Saturday, July 30, 2016

Suwarrow arrival

Current position 13.14.915S 163.06.501W
Suwarrow anchorage

We had a comfortable sail for the rest of the passage with the wind fluctuating between 15 and 20 knots from the east and arrived at the pass entrance at 3.30pm local time, having covered a distance of 670 miles from Maupiti with an average speed of 6.7 knots. We were however tired after a sleepless, active and wet night in the cockpit so we were looking forward to some sleep.

As we approached the entrance we hailed the Suwarrow ranger to get some information on the pass and the anchorage and he advised us that there should be no more than 2 knots of ebb current and there was nobody else in the anchorage - we would have the place to ourselves until our friends on Red Thread arrive tomorrow.

We dropped anchor in 30 feet of water, with 10 sharks swimming around the boat and the ranger hailed us to advise us that they would be coming out to our boat to check us into the country (Cook Islands) and perform the immigration and customs procedures. Harry and Pie, father and son ranger team, boarded Sarita, both uniformed. They were formal, efficient and friendly as they gave us lots of forms to fill out and checked our passports, ships papers and liquor cabinet for our customs declaration. We kept bringing out more and more bottles for them to record as although our alcohol stock purchased in Mexico was large (we have not had to buy any yet) we are sorely depleted.

One of the new regulations for entry into the cook islands is to submit an ANA, Advance Notice of Arrival form to the Cook Islands government, which we did before leaving Bora Bora but we never received a reply. We should have received a confirmation. Harry and Pie said that there were some teething troubles and waived the $20 each fine for not having the confirmation number.

We were a bit astounded that this remote place has been somewhat spoiled by over bureaucracy, The authorities have deemed it necessary to plant a number of large signposts on the island telling visitors what they CANNOT do - its mad!! I enjoy sailing in remote place to avoid this type of unnecessary nanny behavior, unnecessary as sailors understand and respect the environment and even then dont need signposts to tell you - for heavens sake there must be less than 100 people visit this place each year. If anyone needs rules and punishment its the authorities for planting these invasive signs. We were also advised that we were not allowed to go ashore on any of he motus and needed permission to go ashore at all. We were also advised that we were not allowed to SCUBA dive, a totally innocuous sport, and was one of the main reasons we traveled the 670 mile 5 day passage to get here. We would definitely not have come here if we had known this in advance. I will try to see through this frustration and disappointment during our visit.

Now we sleep - straight and level......

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Passage from Maupiti, French Polynesia, to Suwarrow, Cook Islands

29th July 2016
Current Position 13.19 South, 162.20 West
Distance traveled 632 NM
Distance to go 39 NM
Current speed: 6.5knots
Current wind speed: 17 knots
Heading 284t
Wind direction 85 degrees East
Seas 2.5 - 3mts SE
Full poled out genoa
1 reef in the prevented main

As the light started to fade yesterday evening the winds shifted from the SE to the east so we had to make a decision whether to stay on our current sail configuration and head off to the south of the rhumb line too our destination or jybe and head slightly to the north of the rhumb line. We decided that we would stick with what we had as the wind shift might be temporary in which case we would have to jybe again under darkness, which normally is straightforward but as we have the spinnaker poling out on the genoa it means going forward on the bow in these deep swells and is something we try and avoid. As the evening progressed a series of squalls passed over us bring with them heavy rain and increased winds with one reaching 35 knots. When these squalls pass the wind shifts more to the NE, taking us more off course and we had to shorten the sail, both of which are frustrating as we are trying to reach Suwarrow before dark on the 29th and we need to stay on course and keep our speed up otherwise we will have to heave to for over 12 hours. So as every squall passed we set more sail to keep our speed up. The sun sank over the horizon and darkness came along with more squalls. More frustrating was the continued wind shift so we made the decision to jybe. Just as we set about doing the jybe, with both of us on the foredeck a squall hit us with heavy rain and strong wind, typical. We decided to stow the spinnaker pole and run under genoa alone until the squalls stopped as its much easier to shorten sail. We continued through the rest of the night furling and unfurling the head sail to keep up speed as the squalls continued and little to no sleep was had. Morning came and the squalls disappeared so we reset the spinnaker pole and unfurled the main to get as much speed as possible. Given our southing over night we managed to set a nice rhumb line course for Suwarrow showing an arrival time of 3pm local time IF the winds hold.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Passage report

