As you probably already know, life doesn’t always go as planned and we seem to constantly be changing our plans. This is one of the privileges of being a long-term cruiser – we live the free life. Our new motto is: “We have no plans and – by golly- we’re going to stick to it!”
Some of you follow us on Marine Traffic and are thinking – what the hell is going on? Why have they sailed from the Society Islands back eastwards to the Tuamutos? Well, we’re going this way because we are on the way back to the Marquesas, not to spend another hurricane season on those wonderful islands, but because they are a stopover on the way to Hawaii.
Yes, we’re going to follow the ancient Polynesian migration route and sail northward from the Marquesas to Hawaii, exactly as the Polynesians did when they discovered and populated the Hawaiian Islands. Our plan is to sail back over the equator, northwards, 2500 nm to Hawaii – just about the same distance we sailed when we crossed the Atlantic from Cape Verde to the Caribbean. This little sojourn should take three weeks or so.
We’ll spend the hurricane season there and next year about May, assuming that both the crew and boat are “fit for fight”, we’ll continue our northward trek to Glacier Bay in Alaska.
Yes – you read correctly and no, we haven’t lost our minds – Alaska. We’ll then sail southwards via the inland waterway along the Alaskan and Canadian coasts to Seattle and then further down to Mexico. This is supposed to be an incredible journey and the natural beauties of the landscapes should be beyond compare. Everyone tells us the along the way we’ll see lots of whales and Kodiak bears.
We haven’t decided what to do after we get to Mexico. . We could sail back out to the Marquesas and then continue over the Pacific or we could continue southward along the Central American coast to Panama and then transit and go east. “We have no plan and –by golly- we’re going to stick to it!”
So how in the world did we get this idea? Well, we know the crew of the Gwendolyn, the Danish boat that recently sank near Niue (the crew was rescued after three hours). They sailed twice to Hawaii to spend the South Pacific hurricane season there and loved it. Our Australian friends, Lynn and David inspired us to sail to Alaska by telling us of the Inland Waterway and Glacier Bay. They showed us their photobook from that trip and we decided that this is something that we simply must experience.
This extra little “half Pacific Loop” in the Northern Pacific does mean that we will spend an additional two-and-a-half years in the Pacific and sail something to the tune of 10,000 extra nautical miles (almost a half a circumnavigation).
“Are we having fun yet?” As Carsten likes to say. Damned right we are! You will have to admit that we have made some wild plans here.
The Society Islands
We’ve already posted Tonny and Marianne’s chronical of their trip with us from Tahiti to Bora Bora. Here’s a bit of a supplement from Carsten about the trip going out and I’ll write about the trip coming back to the Tuamutos.
We had a lazy daysail to Moorea, about 15nm. There are several good anchorages here, but as usual, they were all filled to capacity. The problem here is that the waters around Moorea are deep, so anchorages are on “shelves” where the water is shallow. Naturally, the capacity of these “shelves” is limited, and they quickly fill with boats. We decided to sail all the way to the bottom of a fjord and anchor there, which, as it happened, turned out to be an excellent choice. The winds picked up that evening and those out on the shelves got their money’s worth of wind (and worrying about their anchor holding).
The next morning we dinghied over to “Sting Ray City” so named because the tourist boats feed the sting rays so the tourists can snorkel amongst them while the black tip sharks patrol a few meters away.
This was quite a baptism for Tonny and Marianne, neither of whom had ever snorkeled before. The idea of sticking your head under water and breathing through a plastic tube is something of a challenge (perhaps even more when you are surrounded by sharks!). Bente, our previous guest had the same experience on Fakarava. Adding to the challenge were the rays that tapped you the shoulder or back, asking for some sardines. An unexpected touch from a ray scares the daylights out of you.
Everything went well. Tonny’s mask leaked because it couldn’t sit tightly on his moustache. I have the same problem, but have learned to live with it – I can also clear my mask underwater. That does take a bit of practice.
Fantastic snorkeling!!! The rays were everywhere and the tourist guides picked them up and hugged them while the rest of us could run our hands down their backs.
Definitely something to write home about. It was worth the 45-minute dinghy ride.
