04-19-2019 – Fakarava, French Polynesia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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02-10-2019 – Baie Phaeton, Tahiti, French Polynesia

Hello, friends! It’s been several months since we posted here, and we thought it was time for an update. πŸ™‚ Our last post was from the Tuamotus in September. Below is a posting that was written up for October, but never made it up here. In November, we relocated to Baie Phaeton, on the island of Tahiti. It’s a pretty quiet bay about 30 miles from Pape’ete, the capital. We found someone here who could look after the boat while we took a trip back to the States to visit our families. We had a wonderful trip and came back just before Christmas feeling loved and reconnected. πŸ™‚ We thought we would take advantage of the super-calm anchorage to knock out a few projects before skedaddling up to the Marquesas for the balance of the cyclone season. Well, that didn’t work out quite as planned. πŸ™‚ We’re still here, still working on projects, albeit different ones, and still happily alive, in case you were wondering! Hope you’re doing well, too!

From the Tuamotus, October 2018:

We’ve just spent the last month in our picture of paradise. Tahanea is another of the atolls in the French Polynesian archipelago of the Tuamotus Islands. We had read that it was reserved land, under a UNESCO designation, and thus uninhabited. There’s no town, no airport, no fuel dock, no government, no cell service – yes, these places do still exist! But they’re getting harder to find. πŸ™‚ This one is about 50 miles south of Fakarava, the atoll we first spent time on (or in?). We left Fakarava on a mid-day slack tide (so the currents wouldn’t complicate our crossing of the pass). We had scoped it out with our dinghy the day before, using our handheld depth sounder to make sure that the route we were travelling was deep enough for our 10-foot keel. As we had hoped, our crossing was uneventful, and we sailed through the night to arrive at Tahanea in the morning just in time to enter the lagoon on another slack tide. We took an immediate right and went a couple of miles down the coast of the skinny island to the north-west, then dropped our anchor in a little nook in that coastline. There were no other boats in sight, and we were thrilled to have the place to ourselves!

We spent about a week in this lovely corner. There was a beautiful patch of coral about 200 yards from the boat, which poked up from a bottom of 60 or 80 feet up to break the surface. We would snorkel around and around this bommie until we were tired, snapping pictures of the pairs of pretty butterfly fish and schools of bold parrot fish. The atoll has three passes, and we were anchored in between the western one and the center one. We did drift dives in the eastern and western ones a couple of times each. We would hold onto the end of a line tied to the dinghy, to keep it following us as we drifted with the current. We always timed it so that the current was incoming and relatively mild. We found that there was often a group of giant mantarays circling around and feeding in the western pass as the tide turned. We managed to see a few of them while we were in the water a couple of times. They are graceful creatures, moving slowly but powerfully as they feed on plankton. We found them rather shy; they would generally just glide away once they noticed us – and not return. The passes are all fairly deep in the center, covered with a thick layer of a variety of corals. There are schools of fish of many sorts scattered around the passes, and often a shark or two patrolling around. Most of the sharks we’ve seen are small and benign black-tip reef sharks, which look as if someone dipped their dorsal fin in an inkwell. Drifting through the passes doesn’t give us time for up close and personal, but rather whirls us past a large swath of teeming life. Snorkeling a lone bommie allows us to sit still and watch an individual fish dance through the arches or nibble on some coral.

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One day we were visited by a local guy in a small motorboat. Henri is some sort of park ranger, and asked us to sign a visitors log-book. He spoke a bit of English, certainly more than our meager French would allow, but not enough for much of a conversation. πŸ™ (We did learn from him, though, that although many of the reef fish in the area are infected with a terrible neurotoxin called ciguatera, the tuna that is caught outside the atoll is safe to eat.) We were tickled to notice that he had one blue boat shoe and one yellow one. Later we saw him visit other boats that came in, and recognized him by his distinctive footwear. πŸ™‚

After a delightful week in this anchorage, we moved the boat to the southeast edge of the atoll, for a change of scenery. πŸ™‚ Although we hadn’t seen another boat in days, a second boat arrived at the same anchorage just a couple of hours after we did. The next morning a man from that boat paddled up to Lungta in a kayak. He had gone exploring on the nearby motu and collected a bunch of coconuts which he shared with us. Hans and his wife Eva have been cruising for almost 25 years, and we quickly formed a friendship which we hope will stand the test of time. Their 14-year-old son Luca is still living at home on the boat with them, but their older daughter has just completed high school and is living on her own. Luca’s latest passion is kite-boarding, and he told us that Tahanea is a destination for local kite-boarders. One afternoon he gave us a lesson in wake-boarding, which should be helpful in getting up on our own kite-board! Although neither of us mastered the skill in the hour of being towed behind the dinghy, we have the idea and intend to practice it again together. It was fun and exciting to “almost” get out of the water standing. πŸ™‚ On a different note, both Luca and Hans are proficient at climbing coconut trees to harvest the nuts, and they described the process they use. We both gave it a try, and again we understand what needs to be done but haven’t mastered the skill. The biggest hurdle for us is the instinctive nervousness about getting too high off the ground with no safety equipment! This family has cruised in some very off-the-beaten-path places, and has a different approach to provisioning. Rather than jump from one town to another to keep fresh produce on board, they are able to provision for long periods of time, up to 5 months without purchasing anything. They rely heavily on dry goods, including grains, beans and seeds. Eva gave us a “German brick”, as she called her dense rye sourdough bread, and later shared some of the sourdough starter. She also got us enthusiastic (again) about sprouting, which seems to be an important component of their diet. It seems that our diet often changes when we meet new people! πŸ™‚

