Tag Archives: Mary Ann II

Diving in French Polynesia – 2016

I thought I had put this up when we left FP to go to NZ but I’ve just realised I never got round to it. It is a collection of some of the better underwater photos we have taken. Only nine months late. Oops.  SH Jul 17

In 2015 I was blessed to meet Robert of Almost There, a US Navy trained Master Diver who needed a dive partner in Bequia. He informed me with a pointed finger I was it and introduced me to the sport. His methods of teaching were old school and doing remasking drills at 15m was fun. But he took me out, held my hand (literally and figuratively) and taught me the basics extremely well as well as, most importantly, his philosophy for diving, for which I am very grateful. Since then, I have not had a more conscientious or competent dive partner.

Having qualified a in Nov 15 at Scubatech, under the lovely Evelyn’s care in Prickly Bay, Grenada , I have managed to do quite a lot of diving. Not as much as I’d like but it gets expensive if you don’t have access to a compressor and a dive partner, which for large periods this year I haven’t. Dives average around $70 a dive and most days you will do two dives so $140 a pop. Refills on tanks are dear (running to $30 a go in Fakarava) and again soon mount up. Problematically in FP, there are few places you can get a fill, really the larger atolls only, so you can’t rely on a school helping you out on most atolls.  If you have friends with a compressor or have one yourself, it costs you the price of the filters you will contribute to replace every 25 fills, needed to clean the air.

One clear lesson. If there are two of you wanting to dive on board, then having a compressor would be every penny for a Pacific trip. Find the space!

Fakarava was one of our primary targets for this year’s travels as it has a reputation for having some of the very best diving not just in French Polynesia but in the whole of the Pacific. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I started with a couple of dives up in the N pass. This is a deep drift dive going down to around 36m. After I had been asked what diving I had done, I was sent away with the schools own awful instruction document (French to English courtesy of Google Translate) which I decided to rewrite, if only so I actually understood what I was supposed to learn. I’ve always found that writing an instruction manual or guide is an excellent way to embed knowledge and I passed the test without issue. TopDive Fakarava N should be thankful!

The two dives in the N pass were interesting but not brilliant. We dropped into the blue and were swept on to the mouth of the pass, landing on the drop-off at 38m, 20m more than technically I was qualified for with my PADI Open Water and a couple more than the PADI recommended max with Nitrox (although 2m less than the absolute limit). The current runs very strong (3-4kts)and we were holding on tight to stop us from being swept in to the lagoon as we waited to see if any sharks would come to take a look at us. A few did, some Greys, and we then swept on through the pass bouncing up and down between 25-35m. We did see small schools of pelagic fish but we were moving too fast to really enjoy the few reef fish we saw. Dive two was a rerun of the first but with slightly more current, having lost half an hour of time waiting for a cruise ship to enter the pass. Waiting to drop in, we saw thousands of Sooty terns and 15-20 Devil Rays feeding on the surface which was the highlight of the day. The dive again was interesting without being fantastic. I found some white tips teeth on one of the sandy patches and passed them on to the girls.

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I have to admit I was very pleased to see Taranga arrive at Rotarua. Soren is a great guy and had first filled my tanks for me all the way back in Panama. He was very keen to get to the better S Pass and we travelled in company with him. For him to stay in the S for any length of time, he needed water as he has an emergency watermaker only and I would need air if I wanted to dive. It seemed a good swap and sweetened by a kilo of our honey (he had run out), Skylark for post dives coffee and teas, bug spray (we won’t talk about this….) and some petrol during our three weeks in the S, I think we were both happy with the arrangement.

The diving in the S Pass can only be described as spectacular. In terms of reef fish, ease of dive, shark population or coral density, I have never seen anything like it. We dived mainly on the incoming current, our outgoing experiences being mistakes hitting the water late in the tide, finding ourselves working hard. The outgoing was used by the dive schools to bulk up their paying customer’s dive time but we found that the visibility markedly decreased as silt and sand from the inside of the atoll was swept out. Whilst still a good 10-25m it didn’t compare to the frequent 50m+ of the incoming clear deep ocean water.

We dropped in normally to about 18m and generally stayed to the side of the pass wall, dropping to no more than 25m so we didn’t bother the sharks. We did go along the pass floor on one occasion, swimming beneath the approaching sharks, but they didn’t like it and quickly disappeared. Down at 32m you don’t have a huge amount of bottom time and it was more fun to stay between 15-25m.  On our best day, we finished the dive staggered by the number of sharks we saw. Normally we would see 100-200 on what is known as The Wall of Sharks; that day it was just a solid wall of them. We reckoned 500+, a mix of Black Tip, White Tip, Grey and a huge lone Silver Tip, all sitting in the incoming current. Just amazing.

All us divers need to say a special thank you to Lou who always came with us to snorkel the pass and look after the dinghies until it came time to pick us up at the end of the dive. We couldn’t have dived without you.

Whilst I think I got some good photos I have been wishing I had a decent underwater camera with the ability to zoom in. All of these shots were taken with a GoPro 4 Silver, a good camera but limited by having a fixed lens. You needed to be very close to small fish to be able to take a decent still and I’m afraid small fish are just too afraid to sit still enough to let you get close enough! Where the GoPro excels is film. I am inexpertly put together a small video segment which gives you a decent flavour of what diving in the S pass is like. I’ll link it in here when I am eventually finished.