Next morning we hiked out to the pineapple farm. Moorea is known for its pineapples and we thought we could fill our fruit larder with pineapples direct from the farm (yum, yum – I love fresh pineapple). We found the fields, although it looked as if they had just harvested. The farmer’s house wasn’t near the fields so we weren’t able to buy any. Damned disappointing.
Tonny and Marianne only have three-and-a-half weeks with us, so we need to keep a careful eye on our weather windows if we are to see all the Society Islands. We would have liked to stay several more days on Moorea, but the weather was just perfect for a night sail to Huahine. Since this would be the last chance for at least a week, weatherwise, we upped anchor and set sail that afternoon.
Moorea-Huahine is about 100nm. Perhaps a little more since you have to go around Huahine to get to the pass on the other side. That distance means sailing through the night. We had a great start with good wind and Capri showed her speed, dancing lightly over the swells. Unfortunately, the wind died at sundown (as it frequently does) and we were forced to start the engine and motorsail (meaning we used the engine for propulsion, but had the mainsail up to give us a bit more speed and save on the diesel). Later that night, when Vinni and Tonny had the watch, the wind died completely and Vinni took down the sail. We continued on the engine and happily, the swells were small and regular so it was comfortable sailing, and we could enjoy the star encrusted night sky.
Next afternoon, we entered the lagoon at Huahine and anchored in front of the town. The town here is not especially big, but it has a surprisingly well-stocked supermarket. Huahine Yacht Club certainly new how to treat sailors – Happy Hour every day at 5 o’clock, a pitcher of beer only $9 (really cheap out here). At those prices, the place was mobbed with thirsty sailors and quite a few locals. We ordered breadfruit chips with our pitcher and it took so long to get them that we had to order another pitcher of beer (now my innate skepticism tells me the kitchen did it on purpose to sell more beer – but what the hell – the beer was cold and good and now we had breadfruit chips to eat).
A great king from times past lies buried here on Huahine in one of the Marae-maraes (Marquesans call them Pae-Pae). This is a raised stone platform where houses or alters were built. We needed the exercise so we rented some bicycles and off we went across to the other side of the island. The bicycles were practically new – only one week old – but to put it in the vernacular – they were pieces of shit. They hadn’t been assembled properly and hadn’t been greased or oiled.
Ok – Despite the transportation difficulties, we got out to the Marae-maraes. Of course, they were in a small valley off the road and we had to trek up a narrow path over the first set of hills. The heat was hard on Tonny and Marianne. Vinni and I have apparently gotten used to 35 degrees (95 degree F) and extreme humidity. The area was filled with banana, papaya, mango and one enormous banyan tree.
Back at the bicycles, we rode out to an idyllic little beach just behind the reef and joined the local children who were playing the crystal clear water.
We were sore in both our behinds as well as our legs when we returned the bikes later that afternoon. We told the woman who rented out that they were terrible and she apologized profusely – but apparently, she didn’t regret it enough to give us our money back.
July in Polynesia is Heiva time. Heiva is the great annual gathering of the Polynesians where they compete in everything you can imagine, from coconut husking over outrigger races to dancing. The big competitions are on Tahiti and each island sends their very best to Tahiti to compete. But, each island also holds its own Heiva and the ones competing locally are still magnificent and there is entertainment enough for the entire month.
Huahine is no exception. Outside of town, there is a huge fairground and they erect an enormous tent. Around the tent, there are restaurants, games and booths with lotteries. We bought tickets and went that evening for the dancing.
The dancers were good – better than good. Look at the video. I simply don’t understand how the girls can shake their behind that way. And note – it is only the behind they shake – the rest of the body has to stay completely still so they can make sensuous movements with their arms.
The boys must gelatin in their knees – I might be able to move my legs like that for a few seconds – not the minutes like they do (if I did, I’d have to go directly to the emergency room afterwards). The artform here is the same as with the girls. The legs move, but the rest of the body stays absolutely still so other more sensual movements can be made.
A very pleasant evening that was more than worth the price of admission. Next morning we weighed anchor and sailed southwards, inside the lagoon. Beautiful trip and incredibly jade colored waters.
The weather cooperated and we left for Raiatea/Tahaa. Good sailing, even though we had all the wind we needed and then some. When we entered the lagoon, the winds were so heavy that we couldn’t anchor in front of the town or just behind the reef. We finally found a space in Apooiti Marina.
