Monday, July 30, 2012

Red-footed boobies

Jordan and I decided to explore another beach in the lagoon of Tikehau of the Tuamotus so we pulled anchor and sailed a few miles up the lagoon till we spotted a beautiful deserted area (S15°04.785' W148°09.208'). We walked the sable (pink) sand beach collecting shells and found a real beauty!

Judy on dinghy at one of the nicest beaches so far

Along the shoreline, we spotted several black tip sharks cruising for food in the shallow water...


Next we sailed about 5 miles further to Bird Island, a small islet within the lagoon, where red-footed boobies reside (S14°58.506' W148°05.921'). In the past, we have seen many boobies with blue, yellow, or brown feet at Isla Isabella (Mexico) and a few at Gal├ípagos but have never seen red-footed boobies up close. We were treated to a real sight of bright reds!


We also observed the docile white birds and the noisy chattering black coloured birds with white plumed heads sitting no more than a few feet above us in the scattering of nests in the tree branches. After lots of photos, we headed towards the pass where it was necessary to exit before dark. It was a nervous passage across the lagoon as the sun was ahead of us putting a glare on the water that obstructed clear sighting of coral heads. We got to the pass just as the sun was setting and we lined up with the range markers for a safe straight track through the pass out into safe deep waters.

Tahiti - here we come!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tikehau

We exited Rangiroa through the westernmost pass and with a following breeze. We were on our way to Tikehau, another atoll of the Tuamotus of French Polynesia, a short distance away.

Abandoned sailboat and dream at Ava Toru Pass

We followed the north coast of Tikehau and entered its wide Tuheiva Pass with a strong tide running from the west end of the atoll. We dropped anchor before sunset just inside the entrance (S15°00.359' W148°16.227') along with SV Jabula at 17:20 on July 25th.

Fisherman's hut at pass entrance

Jabula graciously invited us to feast on their freshly caught mahi mahi.

The next morning, we pulled anchor to sail further into the lagoon about 8 to 10 nautical miles towards the village. Under a clear cerulean blue sky, brilliant and cloudless in the sunshine, we set anchor at noon (S15°06.951' W148°13.782') in front of the Pension Hotu, a small family-run establishment with 6 bungalows for guests (www.pensionhotu.com).

Peaceful atoll

On the 27th, we snorkelled near the white sandy beach in the clearest water yet. The visibility of all the coral and tropical fish was excellent. It seems to just keep getting better and better at each atoll.

On Saturday, we polished off a delicious but expensive continental-type breakfast at the Pension Hotu and then went for a long walk. We passed the quiet village, the deserted airport, and went as far as the end of the motu where we saw a small stingray swimming in the shallow water near the shore. By the end of our return walk, the heat of the mid-day sun overhead had tapped our energy.

On July 29th, we took Sea Turtle with Bruce and Jeannie (SV Jabula) aboard to a defunct pearl farm about half an hour away where we expected to find several manta rays at their feeding station. We snorkelled all around but no mantas were there at the time so we returned to our anchorage.

Abandoned pearl farm

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Drift snorkelling

Jordan was fishing from Sea Turtle in the Rangiroa lagoon when he snagged a Remora fish which are common in warm seas. These are very unusual fish as they have a flat sucking disk on the top of their heads. They use this disk to attach themselves to other sea life such as sharks or mantas and feed on parasitic copepods found on their hosts' bodies. They also attach to boat bottoms and may rarely attach themselves to swimmers!

Jordan with hitchhiking Remora fish

The suction disk on top of its head consists of a series of ridges sloping backwards and the outside ring creates the suction between the Remora and its host. By sliding itself backwards, it can increase the suction; by swimming forward it can release itself. As Jordan tried to release the fish from the hook, it attached itself to the dinghy floor board. He had to poke a knife under the disk to break the suction and then successfully returned it to the sea!

Sea Turtle, Jabula, and Birka went snorkelling in the afternoon. We first went to a small motu (islet) within the Rangira lagoon that the locals call the aquarium where the visibility was excellent and there was a prodigious array of sea life - the best we have experienced to date. The most exciting sight was watching hundreds of small yellow fish all feeding in a large coral. The variety of coloured and patterned tropical fish was amazing (haven't I said that before?) One small black tipped shark was spotted and Bruce found a perfect shell.