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Diving in Toau as very different. We did one drift dive from outside the pass which was hard work as we had to deal with a big northerly surge. The dive at the N end of the atoll was better and going along the wall was great fun, trying to find all the caves talked about in the Compendium. They were pretty good and it was wonderful seeing the occasional huge pelagic swimming just at the edge of our vision off the wall in the deep.

Ann-Helen and John at the Wall of Anse AmyotCaves at TouaMoray Eel at Anse AmyotOn the Wall at Toua

I’m not sure if I have spoilt myself with the superb diving I have been able to do here but I have caught the bug in a big way and am praying for more of the same as we go through the Pacific next year. I have been extraordinarily lucky in meeting up with friends happy to help me fill my bottle daily and I doubt if I will be as lucky next year but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I’ll find other like minded souls. I do know it should get easier to find dive shops able to fill bottles as we get to more populated places but I still need dive partners.

To those who have dived with me this year, a big thank you. They are John from Mary Ann II, Ann-Helen and Harvard from Wilhelm, Soren and all the rest of the mob from Taranga, a special mention to Mia, Olivia and David of El Nido and a few others who made guest appearances. It has been a great education.

My dive on the wall with Ann-Helen and Harvard proved to be the last dive before we hauled out and headed for New Zealand. I’m so looking forward to planning and researching more diving for next year, perhaps with Eleanor in tow if we can arrange it. I can’t wait.

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Vanua Balavu

The overnight sail from Fulaga was an easy one with us running or broad reaching in 20-25kts true from the SSE. Sheltered behind the reef from the Pacific seas running in at Fiji, all we experienced was the fetch inside the reef. It wasn’t more than 1.5m until we got quite close to Vanua Balavu when it increased to about 2m.

Sadly during the night, although we had a preventer set, Skylark gybed a couple of times. At first light, we noticed damage to the cars. All three of the old cars I didn’t change when we damaged the old sail S of Haiti had broken, being pulled off the mast. We quickly dropped the main and went on with a reefed genoa only. We won’t be using the main until we can get replacements. Hopefully something else for Morag to bring out if we can organise in time. Don’t worry, Morag. They are small!

Vanua Balavu

I choose to enter Vanua Balavu by the pass on its W side, the Andivanthi Passage. I had read in the Fiji Compendium that the charts were inaccurate again and punched some waypoints in to the chart plotter to help me. Just as well that I did. Although we had good light and I had expert eyes in Lou and Shena forward, I hadn’t realise that in this day and age the charts could be so inaccurate. I worked out they were off set at 066mag and with a distance of 0.424Nm. WTF, Navionics?

We got through the pass without issue, dodging a couple of big bommies as we did. I wouldn’t go near it without good light as it is narrow and you do have to wind a bit.  We went across the deep bay to the village of  Daliconi  and anchored at 17 13.210S 178 57.992W in about 25’ on rock and sand. Shena admired the airstrip just to the S of the village. Must be a fun landing set at that angle! One of only three islands in the Laus with an airstrip, Vanua Balava merits two flights a week.

Vanua Balavu

Dalaconi is a neat village in the midst of rebuilding itself having been hit very badly by Cyclone Winston, the first cat 5 beast to hit Fiji, in 2015. It devastated large parts of Fiji and killed over 40. Communications to Vanua Balava were cut off for four days. After a quick sevusevu ceremony (the Chief was away) we were free to proceed. Note that the village no longer asks for a $30 fee per head for access to the island (as detailed in the Fiji Compendium). If you would like to make a contribution, it is gratefully received and noted in the visitors book. I think that the village has had to change its tune having lost out to the privately owned “yacht club” on the N side of the island which had also been giving sevusevu ceremonies. It had only 37 yachts in 2016 turn up to see them. We were told that two large rallies were currently parked up on the N side of the island, some 40 yachts, none of whom were visiting the village.  New ways; old ways. Old ways losing out……

We decided to move around to the Bay of Islands, a couple of miles W from Daliconi. When I saw the route I had to use, I decided to take things very slow. There is a post marking the reef to the W of Yaniahaloa island which you need to find and go round. All the posts we saw (some are missing, including all the reef entrance markers for our entry and exit) are damaged and are either rusted and at an angle or stumps.

The posts take some spotting, even if you know they should be there.  In the end I just used the plotter as a chart and ignored my trace showing me wandering over the reefs and islands, taking base bearings from the chart and using my wonderful Steiner binos with integrated compass to find my way. Interesting times.

Once you have got through an internal reef and into the channel that takes you up to the pillars, the scenery is lovely. There is still a fair amount of reef beneath the steep sided hills that line your route and shelter you from the prevailing wind but mid channel there is plenty of water. We spotted some tucked away beaches that if you had time would be great fun to kayak in to to explore.

A small piller at the edge of the channel

After about a mile, you reach the entrance to the tight route through the pillars to the Bay of Islands

Lou watching out as we weave through the pillers

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Although concentrated in to a small area (no more than 1x1km), the pillars are spectacular, a mini version of the James Bond set for “The Man with the Golden Gun” in Thailand. Tightly packed together there is one safe route and we motored through Ships Sound and Shoal Pass carefully. We went over an unmarked bommie showing just 5’ of water at about 17 10.509S 179 00.897W. The water visibility is not good in the channel and even with a high sun, we didn’t see the rock until we were on it. Keep left in the channel, close to the island, to miss it.

