Guam With A Six Lane Highway

 

We had a mostly pleasant sail out of Pohnpei. SV Dione was always within 35-50 miles of us. LIke most of our passages we monitor the weather pattern and try to choose the optimal days. The first few days were great sailing and a couple of doldrum days motoring. This 900 mile passage was the longest distance since our Mexico puddle jump crossing.
We had been watching a shear line of warm and cold air colliding, technical weather term is occluded front that formed off the Philippine coast and traveled north beyond Guam, Saipan and the Northern Marianas but thought it would weaken by the time we arrived in the vicinityThe forecast was for 25 kt winds just as we would arrive in Guam and the direction would be just aft of our beam. Sounded okay, we have storm sails.
About one day out from the SE coast of Guam the wind and waves built rapidly. Our friend Lou in Portland was texting us weather reports from NOAA and it appeared to be ominous.  IMG_1930We considered heaving to 150 miles out but it was already too late, the wind speed was much higher. It wasn’t the wind that caught us off guard. The lightening was directly overhead and bolts were traveling downward into the sea. We put most of our spare navigation gear and laptops in the oven, a quick faraday emergency protection. The waves become so tall and were breaking at the boat. At times we dropped into the valley of rolling breakers and the horizon disappeared. We quickly dropped the reefed sails and hoisted the storm trysail and continued sailing. Fortunately the sane captains and boats stayed in port so we weren’t worried about colliding courses, and we monitored the chartplotter with AIS from below. The most we could do was poke our heads out every 15 minutes. Fortunately Capt Janeway, our monitor windwave maintained course with the heavy air wind paddle for us. Down below the movement and shrieking rigging was tolerable.
47 miles off the SE coastline of Guam we heard Dione hail the US Coast Guard reporting their concern that they had lost radio contact with us for over 24 hours. Oh no, the last thing we wanted was the CG contacting our “emergency contacts” at home. We quickly responded to the CG with our position and condition, “all is well”.
We rounded the south end of Guam at 11:00 p.m., the wind dropped to 20 knots, the seas became moderate 8′ waves. For the first time in over 20 hours John was able to get some sleep on the cabin floor. The port control asked us to stand off til daylight to enter. Technically we could’ve responded with hazardous conditions to our boat and well being and been allowed in but no problem, we found shelter just behind the south headland about a mile from the entrance and heaved to with the engine running at the lowest speed possible to maintain forward motion from the beach. It was calm and peaceful, we each caught an hour of sleep.
At daybreak we had permission to enter the harbor ahead of the inbound US Navy frigate that was 3 miles away. An overly exciting passage ended with overload of stress, hand steering over 16′ waves 10 seconds apart, a near knockdown by a 20 wave on the beam and 28 knots of wind on the nose with the frigate bearing down on us. John nearly turned back out to sea but one last hard roar of our awesome 50hp Perkins and a hard pull to starboard on the rudder gave us the momentum to round up and over the last bitchin wave from Neptune’s armpit. Goodbye easy, NE trade wind sailing, Aargh to the wild Pacific ocean north of the equator! It was surreal, thats all we can say. We made our way into the Mariana Yacht club anchorage and tied to a new mooring ball. It was 10:00 a.m., breakfast had NEVER tasted so delicious!

We spent two weeks in Guam, shared a rental car with Glenn and Sue, SV Dione and had a blast driving the entire island a couple of times. For the most part, Guam isn’t exactly geographicaly stunning like other Pacific islands. The rich hisotry makes up for it though.

The native  Chamorro natives were the original inhabitants of Guhan. Today the Chamorro natives keep an active awareness of their heritage with festivals and community events. A new museum featuring Chamorro natives opened a few days after we departed Guam.IMG_2034Sir Captain Magellan arrived in the late 1500’s and slaughted most of the men in order to populate Guam with Spanish culture and citizens. Very gallant man.

John drove the 10 days, a treat for him to drive the six lane highway that was congested at rush hour just like Portland. We spent oodles of money provisioning, bought our folding bikes for our Japan adventure, and crammed more stuff into the boat than it can really carry. We never stopped from 7:00 a.m. to dark. The dinghy ride was nearly 1/4 mike each way to shore and the wind never died down below 10 kts, a very wet ride. We got to the point of riding back to the boat in our underwear a couple of times. The real standup hot shower was by far, the best aspect. I certainly didn’t feel guilty for standing under the spray with blasting hot water running over my head.
We ate WInchell donuts, McDonalds, Applebee giant burgers, an authentic German meal with large mugs of draft German beer, packaged pork rinds, and ate junk food to our hearts content. We still didn’t gain any weight back from our passage.
Our new Dickenson grill arrived at the post office, we admit we splurged and had it shipped from state side but it is worth every cent. We had grilled steaks and mashed potatoes with Glenn and Sue, it was our first steak since we left Portland.

Its a hotspot for Japanese and Korean tourists. SIgns, posters, and menus are written in 3 languages. Bus loads of tourists roll into every coastline attraction. The giant shopping mall with Louis Vitton, Gucci, Coach, and low end Macy department store (my stopping place) was packed with Japanese people. We provisioned heavily at Walmart where many Japanese tourists were buying up peanut butter, nuts, and other oddball items that are expensive in Japan. My cue on what to purchase before departing Guam.

Our two weeks zoomed by, we absolutely loved Guam. We were fortunate the rainy season wasn’t upon us, it begins in late April.image We had beautiful weather, great food, and fun friends to hang out with. The only drawback was the spotty 4G wifi that was great when it worked. Most of the time at the boat we were without wifi. Diesel was $4.11/gallon, we used about 15 gallons on our passage from Pohnpei, especially during the harbor entrance running at 2300 rpm. Oh well.

Off to Saipan, our next blog.

Pohnpei, FSM

It has been a very, very busy month for us here in beautiful Pohnpei. We arrived in 3 days after leaving rainy Kosrae nearly a month ago.  Our departure was a wild ride coming out of the Kosrae pass; the wind, waves and swell were on our nose. We didn’t have a dry spot left on the entire boat top by the time we motored beyond the tip of the island and turned downwind. Upon clearing the extending reef the wind was in our favor but the waves were big and came at us with a vengeance. Slowly the seas calmed down and we had a decent sail for the next 30 hours. Eventually the wind died, the sails drooped, on came the engine. We motored the rest of the way into Pohnpei.

We arrived at the commercial wharf, completed the quarantine and customs paperwork, and waited for the immigration group. 5 hours later John hailed the Port Control and asked when we should expect immigration to arrive. The conversation between the Port and Immigration was in Pohnpeian but we gathered by the laughter between the parties that somebody screwed up and forgot we were in. 30 minutes later they drove up and the “Superior” asked us why we hadn’t checked in when we first arrived, 5 hours ago.?? Exhausted, and hangry, we just sighed relieved to be in.

At the anchorage we were very pleased to hook up the SV Carina. We started following their blog 5 years ago, stayed in contact with them on facebook and dreamed that one day we might meet them in an anchorage. Dreams do come true! Leslie and Philip have been sailing the South Pacific, across to Indonesia and back, now working their way homeward to Kingston, Washington. For nearly 12 years they have sailed, blogged and are contributors to the Soggy Paws’ South Pacific compendium that hundreds of cruisers from all over the world have come to depend upon. The latest sailing information, customs and immigration requirements, island culture, and all the essential information that cruisers need when arriving in a new country are well documented in “the Compendiums”.

Leslie and Philip gave us a ride into town, showed us the local stops for fresh local veggies and fish, and all the other essentials that we needed. Its been wonderful to hang out with them, hike and enjoy talking about sailing adventures over dinner. Philip is an awesome chef and makes mean gin and tonic drinks. Leslie is funny and a kick to be around.  Really a great couple!

The anchorage has more sailboats than we’ve seen since American Samoa, currently there are eight of us. We’re always excited to meet new yachties, most of the time anyway. The day after arrival we sat in the cockpit having our dinner. Just as we finished a guy from the next boat over paddled along side us. We invited him aboard, the polite thing to do when you’re new in the anchorage, he handed up his full wine glass and dropped into the cockpit.  After about 15 minutes judging from the conversation, I wasn’t sure if I was tired from passage or he was just a little different. He asked about our pasta dinner as he stared at our empty bowls and peered down the companionway; must’ve been thinking that would go nicely with his wine. Having raised and fed seven, always hungry boys we know that look of foraging and drool. “No, we had instant ramen” and received more useless yak about the quality of our food.  Second clue, his glass was empty, he eyed our drinks and said “could I have a drink of what you’re drinking”? My tiny facial hairs tingled, met this kind of cruiser before. Well neither John nor I were willing to share our bottles. Alcohol is a very expensive luxury in the islands, anywhere from $40 to $83 for a bourbon that costs $16 in the States, John dug out the cheap tequila. By the way, Two Buck Chuck wine from Trader Joes in the states is $9/bottle here in Pohnpei !!  Third clue, “do you mind if I step to the back of your boat and have a smoke?” We are not good at being assertive when need be. We were in the cockpit, the back of our small boat is two steps away. Again, we should’ve just said NO. Two smokes later, he stepped to the back again. Thinking “chain smoker”, we instead heard the very distinct sound of water flowing overboard. Thoroughly disgusted, I looked at John, rolled my eyes and said ” we just came off a hard passage and exhausted, we are going below”. We avoided him until he departed two days later, totally relieved! There are strange cruisers just like the weird neighbors at home.