We then dinghied out to the entrance of the Tiputa Pass where we donned our snorkelling gear. Hanging onto our dinghy ropes, we jumped into the water and drift snorkelled through the Pass back into the lagoon being carried along by the brisk incoming tidal currents. What a riot! The visibility wasn't as good as at the motu but it was still a first-rate experience.

The Kia Ora hotel was having a Polynesian dance exhibition so we dressed up to attend. (The luxury hotel has overwater bungalows for $1,000 per night!) It felt good to be dressed up for an evening as usual attire is a swimsuit or shorts. The exhibition was enjoyable with the Moari warrior costumes and the women in hula-type skirts but the Manihi competition had been the best so far.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Swedish Happy Birthday

We rented a car along with Bruce and Jeannie of SV Jabula so we could tour the Rangiroa atoll of the Tuamotus and also do a bit of provisioning at the village which was 9.5 km (6 miles) away.

Jordan and I also wanted to find a doctor and/or pharmacy as we both had infected coral cuts near our ankles. The doctor was an attractive young woman from Camaroon (South Africa) who had been trained in Belgium. With proper dressings and antibiotics from the pharmacy, we were on our way for lunch where Jordan had the best fish burger ever. (The pharmacy owners had just come back from a trip to Canada, including Victoria, which they said was beautiful!)

We met up with 2 young Swedish sailors (SV Birka) who told us of a party that evening not too far from where we were anchored. So the 6 of us met up there to the sound of loud music and dancing. After which we went to SV Birka for a cocktail where they entertained us with a drink of rum poured from their small oak cask. When told it was Jordan's birthday, they immediately launched into singing a Swedish version of Happy Birthday. Another first!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Rangiroa

The passage to Rangiroa, our third Tuamotu atoll, had us running downwind in strong wind with rough choppy seas. We had out a small handkerchief of a jib and were still making 5 knots. We caught a few snapshots of our friends aboard SV Jabula...

SV Jabula disappears for a moment in heavy seas

We had to slow down somehow as we couldn't make the entrance through the pass of the atoll into the lagoon until around 13:30 when tide and currents were favourable.

To slow down, we sort of heaved-to. When one heaves-to in their boat, they should not be making any headway at all but we were going less than 1 knot. (In order to heave-to properly, we would need to have another [third] reef in our mainsail.) But as it was, it quieted down the motion while we waited.

We entered the easternmost pass called Tiputa and set anchor at 13:30 (S14°58.108' W147°38.185') at Rangiroa near the Kia Ora hotel cabins on stilts (www.hotelkiaora.com). Rangiroa is one of the few atolls with 2 passes.

Expensive rooms on the water

It was also very blustery in the lagoon.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ahe Idol

A male pearl farmer came to Sea Turtle on July 18th in "her" outrigger to inquire if we would be interested in purchasing black pearls from "her" plentiful stock. We carefully picked out a few flawless beauties.

Pearl seller attired in "her" dress

The next night, we watched a dance and/or song competition that is the Islander's version of American Idol. There were some women who could really shake their hips hula style but a couple of the singers were hilariously bad. The competition lacked the costumes and quality of the one at Manihi (which we did not see as we were at the Blue Lagoon but we watched a video taken by SV Jabula).

A group of costumed and talented singers

We left Ahe with an easy exit on July 19th at 16:30 for an overnighter to Rangiroa which would be our third Tuamotu atoll to visit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ahe

Nice downwind on 1-day passage (courtesy of SV Jabula)

At 10:30, we left Manihi for a daytime passage to Ahe, our next atoll in the Tuamotus. Our friends, Bruce and Jeannie (SV Jabula) left at the same time which turned out to be a fortunate thing because of a mishap when we started into the entrance pass of Ahe.

Jordan had furled the sail as we wanted to motor in. Unfortunately, there had been a miscommunication between the two of us - I said I've got it meaning that I was going to turn the valve that opens the exhaust. Jordan thought I meant I had completed turning the valve so it was okay to start the engine. He turned on the key and the muffler blew apart, spraying sea water and filling the engine compartment with fumes which began choking and stalling the motor!

In a frenzy, the engine was turned off and Jordan dropped the anchor at the pass entrance in a stiff breeze with an opposing current next to several coral heads. We radioed our emergency to Bruce and Jeannie who were right behind us. They suggested a tow and readied a line.

We pulled anchor, no easy chore without a motor in strong currents, and they tossed us a line which we secured just as the current drifted us perilously close to the reef (we registered less than 1 metre below our keel) and they began the tow through the pass. The rip and opposing wind had us bashing into short steep waves, and with each, our bowsprit buried itself and gave us green water over the decks. But we persisted as it was a short distance till we were out of the rip.