And now, we tried something new. We lay Capri next to the dock, tied her up and it suddenly dawned on us that this was the first time in over 14 months that Capri had been on a dock – we’ve been on the hook non-stop for over the past year. The last time we docked was in Panama in 2018!
It was a totally new experience for us to be able to just step off Capri onto a dock – no loading ourselves and all our crap down into the dinghy and sailing in (getting wet from the swells or rain) to some crappy little pier where getting off-and-on the dinghy was a treacherous and acrobatic nightmare.
Hmmmm – yes dear reader, pure luxury (you become happy for the small things in life when you are a cruising sailor).
Raiatea/Tahaa are twin islands in one lagoon and the origin of the Polynesian culture. This is the point where their culture and religion started and spread.
Early next morning we set out and circumnavigated Tahaa, dropping anchor at “The Coral Gardens”. The corals here are world class snorkeling if the rumors are to be believed. There is a small pass through the reef between two tiny islands (motus in Polynesian), where the corals apparently have optimal growth conditions. You beach your dinghy on the one island, walk down to the other end, 500 yards or so, wade out into the channel and Bang! There you are, swimming around in an aquarium. We’re surrounded by colorful reef fish, the coral grows in abundance and variety. There are so many things to see at once that we can get dizzy.
Fortunately, we’ve bought some Vaseline for Tonny to put in his moustache so his mask won’t leak. Tonny and Marianne get the experience of a lifetime here. Tonny, who is a marine biologist, regrets he never learned to snorkel or dive. They are both “high” when they get out of the water and use words like “incredible” and “unbelievable”.
Note how clear the water is – we have visibility of over 100 feet here. And if you think I can swim as fast as the video shows me doing – you’re wrong – that is simply the current carrying me along. The current was running close to 4-5 knots. We could barely manage to navigate our way between the coralheads, sometimes the corals were so close to the surface that we had to suck our stomachs all the way in to pass over them (well, not me since I have a completely flat stomach, a tribute to the tight muscles I have there (if you believe that then I have some swamp land I want to sell to you!)).
There was a pearl farm just across the lagoon and the next morning found us getting the guided tour and being shown the entire process, including the insertion of the irritant that will become the pearl as well as the harvest of the pearls. This was a large production with five Chinese workers harvesting and inserting on a “per piece” wage. Each of them were harvesting 400 per day, meaning something like 2000 pearls per day. Not all the pearls were jewelry quality though.
The farm had a jewelry store attached, of course. Marianne found a beautiful ring with two pearls. We had to swallow an extra time when we heard the price, but that didn’t stop Marianne. “I’ll take it”, she said without hesitation, while we saw Tonny getting pale in the background. He hadn’t quite expected that, but he got his revenge when they were back on Tahiti where he got a tattoo on his overarm and could show off is t-shirt from Huahine Yacht Club.
The weather was cooperating wonderfully and we could weigh anchor the next morning and sail to Bora Bora, perhaps the most famous of the Society Islands.
It is now July 25 and we just said good-bye to Tonny and Marianne at the airport ferry. It is always sad to say good-bye to good friends and it seems strange that they will be going back to their usual and comfortable surroundings while we stay out here.
Whenever we have visitors, we always manage to put on a couple of pounds so I announce that we need some exercise. “Why don’t we rent a couple of bicycles and pedal around the island, it is only 30 kilometers and there is only one hill?” Carsten’s facial expression says it all, but next morning we are at Avis, renting a couple of bicycles. Carsten tries mightily to convince me that we should rent a scooter instead, pointing out that one scooter is almost as cheap as two bicycles. Despite his eloquence, I resist his arguments.
The various books I have read say that Bora Bora, a volcanic island is a disappointment. We don’t agree. Despite a sore butt (lousy bicycle saddle), we enjoy our trip around the island. A wedding couple pass by us in a cortege several times, with horns blaring as they make their way around the island visiting family and friends on this wedding day. Everyone on the island is family in one way or another. They have a photographer taking pictures at strategic spots along the way where the background is particularly spectacular. One of the places is at the top of the (one) hill and I ask if we can take a picture since the bride is so pretty.