Aside from the strange guy, all other cruisers are great. We’ve enjoyed snorkeling and hiking with Leslie and Philip. We hiked up the Sohkes ridge – the large rock in the background is Sohkes Rock on the ridge —img_1840 with Leslie from Carina, and Jeanine, another cruiser on a Westsail 32 “Fluid Motion”. Jeanine is also from the US, an avid bird watcher and identified all the colorful birds for us. The view was spectacular, img_1716                       the Japanese war relics were a step back in time. The Japanese used the natives to build a long winding road and rock retaining wall along the Sohkes ridge for the gun placements and look outs. There are tunnels and mazes through out the island that were used by the Japanese during the war.  We didn’t venture very far into the tunnels, it seemed a little creepy.  It felt so good to get out and hike, we had a terrific day in the warm rain and sun. Our boat is the middle one on the far right of the anchorage picture.

Another day we took our inflatable kayak and SUP out with another Australian cruiser to the ancient ruins of Nan Madol. img_1789

The stone city was built nearly 2300 years ago. Most of it is overgrown with mangrove trees but the largest site is well preserved. We spent the day paddling through the mangrove canals viewing the ruins. img_1825You can read the entire history with pictures on the internet. Its quite fascinating.   Hundreds of car size stones and hundreds of thousands of columnar basalt from the Sohkes rock were hauled across the island to build the city. The feat is nearly equivalent to the Egyptian pyramids construction.

It hasn’t been all play though. Boat maintenance is about the same as living on land. Clean the garage, clean and polish the stainless steel stove and oven, scrub out mold from damp lockers. img_1842Our headsail that is only 3 years old had some seam threads coming loose. We thought it would be a couple of hours to hand sew, turned out to be several hours and more yet to do. A very big disappointment with the quality of our “Kern” sail. The sun cover stitching along the entire leach line and foot  (side and bottom of the sail), the most exposed area of the sail when furled has rotted away. A job for the industrial sewing machine when we get to Japan and spread out on the dock. There are only a handful of places that sails are actually sewn in the U.S. and very expensive. Most sail lofts contract out with Asian sailmakers, cheaper but the quality is questionable.

John changed out the raw water pump with a new one ordered from the states. The spare we brought turned out to be heavy bronze junk. The teak rubrails and eyebrows need to be refinished, the sun and salt water is so harsh on the wood. Another dock job.

Our visa expires in a week, its time to get moving. We’ve been monitoring the weather for our next passage to Guam. We have to time this arrival perfectly as a US Navy base is in Guam and have a strict entry process. Overtime fees apply to check into the country outside the Mon-Fri, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., average overtime charge is about $265.

Two other boats are leaving bound for Guam and onto Japan also. They are bigger boats with average cruise speed of 7. 5 – 8.0 kts so we probably wont see them until we arrive in Guam but just knowing they’re within a day or so of us is comforting.

Christmas in Kosrae, FSM

We checked in on Dec. 16th after six days of traveling through the split Inter Tropical Convergence Zone from Kiribati. The grib forecast indicated 10 – 15 knots of wind but it never materialized. Nearly 60 hours of motoring listening to the din of the engine in flat seas, unbearable heat in the cabin, and overpowering diesel fumes left us on the edge of craziness. We could see the thunderous buildups to the far North and South of us but we were stuck in the blue donut hole.

The only reward we had was watching a 4 foot dorado swim in the shadow of the boat, just inches away from our reach. The dazzling fish swam in a circle jeering at us as we watched the fishing line for a hit. We didn’t catch anything but one stinky flying fish. A juvenile seabird landed on the back deck and spent the nite plopped on the floor of the cockpit. John tried to persuade him to fly out with a stick but the poor little thing was so fatigued he couldn’t move. Feeling sorry for him we decided to let him ride along. John managed to get a towel under it but despite sitting on the towel he managed to poop all over the teak cockpit floor. By morning the floor was covered in white slime and smelled worse than the flying fish. Lesson learnt, the next time a bird tries to hitch a ride the boat pole is stronger and can be very persuasive. Finally, the ITCZ closed in and we sailed the remaining distance in rolly seas and rain squalls but nothing more than 25 kt gusts between the oncoming fronts. Fortunately we made the slack high tide to cross the reef and once inside the lagoon the waves calmed down. We dropped anchor in 40 feet of thick oozing mud. Opposing fast current and wind here makes for an interesting dance around the anchor.

img_1553Kosrae (Ko-Shrye, like “rye”) is just above 5 Degrees North of the equator so we’re still in the ITCZ. NE tradewinds swoop down the jagged mountains and blow across the lagoon creating choppy water and swells between us and the shore. We’ve spent nearly 6 days sitting on the boat with torrential rain and driving winds pounding us. The steady 80+ temperatures combined with the rain makes for uncomfortable evenings trying to sleep with closed up hatches. Kosrae is the farthest Eastern state of Micronesia and is considerably more remote and modern conveniences and goods are mostly unavailable. Kosraean is spoken here, English is their second language and taught in schools but the kids seem reluctant to speak in English. Most of the adults speak quite fluently but we definitely have some communication issues when asking for directions.

This island is very lush and green with relatively tall mountains, snake free, peaceful, laid back. Kosreans are very friendly and generous. Very conservative clothing is worn- long skirt and T-shirts for women or the traditional moo-moo style dress. You don’t see girls over the age of 10 wearing jeans. The men wear shorts so no problem for John, he looks like the locals and blends in as long as he shaves. There is a handy Ace Hardware store and an Ace grocery store is well stocked with rows of junk food just like home. Even spiral cut ham is available although cost prohibitive, so no doubt it will be here next year as most of the food is from the mainland US and outdated. Dairy products are hard to get. Small packages of cheese is about it. The prices of everything are about double of mainland. Fresh fish is hard to come by, they eat the imported slimy chicken from Arkansas, the same fatty turkey tails found in Am Samoa and Samoa, and beef from who knows where. Pork is the mainstay meat and its locally raised. There seems to be one pig and dog per capita just like Kiribati. Unlike KIribati though, the pigs are at least penned in the backyards and the daily rain shower squelches the smell.

The fertile soil produces abundantly wonderful fresh small cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, eggplant, tomatoes, green tangerines, the usual papaya, breadfruit, bananas and coconuts. We discovered the local bakery and have enjoyed some of the best bakery items since being in the South Pacific. The spry elderly lady with a wonderful heart and her daughter have a great niche and is known for her baked banana pies. A fresh baked pie is $3.00. We eat the entire pie in a sitting, just wishing we had whipping cream. The biscuits and buns are outrageously wonderful and cheap!

Wifi is very expensive and also very, very slow, $10 for 125 mb and only a couple of hotspots around the island, about 3 miles walking distance from the boat. To get anywhere you need a taxi as the villages are stretched far apart. Diesel costs $4.50/gal, the highest price we’ve paid since Portland was Kiribati at $4.90/gal. Fortunately we needed only 15 gallons when we arrived here and a portion of that was used to run the engine to charge the batteries during the cloudy rain days.

Christmas is very unusual here. We were personally invited to the celebrations by the Quarantine officer when he boarded our boat – (another story). He made a point to tell me “no sexy dress is allowed though” as he looked at my ratty flower shorts hanging on the clothesline. And then he glanced at John’s nice black button-down shirt he was wearing with the top button open. “And you must wear a shirt”. Totally closed up to the neck or a white T-shirt underneath, we wondered.

