Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hello All from Apataki,

The problem with anchoring is that even when you find a patch of sand there are always coral heads. The good news is that even if you drag your anchor will hook onto a passing reef. The bad news is that your anchor gets "hookered" on the coral, and the chain gets wrapped pretty good as it courses its way across the sand and coral heads. The trick that we have found is to tie some buoys to the chain. We have found that this works great, as the chain floats above the coral and doesn't get "hookered". Jumping into the water and having to get the anchor "un-hookered" is not unusual.

Shannon's parents were able to arrange for the Icom M802 to get repaired in Tahiti, so one less thing on Loyal's "when you return home list".

We had a great time 'sharking' with a stout piece of rope that we tied to the bones or skin of the fish that we caught. The trick was to be able to hold onto the rope as the shark tried to untie the knot, (with his teeth) that was holding the fish to the rope. Talk about a feeding frenzy!

Well, time to try another fix on the mainsail. We are just trying to be able to have it functioning enough so that we can last without having to install Battcars out here in the middle of the Pacific. Even with the mainsail double reefed the sliders still just pop out. So right now we just sail under Genoa alone. Sure makes life easy!

Update: The way we corrected the mainsail this time was to remove the strong-track from the mast (just had it all removed and it feels great!), and put the sliders directly into the mast. Since we now have metal cars directly against the metal mast we "lubed" the cars up with diaper rash ointment. Works great so far! Smooth as a baby's bottom!


Apataki Atoll -

We are well here. Learning to work with our modified system with one rudder. Courage jury-rigged the mainsail - removed the "strong track" which turned out to be "not so strong" and just put the cars from the mainsail directly into the mast. Cassidy and Carolyn (14 year old girl on a boat named Hotspur) helped him the whole morning. The kids and I did school, explored the beach, met a local woman and bought some fresh eggs from her, then went snorkeling and returned for lunch. I think our morning went better than theirs.

There is a boat yard onshore here, during hurricane season, November to February, they hold 40 boats on the hard. They have 3 catamarans and 6-7 mono-hulls there right now. It is a rather strange place. Totally protected, but far from an airport and I wonder how many supplies they have for repairs and maintenance. The grandmother on the family raises chickens and sells fresh eggs. She uses the chicken poop to fertilize the ground and has bananas and papayas growing. Not enough for sale I'm sure, but something!! We were told you really couldn't grow anything in this ground with the coral and salt. Their land is definitely coral, but is about 10 feet above sea level, which is higher than other land we've seen here. I don't think that's the difference though, I think they just are using composting and fertilizing. Most of the other people burn the husks of the coconuts, therefore limited compost. Either way, we ultimately bought 3 dozen fresh eggs since we only had 4 left from the Galapagos (where I bought 150, which was almost 3 months ago). They were about $0.60 per egg, but that's the price in the grocery stores and here we're helping a woman with initiative and it all goes to her, not taxes, so in general, we're happier with this plan than grocery stores.

Again, these people were impressively generous and hospitable, they said we could go anywhere on their land, including the ocean side where there's a rock table, a good place to get lobster. We took the dinghy into a lagoon, which is almost surrounded by land on both the ocean side and the lagoon side. They are working on making this into a marina. It's got coral heads and a tricky entrance even for a dinghy, but you can see where they've dug out, built up, and even have a small dock back there. Definitely some industrious people are here. 

We found many wonderful shells, saw a sea urchin with scales rather than spiky posts, but did not find lobster. The seas were too rough out on the ledge where they'd hang out. Made for good exploring though. Valiant periodically stops and picks up whatever coral or rock he sees. I think he sees me walking along then randomly stop and pick things up, so he's doing it. Then I don't have pockets, so I put them into Courage's side pocket. He's a quick learner; he grabbed a huge piece or coral and tried to load it into Courage's pocket also. It got kicked out shortly after he forgot about it, but I can see he's learning well.

