, but never actually said whether they had been working on the email version of the request. Regardless, we now have an official document that says we’re good to go, which is all we really care about!) The next business day (Monday) we went to a local vaccine center and got our first Pfizer vaccine. (We tried a few times in Fakarava, but kept getting different stories, from “we’ll put you on a list and call when we have some supply” to “we’re not going to do boaters here; go to Tahiti” to “we’ll do boaters, but only with any doses that are available after locals have been taken care of” to “we’re switching from Pfizer to Janssen and are only doing second doses this week”.) We’ve visited a dentist (to restore a crown that popped off), gotten motor oil for our big old boat, and brought our generator’s ‘frozen’ motor to a machine shop.

‘Our’ ship arrived in Pape’ete last Thursday and we dinghied in to see it being unloaded. Although only a small fraction of one of the many containers was filled with our stuff, it was fun to see it! We went into the office of the agent who is managing the customs process, and learned that it take *at least* a week for that processing. We’re excited! We’re doing what we can beforehand, so the important projects can be done as quickly and easily as possible. We’ve been brainstorming where and how we can get our stuff delivered. We think it will be 3 or possibly 4 palettes stacked 3′ high with boxes and odd-shaped items, but have no idea how heavy the whole collection will be! Our best plan so far is to have it delivered to the dingy dock at the nearby marina and take one dinghy full of stuff after another back and forth out to the anchorage. We have some friends on another boat who added some stuff to our order (including an *anchor*!) who will join in, so it should be a fun day of moving things around. 🙂

The anchorage is about 5 miles from the city, passing right by the airport. When we have the big boat, we have to call the airport tower and get permission to transit underneath the flight path. It’s not unusual to be told to wait a few minutes until a plane takes off or lands. There’s actually another anchorage alongside the runway, a ways offshore, but they’re only trying to protect the region directly along that flight path. On our last trip there, we saw a couple of specialized catamaran-like boats which were floating restaurants moving around near the anchorage. In good conditions, it takes us about 20 minutes to get to the city’s port, and as we enter the pass we have to watch carefully for ferries coming between Tahiti and the nearby island of Mo’orea. The newest ferry travels more than 30 mph, and can approach much more quickly than we normally expect boat traffic to move! The harbor also serves a few cruise ships, the country’s navy, and a big marina. It’s a pretty heavily used space!

  

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04-14-2021 – Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

The last two months have been a bit of “life as usual” for us. We began – and ended – the time in Rotoava, the town on Fakarava, but spent 3 weeks in Tahanea (our favorite atoll) and another week in the anchorage halfway down the length of Fakarava. We structured our travel around the weather and the timing of the supply ships. We’ve done a bit of snorkeling, watched more than a few sunsets, and explored a couple of rocky beaches.

    

On one of our passages back to Fakarava, we had our fishing lines deployed behind the boat. One time when we glanced back to check on it, we noticed that something was snagged. As we reeled it in, we realized that it was a booby bird – but it was completely inactive, not a good sign! We had no idea how long it had been dragging along behind us! As it came alongside the boat, though, it started to squirm and wriggle; what a relief! We pulled him on board and set him on deck, then quickly threw a towel over his head to calm him. Then we used a pair of pliers to remove the hook from his beak, uncovered him and left him to his own devices. At first he seemed a bit shocky. He shook himself off and jumped up on the side rail and sat there for a couple of hours to decompress. He tucked his head behind his wing and dozed for a while, then spent some time preening his feathers which had gotten a bit rumpled in all the activity. Eventually he flew off and resumed his daily life. We’d love to think that he’d learned a lesson and would avoid fishing lures dragging behind sailboats, but we’re skeptical. We’ve seen other boobies fly straight to the back of the boat and dive on our lure immediately after going through this same traumatic event!

On another day while snorkeling on a bommie near town we had a rare sighting of an octopus, which was out in the open hunting. Kathy found it first and was able to call Dan over to join her. Together we watched it for another 10 minutes or so. That was pretty exciting! It would swim over to an opening in the rocky surface and drape its tentacles over the entrance, then send in one or two feelers to flush out whatever was inside. Then it would change colors from a dark brown to a pale, slightly green shade, as it consumed what it found. This process repeated three or four times before it squeezed itself inside an opening and didn’t come back out. Did our hovering overhead make it nervous? Did it get full and decide it was time for a nap? Did it finish its usual circuit and happen to have arrived back home? We’ll never know! But it was exciting to see this slice in the life of this amazing creature! More than a week later we saw another, this time just hanging out in the mouth of his den. The second one was much smaller and quite timid, but we stayed nearby and watched it for more than half an hour and over that time he (or she?) got slightly less fearful of our presence, creeping further out of the hole. The next day we returned, with a camera, and found her at the same hole. Octopi are very fluid, and the photo is admittedly a little hard to understand. The tentacles are bunched up inside the hole, and the body is a dark, textured lump oozing outside, with the two eyes at the top of the hump. The color and texture are surprisingly changeable, to match the surroundings but also reflecting the animal’s emotions. They are fascinating animals!

