Time to go. Our clearance formalities have been completed, the boat is loaded with water and food, and I just loaded the latest weather forecast. We need to stop at a nearby marina to fill our fuel tanks before heading back out on the sea, but we are otherwise ready to go.
Papeete is not a very scenic city, and I spent most of my time ashore here either in the industrial parts of town or in the marina. One thing that was very nice about this stop was the excellent new facilities here at Marina de Papeete. The staff was very kind and helpful during our stay, and the location was great. It was nice to be close to the municipal market, and a short walk to marine chandleries and groceries.
The winds look good for our trip to Ratrotonga. The first couple of days will probably be a little rough, but the direction is fair so that will speed us on our way. The forecast is indicating that the wind will die off as we get closer to Rarotonga. We’ll head south of the rhumb line (the straight line to our destination) at first to position ourselves more favorably for the light wind we expect towards the end of the trip. I expect that this trip will take 5 or 6 days.
The last days of the trip here from the Marquesas were made mostly with the aid of the auxiliary engine beating away the miles, as the wind was too light to keep the sails full, or even to maintain steerage at times. We ran low on fuel towards the end of the trip, but still the wind barely ruffled the surface of the water, adding at least 24 hours to the passage.
We tied up to the excellent new marina facilities in Papeete’s harbor yesterday. The marina was a pleasant surprise, as I had been expecting to have to med-moor to a wall. Instead, we have brand-new floating docks with wide fairways. The separation from the traffic is welcome, as are the heavy barriers with card-access doors to reduce the risk of uninvited guests relieving the ship of the burden of having to carry so much gear. The rates are reasonable, and checking in with the marina office takes care of the compulsory notification of the Papeete harbormaster for clearance of visiting yachts.
I was happy to discover that at least some of Tahiti’s famously high prices are not as bad as I had feared. Only a 5-minute walk from where the boat is docked it is quite easy to buy a breakfast or lunch from one of the many food stands at the municipal market for as low as 250 francs, or about $2.50 USD. For that amount you can get a couple of pastries; or a sandwich made from 18 inches of baguette; or a crêpe; or a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches, for example. For the equivalent of a couple dollars more, there are then many more things to choose from. In the evenings the food trucks, or roulottes, set up in a park that is also only minutes from the yacht harbor. There, it is possible to buy enough delicious food to fill two hungry sailors for less than 1500 francs. There are many choices, from fresh local dishes to different styles of international cuisine. It’s true though, that if you want to go to the restaurants or out to the bars the prices are quite high, with a bottle of domestic beer running around the equivalent of $7. I haven’t been to the supermarket yet…
Before we leave, I need to take care of some minor maintenance chores, including a routine engine oil change and giving the rig and steering gear another inspection. Hopefully we can also find a nice place to give the bottom another scrub before heading towards the Cook Islands.
We didn’t have much time to explore, but we made a quick stop at the atoll of Ahe to at least have the experience of anchoring in a Pacific atoll once on this trip. We were there for almost exactly 24 hours after transiting the pass in calm conditions on a rising tide.
After dropping the anchor we put the dinghy in and made a quick trip ashore to stretch our legs, check in, and have lunch at a snack counter. The local police officer warned us not to leave the boat or dinghy unattended, as theft could be expected. We didn’t have much time available to spare anyway, so we didn’t linger ashore for very long.
The officer also reminded us that cyclone season would be arriving soon. I already knew that from the calendar, but I could also feel it in the hot, heavy, windless air. The only breeze stirring that afternoon was under the squalls that drifted across the lagoon, as the southeast winter tradewinds had dropped to nothing. The water out on the ocean was very warm—a fuel stockpile for tropical storms in the near future. We can’t forget that we have the advancing season close at our backs.
After our lunch of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and ice cream bars we all headed back to the dinghy. The lagoon was the real reason we were here, after all. The family headed out to take the girls swimming in shallow water by the beach while I decided to remain aboard with Idoia and take care of a few boat chores, including checking the engine over and changing the zinc on the propeller shaft.
Once the boat work was done, we headed out to explore the coral fringing the deep part of the lagoon with masks and snorkels. The coral here is not in as good health as what we saw in the Marquesas, but was better than what I saw in the Bahamas. There were some giant clams, a couple of rays with spans as wide as my open arms, and some beautiful reef fish, but unfortunately there was also a lot of dead, algae-covered coral and wide areas littered with only sea-cucumbers and discarded shells.
Everyone enjoyed a peaceful, full night of sleep that night after the long afternoon of swimming. The next morning we put our remaining extra fuel into the main tank and began to haul anchor as soon as the sun was high enough to reveal the isolated coral heads that dot the lagoon. We only hauled a few meters before the bow dipped and the windlass was stopped short. The chain was hooked under a rock or piece of coral 40 feet beneath where we stared down the bar-taught chain. I had feared that this might happen as the wind had switched 180 degrees during the night. Fortunately, we could see the chain on the bottom, as visibility was very good, so I could see where the chain took a 90-degree turn under the edge of a rock. I loosened the chain a bit and gently motored forward and to the side of the rock where the chain was hooked. Idoia began hauling the chain in again when she could see it had cleared. I hadn’t thought we would be so lucky as to get it on the first try, but we didn’t have to resort to further tricks to free the chain. The anchor then came up without any more problems. I was happy enough that there was no forced morning swim for us that day, as I wanted to be through the pass before the inrushing current got too strong.