The 25th isn’t observed as the “Christmas Day”. The celebration spans for a week with singing and marching in the churches. There are four main villages and each village hosts a performance with all the attending “groups” (choir). The choirs sing sans musical accompany. Their strong soprano and baritone, children’s voices filling in with gleeful singing, beautifully echoes throughout the church and carries beyond the windows. Each group has about 100 people comprised of both children and adults all elegantly dressed in “uniforms” as they call it. Locally sewn dresses with varying unique designs for the women and complementing shirts with black slacks for the men. They carry decorated stars and sing as they wind their way through the large church. The audience sit and sing along or clap and wave at the performers. Each performance lasts about an hour. At the end of the performance the singers walk by the very large open windows and throw candy, clothes, miscellaneous items out the window to the gathered crowds -mostly children and women sitting outside on bleachers and chairs. This year the main celebration was on the 29th. It’s called “the Gathering Day”.  Anyone who is Kosrean or has ties are welcomed to attend. Families from other Micronesian islands, Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, and the Phillipines were in attendance this year. Judging from the crowds of families there were about 2,500 people at the church. The performances started at 9:00 a.m. and ended at 2:00 a.m. the next morning. 13 groups sang this year, a record.

The banquet that goes along with each church performance was amazing. The traditional Kosraen rice soup was served first. Rice boiled down in coconut water, with either fish, chicken or pork depending on who made it. I have to say it was substantial and very delicious. A bowlful Is traditionally eaten before and after church service on regular Sundays. At least two roasted pigs were served. Large coconut frond baskets held baked breadfruit and taro root. Ongoing storage containers (seriously 18″ X 24″ x 12″) full of BBQ’d chicken, rice, salads, and desserts. The banquet was prepared twice on the 29th as the performance ran longer than expected. We had to get back to the boat before dark so left around 4:00 p.m., pleased to have attended two days of performances in our finest clothes and new sandals. I purchased a hand-made, multicolored flour sack skirt for the occasion and saving it for my sister. It’s really a beautiful work of patch art done by a local villager.

We invited a young man from the grocery store for Christmas dinner a couple days prior to Sunday, the 25th. He was excited to come out. Locals are curious about the yachts and appreciate an invitation to visit. We agreed upon an arranged pickup time at the concrete steps. Well of course, the wind howled, gusted 35 knots, standing waves from wind and opposing current made the boat swing and pitch wildly. We ‘re used to it so it wasn’t a big deal. We launched the dinghy in the wild winds, got out a rainproof blanket for the guest and John splashed through the waves. The young guy didn’t show up. We went over the pick up plans and agreed that maybe he arrived and was too afraid to come out to the boat after seeing Konami bucking in the water. We had also invited a Canadian sailor on the boat next to us. We enjoyed our Christmas dinner and played board games anyway. Two days later, I went to the store to ask if we had miscommunicated on the time and date. He only nodded and apologized. “It was Sunday and I stay at home after church” was his polite, nonchalant response. But don’t you eat dinner, I asked. “yes but I eat at home, no go out after church”. Okay, so maybe another day, I told him. I think he was too shy to refuse our offer and didn’t know how to say that it’s customary to not engage in social activities on Sunday. Not wanting to hurt our feelings he accepted just to be courteous. Oh well, we had wonderful leftover chorizo lasagne.

What else have we done besides relax and sweat in pouring rain? Our comprehensive electronic library consisting of 12,000 books and has been our main source of entertainment since a cruising boat passed it on to us in Am. Samoa. We also play board games, eat and be merry. And being US territory, they have bagged icecubes here! Something that is rare is ice sold in the stores in the So. Pacific. John replaced the engine exhaust valve, yep, they had the proper size, bronze ball valve we needed at the Ace Hardware store. I cleaned and polished the stainless steel. Cleaned out the garage (V-berth) re-organized the food cupboards, checked for bugs in the grain products. Konami is looking good.

Sunday is a quiet day, no leisurely activities are allowed so we observe their custom and try to stay below dressed only in our shorts, especially since we’re anchored in view of the church. We went to the Lelu ruins. The Ace grocery store is built on top of some of it. It’s overgrown with the jungle which is too bad and local kids hang out there with their spray cans of paint defacing the colossal size, perfect basalt stones. Garbage is thrown about and some homes back against the rocks with their garbage pits. We walked far back into the jungle and climbed up the burial mounds. The mounds are about 50′ long and 20’ feet high. It’s amazing to just sit at imagine how the chieftain and villagers lived their lives nearly 600 years ago. It’s “young” for ruins compared to the European cultures but it’s all very interesting nonetheless.

We dinghied up the mangrove maze to Bully’s restaurant. Numerous river turns and secluded. Rather creepy with the dark brown water from vegetation and lowlying bushes. You could swear alligators are lurking in the water waiting to have a meal should you fall in. We thought we heard duo banjos playing but it must’ve been just the wind blowing through the tall banyan and coconut trees.

The weather never cooperated enough to allow snorkeling on the outside reef, too bad, it’s beautiful and enticing! The Japanese war caves are a ways off and you need a guide for the day. If there were more time…

It’s now January 1, 2017 as I complete this blog. Happy New Year to All! May 2017 be as blessed as last year. Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu! Saku nen iroro osewasama deshita. Kotoshi mo, dozo yoroshiku oneigai shimasu – Dear Sister!

Our 30 day cruising permit expires in a couple of days (we were shorted by 12 days of actual visitation, another story of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, typical of over-inflated government employees) so we’re preparing to leave Kosrae bound for Pohnpei, about 350 miles to the NW. The ITCZ is still very active and boisterous, it won’t calm down until later in the month. We’ll start out with good sailing according to the weather forecast.

Blessed be, dear families and friends!

Tuvalu, Last of So. Pacific

The passage from Samoa to Tuvalu forecast looked promising, last of the southeast trade winds, 10 – 15 knots just aft of the beam, less than 2 meter waves, not too many rain squalls. All was mostly pleasant, a little lighter winds than forecasted the first 5 days but the waves were coming from all directions creating volcano shaped waves and most of it was 2 meters and built to 3 at times. We rocked and rolled in light winds, our appetites were squelched but it was too rolly to attempt cooking anyway. We reminded ourselves that the rain squalls were holding off, it was hot but under the bimini we felt comfortable enough to sit and read, and the sails were staying full most of the time. We hoisted Mr. Bean (whisker pole) off to port attached to the full yankee and with one reef in the main we sailed for 2 full days. A pod of frolicking, jumping dolphins joined us, we haven’t seen dolphins since the crossing from Mexico. A sign of heading north perhaps? The nearly full moon kept us company, the ocean had a beautiful shimmer all night, the stars barely shone. Lovely sailing despite the rolling seas.

The third day out, all was well until we heard a “twang” near the mast, metal to metal clinking. Oh crap, nothing too serious? – the spreader lift wire broke off the spreader, we could see the fitting still attached to the end of the wire. That was a problem though. It was swaying back and forth at times violently, repeatedly smacking our snazzy painted mast. We cringed with every irritating smack knowing we were losing chips of paint and suffering little dings in the mast. I begged John to hoist me up to the spreader just to grab it and tape it to the mast to prevent further damage. Quick as a Saipanese monkey I’d be, but he vehemently denied my request. There was no going up the mast in the rolling conditions. We counted how many more days of clanging and dents. Grrrr! John was able to take the spare halyard (rope) captured and secured it to the mast for a couple of days. Much to our chagrin he had to repeat the roundup a few times. A job for the anchorage when we arrived in Funafuti.

We hoped for a 5 day sail but the winds just didn’t fill in enough to get us into the atoll during daylight hours. The last day out the squalls came on us with a vengeance. We knew we would heave-to and wait out the remaining 8 hours just 40 miles south of Funafuti. With no choice but to wait it out, the seas and wind picked up with no regard to our comfort! We had 35 knot winds all at once. John had just finished tying the spray skirts on when a huge wave broke alongside the cockpit sending a wall of water through the railing and over the bimini. Fortunately I had just gotten down below and closed the cabin doors. We watched 12 foot waves breaking around us and the wind was shrieking through the rigging. We sat down below and waited, and waited, counting the hours as we rolled and pitched making us both queasy. At midnight we woke, let loose the sails and sailed to Funafuti. The waves were too much for the south pass, the breakers on the reef would’ve been too dangerous to cross. We continued on with the engine with light northerly winds to the west pass, narrow, and about 2 miles of reefs and shoals. Using google earth charts – satellite images of the area provides a picture of where our boat is using gps coordinates in relation to the reefs and pass overlayed onto CM93 charts on the laptop. A little more complex than this brief description but overall, another way of entering a pass in addition to other charting applications we use. Of course eyeballs and vigilant watch is most important.

