Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Bora Bora ... passage to Penrhyn (finally!) ... now at anchor off Penrhyn

Greetings!

It seems like a long time since I sat at our chart table to write a little note, and even longer since I did it on passage, but it is becoming pretty natural to type while reaching around Benjamin. Tonight he is in his carrier, so at least I have all my digits ... much quicker than with only one finger when he is just in my arms. {Aside ... this little note has been two days in the making, as I started it on passage and we are now at anchor. I hope you will bear with me :)}

I thought you might like some highlights of our visit to Bora Bora, now that we are beginning our visit to the Cook Islands.

-- Last Friday, Victoria and I went to town (Vaitape) and followed the advice of our friends on SV Vales, Valeo to get her pearls from Fakarava made into earrings. (For any cruisers headed to Bora Bora - We went to the little T-shirt shop across from the town dock that had "see no evil / hear no evil / say no evil" monkeys on its sign. The owner has a little workshop at the back where he makes jewelry on the spot. He spoke French to me and English with Victoria). Mounting the pearls was 1000 Francs (CPF) well spent, and Victoria was thrilled :) It occurs to me that to put 1000 CPF into perspective for the earrings, at the cafe across the street, most lunches were 1500-2500 CPF and the least expensive meal was a panini for 1300 CPF. It was *bucketing* rain all that day (and the next) so we elected to eat at the cafe anyway, rather than standing outside with a (cheaper and bigger) lunch from one of the trucks. Victoria glowed in her new danglies :)

-- Speaking of rain - holy smokes, did it rain during our last couple of days in Bora Bora. We didn't mind this from a "holiday" perspective, but it sure made drying laundry and packing the upper deck a challenge. Some clothing was already starting to show signs of mould even after two days. We will have lots of airing out to do when we get to Penrhyn. {The passage also was very wet, and we have had our first no-squall day in a week today (Sunday). Diapers are drying on the lifelines, and I will replace them with the rest of our laundry when we move to our new anchorage. Hopefully there is no lasting damage from the mould/damp.}

-- On Saturday morning, we brought a little cross-stitched gift that Victoria had made (her own idea) to Deanna, the woman who had given us the pearl jewelry. She wanted to make something for us, so she invited us to meet her at church the following day. The kids and I went to the service, but unfortunately, she was sick. We enjoyed the nearly two-hour service none the less. Both the church and most of the people were decked out in red & white. As far as I could tell, the choir was in the middle of the sanctuary, although rich a capella singing rang from every corner of the building. A nice touch was that the lesson and a short message were offered in English, French, and Tahitian. At least I understood 2/3 of that segment ... after this, several people spoke, including the pastor, but by this time, I had no idea what was going on! It seemed like there were three sermons, in addition to the discussion of the lesson. The sanctuary was also a hive of activity with kids coming and going, and playing outside on the grass. Their Sunday school (taken quite seriously; we met the Directrice after the service, and it turns out that our friend Deanna is her deputy) takes place at 8:00, before the service. Thankfully, we were seated near a door, so after about 1 1/2 hours, I took Benjamin outside where Victoria played with him for a while. We were all getting a bit stir-crazy by the end, but I was glad that we had been invited. On our way back, we bought a "regime" of bananas (11kg of green bananas that are now all ripening at once ... Victoria and Johnathan each took an end to carry them back (with much grumbling) to the dinghy, and they are suspended where they won't bash into anything on the aft deck.)

-- We entertained ourselves one evening looking up the published rates for the hotels we anchored beside (St Regis, etc). At first I thought the rate of 150,000 CPF wasn't too bad ... then I realized it was not for the week, it was for one night! Once a room has been booked, guests need to buy all their meals ($200 for dinner isn't a stretch), and flights. The surprising thing was how many regular folk we saw in town -- people must really save up for this trip of a lifetime. As for us, we ate out a few times (when else will we be in Bora Bora?!) and we also walked to town several time to eat at the trucks that park in front of the town dock. Our favourites were pizza, poisson cru "Chinois", chow mein, chicken & fries, and steak & fries ... I guess we had a lot of favourites! Max and I even escaped across the Lagoon on Saturday (when we "should" have been prepping the boat) to have a delightful lunch together at Bloody Mary's, which opened in 1979 as a 5-table restaurant on the beach, and it still keeps that charm despite its growth into a tourist destination (complete with T-Shirts).