Sea Turtle being towed by Jabula

Jabula and Sea Turtle were both able to raise a bit of a headsail to take the strain off the towrope; we finished the day as the sun was sinking crossing the lagoon to anchor in front of the little village of Ahe by 2 other boats at 16:30 (S14°32.248' W146°21.480'). Mission well done - Thanks Jabula!

That evening, Jordan opened up the engine compartment and without too much of a problem remedied the muffler within the hour. Fortunately, the muffler was designed to blow apart and be reassembled.

Ahe has a small village with paved roads, nice concrete dinghy dock, and several coral heads in the anchorage area. We had to watch carefully when dropping our anchor under tow. Other than a small magasin (grocery and knick knack store), there were no amenities.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon sounded irresistible and romantic. So we weighed anchor today at 08:45 to see for ourselves. After 2.5 hours of motoring, we set anchor (S14°24.282' W145°53.015') at the Blue Lagoon of Manihi of the Tuamotus of French Polynesia.


At the Blue Lagoon, we anchored the dinghy and walked south along the beach and then drift snorkelled back to the dinghy. We drifted quite fast in the shallow current that was flowing into the lagoon from the ocean that passes over the reef. We had a great view of all the coral and shells but did not see a lot of fish.

We next snorkelled in deeper water on the other side of the sand spit but again didn't see a lot of fish, not typical. But as usual, we did see a couple of fish that we had not yet seen anywhere else before.

We deposited our shell treasures in the dinghy and rinsed off in fresh rainwater from on onshore barrel and then lounged all alone of the deserted beach till dusk...heavenly!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Festival

We were informed by the locals that Bastille Day is celebrated during the next few days throughout the islands of French Polynesia. We caught a ride ashore with Fernand in his panga where we watched pairs of competitors, men and women, one frantically breaking open with an axe 20 coconuts and their partner wildly shucking out the white meat. The first couple to stuff all the meat into a sack and race it to the finish line were declared the winners. There was a brief downpour of rain as the men were finishing up.

The winning men's team

There were also various races of several laps around a large field as the competitors carried heavy coconuts mounted decoratively on different types of homemade carrying poles.

Everything was decorated with braided palm fronds, and luxurious snacks prepared by Fernand's family were devoured by everyone.

Officials ready to hand out awards

Our panga ride back to Sea Turtle was once again a real soaking due to weather conditions.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Front moves in

Strong winds have been blowing with clouds rolling in. Not very nice out. What should we do today? Jordan decided to paint a picture that is very indicative of this area. I think, as usual, that it turned out very beautiful.

Jordan's talent

Our friend Fernand (village baker and pearl farmer) popped by with more freshly baked baguettes and asked if we wanted to see all the local fish that was to be delivered to Tahiti by the Navy. So off we went with him and our friends Bruce and Jeannie of SV Jabula.

One of several tubs of local fish

Then he delivered us to the nearby Manihi Pearl Beach Resort as we had been previously invited by the manager. We would never have made it in a dinghy as the water was too rough in the strong wind. As it was, the guys got completely soaked in the panga ride but beneath heavy rain gear thoughtfully provided by Fernand, Jeannie and I stayed dry.

The Resort folks treated us very graciously and allowed us to use their facilities. We of course returned the hospitality by purchasing a couple of very expensive cocktails. We lounged by and swam in their infinity swimming pool, swam in the ocean, and played a fun round of mini golf and a couple games of snooker.

Manihi Pearl Beach Resort

Fernand returned later in the day (with several loaves of his special coconut bread) and took us back to our respective boats where Jabula later joined us for a joint supper and games. The coconut bread was so yummy as the aroma tantalized our senses!

Another great day even with lousy weather! The weather forecast predicted this system with high winds to stay around for a couple more days.

Friday the 13th. A quiet day on board. Windy most of the day but for a time it settled down so we went for a fantastic snorkel. The interior waters were experiencing an algae bloom making for poor visibility. However in the gaps between the islets, the open ocean surged its crystal clear waters through to the lagoon so that's where we headed.