Oh and when we arrived – it was calm, clear water! We anchored in flat bottom 40 feet, tidied the boat, zipped on the sun covers, and with abundant water supply had the laundry on the lifelines before noon. We gave our ritual high-five, hugged and gave our thanks for a good, safe passage. By far this was a nice sailing passage aside from the ongoing rolling. We sailed all but the exit from Samoa and the entry through the pass. 5 days of good sailing, 1 lousy day of horrendous winds, rain and giant breaking waves, only 1.7 hours motoring out of Samoa reefs and 3.7 hours on the lee side of Funafuti and through the pass to anchorage. Sweet! There were 2 Aussie yachts but departed in the afternoon. We briefly chatted, got the cruisers’ info on Customs and Immigrations, wifi, lay of the land. They are also headed north to Kiribati, we’ll be looking forward to meeting up with them there as well as moving across Micronesia. It’s a ways off yet but we’ve missed having cruising buddies so we’re keeping our hopes up. We’ve had the anchorage all to ourselves for the last 2 weeks. Time flies!

Funafuti is truly a remote south pacific island. The island is one of nine islands – formerly known as the Ellice Island group. The island is about 9 miles long, perhaps ½ mile across. There is 1 road running North to South. The main attraction is the 3 story Government building – the roof lined with massive solar panels offering air conditioning and nice seats to hang out while people watching. Twice a week a small passenger plane arrives from Fiji. The 40 year old fire truck winds up the old WWII siren 30 minutes before the plane arrives and drives up and down the runway. The warning signal for everybody to clear off. Mopeds, bikes, dogs, kids are trained to move along quickly. People line up near the runway waiting for the plane’s arrival. We participated in the departing lineup, waving as the plane roared down the runway less than a block from our standing position. They get all excited waving goodbye, cheer and greet one another. The simple life here.

We were amazed by the beautiful white beaches, pink sand of ground coral and blue water. Lots of beautiful shelling and beach walking. It’s hot during the day but the evenings are cooled with a NE breeze, enough that we sleep comfortably. No bugs, no distant shore and traffic noise. There are very few cars here, mostly mopeds loaded with kids, groceries, drivers, miscellaneous goods. During the down pours they hold umbrellas over their heads as they scoot down the narrow “highway”. Had a couple of close calls stepping out in front of them as the flow of traffic is opposite to the U.S. and didn’t see them coming around a corner.

The people are not Samoan, not Fijian, not white either. Besides the general 2 arms and legs, they have a very dark complexion, most of them tall and slender. Their faces are long and narrow, beautiful black eyes, jet black hair. Their language is some form of Polynesian and limited English. img_1056The kids can recite grammatically correct English salutations, etc. but cannot converse fluently. Some of the adults can communicate but again, it’s limited. Don’t bother asking for directions to the market. The kids are very nice and sociable, they want attention and often call out to us.

Wifi is terrible. Slow and very expensive. $16 US for 600Mb, barely fast enough to download some weather files, post a small blog and a couple of emails. Hence no pictures on this blog, sorry.

The food is very basic – fish and rice. The grocery stores are tiny and barely stocked with canned goods, mostly from Fiji. There was a line up at the grocery store the other day. Apparently the ship came in and this week’s special was sugar. People had 30 pound sacks, there were 2 guys carrying 100 pounds of sugar out the door. There are no fresh produce stands, a few banana trees, lots of coconut trees and some breadfruit trees. Limited soil and space not much is grown here. We bought a loaf of local bread, a fluffy white blob that resembles a holey sponge. And since it’s too hot to bake on the boat we’ve made do with the strange textured, sweet rubbery sponge. I purchased 4 carrots imported from Fiji, they turned black and wilted in the fridge the next day. There are a few dogs, no cats, few birds, didn’t see any rats or cockroaches. Other than viewing the simple homes with very large cisterns capturing water, there is very little else to distract watching the people. And that’s what makes this place special, a step back in time, away from the western culture, family oriented and mostly simple.

Most of the people depend on the fishing industry. There are 6 large fish processing ships currently in the harbor. The fishing trawlers go out –netting of course – and return side tying to the mother ships. The full canning process is done in the harbor. A couple days ago a fishing panga came by with father and two sons. They had a boat load of frozen Travelly jack, Rainbow runner, and frozen yellowfin tuna. The large fishing trawler had arrived earlier and regularly give fish to the locals. We gave them Aussie $10/ $8 US and a jar of mayonnaise for 2 medium sized fish. The fish eyes were still bright – indication of instant freezing, wonderfully fresh and delicious!

We’ve enjoyed our stay here, it’s been lovely sitting in the calm waters. Out of 14 days, we had 3 days of rain squalls. It came down so hard that the island about 1/4 mile away and the large floating fish plants all disappeared. We captured lots of rain water, showered on deck, washed 3 big loads of laundry, cleaned the canvas, filled our tanks and every available jug on the boat. During the full sun days our 300 watts of solar panels kept up very well. We cranked the refrigerator and made plenty of ice, powered the radio and radar, charged the computers, electric toothbrushes, vacuum cleaner, e-readers, etc, ran full fans during the day and were able to get through the night. We learned our lesson – don’t buy the cheap flexible panels – waste of money. John repaired the spreader lift wire, redid the port side just in case, and checked all rigging at the top of the mast. We’ve cleaned the boat inside, scrubbed the bottom and rudder – well John did anyway, and now ready to leave in the next couple of days. Our next journey is another long ride, the winds look light, especially as we approach the equator. Doldrums here we come, hopefully without the squalls and crazy winds.

We say goodbye to the south Pacific, a little saddened to depart, seems like we just got here but the cyclone season will start soon and we need to be well north. Wish us fair winds, no following seas though – makes us queasy.

Beautiful Samoa

It was a quick 16 hour motor out of American Samoa on calm Sunday night, September 25th. The winds didn’t fill in as forecasted, and the squall line in the distance provided a nice light show; fortunately the cloud to water lightning bolts were moving away from us. We crossed the date line and arrived on Tuesday, Sept. 27th, famished, hot, thirsty, and pooped with little sleep. The marina turned out to be very nice, almost like home with concrete docks, firm holding cleats, potable water, and a row of restaurants across the street. I went to the top of the dock ramp where the very helpful taxi drivers wait for tourists. Tsukee, the driver pointed out a nice restaurant so ignoring that we hadn’t even checked in with Customs and Immigration, I dashed across, ordered a fish and chips and asked Tsukee to deliver it to the boat. The marina manager and Customs officials are pretty relaxed here. It was great to have all of the officials come to the boat for a change, we didn’t have to figure anything out and best of all, we just relaxed in the cockpit.

The first obvious difference is the traffic driving on the opposite side of the road, and stop lights (there were no stop lights in Am Sam), crosswalks, noise and congestion, with tourists everywhere – mostly New Zealanders and Australians. This is the cheap tourist destination for those countries. The big cruise liners come in once a week and the city is inundated with camera toting tourists. And wearing appalling short shorts, tank tops, and bright white legs.

Here the cars have the right of way, and when you’re not thinking of the opposite flow of traffic it’s dangerous to try and cross the busy street without looking several times. The drivers would just as soon run you down, tagging extra points for the Pelangees. Dogs run wild and one crew member off a neighboring boat was bitten. John had to fight off one vicious dog with his backpack. Next time we’ll carry some rocks.

Once out of the noise and traffic, Samoa is exquisite and peaceful. The air is clean and fresh, the harbor water is clean. The culture here is different from American Samoa even though the citizens of both countries share the same language and religious beliefs. The Samoans are industrious. There are coffee and cocoa plantations, farms with cows and sheep, partly due to the size of Samoa and green lush flatlands. But the streets are cleaner too, the people are much more active – thereby much less rotund, and much more outgoing. The villagers take a lot of pride in their homes and work hard to present a beautified village.img_3596 Each home has a “pavilion” or family gathering place where family and guests are welcomed. Pavillions are open on all sides, ornate, colorful, draped in Samoan prints, maybe they’re concrete, some are wood, some are actually lived in, and some are grass huts. There are stone base pavilions that have been in the family for generations, lichen covered boulders were amazing. All unique and inviting.

The Matatua village chief, Tusi Tuatua nickname “Junior” our driver took us on an island tour. We started the day at the Robert Louis Stevenson mansion/museum. His tomb is at the top of the mountain, a 1.5 mile hike up the hillside. The Samoans revere him, they sing his poem in their Sunday church services. A very beautiful home – Vila Vailima, most of it has been refurbished due to the high humidity and salt air. However there are quite a few original bedroom furniture pieces, his writing box and inks, books in glass cases, and California redwood paneling.

We continued on to the high waterfalls,img_0955 lower falls flowing into swimming pools carved into the bedrock, and along the coastline collapsed lava tubes nearly 100’ deep have been turned into swimming pools with a slippery,img_3600 moss covered ladder leading down to a platform over the water named the “sea trench”. There were several other lava tube pools along the seaside where fresh water flows from the high mountains.