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After wandering around trying to find a suitable anchorage in the deep water of the bay, we parked up on the edge of the channel at 17 10.661S 179 01.082W  on sand in 15’just behind a small reef between two of the islets. It meant we got a good breeze through the boat and we hoped this would keep the bugs away. We needn’t have worried. For once, no mosquitos.

We spent a two days here. The kids got to have fun in the rubber ring Julia and John of Mary Ann II had given us. Unfortunately Eleanor bounced out and smacked herself hard at speed but she survived. Shena and Hannah went off exploring and found a shallow patch between two of the pillars to laze around at.

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The ladies took themselves off and relaxed. I stayed behind and nursed the infected coral cut which I had picked up before Shena and Kinsley arrived. Even after judicious use of rubbing acohol, scrubbing it out and externally applied triple antibiotic cream, it had turned in to a tropical sore on my shin. As we left Fulaga, I swapped to oral antibiotics, Amoxicilana, suggested to us by Mia all the way back in Galapagos as a useful addition to our medical kit. I’m very glad we listened to her. 48hrs later and the sore had stopped weeping pus and looked immeasurably better. I deciding I needed a few more days out of the water to let it heal up.

For the ladies, it was a time of simple pleasures, exploring by kayak, playing in the shallow water and lazily sun bathing.

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Kinsley’s underwater camera, the same one that Harry from Be and Be has, works well.

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Three boat loads of local men came by as the ladies were rinsing off on the back step, calling loudly, waving and smiling as they went by. I think they may have been enjoying the view.

Vanua Balavu

We spent a second day just kicking back and relaxing. Shena reintroduced herself to the pleasures of Nutella and peanut butter mixed on a single spoon…. Best when taken in quantity, it seems!

Nutella and peanut butter

We left to Vanua Balavu to return to Taveuni as Shena and Kinsley had but a few days left and wanted to visit a couple of sites on that island.

Navigation around the island as we went out was a little difficult with the chart plotter and Navionics still wildly inaccurate, never fun with lots of reef around. The waypoints I found in the Fiji Compendium to and through the Quilaquila Pass were spot on again. Hannah cooked dinner, a spag bol, as we heading towards the pass. It meant fun cutting onions up and after some tears, she eventually found a dress state that was kind to her eyes!

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The actual Quilaquila Pass itself is reasonably easy as there are two large white leading marks on the shore. It meant I watched backwards adjusting course as we motored through the pass, about 3/4 of a mile in length due to the number of rocks sticking up outside the reef but we were soon back into deep water. With little sea and about 20kts from the SE, we rolled out the genoa and set off W for an overnight passage of about 60Nm back to the Paradise Resort.

Vanua Balavu

Moorea

What a beautiful place! With little wind we motor sailed around to the N side of Moorea and went in to Cooks Bay and anchored well up the bay at 17 30.271S 149 49.224W in 40’ of water. Ironically the good Capt Cook didn’t actually use this anchorage but I think he would be pleased as it is beautiful.

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We only stayed for a night as whilst the anchorage was deep and safe with a good mud base, the bay was brown with the run off following some heavy rain. We left Phylis and headed around to the far prettier anchorage behind the reef at Opunohu Bay, two miles W of Cooks Bay.

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And what an anchorage! We joined about a dozen other yachts anchored in 12’ on white sand 100m behind the reef at 17 28.976S 149 48.737W. We finally got to meet Avatar and Jacaranda, names I’d been hearing on the SSB net for more than a year. And within a day or so, we met up again with Emma Louise and then Reao as they arrived in as well.   Moorea is a popular stop and not just for the cruiser fleet. We had a succession of superyachts and cruise liners in. I think that Wind Spirit is the prettiest of them. It does have sails and will even occasionally run them out.

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We had some more rain. Lots of it. With torrential rain we had the advantage of free showers and the waterfalls on the cliffs above us sprang into life and looked great for a day or so. As the anchorage at Opunohu Bay is right at the edge of the reef we weren’t bothered by run off and we kept our clean white sand surround throughout. MooreaMoorea

With the wild weather came glorious sunsets. My thanks to Sheryl on Emma Louise for one of the best we have ever had taken of Skylark. I’m pretty sure she is taking a picture of me taking a picture of the paddler!

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The kids played with a new toy – a big drag ring that Mary Ann II passed on to us after it failed to help Julia in her search for an easy way to get in to the dinghy. It is greatly appreciated and is being well used and abused.

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And then, joy! A kids boat! Lou had put where we were up on the Kids4sail Facebook page and a CA boat, Stop Work Order, had followed through and came to meet up. The whole family was a delight. Truly and Hannah hit it off and Eleanor and Cameron hung out too. I think big sister, Ciara, enjoyed a bit of peace from the smalls too but did come across for the sleepover we had when Pat and Corise headed ashore to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. One morning, Truly came to do school with us. Most afternoons were spent exploring the local area and throwing themselves in off one of the boats.

Eleanor and I had gone to ask Top Dive about diving with them and for refilling our bottles. $85 a single dive and $30 for a refill is the highest we have encountered anywhere, Pacific or Caribbean. We left in the huff. However, we found out that Pat and Corice dive and in Cameron, we found another junior diver. We managed to get one dive in on the outside of the reef and Pat was kind enough to refill our bottles. The dive sight we choose was 400m to the E of the Opunohu Bay entrance (look for a string of white buoys placed out by the dive boats). We dropped in with a fair amount of surge and enjoyed rolling over the banks of coral running out as spines from the reef. We were a little surprised by a big Silvertip coming to have a look at us. 10’ of shark which the book says is in the “dangerous” category always looks big close up!