We had 22+ metre (75-foot) visibility and saw an amazing motley array of sea life including octopus, moray eels, spectacularly coloured schools of reef fish, and even a couple of black tipped sharks.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pearls

Today we had delicious freshly baked baguettes delivered to Sea Turtle by Fernand, the Village of Manihi's baker. Fernand is a friendly heart-warming gentleman who loves people. He's the man about town as it seems he can fulfill your every need. Throughout our stay, he was able to provide boats with bread, panga rides in rough weather, washing machine for laundry, internet, water, diesel, news about island happenings, etc. Fernand is on the go 24/7 - he also operates his own pearl farm!

Fernand picked up Jordan and me and Bruce and Jeannie (SV Jabula) in his panga and took us out into the lagoon where he harvests his oysters.

Great view as we head to dive for pearl oysters (Jordan and Bruce)

We all got in the water with snorkelling gear to collect the hanging ropes of oysters.

Judy and Jordan in panga with oysters

We then motored to the location where Fernand demonstrated to us how he opens the oysters, extracts the pearl(s), and then performs his delicate operation of inserting a piece of oyster mantle and seed into each oyster - all under a very strict timeline of 1 hour before the mantle of the oyster perishes! So fascinating. And difficult. After watching him, he let Jordan and Bruce attempt the procedure. Not easy at all. Yet he does hundreds a day.

Jordan attempting the delicate operation

Fernand let each of us choose 2 oysters and keep whatever we found in them. We walked away very happy with our freshly harvested pearls, even though most that we chose were far from perfect (but Bruce and Jeannie found 2 large perfect pearls in their harvest). Fernand has the amazing ability to look at an oyster and state whether or not it will contain a pearl. He was never wrong. The tiny pearls are called keshis and they are natural pearls formed without a seed.

Our harvest

After pearling, Fernand took us to his house for a scrumptious lunch where he received a VHF radio call from a Russian boat needing guidance into the harbour. We went with him, and on the way, we stopped to chat with Fernand's jolly fishing buddies who had just caught gigantic yellowfin tuna, 1 was a good 80 kilograms (175 lbs).

Local fisherman with fat catch

Fernand also sent us home with lots of fresh oyster meat to cook and also fresh oyster foot or muscle (the equivalent to scallops) to be eaten raw or cooked. I didn't think I would like the raw scallop but it was delicious with lemon, salt, and pepper. Jordan didn't care for it.

As we were enjoying our feast aboard Sea Turtle, Bruce bit into a cooked oyster and suddenly felt something hard - he had found a keshi. What a great ending to a fabulous meal, fabulous day, and fabulous pearling adventures!

Jordan and Bruce went lobstering late in the evening but no luck as it was too windy and the waves were too high. Perhaps will try again when the wind abates.

Monday, July 09, 2012

First conning

To describe a typical atoll of the Tuamotus, just imagine a beaded necklace laid on a table in a circular pattern. The atoll is made up of motus (small, low lying, palm covered islets) linked together by reefs to make the continuous circle.

The atolls vary in size, some as large as 35 km (25 miles) across. Most atolls have at least one passage entry through to the inside lagoon. These passes have sufficient depth and width that enables boats to pass. Once inside, you are of course more protected and can usually find a nice anchorage in turquoise clear waters in front of a sand beach.

We arrived at the entrance of our first atoll of the Tuamotus around 10:00. We could not enter yet as the tide was too strong and the sun position was preventing the required visibility for spotting coral heads. So we drifted around with our friends SV Jabula who had arrived just behind us. Jordan caught a fish while we lazed around.

When the supply ship left the dock area at the entrance, both Sea Turtle and Jabula tied up to the concrete dock and went ashore to the village as we waited for the slack tide before entering the pass into Manihi's lagoon.

Tied to the dock

There are about 300 persons living in the village and about another 200 that live on the islets of the lagoon.

Local lovely ladies

We entered with me standing on the bowsprit to watch for shallow coral in spots (called conning) as Jordan was at the helm. I was a little nervous as this was a first but all was well.

First conning with Jabula in lead

We safely set anchor in the lagoon of Manihi (S14°27.881' W146°02.167') at 16:30 on July 8th. The palm trees were lining the reef shores along the beaches. Another beautiful paradise!!

The next morning, Jordan and I went snorkelling. The water was apparently not as clear as it usually is but we spotted several fish and the most amazing clams that I have ever seen in my life. Why, you ask? Because the opening of these clams was not a straight line, as usual, but was wavy (just like the giant clams) and they had the most amazing colours visible at their opening - some with vivid blues with wavy streaks, some plain black, some a purplish pink, some a golden brown... The blues were my favourite.