There are spectacular, fine white sand beaches, rocky cliffs, rough flowing black lava cliffs and bedrock.  John swam in all the fresh and sea water timg_0963ide pools; clear, emerald green ocean with deep blue trenches, img_3605 breathtaking views from the cool refreshing mountain tops when not draped with fast moving clouds. We picked a cocoa pod and ate the green pith around the cocoa bean. It was a citrus flavor with a sweet note.  Cocoa, coconut, banana, papaya, and mango trees are along the roadside, begging to be plucked.

We’ve been very fortunate, most of our weather has been tolerable. The rain has moved in the last couple of days and the temperature feels like it’s 95 degrees in the boat. Somewhere around 2:00 a.m. it finally cools enough to sleep.

We provisioned heavily while in Am Samoa so we aren’t in need of anything but fresh fruits and veggies. Things are a little more expensive here. The fruits and veggies are nicer here with more variety. A 3# bag of eggplant costs about $1.25. Mangoes are in season with several varieties and so sweet. The pineapples and papayas are juicy and wonderful. We purchased a small bag of fresh bitter cocoa, ready to grate for baking or to drink in the coffee. Also a fresh bag of cocoa beans ready to roast and eat as you would almonds. The flavor is indescribable. As to greens – well the hot weather isn’t great for growing greens and we miss the green salads of home.

We didn’t bother figuring out the bus system, the bus stops aren’t marked and not sure where they’re located. The taxis are very cheap, $5 tala – about $2 US will take you anywhere. But as in American Samoa, each stop will cost $5 tala for each stop. We walk a lot of miles, we’re getting even thinner.

My elbows have healed well enough, I no longer wear elbow braces and as long as I don’t carry, lift, push and pull, or strain in any fashion – I’ll make it. Good thing John is strong and able-bodied, mm-hmm. In case you’re wondering, somehow I developed tendonitis in both elbows back in Am Sam and wore elbow braces for nearly 3 weeks. I couldn’t lift even a pan without intense pain. Daily doses of Advil and splashes of Gin lessened the pain at night.

We were set to leave a week ago but a big low depression developed north of Fiji driving 45 knot winds and steep seas. We calculated our trip northward and the last 200 miles forecasted into Tuvalu would’ve been plowing through 15 – 20 knot northerlies with 6-8’ washboard chop, a repeat of our trip from Bora Bora to Suwarrow back in July. No, thank you very much. So we’re looking at the weather for a 6 day trip – 630 miles, so far it’s looking like the next couple of days we’ll be heading out. Cross our fingers the SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone) – stays quiet and well south of us allowing the East tradewinds to fill in. And, while we’re asking the Weather Gods/Neptune, can we have no squalls with lightning?

Follow us as we head north to Tuvalu, you can watch our progress on the DeLorme tracker and we post daily comments. We try to say nice things, never curse, and laugh to appease the Weather Gods.

American Samoa – A Touch Of Home

We packed up the dinghy, readied the boat, departed Suwarrow early Wednesday, July 20, bound for American Samoa 459 miles on a SW direction. A 4 day passage.  imageThe weather router, Bob McDavitt in New Zealand,  indicated a “squash zone” would drape across Tuvalu in the Gilbert Islands, Am Sam and eastward toward the northern Cook Islands. A squash zone is an area between high- and low- pressure systems moving closer, compressing the isobars between the two. Often times the squash can cause even higher winds as one pressure system remains relatively stationary.  We looked at our weather satellite photos, the grib and surface analysis forecasts and decided we were far enough north and wouldn’t be greatly affected.
The anchor had wrapped a corner of one small bommie but slipped off easily as the wind pushed the boat sideways. John secured the anchor and we followed our inbound GPS track on the chartplotter. The tide was lower as we passed over the reefs and so crystal clear, we could see the reef 50′ below us  as if it were within 5′ of the boat’s bottom.
Out on the open ocean once again we adjusted  into our passage mode. The wind was light, it was clear and warm, we threw in our fishing line and settled into the cockpit. By noon, the fresh trade winds picks up from the SE and our boat speed picked up to an even 6 kts over 1.5 meter swells, another great sailing day that lasted into the wee morning hours.
By 9:00 a.m. The high overcast began to move in killing the winds, horse-tail clouds foretold the change of weather way too soon.  The winds dropped down to 10 kts and our boat speed followed suit. We unfurled  all the sails and lazily sailed a flat 4.0 kts. For whatever the reason this passage caused me to not feel well. I didn’t have the energy or inclination to do anything, I just wanted to sleep. Fortunately John and I often alternate the low energy spells on passages.
We pulled another set of forecast files from the SSB, the squash zone was forecasted to intensify over Am Sam area by Saturday/Sunday, our anticipated arrival date. The squall zones started lining up behind us as the day grew darker. imageWe turned on the radar and watched a thick yellow oval shape line up, spanning 25 miles SE to NW behind us, moving faster than our boat speed. We dubbed it “the yellow submarine”.  The wind was starting to come in gusts, our cue to start reducing sail area. Torrential rain poured for a few moments at at time, stop, the wind lightened up. Over and over for the next twelve hours. By this time I had a pounding migraine, generally an indication of low pressure sitting over me. I asked John to consider maintaining 6 kts however we could to arrive before Saturday nightfall to enter the harbor and anchor. With the fluky winds, the seas built to 2-3 meters coming from east to southeast directly behind us. Another rolly day as the Westsail hull is too wine-glass shaped to move forward flatly with wind coming from directly behind. It will roll from side to side, interfering with the boat efficiency.
Over the course of the next 48 hours we motored most of the way. At times we were able to shut down and sail at 6.0 kts when a squall passed over but then the wind would drop back down and we’d roll side to side doing 4.0 kts or less watching the large looming waves coming at us. By Saturday’s predawn hours the waves calmed down as we passed north, hidden behind Manua Islands, 60 miles out from Am Sam. For a few hours we had some relief from the unruly waves. I actually began to feel much better too.

The sight of AmSam’s jagged mountains appeared over the horizon, it was noon and the rain had stopped. The sun was shining between the large cumulus build ups, happy rainbows popped out. We entered the wide harbor entrance at 4:30 p.m. with plenty of time to anchor. The wind was blowing 20 kts and even with the boat set at 1200 rpm, we were moving at 5.0 kts.

There were just a dozen boats in the anchorage, plenty of swinging room for us. I shifted to neutral and got the boat speed down to 3.0 kts as John went forward to ready the 45# CQR anchor. All boater eyes on us, we were up for the “anchoring dance”.   We threaded our way between boats toward shallower waters, looking for 35 – 40′ depth.
A brief history of the anchorage. The 2009 tsunami that swept across The So. PAC did major damage in the Am Sam island. Boats were totaled, loss of life, city destruction took place and the harbor is still filled with debris.  Anchoring here isn’t easy and often times boat anchors become ensnared in all sorts of things. Concrete blocks,  Mattress, tires, bedding, ropes, chain, baby playpen, garbage of all sorts.
And we’re going to find a place free of obstruction. We watched our fish finder, the bottom looked flat, a few large bumps, a couple of sprawling mounds but at last we found the spot between two boats with 200′ of swinging room between us. I always drive the boat while John  manages the anchor and chain dropping. We have great hand signals that keep us communicating without having to shout the commands over the wind and engine noise.
John gave the first command, I stopped the boat. He dropped the anchor, the boat started drifting back from the wind, John payed out a 3:1 scope, i.e., 40′ depth would equal 120′ of chain lying in a line. At that point, he keeps his hand on the chain and  manual windlass (chain pulley with gear teeth that helps pull in or let out chain using a long handle for cranking). As I back down, let out another 60′ of chain, final tug at 1200-1400 rpm to gauge the holding. He can feel if the anchor dug into the bottom properly by the vibration of chain. We both can tell if the anchor didn’t set, we continue to drift backwards, the boat feels very light on the helm to me and from visual land cues we can see movement. Not good.
Wellll, today was one of those days that lip reading was first. I read John’s highly pronounced lips long before the ‘wave off’ wagging head signal happened! John pulled up a plastic bag filled with garbage. imageStart over. We moved into a new position, just slightly ahead, repeated the arduous task. Again,  No joy.
Let me tell you, John has some finely sculpted muscles since we’ve left the states. All the anchor and chain, rope and rigging pulling has given his upper torso a lot of definition and mass. Even the tattoo artist was impressed.
We tried again, MORE pronounced lip reading from both ends of the boat. John came back to the cockpit and huffed that he didn’t think he would be able to pull it again, especially with more garbage attached to the anchor. I looked around, several boaters were watching us and waving directions.  They all had ideas of where we should try next but we saw the lumps and bumps on the harbor bed.
We drove a ways ahead from the anchorage to take a break and discuss our options. “One more time Honey, you can do this”.  And as Tammy on Anjuli would’ve said to Dan ” don’t be a wuss!” We drove back in, found 38′ of clear bottom. John dropped, I maneuvered the boat and reverse speed. It set! 2 hours later, 3 times of dropping and pulling back up, and not so nice  words about with the anchorage area. 4th time we shut down and gave ourselves the ritual high five hand slap.

