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

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

    

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

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

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

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

    

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

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

  

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

    

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

  

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

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