We’re expanding our repertoire on getting things done between here and Tahiti. We’ve found that many businesses in Tahiti will deliver to Fakarava via the weekly supply ship – I’m sure this happens all the time, to many of the outlying islands in this country. It’s an important service to keep goods flowing throughout the region. And now we’re beginning to tap into it! We first tried to do this a couple of months ago when we needed engine oil, but we ran into a roadblock when it came to making our payment and found that most business here seems to be done with a bank transfer – and we don’t have a local bank account! So now we know that we have to ask whether a business will accept credit cards before we place our orders. We’re getting smarter… 🙂

Last month we received a shipment of anchor chain, which we had ordered roughly a year ago, just before the coronavirus shut down the factory and the shipping traffic. Finally our chain was manufactured and shipped and processed through customs – and then sent to us in Fakarava. Hooray! We tied off to the town’s wharf so that we could change out the chain without needing to be simultaneously using it while at anchor. 🙂 First we pulled all of the old rusty chain out of the chain locker and piled it up on deck. Then we laid out all of the shiny new chain along the other side of the deck, and marked it periodically with colored wire-ties so that when we’re deploying it we can easily tell how much is in the water. We attached the new chain to the anchor and fed the rest into the chain locker where it’s stored (attached to a fitting inside so the end doesn’t accidentally get fed off the boat!). But we weren’t done yet! Because we’re no longer in the Americas, we weren’t able to find the same 1/2″ chain that we had been using; we had to order a metric dimension. One consequence of that is that the chain-wheel that we use to pull the chain up and down needed to be changed. It has to be specifically designed for the dimensions of the chain, because it has indentations in it which the links of the chain nestle into while it turns. After we ordered the chain, while we were still in Tahiti, we found a small chain-wheel for the right size chain, and had it modified at a machine shop to fit the shaft of our windlass. The new chain-wheel is quite a bit smaller in diameter than the old one, which means that it pulls up less chain with each turn of the wheel. Bringing up the chain, or deploying it, feels veeerrry slow now. 🙂 We’re pleased to have the new chain in place – the old chain was leaving rusty stains on the deck whenever we pulled it up out of the salty sea. We’re still working with the new chain-wheel to come up with a solution we like. You win some, you lose some. 🙂

    

And here’s a cute picture of the system we’ve put together to float our chain so that there’s less of it on the ground to get tangled up with bommies. You can see how there is a nice loop of chain in between each float, high enough off the bottom that it won’t catch on the towers of coral. If you look real carefully, though, you will see our anchor, to the left a bit, at the end of the loops of chain which have been formed as the boat is dragged in various directions when the wind changes directions. 🙂

We’ve found two businesses that put together shipments of grocery items, but carry different products. One of them has many products similar to CostCo, while the other also carries fresh produce, frozen products, and dry goods. We ran into the payment problem with the second business, but solved it by using the services of a family business we already use frequently for our internet needs. They were able to pay the invoice for us, and accept our cash (plus a 10% surcharge, of course). It worked out nicely. Roughly a week after we placed each order our purchases arrived at the dock. The workers on the ship unload all the packages and place them in large bins in the adjacent parking area, and everyone who is expecting a delivery wanders from one bin to the next looking for the boxes with their names written on them. There seems to be no problem with people taking packages that aren’t theirs – which is a delightful aspect of life in this small out-of-the-way place. I can’t imagine this process working in a larger city, or for that matter anywhere in Central America! So now our freezer, fridge and pantry are all stocked back up, ready to go!

  

We also – finally – had success with getting a washing machine delivered here. Hooray! Our friend Norma who’s on a boat in Pape’ete had a much harder time of it than we’d all expected when we asked her for a favor – to place an order for a washing machine and have it put on the supply ship! After the store lost the machine in between their warehouse and the supply ship’s dock *twice* (adding a delay of a week or two each time) they finally managed to get it on last week’s ship. When we found it along a row of bigger purchases, along the edge of the parking lot, we waved at a worker on a small forklift and asked him to move it to the end of the wharf, where we had tied Lungta up the night before (the same place we went to bring our chain on-board). That part was a breeze! We used a winch to lift it up and onto the back deck. The next step was to remove the door-jambs for both the back door and bathroom door, the steering wheel and the handrail for the stairs into the galley, all of which caused the walkway to be too narrow for the washer to fit. We happened to meet a young couple just the day before that were curious about the boat, and after chatting for a while, we “invited” them to help us move the washer – and they graciously agreed. 🙂 We got lucky! Molly and Jarne turned out to be really interesting people, and extremely helpful in wrestling the washer downstairs and around the corner into the bathroom. The next evening they came over for dinner, and we had a delightful conversation getting to know them and exploring perspectives on life. We hope to spend more time together in the coming months! We gave them a lifetime pass to use our washer. 🙂 We spent the next couple of days doing all the other things needed to get the machine installed (securely mounting it to the counter surface, putting in a circuit for 220V, and hooking up the water connection) and put the house back together (replacing all the stuff that we’d just removed to clear the walkway, and reassembling the built-in shelving unit that had been disassembled two months ago when we removed the old broken machine). This lifestyle isn’t always convenient, and sometimes things that seem quite mundane turn out to be a bit of an adventure to accomplish! Now we’re catching up on the laundry that has been deferred for the last couple of months. It turns out that washing stuff in a bucket loses its charm after only a few loads. Now we know! 🙂

