Monday, June 27, 2011

South Pacific Expedition - Bora Bora and Maupiti

At the helm going through the pass to Bora Bora
After saying goodbye to Ta'haa and Raiatea, we set sail for Bora Bora about 30 miles to the west.  As it seemed with all of the islands, either Annika or I tended to be scheduled on the helm while we were pulling into a pass.  For Bora Bora, it was my turn.  With 25 knot winds and a coral reef 20 feet abeam on both sides, I was steady and focused.  As we pulled through the pass, we furled in the headsail but still had the main up with the first reef.  As we reached the turn for the anchorage (to starboard), we still had to drop the main and so we headed to port into the wind, minding the shallows about 10 feet off our port bow.  With a great crew who were fast on the sail ties, it was quick and we headed back to the channel and our protected anchorage.

Laura Dekker & Guppy
The next day, The crew went into town for lunch and exploring.  Baxter and I had a tuna burger at a lunch shack run by a Mahu.  We made our way down to Bora Bora Yacht Club where we talked to the couple cruising aboard S/V Tomboy and had the privilege of meeting and having a coke with Laura Dekker.  From there we had heard there were U.S. cannons from WWII at the top of the hills facing the pass.  Baxter and I set out to explore the hills and see what we could find.  With our broken french, we spoke to at least 5 different people and walked back and forth past the turn until we discovered "you go to the row of banana trees" and turn right.  No signs, no markers, just banana trees - how could we miss it?  The cannons were very cool and we couldn't help but think if you were enlisted in WWII, this would not be a shabby assignment.
U.S. WWII cannons aimed at the pass

We rejoined the crew, John picked us up in the dinghy and we all made it back to the boat.  Shortly after, we did MOB (man overboard drills) but with the gusty winds and the choppiness of the harbor, I was the only one to give it a go.  We anchored in front of Bloody Mary's and the crew got ready for drinks and dinner.  I don't typically like touristy restaurants, but its just one of those places that if you're going to be on Bora Bora, you should partake.

Bloody Mary's
During the night, the winds rose to over 30 knots and we were on a questionable mooring, so we didn't get much sleep.  The next morning we had double braid and three-strand splicing class, and then made our way back to town briefly before setting sail for Maupiti.  The pass in Maupiti was more narrow and there were swells breaking close to the pass, so John himself took the helm.  We anchored close to the outer motu and did some practice untying a rope wrapped around the propeller.  Sounds easier than it is. One person would wrap the rope around the prop and then the next would unwrap it.  Holding your breath and watching for sharks 8 feet under can be intimidating - try it on the bottom of a pool sometime.

Maupiti Pass
After going for a swim, a squall moved in and we went down below for lunch.  Then off to anchor near town (I was at the helm navigating through the shallow and narrow channel, a-gain) and Amanda held rigging and rigging spares class.  For those not familiar - there are two kinds of rigging, standing and running.  Standing rigging are the wires and cables that keep the mast up and hold the sails.  A sailboat is not a sailboat without the standing rigging.  The running rigging is the lines (can't call them ropes) that trim/ease the sails, raise/drop the sails, or hitches "things" together.  Knowing every detail about all of your rigging is essential in case something fails while you're at sea.

Up to this point in the expedition, I was having an allergic reaction to something on the boat which made my eyes red, itchy and swollen.  Since I have had allergies on and off again throughout my life, I assumed it was probably some sort of tropical citrus that I was eating.  I stopped eating all fruits and vegetables which was a bummer because they were so ripe and tasty.  I also loaded up on Benadryl, which didn't do anything, and some cortisone that Annika (who is an ER nurse) brought.  That did the trick and the redness and swelling was gone - for about two days.  Once we got to Maupiti, my eyes were itching and swollen again and they wouldn't stop weeping.  I continued with eye drops and benedryl - anything that would make it go away, but nothing seemed to work.  Being in the middle of the ocean, there weren't a lot of options, so I just had to hang tough.

The next day Amanda gave us a tutorial on the Sailrite sewing machine and the best way to repair sails.  She also showed us how to make our own stow bags, which had my wheels turning about the endless possibilities of things you can make - I am so excited about getting a new sewing machine!  Class continued with classes about diesel engines, storm tactics, and communications.  Later that day, we anchored again by the outer motu and swam ahore (about 3/4 mile each way).  Baxter and I were lucky enough to spot four leopard rays swimming in the sand.  They were so playful with each other - they almost looked like puppies crawling on each other and snuggling.