The weather was great the entire time we had visitors, but those good days are now over. A mara ´umu (a high-pressure system that reinforces the trade winds) comes in over Bora Bora and we have gale force winds and lots of rain for five days. No way we can snorkel or dive, the visibility underwater is crap. So we don’t get to dive with the Manta Rays on the other side of the island.
We did get to snorkel with Tonny and Marianne behind the reef where the locals once again feed the rays. Here the sharks were everywhere, circling us like the Indians in old westerns circled the wagon trains. Once again we were surrounded by colorful reef fish and further down a 8-10 foot Moraine eel came out of his hiding place to see what all the commotion was about. The locals say the eel is over 20 years old.
Finally, the weather broke and we could weigh anchor and sail back to Tahaa and Raiatea. On the way out of the anchorage, we got a shock. We left our mooring ball early in the morning. The water here in the mooring area is clear as glass and 5-6 meters deep. We see coral heads everywhere but the area is supposedly safe to sail in, even with our seven-foot keel. We snorkeled around Capri several times while moored here and thought the “bommies” were only about 1 meter high.
We had just left the mooring ball and were on the edge of the sailing channel with Carsten at the helm when, BANG!, we struck. I’d gone down below. Capri dropped her bows down into the water as if she were on a seesaw. I wasn’t holding on to anything so I whacked my head against a doorjamb and ended up with a nice bruise on my forehead. I ran up to Carsten who was carefully backing Capri away from the offending bomie. I took the helm while he raced below to see if we were taking in water anywhere and if the keel bolts were still tight. Fortunately, everything was tight. Carsten snorkeled under Capri a little later and could see she had gotten a real smack in the nose.
Back to Raiatea
The wind favored us and came from the south, giving us a wonderful reach sail with sunshine and moderate swells of only 1.5 meters. It doesn’t get any better that this when sailing eastwards.
We have problems with our anchor winch. The problems began while Tonny and Marianne were here. Carsten was changing out the remote control when he discovered that the gearbox was leaking oil. He pulled it out, but 13-year old bolts are not as strong as they were when it was installed and he twisted one off. Fortunately, he and Tonny could make a new bolt out of a stainless steel rod Carsten has and after three hours of sweating and cursing, the boys could come up in the cockpit and announce, “mission accomplished”. Only the bolt of course, not the leak.
Back on Raiatea we, once again, are at the dock in Apooiti Marina. A week later, with new seals and bearings flown in from Tahiti, the winch is as good as new and we can anchor again. In the meantime, we dove on the outside of the reef, a nice dive but not as fascinating as our snorkeling on either Tahaa or Bora Bora.
I turn 60 next week and I been emphatic that I will not, under any circumstances, spend my birthday at sea on the dogwatch. I want to be pampered a bit and have a nice dinner at a good restaurant. So we sail over to Huahine and therefore we don’t revisit the wonderful snorkeling at Tahaa.
We meet our Danish-Swedish sailing friends, Kim and Marie at anchor in the lagoon. Unfortunately, they are behind on their schedule and need to leave to get to New Zealand before the hurricane season starts and that means they can’t stay and celebrate my birthday. Carsten has decided he is going to make sure I have a birthday to remember. He certainly made sure of that!
This time we rent a scooter and drive around the island. The southern island is particularly beautiful.
The trip ends being much more expensive than expected. On our way back, Carsten suggests we visit the Shell Museum. A Shell Museum has a souvenir store attached, of course. I’ve already received my birthday present, a gold ring with two perfect pearls and tiny diamonds, so I really don’t expect any more gifts. While I was looking at the enormous collection of shells, I hear Carsten say, “Vinni, can I borrow your neck for a minute?” He’s found a mother-of-pearl necklace and earrings for me. I protest (but only faintly), that we have a budget and we’ve already spent a lot of money on the ring, but he insists, saying “hell, you only turn 60 once in your life”. He’s right, of course and I follow Marianne’s good example and say, “I’ll take it!”.
Thank you Carsten.
We’ve decided to sail onto Moorea and Tahiti the day after my birthday. The weather gods had been kind to me on my 60th, probably because I’ve been a good girl all year (Hah!). The next morning we awake to rain and not just rain – pouring rain the entire day. Visibility is next to zero. We were ready for sailing but decided that discretion is the better part of valor and we can easily wait until the high-pressure cleaner stops. The wait was long – until late afternoon.