The anchorage we shared was located at a white sandy spit that extends into the lagoon about a quarter of a mile. Cruisers call it the “7” anchorage, because the spit is shaped like the figure “7” when viewed in a satellite image. We anchored on one side, while our friends on Kamiros were on the other. It’s mostly submerged, except at very low tides. Hans & Eva enjoyed going for a stroll on this spit during low tides; from our boat it appeared that their silhouettes were walking on water. We joined them one day, and it turned out to be more exercise than romance – the knee-high water creates a good bit of resistance that makes the walk more challenging than it appears from a distance. Our side of the anchorage was closer to the nearest motu, a tiny islet uninhabited by humans, but full of birds of many sorts. We walked the beach there a couple of times, and went coconut hunting with Luca. One evening, our friends invited us to join them for a bonfire in celebration of Eva’s birthday. She also packed a wonderful meal, including a bottle of champagne! Luca gathered a dozen or more coconuts and we all shared some delicious coconut water and some of the soft jelly inside. He carefully discarded a few coconuts in the foliage nearby, so that later that evening we were able to see some coconut crabs come out to enjoy a feast. These crabs are big, with a body roughly like a football in size and shape and pincers that rival those of a Maine lobster. They have a pale bluish color, at least in the glare of flashlights. Apparently they are very tasty, but their numbers have dwindled dramatically, so most cruisers no longer consume them. After seeing their size and weapons, capturing one seemed like it might be a bit dangerous! Another evening we went dinghy fishing with Luca. Between the three of us, we only caught one fish – but it was a large one! We were unfamiliar with the species, but learned that it’s called a “jobfish”, and that it’s one of the species recognized as safe from ciguatera. So we split the meat and both boats enjoyed three meals from this one catch.

On our side of the anchorage, there was a lot of current coming across the surrounding reef, and at the times when the incoming tidal current was highest Lungta was often seen riding at right angles to the wind. It was odd to see our boat pointed such a different direction from our neighbors! One day we took the dinghy for an exploration of some of the territory between the lagoon and the outer reef. In this part of this atoll, there was a lot of variation in the terrain, ranging from sandy bottom pocked with coral heads to ridges of coral just breaking the water’s surface to rocky islets. We spent several hours meandering through this region, sometimes hopping out to pull the dinghy over shallow spots as the tide went down. What a delightful way to pass the day, amongst the myriad shades of color on the spectrum between blue and turquoise and the palest of aquas, interspersed with the pale colors of the coral, ranging from sandy to gray to pastel shades of pink and green – and with an occasional splash of a brilliant purple from a single species of sponge!

Shortly before we were ready to leave, a third boat came into the anchorage. The Australian owners hosted a sun-down gathering on their large catamaran. Although they were a bit older they were quite adventurous souls. Every day they were out snorkeling or kayaking or fishing or dinghy-exploring. They introduced us to a plugin feature for our navigation software that we hadn’t seen yet, called weather routing. This takes the weather forecasts (from a different program) and shows the best way to go from point A to point B to capitalize on the winds and minimize the waves. Kevin was an excited user of this tool, and we have had lots of fun getting it installed and configured on our PC. It helps to synthesize a lot of data, to compare choices and find a weather window that might make a passage more comfortable. We both left the anchorage and went back to the entrance pass about the same time, and then waited there for a few days for our best departure date. We snorkeled together a couple of times, and enjoyed the camaraderie of appreciating nature’s day-to-day beauty.

We have decided to make a trip back to the States to visit our families, timed to begin with the Thanksgiving gathering in upstate New York that Dan’s aunt hosts each year. We got our airline tickets and then left Fakarava for this wonderful month in Tahanea. Now this interlude has come to a close, and we are beginning our transition to a different way of living. πŸ™‚ The crowded living and high-paced culture of New York – in the frigid late fall – make for a huge contrast for us! We will also make stops in Denver and Houston to visit Kathy’s family. We are now moving Lungta 300 miles south-west to the island of Tahiti, where we will leave her at anchor and in the care of a local boat-watcher. We’ve found a well-protected anchorage and are hoping that the on-coming cyclone season won’t bring any early surprises this year while we’re away! The statistics say we should be just fine, but it’s a new climate for us and we’re still learning how cautious we need to be. This season is shaping up to be an El Nino, which means that there are warmer waters than usual where cyclones tend to form. El Nino years tend to bring more cyclones to the eastern end of the South Pacific, which is where French Polynesia is located. In non-El Nino years there have been no cyclones at all in the Tuamotus and Society Islands (where Tahiti is located) in the time they’ve been gathering this data, but there have been a handful during El Nino years. The Marquesas Islands have never had a cyclone even during El Nino. So after we return from the States, we will make our way back to the Marquesas to hang out for the duration of the cyclone season. That’s the plan – for now!

(Stay tuned for next month, when we’ll give a more in-depth view of our time in Tahiti and our changing plans.)

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09-30-2018 Fakarava, Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia

We are currently anchored in a picture-postcard-perfect location at the southern edge of Fakarava, an atoll in the Tuamotu Islands of French Polynesia. The breezes are very light right now, and when we got up in the morning there wasn’t a ripple on the surface. It almost gave us vertigo, since it seemed the boat was floating in air! We could see our anchor chain lying on the bottom in 30 feet of crystal clear water; it meandered in a lazy circle and the anchor lay almost exactly underneath the boat. There are almost always a few black-tip reef sharks, 4-6 feet long, within sight of the boat; we haven’t decided whether they’re curious or have reason to expect that our presence will provide or attract food. We haven’t seen them eat anything yet, just swim around slowly and gracefully with their powerful tails. We also see quite a few mid-sized reef fish that come up to the boat from time to time, especially when we dump kitchen scraps. It was fun to watch them go after a few st rands of leftover spaghetti yesterday afternoon! This is definitely one of the places that we will remember for the rest of our lives!
We sat on the deck last night, watching as the sun set. There were relatively few clouds in the sky, and the colors of the sky were clear and luminous. The previous evening’s show had some clouds near the horizon, and the sunset made a show of copper foil. The sunsets are fairly short here, and night settles in quickly. We are just past the full moon, so the moon is rising just an hour or two after the sun disappears. We get a short period of dark sky before the moon comes out to once again show us the fish and sharks circling around underneath us. The white sand nearly glows, and the coral heads (also called bommies) show up as dark presences against the sand. Last night we also saw a display of bioluminescence, perhaps plankton, perhaps small fish? There would be a sparkle here and another over there, kinda like a fountain of glitter.
As with all atolls, Fakarava is a ring of coral (this one rather rectangular in shape!) surrounding a large lagoon. Most of the ring extends above the surface, forming a series of islands which are called motus. There are gaps in the ring, though, passes through which the water flows in and out with the tides. Fakarava has two passes that are wide and deep enough for boats to pass through, one in the north and one in the south. There is a single long motu – about 40 miles long – along the northern and eastern edges, and a number of other motus sketch out the other sides; there are also a bunch of tiny ones dotting the interior. Most of the interior is quite deep and pocked with coral heads; only a small portion has been sounded and charted, but the coral heads are quite visible in good sunlight, so careful navigation is possible throughout.
We arrived in Fakarava about three weeks ago, after a fairly uneventful 5-day passage from Nuku Hiva. We arrived at the atoll about an hour before sunrise, but waited outside the pass to the lagoon for the tide to turn. This was our first crossing of a pass into an atoll’s lagoon, and we were a little nervous. πŸ™‚ Timing is the art to entering an atoll. If you come in at the wrong time, the conditions in the pass might include breaking waves, current flowing against you, eddies and other turbulence. Predicting the optimal time is still an art, but it’s getting easier as more information is compiled. Even getting a reliable tide table for this area is a challenge! We used a tool developed by another cruiser a few years ago that they call the Guesstimator. It’s a spreadsheet where you enter a number of data points, including which atoll you want to enter on which date, and information about recent weather conditions. Strong winds creating higher waves can actually push water ov er the enclosing coral ring, filling the “bathtub” more quickly than normal, and creating stronger – and earlier – outgoing currents than usual. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, so we chose an atoll with an “easy” pass entrance, and timed our arrival for a high slack tide during daylight hours. Our preparedness paid off, and our entrance was indeed a non-event. This will give us more confidence when we visit other atolls with less straightforward passes.
We first went to the town of Rotoava, in the northeast corner of the atoll, because we had a friend that we hoped to meet there. We had met Julie a month ago in Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, but she headed for Tahiti shortly afterwards. In Tahiti, she ended up getting on a boat which came to Fakarava – the cruising community is smaller than one might expect! She showed us around the town, where to find groceries and internet access – what more does one need? We found a beautiful little reef marked with a navigation beacon quite near our boat, and enjoyed snorkeling there several times. We took a (very short) hike to the other side of the motu, facing the ocean, which was a very cool sight! There is a coral shelf, perhaps 300 feet wide, which is full of tidepools; the waves are crashing on the outer edge but the inner edge is glassy like an infinity pool. We did a little beach combing there, but it’s not a prolific ecosystem, probably because the conditions are too harsh to support much life. We spent a couple of days with Julie and her new boyfriend Sandy, but unfortunately she did not have a long-stay visa and her standard 3-month visa ran out less than a week after our arrival. She hopped on a plane and headed back to the States; while we hope to see her again, for today, we have another goodbye.
Although Fakarava is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotu chain, its main town of Rotoava is actually very small. We found three restaurants and three grocery stores, a couple of dive shops and pearl shops, and a governmental building including a post office, but no bars or other stores, as far as we could tell. There’s a supply ship which comes in once a week. Shortly afterwards (but not just beforehand!) the grocery stores have fresh produce. Occasionally another ship comes through, carrying heavier cargo. We saw one come in with a pickup truck on top; it also had a few cisterns, a couple of forklifts, some pallets of cement blocks, more pallets of large propane bottles, and lots of cargo unidentifiable from a distance. πŸ™‚ This ship was in port for less than two hours. Gives weight to the phrase “when your ship comes in”!
Before we left Taiohae, we waited a few extra days for the ship to come in that was carrying some new sails for us. The Aranui is an interesting ship, half cruise boat, half cargo ship. They have a two-week circuit, leaving from Tahiti and visiting most of the Marquesas Islands and a couple of the Tuamotus. They take a couple hundred passengers, and when they are in town there is a lot of activity. The passengers walk the streets in clusters, take minivan bus tours of the islands, shop in the artisan markets, etc. The ship brings fresh produce to the markets of the towns they visit, and other items as well. The day the Aranui arrived, we went down to a parking lot behind the wharf, where a full-size container had been off-loaded. It was packed to the hilt with packages of all shapes and sizes. Some of them were manufacturer packaging, and we could see someone was getting a new stove or a mattress. Two or three employees were standing in the container, calling out the names of the recipients for each package in turn. The whole process was surprisingly informal and a bit chaotic. We showed our copy of the order form, but did not need to sign for the packages.
We were surprised at how small our two packages were, but when we got them back to the boat we were impressed at the packaging. Each sail was packed in a vacuum-packed bag, inside of a standard sail bag, inside of an extremely sturdy bag made from some kind of space-age material that will probably never break down. We’re keeping all of them for other uses around the boat, kind of a bonus gift that came along with our purchase! We immediately removed our old, worn-out, and frequently patched sails, and installed the new ones. How exciting! Another surprise came when we went to put the sail covers on – the covers were made to fit the old sails to a T, but the new sails are still stiff and don’t collapse down as compactly. The covers wouldn’t reach all the way around, for more than 50% of the length of the sails! We are going to wait a few months to allow the sailcloth to “relax” a bit, before modifying the sail covers to fit the new sails better. In the meantime we have added s ome straps to hold the covers on as best possible, to minimize the unnecessary solar exposure.
We visited a couple of spots further south along the main motu of Fakarava. One was completely free of human development, and one was inhabited by a delightful young family with half a dozen mooring balls for cruising boats, three rental cabins, and an amazing internet connection to keep all their guests happy. πŸ™‚ We were impressed with the night sky, how even a town as small as Rotoava can create light pollution that interferes with a clear view of the stars.
When we first arrived in the southern end of the atoll, we followed some directions published in 2016 by cruisers who had found a nice anchorage near the pass. It was a little challenging to get to, but we had the place to ourselves. It was gorgeous, with beautiful turquoise water above white sand and bommies of coral of many different shapes and colors. There was a string of small motus, studded with palm trees, and with channels between them. We dinghied our first day over to the main pass, to take some measurements of the depth and investigate whether it would be reasonable for us to leave through this pass, or more prudent to return to the north pass when we wanted to move on. (We think this one is doable, although it will be more challenging than our easy entrance in the north.) We also went snorkeling, as the tide turned slack just after a period of outgoing current. We donned our gear and jumped into the water holding a long line attached to the dinghy, to pull it alon g behind. Much of the pass is quite deep in the center and we couldn’t really see the bottom all that well, so we hung a bit to the sides. The coral was spectacular, and there were many types of fish (including file fish, whose skinny white lines against a dark black surface remind Kathy of white pearls with an evening gown, and napoleanfish, which are the largest wrasses you’ve ever seen). We saw schools of grouper and snapper, and a number of reef sharks (although not as many as we had expected from some breathless reports we had read previously πŸ™‚ ). We’ll probably come back another time with diving gear, because it was so pretty and we’d like the opportunity to go a little deeper. The second day we were in this place, we took a little dinghy ride to one of the nearby motus and walked around on the shore, again visiting the outside shelf and seeing the ocean waves crashing ashore. We saw lots and lots of small sea cucumbers in the shallow channel between this motu and its neighbor, perhaps because the water is warmer there. We startled several birds as we crossed nearby, and they flew to the next motu down, calling “toodle-loo” all the way. They had long curved beaks, and we thought they looked like sandpipers. We’ve heard of an endangered sandpiper species at a nearby atoll, and we wondered if these were members of that group. The third day we were loading the dinghy to go for a snorkel, when a covered skiff, perhaps a wildlife tour boat, pulled up to us and the captain started talking animatedly. We had a difficult time understanding his to-us complicated and rapid speech, but got the gist that we were anchored in an off-limits area and we would need to move to a different anchorage area on the other side of the pass. Disappointing, because one of the advantages of this site is that there is less coral to snag our anchor chain on. We immediately pulled our anchor up and relocated, though.
In our new location the next day, we found the weather conditions were so calm and glassy that we decided to do a maintenance project on our anchor system. Our chain is about 5 years old, and beginning to show a little bit of wear, so we wanted to switch it end-for-end. We thought the project would only take a couple of hours, including dropping a secondary anchor during the work and making new marks to indicate how much chain is out for when we’re deploying it. As often turns out to be the case, the small project turned out to be a good bit larger. An intermittent problem that we’ve encountered a few times before reared its head and became a very important, immediate addition to our project. The problem presents itself as the windlass running amok, not stopping when one removes pressure from the foot pedal. The first time this happened, the anchor was coming up and the windlass wouldn’t allow us to stop when it got to the top. This broke a brass “key” that is intended to pro tect the motor from breaking a shaft if it was working against a load that was just too heavy. We spent an entire day disassembling the windlass enough to replace that key to get it all working again. Now we had time to run inside and throw a switch which disconnects the power to the windlass before any damage was done. Dan quickly figured out that the problem was being caused by the foot pedal itself, because the protective rubber sheath had worn through and the inner works were exposed to the elements. Fortunately we had a spare switch in our stores, although of a different design. It took a few hours to construct a new bracket and mounting plate for the new switch, but we are very pleased at the idea that the “ghost in the machine” of our windlass will no longer be haunting us!
And on that note of accomplishment, I am going to wrap up this posting. Besides, it’s time for tonight’s sunset, and it’s shaping up to be a beauty!

