Tag Archives: Quatra

Bora Bora

Hell and damnation! I haven’t had the best of months in regard to losing stuff overboard. First, my much repaired and slightly beat up Royal Highland blue ensign and flagstaff went overboard on our trip down from Rangiroa when the rod holder the staff was in broke off. Tragic!

Then as we turned into the entrance to Bora Bora a gust caught my favourite hat, given to me by Georg of ZigZag in NZ and off it flew. An emergency drop of the main later (good MOB drills practise), a hard turn to a return course and slow search pattern could not find  it.

I am bereft.

And more than a little annoyed.

Ah well. Enough whingeing. But sorry, Georg. Only so much advertising done for you!

As we left Raiatea through Pass Rautoanui, just S of the Carenage, Frans came and saw us off. A skilled surfer, he’d been on the reef and saw us pulling out. We said our goodbyes and looked forward to seeing him and the rest of Sangvind in Tonga.

 Bora Bora

The 25Nm sail to Bora Bora was an easy broad reach and then run as we cleared the wind shadow of Raiatea with no more than 18kts app showing. Boat speed went as high as 9kts but averaged 6.5kts as we spent most of the time goose-winged with full main and genoa to the SW corner of the reef surrounding the island.

Bora Bora

It felt great and as the last time we would use the current sails, a nice way to sign them off. After all the cloudy, wet weather with mucky wind, it looks as if the SE Trades have started to re-establish themselves. Blue skies, winds still a little reinforced, often at 25+kts, but it is starting to look to being the kind of weather we want to see to push W in.

The girls decided that they need to get some photos with Bora Bora in the background and we got some nice ones.

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We were passed by a couple of charter boats who, inexplicably, drove towards the island with reefed main and engines on. Why do you come all the way to French Polynesia to hire a yacht and on a perfect sailing day, motor? Hicks.

Going around Bora Bora inside the reef takes a little care. The route around the N end of the island to the anchorages on the E side is shallow and you need to have draw less than 8’ to be comfortable. There is one cheeky dogleg between a S cardinal and a red but the rest of the trip down to our anchorage behind Be and Be at 16 29.294S 151 42.135W in 9’ of water was easy. We did ignore two reefs shown on the Navionics mapping I had but I think they must have been sand banks at some point that have disappeared. Certainly we had 10’ of water beneath us as we crossed them…..slowly and carefully! Water colour is what I go by when in shallow water here, not mapping data. An important lesson. The bottom shape changes frequently and you must trust your eyes and judgement. Oh and go slow, just in case you do have a brain fart!

We anchored just as Be and Be headed into dinner and to watch a show at the Intercontinental Hotel, just to our S. We decided we would have a quiet night and recover from all the fun we had had with Quatra and Sangvind over the last few days.  We got to watch our first sunset over the island which was a good one from the anchorage off Hotel St Regis.

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It took just one water taxi charging past us at high speed at 5m distance for me to deploy the big torch on strobe which I choose to use to show them we were alive, awake and not going to put up with inconsiderate driving. There are, sadly, lots of hotel taxis taking the herd back and forward to the main island.

Bora Bora

By mutual consent, Be and Be and ourselves moved down to where Plastik Plankton had described as the best anchorage in Bora Bora in a bay at the SW side of Motu Pitiaau. We had a go at getting in to the very shallow water, chickening out as the depth showed 3’. We anchored at 16 32.045S 151 42.257W in 7’ on powder like white sand in the company of a few charter boats and a couple of liveaboards. The place is gorgeous, rimmed by coconut trees, shallow water, quiet but pretty sterile and a spectacular view of the mountain. It reminds me of the Bahamas. Huge areas of white sand and very little living on it. Saying that, there is a lot to be said in parking up with this kind of backdrop!

Bora Bora

 Bora Bora

After the deeper water of Raiatea, everyone was keen to get back in to enjoy the water again. With life at its simplistic best, we did little more than relax, found the local magasin to get bread and just got all laid back. The kids alternated between boats and the adults would “retire” of an evening to the empty one and let them get on with kids stuff whilst we had some quiet time. It was a good arrangement.

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We had talked with Peta and Geoff about Shelby’s ambition to get scuba qualified back in Raiatea and I had offered to take her down to see how she coped. We had a small bombie 20m behind us and we decided that at 3m it was a perfect easy start for her to see if she liked it. After an hour of talking through equipment, hand signals and actions on, we dropped in, watched the fish as she got comfortable and just as we were to ascend, up swam a stingray, coming for a look at us. Shelby came up with a smile. Stand by, Be and Be. I think you have a convert on your hands!

