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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06-12-2020 – Taravao, Tahiti, French Polynesia

Things have evolved slowly here, over time, but over time they’ve definitely changed. French Polynesia has been declared free of the coronavirus that has been trouncing the entire human species. The social restrictions have largely been lifted here. We are free to travel around amongst the islands again. Hooray!

Understandably, the government (and the people) are reluctant to go through the lockdown again, and so restrictions intended to keep interactions with people outside the borders are still in place. In fact, in the time since I began writing this there have been significant developments on this front. Currently there are virtually no airline flights coming into the country, but they have announced plans to phase that back in. Perhaps a few hundred citizens were stuck outside the country who are being brought back 10 or 20 at a time, as space allows on supply planes coming from Paris. There are about 3000 French contract workers, like teachers and medical professionals, whose contracts will begin in September that will also be allowed to arrive in batches. Commercial flights are starting to be scheduled, and as of mid-July tourists from a few countries – including the United States – will be allowed to visit, with a few restrictions but no quarantine. These visitors will need to have travel insurance, be tested just before their trip, provide contact information and itinerary to the health authorities, and stay in regular contact including health updates and the possibility of another screening test. Tourism accounts for roughly 85% of the country’s GDP (6/26 update: I’ve recently learned that it’s closer to 70%), so they’re anxious to resume that as quickly as they can while remaining safe. With only minor changes, life here has basically returned to normal.

We’ve made huge progress on our hard canopy project, and although we continue to wrap up some final cosmetic details we have basically called it done. In addition to just plain being a big project which took longer to build than we’d originally expected, we’ve allowed a bit of “project creep” to occur. 🙂 Once the basic structure was in place and we had a sense of how it would “feel”, Dan realized that we could take advantage of some of the space under the high ceiling as storage for our deck/lawn chairs. He’s trimming it out quite nicely with hardwood braces and fiddles.

  

We began this project with 6 solar panels on board. We initially planned to add 3 more on the new canopy and to relocate 2 from the lifelines, where they overhung the back deck. Our original conception for mounting that pair of outboard panels was to mount them sticking straight out to the side from the canopy, but with hinges to allow us to flip them 180 degrees, either underneath the canopy or over on top to cover the panels that are mounted there. The notion was that they occupy space outside the “footprint” of the boat’s hull most of the time but we can bring them inboard in strong weather conditions or tight quarters like a marina or fuel dock. As we discussed the details, though, the hinge idea began to seem more and more complicated to actually build. We ended up scrapping that notion entirely and instead going with a set of sliding rails. After we bought all the material and began cutting it to size, we had a dark moment when we realized that our design would require two of the rails to occupy the same space when both panels were pulled inboard (not a good plan!); but then we had an epiphany: to nest the rails and also stagger the panels vertically. Now that it’s built it looks simple and elegant. We’ve added bolts and blocks to prevent the panels from sliding around once in place or to slide further in either direction than intended. After we got the 3 new ones installed above, we realized that there was actually space for a 4th one – so now we’ve got 10!

One day last month we were just sitting down to lunch when an unexpected squall came up out nowhere. The winds kicked up and we saw the line of it approaching us across the bay where the water’s surface was turned into white spray. Once it hit us, the boat heeled over to the side, causing our lunch dishes to slide off the table! But we were already running upstairs to deal with the impending situation! We started the engine to drive into the wind, helping to keep the anchor in place (although we did end the day about 100 yards downwind), and ran around the deck securing small things like lawn chairs that could blow overboard. The winds hit up to 50 knots and there was limited visibility through the heavy rain. At least 4 boats ended up aground, although they were all back in deeper water by the next day thanks to a group of locals who came out to help quickly.

  

Two of our solar panels (the ones that used to be on the lifelines but were staged to move up to sit on the rails of the canopy) were blown off of the roof of the pilothouse. One was thrown against the mast (multiple times) and shattered; we feel fortunate that it didn’t shatter the nearby one that was permanently mounted to the pilothouse roof, even though it ended up sitting on top of it. The other one was tossed overboard, dangling on the electrical wires until the connectors broke. We’ve purchased 2 new ones and they’re now mounted solidly out on the rails to the side. (We held onto the notion of diving to retrieve it for a couple of weeks, but have lost the drive for that. It’s deep and dark, and we don’t know precisely where it would be; it would require quite a bit of “search and rescue” activity, and the chances that it would still be functional are questionable!)

Altogether, we spent about $1800 on aluminum, $500 on plywood, $2400 on solar panels (and a second charge controller because our previous one wasn’t big enough for everything) and a bit more on stainless nuts, bolts, etc. The materials cost about $5K, a significant portion of our annual budget – and that doesn’t even include $3000 on the new welder (the machine, not the man!) The additional power from the 4 new panels will save about $150/month (in diesel that would otherwise be burned by the generator), so it’s going to be a few years before the project pays for itself. I don’t know how much rain we’re likely to catch, but that brings some power savings as well since it means we will run the watermaker less. And how does one quantify the improvement to our quality of life? Although this was an expensive and time-consuming project, we expect to enjoy it for many years to come!