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08-26-2018 – Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia

It’s hard to believe that another month has passed, and it’s time to send an update! We’re (back) in Taiohae Bay, starting to get ready for the next chapter of our adventures. We’ve received our long-stay visas, so we don’t need to wait around here any more. Our crew mate Baban has found a place on a Brazilian boat that moved on to the Tuamotu Islands more quickly. We have been enjoying ourselves on Nuku Hiva, meeting a few new friends and working on a few projects.

Here are a few photos from the Bastille Day parade that we took just after posting the last blog entry. Everyone was dressed up with flowers in their hair or around their necks. It seemed like half of the town participated in the parade. There was an announcer who told who was coming next and a viewing tent where the town’s officials were seated. Near the beginning, there were two groups of teenagers who performed a couple of traditional dances for the audience, accompanied by a couple of drummers. The girls did a classic Polynesian dance with gentle hip-swaying and fluid arm movements, while the boys did a series of strong squats, grunts and slapping of thigh, chest and arms. After the dancers there was a series of groups like government workers, farmers, and soccer players. Some of the marchers carried banners, flags or small children. It was all very gentle and good-natured, quite different from the military parades that you see in many places! After the parade, there were a few speeches by the mayor (pro-tem) and some other official-looking people – which we understood very little of because they were in French! After the speeches completed, everyone wandered over to the community center where there was a *lot* of food served on some very long tables. There were no plates or napkins, but some people cleverly brought a platter to fill up for their whole family! The rest of us would get one or two items, eat them and then return for more. πŸ™‚ Almost all of the food was homemade cakes, with a few fruit platters as well. At first there was a long line, then afterwards the people with platters cleared out the rest pretty quickly!

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Our friends Norma and Christian invited us to join them on an easy hike to the top of a local peak where there is an antenna. The antenna was installed when the television series Survivor filmed a season here and needed better communications. That brought this town, this island, into the 20th century. πŸ™‚ The hike would actually be a pretty long one, with a good bit of elevation gain, but we cheated – as soon as we left the town, we stuck out our thumbs for the trek uphill. French law requires that all passengers use safety belts, which makes it illegal for people to ride in the bed of a pickup truck. Apparently there are only 4 police officers (gendarmes) on the island, so they don’t spend much time patrolling the roads outside of town. This makes drivers much more likely to pick up folks walking along the remote and steep roads elsewhere on the island. It didn’t take long at all for us to find a ride – and the driver was a friend of Norma’s! Cecile is the only social worker in all of the Marquesas, which brings her to each village regularly, including those on the neighboring islands. She speaks English, French, Spanish and of course Marquesan. She was going to the neighboring town of Taipivai which overlooks Comptroller Bay, where we had hiked last month. She took us as far as the turnoff, which is a beautiful windy road that goes up rapidly. The remainder of the trip was a fairly easy 2 or 3 miles up a road that was very reminiscent of the logging roads we used to see in Oregon. It was cool and muddy from rain the day before. We enjoyed a simple picnic at the top, with a spectacular view of the bay where our boats peacefully waited for us to return. VisitΒ https://merrittsupply.com in case you need any marine supplies prior to your trip.