--- We are now the proud owners of a French Polynesian butane tank with the fittings to connect it to our system. We *think* we will be OK with the gas we have on board after filling in Papeete, but we decided to err on the side of caution... it would be no fun to be stuck with cold rations if we have miscalculated! (In general two bottles will last us for 3 months). We borrowed the French end of the transfer setup from a fellow cruiser late on Saturday, but the gas didn't transfer well (we think it will transfer better once our tank is emptier), so Max went to town on Monday to find the fittings to connect this tank to ours. We (ie Max) kind of figured it out as we went with the help of other cruisers and various blogs; in general terms, we hung the French tank upside down in the air, set our tank below it, connected them with hoses and threaded fittings, and waited for gravity to do its thing to the liquid fuel. It turns out that there is a good description of what we did in "the Calder book" which surprised us, because it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that anyone would publish officially. Regardless, we now have the right bits and good advice from our friends in Estrallita, and should be able to enjoy hot/baked food throughout the season, including banana goodies this week :) Victoria, especially would feel the pain of gas rationing!

On Monday afternoon, after gratefully accepting some yellow bananas and two papayas from our friends on SV Nautilas (picked that morning and given to them by a farmer they had met on their hike to the top of the mountain), we bade farewell to Bora Bora, and took advantage of a weather window to begin the 588 nm journey to Penrhyn (Northern Cook Islands). Max has already given you a pretty good sense of the first few days of this passage, but I will add from my perspective that it was an endurance event for the first 48 hrs: winds / seas bigger than forecast and against the current, sails reefed down, boat rolling from side to side, and crazy swell that was steep and came from two different directions (which meant the stern lifted, the boat rolled left, right, left, right, and down again every couple of minutes). The most impressive aspect of the first few days was that so few things flew around the cabin: it would seem that we are getting reasonably consistent at "securing for sea".

Thankfully, conditions improved as the week wore on, trending towards nice days with slightly less wind, and even some sunshine. There was a high south of us (turning counterclockwise because we are in the southern hemisphere...) that reinforced the predominantly easterly trade winds, so we scooted along ... it turned out that we started with a reefed main, didn't shake it out until we got here, and our average speed was 6.3 kts (avg 5 kts is our planning figure).

Just after Max had sent a note to say that we were on passage, we had lures out, but we hadn't caught anything, we hooked a fish - a Marlin. It turned out to be his lucky day, and he swam off as we were hoisting him aboard, but it wasn't long before we had another pull on our bungee, and we landed a Wahoo. Our new lure (garish orange/yellow and much bigger than it seemed in the shop) and 300lb test line proved themselves admirably! Our new favourite trick is to quiet the fish with a shot of vodka to the gills (a used pancake syrup bottle does the job of giving him his "shooter") and then we kill it with an incision to the brain. This fish gave us enough for 10 meals, so we put some in the fridge and some in the freezer, then put the fishing lines on deck until we were nearer to Penrhyn. A couple of hours from our destination, we landed another Wahoo, slightly smaller, who provided a similar number of bags of fish for the fridge (no room in the freezer anymore!) Needless to say, we have been eating fish for dinner and leftovers for lunch for the last few days!! Hopefully, we will be able to share some with some people here.

As Benjamin is now (very) mobile, I decided to read up a bit on what other families have done with babies in the cockpit while we still had wifi in Bora Bora. I was looking for a recommendation for a good/comfortable harness. Other than chuckling as I read that most people recommended having someone dedicated to the baby (ie not expected to do anything else on the passage) I didn't see much that we weren't already doing. We were given two harnesses (blue/yellow from West Marine) by another family back in Cabo San Lucas, that V&J have been using, which left the orange Jim Buoy harnesses in the cupboard. Let's just say that they might be safe, but they were *not* designed by a parent! They are tricky to adjust and the straps are quite stiff (and therefore not gentle on delicate baby skin); however, given the alternative (hope and hanging on tightly) we (ok, Victoria) adjusted an orange harness down to Benjamin's size, and he wore it for most of the trip. Rather than simply putting him in my carrier and clipping my tether to the carrier, which I did on previous (and more benign) passages, this time, I wore my climbing harness, tethered myself to the boat and Benjamin to me, then put him in the carrier or let him play on the floor of the cockpit, depending on his mood and prevailing conditions. This worked reasonably well, and there were only a few occasions when I had the kids take Benjamin down below, I donned my "proper" life vest/harness, and went out of the cockpit. Benjamin is *fascinated* with the VHF handset and wires, so it was handy to have a "handle" on his back to keep him just out of reach of the delicate bits! We will be ordering another blue/yellow West Marine Safety Harness, and probably getting an adult version for me before our passage to NZ.