We are going to further check out this atoll, then either move to one with a manta cleaning station or aim to Tahiti to address repairs. The manta cleaning station sounds very interesting to me. And the kids love cleaning stations having seen them on nature shows. Our sail up here today was good, mainsail held in up to 20 knots of wind, but steering wasn't perfect, probably due to the jammed rudder not being perfectly straight. We had to weave and bob through Japanese fishing balls to get to shore. Usually that means an oyster farm. Since this area is less touristy and visited, we are hoping to get a locals tour there tomorrow if we can find anyone to ask about it. That's sounds very interesting; not sure if it's a possibility or not.

Still enjoying exploring the Tuamotus, new things to see or try to find (oyster farm, manta cleaning station), and we have about 2 weeks until we need to be in to Tahiti, so we shall see what comes next. We certainly could entertain ourselves doing repairs for those 2 weeks, but that doesn't sound as interesting as exploring. Life is a balance.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Enjoying the Atolls

We left the lagoon yesterday, through about 10 foot waves coming through the pass. I tried to take video, not sure if you can tell the movement or not! 

Just after we left the pass, we had dolphins for at least half an hour. They were HUGE!! - 8-10 feet probably a lot of them. They were jumping up and great to watch!

We made our way to the false pass of Tuao. This place is gorgeous, lots of shallow coral reefs to swim. We saw a huge moray eel just next to the boat.

We identified our fish from yesterday as about a 6-foot king mackerel. We had two other kid boats over last night and had a fish feast. It was great! Then we watched a video Cassidy's been working on for a month or so that she made from one of the other kid boat's (Carpe Diem) first year cruising photos. The video turned out very nice. They gave a tiny bit of input (spelling their last name right), she modified it, and we will render it and give it to them on a USB drive. Nice work Cass!!

The boys loved the fish and sharks!! First of all, 2 tiny remora came up with the mackerel, so we made them pets for a few hours, and then released them. With the skin and other fish parts from filleting the fish last night, the boys tied a fishing line around it and would bob it in the water. We had larger remora biting at it, other fish, and then came the sharks!! Integrity would try to pull it away, but sometimes he would catch a shark on the line. In those cases, they were able to cut the line and get the meat. We weren't using hooks, just line tied to meat so we could watch the local wildlife. It was interesting to see sharks feed.

It's been raining a lot, so we have caught good rainwater and whenever we motor, I do laundry. I have finally washed all of the kid's clothes in their boxes to remove the mold/must. It is kind of a spoils to get to wash clothes that aren't just filthy, but just need some freshening. We filled the drum with water again last night, so keep it coming!!

On shore there are 2 puppies and some small pigs I hear. Courage and little kids went this morning, while I did school with others of the kids. Going to do lots of diving and play on shore and soak it in!! Leaving in the morning likely for Apataki. One of our friend boats has a ham, so we are hoping to cash in with them and send our mails.


Exploring Atolls

We plan on doing one or two more atolls before making the leap to Tahiti. Our plan is to be there by the end of this month. Our list of repairs for Tahiti keeps growing. Currently we are planning on replacing the track on the mast with something that is strong enough to withstand normal sailing without the mainsail popping off, get SailMail functioning again. Then of course we are going to need a new propeller, get the rudder straightened and rebuilt, fix the gaping wound in the hull, and most importantly have a fantastic time doing it all. The current thought is that if we have brownies and ice cream every day, all repairs are going to go super well! Shannon though has advised me that I should plan on having everything completed within 6 days, or I am going to have to face working without brownies! Who knew? Apparently we do not have an endless supply of brownies! I knew I should have been more involved in the shopping!

So there I was wandering around this tropical island ('course when you are in the tropics everything is tropical), when I met this Tuamotu woman (Tuamotun) and I asked, "When is dry season?" Apparently June is. It never rains in June, except for this year. We get rain/wind squalls coming through a couple of times a day! I am hearing rumors of this being an El Nino year. Is anybody able to see if that is the case?



If anyone had time to look into the small island just past Rangiroa from us named Tikehau. There is supposed to be a manta ray "cleaning station" with a guaranteed show!! We are thinking of going there next. If anyone can send information about it, including GPS coordinates or anything, that is welcome.