Passage from Maupiti, French Polynesia, to Suwarrow, Cook Islands

27th July 2016
Current Position 14.02 South, 160,48 West
Distance traveled 520 NM
Distance to go 142 NM
Current speed: 7.5knots
Current wind speed: 18knots
Direction 284t
Wind direction 121 degrees ESE
Seas 2.5 - 3mts SE
Full poled out genoa
1 reef in the prevented main
Running 170 degrees to the wind

We said our farewells and thanks to French Polynesia and departed Maupiti at 10am on the 23rd July, exiting the lagoon through the pass entrance with a 4 knot ebb current which made the on coming swell stand up and break very close either side of the entrance, it was probably the most nerve wracking pass entrance/exit we have done to date and close to the feeling felt passing through the Yaculta rapids in BC in 2012.

Once out of the lagoon we headed west north west, 285 degrees on a direct course for Suwarrow with our friends on Red Thread off our port beam. Winds were a fresh 20 knots on our stern. Fingers crossed for a fast and comfortable passage we hoped. The seas did build somewhat to nearly 3 mts and the wind stayed between 15 and 25 knots most of the time but did reach 28 knots last night. We have been checking in twice a day with the Polynesia Magellan Single sideband (SSB) net to record our position and other passage details and its good to see where our other friends are around the region. We have been lucky enough to catch three fish, one yellow-tail tuna and 2 wahoo which were both hooked at the same time so Jude has been busy filleting fish, but it is much needed as we will not be seeing a shop for the next 3 weeks at least. We are hoping to enter the pass on Suwarrow tomorrow before sunset so long as the winds hold strength and direction otherwise we will have to heave to until the following morning.

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora. French Polynesia

We all loved French Polynesia on arrival but the more time we spend in the Society Islands, which are a subset of French Polynesia  - see below - the more we believe they are a special place. Not only are the islands all stunningly beautiful but they are mostly unspoiled by the tourist industry. Yes, most islands have tourists but not bus-loads of them. Many of the islands are void of international hotels and everything that goes with them and even Bora Bora is unspoiled as the hotels that do exist have been sympathetically designed. There appear to be very few multimillion dollar holiday homes on any of the islands which maybe due to a French Polynesian law making it difficult for non Polynesians to own land. 
Society Islands

The villages on the islands are simple but all, without exception, are immaculate and litter free. They have excellent schools, and services with all islands having wifi and cell phone services. The islanders are welcoming, proud and generous and don’t resent our presence, quite the opposite.

The Society islands of French Polynesia are made up of Tahiti, Moorea, Mehetia, Tetiaroa, Maiao, Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora, Tupai, Maupiti, Mopelia, Motu One and Manuae
Having visited the capital of French Polynesia, Tahiti, and Moorea it was time to venture to some of the other less populated islands.

South West anchorage  - Huahine
Huahine – Departing Tahiti in the afternoon we sailed past Moorea and into the night. Winds were light and at times we drifted along at a mere 1.5 knots. As dawn arrived the winds freshened and we picked up speed towards the lagoon entrance. Rather than anchoring off the village of Fare we decided that we needed some quiet time, having been in Papeete for a while so we entered the lagoon and headed to the south west of the island and found a quiet anchorage where we were the only boat there. The winds were still fresh but the reef surrounding the island protected us from the waves. 

Over the next few days we explored some of the southern part of the island and swam in the clear waters and generally relaxed, not that it has been at all stressful recently, thank goodness.