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The following week we pulled anchor and moved to another anchorage on the other side of the island, called Baie D’Anaho. This beautiful bay cannot be accessed by road, although there is a well-used horse trail that goes by. There’s a farm in the next bay over which packs its produce out regularly, and many boaters spend a pleasant day hiking up and over the pass to the farm to reprovision. We will do so on a future visit, but didn’t manage to get there this time. There were roughly 10 boats in the anchorage when we arrived, nestled into the western corner where the shore makes a bit of a hook, providing a little extra protection from winds and waves coming in from the north. We chose to drop anchor a little further off, so as not to crowd the others. (We also had a problem with our windlass arise while we were underway, which meant that we had a half-day’s project in the morning and we wouldn’t be able to pull the anchor up easily until then. We didn’t want to risk the possibility that we might cause trouble for others during that time.) Our spot felt like we had the best of both worlds: we had the option of being social with the group tucked in the corner, but we also had some privacy from the sight and sounds from the other boats. One night we inflated an air mattress and slept on deck – until it started to rain! πŸ™‚ We enjoyed watching the night sky creep in and slowly grow dark, and the stars overhead were beautiful! For us, sleeping outside is one of the joys of being in a remote location!

There was a group of perhaps twenty kids attending a camp in the bay when we arrived. They were from all around the Marquesas Islands, mostly a neighboring island called Ua Pou (pronounced “wa-poh”), and they ranged in age from perhaps 8 to 15. The retreat ended a few days after we arrived, and they had a celebration dance performance in a community center in the corner of the bay. The camp counselors invited the cruisers to the performance, and we were excited to see some truly authentic local culture. They had prepared perhaps a dozen different dances, performed to recorded music but accompanied by a little bit of drumming and singing. One of the counselors played the role of emcee, and introduced each entry (in French), interspersing dance performances with silly audience participation events. We were selected to join in the first audience participation event, along with 3 other couples. They gave us a 3′ square piece of paper and asked us to dance together on that piece of paper, but then periodically stopped the music and told us to fold it in half and continue. Whenever the music stopped, any couple that wasn’t on the paper was eliminated. We didn’t last long. πŸ™‚ The couple that outlasted all the rest succeeded by having the woman held in the man’s arms, not touching the ground at all! The main event, though, at least for us, was the dances the kids had learned. The boys did traditional Marquesan dances, where they stood in a broad low stance and slapped their knees, shoulders and chests as they grunted or chanted war-like phrases. One of the dances was called the Bird Dance and another the Pig Dance, and it was fascinating to see how they mimicked the animals movements. The girls also did traditional Polynesian dances, but we heard later that the style was more Tahitian than Marquesan. These dances were the sensual hip-swaying style, where the arm movements are unrelated and tell a story. It was interesting to see the child emerge throughout this event, where some of the kids were anxious to please while others were going through the paces, some were shy to perform in front of strangers and others were enjoying the limelight – some things are true around the world and across cultures. πŸ™‚ At the end of the performance, the kids mingled with the audience, and many gave away their flower crowns, leis, etc. Other than these simple decorations, they were all wearing T-shirts and shorts.

One day we went for a little dinghy explore of the bay. It’s pretty big – perhaps 3/4 of a mile across and 2 miles long. Some of the hills are covered with lush greenery and some of it is steep cliffs or volcanic spires. We enjoyed looking at the geological formations and trying to figure out how they formed. In quite a number of places it appeared that the previous rock had cracked and lava had pushed through. The new strips of rock were stronger than the original, and seems to have weathered much better, so erosion left a series of parallel flat walls. We also watched a blow-hole for a while, spending perhaps 20 minutes trying to capture a photo. Definitely more action-packed than watching paint dry. πŸ™‚

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There was a pretty steady stream of arrivals and departures of boats from the bay. Most days we saw at least one boat leave or arrive. After a few days of departures, there was more room inside the hook and we decided to relocate to be closer to the crowd for a while. We had dinner with people on other boats a few times, reconnecting with our friend Silke who we had met in the two previous anchorages, and getting to know Jan and Doug on a boat called Hannah. A boat we met briefly in Taiohae stopped here for a few nights to clean the bottom before departing for the Marshall Islands. There’s still a constant flow of new people through our lives, with few staying nearby for long.

In our new location, we went snorkeling on the reef that covered a third of the corner. It was the best snorkeling we’ve had yet, with lots of fish life swirling around a variety of coral heads. We spent enough time with our faces in the water that we both ended up with some sunburn on our backs. πŸ™‚ When we finally decided to go back home, we noticed that there were several mantarays swimming nearby. So we hopped back in the water and hung out with them for a bit. They were circling and feeding, and didn’t mind the extra company for a few minutes. But then they moved on, gliding away gracefully but far faster than we could keep up.

After a couple of delightfully quiet weeks, we received an email saying that a package for us was going through customs and we needed to come back to Taiohae to do a bit of paperwork. We had sent a couple of pump heads for our watermaker back to a shop in the States to rebuild, but were surprised that they would be ready so quickly. So we pulled anchor and sailed around again to the other side of the island. Truthfully, we motored most of the day, because it turned out the conditions were very uncomfortable. Although the winds were good, we overlooked the fact that the previous few days we’d had strong winds, and this meant that the seas had built to higher waves than we’d expected. So we were glad to pull out of the tumultuous conditions and into familiar surroundings. Later we learned that the package that was on its way was not the pump heads that we had thought, but rather a pair of new sails that we hadn’t expected until September. We had planned to travel for a few months with our old sails (one of which is torn badly enough that we’re not really even using it!), and have these sails held here for us until our return in November. Because of the size and weight of the package, it is being sent by ship rather than plane, so it would be another 10 days before they arrived from Papeete. We had been thinking about leaving pretty quickly after fueling up and re-provisioning, but now there’s a reason to delay an additional week… πŸ™‚ So we’re still in Taiohae, and characteristically we’ve come up with a number of projects to fill our time.