We motored back across to the pass and out onto a Pacific Ocean that was almost as calm as the inside of the atoll. We have been motoring since then, with at least one full day to go before we reach Tahiti, The wind is not forecast to improve before our arrival… At least we have enjoyed beautiful skyscapes with moon shining on silver clouds at night, and reflected colors on calm water at sunrise and sunset. The family was particularly excited to see calm water this morning. They are enjoying the relative lack of motion, for sure. This sort of weather always makes me keep one eye on the fuel gauge, but we should be okay for the rest of this leg. If all goes well, we’ll be in Papeete tomorrow.
We left Taiohae Bay early on the morning of the 20th in order to sail around to Anaho Bay on the north of the island. There, we planned to clean and check the boat over before departing the Marquesas for the Society Islands, where our one planned stop is Papeete on the island of Tahiti. We refilled the main fuel tank from jerry cans on deck to replenish the fuel we had burned during our passage from the Galapagos, and then motored and sailed to Anaho Bay.
The southeast tradewinds were blowing at 15-20 knots, which made for perfect sailing across the eastern, windward side of the island. The sea was a little confused due to waves rebounding from the rocky cliffs, but it wasn’t rough. We enjoyed the scenery of island as it passed to port. There were plenty of photo opportunities.
We put the anchor down just at noon in 35 feet of water. We had to clean the boat in Anaho Bay instead of Taiohae because the locals said that the sharks in Taiohae could be aggressive. Besides, it was a good excuse to visit the only coral reef in the Marquesas. Starlight needed a good cleaning after the trip from the Galapagos. We had spent so much time sailing on one tack in consistent wind that barnacles had taken hold more than a foot above the waterline, and algae up to three feet above the waterline on the bow and starboard side.
After scrubbing a good deal of growth off the boat and also cleaning the propeller and other places where barnacles had begun to take hold, Idoia and I went off to explore the reef. I was not disappointed to snorkel in Anaho Bay. It was definitely the best reef that I have seen on this trip. The coral was in fair condition, though there was still a lot of bleaching and algae growth. We saw a few manta rays, a sea turtle (I haven’t identified which type yet…), and a great school of yellow fish that numbered in the hundreds if not more. Those were highlights of the swim, but it was great just to see a reef that still seemed to be alive.
We hauled the anchor at first light the next morning. The 15-day deadline to arrive in Tahiti looms over this part of the trip, so we couldn’t stay longer in Anaho Bay. Besides, the season is advancing and we need to make miles towards New Zealand if we are going to arrive before the risk of cyclones begins to increase. Good time was made the first two days after leaving Anaho, but the southeast tradewind is beginning to falter now. We are currently making only about 4 knots, and the wind is forecast to drop to nothing over the next few days. Winter is over in this part of the world and the steady southeast tradewinds that are a feature of the winter months are bound to become less reliable. The boat’s owner wants to stop at an atoll on the way to Tahiti, as would I, but we may not have time. We have a limited range under power, so we may have to go nonstop through the Tuamotus. I’ll update when we know more.
At 2303 last night Taiohae Bay felt the effects of yesterday’s earthquake that occurred in Chile. Fortunately, the tsunami was not too bad here. The measured height of the waves peaked at 4.5 feet above tide level, with a period of 14 minutes. We are anchored in 35 feet of water, so the effect was essentially unnoticeable, though we had the engine running and sat watch in the cockpit in case we needed to get underway immediately. We have a clear path to deep water and are not anchored near any hazards, so this seemed like a prudent course of action in this case, especially since the forecast tsunami was only 3 to 9 feet for this area. All of the local boats were moved off the quai yesterday and anchored out in the bay or hauled out of the water. I don’t think that anyone here sustained any damage. It could have easily been an issue for us if we were anchored in shallow water, however…
Land was sighted after 22 days at sea, the evening before last. An hour before sunset, the sharp peaks of Ua-Huka were visible through the haze. We slowed overnight to make for a morning arrival in Taiohae Bay. Our anchor found the bottom at about 10:30 AM local time yesterday. This bay is beautiful and well-sheltered, with volcanic rock blocking the swell and trade winds, allowing a peaceful sleep at night. Smoke rises in a few places from the town tucked up at the head of the bay and cocks crow at all hours. I’m looking forward to exercising my legs a bit, but we must complete the check-in process first, a chore made more tedious by the fact that four people aboard do not have prearranged visas. All is well aboard Starlight. We had a wonderful passage, but I t’s good to be in port. We even made it in time for the boat owners youngest daughter to celebrate her birthday in harbor instead of at sea–a stroke of good timing that made everyone aboard even happier to arrive.