We were unable to link to the ham system on Bynamee that we were hoping to, so now we are hoping that we can link to the one on Hotspur this evening. Bynamee had an old system and had some adaptor to the USB and we didn't have the driver to work that system. Not a problem, moving on, just less communication.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Messages -

We are sending these messages quickly this evening through the boat named Field Trip.  They leave for Tahiti tonight, so we are not likely to have Internet again for a while.

Caught a huge - 6 foot, (?) blue marlin today!!  Wow, we are going to be OK.  Got pictures of it, ID to come.  False pass gorgeous coral for diving!!  Be here for one or two days, then on to Apitaki . . .

Goodbye for now, all is well


Woopsie!! June 15, 2014

So, there we were, minding our own business.  We'd just left our friends in Tuao (a local family) and began motoring for the pass.  We were planning to anchor at the pass to snorkel there as we've heard it's some of the best ever.  I forgot my popcorn pan onshore, we hadn't gone far, so I loaded into the dinghy and ran back for it while they sort of heaved to in the big boat while Intrepid and I raced back.  They had it all loaded up and ready for us when we returned.  So we were back to the big boat in short order and moving on.  Cassidy was up the main on the spreader watching for boomies.  I was in the salon with the kids preparing for quiet time.  Courage was at the controls.

Boom!  Scrape, scrape, And BOOM!

What was that??

Then the boat stopped (fortunately we'd been going slow), lifted up about a foot, let out one final loud SCRAPE, and settled down.

Somewhere in that process, Courage had put us in neutral. I ran to the cockpit to see what had happened, only to see a boomie (coral reef protruding in the middle of nowhere) off the starboard stern with pieces of debris floating backward in the water.  For those of you who are not boaters, this is NOT good!!  

We'd had the afternoon sun shining almost directly at us and the visibility was significantly better behind us rather than in front of us.

We thought for a moment, we could be taking on water, we need to get the boat somewhere stable so it doesn't drift into another reef.  So we motored a little and set anchor.  Courage and I, then Innocence and Cassidy, dove in to size up the damage.  There were only minor scrapes along the inner side of the starboard hull, through the bottom paint, but not through the fiberglass.  But, the back rudder was hurting!  That's where the debris was coming from.  Chunks of foam chewed off of it by the coral.  The shaft was bent, the bottom of the shaft and the feathered pieces inside of it were exposed.  It was jammed up into the hull. 

Apparently the shaft was bent below where it comes out of the boat and the fiberglass tube it sits in wasn't damaged.  Where it was jammed into the hull, those of you familiar with our boat might remember, that we were supposed to have kick up rudders.  We didn't want the hydraulic system since it was just another system that could break, so we filled in the back swim steps where it had the crease for the rudders.  This patch was exactly where the rudder hit us.  So this area was isolated from the main portion of the boat and the least critical place possible to have taken damage.  The scrapes on the hull aren't too deep, so when we haul next, we can address that.  So, in general, the damage could have been a whole lot worse, the boat is not taking on water, this is the prop already damaged by the log we hit, the rudder already had a crack in it from our stern anchor in Hiva Oa with an underwater epoxy patch, and the rudder hit our boat at just the right place to cause minimal concern/damage.  So, we are grateful for the reminder to increase awareness without sustaining debilitating damage.  We finished our journey with Cassidy in the dinghy in front of us looking back so the sun was behind her, not in front of her, spotting for us and are safely anchored.  Tomorrow we may dive on that boomie a) it looked quite colorful and interesting b) we'd like to see where the rest of our rudder is c) we’d like to know what, where and how we hit.

Then we may dive in the pass, and then head to the "false pass" on the other side of the island, depending on what time it is that we'd be ready to leave.  If we hook up with our buddy boats tomorrow, we can send out our emails.  If not, this'll sit in the to-go pile until we do.

This event did not go unnoticed by all onboard, more accounts of events to follow!


Reef !!

It is true; we have hit a coral reef. Certainly not something to be proud of, but here is the story of how it happened.

We were in the picture perfect lagoon of Tuao. We had visited bird and coconut crab island, where the trees are filled with hundreds of bird nests, and the sky is a canopy of winged terns singing their songs to their little chicks. The baby boobies are not scared of people and just peck at any appendage that gets too close to them.