    

We’ve been anticipating the visit of our friend Jonnie for quite a while. She first booked tickets to come visit two years ago, but had to delay her visit for a year; then coronavirus struck and she had to delay again, and again, and again. At last count, she tells us she’s held 9 different itineraries! She’s tired of waiting on hold with the airlines to set up another set of flights, only to have them cancelled. Last week when the airline again cancelled one of her flights, she said “enough!”. So now she’s waiting until the borders are officially opened, rather than anticipating it. This means that we don’t know when (or if?) we’re going to see her. 🙁 We’ve got another friend who lives in the UK who has recently purchased tickets for June. I hope she doesn’t have the same experience!

  

Although it’s been a fairly productive time for us, we haven’t been working too hard. Life feels fairly slow and easy. The borders of most of the island nations here in the South Pacific are still closed, so we’re coming to believe that we’ll spend another year in French Polynesia. We’ve started the process of requesting the renewal of our visas and boat permit. There are far worse places to wait out the coronavirus tsunami that swept the world last year! We feel very fortunate indeed to be “stuck in paradise”!

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02-12-2021 – Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

A New Year has come upon us, and with it for many, the sense that the future holds promise as a dark year has been left behind! Ours started out nicely, with a friend aboard Lungta for the first time in over a year.

Fabienne is a French nurse who is working abroad for 4 years in Tahiti. We met her on New Year’s Eve 2019, and her friendship was probably our most significant one throughout the year of coronavirus. We were all sad to part ways when we left Taravao in July, but she gets a long break from the school schedule over Christmas and New Year’s. She was with us for three weeks, which was long enough to sail down to Tahanea and show her our Favorite Atoll. Fabienne is a very athletic person and loves snorkeling, so she was in her element! Every day she was in the water, usually 2 or even 3 times!

She has taken the course for scuba-diving, but doesn’t feel confident in her skills, so we took her on several simple dives – for practice and confidence-building in a gentle environment. But our first attempt turned out to be more of an “adventure” than expected. We got all our gear together and loaded it in the dinghy first thing in the morning, then motored a couple of miles east to the pass. We sat in the dinghy, waiting for the tide to turn from outgoing to incoming, but it seemed to take much longer than we expected. Finally we decided to get in and give it a try. We spent 10 or 15 minutes getting everything on properly and swimming down to the bottom – and then realized that there really was no way the tide was coming in, regardless of what time the forecast said it was supposed to have occurred! There had been a lot of rain in the preceding few days, and we’ve heard it said that if there’s so much water coming into the lagoon because of rain or high seas causing breaking waves to come over the coral wall, then an incoming tide could actually look more like an extended but reduced outgoing tide. So now we’ve seen something new. 🙂 Rather than tow the dinghy against the current, we scrapped the dive. We piled back into the boat along with all the gear and headed back towards Lungta. On the way a big rain cloud overtook us, and we got drenched. Getting wet wasn’t actually a problem at all, but the visibility was so poor that we couldn’t even be sure we were heading in the right direction! We continued on and eventually Fabienne spotted Lungta’s silhouette through the rain, quite a bit before either of us were able to pick out even the faintest of shadows. We headed for home, laughing at the fragility of our plans.

We sailed off the next day to a new anchorage along the north coast that we had heard about. We spent a few days exploring the nearby coral bommies and the rough shoreline. On one hike, we found three more of the plastic floats that we’ve been using to “float our chain” (to keep it from getting fouled in the coral below the boat). Score! Fabienne has spent a lot of time snorkeling in the waters of Tahiti and knows the fish there quite well, but she was thrilled to see how many different fish live in the waters of the Tuamotus. We also spent a few days at our favorite anchorage in the south, enjoying more snorkeling and a visit to the tiny nearby islands, before deciding that we needed to head back to Fakarava before some stronger weather came through.

    

We relocated to the pass, in preparation for a late afternoon departure, but that afternoon two boats that we knew came in. Our friends on Moggy invited us for dinner, so we decided to delay our departure until the next day. It was great to reconnect with them after more than a year of drifting around different places. They had some exciting stories to tell (including an island wedding and an encounter with a “freak” wave that nearly sank their boat). We joined both boats (Moggy and Mat-Lau) for a long snorkel the next morning at the pass just to the east of where we were anchored. This is a place where we have often seen manta rays in the past, but not one showed up this time. Our working theory is that it’s a seasonal difference. As before, we drifted out with the light current and brought the dinghy with us, holding onto a rope to keep it close. When we started to get close to the rougher waves of the open sea, we piled into the dinghy, puttered back inside a quarter mile, and repeated the ride. We did that segment 3 times, until the current was moving in, and then we rode into the lagoon along the eastern coast. This was a new section for us, and we were blown away at the density of healthy coral and fishlife. It’s a shame it was our last swim before leaving, because we want *more*. We’ll just have to return to Tahanea to get our fill. 🙂

  

The night we were underway back to Fakarava sported a beautiful full moon. We had a very nice sail through the night and arrived at the south pass in time for a morning high tide. We anchored just around the corner from the pass so that we could dive it the next day. Nearby was a huge mega-yacht, with a big tender boat (kinda like a dinghy, but much larger, appropriate for also going ocean fishing), a helicopter and a big hold full of toys (like jet-skis). We’ve read that it’s a “thing” for the super-rich to be living on their yachts now, setting up a travelling covid-free zone with staff managing the legalities and the complexities of social distancing and quarantining. The helicopter took a couple of trips around the area that afternoon. We enjoyed watching the skilled pilot take off and land from the tiny landing zone on the third story of the ship!

