Wednesday morning supply ship at Rotoava

Good morning, the wind is coming up from the East, sky is a lot of blue with puffy tradewind boxcar clouds, and here comes the supply ship! Big blue bow of Cobia 3 (154′ supply ship) is headed my way, and this time I chose the mooring ball closest to the wharf so I shall have ringside seats to the activities. To add to the mix, the Arannui 5 is also coming in, they are the combined supply ship and cruise ship. That should make things at the wharf somewhat exciting if both ships try to use the wharf. There’s also a small metal sailboat side-tied to one end of the wharf, I wonder if they will need to shift to make room.

There are also a superyacht in here: the 207′ motoryacht Party Girl back from Tahiti and looks to be headed to the South pass via the center channel. Another huge motor yacht turned out to be the 148′ French Polynesian Master mini-cruise ship, and the smaller (but still big) 65′ trawler Seahorse is here and on their way out the North pass. I last saw Seahorse at anchor next to me in Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva. The 85′ power catamaran Azure II is anchored at Rotoava close in to the church on the south side of the wharf – the owner is flying out today from here headed home, his father is also on board and he flies out of Tahiti on the weekend, so Azure II is departing Fakarava this afternoon to get to Tahiti in time and then will spend the month of July in Tahiti – at which point the owner will be back on board and they will continue their adventures in the South Pacific.

The captain of French Polynesian Master has been super helpful to the cruisers in the area, as he visits Fakarava often, has a lot of local knowledge, and the ship seems to keep a permanent bridge presence which means you can always get them on the VHF. He has particularly good weather data and can read and retrieve all the various French weather data. I’m plotting his course down the center channel via AIS to see how his track compares to the one I did. And interestingly, I lost French Polynesia Master’s AIS signal at 8 miles out. I can still see Party Girls’s AIS, they are following the first boat in – so I’ll continue to plot them.

It’s interesting how the boats you cross with seem to move around and we run into each other again at various points. The boats I’ve been talking with on the SSB radio net are also floating around out here and periodically you realize that the boat you’re listening to on the net is suddenly anchored in the same corner of the atoll that you are – so after the net I go on deck with the binoculars to spot them.

The Aranui 5 is now anchored directly behind Beetle and they’ve launched several metal landing-craft type boats that have dual outboards, these are being used to shuttle the cruise ship passengers to shore. Lots of tents have been set up on the quay, I can see Stephanie and her husband have a tent up and all their bicycles are under it and available to rent for the day. Tomorrow there’s a holiday on the atoll, I don’t know for what purpose – apparently there will be drumming and dancing and all sorts of good fun. With the Aranui here the drummers are out on the quay and making all kinds of musical noise. The holiday also means all the stores are closed tomorrow (Thursday) so if there’s anything I want I need to plan for and get it today – as I don’t need much I suspect there won’t be too much rush shopping happening on Beetle. Speaking of shopping, Rob on Shindig had a funny way of describing their shopping trips: ‘targeted shopping’. I suspect that a lot like me, I don’t go to stores to just go shopping, I usually go out to ‘obtain a specific thing’ – perhaps this is what Shindig means by ‘target shopping’?

On the net I’ve heard that S/V Silverland has found the diver Gary in Kauehi, they brought him back across the lagoon to their dinghy (an 8 mile ride, very wet), Gary was able to dive the anchor and they got it free with some maneuvering and a trip line. Silverland said their anchor is a little bent now but serviceable. And Silverland was super happy that Gary was in the atoll with his dive operation.

I’ve looked at the damage at the port bow deck cleat where the snubber wore through some fairing compound, it’s not a big deal and did not get to the fiberglass. I’m doing up a number of splices this morning to repair lines that were worn through, and also to replace the dinghy painter with a new one – the sun sure eats polypropylene line out here in a hurry!

Enjoy the day!

– rob

Monday morning at Hirifa – unwrapping from bommie day

Good morning – it’s Monday morning here in Hirifa, the wind has shifted around to the North and remained light, Hirifa has protection from the North. The big plan for the day is to unwrap Beetle’s anchor chain from the bommie downstairs. The plan is to shorten up scope a bit, and then drive the boat slowly around in a clockwise circle. The hope is that this will work and sometimes it does if you try enough times. If it doesn’t then I will need to get out the hookah gear and go down to the bottom and see about moving things around manually. The game then is to not get caught between the chain and calcium carbonate, as then you can lose fingers and things, and that would be no fun.