We met a young French man on a boat with his wife and two kids (ages 2 & 3). They are expecting a third baby around Christmas, and will be here for the next several months. They have both found local jobs to replenish the cruising kitty when they’re ready to move on again. Pierre is a good carpenter, and we hired him to install a Plexiglass window in the back door of the pilothouse, our primary entrance. The Plexiglass is left over from a full sheet that we bought in El Salvador when we rebuilt the skylight/hatch in the Office, in the center of the boat. The door itself has quite a story. As you may remember, we had the back door installed a few years ago by a carpenter in Santa Rosalia, Mexico. It had originally been one of a pair of doors used in the foreward part of the boat, which we remodelled before leaving Portland in 2011. πŸ™‚ It was built by the father of Gail Husen, the first owner of the boat (along with her husband Herman, of course!) It’s solid teak, and constructed beautifully with an arched top and nicely rabbeted joints. Pierre did a similarly fine job cutting out the upper panel, cutting a groove for the window to sit in, and constructing trim pieces to hold it. The curved piece on top was laminated from three strips cut from the original panel. Pierre was excited to see the nice set of tools that we had, and Dan was happy to learn a few new tricks about using them skillfully. The new window is more attractive for an exterior door, and will give us much more all-round visibility when the door is shut, usually because of rain.

We’ve also been designing a new feature to our rigging. We’re adding a pair of lines to the main mast, pulling it aft when the foreward staysail is unfurled and pulling forward. The mast has been bending into an S-shape, which is not ideal. πŸ™‚ As we’re now in different conditions than the boat was originally designed, we need to make sure that the rigging has the support it needs to handle it safely. These lines, by the way, are called running back stays. This suggestion first came up in 2011, when we stopped in Port Townsend on our way north to Alaska. We visited the well-known rigger Brion Toss, and invited his comments. It’s been a long time percolating, but we’re finally implementing the idea! What we’re doing is adding a new stainless steel cuff around the mast, about 40 feet up, as close as possible to the one the staysail attaches to. This cuff has two tangs on it with holes that we can attach the lines to, running down to a pair of winches on either side of the pilothouse. When the sails are flying to the port side, we tighten up the starboard line, an4d vice versa. Dan has done the metal-work, cutting and welding the pieces to make a two-part cuff that can be bolted in place, and Kathy the work aloft in the mast (would you have guessed otherwise?). We’ll give this new system a try next week when we head off on our next adventure, a 500-mile trip to the atolls of the Tuamotus.

Although the Marquesas may seem like a remote place, the Tuamotus are even more so. πŸ™‚ We expect to be there for the next two months or so, until the cyclone season begins in November. We might find an internet hotspot from time to time, but they are few and far between. We’ll also be hoping for some fresh vegetables periodically! While we’re in that area, we will be able to get weather forecasts and send and receive email via our Iridium satellite device. This is a huge change from just a decade or two ago! Imagine us diving in the passes of the atolls, sleeping on deck under the stars, and making new friends…

(Here are a few photos from another hike we took with Norma and Christian along the east side of the bay. We probably won’t be able to include more photos until we return from the Tuamotus.)

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07-12-2018 – Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia

The Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia are a cruiser’s paradise. There are only 8 islands – and a handful of exposed rocks that we need to be careful of! – but each one seems to have its own personality. So far we’ve visited three of them and are quite delighted!

The first one we encountered was Fatu Hiva, among the tiniest, but with the biggest reputation. We spent a couple of nights anchored near the town of Omoa and then a few in the famous Bay of Virgins (a.k.a. Hanavave). We had a nice hike to a famous waterfall with a pretty but chilly pool at its base. Dave and Baban enjoyed a short swim, but Dan and Kathy settled for a shower in the rain instead. πŸ™‚ Because it’s technically the dry season, the waterfall was not running very fast, but it noticeably increased when the rain shower began! It was coming over a very steep cliff and dramatically fell a few hundred feet. The lush jungle surrounded us and we felt as if we were in our own private little space. The hike took perhaps an hour, and was really therapeutic for our legs that had grown lazy over the long passage across the sea.

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Even though we had found a place to drop our anchor, the anchorage was still crowded and our location was not good. There are strong winds that come down the valley and across the anchorage, and the boat dragged anchor more than 100 feet while we were gone. As we passed through the small town on our way back from our hike, a local woman invited us to have dinner at her home later that evening. Dan chose to stay with the boat, to keep an eye on the anchor, while Kathy, Dave and Baban returned for dinner. Veronica spoke virtually no English, but her husband Rod spoke reasonably well. Dinner was delicious, including our first taste of “poisson cru”, which is raw fish (often tuna) and coconut milk, lemon juice and salt – it turns out to be quite common in this area. There was also a green salad, chicken, boiled vegetables and two banana dishes, one fried and one made with coconut milk that had a texture sort of like bread pudding. All of it was made from local ingredients, and delicious! And Veronica prepared a wonderful dish for Dan to eat later. Our conversation was limited to the basics of our life stories, but it was fun to have an authentic visit with a local couple. Veronica was from the Tuamotus and Rod was from the Marquesas, but they spent most of their lives working in Papeete, in the Society Islands. After the meal, they offered to sell us a bunch of fruit from their yard/garden: pamplemousse, mangos, bananas. We traded them a few small items we had brought, including a T-shirt, some reading glasses and some nail polish. It was a fun interchange!

After we left Fatu Hiva, we moved to the next island north, Tahuata. The bay of Hanamoenoa was reported to be a really nice anchorage by several other boats we’d already heard from, and it was only 15 miles away. Although there were only about 10 boats when we arrived, within a few days there were more like 20, many of them with kids. It turns out that families travelling with kids have a special need to find others with similar aged children, and they often maintain a network of friends, travelling together or arranging for occasional meet-ups. This bay was selected as a meet-up spot for the same time that we had planned to be there. There were roughly 40 kids of various ages that weekend, playing on the beach, jumping on a big floating trampoline toy one boat had tied up behind them, riding along on wakeboards or inflatable rings behind dinghies, etc. They organized a couple of group meals on shore and had a bonfire night which we joined in. It was a very social couple of days – and then they moved on. πŸ™‚ Baie Hanamoenoa has a small but beautiful white sand beach, surrounded by jungle and backed by tall volcanic cliffs. There are a few homesteads behind the beach, but we didn’t meet the people there. (Actually, Dave and Baban had an encounter one evening when they went ashore to do some astral photography, but that’s their story. Baban brought his tripod and his fancy camera, and got a spectacular photo of the Milky Way.) We all went snorkeling one afternoon along the rocks to the south. It was wonderful to see the variety of tropical fish zipping along the reef and ducking into its crevices! After about 20 minutes, though, Baban and Dan ran into a patch of stinging jellies, which left some significant welts. Ouch! We quickly swam away from the shore and headed back to Lungta. Oddly, we haven’t seen these jellies since. A couple of times we dinghied the 5 miles down the coast to a nearby village to do a few errands – and try to get some internet. There was a cafe there run by an astute businessman named Jimmy. He provided breakfast for $10, including internet access, while his next-door neighbor only offered breakfast. All the cruisers frequented Jimmy’s place! πŸ™‚ After our first meal there, he asked us if we wanted some oranges. We enthusiastically said yes, and he picked a bag full, adding in 3 breadfruit. Then he told us it would be an extra $15. πŸ™ We didn’t like that way of doing business and we declined. He came back three different times with the same suggestion, and then changed his tack – how about some whiskey? Or some old line (rope)? We negotiated 10 meters of line for the bundle of fruit, and we all came away feeling like it was a fine deal.