Reputedly one of the best snorkel sites in Bora Bora is a drift E-W at Taurare in the Motu Pitiaau’s SE corner. You tie your dinghy up at the SW end of the beach, walk E along the shore, go out over the old exposed coral bed and then jump in. The initial water depth is cheekily shallow, the current fast and you need to be careful. Lou got a graze as she thumped on to a rock. Once the water speed calmed down it was an ok drift but the coral wasn’t in too great a shape.

The next day we dinghied to another site to the S of a motu, 700m E of Point Matira, the southern most point of Bora Bora. There we found another coral garden which was far nicer.  Known by the dive companies as the Aquarium, with deeper water (3-5m), a lot less current  and bigger bombies, the fish life was excellent. A couple of days later, we went back a second time and Shelby and I dropped in to feed the fishes (who were quite used this) and to explore the garden properly. Two dives in and she has already got a good feel of buoyancy already. Next step  – her Open Water qual. Perhaps Tonga or Fiji, I hear.

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One of the local guides rocked up and topped everything we had seen by feeding a Giant Moray Eel he said was known as Lady Gaga. He tempted her out of her burrow with chunks of fish. When she didn’t come out far enough he dropped the fish and then pulled the eel bodily out! She was over 2m long. You wouldn’t want to put your hands anywhere near her mouth.

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We moved back up to use Hotel St Regis’s facilities but unfortunately we met a sharp little man on the dock who was not keen to let us in. With a new asking price of  $25 a head (and we would need to make a reservation as well – which “couldn’t” be assured) rather than the $25 to tie up the dinghy Be and Be paid a week before, it simply wasn’t value for money. Geoff dinghied around to the Meridian where the welcome was even less pleasant. Having parked up and walked up to reception, he was told in no uncertain terms he wasn’t welcome and had to ask that the security hoods (x2) took their hands off him as he was walked back down to the jetty. I can understand that the hotels wish to maintain their exclusivity but the attitude of the (NB – non Polynesian) staff has been generally rude. It’s as if they don’t like kids………

We moved around to the Intercontinental where we had a far more pleasant encounter.  Although the pool man apologised when he said it was paid guests only for the pool, he did say that the kids could play on all the beach toys including a peddle boat. Geoff complained about the strength of the Mai Tais but only that they were too strong! Nice place, nice people and my thanks to Iris at the Concierge desk for helping me with a return to the agent.  But I’m not sure if I’d pay $11000AUS (or 6k UK pounds) a week per head – room only but with flights from Aus included. Bora BoraBora BoraBora Bora

Geoff, Eleanor and myself went on a dive with Topdive to the dive site Anua, known for its Manta Rays. We saw a turtle and a couple of clown fish and that was it. Both boats followed our movements in the hope of seeing Mantas with us but no luck.

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We swam a long way looking for them in, for here, pretty poor vis (15m). The Topdive crew, Ana and Arthur, were good guys and were honest enough to say that the Bora Bora diving experience is a poor one in comparison to what you would find in the atolls. No big surprise and I concur. The good dives here involve Humpback whales outside the reef who can be found from mid May on. We will hope for better in Nuie and Tonga. The upside was that they was happy to fill my bottles and did so for the princely sum of 1000XFP which is the most reasonable price I have paid anywhere in the Pacific. They were also happy to let the kids run riot and use the dive boat as a jumping platform at the end of the dive.

Bora Bora

We moved back round to the W side of Bora Bora and took a free ball at the Mai Kai Yacht Club and Marina. It really is just a restaurant, bar and dinghy dock which shares an infinity pool with a small pension next door but it is very nicely done, has free internet, strong enough to be picked up at the boat and the staff are great. And it has a happy hour bringing the prices down to a reasonable level for an hour a day. We met up with Phylis, Emma Louise, Reao and Be and Be for a few nights of festivities. Good times!

Bora Bora

Our sails arrived in Tahiti on 27th Apr (years of fun for a little less cost than a week at any hotel here!), sadly too late to get the boat up to us before the May Day holiday. It took until the 4rd May for them to reach us. The genoa was quickly fitted, a good bit bigger than the old and looking very shiny! The main took longer as I had to put in all the batten ends, a slightly nervous affair as it involves 8 screws per fitting and I really didn’t like drilling holes in the new sail. My thanks to Craig, Geoff and Steve for their help. Well done, Lee Sails for nailing it. Both sails just perfect.