We snorkeled in the south pass the next day, and also poked around an area that’s designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which (among other things) means it’s off-limits to anchors. We had been there previously and remembered it as absolutely spectacular. This time, though, what was most spectacular was the dark clouds that menaced overhead. 🙂 We didn’t stay for long and ended up getting back home just before those clouds opened up and dumped on us! Fabienne is quite a photographer, and one of her passions is dramatic weather. She had her fill on this trip – a mixed blessing if there ever was one!

We spent another three days at a spot we think of as the “halfway spot”, and then a couple at a new-to-us place east of the town. Ho-hum, lots of pretty coral & fish, good meals, interesting places to stroll along the coast. 🙂 Eventually it was time for Fabienne to return home, but with her coffers full of new memories. I predict she’ll be back…

When we provisioned for her visit, we found a couple of items that brought us many meals of pleasure. One was a large bundle of basil, which had a strong aroma that lingered in the galley for a couple of weeks – until we processed the last of it into pesto and popped it in the freezer. The other was a full bunch of bananas, called a “regime” in French; makes me think of a militia standing in ranks. We hung the whole thing from a rope in the middle of the back deck, hoping that it would be safe from bruising as it swung around while on the ocean. It was somewhat successful, except for the ones that fell off and hit the floor. 🙂 As a surprise bonus, we found two small geckos had hitchhiked aboard, hidden among the ranks of the bananas. We have had numerous sightings of one in our food pantry, but we don’t know if it’s one or both of them. More recently we saw another one, but really tiny. We have no idea whether this one also hitchhiked in or whether the previous two are breeding. Either way, we’re thrilled whenever we have a Gecko Encounter! (But Dan would still prefer a puppy!)

The supply ship that normally restocks the grocery store weekly is only running once a month now, during the “low season”. It took us a little while to figure out the change and to “synchronize” to the new schedule. Confusingly, it seems that there are at least three ships that are coming in here, and each has its own characteristic types of freight. The one we’re most familiar with seems to be the only one that carries fresh fruits & veggies, and we recently learned that we can get a 25-pound sack of bread flour for about $5 from them directly. We were pleased when a different ship came in that replenished the gasoline tanks at the local gas station. We filled up 5 jerry cans, probably enough to last us for 6-9 months!

Our washing machine broke down (a couple of months ago, now) and we’ve been trying to figure out how to replace it. It’s complicated and expensive to purchase one from the States and have it shipped. Anything we get in French Polynesia would be 220V, though, which means a somewhat more complicated installation. Then there’s the question of getting one aboard and installed downstairs. There’s nowhere local that we could purchase one; we’d have to get it from Tahiti. We’ve investigated the possibility of purchasing one from a store in Tahiti and having them ship it to us here, and of course there’s the option of sailing back there to get one. And if we were able to travel freely, we might also have had the option of sailing to American Samoa on our way to New Zealand and getting a 120V washer there. So far we’ve been doing small loads in a bucket or the bathroom sink by hand, and it doesn’t seem onerous. We’re leaning towards getting one shipped from Tahiti (a friend has scouted out the available options at the nearest place to the anchorage, and could help with the purchase so we don’t have to deal with the complexities of money transfers), but it’s still a project that we’re noodling around. 🙂

So now for a little bit of disappointment. With the discovery and spread of the handful of variants of coronavirus which are even more contagious than the original, many governments are putting in place more stringent measures to reduce the flow across borders – including French Polynesia. With very short notice, the government here has shut off all tourist travel again, effective February 3rd. Although the border closure order is open-ended, they intend for it to be short-duration, likely only 2 or 3 months. They did not introduce any additional restrictions internally, so it doesn’t affect our ability to continue moving around this area as we have been. The sad part is that we had been looking forward to the visit of our friend Jonnie, who had airline tickets to arrive on the 17th. These tickets had been delayed from an itinerary last spring just a the coronavirus was erupting around the globe. We all hope that she will be able to reschedule again at a later point, but for now we are again waiting.