We also did some snorkelling. When the missionaries got their teeth into the locals, tiki, the revered carved in stone representations of their ancestors overnight became “heathen idols”. Rather than just destroy them, some of the locals rebelled and moved three huge tiki out to the edge of the reef where they remain. In just ten feet of water, they are in great condition. Find them at  a white ball near 17 29.224S 149 52.735W. Swim N towards the reef. They are within 30m.

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Just 400m W of the Intercontinental Hotel is a sandbank on the edge of the inside channel where rays and sharks have become used to tourists feeding them at 0830hrs each morning. It was a long dinghy ride around but so worth it. We had lots of over friendly Stingrays mobbing us and the Black Tip Reef sharks cruised around us without ever getting too close. It was marvellous. Whilst we didn’t have the chunks of fresh tuna that Plastik Plankton suggested were favourites, the tinned stuff we had seemed to go down pretty well too. Word of advice  – if you don’t want to be jumped by Stingrays stay horizontal in the water. As soon as you go upright, they crawl all over you!

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We had one major expedition towards the Belvedere view point, a high point between Cooks and Opunohu bays. We didn’t quite make it but got some great views on the way and courtesy of the café at the Agricultural Research Station, some of the best vanilla ice-cream ever. A mistake in route selection on the way down turned out to be a fortunate one as we found a river with good pools to jump in to to cool off.

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I stayed behind to help Craig and Steve track down the problem with Craig’s engine which had suddenly just decided to stop working. It took several hours to track down a split pipe, very slowly leaking  in a difficult to see spot, letting air into the system. Once we found the leak it was quickly fixed. We celebrated with a spot of lunch at the nearby Hilton.

Moorea

We said our goodbyes as we choose to move before a new system bringing wind from N arrived, exactly where we wouldn’t want it from for the overnight passage up to Huahine. There were tears when we said goodbye to Stop Work Order as they are heading back to Tahiti to pick up some parts but we hope that our routes will intertwine again sooner rather than later.

Moorea

Moorea is spectacular. If I was to describe the views in the bay then I’d say think Fatu Hiva and the Bay of Virgins and think BIGGER! We enjoyed being back on a white sand anchorage after the deep Rangiroa and the not so clean Tahiti. It is just a joy walking off the back of the boat into warm clear water. And a pleasure to be back into a cruising community again – we have missed it. We are looking forward to being around a lot more boats this year as we travel continue our travels W.

Moorea

Tahiti

We arrived at Marina Taina just as the sun set. We toured through the mooring field to find Mary Ann II shining our torch around but failing to see them. We picked up a free ball, celebrated our arrival with a beer and listened to the traffic rush by.

Mary Ann II was but 200m S from us when we woke the next morning in the big mooring field. It was good to see them and hilarious to listen to a good, loud Yorkshire lady in full flow, suggesting the lady on the next boat over really should “PUT SOME CLOTHES ON”. She didn’t comply whilst we were there! The two fields have maybe 150 balls between them with more anchoring space on the W side of the channel as well. “A” is for long term stays and “B” is for more transient boats. We paid about $15 a day. The facilities in the marina are pretty good with the best showers I have had in the Pacific, reasonably cheap laundry and a good bar with happy hour. There were lot of boats inside the marina as well as the off season rates are very reasonable. It all changes on the 1 Apr and there were a lot of people getting ready to leave.

We ended up at one dockside party thrown by Liward, which was  another great education for the girls. The lady of the party, Lili, was impressed with Eleanor’s announcement that she liked maths and wanted to be an engineer like Kym on Phylis. Lili massively reinforced the Girl Power mindset we are giving the girls by presenting each of them with a sticker of where she had been an engineer. Some small place called NASA!  

We feel into a routine quickly. I’d be up early to go to the local shop for bread. Breakfast would follow just after 0800hrs, there would be school for the girls, some bits and pieces for me to fix and then play in the afternoon. The girls were a great help as we rerigged the lazy jack system after our personal saviour, John stitched it up with his solid iron ancient sewing machine that just works a treat. Both kids went up the mast, one to take measurements for the new sails and one to take lines up. It was a great view from the top of the mast. The view across the reef to Moorea was fantastic.

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We travelled in to Papeete to shop a couple of times and found out to the cost of a taxi that buses stop running out from the city by 1700hrs. Lesson learnt – Travel in early and leave by just after lunch, before the buses get taken over by kids travelling home from school.  We met back up with Phylis and met new friends, Aron and Craig, a NZ couple that have decided to push off and try the sailing life. They bought a boat in Tahiti, Reao, a Dufour and are learning to sail the hard way. Just pushing off and going for it. I admire their spirit and wish them all the best in their travels. They will head back to NZ this year.

John and Julia had visited the local Intercontinental Hotel for its Friday night dance spectacular and recommended it to us. Having only seen a couple of shows before, the brilliant kid one at the end of the school year and then Bastille Day at Hiva Oa, we were keen to see the differences. The show was fantastic. I still don’t understand how someone can wiggle their hips quite as fast as the soloist did. Stunning. Some of the older generation of male watchers looked as if they were overheating a bit! The troupe danced for about an hour and the girls got the chance to have their photos taken with some of the stars.