After 5 days, it felt like it was time to move on. We hadn’t yet checked into the country, and we were definitely enjoying what it had to offer! We pulled our anchor and moved north another 80 miles to the island of Nuku Hiva. This is the biggest island in the chain, hosting more than 2000 inhabitants – and the second largest in the whole country, after the capital Papeete. Here we could take care of the legal formalities of checking in and arranging to get our long-stay visas. (If you are remembering that we already applied in Panama, you’re right! This is a multi-step process, with lots of details. The first year of a long-stay, one gets the standard 3-month visa, followed by a resident card for the balance of the time.) We have turned in the paperwork for the long-stay cards, and are now waiting 6 weeks for them to be processed. They can only be picked up here in Nuku Hiva or in Papeete (or an agent can help with the process too). It will take about 6 weeks for them to be processed.

The town of Taiohae (tie-o-hay) is situated at the head of the big bay of the same name. The bay comfortably fits many dozens of boats, and has had over 40 the whole time we’ve been here (about 3 weeks). We’ve seen many familiar boat names (many from the tracking list that Kathy coordinated while crossing from Panama) and a number of new ones as well. There’s a nice wharf where we can leave our dinghy while we’re ashore, and a cafe very nearby that has a fairly decent wifi connection – unless there are lots of customers already online. πŸ™‚ The local fishing fleet uses this same dock, and cleans and sells their fish early most mornings. We’ve found amazingly fresh tuna here for only $2.50/lb! As the fishermen are cleaning their catch, they toss the scraps off the wharf into the water. A small crowd of sharks have learned this pattern, and it’s exciting to see them scramble whenever something lands in the murky water!

Taiohae is a bit of a cross-roads for boaters, with some arriving directly from their crossing and others arriving from other islands in the chain. It’s a good place to meet people and exchange crew. We expect to hang out here as we wait for the processing of our long-stay visas to complete, but our crew are both interested in moving on a bit more quickly. Dave has already found a place on a Swedish boat that is heading towards the Tuamotus, and Baban is in discussion with an American boat that is not going to get long-stay visas, so will move on to Tonga or Fiji before the end of the season. We (Dan & Kathy) are starting to look forward to having the boat to ourselves again. It’s been fun having crew, but it’s also nice to be “just the two of us”. By the next time we post, this transition will probably already be completed, but right now it feels like there’s a lot of change in the air. πŸ™‚

Shortly after we arrived in Taiohae, we were shopping in the grocery store, when a tall man struck up a conversation, asking all about where to find various services. Bob is on a boat called Second Summit, which has a number of challenges after their crossing. Dan offered to help diagnose the fuel problems with their main engine & generator, and thus a friendship began. We spent much of the next day working on the air leak and getting to know Bill, Bob, and Julie. They had a fourth crew person, but he disappeared quickly after a drinking binge that caused some awkward difficulties with the local police department where the checkin process occurs. Some time that first night their dinghy got seriously damaged on the rocks and the outboard motor got dunked (or rolled?) in the water (outboards don’t like saltwater πŸ™‚ ). They are going to be here a while. πŸ™ Bob is a very energetic athletic guy, always working on new ideas for a hike or paddle outing. We joined him on one hike a week ago, and our calves are still recovering! Julie is an unconventional young woman with a fun spirit who we’ve also been spending quite a bit of time with. Bill, the owner, is a bit older and less adventurous. In appreciation of Dan’s help, he took us all out to dinner one night at a fancy hotel’s restaurant, and we enjoyed goat curry and vegetable/chevre rolls with eggplant fritters.

Two weeks ago we took a little jaunt to another bay 5 miles to the west. It’s called Taioe (tie-o-eh) on the map, but cruisers generally call it Daniel’s Bay after a friendly local. The valley there is sometimes called the Royal Valley, and it sports another don’t-miss waterfall. πŸ™‚ We beached the dinghy and found the trailhead quite easily. It was a gentle hike, passing through a small settlement of perhaps a dozen tidy farms. We paid a $10 fee per person to the local “valley association”, collected by a burly, heavily tattooed man named Patrick. (We had already heard about this fee, so we had money with us!) The first half of the walk followed an ancient roadbed, lined with large stones but with the surface gone. Later it headed up into the valley, lined on both sides with tall cliffs and lots of tropical vegetation. A stream ran through the valley, which we crossed 3 or 4 times. We came across an ancient town, with lots of stone construction in ruin, some walls, some steps, and a few stone-lined pits (for food storage?) We imagined the royal family living up there between the majestic cliffs, and travelling the wide boulevard to access the sea. We had heard that the trail beyond this village was hard to find, and we followed one to what seemed the end, where it ran to the stream but didn’t appear to continue on the other side. There were signs saying that continuing was prohibited (we think! It was in French, which is still mostly incomprehensible to us. πŸ™‚ ) We turned around at this point, tired enough that we chose not to search for another path to the waterfall. Later we learned that we were in the right place, and if we’d been a bit more determined we would have found the continuation to our path on the other side of the stream. We retraced our steps, and when we got back to the settlement we met a woman named Monette, who was happy to make a meal for us. At first she thought we were just starting our hike, and said that she’d have dinner ready in two hours, but then we made it clear that we had just returned from the hike, so she offered us some fried banana morsels and whipped up a feast! She included a green salad that had shredded green mango and a wonderful vinaigrette dressing. She sat with us and chatted as we ate; the local culture is so gentle and happy that it is a real pleasure to meet the local people! They seem to live off of the bounty of nature, feeling no urgent sense of not enough. Since the trees produce more than they can eat, they happily share what they have with strangers that come by and ask. They speak gently and smile frequently. Many have tattoos, a holdover from a traditional lineage that little is known of anymore. The current population is only about 10% of the size it was when westerners first arrived in the 18th century. Many cruisers are getting Marquesan-style tattoos, in commemoration of their big passage or to add to a collection they already had started.