We’ve settled into a very pleasant holding pattern, using the town of Rotoava at the northeastern corner of Fakarava as our “home base” (although we don’t use that term!). We come here to replenish our food stores, especially fresh produce, and to catch up on internet communications and other tasks (like preparing our annual tax forms). Once (most of) our goals are accomplished we head somewhere else less populated for a number of weeks. Sometimes it’s just halfway down the same atoll if we only have one week until something draws us back to town; sometimes it’s a full 24-hour day’s sail to Tahanea if we have a month; and the nearby atolls of Toau and Kauehi are other options. We’re doing less boatwork these days, but still doing a little bit (almost) every day. We’re watching more sunsets and playing chess and reading together more often than had been our habit a year ago. We feel very fortunate to have ended up in this part of the planet when the coronavirus arrived and changed all the rules. And we also look forward to the day when things open back up and we can resume our “previously scheduled program”. 🙂

  

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12-15-2020 – Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

We’re back in Fakarava for a quick turn-around, so this posting will be a little shorter than usual. Although the Tuamotus is a large archipelago with dozens of islands, mostly atolls, we only visited two of them in our first two seasons here. We started to feel like that might be short-shrifting the area. So we decided to check out a couple more.
As we got ready to go, we realized that we were short on oil for our engine. (It’s more than 50 years old, and although it runs great, it leaks oil along the way. More than we’d like to admit. 🙂 ) Because it’s a big ol’ diesel, it needs a fairly heavy oil that isn’t available at your typical 7-11. We contacted a place in Pape’ete that had sold it to us previously, and started making arrangements for them to ship it to us on the supply ship. But the conversation got complicated when we tried to figure out how to pay them (they couldn’t take our credit card, we didn’t have a local bank, etc). We ended up hopping up to the closer of the two atolls while we continued to figure this out via email. Two weeks later we went back in the hopes of intercepting a bigger supply ship (called the Maris Stella). It turns out that they carry large quantities of oil as a matter of course, enough that they are willing to sell some of it to others along the way. And they were happy to take our cash. We were thrilled to find a way to make this purchase without having to jump through any complicated financial hoops!

After that short stop in Fakarava, we left again and went to the other atoll for almost three weeks. Now we’re back in Fakarava briefly to meet our friend Fabienne at the airport.

The two atolls that we just visited are named Toau and Kauehi. Each of them has a very small population, confined to a tiny corner of the atoll that was on the opposite side of the area we visited. Pass-to-pass, Toau is only 14 miles from Fakarava, although it’s more like 25 from one anchorage to the other. We did this in an easy day’s sail. We picked our way between a mine-field of coral bommies, rising to the surface from a bottom about 100 feet deep. Fortunately they were quite visible in the conditions, so it was straightforward to watch for them and avoid hitting one. 🙂 The flip-side to these bommies, is that they were nice spots to go snorkeling. We dinghied out to several of them during our stay, and enjoyed the differences. One would have more fish, another would have more colorful coral, yet another would be bigger with a wider array of spots to focus in on. There were a few small islands along the reef (called “motus”) with the standard coconut palms to provide us with fresh juice and coconut meat from which we make coconut milk. We took our drone out to the nearest island a few times and practiced maneuvering it out to our boat and back, learning how to point the camera and take videos. It was fun, but not yet producing “sharable” results. 🙂

   

The second atoll, Kauehi, had lots of schools of tiny fish and correspondingly large flocks of black terns that would congregate throughout the day for a feast. We never tired of watching the birds diving and hearing them chattering at various times of the day. It was also engaging to swim through the big “clouds” of reflective silver-blue fish, which part as one approaches and closes up again after you’ve passed. Kauehi has very few bommies in the deep water, making navigation much more straightforward. It has more snorkelable areas along the shoreline, including an area close enough to where we anchored that we were able to swim there directly from the boat, which we thought of as a sculpture garden. The bommies seem to be “rooted” in the sand, and they offer cover to a variety of tropical fish that flitter around. We paid a visit or two to the nearby motus and the outer reef on the other side. In this area, there was a band of shallow still water between the reef and the motu that seemed like an “infinity pool” looking out to the rougher waters of the open ocean. In this area we saw some baby sharks that were only about a foot long. They were curious about us but startled away whenever we started moving. We also saw a curious school of parrot fish that were clustered together at the water’s surface but were sticking their tails up periodically. We couldn’t figure out what they were doing! Were they courting? Were they adolescents showing off their talents? Were they “standing on their heads” just to nibble the bottom of the shallow pond? We never got to the bottom of that question, but it seemed like an unusual thing to have observed. Kathy tried to make a video of them, but the battery gave out just at that moment. And something startled them, causing the whole school to start swirling around and dashing towards a break in the reef that looked like a waterfall of colorful fish!

  

That’s all the time I have for now, but I’ve included a batch of photos to give you some color of the place. Enjoy your holidays – while staying safe! It’s exciting that the light at the end of the tunnel of 2020 is finally becoming visible, but don’t jump onto the tracks just yet. 🙂

      

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11-3-2020 – Tahanea, Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia

We’ve returned to the town in Fakarava to reprovision after 7 weeks hanging out in Tahanea – which is what we’d been looking forward to for months! We moved around a little bit while we were there, mostly in reaction to weather, starting in our favorite spot, affectionately known as “the 7”. It was given this nickname because when viewed from a satellite the reef forms the shape of the numeral seven, although that’s not at all apparent from sea level. It’s a beautiful little corner of the planet that only a very small number of people have ever seen. We have already visited 3 or 4 times, and were drawn back again to hang out for an extended period. It’s one of our favorite places ever!