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It was a great night but unfortunately with a sad ending. Julia on her way back to our table slipped and fell. She was in considerable pain and John had to take her to hospital. One bust and displaced humerus later, Mary Ann II’s ideas of travels were on hold for a couple of months. Can’t really call it an upside but with Julia unable to get on the boat, Topsail Insurance came through big time to cover the cost of staying ashore in a lovely Air BnB house on the water front, a few hundred metres S of the marina. We understand Murphy is just loving the aircon! The girls certainly enjoyed the pool that the house has. Only trouble is, there was so much chlorine in it, their hair went green!

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We had organised a day out to explore Tahiti the next day. In the end, with John and Julia being unable to come out to play, Steve and Cheryl from Emma Louise and ourselves went off in two cars. We visited the Point of Venus, where Capt Cook spent time in 1769 to watch the transit of Venus in an attempt to work out how far the Earth was from the Sun. Interestingly also at the point there is a memorial to the landing of the first French missionaries (there had been earlier British ones but the locals hadn’t taken to their form of Christianity) and just along from it was  a genuine Robert Stevenson lighthouse, built in 1867.

 

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One of the problems with car hire in Tahiti is that unless you pay the $180-250 a day price for a 4×4, you are left very restricted where you can visit. Really, it is the main road around the outside of the island only as all the roads up the hills are dirt tracks and you can’t take a normal hire car on those. The main tarmac road stops at in the N side of Tahiti Iti at Tautira. The rest of the road around the southern part of Tahiti Iti was destroyed a few years ago by a storm. It is yet to be rebuilt. We ended up stopping there for lunch, eating enormous portions of chow mien and a baguette butty with chips and steak at the outside kitchen that all the locals frequented as well.  Bliss  – even though I did feel afterwards as though the proverbial wafer thin mint would not be a good idea! We also found a big tiki guarding the village. These are rare in the Societies as most had been destroyed during the transition to Christianity.

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On our way back towards the Marina, we stopped at the official Botanical Gardens which was just across the road from the Paul Gaugin Museum. Perhaps both had been good in their day but sadly the museum is now a closed ruin and the botanical gardens need a lot of work. There were plenty of interesting plants but not a single sign up to say what they actually were. The cage that the two Galapagos tortoise are kept in, gifted to the Gardens in 1928, was small and could have been in far better repair. It rather looks like the funding for the botanics ran out long ago.

Just another mile down the road, we stopped at another park, the Vaipahi Spring Gardens. This was beautifully maintained, plants well signed and told a story of a chiefs’ elevation to heaven by way of a series of ritual purifications in the streams around the park. It had 2-4 hrs walks up in to the hills which we didn’t have time for. I am sure they would have been as interesting as the park. Eleanor will remember this place as she fell in to the last purification pool and we had to rummage around in the silt to find her flip flops.

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For our last day, John, Eleanor and I went up and dived a crashed plane and a couple of wrecks on the S end of the runway. Hannah, Aron and Craig snorkelled above us. To our delight we saw our first proper Clown Fish on a patch of reef close to the aircraft but other than that there wasn’t a lot of life about.

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We stayed about a week in Tahiti, all at Marina Tiana. After saying our final goodbyes to John, Julia and Murphy we left Tahiti and drove out of the pass towards our next stop, Moorea, a whole 15miles away. We look forward to seeing them back in the UK in a year or so.

Lou, with perfect timing, captured a great photo of one of the many boarders playing in the surf at the edge of the pass.  More practise required before we try this!

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Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Leaving NZ didn’t turn out to be easy. Our first issue as we did our normal panic packing  was a realisation that we had an extra bag. A full 23kg+ bag over our allowance, of which we were over weight already. How could we have miscounted?? We decided that there was nothing for it but to hit the airport and hope they didn’t cut up too much. It proved to be a minor issue. We paid $70NZ for the extra bag and weight – no problem at all. However, we immediately hit a bigger stumbling block.

Because we had flown in to NZ SO long ago (November – really?), the airline wanted to know where our onward ticket was, a requirement of entry to French Polynesia. All our protests that we were European or simply on our return flight to our original location didn’t cut it with the lady behind the desk. “No, we didn’t have a letter from the yacht allowing us to join it. It is my boat and I am it’s Captain”.  In the end, confused, she sent for the manager, who having asked us our tale, told the desk firmly they didn’t NEED to know about us and to book us on. After lots of Neanderthal looks from the desk at the manager, lots of ardent thank yous from us to the manager, we headed to departures. For those following on from us, be aware that FP is tightening up the regulations and even as a European, if you leave your boat in FP, you require a return ticket out off FP or a bond arranged with an agent in Tahiti for the airline to let you back in.  Make sure you check the current regs before you travel. We got lucky with the manager who dealt with us. You might not be so.

We had two nights in Papeete in a little flat, running around ordering bottom paint and a big food order to be delivered up by the supply ship, Cobia. We met up with John, Julia and Murphy of Mary Ann II and they were a massive help in showing us around. They had spent the summer in Marina Papeete in the middle of town and, having explored the town in detail, John had co-written a guide for yachties on where to find pretty much anything you needed. He was able to point me to a funny little machine shop by the dock which incidentally stocked Jotun and Hempel paints at commercial prices for the fishing fleet. Louis, the shop’s owner and a keen rugby fan, wanted two thirds of what the Apataki Caranage wanted for one I’d never heard of before, half the price of ABC3 (what I had on) and a third of the price of Micron 66, lovely paint but foully expensive. I ended up buying 20l of Hempel  – a good German commercial brand. John’s investigative work saved me a fortune! His document is published in both Noonsite and the Soggy Paws’ blog site. In the same style as the Panama Guide, it is excellent and I strongly recommend it to you if you need to shop or stock up in Tahiti. 