Colourful clam and drab sea cucumber

Afternoon activities included Jordan fixing our depth sounder that is very much needed in these low lying atolls. Then we went beachcombing and collected shells, dead coral, sea biscuits, etc. with our friends Bruce and Jeannie (SV Jabula).

We saw multitudes of black sea cucumbers in the water. We call them sea turds because that is exactly what they look like! Hard to imagine that they are actually living creatures. See the small one in above photo with the blue clam. We also saw a couple of octopus in the shallows which squirted ink and instantly camouflaged themselves when we got too close.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

TUAMOTUS - Manihi

We weighed anchor at half past midnight on July 4th from Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas to head for Manihi, an atoll in the paradise of the Tuamotus.

In the wee hours of the morning with a single reef in the main and a 20-knot wind on the beam, the mainsail answered the strong wind by ripping at #1 reef. So we set 2 reefs to prevent any further tearing. Our mainsail is getting quite old now (it was on the boat when we purchased Sea Turtle back in 2005 and we don't know how long it had been used previously). We are hoping it will last until we get to New Zealand where we will then replace it.

On July 5th, we saw the most vivid rainbow ever. The colours of the total arc were so distinct and bright. Then to top that off, another half arc rainbow appeared over it.

We experienced a lot of squalls and at times with almost gale force winds, going too fast for landfall! (Meaning we would be arriving at the entrance to the atoll too early as we have to enter at slack tide and with the sun directly overhead to be able to see the coral heads.) At one point, we were down to bare poles and still doing 5 knots as we tried to slow our passage time. Very lumpy seas and unsettled weather...

Land Ho after 4 days and 5.5 hours!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Fatu Hiva

Early on June 29th, we left for a short stop at our 4th and last bay on this island of Tahuata in the Marquesas. We dropped anchor at Hapatoni Bay (aka Hanatefau Bay) a short distance away (S09°57.755' W139°07.112'). We dinghied a couple of miles to the landing and walked the ancient road lined with volcanic rock at the wee village.

Village road

We spoke with a bone and shell carver and admired his work. A couple hours later at 10:00, we left for Fatu Hiva. This will be our last Marquesan island to visit before we proceed more southern to the Tuamotu atolls.

By the light of a 3/4 moon, we set anchor at 19:40 on June 29th at what has been called the most beautiful bay in the world (S10°27.869' W138°40.085'). This bay is known by 3 different names: Penis Bay, which was later changed by the Catholic Priests to Bay of Virgins, and finally Hanavave Bay.

Rocks of phallic form

The anchorage was tight and crowded as there were about 10 other boats all trying to get close in as the bottom drops off deep and quick.

Sea Turtle at world's most beautiful bay

On Saturday, the last day of June, we wandered the main street - not much here - but the island is indeed very beautiful. We listened as the church singers practiced their songs with a ukulele player. Talent was in abundance.

On July 1st, we watched young boys and teenagers (and 1 girl) partake in boxing matches. It was all handled very professionally with a referee, boxing attire, trophies, and medals.

After the matches, Bruce and Jeannie aboard SV Jabula arrived with a much appreciated gift of their freshly caught large Dorado.

Later, 3 of the young boxers approached Sea Turtle and we traded items for loads of freshly picked fruit from them. One of the boxers stated that he had carvings for sale if we wished to meet him the next day. Which we did, along with Bruce and Jeannie. His carvings, as well as his mother's and father's, were all exquisitely done. We purchased a sea turtle of his and Jabula acquired one of his father's carvings.

Jordan and Judy with carver/boxer Matia

We were asked by 4 young children if they could see our boat so we brought them out by dinghy. Their first words aboard were Any candy? Laughing, we gave them treats and surprises to take back to shore. We had been expecting this question as we had heard that the kids on Fatu Hiva can be quite forward as they so seldom ever see candy.

2 of the 4 youngsters aboard Sea Turtle

Then it started to rain and continued on and off for the next 1.5 days. Therefore sadly we were not able to walk the 45 to 60 minute trail to Fatu Hiva's tall waterfall and pool as it was now too muddy.

Throughout our stay at the Marquesas, we found it necessary to usually have bug spray handy for mosquitoes and the pesky, biting no-see-ums (also called no-nos here). The islands have all been very beautiful with their high cliffs and green growth. Next stop for us is the Tuamotus which will have a lot of low-lying atolls and few mountains and cliffs.

Final rig check by Jordan before 4-day passage to the Tuamotus...