An item to purchase: the electric windlass. We heard, discussed, read all the pros and cons, and I am determined to have one, John isn’t so sure.

As it tuned out, we made a wise decision to motor the 40 some hours, the wind picked up close to 25 kts in the anchorage that night.  We set the anchor watch and slept with one eye open. A boat came in on Sunday, did the same dance next to us and mentioned the sea was extremely rough and uncomfortable. He is a 40′ catamaran that performs well in downwind sailing configuration.

Pago Pago, pronounced Pango Pango,  looks and feels like a small Oregon coastal town. Large tuna boats, semi-large container freighters, long high piers for the inter island ferry, smaller fishing fleet boats, mountains surrounding the harbor, tall green trees line the mountains, the Starkist tuna plant gives it the fishing town smell, McDonalds and Carl’s Jr have their special meal deals, (should be banned in my opinion due to the obesity issues here), the Toyota dealership is across the way, colorful buses drive by, the homes have the American design, – colorful  ranch style with peaked roofs and driveways. The American and Am Samoa flags fly on poles throughout the city. Very different from Fr. Poly and Mexico.

imageOur first trip ashore on Monday to check in was so pleasant. The harbor master, customs and immigration process was lengthy but easy. The officials are so kind and welcoming. We could read the street signs, wonderful friendly people called out to us in English, we saw nice coffee shops, open fruit market, clothing shops, all the buses had signs we could read. The ADA wheelchair signs are prominent in the parking lots, the political campaign signs are up.  Just enough to make us feel comfortable and at home. We’re not so lonely here. If it wasn’t for the constant blowing wind funneling through the harbor we could actually live here on our boat.

Food prices are slightly higher than Oregon but that is to be expected with the cost of shipping. Most American brands are here with lots of Asian products. A melding pot of Asian and European descent folks. The Samoans are very large people, not so much tall, just wide. Most of the women have their clothes designed and hand sewn here. There must be one sewing shop on every other block. They  proudly display their personalized clothing in the windows. The dress code is on the modest side. Cover thy scandalous knees, no bare shoulders. I wear my long beach pants and tee-shirts, goodbye flowery shorts.
I went to the laundromat, what a treat to load the washer, push all the buttons for fun and watch the agitator.  Then, to have the clothes dried in hot air, shrinking our stretched out tee shirts back to normal size. Aah , the smell of fresh dried clothes!

Sunday is worship quiet day. Most of the stores are closed, the buses don’t run except the church buses filled with smartly dressed citizens. Beautiful!

It’s amazing to interact with the genuine, friendly people and listen to their  personal  history connected to this island. Everyone we’ve met has some personal connection to mainland US. They want to know where we’re from, what its like,  how many kids we have, how long have we been out, how long we plan to stay, where are we going next.  We found out the Am Sam citizens vote in the US presidential elections. The cab driver wanted to hear our political views so his children have a better idea of what the average American thinks of the candidates. Oh boy, bad year to talk about our views.

The wind has been blowing hard everyday and we’ve tried to make sure one person is aboard at all times. It’s suppose to calm down this weekend so maybe we’ll go ashore together to do some sightseeing. The coastline is just as beautiful as Suwarrow, long white beaches lined with coconut trees, deep blue, emerald to light green water surrounding uprising rocks 200′ tall covered with lush vegetation. This is a view taken from the WWII memorial site trail. The main highway along the coastline winds around for miles, the bus ride is very scenic.image

We are starting our boat projects, taking advantage of the beautiful scenery with hikes planned and a festival this weekend.

 

Bora Bora to Suwarrow July 7 – July 15

Our passage was 700 miles, it should have taken us 5-6 days, 7 at most if we had very light winds. The first two days were very boisterous sailing conditions.  The wind was up to 25 kts and the seas kicked up to over 3 meters from the SE, breaking over our port quarter across the stern. At times we saw 10.7 kts on the speed log as we surfed down some of the larger waves. We had a triple reefed mainsail, reefed staysail and reefed Yankee down to 70% and sailed with a nice balance on the helm. We sailed 147 miles the first day despite the breaking waves. By the third day the SE wind lightened up and we cruised along at 130 miles a day, felt much better, our appetites had returned and got into a sleep pattern that gave us enough rest.

We had two glorious days and nights of velvety sailing, 15 kts of SSW steady wind, with mostly flat seas. The days were were spent reading and basking in the shaded cockpit watching the 1 meter seas roll by with full sails pulling us along at an easy 6 kts. By 8:00 p.m. the moon had already set allowing a full sky of stars and the intensely bright southern Milky Way.   The southern cross normally highly visible blended into the backdrop of the star maze. We even had a small meteor shower for a few hours. As tired as we were we couldn’t stop watching the night  sky.

On one of the fine sailing days, John looked out to the port side and jumped up as we watched a large 24″ diameter counter with solar power drift next to the boat. It was that same instant he looked back behind the boat to see that it was tethered to a large 6′ X 6′ floating 2″ tubular steel frame with net and buoy balls. It was a fish attraction shade, the counter sends a GPS coordinate to the fishing boats informing them the quantity of fish in the area. We had sailed directly over the top of it!  All we can say is we are so grateful for our full keel boat and the keel guard cover plate between the rudder and hull. Had we been a fin keel it could have wrapped around the fin,rudder and or propellor. Also we were sailing and the propellor wasn’t in danger of over wrap. Our lucky, lucky day! Later at anchor we were to see that our bottom paint was totally stripped off in a 3″ wide stripe from the cut water fitting (a fitting that holds the bow sprit to the hull of the boat) to the rudder. John barked at me to let go of the fishing hand line I was trying to save. I lost my lucky, favorite fish hand line, it hooked the net and took everything with a huge yanking snap. Better to lose the line than my fingers.

Alas, the weather constantly changes and we saw from our daily weather satellite and wind forecasts that a very large trough was moving on an easterly course,  well to our south, driving 40-45 kts of wind and large, tall seas  from Fiji to the Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia. We listened on the radio net to the group of boats bound for Tonga as they approached the front. We felt concerned for them but they were well seasoned sailors with good sturdy boats, at most they would lose their appetites and have a couple of sleepless nights.  We knew we wouldn’t get the full brunt of its fury as we were headed in a  more NW direction but wind and seas that large in strength have long tentacles. The wind picked up right on our NW  nose, 20-25 kts with short 6′ waves 3-5 seconds apart, looked like a giant washboard as we leapt and crashed over each white, angry wave. We were being pounded. The boat smashed bow down hard into the troughs, jarring every bone in our bodies, clanging dishes, books, and seat cushions were thrashing around down below. Walls of sea water splashed back well over the dodger and Bimini – (the sun cover over the cockpit), water was running down the walkways in a steady stream. We were drenched, there was no sitting down in the pools of water rushing down into our cockpit seating. The only saving grace – it wasn’t too cold and we didn’t need sunglasses.
We were close hauled – boat pointed as close to the wind direction as possible, headed in a  more NW direction. The sails were working as hard as they could, we were making only 1 kt of headway. We tried falling off the wind (point the boat in a different direction) but there were only 2 options: go south into stronger winds and bigger seas or go north away from our destination where the wind and seas weren’t any better. We started the engine and decided to motor to get through the front as quickly as possible. Mm-hmm, plans are wonderful fantasies! The first hour we bashed and crashed into the waves. The bow dipped, the stern rose up, growled as the propeller cavitation beat the water into a white foamy froth.  The second hour we called out “UNCLE”!  With 2000 rpm and sails, we were making only 2 kts of headway! Normally 2000 rpm will push us along at 5-6 kts, but not this day. A quick calculation said we would burn through all of our fuel in the remaining 119 miles of  our trip. Suwarrow Island doesn’t have fuel or provisioning supplies and there was another 450 mile leg to go after Suwarrow. Exhausted, hungry, achey, sticky with sea water, we shut the engine down and hove to -sails on opposite sides of the mast to stop forward motion and keeps the bow pointing toward the the waves.