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The weather had still not settled into the Trades that we hoped for. However, with time running out on us and with a long way to go in seven weeks to get to Fiji, we needed to get moving. Geoff and I had been having daily Councils of War, looking at, speculating and discussing the weather as far E of us as Fiji and the big winds S of us charging past NZ and its effect on our weather. We decided that a suitable window was forming, which looked as if it would give us a good push across towards the 1000Nm to Niue. We took the sad decision that we would need to bypass the Cook Islands for two reasons. Firstly, the wind were looking to be 20+kts in the Cooks for some time, not time we had to wait. Also the World ARC is scheduled to reach Nuie about the 24th May for a week, taking all the balls and meaning we would have been unable to visit. Nuie or the Cooks? One had to go from the schedule. If we only had more time………….

Booking out was a bit of a palaver. The local Gendarmerie were no problem at all although the girls were very disappointed not to get a stamp in the passport as we are still EU citizens.  I dare say that will all change in a couple of years but then UK visitors will be restricted to 3mth visas to French Polynesia like the rest of the world. Bizarrely, you also require to get final clearance from the Harbour Master’s office in Papeete. Why I don’t know as all you get is a email from them and it isn’t part of the paperwork you are required to give when you reach your next port of call. It arrived 24hrs after we had requested it.

We took on a little fuel at the fuel dock 200m S of the Mai Kai. Be aware that the fuel dock requires a copy of your tax free certificate, boat papers and green entry form. You need to supply the copies as they won’t make them. No docs; no fuel. We paid 80C/l for diesel and $1.60/l for petrol.

After a (extended) happy hour with Emma Louise, Reoa, Phylis,  Be and Be and ourselves, we had a fine last night with Steve and Cheryl back on Skylark, we providing the rice and they the curry they had made earlier. An excellent time was had by all. We said our goodbyes to Craig and Aron and Mick and Kym as I doubt we will see them again on this trip. We wish them all fair winds and safe sailing.

After hitting the Super U for one last round of baguettes, we left Bora Bora just after dawn on 6 May with blue skies and light winds. With some of the best visibility we have had here, we looked back at the spectacular sight of Bora Bora with Raiatea and Tahaa, another 25miles further E, standing clear. A beautiful way to sign off on these islands.

Bora Bora

To shorten the passage W to Nuie and to wait for the weather and wind to arrive, we left Bora Bora and sailed the 30miles to Maupiti, the rarely visited and second to last island in the Societies chain.

Bora Bora

Raiatea and Tahaa

Oh my. Kids. Lots of them. Hysteria, mania and joy!

We arrived at Raiatea having had a easy sail across the 15miles from Huahine. We were joined at the entrance pass by two canoeists who wanted to slipstream us to ease their passage and do some training. Both were superbly fit but the older man by far the more efficient and skilled paddler. His paddle stroke was effortless and other than his metronomic arm movement, he was motionless. They kept up with us for about 3 miles whilst we were doing 6kts. Very impressive.  The younger guy asked us if we would speed up and he lasted another half a mile at 7kts, sweating bullets but finishing with a shout, a big grin and a wave. We clapped and cheered him to his great pleasure as he turned away into a village dock.

Raiatea

We motored around to the NW corner of the island to the Raiatea Carenage. This has a few mooring balls of it which neither the yard or Carenage seem particularly interested in managing and picked up just off the entrance to the yard. Be and Be and Sangvind were both there waiting for us and the first dinghy with Dylan and Jayden from Sangvind arrived before we even finished tying up. Eleanor was immediately in difficulty. The mooring was a  short one and we had failed to lift it high enough to get a line through, resulting in her jumping in in just a pair of pale pants and a t-shirt to do so, whilst rescuing the boat hook at the same time. Two boys arriving in a dinghy was almost too much for her but she managed to save her dignity by hightailing it through the hulls to get decent. The boys couldn’t see the problem with her just jumping in to the dinghy!

Be and Be are an Aus boat with a family of six (Peta and Geoff with Shelby, Evie, Harry and Jake – 13, 11, 9 and 8 respectively). They are taking a year out to sail their newly bought boat back from Tahiti to the Gold Coast. Sangvind (Sylvia and Frans with Dylan, 12 and Jayden, 9) have been travelling for a while. Although they stopped in the UK for a couple of years, they have been sailing a long time with Frans and Sylvia already having spent nine years in the W Pacific, buying their first boat in NZ and travelling for 18 years in total. The current trip is partly financed by Frans’s part in the film “In the Heart of the Sea” in which he had a major part and his own death scene. His kids are particularly proud of this fact!

We had two great days there. The eight kids ran feral across all three boats and moved between them by swimming and canoeing as the feeling took them. Meals were made after counting the heads you had on the boat at that moment in time. It was great fun.

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Frans organised some wakeboarding and we used the ring from Mary Ann II properly for the first time.

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There were a variety of sleepovers including the big kids sleeping on our trampoline – at least until 0430hrs when the rain came – and the move on the third day with the parent’s decision that everyone should have a quiet night on their own boat was greeted with a surprising enthusiasm by the exhausted kids coming down from hyperland!