While we still had the welder set up, we tackled another bigg-ish repair project. The engine’s exhaust passes through a “water muffler”, a box where the hot gases and water are mixed with some cooler water before being expelled from the boat. This box had developed some rusty spots and started to leak. We spent a day disassembling it from the wall – it turned out to be *very* heavy! – and positioning it on the workbench for repair. We couldn’t lift it, even with two of us, so we kept it supported with blocks and just shoved it around until the damaged face was accessible. We cleaned it up with power tools, and found that there was a patch that had several holes kinda like swiss cheese. The next day Dan used the welder to cover that area with some shiny new steel plates. It was kinda “exciting” to be doing the welding inside! Kathy kept a close eye to make sure that no fires were started with the sparks, but the floor and the surface of the workbench are definitely a bit worse for the wear. We used a hydraulic jack to help lift the box back up to the level it came from, and grunted it back into place. Another successful DIY home project! 🙂

Our social life has been pretty seriously curtailed these last few months, but there’s been one ray of sunshine. On New Year’s Eve we met a woman named Fabienne who has become a good friend. She’s a nurse from France, working on a 4-year contract as the school nurse at a nearby middle school. As soon as the restrictions were lifted, we have included her in our household “bubble”. She has had dinner with us several times, and has generously offered her car to us to drive up to Pape’ete a few times rather than taking the 90-minute bus-ride. She loves to hike and has taken us with her on a few nice treks. As a matter of fact, we’re going on another this coming weekend. She also loves to swim and has been learning to scuba-dive. One time she came over to Lungta and we practiced diving below the boat: not very interesting to us, but she was thrilled! She tried using the “hookah” that we use for cleaning the boat’s bottom and had a lot of fun scraping away at all the growth – I’m serious! 🙂 We’ve been lonely here, largely because we don’t know anyone locally and the language barrier feels insurmountable for us. But Fabienne has really taken the edge off of that sense of isolation. We hope she’ll visit us as we continue our travels in the future…

  

We’re now preparing to leave Port Phaeton and head back to the beautiful atolls of the Tuamotus. We’ve put away all the tools and extra materials from the canopy project, cleaned the bottom of the boat so she will slide through the water without interference from the barnacles, sponges and fern-like growth which accumulated over the last six months and are looking for a favorable weather window. Since the typical winds come from the east and that’s the direction we want to go, it may be a week or two. But when we find it we’ll jump on it. We’ll post again when we have news from Paradise. 🙂 We’d love to hear from you – you can use a new address that we established which is forwarded to both our satellite device and our land-based mail server, so you never need to figure out where we’ll be checking. It’s underway@lungtalife.com (The only weird thing might be that our replies will come from whichever address we happen to use for checking it. 🙂 ) Like one-stop shopping!

Hoping all of you are staying safe and healthy during this turbulent year!

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04-09-2020 – Taravao, Tahiti, French Polynesia

Well, it’s been six weeks since I last wrote to you, and the world has changed unbelievably in that time!

The coronavirus has changed much about the relations both between people and countries. Here in French Polynesia that is certainly true. After the first 15 cases were logged, the authorities ordered a 15-day nationwide stay-at-home policy, which has since been extended. All nonessential businesses are closed, and people are only allowed to leave their homes for certain “authorized” reasons. Each time one heads out, they must fill in a form stating what that purpose is, and police can stop anyone to check that form. We’ve only been off the boat twice since then. They’ve also prohibited boats from moving in Polynesian waters and all water-sports. Recently this policy has been clarified to include even being in the water to maintain the boat’s hull.

The borders have largely been closed, with virtually all international flights cancelled. There are still infrequent flights scheduled to Paris and we hear of occasional other flights, mostly to import medical gear. Cruise ships are forbidden, and sailboats are increasingly being turned away.

Boats which left for French Polynesia more than 3 weeks ago still have some latitude to stop, quarantine and apply for permission to stay, but they aren’t guaranteed that permission. There is some level of resistance from the local population to welcome in foreigners, who they see as a threat. This is more based on the historical events of the first encounters with Europeans who brought diseases that killed up to 90% of the populations in these islands than on the actual likelihood of an asymptomatic sailor who has been at sea for a month or more bringing in the latest coronavirus. But one of the earliest cases here was a Swiss person on a chartered boat in the Tuamotus, who ended up being the first hospitalization, the only one for any significant length of time, but who has recovered enough to come off that list and be sent back home.

So we’re here for a while longer. We had vacillated a bit about whether to move on to New Zealand this year or next, but I think the writing is now on the wall for that! We will need to renew our visas to stay here another year, and we don’t anticipate any problem with that – except that the offices are currently closed! 🙂 It’s unclear whether we will be allowed to go back to the Tuamotus this season, but time will tell…

In the meantime, we’re persistently working on our hard canopy over the back deck. It’s coming along nicely! We built the frame from aluminum material that we were able to buy from a boatyard nearby. We had some startup troubles with our welding system, and ultimately purchased a new $3000 welder that is higher-end than the old one. It has much better capability of working with aluminum, and made quick work of this project. On top of that frame we cut sheets of plywood, painted them, and bolted them down. We’ve installed a simple water-catch system of shower drains and PVC piping (not to mention the design work built in to put enough slope in the frames that the water will uniformly collect in an intended place!) Now we’re working on the cosmetic trim work, more plywood construction, then painting. Finally we will install the 5 solar panels, two of which will be extended out to the sides and need a mechanism to bring them in for big weather or close quarters like a marina. We’ll probably need some additional materials for that last bit, so the entire project won’t be wrapped up until some time after we regain access to a hardware store. But we’ll already have all the benefits as soon as we clean up the back deck from the tools, paint, and construction debris – probably just a couple of days away!