There is a group of about 9 people that inhabit the atoll. They are a wonderful gracious people who when we stopped by to say hello opened coconuts for everyone to drink, and tried to give us three of their lobsters, and some of their coconut crabs. We talked them down to one coconut crab, and one lobster, and of course they forced us to take the biggest one.

We brought them in Pamplemousse, honey, and some baguettes. We also offered for them to come out for dinner the following evening. They accepted graciously. The next morning they arrived at the boat, and dove down and got us a blue parrotfish. And later on they brought us a Jack. Dinner worked out great with fish, lots of rice, and veggies. Dessert was burnt brownies, and home made cinnamon rolls. And topped off with a movie in French.

The following day they had us over for lunch, with lots of lobster, coconut crab, rice, and fish prepared four different ways. Incredible!!

So as we were leaving it was about 2pm to 3pm. The sun was creating quite a glare off our port bow, but we appeared to be able to see well enough to spot any boomies. Cassidy was up the mast, I was on the engine controls, and we were talking about a large boomie that I could see on the chart plotter but was not visible by eye. Suddenly a grinding/crunching/shuddering sound and vibration electrified everyone.  It went on for a second or two and then stopped, we were only going about 4.5 knots, and I popped the motor into idle. Whew! That wasn't so bad!!! Then CRUNCH/BUMP!!! The whole back of the boat lifted up with a bone crunching, wood shattering, and yes heart-breaking sound. I looked in the water behind/under us, and there was the beautiful boomie just under the surface, and pieces of our home littering the surface. Absolutely devastating!

There was no panic, though I did look up at Cassidy in the mast, and say "Cass!" As though pleading for her to make it not happen. But she was quite sad about it also, and we both should have been taking watching more seriously.

We were free of the boomie and the wind was pushing us toward the charted reef. I started the other motor and started steering us away, when I realized that we needed to do a quick assessment. We dropped the anchor, and Shannon and I got our masks and dove in the see if we were sinking.  There was this 20' long deep scrape along the inside of the hull, but not all the way through the fiberglass.  Next I went to the rudder, it was bent back at about 30 degrees, and the bottom of it as splayed open with the stainless shaft and ribs bent sticking out the bottom, and the encasing fiberglass and foam flopping in the water. The rear edge of the rudder had broken through the hull making a 1' foot by 4" inch hole through the hull. Upon close examination the hole was found to be in the rudder "groove", and the water would only flood that portion of the boat. Very fortunate!

The propeller is not looking good, with one blade skewed terribly.  I disconnected the ruined rudder from the steering arm, and with our one rudder and one functioning motor limped off to our anchorage.

Today we went and dove on the boomie, it was extremely difficult to see, from the surface, even when almost on top of it. It is a jagged spire about 20' by 10' rising almost vertically from the 40' bottom. We apparently straddled the boomie between the two hulls, we just nicked one edge of the boomie with the hull and then the rudder and prop.

On the bright side though we are now heading for another area where we should be able to send this report to you. Also we just landed a 6' blue marlin? Well it is a 6' long bluish fish with no bill. Not sure what it is, but we are pretty sure that it is good to eat!!!

We are all doing great, and the boat is doing as well as can be expected!!!


The island of Tuao

This island has been excellent.  We've had more continuous adventures here.  We came into the main lagoon rather than the false pass where most boats go.  We were going to stop near the pass entrance where we've heard about great diving, but instead, we continued on to the corner where we'd be nicely protected from the winds.  There were a few houses onshore, so we were a bit worried about disturbing them vs. having a great place to hang out.  They had some buoys out front, so we thought maybe they had a small pearl farm that we had hoped to see also.  We went to shore over to the side where there was nobody and the kids LOVED it.  There was a swing, tons of hermit crabs, caught a few lizards, collected lots of nice shells, and explored a lot.  The kids asked to not be brought home until dinner was served on their plates.  On our way out to make dinner, Courage and I stopped by the houses to find out more about the pearl farm.  Turns out the buoys mark a return path free from coral.  They were very friendly, very!, as is everyone here.  It's really impressive.  They showed us 7 lobsters they had in a cage under the water.  We asked if there were coconut crabs on this island, they went and got us a couple that they'd caught for dinner.  They were amazing!  They said they have no more on their island "because my cousin ate them all" but neighboring islands have them.  They gifted us a lobster and a coconut crab for dinner, and we went on our way.  The lobster was great; the crab was too special to eat.  We saved it for the kids to see, and then plan on setting it free.  It's slightly dangerous, it's pincher claw can cut through a coconut, it sure could do some damage to little fingers, so we had him in a box with a lid.  We returned to shore, gave them some baguettes, honey, and pamplemousse.