Soon after, we charted our course and set sail for Mopelia.  We were fortunate enough to have the wind at our back and we set the sails to wing on wing with the pole out on the head sail.  I think while Annika was at the helm, she saw 8.6 knots.

Navigating to Mopelia

Thursday, June 23, 2011

South Pacific Expedition - Raiatea & Ta'haa

Raiatea and Ta'haa islands are so close in proximity we actually switched anchorages form one island to the other every night.  First, we sailed to Raiatea and fueled up and topped off the water tanks.  It was the last place to do so before the next 800 miles to Rarotonga.  Baxter and I also did some laundry using water jugs and then headed ashore for a tasty ice cream.  Raiatea was a bustling little island town compared to Moorea, but still very small.  We walked around and perused all the vegetables and artisan offerings in the market.  Afterwards, we slipped off the dock and sailed to Ta'haa where we picked up a mooring and went for a swim.  It was so hot with very little wind, I couldn't wait to jump in and cool off.  Ta'haa is a really quiet island that is shaped like a flower and turned out to be one of my favorites.  

The next afternoon, we sailed back to Raiatea and anchored in Faaroa Bay where we met "James, not James Bond" paddling by the boat in a kayak.  We jumped in the dinghy and James guided us up river to his friends farm and gave us a tour of all things growing wild on Raiatea.  It was a fun adventure where we almost ran aground in the dinghy in the shallow river and we had fun trying to communicate with James (only speaking French, Tahitian).  He knew little English but "it is good for you, not good for me" was a common theme and something he continued to repeat.  We all had a good laugh, headed back to the boat for class and pulled anchor to sail back to Ta'haa as our tour of the vanilla farm was the next morning.  

Here is an excerpt of the summary I did for John's (expedition leaders) blog:  Tahaa is a small island of only 5,000 people but produces over 25 tons of vanilla annually.  It seemed appropriate to understand a bit more of the island culture and economy so the crew set out for a Vanilla Tour with Alain and Christina Plantier. Alain began the tour describing a traditional Tahitian housing structure and the methods of construction using coconut leaves and bamboo. The communities would build structures by function (one for laundry, one for cooking, and another for sleeping) and the entire village would live together within the structures. Considering this was the first ten minutes of the tour, we were excited to hear more. Alain continued to discuss the varieties of plants and trees that are indigenous as well as those introduced by early Polynesian migration and European and Asian settlers. It turns out that of the 2,800 species of plants on the island, only 250 were originally grown on the island and the first people to arrive on the island were from Taiwan.
Panoramic view with fresh coconut on the vanilla tour
We then jumped into the Land Rover truck and headed out to the vanilla farm. As we climbed a steep jungle-like hillside, we looked for vanilla trees or vanilla bushes, but as it turns out, vanilla is actually a vine that is grown using another tree as support and shade. It produces a beautiful white flower that has no aroma. Vanilla originates from Mexico and is very sought after in many countries because it can thrive in a tropical climate and become a valuable agricultural industry. The requirements for a successful vanilla crop include a winter that dips below 68 degrees and a good source of pollination. Many countries such as India have even attempted to import Mexican bees as the indigenous insects were not interested in the vanilla plant. Those imported bees died and the result has been a labor intensive cross pollination process where each flower has the pollen removed from the stigma and inserted into the stamen by hand. After two days the flower begins to develop fruit and nine months later a brown vanilla bean is produced. The beans are picked individually by hand and then still need to be dried correctly in order not to mold. It is hard to believe the quantity of vanilla produced with the care the vines require and the lengthy process of producing the vanilla bean.
The tour continued for another hour as we took a dirt road that meandered across the island for amazing panoramic views where you could see three bays. The road has been used to cross the interior of the island for hundreds of years and had bumps and potholes filled with water. Alain stopped along one of the lookouts and prepared a feast for us of star fruit, bananas, lychee, and more. He even chopped fresh coconuts so we could sample the water and meat. The wild chickens at his feet knew him well and appreciated the fresh coconut scraps. As we drove back to the boat along the riverside with copra, vanilla and taro plantations along with jungle, we all felt that we were extremely privileged to be seeing and learning about parts of the island that most visitors never realize exists.  