As I sit and write this we are sailing at 6.5 knots in exactly the right direction. The seas are flat, the sky clear, and the temperature perfectly comfortable for shorts and a t-shirt. Today is another beautiful day in the long string of warm, clear, gentle days that we have enjoyed on this passage. I will be sure to keep this passage in mind the next time I am freezing my butt off, beating against an uncomfortable chop, and wondering why I go cruising at all. At least for me, those days are much more numerous than the nice ones when I look back at the days that I have spent on the water in my lifetime. In fact, this entire passage has been made up of “ten percent” days–those really nice ones that convince me that it isn’t completely crazy to keep going back out to sea. I am pretty sure at this point that a full ninety percent of the time that I am sailing the weather is contrary, dreary, or uncomfortable for one reason or another, including flat calms and wilting heat. This is probably not everyone’s experience, but I have spent a lot of time sailing out of season, on the shoulders of the good seasons, and in places where the weather just isn’t going to be ideal the majority of the time. Why do I do that? I am not quite sure myself. It ensures plenty of room in the anchorages that I visit, at least. I guess if I were seeking comfort I would have kept my full-time job and cushy sofa rather than trading them for uncertain income and a thin piece of foam set on plywood sheltered by a leaky deck. Even on the best of days out here I can’t leave my cup of tea unsupervised if I h ave set it on a on a flat surface and I probably have not enjoyed the luxury of a shower in recent memory. Back to how things are out here on S/V Starlight, currently two hundred miles from Nuku Hiva, I am very happy with the speed that we have made on this leg so far. We have done as well as I could have expected for this boat, especially loaded the way she is. Nobody has been seasick, and everyone has enjoyed the freedom from frequent sail trimming and reefing. Except for rolling in a little of the genoa a couple of times to keep it from slatting, and occasionally making a small tweak here and there, we haven’t made any sail changes since leaving the Galapagos.
Well, don’t pull out the “Mission Accomplished” banner yet. I just mean that we are down to only a thousand miles between us and our next intended port of call. That is still quite a few miles to go, but it doesn’t feel like all that much after just a couple of weeks ago looking out at three thousand miles of water separating us from our next stop. Things have been going very well so far. The strategy of staying at this low latitude has kept the wind at a good angle for the most part, and we have been making pretty good time as well. The boat is holding together too, with no real problems to report at this time. Several days ago, while checking the rig over, I discovered a long pan-head machine screw in the mainsail cover. It never gives me a warm feeling to find bits of hardware that have fallen off the boat, but I could immediately rule it out as one of the more critical parts of the rig. I dropped it in my pocket and figured the solution to this little puzzle would eventually come to me. A while later, I was looking up at the main, checking for chafe, when I noticed three batten tension adjusting screws had backed themselves halfway out of the end fittings. Aha. Mystery solved. Ido and I took the main down, replaced the screw from my pocket that had luckily dropped neatly into the mainsail cover from forty feet up, and tightened the other adjusting screws. We also found that one of the bolts holding one of the universal joint together on one of the batten cars had disappeared, leaving the batten free f rom the car that holds it to the mast. We replaced the missing bolt with a cotter pin and checked all the others for tightness. All else in order, we re-hoisted the main and were again on our way. The wind has been almost always between 10 and 20 knots on his leg, the weather mostly fine, and temperatures warm, but comfortable. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions and I think that everyone aboard knows that the comfortable ease of the past couple thousand miles will be remembered fondly for years to come. Here’s hoping the last third of the passage is even close to being as nice as things have been to this point.
By tomorrow morning, if all continues to go well, we will cross the halfway point of our passage to the Marquesas. We are 10 days and almost 1,500 miles out from our last port. We have been sailing a route closer to the equator than the rhumb line, or shortest distance between ports, to take advantage of the slightly stronger favorable current here and also the fact that the wind is closer to abeam. The last detail is important because this boat has only working sails and does not even carry a whisker or spinnaker pole for downwind work, which makes sailing on any course deeper than a broad reach a slow, noisy proposition as the sails slat and bang with each passing wave. We have the mainsail cranked down tight with a preventer, but there is little to be done for the genoa once it is blanketed by the mainsail, save for furling it. The engine mounts are still holding together. The cause of the extra vibration that I had mentioned in my last post was due to the boat owner starting and running the engine in reverse when charging the batteries. Because of friction in the shift cable, he was having a difficult time finding neutral, an easy mistake to make. I showed him how to double-check for neutral before starting, so hopefully the problem is solved. We caught a nice mahi mahi several days ago, so everyone has been eating plenty of fish. We just finished up the last of it yesterday, so the fishing lines can go back in again. I don’t like to risk catching more than we can eat, to avoid needless waste. Hopefully we will get a quick strike again when we want one. When I threw the lure in the last time, the fish was on before I could let out ten meters of line. That certainly made it easier reeling him in, which I especially appreciated due to the fact that we have only hand lines aboard. Landing the fish on the swim platform was very easy and made me think about how much more difficult it would be to haul a fish up onto my own boat. I have no alternative but to land fish in the cockpit or on the side deck. It is encouraging to see the little string of “X”‘s, our noon positions, keep stretching farther westward across the chart…