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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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. 🙂 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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