I managed to get the Carenage to find me an electrician who understood aircon. Our aircon had gone west on us in the Marquesas last year and with our need to run the aircon to load the generator to a point of reasonable efficiency, I wanted it fixed. This is important as at the moment with little wind and not much sun, I am having to run the generator a lot more than I normally do and it can be damaged by under loading it, with a carbonisation of the exhaust system being the biggest issue. At 6kW, our genset needs a lot of loading. It really is too big for us.

I had thought that the aircon water pump had failed. It turned out that a corroded control panel was the issue and the system was simply not getting correct commands so was starting without the pump switching on. The second aircon unit (yes – thanks to the last owner who liked his home comforts, I have two) which supplies the the rest of the boat, has a wiring problem. All the parts work but we need to run new cabling to the pump.  Two hours work and we had the saloon system working and the cabin system diagnosed.  The joy of a cold saloon! Our thanks to Joseph who did the work.

With some variable weather coming in from the NW, we decided to move the 6 miles up to the second island sharing the reef with Raiatea, the island of Tahaa. It is a lot smaller than Raiatea, the anchorages are generally very deep, 30m+, and it has one of the few acknowledged hurricane holes in FP at the top end of Haamene Bay. We took a mooring in 45m off the Hibiscus Restaurant, halfway up on the N side of the bay. Conveniently close to a shop, surrounded by mountains of greenery, it is a magnificent spot. On our evening there with all eight of the kids on Be and Be watching a film, the grown ups had a beer at the Hibiscus, just getting back to the boats before a torrential downpour.

Raiatea

Easter weekend didn’t start well. The shop didn’t keep our ordered bread so Hannah and I whizzed up the two miles to the village at the top of the bay in the hope of getting some at the supermarket there. We got lucky in both bread and entertainment. We came off the dock, walking past the sports hall and had to stop to listen to magnificent Polynesian voices singing lustily, harmonising without instrument accompaniment. It was their Good Friday service and it was glorious noise. We decided it would be good for the kids to see an Easter Service so we planned to dress up and go back in on Sunday.

We snorkelled Pass Toahota, the pass on the E side of Tahaa. The N side of the pass wasn’t up to much. Some old fish traps and a steep wall to the too deep floor meant we quickly decided to move. Be and Be’s dinghy became the workhorse!

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The S side proved to be much better and we had a pleasant hour slowly meandering out over reasonable coral and good if small fish in water up to 8m. Frans looked enviously at some local kids surfing at the edge of the pass in the 2m swell. We found a good clump of anemone with a family of Clown fish in it which required us to dive down to it for a good look.

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Back by the yachts, Eleanor did well at wakeboarding getting up without problem first on a surf board and then on a proper wakeboard.

Eleanor had fun taking photos of some of the other kids. These ones, I think, came out the best.

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Easter Sunday came and there was a sigh of relief from certain grown ups that the service was to be held at 1000hrs rather than the more normal 0800hrs. We dinghied up to Haamene village, all tarted up, to be welcomed with open arms by an elder and, we found out later, the young minister and put in the front row. We had been hoping to hide at the back! The local kids sang beautifully and then all headed out for a egg hunt.

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The service was great, good humoured and with lots of laughter, with a mix of small groups of locals singing accompanied with ukuleles and then the whole congregation, with some of the men acting as bass boom boxes (best way I can describe it),  coming together to deafen us with fantastic harmonies.  I took some voice recordings although sadly the Ipod doesn’t do the bass justice at all.  I’ve been failing to work out a way to imbed them to the blog. Can anyone help?

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We motor sailed in no wind around the N end of Tahaa to what is known as the Coral Garden, the channel between two motu on the westernmost point of the reef opposite Tapuamau Bay.  The anchorage at 16 36.737S 151 227.337W in 5m of water provides a glorious view of Bora Bora at sunset.

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The anchorage is not a reliable one and certainly I wouldn’t want to be at it in any kind of wind. It is a lightly sanded bottom over old coral, covered in bombies, providing poor holding. In the moderate 10kts we had it was fine; with more it would be a very nervous affair. We had one last sleep over with the smalls deciding to sleep on the trampoline. According to them they hardly got “any sleep” but having checked them every couple of hours all I heard were little snores!

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The bigger kids stayed on Sangvind. They appeared just after sunrise, asking for the kayak to go for an explore around the motu. The smalls, up a little later, played around the boat and Jayden proved you can row a rubber ring.