The following day, we toured their house area and they showed us how they do their copra (dried coconuts they sell for oil).  There was a cousin who spoke some English, so I loved practicing French while he practiced English and taught us things about how they live.  They sell the copra for $1 Euro per kilo.  When they have 5 tons, a ship comes from Tahiti and picks it up.  It brings supplies, but in bulk, coffee, rice, petrol (200L) for about $500.  That evening we had them over for dinner.  Many had never been to a boat before.  They've seen them, but not visited.  They caught us a parrotfish and a jack for dinner along with a couple other fish that they prepared and brought.  We had a great dinner and visit, then watched a movie in French for them.  They loved it.  They don't have electricity, so any TV is a treat.  They have a generator, which they run rarely to charge a cell phone since the family is split between here and Fakarava (another atoll about 20 miles away). They have no reception here though since it's not really populated, so they have to climb to the top of a coconut tree to get a signal.  Scary in the wind they say.

They told us about their school system.  From ages 5-10 they attend school at the nearby island of Fakarava.  Here, this family is able to stay with some family in their house.  It sounds like typically the mothers are staying in Fakarava with the kids while the men are working copra in Tuao.  When the children become 11, they go to Rangiroa for school until they are 15. During this time, the children do not have local family, so they sleep and eat all their meals at the school.  The family tries to send them money for basic things like clothes or phone calls or whatever.  After 3 months, the richer families are able to fly the kids home for 2 weeks.  Those that cannot afford airfare don't see their children for 6 months at a time.  After Rangiroa, the children go to Tahiti for school.  School is taught in French, but otherwise they speak an islander language.  There is a Tuamuto language as well as one understandable throughout French Polynesia.

They invited us to lunch the following day to return the hospitality.  They made lobster, crab, fish and rice.  It was delicious! We brought popcorn.  One of the guys was eating popcorn, impressed with the butter salt, and said that he always gets lobster, he's eating popcorn because that's something he never gets. For breakfast they also eat fish and rice, and for dinner.

They gave me some gorgeous shells that they'd collected from the surrounding areas.  We gave them some children's clothing for their children who should be returning from school in about a week.  They also had a lemon tree, which no longer produces lemons, so we gave them lemon juice we had, - - and a machete for doing their copra.  Hopefully these gifts to them are useful.  They are wonderful, happy, simple living people.  They buy rice and a few condiments, but otherwise live off the land - fish, lobster, and crabs with very few vegetables.  They have one breadfruit tree, which was picked clean.  The land is made of coral infiltrated by salt water, so they can't grow most things in it.  They work hard on their copra, and sell shells, lobsters and fish when the big ship comes.  They get about $17 for lobster, $12 for 2 parrotfish, and $15 for a jack.  Fishing sounds more lucrative than the copra, but both together sounds pretty productive.  They have no house or land payments, no electricity, and no car payments, live on collected rainwater, no investment for their work (coconuts and fish are plentiful on the island).  So their money goes to clothes (1-2 outfits a piece it seems), food (rice, condiments, etc.), petrol, propane, beer (when in Fakarava celebrating the sell of their copra), etc.  In general, few luxuries, few expenses, few needs, and very generous/happy people.  It is very fun and interesting to have this opportunity to meet the locals and see how they are living.   They have a gorgeous, relaxing setting with plentiful food and few needs.  It's a great set up.  I asked one of the women if she prefers here or Fakarava (small town) and she definitely prefers here.  "No stress."