Also in Ta'haa, we had the opportunity to snorkel the coral gardens (see GoPro video here) - definitely one of our favorite activities of the trip.  See a video here.  We anchored just east of two motus (small islands) and dinghied to the beach.  There is a small pass between the motus where a "coral garden" has developed.  This area is about 300 yards long and about 100 yards wide and there is only about 6 inches to a foot of water above the coral in some places.  No swimming required - the current is so strong moving at about 6 knots so you just put your head down and watch the bottom drift by.  Since you never want to touch the coral (it is a living animal and touching it or walking on it actually suffocates or breaks it), you have to carefully touch a rock or put your feet in a sandy spot - minding the sting rays and sea urchins- if you want to stop.  The abundance of angel fish, parrot fish, needle fish, clams, and millions of other tropical fish were amazing!  After the snorkeling, we all relaxed and enjoyed the breathtaking sunset, with Bora Bora as a back drop.

Mike, Annika, Pehr & Baxter enjoying a nice Hunano
The next day was busy with classes on anchoring, radar/AIS, knots, sail design, and sail trim.  We sailed back to Raiatea and docked at the marina in Uturoa for a visit to the two boat yards - both of which were unfortunately closed.  There was a restaurant at the marina so the crew enjoyed a nice cold beer before dinner.  As we were sitting in the outdoor lounge, we met and American group who were from Oriental, NC (20 miles from New Bern).  We couldn't believe that we were literally on the opposite side of the planet and ran into people who are virtually neighbors - such a small world.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

South Pacific Expedition - Houhine

Arriving in Houhine we employed our newly found coral reef navigation skills and learned it definitely helps to have a bow lookout who has polarized glasses (to see the color change in the water according to depth).  The next morning, Annika, Pehr, Verne, and Baxter and I took a walk around the southern part of the island where there were ruins of a marae (an ancient temple).  The beach was rugged and the shells were beautiful.  We also found a mother dog and her puppy, who both followed us for about 1/2 mile when they weren't fishing for breakfast with their snouts in the tidal pools.    

The next day we moved on to Faare.  Throughout the expedition, we had class every day and tests every other day.  In Houhine, we took the test on boat safety and our knowledge of the sails.  We also had our first of what would be many marine weather lessons.  Aside from learning and tests, we were able to go ashore and experience the island.  Baxter summarized our adventure well  - Molly, Verne and I had a fantastic and completely unexpected cultural experience in Fare.  After a short walk around town, the three of us were separated from the group that was renting bicycles to ride to the marae (ancient temple site) so we decided to try our luck at hitchhiking which is a common and safe practice in French Polynesia. We had only had our thumbs out for a few minutes when an extremely tired and rusty double-cab pick-up truck stopped, which looked like it contained most of the occupant’s worldly possessions. We were soon introduced to Dominic and Leona, Fare locals. Using Molly’s high school French skills and Verne’s Hawaiian mannerisms, we explained that we needed a ride to the marae. Dominic was a thin wiry guy in his mid-30s with long-ish hair that had naturally dreadlocked. Leona was a bit younger with beautiful long black hair and a dark rich complexion. As we bounced down the road with them we all laughed as we tried to converse, in broken French using our hands, where we were from and something about our lives.

Shortly down the road we saw the local Gendarme truck (police) approaching us. Both Dominic and Leona quickly reached for their seatbelt shoulder straps, which they were not wearing, and we all laughed as the Gendarme passed and they both quickly released them.

Ten minutes into the ride Dominic explained that he needed to stop at a local store and he pulled off at a small house. As he was in the store, we learned from Leona that they had been married but were now divorced.  They had two daughters and she was excited to show us their photos. Dominic quickly returned with a loaf of coconut bread, a local specialty, which he had purchased for us! Such generosity from a couple that obviously had better things to do with their money than provide a treat to complete strangers they picked up on the side of the road.

As our new friends dropped us off at the marae, Verne gave Dominic his sunglasses as thanks for his kindness and we exchanged hugs and handshakes. Standing at the marae watching Dominic and Leona drive away we were amazed at how such a short interaction with new people could expose us to the overwhelming friendliness of the Tahitian people and the common themes of family, friendship and community we all share.