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The Coral Garden is a major tourist attraction and by the time we hit it at 0930hrs, there were several fast boats already there with their loads from the mainland hotels. We were surprised at how quick the initial current was, maybe 4-5kts but it slowed as you progressed through the reef. It was good to see the number of fish we did, all small and some colours on the coral. Much of what we have seen in the Societies has been bleached and the Garden seems to have been less effected. We enjoyed it so much we went through twice.

Raiatea

Raiatea

We picked up after untangling ourselves from a coral head and drove back S to meet up with our friends of Quatra, last seen in the Galapagos last year. We started to move just in time as the wave bringing the strong SE wind we were expecting turned up. We had 35+kts apparent on our bow for most of the 8miles we had to run, making it unpleasantly choppy, wet and a slow trip back to Raiatea. We took an extra hour to get in and Quatra had been and gone. We made up for it by coming across Kathi and Wolfgang on Plastik Plankton, our friends who had helped us through the Panama Canal, parked 100m outside us and then having an excellent evening with Sangvind.

We met up with Audrey and Adrien the next morning and Lou disappeared off to do a huge shop with the luxury of a car to bring the shopping back in. Adrien and I chewed the fat over coffee on Skylark. They have settled in to life back on land but not without some heartache. The kids are loving school and are doing very well, Arsene having been moved up a class to bring him in line with the level he achieved on the boat. The adults have found the transition after four years on a boat more stressful. Of course, having professions which can be done anywhere (Adrien is a software engineer, building websites amongst other things, Audrey manages their property back in France) has meant that they simply require decent internet for work but Adrien is very keen to move away from IT and start a business on the island where he wouldn’t have to work to other people’s unreasonable and stressful deadlines again. It is obvious that for both of them not having a boat has been emotional.

Raiatea has good schools, all the amenities you need for a simple lifestyle and is less busy and a lot more friendly than Tahiti. There are fewer problems here with the “racism” that exists between Polynesians and French émigrés on the big island, something we recognised back in the Marquesas as well. They are building a house near the main town, up on a hillside with a great view E towards Huahine and plan to stay on the island for at least five years, at least until Arsene leaves school. Life is busy and good.  We had a couple of great days with them as Audrey directed that the kids would do well to go in to school for a day so the girls were kidnapped for a sleepover before that.

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I got to use their “proper” internet and catch up with the blog, with posts from as far back as the top of the N island in New Zealand. In my defence, they were all ready to go but the internet we have had has not been good enough to post up the large number of photos I always embed. We had two great evenings with them, dinner being superb both times. We will definitely be staying in touch. They are a great family and it would be very good to see them again down the road. Both boys are extremely musical and I want to hear just how good a pianist Arsene becomes (zero to Chopin and The Entertainer in less than a year) and I’d watch out for Axel’s name in a band coming to you soon.

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Of course,  living on a boat never comes easy. In the last couple of days we had two major malfunctions. The first was a starter battery for the generator that died on us. We came back in an evening to find the house bank low, went to start the genset and clunk. A very depressing sound. On investigation the genset battery was a whole 10.2V. We tried to recover it but had no luck. It is more than seven years old so I suppose it was due for replacement but the timing? Infuriating. $230 later we had a new one (which would have cost $90 max in the USA but hey) and I am hoping that the issue is fixed. However, I have this sneaking feeling that all is not well with the port engine alternator too…….

The other problem was the Delorme tracking device we had, decided that the day before we planned to leave was just a perfect time to go tits up on us. Unrepairable and no replacement for 3000miles, it may be a while before we get a replacement. Sorry, Dad and Joyce, but you may need to be nervous and wait for our emails to show we have arrived anywhere for a while at least.

My thanks to Audrey and Adrien for driving us around the last morning to get, battery, petrol and for taking us to the Med Centre in town. It turns out that Elephantitis, carried and passed on by a worm,  is still endemic within French Polynesia. Although the once a year pills to kill the worms have been free for years and all the kids get dosed automatically, it turns out that they are also wonderful at giving fighting cocks, still a popular sport here, a supercharge. This meant that some locals stashed theirs for the alternate use. These days they are handed out and you are supposed to take them in front of the nurse. We were handed ours and told to take them before bedtime as they make you sleepy. Obviously she didn’t think we were in to cock fighting…..

On our last morning, the kids went into school with Arsene and were taught English! Eleanor told us that the kids listened to the teacher talk in English but few would speak it.

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With the wind in our favour and lighter than it had been in days, we picked up and headed for the pass.

We said our goodbyes to Sangvind, who are heading for Tonga. We have had a great time with them and I know that the kids will miss their partners in crime, Eleanor especially. However, we should be meeting up with them there so that is only about a month to six weeks away.  Plastik Plankton are heading off too and are going in the direction of the Cook Islands but may go straight through to Tonga if the weather looks good. It is difficult this early in the season to guarantee decent trades and safe stops in the Cooks and Nuie and they are keen to get W without incident or hold up. Again, they will be in Fiji whilst we are there and we should catch up with them there.