This isn’t according to plan. The rain stops, but now the bilge pump starts up. Carsten tastes the water in the bilge – salt! No question, Capri needs to be hauled out and the keel bolts checked. When we tap on the bolts, they sound perfect, but perhaps there is a tiny crevice letting water in between the keel and the hull. If that is true then the keel bolts will eventually corrode and the keel fall off.
Not something we want to have happen. We daren’t depart on three week long passages without knowing for certain that our keel is ok. Carsten also checks our drive shaft seal to see if that is leaking, but apparently, it isn’t. Neither is the drain on our propane gas locker.
The only possibilities to get Capri hauled are either in Tahiti or on Raiatea, only 20 miles away. Carsten is leaning towards sailing to Tahiti since he knows the boatyard there, but Raiatea is closer and I convince him that is better. The boatyard has space and we sail over the next day and haul (good thing all this didn’t happen on my birthday).
Capri is on land and now we can see the damage is not as great as we feared. Carsten had forgotten that under water, things get magnified and everything looks bigger than it is. The manager of the boatyard is adamant that there is no problem with the keel, saying Capri can withstand a much harder hit than what she got. He keeps saying it must be the drive shaft packing that is leaking. But that was changed only two months ago on Tahiti.
Carsten crawls back under the engine and this time he finds out that the boatyard man that had installed the seal had forgotten to tighten the clamps that hold it in place. What an idiot (pardon the language)! He mounted it then probably got disturbed by something and never came back and tightened it up. This is really serious, had the seal fallen completely off, the water ingress would have been enormous. We could have ended up losing Capri if that had happened while we were away from the boat.
Once again, we are reminded that everything and we mean everything that a boatyard does must be checked and rechecked. They never get it right.
Since Capri is on the hard and since it is weekend, we give her two coats of anti-fouling, that is, I give her two coats while Carsten polishes. This was done only two months ago, but now she shines like a brand new boat just out of the showroom. The keel has been sanded and epoxied and now she is ready to go. This time we sprayed the keel and the surrounding areas with anti-cockroach so we didn’t get any uninvited guests on board.
Capri and crew are ready to go again. The weather near Moorea and Tahiti is crap because of a Mara´umu. We decide to sail directly to the Tuamutos.
Two days and 260nm later we approach Rangiroa an early morning. We haven’t been able to avoid sailing between these atolls and reefs at night, nor have we escaped the bad weather created by the mara´umu. I’m nervous as I navigate Capri between Rangiroa and Tikihau in the middle of the night. The channel here is only 6nm wide and there are reefs sticking far out from shore. In keeping with the spirit that it is Carsten and Vinni that are sailing and therefore it has to be difficult, the squalls come in a seemingly endless line. Visibility is nil and I’m soaked. Ok all you “old salts”, you can call me an instrument sailor if you want, but at times like this – all you can do is trust your chartplotter and keep Capri in the middle of the channel.
The past five hours we’ve deliberately slowed our speed since we don’t want to attempt the pass at Rangiroa in the dark. Sunrise and we’re ready to go. As usual, despite all our calculations, it isn’t slack water. On the contrary, there is a 4-5 knot current flowing in the pass. Lots of maelstroms, meter high standing waves and a flock of dolphins that find playing in this type of water to be a thrill.
Rangiroa is a bit of a disappointment when we talk about the island, but the snorkeling is out of this world. Utterly fascinating when we are surrounded by a school of Saddleback Snapper.
We’ve never seen such large school of fish or seen them swim so tightly packed. They followed us as we snorkeled on, the black tip sharks keeping an eye on all of us. We hope the sharks will only have eyes for the snapper, not us.
We resist the temptation to dive in the pass with the dolphins, but we enjoy the daily dolphin show from ashore.
Capri wasn’t the only one that had to fight its way through the pass. Even Imagine, a 150-foot sloop had to have its engines going full blast to get through. They could only make 1.5-2 knots against the current – see the video.
The weather here on Rangiroa isn’t showing itself from its best side. Another Mara úmu shows up and whips the swells inside the 60nm long lagoon up to a meter high. I can begin to feel my eternal enemy, seasickness, making noises in the background – and this while we are at anchor!