Immediately the calm settled over us, relieved,  we shed our wet underwear and hid down below for nearly 23 hours. The wind and seas never took a break, the wind howled through the rigging as the wind and waves pushed us backwards nearly 57 miles! At noon the next day we looked at the conditions,  determined to gain back our distance we tried to sail due north. It took us 8 hours as we motor sailed 55 miles back to our original hove to position. Determination and logic dont always produce the desired results when you’re dealing with Mother Nature. We shut down and hove to again for another 12 hours. At 5:00 a.m. The wind had died down, we released the sails and slowly sailed at 3.5 kts towards Suwarrow. By noon the wind gradually picked back up to a steady 15 kts and we had a marvelous 20 hour sail to the welcoming entrance of Suwarrow.

Suwarrow Island : Atoll. Part of the northern Cook Islands, governed by New Zealand. Very remote atoll, only one entrance on the NE side. The wind was still blowing at 15 kts when we furled the headsails. The current wanted to push us closer to the reef so we carried a little extra speed and had the mainsail ready to rehoist should anything happen to the engine.  We monitored  both the Garmin chartplotter and I-Sailor app on the IPad to navigate over the reefs and winding channel, both systems were spot on. Not too bad, just pay attention.
Suwarrow selfie
The largest island known as Anchorage island is less than 1/2 mile across, about 2-3 miles in diameter. A Small anchorage is in front of the island in the atoll, but can hold as many as 20 boats before the anchorage becomes over 100′ deep.  SuwarrowThe finely crushed coral beach entices you to heaven with mature coconut trees overhanging the lagoon, shady areas along the beach have comfortable weather worn benches, a fire pit for bbqs, a large hammock made from fishing net, mountains of fascinating, colorful shells draw your attention to the ground, giant hermit crabs walk along unafraid. Aside from the wind blowing in the trees, ocean waves crashing on the distant reefs, the birds whooping in mid air,  there are no other sounds.
Suwarrow anchorage
There are several other small islands within the lagoon but due to the fragile ecosystem, it is no longer permissible to dinghy out to the other tiny  Motus/islands. Scuba diving has also been disallowed. We arrived amongst the company of 2 other boats, one of which followed us out of Bora Bora but because of the boat size, steel, tall freeboard bow and hull, large engine carrying 1,000 liters of fuel was able to motor the entire way. But despite Morild’s advantages, they were also delayed 24 hours to Suwarrow. We didn’t feel like such wieners after talking to them.

Harry and Pai, the very friendly Customs and Immigration officers radioed us and gave us a better location for anchoring than we had chosen. We motored to the back of the other 2 boats, dropped anchor in 55 feet, mostly bommie  free, white sand, with the usual welcoming committee of no less than 6 sharks circling us as we shutdown. We barely had time to get the cabin back in presentable order, put on some clothes and throw out the fenders before they arrived in their 20′ aluminum skiff. This was a first for us- not even in formal Mexico, Fr. Poly were we boarded. The inspection, fumigation – an aerosol can of bug killer sprayed through the air for 15 seconds, paperwork, payment of $50 took an hour. The only eyebrow raising was the fact we were carrying 24 cans of beer in addition to the abundant quantity of other spirits. HArry was very excited to receive a six pack to lighten our stores in exchange for 5 pounds of freshly caught yellow fin tuna.

Harry and Pai had gone fishing earlier that morning and caught 7, very beautiful  rainbow runner fish. I believe they may be part of the tuna family. About 26″ in length, weighing nearly 5 pounds each, Harry roasted them over the open BBQ pit. They served rice with coconut curry sauce while the yachties brought the other potluck food. A fabulous way to end a long tough sail, on a remote island with less than a dozen people, sitting under the stars, with a cooling breeze flowing across the lagoon. We carved out trenches in the sand, chose the biggest hermit crabs and had a humorous race watching the silly crabs claw their way forward. It was a truly magical evening on a very mystical island.
That day was worth every muscle ache, salty faced grimace and foul language moment, the sailing days we dream of, the idyllic anchorages and people, and why we continue on through the often times, ill tempered ocean.

The 5 days we spent in Suwarrow were spent paddle boarding and snorkeling across massive coral bommies  teeming with damsel fish, schools of multi colored parrot fish, other unidentifiable colorful  reef fish, strange looking eel creature, and sharks. One day the torrential rain blew in, we showered on deck, captured 25 gallons of rainwater, and hung our swimsuits out for the fresh water rinse. That felt really good as we had to conserve our fresh water for the next leg of the journey.
We lucked out and got to see the manta ray that come in for their 7:00 a.m. early morning cleaning. Small parasitic fish swim on top of the manta ray eating the algae and harmful parasites. We were fortunate, the other boats missed them. Unfortunately the 4′ grey shark took a special interest in my mass despite my growling and waving of limbs to make myself look bigger. Ooh, warm breakfast: rolls and ham hocks on that frame. I confined myself to the dinghy while John bravely continued to film the ray.
One day we had 15 black tip sharks circling the boat, rather a creepy feeling to watch their beady little eyes. They weren’t interested in my swishing fingers to get a close up picture.

The path to the north side of island is dense through the coconut trees, underbrush and mangrove bush. We fed the tuna skin and bone remains to the sharks in ankle deep water. It didn’t take long to have 6-7 sharks snapping and thrashing to catch the tasty morsels.  Hoping to see from where we sailed, we unfortunately were besieged with enormous amounts of trash. Here stretches the human impact on the  planet.  Plastic in every form from our highly civilized existence. John collected 7 toothbrushes within a 10 foot stretch of beach. Bottles, shoes, rope, netting, toys, everything and anything. Such a tragedy to see what we are leaving behind in our wake of free will and reign over the fish and mammals. We hung our heads in shame and silently circumnavigated the reef back to the lagoon.

We took pictures of the famous cabin and Living improvements that Tom Neale built during his stay alone on the island during 1957. Suwarrow RangersThe Rangers currently  live in an open A frame “house” complete with generator, lights and a freezer for their 7 month stay on the island. The kitchen is a separate area with some shelves for stores, dishes and a 2 burner propane camp stove. Their beds are in the open air, the picnic style table and benches share the same space. They catch rain water from the gutters, filing a 500 gallon cistern. When it rains they pull down the tarps that are nailed to the frame. A very simple, often times lonely existence – monitor the boats that are anchored and fish for their food.
Nothing else grows on the island except breadfruit and coconut. The coconut crabs are illegal to eat and fishing in the lagoon is prohibited. A good thing as it attracts the larger gray sharks.

As we checked out we left our departing gifts to our hosts.  A dozen eggs, 2 pampelmousse, and 2 additional beers. We were sad to leave this magnificent place, so pristine and different from south Fakarava.

The sail to American Samoa, a touch of home for the homesick sailors is next.

Departing French Polynesia

Some of the best times we had in Fr. Poly were spent in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas; South Fakarava, Tuamotu; Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. bora boraAnchored at the Bora Bora Yacht Club with this beautiful view of Mt. Otemanu, 727M tall towering over our bow.

We missed out on Huahine and several other islands in the Tuamotu but there is so much more to see on our journey.

Fascinating archeological sites – we would’ve visited each one if time allowed, jagged volcanic terrain, diverse Marquesan culture, beautiful Tahitian artisans and woodcrafters, fakaravasnorkeling in pristine turquoise water, collecting shells, paddleboarding across the colorful coral reefs filled with exotic fish all made our visit exquisite and unforgettable.  The 90 day visa wasn’t long enough, we really wanted more time but getting the extended visa while living in Oregon just didn’t work for us.

Our 15 days in Raiatea and Tahaa were spent on a mooring ball hiding behind the mountains in semi sheltered anchorages from torrential downpours, steady winds of 25+ kts –  gusting over 45+ on some days, blinding lightening and thunder directly overhead.

The deep anchorages in Raiatea and Tahaa were unexpected and we probably missed out on a lot of sights due to bad weather and not wanting to take chances dragging anchor. We heard several calls from boaters requesting assistance, mostly boats that dragged anchor and ended up on the reefs.

But we managed to visit the fragrant vanilla farm on Tahaa – known as the vanilla island, and loaded up with fresh vanilla products. scooter selfieWe also rented a scooter to see Raiatea, that was a fun trip motoring through the villages and interior farm land. The pearl farm was very interesting and the black pearls are exquisite! Couldn’t load up on those but John bought me a beautiful set of earrings.

We won’t miss the painful no-nos (no see-ums) their bites and itching lasted for over 2 long weeks, the pesky mosquitoes that left quarter-sized welts, expensive food, agonizing slow wifi connection  – if there was any at all, and the constant smoky air from burning piles of vegetation.