We left Raiatea by Pass de Rautoanui and jumped the 25 miles across to Bora Bora to meet back up with Be and Be.

Galapagos–Isabela

Having finally received the new bearings for the rudders, we were keen to leave Santa Cruz as quickly as possible. Lou phoned our agent, Irene and an hour later we were stood in front of the Immigration man who cleared us out of Ecuador. We needed to clear out from Santa Cruz as Isabela, although the most obvious island to leave from, 60 miles W of Santa Cruz, doesn’t have any Customs or Immigration facilities. We also got our Zarpe from the Port Captain, allowing us to move to Isabela. It is a bit of a strange system. Officially we have left the country but we have as much time as we really want in Isabela as long as Isabela was on the original Autografo. Some people without agent are given a time limit of just a few days by the Port Captain. We, with the excellent James Hinkle acting for us, Bolivar Pesante’s island representative, are treated a little different, I fear simply because money is seen to be going into someone’s pocket on the island.

We decided to travel overnight and had a tedious motor-sail into about 5kts of wind. It was very very dark with no moon and only the occasional glimpse of stars. We woke to the islands showing the form of a huge  largely sunken caldera with boobies dive bombing around us.

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We arrived at Puerto Villamil at 1115hrs, parked up beside Taranga and in front of Jade. The Port Captain’s representative was on board within 10 minutes. After a little bit of confusion, we fed him coffee, James spoke to him on the radio and we promised to bring all the paperwork ashore for James to present to officialdom. James is an American, who, having driven to Ecuador in the 1960’s, became one of the first Darwin Guides and married a local. After raising his family in the USA, he and his wife have retired back to Isabela. They are a lovely couple and of great help to us both here and in helping with some pushing of FEDEX when we were back in Santa Cruz.

A quick word on the anchorage here. Having got used to the surge and roll of San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, it was a delight to anchor in 5m of water in  a wonderfully sheltered bay, protected by low islands and reefs. We have not had more than 10 boats in at any one time.

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It is the best anchorage we have been in for months with no swell at all and even the monohulls sit unmoving beside us. It is also beautifully picturesque.  Strangely, it reminds me strongly of some anchorages in Scotland. It is the only official anchorage that Charlie’s Charts doesn’t have a picture off.  Trying to keep people away?  Maybe.  The other delight is the lack of traffic here.  There are few tourist boats operating here and only the occasional taxi so there is very little wash.

The anchorage is full of life.  Turtles, baby sharks, sea-lions and penguins.  Tiny little things but real penguins.  And Manta Rays.  Great big enormous wonderful Manta Rays.  One we caught a glimpse of, decided to have a tour around the anchorage.  No photos yet but we are still hopeful.

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As with all the islands, you are restricted from doing most things sensible with your boat.  You may snorkel around your boat (but not clean it) but may not go across to the reef to where the iguana and penguins hang out as this is the main snorkel area for the locals to bring the tourists.  If you want to go there, you need to pay.  However, no one seems to bother you if you use a canoe.  There are a couple of beaches ashore by the harbour that you can snorkel off which are well used but full of iguana, turtles and seals.  The main beach which starts at the town and heads W is great.  White sand, good surf and there is a good play park too. Close to the play park and across the road from the Captain’s office are public showers.  The water gets switched on to them around 1700hrs daily for people to rinse off from the beach.  

There is a dinghy dock here so you can get yourself to shore without the need of the rather expensive water taxi ($2 a head each way – for comparison, Santa Cruz was $0.80).  Advise is to make sure you lock everything up and take the fuel hose with you.  Our friends on Tika came back to find theirs had been stolen.  Not impressed.  Make sure you tie up on the inside of the dinghy dock too.  The locals use the dinghies as big fenders as they crash in.  Not real friendly.  Returning to your yacht after night fall is a challenge as there is a reef, rocks and a sandbar between the dock and the anchorage.  Make sure you take a BIG torch to allow you to spot the infrequent buoys marking the safe route and I’d advise having a good look at the route in daylight hours before you try it at night.  Lots of people have either ended up crunching their propellers or running aground. 

The town is a bit sleepy but I love the fact that other than a pompously wide road from the dock which stops short of town, the rest of the roads are either sand  or volcanic gravel.  There is a good selection of restaurants which are reasonably priced, particularly for lunch, and have a great selection of sea foods.