We motored up the lagoon to check out Fare, the main village on the island which was reasonably interesting and had a festive atmosphere given there was a canoe regatta going on. Unfortunately, our time in French Polynesia is running short and we still have lots of places to see so we have to move on. I don’t like having to move on before we are ready, having traveled so far it seems a shame to rush our stay but we must.

Raiatea – Once the capital of French Polynesia the island of Raiatea is the second most populated to that of Tahiti, the new capital although the services are somewhat limited. We fueled up and filled our propane tanks and did a small provision.
Raiatea and Tahaa
We met up with our dear friends Neil and Jesse on SV Red Thread whom we first met on the west coast of Vancouver island in 2013 when we all had an impromptu BBQ on the beach. We met up with them briefly in Mexico and then they headed south to Panama and the Galapagos and of paths converged in Tahiti. Its GREAT to see them again.
Neil and I went diving on the wreck of the Nordby, a 100 year old wreck of a two mast coal transport ship which was still in pretty good condition with is masts and bowsprit still attached.
We spent a few evening catching up, playing all manner of board games and having a lot of fun, perhaps a few too many sore heads the morning after.

Neil diving the wreck of the Nordby

Tahaa - Time to move on again so we spent one quick night on Tahaa, a sister island to Raiatea to the north we headed out to the legendary Bora Bora.

Bora Bora
Bora Bora at dawn - SE anchorage

Bora Bora
Not so boring Bora Bora is one of those places I drooled at seeing spectacular photographs in sailing magazines and travel guides and it did not disappoint. Again the island is fringed by a reef creating a lagoon with some of the clearest waters I have seen to date. We ended up anchoring in three different spots around the island: the main anchorage off the town of Vaitape, an anchorage to the South west and an anchorage to the south east. The South east anchorage was a little dicey given the shallow waters and poor charts. We ended up briefly stuck on a sand bar before hailing a passing panga and having to be pulled off while having the sails up to heal us over to one side. It was nerve wracking to say the least. I had visions of us stranded on the sand bank for some time but we were extremely lucky. I now just had to think of a way of getting back across the sand bar.

We did lots more snorkeling on the fringing reefs, swam with more sharks and sting rays and Neil and I did another dive before we headed over to the SW anchorage to see if we could find some manta rays, but without much luck.

Neil, Jesse, Jude and I all did the Coral Garden dive which had lots of wildlife, beautiful coral, as the name suggests and even got to see a few large conger eels peering out from their cave homes and snarling at us as we watched them. After that dive Neil and I went out side of the reef and did another dive to see the lemon sharks – these sharks are pretty big and we saw one longer who must have been 8-9 feet long and had a very large girth and scared skin but thankfully he took no interest in us. We the saw another three lemon sharks swim in front of us about 20 feet from us. These are the first large sharks I have seen in FP and they look pretty menacing.

Katya’s 13th birthday arrived! She is now officially a teenager although we all feel she has been a teenager for a while. We booked a table at the famous Bloody Mary’s restaurant and our friends on Red Thread and Enough kindly joined us. What a great evening in a great venue with great food and great friends. It will be a birthday I will remember – Bora Bora for your thirteenth birthday. 
Katya's 13th birthday - Bloody Mary's Bora Bora

Sunset - Bora Bora SW anchorage

Maupiti -Again we sadly departed Bora Bora and we have to keep moving and headed out at 1am for our passage to Maupiti, its only a 30 mille passage but it has a notoriously challenging pass entrance which must be entered at slack water, low water being best and that was around 7am. We sailed through the night with Red Thread as a buddy boat arriving at the pass entrance just as the sun was coming up. The pass entrance was calm – no breaking or standing waves as the wind was from the east along with the predominant swell although after my grounding in Bora Bora I was a little more nervous than I usually am. The current against us was only 2 knots where at peak it can get to 9 knots, more speed than we can go in Sarita so looks like our timing was spot on. NB there is no full slack as there is always water coming out of the lagoon due to the waves crashing over the reef.