After returning to "downtown" Faare, we all met back at the restaurant on the harbor.  It just so happens that Jimmy Buffet wrote "One Particular Harbor" here and this is also where Crosby, Stills and Nash found the inspiration for "Southern Cross".

Monday, June 13, 2011

South Pacific Expedition - Papeete and Moorea

Papeete with Moorea in the background
Baxter and I dropped Kala off at summer camp with plenty of kisses and promises that she will have fun and headed to the airport for our Mahina adventure.  We said goodbye to Utah with a raspberry wheat at Wasatch Brewery in the airport and had a rather non-eventful flight to LA.  For anyone who has flown through LAX, you will understand what I mean when I say that they are in desperate need of renovation.  Suddenly Atlanta Hartsfield looked like a travelers dream.  We took our bags (2 duffels and 2 backpacks) all the way around to one terminal (about 3/4 of a mile outside in the parking lot) only to find out that Air New Zealand code shared our flight with Air Tahiti Nui and we had to walk back another 1/2 mile to the international terminal.  So glad we allowed plenty of time.  With a nice relaxing flight to Papeete, we arrived at 6 a.m. the next morning and decided instead of buses or taxis, we would just enjoy the tropical air and walk to our hotel - it really helped us feel that we arrived.  Since it was early, we didn't expect the hotel to allow us to check in but maybe we could drop our bags.  To our surprise, they had our room ready.  We put the bags down, donned the swimsuits and headed to the beach.  By 9:30, we were whipped and had to take a nap.  By the afternoon, we woke up just in time for a fruity umbrella drink, a dip in the pool and then dinner with one of our expedition mates.  The next few days continued in relatively the same pattern with a trip down to the marina where we would meet the boat, a kayaking adventure in the harbor where Baxter played with an outrigger canoe, and a trip to the Papeete market.

Cook's Bay - Moorea

Baxter sailing to Houhine in the sunset
On Friday, we moved onto the boat and met the 6 other crew members, had orientation of the boat and then immediately set sail for Moorea.   We spent one night there, anchoring in Opunohu Bay and Cook's Bay (site of Mutiny on The Bounty where Capt Bligh and Fletcher Christian parted ways) where we had a safety class.  After sunset the second evening we headed to Houhine which was an 18-hour overnight sail, to arrive at first light.  It was our first night adhering to the passage watch schedule with the crew, where you were scheduled for 2 hours on and 4 hours off.  It really wasn't bad getting up at 2 am to take the helm and it really gave us confidence in an overnight passage with just the two of us.   Considering this was day two, we couldn't wait to see how our skills and confidence would evolve throughout the expedition and how that knowledge would transfer to sailing Stella Blue when we get home.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tahiti Bound

After spending fourteen days on land, we are very ready to get back to the water.  As I've mentioned, Baxter and I have literally been dreaming about sailing every single night since we docked in New Bern over two weeks ago.  We wake up wondering as we are laying in bed looking at each other, who is at the helm and if our anchor is dragging.  It is strange, yet telling.

While in Salt Lake, we have taken advantage of the dry, though sometimes cold, weather to do a little boat repair.  We brought back all the teak from inside the cockpit so we could spend the summer stripping, sanding and varnishing in the comfort of our garage.  I am hoping that I will be an expert by the end of these projects.

We also were in Utah one whole day before we found our way up Little Cottonwood Canyon to get some turns.  Snowbird is having a record snowfall this season with a total of 776" of snow and a current mid-mtn depth of 171".  At this point they expect to stay open for skiing and riding until the 4th of July.  

Fortunately for us to escape land and snow, we have a trip scheduled for the South Pacific.  Sounds luxurious?  Well, it won't be a day at the spa.  We will be on a sailing expedition aboard Mahina Tiare III, a Hallberg-Rassy 46, with John Neal and Amanda Swan Neal.  The course will enhance our knowledge of more advanced sailing topics such as ocean crossings, provisioning, detailed weather forecasting, radar & AIS usage, as well as sail repair, storm sail configurations, celestial navigation, and much much more.

We will be incommunicado for 3 weeks sailing from French Polynesia and the Society Islands, including Bora Bora, Huihane, among others, onto the Cook Islands, ending in Rarotonga.  We will of course post photos and updates as we have a chance.

Kala will be enjoying herself at summer camp (feel free to check her out on the web cams).  We have told her that we are doing this for her benefit so we can keep her safe on the boat when we venture out together.