I’m afraid we had less luck with Tahiti Sail, the one operating “sail maker” in Tahiti. We had asked them for a quote to look over and tart up the sails to get me down to Tahiti as I intended to order new sails to take us across to Aus. After advice and finding that such noted yachts as Lumiel, Mary Ann II and So What all had new sails done by Lee Sails, an outfit in Hong Kong, I went ahead and got quoted for a new main and genoa.  The repair quote I got back from Tahiti Sails for, frankly, not a lot of work was staggering and higher than the quote I got from Lee Sails for new. I even went back to them to ask if they were quoting for repair or new sails! On a whim, I asked them to quote for new sails too and was amazed to find that their price was more than double than Lee Sails – over 10k Euro. When asked why, they answered “quality cost” and that the sails would be coming all the way from UK! In the midst of this, I got an email from the one sail “expert” in the firm to say he had fallen out with the owner and he was leaving the business. I eventually allowed them to fix a small patch on the genoa only. I know people believe that FP is at the end of the earth but importing goods is easy, there is a price point for value and Tahiti Sails has yet to meet it. I understand the owner (not a yachtie) believes he can squeeze the market as he has to date had the monopoly. My advice would be, unless you absolutely have to have work done by them, don’t. We have since found that two ladies, a yachtie and a local have just set up a small repair shop down near Marina Taina and they have been getting good reviews.  For new sails, look abroad yourself and simply appoint an agent to get your tax free goods in. It isn’t difficult.

Whilst dawdling with Mary Ann II in Marina Papeete, we also met up with a couple of kids boats, Be and Be, an Aus boat with four kids and Sangvind with two boys. We had a good night out together, eating down on the waterfront in the street stalls, the kids skateboarding in the park and having deep and meaningful conversations out of earshot of the parents! We are hoping to be able to catch up with both boats a little down island. Good people.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

We flew back up to Apataki to find the yard had been battered by a storm a couple of weeks previously with winds hitting 85kts. The phone lines were down, the jetty and workshop was gone and it had taken two days to dig the slip and launch channel out. Thankfully all the houses had survived, as had all the boats in the yard. 

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Skylark, other than a small infestation of ants, a common problem in the yard, was in good nick. But it was so hot! With the yard sheltered from the slight breeze there was, daytime temperature hit 40+C inside and the night time was only a few degrees cooler. We left the tinfoil over the windows to keep some of the heat out and it helped a little. With time to kill, the girls decided to have fun with their hair again. Frizzy is in!

 Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

I helped Alfred, the yard’s owner, fix the swing and the girls had a great time twisting it up and trying to make themselves sick.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

I took to getting up before dawn as the only time the heat was bearable when working on Skylark was before 0900hrs. There were days enough to waste some time wandering across the atoll to see a few dawns as well. Hannah decided she wanted come one morning and we were blessed by a beautiful sky.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

With the heat and with lots of mosquitos about, our first few days back are easily described as very unpleasant. We got more bad news when we heard that the Cobia wasn’t to deliver to Apataki for another week, potentially meaning extra and unwanted time frying on the hard. We asked why she wasn’t running to Apataki and simply got a shrug. Presumably not enough business. With our sails, paint and food all due on her, we were unhappy that our timetable had been knocked back by at least a week. Frantic calls by Skype (and a lot of help by John and Julia at the Papeete end) meant we were able to rearrange delivery on another ship to Arutua, an atoll some 40 miles W of Apataki. It cost us $100US in fuel costs to pick our stuff up but it meant we could eat something other than eggs and start painting.  In the meantime, we polished the hull, changed the anodes, did the small bits and pieces we needed to do get her re-commissioned inside and out.

We sanded Skylark down. Wearing the painting zoot suits was an exercise in torture but on the bright side, it was a great way to sweat the weight of NZ overindulgence off!

 Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

The girls, desperate to help, got in on the act and helped with the sail drives and props with their separate non-copper epoxy paint job and touching up with barrier paint where required whilst we waited for the hull paint to arrive.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Once that appeared they got in the act again. The large size suits were hilariously massive on them and they couldn’t last long in the heat but they were a big help throughout.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

In the end, we had enough paint (and time) for three coats for the hulls and four for the edges and waterline. It was a sweaty exercise but there is something very satisfying about seeing your yacht turn into a swan again. Compared to the coats of red and blue paint she has been dressed in before, we think she looks best in black. 

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

We launched without incident and were so glad to be back at anchor and into a breeze again. We had a few days to wait for our sails but life had started to look up again. We swam, snorkelled and explored the water around us, just chilling. 

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

One of the yachts in the yard was owned by a Frenchman, Léon Philibien. Léon is a professional photographer and he travels everywhere with his paraglider, which he take most of his shots from. He took some wonderful ones of the yard, atoll and of Skylark for which we are very grateful for the use of. I doubt if many yachts have their own aerial shots set in the Tuamotus! We are hoping that we meet him down island when we can repay his kindness again with his favourite tipple – whisky! His blog is pretty impressive  – lesadventuresdelamatine.blogspot.fr . The five photos below are his copyright.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Our sails arrived on the Cobia (Tahiti Sails missing delivery by a week) and we had the engine on and the anchor up before we even had them hanked back on. We had had enough of Apataki, not its fault, just too much heat and a degree of frustration meant we needed to get going. Our first sunset on the move again on 2017 was beautiful.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

We ran out the N pass with no wind, engines on and a 60 mile overnight passage ahead to get to Rangiroa.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Halloween, a windy farewell to Fakarava and a brief visit to Toau

Halloween

After all the fun at the S end of Fakarava, the weather gods decided to spoil things by bringing in the first foul weather of our time in the Pacific. A big low came up out of Southern Ocean and whilst the islands to the S of Tahiti got the majority of the rubbish, we had two and a half days of nastiness too.