As if all this wasn’t enough, our toilet decides to go on strike. Total strike. The hose from the toilet to the holding tank is completely clogged. Hmmm – I don’t do toilets and it is the skippers job to ensure that waste can be safely disposed of in the head. Besides, fixing toilets is and has always been a male job –even in this day and age of equality. Normally, I would spare you the gory details, but not this time.
Carsten works in the head for several hours, standing in excrement up to his ankles. Dresscode is his birthday suit. The wife, or moi, stands in the odiferous door opening, handing him diverse tools as needed. Everything is taken apart and put back together several times. No joy.
Carsten decides that the clog is somewhere in the middle of the discharge hose that runs from the toilet to the holding tank. This hose, of course, is hidden behind walls and cabinets. With some (a lot!) of difficulty we manage to get the damned thing out.
Now we’re out on the bathing platform. Carsten spends an hour, twisting and hitting the hose against the edge of the stern. Every time he hits the hose against the stern, Sh*t flies out in all directions. Not only excrement, but also packed calcium scale comes out in large clumps. I’m standing there holding the “plumber’s best friend” and the one end of the hose in my hand, hoping to minimize the mess. No joy here either.
Finally, the hose seems clear and we get hose back in place and the toilet mounted. But, the toilet is old and mounting and dismounting it has taken its toll. Now it begins to leak by one of the bolts where the plastic has broken. Carsten drowns it in Sikaflex and says the toilet can’t be used for the next 24 hours. So, we’re using a bucket – wonderful. It certainly is idyllic being a cruising sailor.
I really feel for Carsten when he has to work on the toilet. Afterwards, someone has to clean up and that person is me. So now, I’m in my birthday suit in the head cleaning the entire room twice with chlorine water. Afterwards Carsten and I can clean the cockpit with chlorine water. Thereafter, the crew soaks for a long time in the ocean, then showers, not once, but twice. Is this yukky? Yukky doesn’t describe it – you had to be there.
There was no discussion; we decided to order a new toilet and hose. The internet here on Rangiroa sucks, so we have to wait until we get to Fakarava where there is good internet and Yacht Services who speak both French and English.
Our trip back out the pass is quite an experience. We need all the horsepower Capri can give us since we can’t use our sails (the wind is directly against us). We thought we were being clever by asking the local dive shop when there would be slack water in the pass. “Don’t worry, he said, the two Mara úmu’s we’ve had have raised the water in the lagoon, so you’ll just have some current going out – nothing to worry about”.
We took his advice. The pass here is one big S shape and therefore it is difficult to see what the seastate is inside the pass before you are actually in the middle of it. Once there we run into 8-10 standing waves at least 1.5-2 meters high. Too late to turn around, nothing for it but full throttle and try to steer through. We had following current of 3-4 knots and are thrown violently from one side of the pass to the other, coming dangerously close to the reef on both sides. The adrenalin is flowing in both crew until we are completely through and fully out to sea. Then we can let up and relax.
Unfortunately, there was no excess energy to take pictures or a video, so you’ll have to rely on the written word.
It is 166nm to Fakarava and the weather gods smiled on us the whole way. Light winds, small swells, sunshine, no squalls and a star strewn sky for the night watch. For once, we get smooth sailing through a pass – the entrance to Fakarava is completely without drama. The next day we order a new toilet and hose, arriving with the next supply ship in one week.
But, another Mara úmu finds its way out here. Good thing we had wonderful weather while our friends were here.
On one hand, I’m happy that they had such wonderful weather, on the other hand, I could wish they could experience it so they would know that Carsten and Vinni aren’t exaggerating when we talk about the weather out here.
Yippee!! The new toilet and hose have arrived. Now – who’s going to install it? Oh – says Carsten – me again. We gather our strength and courage before going at it again. One more day of totally disgusting work – at least as bad as last time.
As I write this we can be happy we have a well-functioning toilet and now we can relax and enjoy the next couple of weeks here on this exotic atoll. We want to snorkel in the south pass and we will be waiting for a good weather window for the 500nm uphill sail to Nuku Hiva and the start of our next grand adventure.