There are two little islands located about a mile away, on the ring of reef that forms the atoll. We dinghied over there a few times to look for coconuts and just wander around. Apparently it’s the nesting season for the booby birds, and we saw a number of nests in the scrubby trees with faces curiously peering out at us. We identified 6 different types of birds on this island, although we couldn’t tell you the full names of them all. There are boobies, frigates, oyster-catchers, 2 types of terns and a small guy who prefers to run along the beach than to soar with the others. One of the terns is dusky grey with a white cap on his head; we often see them fishing in flocks ranging from six to a couple dozen, delicately picking small fry from the surface of the water. The other type is snowy white, easily disturbed when we come ashore – they take to the air to watch us suspiciously as we wander around the island. But they are strikingly beautiful, fluttering overhead looking like a messenger from the angels.

  

The waters of Tahanea are lovely, sporting a color palette that will take your breath away. You can tell the depth of the water by the color, which typically ranges from dark blue through deep turquoise to the pale green of old window glass. In areas with coral heads you can easily pick them out in waters up to 50 feet deep – as long as the sun is overhead and unobstructed by clouds! This is crucial for boaters like us travelling here because the charts typically don’t give much detail about the lagoons of these atolls. When we are travelling from one anchorage to another in a new place, we take turns with one person standing out on the bowsprit watching for these bommies to avoid, while the other is at the helm.

We love to snorkel and swim while we’re here. Even though the weather this year has been much windier than the previous two seasons we’ve visited Tahanea, creating waves that can make swimming uncomfortable, and the water is notably chillier, we’ve gotten in the water fairly often – initially just swimming from the boat to the closest sandbar and back (about a half mile roundtrip), and later going out to the reef that forms the “7” for a longer snorkel. Most of the time we take the dinghy from Lungta when we go exploring. Some anchorages have a coral bommie so close you can just swim there from the boat – Kathy likes to call that our “house bommie”. The anchorage near the entrance of Tahanea has a nice “house bommie” like that, as does the town of Rotoava, in Fakarava. Fortunately, as the weeks have gone by, the weather has begun to warm up (with the approach of southern-hemisphere summer), and our times in the water have started to become longer and more frequent. There are gazillions of small colorful fish flitting about, ducking in and out of holes in the coral, schools of like-minded fish hanging out together close to the coral or out in the deeper water, and larger individuals (including fish, sharks, rays, and others) roaming around or making cameo appearances.

The weather has been changing frequently, with gaps in the stronger winds, changes in the direction, and occasional rain showers. After we were at the 7 anchorage for almost 3 weeks the forecasts showed a period of stronger winds from a different direction, one that wasn’t as good for this location. So we motored the boat 10 miles from our spot on the southern coastline to a place on the SE corner, which provided better protection from the winds – and more importantly, the waves that they whip up. We stayed at this location for another three weeks, occasionally taking a dinghy ride to explore one of the three small islands (the local word is “motu”). Tahanea is “famous” for having pink sand, and the color was quite pronounced here. It’s sort of a “dusky rose” shade of pink. We collected a bit of it and used it as anti-skid in our shower. 🙂

We’ve recently put in place a new process, making customizations for the unique boat that is Lungta. When anchoring in places with bommies, there’s a risk of the chain getting snagged or even wrapped around one of them if/when the wind changes direction. The longer one stays in the same place, the more likely this becomes. It can be difficult to untangle, especially if you are in deeper water or unable for any reason to dive down to move it around by hand. This can be dangerous if it prevents you from pulling up the anchor in an emergency or if it shortens the amount of chain that is needed to absorb the forces of the rhythmic push and pull of the waves on the hull. Many experienced boaters come up with a system of floats to hold the closest portion of the chain up off the ground, suspended above those pernicious coral heads. Here in French Polynesia, one can occasionally find washed up on the beaches plastic balls which have somehow been lost from pearl farms (that use them to hold up the cages where the pearl oysters are suspended in the water column while the famous black pearls are being grown). Boaters collect a group of them and string them out along the length of their anchor chain as they’re deploying the anchor. Lungta has a heavier chain than most of our peers out here, so we’ve found that we need to use clusters of 2-3 of these balls for each section of chain that we want to float. We’ve only gathered 5 of the pearl farm balls so far, so we only have 2 clusters. We place them about 20 feet apart and about 30 feet from the boat. The first time we did it, we placed them further apart, and they got tangled up when the weight of the chain in between actually caused the two clusters to pull together. Our process seems to work well, and helps to make our anchoring process just a bit more reliable.

Another project that we’ve been working on is painting the steel cables supporting the masts with a roofing product that is based on tar. It’s pretty sticky for a while, but we hope that it will stop the rusting that has begun. Kathy goes up to do the dirty work, while Dan does the heavy lifting of cranking her up using the winches. We’re typically doing two wires in one session, taking somewhere between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours. We look for super calm days, both because it’s more comfortable and because it minimizes the drips all over the deck. 🙂 We’ve got the first coat on 10 wires, and have at least 5 more (there are 2 others that we haven’t yet decided whether we’ll do them, because they have sails that slide up and down them, and the coating might just scrape right off). This is something that used to be done traditionally, but is rarely done any more, because most boats use stainless steel or lines made of high-tech “plastic” material. The look of the black wires is kinda cool!