The day before it hit, we left Pokokora Yacht club at 0700hrs and ran N the 8 miles to Rotoava, chased hard by two boats who obviously had been thinking about the free buoys at the village too. Not that any of us would admit to any feeling of competiveness in the constant trimming and the occasional suggestion of taking shortcuts across questionable depths as we charged up. We got the last one, much to the disgust of the next boat in, 10 minutes behind us. I will admit to feeling a little smug as we tied on to a well cared for 30 ton buoy, knowing we would be fine on it and not having to worry about wrapping chain around a bombie as the wind twirled around as the Low passed through.

Halloween

I can’t say it was tremendously comfortable aboard and Lou and the kids generally got ashore to spend time at Fakarava Yacht Services or the Pink Slushy Bar, trying to avoid moving during the frequent periods of torrential rain. However, when the wind went into the S and we had a 30mile fetch, I was very glad not to be one of the boats that had chosen to anchor in the NE corner. We spoke to a few of them and all required an anchor watch as they got severely bounced around, the seas breaking on the reef 100m behind them. Mary Ann II’s dinghy became awash, losing its oars in the process. John and I dived to recover them in 40’ of water. I was a little disappointed about our lack of bottom time as we landed directly on top of them. My dive computer registered a dive time of three minutes.

Once the wind went back to the E, we had a wonderful calm. It took two days for the weather to right itself and reestablish the easterly trades.

HalloweenHalloween

In the calm, we cut hair and kept the fish under our keel well fed. Lou hasn’t bought a mirror so I’m still getting away with my rough clippering – Vidal I am not……. We discovered a craft fair that the locals had set up for themselves and we had a great time learning how to weave coconut leaves and make flower headdresses. Lou came away with a small black pearl necklace at a somewhat better price than you would find in the shops. Halvard bought out the entire stand of necklaces for men and then we had a go at making our own from oyster shells, the dremel and a saw. We shaped out a hammerhead shark and a more typical hook type affair that Polynesians would then decorate with a tiki and a single pearl. More practise required but both turned out pretty well.

 HalloweenHalloweenHalloweenHalloween

We took the chance of some last minute shopping and then, joy of joys! Another kid’s boat appeared in time for Halloween which was to be our last night at Fakarava. El Nido with Olivia, David and the girls Kali and Gaya, are a Belgium boat who have been out only 7 months. They decided early to concentrate their time in the Pacific. Since leaving Europe the first place they have really slowed down being French Polynesia. They will sell and return home in 2018, intending to sail no further than Australia – much like ourselves.

The kids had a fantastic time, all dressed up and the locals thought it was great that the we had got involved. This was the first time Fakarava had celebrated Halloween and boy, did they go to town. The kids thought they had died and gone to heaven with the quantity of sweets the wonderfully friendly islanders handed out! The parade started by the school and travelled the length of the village. Hannah and Eleanor were filled up with yet more sweets by Halvard and Ann-Helen on our way home. We will be dealing with sugar rushes for days.

HalloweenHalloweenHalloweenHalloween

We left on 2 Nov to Toau, in the company of El Nido. It was a quick sail and I enjoyed the view of a new Outremer 45 not going past me quite as quickly as I thought it might! Halloween

We had a day at the SE pass which proved to be a very easy entrance about an hour after low slack. Wide and with plenty of water underneath us, we sailed in, sticking to the S side of the pass and anchored at 15 55.973S 145 53.188W in 20’ of water. David, Olivia and I returned to the pass and dived on the edge of the wall, looking down the 2000’ drop-off. We saw some huge tuna, schools of snapper, good reef fish and the odd Grey Shark. The outside wall and sides of the pass had good coral but the centre stretch of the pass was all dead which suggests that it has been swept clear in the past. We tried to drift through and turn S towards the boats but the bottom current had a strong surge which pushed us N. We came up, tired of the effort required just to keep us on the side of the channel and found even with 1+kt current that we had only managed to reach half way through the pass. Sadly my dive computer went wrong too and ceased working at 20m down. I wasn’t happy. I finished the dive latched on to Olivia like a puppy dog. Although I have changed the battery, it seems that the original battery leaked and has damaged the internal components. I tried it against another two wrist  computers and it lasted just 15 mins and was under reading depth by about 20%.  I’ll be writing to the manufacturer.

El Nido’s recovery to us was short lived as Gaya, their 5yr old, found out to the cost of the nail on her big toe and a lot of blood that the anchor locker is not a place to play hide and seek…….. She was very brave but a bit lucky that that was the extent of the injury. Hannah was mortified. Thankfully, cuddles from Mum and the odd sweet or two from the Halloween collection seemed to help matters and after a calming period, we went back to El Nido for a very pleasant evening.