We anchored just inside the pass to the west. We could only see one mooring buoy and Red Thread had taken that, later we found two others but we were happy with the anchor spot we found. After catching up on a little bit of sleep we dinghied over to the spot where manta rays are supposed to hang out – a cleaning station as it is know – where they wait to have their parasites removed by smaller fish. Sure enough a couple of manta rays glided underneath us and we marveled at their grace and beauty. What magnificent creatures. These manta rays can grow up to 9 meters across although these ones were only about 2-3 mts across. They did not appear shy and were quite used to us hovering above them.We went back to the boat and crashed out – our first night passage is always so tiring so we did not do much for the rest of the day.

The following days we went again to see the manta rays with Neil and Jesse, and just as before there they were but six of them this time. This is really a life dream to do this without a crowd of people fighting and jostling each other. Quite, quite spectacular.

Katya swimming with the manta rays

The town on Maupiti
In the afternoon we moved Sarita over to a mooring buoy in front of the village where there was only one other French boat. We dinghied to shore and walked around the whole island which took about 2 ½ hours. Maupiti is one of the least visited islands and therefore totally unspoiled, there is a single road around the island and its flat as flat can be. On the way around we chatted to the locals, marveled at all the mango trees, Banana plantations and lime groves. We visited a few ancient sites of the French Polynesians dating back to the early 1700’s 

On the hike around the island

Like all the other islands in the region they are the remnants of extinct volcanoes and Maupiti has a mountain, or hill, that you can climb to get an amazing view of the island, reef and lagoon. We hiked up the trail with Neil and Jesse, a steep trail with parts requiring the use of a rope to haul yourself up the hillside. We were quite exhausted by the time we reached the top but the view was more than worth the effort.            

Hike up to the top of the mountain with the help of a rope

View from the top towards the pass

Half way up

Neil and Jesse

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Papeete, Moorea, Tahiti


Having caught up on a few boat jobs in Papeete Jude’s sister and niece arrived from Sydney to spend a week with us on the boat. After a couple of days looking around the town it was time to head off to Moorea, the closest island, about 17 miles away. It is great to see Irit and Gaba asits been nearly three years since I last saw them!  

We anchored in Opunohu bay with a spectacular backdrop of high, jagged mountains with verdant vegetation, quite different from the Tuamotus. The island is still ringed by a reef with a few passes to enter the anchorages of the islands. I think it took all of three minutes for us to jump in the clear waters for a swim, even Irit with her stringent warm water threshold of 27 degrees was in for a swim.

One of the highlights of visiting the island was swimming with the sting rays and reef sharks, a 25 minute dinghy ride from the anchorage. The sting rays are very friendly and will come right up to you. Katya seemed to be the “sting ray whisperer” as they were most interested in her. As well as the sting rays there are many reef sharks swimming around, thankfully they are harmless and beautiful to watch, once you get over the idea of swimming with sharks.

The island also has a number of great hikes, one of which we took up to the Belvedere viewpoint staring at the head of Opunohu bay slowly working our way up the hill, with a convenient stop off at a tropical agriculture college for some refreshing sorbet and then an even more refreshing coconut at the top.

The route down passes a number of ancient and abandoned Polynesian home sites on a beautiful walk through the rainforest, crossing refreshing streams and pineapple plantations. All in all it was a great hike and satisfying to stretch our legs.

Natural tree swing - Go Jane!
Pineapple flower
View from the top of the Belvedere hike
We lingered a couple of more days on Moorea visiting our friends on Red Thread doing a wall dive on the outer reef with Neil and more swimming but all good things must come to an end as we had to head back to Papeete to drop Irit and Gabs off and continue our boat projects in preparation for our onward journey to the Cook Islands.  

Lobster dinner!

Dinghy ride to swim with the sting rays