We met so many cruisers from all over the world, we kept a log of the boats that we met more than twice in the anchorages. Some were from Mexico that came across as part of the Pacific Puddle Jumpers, foreign nationals on their way home via the Panama Canal having been around the world already, and a lot of newbies like ourselves.  We received a tremendous amount of information and knowledge from cruisers that had already been to the places on our future cruising route. It was hard to say good bye to those we bonded with, we will miss our sailing buddies who are heading off to Tonga and beyond.

We wrap up this leg of our adventurous passage making and mark our one year cruising life all in the same week.  1 yr sailingWe laugh at our mistakes – thankfully we didn’t suffer losses, shed tears when we wave goodbye to friends, cry when I think of family at home, toast our accomplishments with lots of rum and whiskey, and high five ourselves when we set the anchor in the idyllic waters.  We’ve discovered so much more about the world and Pacific ocean, ourselves, each other, our boat, perseverance, faced our fears head on –  I can now swim underwater, and finally admitted that I brought too many clothes.

We’re anxious to begin our next 1200 mile journey that introduces us to new cultures, interesting lands and anchorages, and new cruising friends.

Westward bound this week for Suwarrow (Suvarov) Atoll – Northern Cook Island. New Zealand territory. If you have a chance – read the book “An Island to Oneself” by Tom Neale to get some history of this place.

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Opunohu Bay, Moorea

We have been in Opunohu Bay, Moorea for the last week after leaving Tahiti. Had a fantastic 2 hour lively sail, hand steered through the tall waves just for the thrill of it and dropped anchor in beautiful coral sand behind the reef.  Sandy beaches lined with coconut and palm trees, clear water, and peaceful surroundings. Opunoa bay  It was cloudy most of the time, had a couple of howling windy days, gusting 25 – 35 knots, enough that we took 3 hour anchor watches throughout the first night. Easy to sit up and read or watch movies compared to night watches on passage. A catamaran came in and dropped his anchor very close to us. Even in the best conditions we are nervous when the reef is so close to our anchored position and to have this guy swinging our way made the sleepless night even worse.

We snorkeled 3 days out on the ocean side reef and along the shoreline. The coral appears to be stagnant, covered with a growing, muddy algae crop across the tops of the heads. We suspect the nutrient rich water may be aiding the algae growth.  The village runoff, ski doos, lagoon tour boats, cruising yachts, and the commercial princess line cruising yachts are taking the toll on the coral’s demise.

Across the top of the water are large clusters of floating dead algae with prickly stems all strung together like long stringers of rope.  It was entwined in our arms and legs as we glided across the water surface.

In a few spots we viewed a few patches of healthy anemones. They were about 3’ in diameter, beautiful white and light brown ones attached to the sides of the coral heads with long waving tentacles and had orange, brown and purple Nemos swimming through them. We even saw a couple of light pink anemones.  We hope the camera was able to pick up the coral heads as the lighting wasn’t very good on the snorkeling days. We saw some different fish compared to Fakarava. The red squirrel eyed fish, a star eyed fish (had 4-5 lines streaking back from his eyes, looked like long eyelashes), an eel, sea a yellow conch that was nearly 12” long, giant sea cucumbers, and schools of tiny bright purple fish and so many others. We saw several rays sitting quietly on the bottom, the spotted ray was gliding peacefully with large bottom fish trailing him.

We motored the dinghy around the reef channel, nearly 2 miles to Cook’s Bay. Incredible scenery with the deep bay lined with the tall basalt craggy mountains. Coconut, banyan trees and palm trees grow along the banks and mountain sides. Cooks bay A pineapple farm travels upward along the steep hillside. (they sell bunches of 5 small ones tied together, fragrant and delicious).  An archeological site is visible from the water, a marae (a ceremonial stone platform with walls used for religious and human sacrifices) stands out vividly. We tried to imagine what it must have been like for Captain Cook to sail into the pristine bay with only the natives standing along the sandy shores waiting for newcomers. Perhaps some of them gleefully clapping awaiting their next meal.

Greg Clark – we did see the Mines of Moorea,  strained our eyes but didn’t catch a glimpse of the Balrog, think he sunk into the 118′ water depth below us.  The mountains are SO cool, can’t wait to show you the pictures!

Today the dark, muddy bay is lined with a half demolished hotel, old concrete wharfs, homes of the rich and famous, an “upscale” hotel chain with those glass bottom rooms overlooking the water,  a snack bar, and lagoon tour boats moored at the Mobil gas station dock.  The water along the shoreline is muddy with clumps of dead algae. We’re glad we didn’t anchor in the bay despite the very calm water.

We’re stowed and ready to depart for Raiteaa.  It’s about 100 miles to our next anchorage. It will be an overnighter, 18 hours of light winds and small 1.8 Meter waves. As two of our solar panels have quit, the housebank batteries need a deep cycle charge so we’ll unfortunately need to motor for at least 6 hours, pushing us along at 5 – 6 kts and burning 15 gallons of diesel. With the wind coming from behind us the fumes generally blow into the cabin causing a headache.

We get lonely sometimes, think of our family and friends everyday, miss the conveniences of a house when we want clean laundry and a shower but we’re doing well and very grateful for our life style.  We’ve met nice cruisers and made new friends, continue to say “good-bye” to them and move on knowing there are other cruisers like us looking to make a connection.

Oh, and a really exciting note, I repaired the sunbrella cover on a headsail for a cruising boat the other day with my heavy duty sewing machine, I made $100 !!! paid for 10 hours of wifi, ice cream and 15 gallons of fuel. Seriously, there went $100.00

We’ll see you later, and if you have time look up Hotopuu Bay, Raiteaa on google earth, that’s where we’re headed for a few days as we migrate north from various anchorages to Taha’a.

Waiting For The Big Waves To Move Off

It was a quick 2 night, uneventful passage from Fakarava to Papeete, Tahiti on May 28th. We had a lucky motor/sail as the wind never picked up enough to sail the entire distance but we outran the SPCZ as it moved south.  It has been a productive week in the Papeete Marina with wifi, shopping, shower facilities all so close, stepping off the boat onto the dock has been wonderful – no salty dinghy ride to shore.

We were able to FaceTime with Mom, my sister and sons, that was a treat I didn’t anticipate. We had some boat projects to work on – lost a dinghy oar in rolly conditions back in Nuku Hiva – a French boat gave us an old one he had, traded for some chocolate bars –  nice guy; the dinghy motor fell apart while in Fakarava – purchased a new one in Tahiti and cheaper than US for Japanese manufactured Tohatsu 2 stroke that is unavailable in the US;  2 solar panels went dead – no replacement available, new laptop broke just as we left Nuku Hiva – needs to be shipped back to the US, the Bluetooth keyboard for the IPad broke- too expensive to buy a new one,  ordered a new raw water pump for engine – have a small but irritating leak.  We’re in the process of ordering all these replacement parts to be sent to American Samoa where there are no customs taxes for parts and can be shipped via US  Express mail service.  A huge dent to the cruising budget but it’s the cost of living just like home and driving a used car, something needs to be repaired or replaced.

We had planned to sail to Moorea today but the weather system south of us turned into a gale. 018The winds are suppose to pick up to 25 kts with 4 meter waves on Wednesday/Thursday moving NE. Just above the multi-colored hook shape are the Society Islands where we are. We’ve done that wild sail before, hell no we’re not sailing it if we don’t have to.  Honestly – not a lot of fun!  And its just about the time we were planning on snorkeling the reefs and paddle boarding around Cook’s Bay. This weather system is suppose to move off by NEXT Monday.

The wind was blowing out of the northwest today sending waves right into the Marina, white caps were in the harbor. By tomorrow the wind should subside enough so that we can motor around the island into Taina anchorage until the gale bows off.

Marina life is great for a few days, after that, sensory overload. The cars, people, noise and shops become overwhelming. Aside from the convenient Marina life in Tahiti, we’ve had a great time people watching, Grottotouring the island via car.  This is a grotto, one of many along the west coast of Tahiti. Beautiful scenery and coastline.

Shopping,  buying beautiful Tahitian print fabrics, eating very expensive ordinary meals – $63 for a small plate of pesto spagetti, 10′ pizza, and 2 beers.     Wifi with speed just a little above the old dial up is spotty and frustrating but better than no wifi on the ocean.

We’ve said our goodbyes to buddy boats Sababa and Athanor, each boat heading their own direction. Our newest friends on SV Chevalde whom we met in Hiva Oa, Marquesas happened to be walking along the malecon and spotted our boat. We had a happy reunion with them. They are anchored in the Taina anchorage where we’re going tomorrow, maybe we’ll sail together until our visa expires. Never know who you meet along the way but it always turns out to be a strong bond between cruisers.

Waiting and watching the weather forecast everyday to depart Tahiti. We are ready for our next adventure!