Halloween

The next morning, with no time to waste, we moved on up to Anse Amyot, a false pass at the N end of Toau. As we left the SE pass, supposedly at the end of the outgoing tide but probably a little early, the standing waves were the worst we have seen. Breaking and up to 8’ in height, it was very unpleasant and it was obvious why some of the guide books don’t recommend a visit to the inside of this atoll. Thankfully we were able to keep close in to the S edge of the pass, right by the reef, avoiding the really nasty stuff but we had to go 1.5miles offshore to get around the race to head N. Our view is that the slack periods in the pass we observed were fine for transit. As always, you just need to time it correctly.  The photo below hopefully gives you a feel of the foulness we managed to claw past.

Halloween

We raced up the E side of the atoll under parasail with El Nido following up behind us and the 20 mile trip took just over 3hrs. It was a lovely, easy, lazy ride and we needed to touch the Parasail’s sheets once only. Touching 9kts at times, even the speed machine El Nido with her asymmetric flying, gybing back and forth, couldn’t beat us in. I just love that sail! 

HalloweenHalloween

We picked up one of the moorings, right by the reef and arranged for us to have dinner ashore with Gaston and Valentine, the owners of the pension and the buoys, the next night. Mary Ann II arrived the next morning, quickly followed by Wilhelm who, on finding the doctor would not be at Fakarava for another month to fill any more steroid prescriptions for Halvard’s duff knee, saw no point in staying there. It took 15 minutes of chat between us to arrange one last dive with them, John and El Nido on the wall a mile W of Anse Amyot. It was a good dive but what are called caves in the Toamotus Compendium proved to be interesting depressions instead and my torch was not required. We saw lots of Moray Eels and a few enormous tuna floating in and out of our view, a little off the wall.

After seven months of constant cruisers, Valentine wasn’t keen to set up one of her famous banquets but Gaston provided fish and a BBQ pit, we provided the rest and we had an excellent night. We choose not to eat the Jack and the Parrot fish although Gaston said both would be fine and proved it by munching through both of them. We stuck to the Red Big Eyes which were good too

P1050641  Toau

The girls found a huge bowl of misshapen black pearls from the days Gaston ran a pearl farm and Valentina gave each of the kids three from the bowl the girls are holding up! The kids’ night was rounded off by way of a funeral that was held for the poor departed soul of a Hermit crab that had been stood on. It was buried with full honours.

ToauToau

The next night we had one last BBQ on the beach with Halvard cooking an enormous lump of beef that they had picked up at Fakarava. Everybody had some and there was still slices left over. With the crews of El Nido, Mary Ann II, Wilhelm and another UK boat that arrived that evening, Asolare with Peter (78 yrs young) and Charon on board, it was a lovely way to sign off our travels in French Polynesia for this year. The goodbyes were long but cheerful on our last morning and we hope to see Wilhelm, who also will haul out at Apataki, just before we go. Halloween

We headed towards our final destination, Apataki, on 5 Nov. It seemed strange to think that it will be our last sail of the year. We decided to make it a good one.

Up went the Parasail!

Hannah’s 9th Birthday – Manihi’s and the S Pass, Fakarava

H's birthdayWe have had some exotic birthday locations this past year. Lou’s was on passage between Barbuda and Sint Maarten. Eleanor’s was celebrated on passage half way along the S side of Haiti heading for Cuba. Mine was at the S end of Makemo. Hannah, living up to the requirement for another memorable place was held at the S pass of Fakarava.

Someone had to be sent back to bed at 0500hrs as they were a little overexcited. However, at a still early but reasonably civilised time, presents were opened on board. Hannah did particularly well out of Eleanor’s burgeoning craft skills. The gift cards promising to give unargued choice of films for film night and free bed making went down as well as the skirts (for Hannah and Snowy), cooking apron and a variety of necklaces and bracelets.  A great addition to the gift pile was a bag of balloons from Julia and John and the girls had a lovely time decorating them with pictures and birthday messages, putting them up around Skylark. Party blowers provided plenty of noise. Julia had also produced a beautifully crocheted crab (dutifully named Cedric) to add to the crocheted sea life collection that Julia had worked on during a productive crafty afternoon. 

 

 

H's birthdayP1050479

There was a special breakfast of pancakes. Unfortunately our last kilo of flour, bought and held back for the task in Rotoava before we came S, turned out to be inhabited by a few too many weevils for Lou’s liking! The day was saved by Mary Ann II and Taranga who both managed to supply some flour which did the job for both the pancakes and then a birthday cake, ably iced by a somewhat sticky Eleanor. Our thanks to both yachts.

We had a lovely snorkel through the pass, roared through by a strong current and then a little play on Skylark. The afternoon brought Taranga, Mary Ann II and our neighbours, Ocean Star on board for a birthday tea and cake. The food collection was impressive with cookies, cake, biscuits and a huge pot of macaroni cheese from Mary Ann II, which all went down extremely well. We even got everyone, a la Officers’ Mess traditions, to sign in the Visitors book. Good memories!

H's birthday

We had to wait for a day to have a birthday dinner at Manihi’s as he was full of guests on Hannah’s birthday. However, the homemade baked pizza were worth waiting for, the company was great and our thanks to Manihi for the pineapple cake covered with icing and decorated with flowers. The Taranga crowd sang a Danish birthday song – Hannah was a little suspicious about what they were actually saying – which was again greatly appreciated. Hannah came home happy and exhausted.

H's BirthdayH's birthday

 

Our next birthday to celebrate is Lou’s which will be in New Zealand. We had better get planning but I’m already thinking Yorkshire puds, fresh veg and gravy need to figure…….. Smile

 

H's birthday