It is funny when you get a new piece of equipment; sometimes you just use the simple features and don't experiment with it very much. Such was the case with our new autopilot until part way through this passage. We had often used it in either "wind hold" (set a wind angle, then the boat follows it), ``àutomatic`` (set a heading and the boat follows that heading) or "navigate" (set the destination, the boat drives itself there, and the crew (ie us) adjusts the sails as necessary). This week, we experimented with a setting that we hadn't used at all before: Wind Navigate. What a find! In this mode, the autopilot remembers that it is driving a sailboat rather than a motorboat, so it makes its best course given the wind towards a waypoint (it will even tell us when to tack/gybe if we like if the course is directly up or down wind). In this case, we didn't have to touch any of the controls for the better part of 24 hours, while the boat sailed itself towards Penrhyn. It may not seem like much, but it was lovely to let the autopilot do the tweaking that we had been doing for the last several days and with less worry about an accidental gybe ! Our sails were quite forgiving of a few degrees difference in wind angle, so we only had to change the way they were set if there was a significant change in the wind, otherwise we could sit back and watch :) (Have I mentioned recently how grateful I am for our new chartplotter and autopilot??)

Squalls are becoming much more commonplace, both as an occurrence, and as something we know how to respond to. With the main well reefed, we could watch for the significant wind shift (generally it backed about 30 deg) and the step change in velocity and then reef the genoa without too much drama. One squall caught Johnathan, Benjamin and me a little off-guard: several squalls had been going around us, but we only had 10 kts of wind, so I was reluctant to reef any sooner than I needed to. Once the wind shifted, we sprang into action, but we had over 25 kts within a couple of minutes. We didn't even need to call Max; he heard the sudden noise of the wind and came up to rescue three drowned rats, one holding a blanket over his brother, one trying to ease the sheet and furl the sail at the same time ... with two adults in the cockpit, we quickly reefed the sail, and Max got the boat under control hand steering. Fluenta was rounding up in the higher wind so we put the boat back on wind-hold (120 deg apparent) for the rest of the squall. Such is life with a short-handed crew and a baby in the cockpit :)

Back to Bora Bora for a moment ... one of the waitresses at the Mai Kai was from Canada. When she found out that we were too, she asked one evening, "don't you miss home???" What a hard question! We miss home every day *and* we do our best to enjoy the ups and downs family life in new and beautiful places. We also miss friends that we meet along the way; whether we have spent a year together or a few days in one anchorage, it is always hard to point our boats in different directions. Part of my connection to home is to write (long!) emails to let you know what we have been doing (and to read the wonderful updates that we get in response). Thankfully another part of our connection to home is to actually *go* home .. and we are doing so for Christmas!!! We fly from Auckland to Halifax on 15 Dec, Halifax to Victoria on 8 Jan, and Victoria to Auckland on 26 Jan. Booking these tickets with the limited wifi in Bora Bora was an exercise in patience and optimism, as each page took an age to update, every combination of dates/flights seemed to be more convoluted or expensive than the last, and there was always a fear until the trip was actually booked that any lower rate we found would be gone on the next page refresh. We just needed to stay hopeful that we could make it work, and after two hours one evening, four hours the next afternoon, and an hour on the phone (Skype) we did it. We won't get everywhere or see everyone, but it will be so good to be in Canada again for a few weeks. The kids are over the moon, and can't wait to see snow :)

This kind of catches us up to this weekend. We arrived at the pass to Penryhn (west side of the atoll) mid-afternoon on Friday. There is an anchorage off the atoll (ie in the ocean but in 30-60 ft of water in the lee of the island) that is known for eating anchors; there is an anchorage in sand just inside the lagoon off the western village (in front of a lee shore and subject to fetch from the entire lagoon); and there is an anchorage on the east side of the atoll (perfect in East winds, but we can't go there until we clear in with customs, etc). Given all this, and the time of day when we arrived, we took one look at the white caps in the lagoon and elected to try our luck with anchoring in the lee of the atoll. Are we ever glad we did! We have had constant winds ever since we arrived, (mostly +/- 20 kts with sustained periods much higher than this (up to 29 kts)) and the inner anchorage near the village would have been untenable and dangerous.

Max and the kids ventured ashore yesterday (Saturday) for a very bumpy and wet RHIB ride and arranged for the local Customs, Immigration, and Agriculture reps to come see us on Monday morning. Church is supposed to be a highlight of a visit here, but we will have to wait until next week to find out. As Max puts it, we are kind of "stranded in paradise" while we wait, which has actually felt like a lovely family holiday - time to rest, read, watch movies ("Rio" was tonight's delight), and connect after the passage. The nice thing in this anchorage is that if our anchor drags, we will not hit land for 800 nm or so (until Samoa) so we would have lots of time to sort ourselves out! Now that is our kind of lee shore :)

There are no other cruisers here. The last one left over a week ago. It is fair to say that we are rather off the beaten path now :)

We will likely be checked in at the big village (nearby, population approx 200) tomorrow (Monday) and we will head across the lagoon to the small village (pop approx 50) either Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. Our plan is to stay here for a couple of weeks, and then look for a weather window to head SW to Suwarrow, Nuie, and Tonga.

Love to all,
Liz (and Max)
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At 9/6/2014 3:51 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.92'S 158°03.18'W
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At 9/8/2014 5:59 PM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.92'S 158°03.18'W

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