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One note on money.  There are no ATMs on the island so you will need to load up with cash before you reach here.  The bank is a basic one and for locals to use, not tourists.  Beware also the bars and restaurants with signs up saying that they can take credit cards.  They can but there will be a service charge of 22%!!  They know they have you over a barrel if you haven’t brought cash………

The girls have had an active social life here.  We have had a couple of sleep overs and birthdays too.  Grace and Evie, two UK girls travelling with their parents Adrian and Christine, by land around the world came for a stay.  Evie turned 7 and had a birthday party of pizza and far too much sugar!

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Then, having had Meriel stay (the girl with the interesting choice of headwear) the girls had a return night with her and Nerana, her sister, on Persevere.  They had a couple of film nights there as well, watching on their huge TV – a 60” beast!

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Then we continued the surfing education at a birthday party for Arsene off Quatra who turned 10.  Audrey, his mum surprised us with a fantastic birthday feast on the beach.  

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The S end of the island can be explored by bicycle and although the sand tracks are hard work, it is great fun.  We were joined on this trip by Pickles, Gill from Starcharger’s ever present childhood bear, who Hannah carried and introduced to a number of new friends!  Watch out for him in the photos.

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There are tourist trips to The Tunnels (volcanic tubes – now flooded) but you aren’t allowed to snorkel in them and we thought $80 a head was a bit steep.  However, on the bike route we found a tube running down to the sea that we could explore for free.

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We also visited the Wall of Tears, built by political prisoners between 1945-59 as something meaninglessly tedious to do.  The island had a fearsome reputation and many prisoners died here.  The wall is huge. Roughly 10m high, about the same wide and it is about 300m long.

 

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The climb above the Wall of Tears to the three viewpoints is hot, long but worth it.  We nearly broke the kids!  You get a spectacular view along the S coast of Isabela  and inland to the highlands.  The gentle breeze at that height is a life saver too.

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Having cooked on the bike trip to the Wall of Tears (there is a lot of uphill riding required), we were all ready to cool down.  We visited two gorgeous beaches, Playa del Amor and La Playita, that we shared with more marine Iguanas than we have seen before and an awful lot of land crabs.

 

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Although there is a “official” flamingo lake, a inland brine affair, the birds don’t like it! We were pointed to a pit near to the Tortoise Sanctuary just N of the town as a better place to go to see these pink marvels. We also saw some lovely little birds showing no fear of us at all.  Twitchers – over to you to name them please.

 

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Hannah found us a wild Tortoise, a rare find, dozing under a tree whilst she was looking for some shade on the bike ride out and it was still there on our way back to the beaches.  By its size, we think it was about 50 years old.  We also stopped in at the Tortoise Sanctuary to look at the work being down there.  Currently there are about 800 turtles being raised, a mix of the five species of Tortoise present on Isabela.  The great difficulty that the tortoise have is that rats, introduced from ships visiting in the past, eat the eggs and it has become more and more difficult for tortoise to survive to hatching, let alone the first few years.  The Sanctuary raises the tortoise until their size can give them the protection they need.

 

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We were recommended a good snorkelling site, El Eskro,  by Gem, a London lass working at at the Surf and Bike shop.  However, try and go at low water.  There is too much surf at anything more than half water.  We rented both surf boards and bikes from that shop and were impressed with the price and quality of kit.  A handy map of the area is below. 

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We made the boat ready for the crossing with the last of the provisioning done in the small supermarkets here.  The Farmer’s Market, held on a Saturday, was a disappointment with little in the way of offerings and poor quality.  The problem is lack of rain.  Produce just isn’t growing either as large or as plentifully as is the norm.  Hopefully once El Nino has cleared things will improve.

With a significant amount of help from fellow OCC members, Starcharger (Alisdair, Gill, Jane and Alex) we tried but failed to fix the rudders.  After all the palaver of waiting for the rudder bearings, once we dropped the rudders out to be able to get at the bearings, we found that replacing them correctly in alignment was near impossible without lifting Skylark out of the water.  Further, the bottom bearing had been epoxied in and the top actually had a layer of fibreglass over it so even digging them out is a major endeavour.  Foutaine Pajot’s name was taken in vain several times.  In the end, we replaced the rudder and have tightened everything up as much as we could.  There will remain a little movement in the stock and we will just need to monitor it and baby it as necessary until the Marquesas.  We commiserated our failure with an excellent chilli and far too much rum.

We have our Zarpe to allow us to leave 24hrs either side of 9th May and we think we have prepared as much as we can.  We are due light winds for the first couple of days but thereafter we should be in the trades.  All being well our next post should be from The Other Side of the World. 