As (southern hemisphere) winter gives way to summer, the days are getting longer. Our new solar panels are producing so much more power than we’ve ever had before, that our batteries are often charged by noon. We’ve tweaked the program that controls our freezer, asking it to super-cool the freezer when there’s excess power. That allows the freezer to go through the entire night without running at all, meaning that we wake up with a still cold freezer and batteries that aren’t thirsty. It’s a big shift! We used to run the generator for an hour or two most days, to top up the batteries before going to bed. Now we’re hardly running it at all – we’ve set a reminder to start it up periodically as a maintenance task. Since all the power in our batteries these days is coming from solar, we’ve been joking about using our solar blender and solar sander – and making solar ice cubes in our solar freezer!

  

We returned to the 7 anchorage for a week before starting to make our way back to Fakarava to replenish our food stores. We’re spending more time in the water as the days warm up a bit and the clouds back down more, allowing the sun to light up the coral reefs. The water here is so clear that it’s really stunning to have lots of light! We snorkeled and watched the sunsets and even slept on deck one night under the stars – when we both spotted 3 or 4 shooting stars! Next we moved up to the anchorage near the pass in the coral ring surrounding the lagoon, where we stayed for three nights waiting for the best weather conditions. Then we got up early one morning and pulled our anchor again to depart on a 7am tide. The winds on our passage were pretty nice, although the seas were a bit bumpy from previous winds. We arrived without incident in Fakarava the very next morning and here we are! We’re anchored near another “house bommie”, so we’ll continue to enjoy the snorkeling while we’re here. We expect to only stay a week or so though – enough time to catch up on the (election) news, reconnect with friends & family (electronically), and restock our larder, then we’ll be off again to some remote atoll for about a month.

P.S. French Polynesia is going through a “second” wave of coronavirus that is much more extreme than the first one, which we previously likened to a “fire drill”. There are now thousands of people infected, mostly in Tahiti and nearby Moorea, but with small numbers popping up in 8 or 10 islands around the nation. None in Fakarava, but it’s safer to be self-isolated in a place with no one else around! To all those reading this, please take this disease seriously and take steps to keep yourself safe and healthy – and by extension those around you!

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09-04-2020 – Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

The seasons continue to cycle, and winter is changing to spring here in the Southern Hemisphere. While that doesn’t correspond to snow and ice giving way to daffodils and cherry blossoms, we have noticed the days growing longer. We’ve also noticed changes from one year to the next, which are more likely related to the larger weather pattern called El Nino at one end of the spectrum and La Nina at the other. The world has spent the last few years leaning towards the El Nino, but has tipped the other direction this year. This means that the ocean’s surface waters are cooler than normal, and the trade winds blow stronger. We’ve had a steady parade of weather systems that locally are called “maramuus”. They bring strong winds, which then whip up steeper waves.

Nonetheless, we’ve done more travel in the last two months than the previous 8! In early July we finally broke our ties to Tahiti’s Port Phaeton. We motor-sailed up to the northern coast of Mo’orea, Tahiti’s nearest neighbor. Our friend Fabienne had just finished a hiking weekend with another friend, and we picked her up on the beach to spend several days with us. We enjoyed the transition to a more recreational balance, swimming around the boat and snorkeling in some pretty coral gardens. We also stopped at the spot where local tour operators feed the stingrays so they are comfortable around people. They swarm all around looking for food, kinda like squirrels in the park. 🙂 Another day we took a nice hike through some pineapple fields. The owner was out working with his two sons, and Fabienne was able to ask them about their lives on the island. They gave us a few pineapples that were too ripe for market – which were the sweetest we’ve ever tasted!

  

There’s a local shrimp farm that sells to the public on Wednesdays. We happened to stop by right as they were harvesting a fresh batch of shrimp, and we stayed to watch for about half an hour. They have a long net with a heavy chain tied along the bottom and a beefy rope along the top. One (big!) man walks into the pond with the rope looped around his waist, pulling the net to surround about a quarter of the pond. Then the team of three continued to pull the net together until all the shrimp were tightly contained. With birds swooping overhead hoping for a free meal, the team scooped the shrimp into net baskets, bringing in several hundred pounds of fresh catch which went onto ice immediately.

    

On Fabienne’s last day with us we dinghied to nearby Cook’s Bay where we all shared a pizza. She decided to walk the 10 miles back by road, while we did a little grocery shopping and then dinghied home in time to meet her at the beach again. The next day we dropped her at the bus stop on that same road, and she bussed to the ferry terminal for her return to Tahiti. She had a plane to catch to Paris (the first week they were flying again), and she was excited to be seeing her family again but nervous at the changes she might encounter from the pandemic. We were pleased to have shared a pleasant low-key visit, and we hope we’ll see her again – perhaps while we’re in the Tuamotus later this year!

