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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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