Back in Taiohae again, we have learned our way around a bit. There is a lovely produce market right near the dinghy dock, which runs every morning except Sundays. As one friend said: “The French don’t do Sundays!” We’ve found two grocery stores which stock a surprisingly different set of items, so we typically visit both. One of them carries baguettes and larger loaves of bread that can be cut into slices for sandwiches. We’ve found brie and other cheeses, expensive but so good on the baguettes! We’ve also found a French baker who makes delicious pastries on Saturdays & Sundays, once again giving us cause to celebrate the weekend. πŸ™‚ He makes croissants, chocolate rolls, brioches, eclairs, and more! We’re still sampling the list. πŸ™‚ Food here is fairly expensive, compared to Central America, but perhaps comparable to what we paid back in the States. Some items are printed in red, which means that the French government subsidizes them. We have found Corn Flakes subsidized for $3.50 for a small box, while the next cheapest box of cereal is $5.50! We often walk away thinking we haven’t gotten very much food for our $80-100, but then we manage to eat just fine. We’re getting used to a new array of meal ingredients, although we haven’t yet embraced anything particularly exotic, outside of pamplemousse – and soursop (a.k.a. guanabana and coeur du sol), which we discovered in Panama City with Suzanne!

Last week, along with Bob & Julie from Second Summit, we took a hike to the bay to the east, called Comptroller’s Bay – except that we actually hitchhiked half of the way. Although it was paved road most of the way, it did have quite a bit of elevation gain, about 3000 feet. We were surprised to wear out as thoroughly as we did! It turned out to be surprisingly easy to hitchhike here, because almost all of the vehicles that passed us were pickup trucks. It seems that the paved roads here are fairly recent, perhaps 15 years or so, and there’s not really much need to travel from one place to another, but people are enjoying their new-found capabilities. The first person to pick us up was on his way out hunting wild pigs and goats (previously he would have used a horse); most of these islands have wild populations of these animals which now make a ready source of food without having to invest in feeding them. We saw several small groups of pigs foraging along the roadside as we were walking this day. We also saw goats when we were in Daniel’s Bay the previous week, including darling kids frolicking at the water’s edge. Their bleating echoed around the bay for an entire morning. We marveled at the views on our walk, both up at steep cliffs that evoked memories of Yosemite and down at the crystal blue water of the coastline. There were quite a few unfamiliar plants, some flowering, some bearing odd fruits, which we would stop to admire. Near the end of our hike, we were hoping to come to a waterfall. We came to a stream crossing where we waded across the cool water. Julie knelt down to stick her head in the water, flipped her hair overhead and created a beautiful arc. Dan spent 10 minutes trying to capture that on his camera, and then we all noticed that we’d been consumed by mosquitoes and another biting insect called nonos. Yikes! The welts itched for more than 2 days – and sleepless nights! When we realized that we’d have to bushwhack to get to the waterfall, we petered out and decided to call it a day. We hitchhiked most of the way home, tired and full of the sensory experiences of the day’s adventure!

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This week and next, there’s a festival going on, presumably celebrating the harvest season. There are booths set up in town, and the vegetable market is on hold. Many of the booths are selling jewelry and other art trinkets, but also a massage corner, a pellet rifle shooting range, and a fruit sampling booth. Half a dozen huge stones were placed along the beachfront, and carvers with Makita electric grinders have been making them into tikis over the course of the week. We talked with Henry who was working on a sculpture of sea turtles. He told us how the original people of these islands believed that when someone dies, their soul goes into the sea and then into a large animal like a turtle, whale or mantaray. Later, if the people eat that animal, they receive some of the power of their ancestors’ souls back. When the missionaries and French colonial powers came to the islands they were shocked, saying that the soul goes UP into heaven rather than DOWN into the sea, and the ceremonial eating of sea turtles has been banned. Henry (and others) are outraged at the destruction of his culture and is working to restore the heritage to today’s youth.

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Drums ring out most evenings, accompanying dance performances both rollicking war-frenzies and seductive hip-shakers. We haven’t seen any schedules, so we just keep our ears open! A few days after we arrived in the bay, we ran into a friend that we hadn’t seen since we were in the Sea of Cortez in 2014. Norma & Christian arrived here in Nuku Hiva a year ago, and have settled in here. She has joined a group of women who are doing a Polynesian dance class twice a week, and they had a recital last week with 20 of her group. It was fun to see this Mexican woman joining in on a traditional Polynesian dance! We’ve had them over to dinner one night since then, and are planning a hike for next week. It’s good to have friends!

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Yesterday our neighbor Silke (a single-hander on a boat called Ocean Maiden) paddled over and told us that she was having trouble with her anchor. She thought it had snagged on a rock, but had been unable to get it free by maneuvering the boat in circles. She has some ear troubles and couldn’t dive the 30-35′ herself to see what was happening and clear the problem. We pulled out our dive gear and helped her out. It’s the first time in 4 years that we’ve used a dive tank instead of our hookah, and we had to dig out some pieces and reconnect some other bits. Eventually, we got it all together and got over to her boat. We worked out our game plan, and Kathy jumped in the water. Dan & Silke maneuvered the boat up to the anchor so that there was no stress on the chain. Kathy found that the chain was wrapped around a tree (!) that was sticking up about 8 feet from the silty muddy bottom – about 4 times! With a bit of effort, she was able to lift the coils up over the branches one at a time to untangle the snarl. It was a good feeling to be a hero and help out a friend! Silke treated us to a plate of fish cakes – yum!

Well, that’s the news on Lungta. We have wifi internet when we take our tablets ashore from time to time, so we’re checking our “usual” email addresses again a couple of times a week, as well as getting internet tasks done as needed. We’re also still checking our Iridium email most days. Drop us a line if you feel so inspired – we’d love to hear from you!

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