Although we’ve spent time in several places since then, we’ve essentially been keeping our eyes open for a good weather window to sail to our favorite atoll in the Tuamotus ever since! We left Mo’orea several days after Fabienne left us, planning to stop at an anchorage in northern Tahiti for a couple of days to see friends on a few boats. We didn’t make it more than 5 miles the first day before ducking into the first bay we passed. The waves were so rough that we decided we’d jumped the gun and tucked in for an additional night. The next day we continued on to Tahiti, but it was so rough that we both got seasick — which hasn’t happened in many years. We enjoyed a few days of respite catching up with our friends on Mana Kai, Garulfo and Alila before once again jumping out into what we thought would be a good weather window — and once again we were disappointed! The weather forecast looked perfect, but the waves weren’t at all what had been predicted; they were much steeper, closer together and coming from several different directions, creating conditions like you might expect in your washing machine. We were getting knocked around so much that we couldn’t keep the sails full, so we ended up motoring the entire way — and we shortened our misery by a day by going to Fakarava instead of straight to Tahanea. What a relief to pull into the pass and out of the waves, after enduring 78 hours of running the hot, noisy, smelly motor. Ugh! A good night’s sleep was such a relief, a simple pleasure.

The next few days we spent cleaning up and repairing several things that broke underway. Our biggest “loss” of the trip was a bottle of Irish cream that we’d made, simulating Bailey’s with local whiskey, cream, instant coffee, chocolate, cinnamon & vanilla. It’s normally quite a treat, but one of the bottles was on the “cold shelf” of the fridge and got repeatedly slammed against the walls enough to break and spill its contents all down the walls to leak out the bottom onto the floor and the nearby 3-step stairway and the hold underneath both. By the time we were able to address the mess, it had dried into a sticky goo that was quickly starting to smell “funny”. We lost the prime on our main water pump for the house faucets, and it was surprisingly difficult to get it to “catch” again. We spent the better part of three days working on this, and some of our efforts resulted in rerouting some hoses in a way that’s much cleaner. Eventually we got it to work and are now feel a burst of self-satisfaction at hearing the pump turn on and off whenever we move the faucet handle. 🙂 The next biggest repair was to replace some broken bolts that connect the plank and rails to the bowsprit.

We have been hanging out in Fakarava ever since — a full month! — although we’ve changed location several times as the weather and our larder require. The town at the northern end of the island is where the supply ship comes in weekly. Last week, though, we were out of luck. A different, larger ship showed up and spent the morning off-loading large tanks of fuel — but nothing for our bellies! We did top off our tanks, just days before the expiration of our certificate to get it duty-free. That saved us a couple hundred $$, so the timing was great! We’ll return this week to reprovision, hopefully for our passage to Tahanea!

We’ve spent much of our time here at a couple of spots about halfway along the northern perimeter of the atoll. There’s only a rough road that runs just about to this location, so there’s virtually no one around. There are a few nice clusters of coral bommies that are nice to snorkel around, and the water is beautiful! The only down-side is that it’s still a bit chilly, which has deterred us from spending time there every day — I think our skin has gotten thin. 🙂 We’ve gone ashore to scavenge for coconuts and beachcomb along the ocean-facing shore several times. Back when we were in Tahiti, we bought a tiny mint plant at a weekend flea market. Dan has been excitedly nurturing that little guy, and it grew so well that it needed to be moved to a bigger pot, much like a hermit crab needs to move up to a larger shell from time to time. We brought a bucket and scooped up some dirt from under a canopy of coconut palms to accomplish that project.

  

This low-land perimeter is technically composed of a series of motus, small islands, but the gaps between the motus making up the northern edge of Fakarava are pretty minimal. Many places around the other sections of this atoll are comprised only of reef that is mostly underwater, but wide enough that waves from the outside are broken up before they come in. The terrain of the perimeter is surprisingly variable from one place along the atoll to another. Some places are fairly lush, while others are barren and rocky. There are sandy beaches, inlets in the rock that appear to have been hand-hewn, and even some areas that appear marshy, where shallow pools have appeared inland. We love to poke around them all, sometimes bringing home “treasures”, sometimes only photos or memories!

    

We’ve enjoyed watching the sky throughout the day, but especially at sunset. The skies here are really big, since the land is so low, and the clouds vary dramatically from one day to the next. We’ve watched the moon go through all of its phases from a glorious full moon dwindling down to a sliver, then the amazing dark night with sparkling stars that bring tears to your eyes. Then we watch the return of the moon, as it grows bit by bit to mark the passing of another month. How did it get to be September?

We’ve been following the news here and abroad, especially about the coronavirus pandemic. While some places have had some measure of success getting it under control, many of them have had second surges that have set them back. French Polynesia is now in that category. In the last several weeks the virus has gained a foothold here, and there are now about 500 people in French Polynesia who have been infected. The health authorities have worked hard to do contact tracing, but it has gotten ahead of them, and now some cases have appeared that don’t belong to known clusters. This is a worrisome situation, because it means that it is moving through the population undetected and unchecked. So far it is contained to three of the more populated islands, and we feel fortunate to have gotten to Fakarava before it erupted in Tahiti. We hope it will not spread to Fakarava, but also hope to be in Tahanea soon to reduce our risk. Like everyone, we hope to avoid first-hand experience with Covid. We wish the same for all of our friends and family, and indeed everyone out there! Stay safe, stay healthy, stay happy.

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