      

We’ve got a project “to-do” list as long as your arm, though, so don’t worry that we’ll be at loose ends after this one wraps up!

We’ve given ourselves “permission” to use much more internet data than usual during this period, partially because we’re not spending money anywhere else so it doesn’t mean blowing the budget. 🙂 We got a GoogleFi phone and account when we were in the States in December, and have been using it as a hotspot for both of our devices (whereas before we had to go to a wifi hotspot at the local supermarket, and could only get news articles – one at a time – from CNN, Reuters and BBC using our satellite device). We’re discovering podcasts, and enjoying being able to read news from multiple sources. The constant access to researching via Google and texting with friends and family is addictive, and may be part of our “new normal” (including a “new budget”). 🙂

That’s about all the news from LungtaBeGone (with my apologies to Garrison Keillor). Stay safe – stay home! – stay grateful for all the advantages that life has given you, knowing that many others around this planet of ours have not been nearly as lucky!

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02-28-2020 – Taravao, Tahiti, French Polynesia

It’s been a long time since we’ve posted to the blog, but never fear: all is well aboard Lungta! In the last few months, we’ve retraced our steps a bit: traveling from Tahiti back to Tahanea, meeting up with old friends and making new friends on different boats, dealing with equipment that failed unexpectedly and making repairs when the parts became available, traveling back to the States to visit our families while Lungta awaits us in Port Phaeton. Part of the reason our blog posts have trailed off is because it feels like there isn’t really much new to report. 🙂

At the moment we find ourselves in Port Phaeton, a big safe bay nestled in the middle of Tahiti. We’ve been here since our return from the States in mid-December. It has a reputation of being very rainy here, but last year didn’t seem so bad to us. In contrast, this year has been much wetter. Where we had thought that others were just “whiny”, now we’re beginning to see their point. 🙂 One upside to rain, of course, is lots of rainbows!

We started a boat project that has turned out to be taking much longer than we expected, mostly because we need an adapter for our welding system that isn’t available here because it uses an American standard. (It’s a flow regulator for the argon gas tank that is needed for aluminum welding.) We’ve figured out a way to get one shipped here from the States, but it’s taking time. As soon as it arrives, Dan will be able to fire up the welder and whip through the work – in between the rain showers.

The project is to extend the roof of our pilothouse to cover the back deck. This “hard canopy” will replace the fabric awning we’ve used since we left Portland. It will hold three new solar panels and two that had been mounted on the side rails and have been encroaching a bit on the deck space in the back. We’ve already got the solar panels wired up temporarily on the fore-deck, and are enjoying the additional power. We’re running the generator much less than before, and will recoup the costs of the panels in just a couple of months. The canopy will also incorporate a water-collection system to fill our water tanks, and it will be almost twice the size of the old awning so we expect to run the watermaker less often as well. The head-clearance will be higher, and the area kept out of the sun and rain will be wider. We will no longer have the trip-hazard offered by the supports of the awning, and in general life will be much improved! 🙂

  

While we wait, we’ve done lots of smaller projects around the boat, including sewing an elaborate insect screen for the main entry which hangs from the ceiling on two wooden dowels and has two panels like doors that you only have to push aside in order to pass through. It’s much easier to use than the previous screen which hung on dowels that you had to slide forward out of the way and then carefully drape back in place behind you.

We’ve also put in a couple of tiny cabinets at the foot of the bed, enclosing an unattractive space that was hard to make use of. Kathy’s calling them the “shoe boxes” because we expect to store a few pairs of shoes on top.

We’ve freshened up our pantry with a bright coat of paint and a better organization that allowed us to get some storage boxes off the floor.

We’re chomping at the bit to get back underway out to the beautiful islands of the Tuamotus for another season of playing in the water! Kathy’s sister Jean and her boyfriend James have booked tickets to join us again in April, and our friend Jonnie will come for a visit immediately afterwards. And we’ve come to a big decision in the last week or two: we’ve decided not to stay a third year in French Polynesia, but to move on to New Zealand by the end of this year. While we love the pristine waters and dramatic scenery here, we have found ourselves feeling more isolated lately and think that the difficulty of learning French has kept us from making as many “connections” as we’d like. We’re ready to move on a bit and see if we can find more community somewhere further west…

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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. 🙂 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. 🙂 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! 🙂 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. 🙂

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. 🙂 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. 🙂

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. 🙂 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. 🙂 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.

  

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.

    

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. 🙂 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. 🙂

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.

  
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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