Galapagos–Santa Cruz

We left after a week in San Christobal to travel across to Santa Cruz. It is about 40 miles between the two anchorages so we left at dawn with our new friends, Jade and headed out with no wind and a calm sea to get across in the daylight hours.  It was a pretty tedious crossing other than seeing the breakers on the small uninhabited island of Santa Fe.  We got a little close and got a good amount of reflected wave from the island.

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It turned the water into a bit of a washing machine which wasn’t that pleasant.  Lesson learned. Next time, go into the lee of the island and get a flat sea……

Santa Cruz is the main tourist island of the Galapagos and Academy Bay is the main anchorage. it is the home of the majority of big tour boats and the largest town in the whole of the island chain. Unfortunately the anchorage is exposed to the swell which predominately runs from the SW and the first few days here were unpleasant. Imaging sitting just outside the point where the waves break on a beach and you will understand the swell type. It caused lots of problems with a huge surge and roll for the monohulls and even the cats were bucking about. Taranga, our Danish friends were extraordinary lucky. In the middle of the night, they woke to a bang but finding they weren’t moving, they headed back to sleep. The next morning, the dived on the anchor only to find it wasn’t there anymore and their chain was jammed between two rocks. The surge had broken their anchor swivel and only sheer dumb luck had kept them from going onto the reef 50m behind them.

Thankfully the waters calmed after a few days but it is still the worst anchorage we have been in for a long time.

The first big plus of the anchorage is no sea-lions and the daily assault of guano on the nose has gone! There are, however, a large population of sharks with baby Hammerheads and Blacktips in the bay. The largest we saw around us was about 4’ long.

The town is the normal tourist trap with the bars offering happy hour cocktails, lots of poor t-shirt shops and a huge number of the “best Galapagos tour – ever!” signs. We have heard mixed results from those having gone on tours. Some are good but most have been a quick whip round and a charge of $100-160 per person per day. Not cheap and often disappointing. We, of course don’t have the kind of money that will allow us to go on lots of these trips but we have found the fantastic Tortuga beach about 40 mins walk away where we can see both plenty of wildlife and as a bonus, learn to surf. As you might see, the kids did somewhat better than their parents. Hannah has got it! We had a good crowd there with kids from Tika, Quatra, Jade and ourselves. Our thanks to Rusty from Tika for the lessons.

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Tortuga Beach is lovely. The red flag flies there due to the rip which builds in heavy seas but we found that it was perfectly safe at the S end.

 

We did one small trip to the sink holes, tunnels and tortoise sanctuary. Well worth the value of $40 a head for the day. The sinkholes are particularly impressive.

 

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We did find one very quiet beach. Nick from Jade had a wonderful time near drowning the kids. They loved it.

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The wildlife was great too. A great collection of birds, land crabs and Marine Iguana, an animal we have decided must be in the running for the laziest in the world. Watching the Storm Petrol’s seemingly walk on the water as they feed is a special sight. See below for a collection of exotic birds (sorry Jane and Gill!).

 

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I’ve also been enjoying the diving. Whilst the dives I did in San Christobal were just about ok, we didn’t really get to see a huge amount. Here through? Wow, just wow. We were lucky that as the sea calmed down on the anchorage, so did the visibility improve generally around at the dive sites. I dived at Gordon’s Rock, just off the NE corner of the island and rated as one of the two best dive sites in the Galapagos chain. We dived twice to no more than 60’ and saw so much wildlife. Galapagos, Black Tip and White Tip sharks, sea lions coming to play, rays, turtles and so many pelagic fish.  The highlight was the sudden appearance of a school of Hammerhead, sodding huge things, which had us racing for the safety of the rock face. Glorious, if a bit nervy! I came up after the 2nd dive with just 200psi left in the tank. Guess I was breathing heavily!

Sadly most of my photos didn’t come out well but we pooled our photos once we got back to the shop. These are some of the best. Mia from Taranga was my dive buddy who provided more than half of the photos below. It was great to be back diving with an expert, something I’ve missed since we left Almost There and Robert’s kind tuition. Mia will be joining Skylark for a month in the Marquesas so I’m hoping we will be able to get some more diving in then too.

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We have spent a little more time than we were intending here due to our wait for replacement rudder parts from France. Not that we are complaining. There are worse places in the world to get stuck in!

Whilst I’d love to point the finger purely at Ecuadorian Customs administration,  the inefficiencies of FEDEX have been exposed here too. Our parcel left France on the 20th Apr and arrived in Ecuador on the 24th and we got a mail to say the parcel was in Customs. We found out on the 29th that FEDEX had raised the customs paperwork for the parcel on the 22nd but never got around to sending us a copy with the amount or who to pay. They are impossible to talk to here in Ecuador.  It took a week of badgering and help from a local to get a bank account number to pay the 70% odd duty. We may get the parcel on 3 May, fingers crossed.