On last night’s radio net we heard from a boat at the atoll Kauehi, they had migrated over to the pass to wait for the slack, and anchored. When time came to depart the anchor would not come up, it was stuck on something. They cleverly lowered a GoPro camera and were able to figure out that their chain is hooked on two protruding prongs of coral, and they’ve been unable to unwrap the chain by maneuvering the boat. Unfortunately, they are anchored in 28 meters of water (92 feet deep) and they do not have dive gear on board to get down there. They were hoping one of the boats with dive tanks might be coming over to Kuaehi over the next several days and would they be willing to help out? A fellow on the net knew that last year there was a dive operation run by a Frenchman living on his sailboat in the lagoon – perhaps he is still there this year? We’ll find out (hopefully) on today’s radio net.

When there is stuff to catch on the bottom many of the boats elect not to anchor in water deeper than they can service. For Coastal Drifter that means nothing more than 40′ as they have a 50′ hose on a hookah. For me that means 50′ as I have a 60′ hose on my hookah. One of my plans is obtain an additional 150 feet of air hose – that would increase length to 210′ and that is enough to set the hookah up on the bow of Beetle and then I can simply follow the anchor chain along its length to find out what’s going on. Having the hookah on the big boat is a lot easier than setting things up in the dinghy with the air compressor and power generator, mostly because when whatever is going on is cleared up I don’t have to then run up and do dinghy retrieval – all that gear is already on the big boat.

And now it is much later in the day, Beetle is back at the North end of Fakarava, on the north side of the wharf on a mooring ball.

The morning started with something of a mess is terms of unwrapping the anchor chain from the bommie – I managed to do it in more or less one pass but it did take a fair bit of finagling with the throttle and rudder, then neutral, then run to the bow and monkey with the windlass, then back to the wheel. At one point the chain went bar tight straight down and in advance of that possibility I had backed off the chain gypsy friction coupler to be not very much, so the gypsy started to slip (as it should) while the windlass motor was attempting to grind in chain – didn’t snap off or bend the bow roller, that’s a good thing, didn’t damage the windlass. And then POP! we were off the bommie. Next game is to get the anchor chain clear of the gypsy by bringing it in fast before the chain can drape under the bommie again (getting the chain clear also pulls the boat forward towards the anchor, which unloads the chain, the chain drops to the sea bed again, repeat). I rant to the bow and pressed hard on the windlass UP button (which actually points down, don’t ask, something to do with the installer pointing the buttons in reverse directions) and the chain stayed clear of the bommie – yeah team! Turns out the bottom sandy stuff is extremely sticky finely ground coral and a big old glob of it came up attached to the anchor – reminds me a bit of white molasses. I drifted around for a bit to remove stuff from the anchor, and then decided that with the northerly filled, the anchor retrieved, I should quit while I was ahead – so I headed for the north end of Fakarava and elected to try out the inside/motu/eastern channel rather than the center one I can down on.

And I finally figured out what it is we’re all trying to avoid hitting out here: the deep water is blue, blue is good. The emerald lozenge/stripey shapes are the shallow reefs, bad. The dark brown spots are basalt rock, bad. The emerald reefs are actually fairly easy to spot once you know what you’re looking for. The brown spots are problematic, to put it mildly. Fortunately most of the stuff you run into is reefy coral bits bathed in emerald – not too difficult to spot with the binoculars from the back of the boat. And the rocks are well-marked, at least in the charted channel – otherwise you’d never see them unless they poke up out of the water. All that stuff works when the sun is behind you; the moment the sun gets overhead or in front it fails as now you can’t see anything but a shiny mirror-like ruffled water surface out in front. It’s definitely an odd feeling to be motoring along (slowly – speed is set to equal the amount of damage one would like to do to the boat, less is better) and look to the side and see an emerald half-moon go sliding by a 100 feet off… and you never knew it was there, as it’s outside the very narrow charted channel and it’s too small to show up on Google Earth imagery. Had a number of those go by the boat today. And then the channel turned North and now the sun is reflecting off the water and all you can do slow down and hope the charts are good – you can’t see down into the water through the reflected glare. The last hour coming up was no fun – but I didn’t hit anything so the charts must be reasonably accurate. Hurrah for SHOM! (French Hydrographic Office – I like them).

Up here at the north end of Fakarava the 1-2′ wind waves generated by the light northerly wind are missing as I’m tucked in right against the shore (Beetle will probably get more flies, less swell – you choose). Shindig is here, I talked briefly with Rob on the VHF and I’m going to meet him and Nancy on board their boat sometime between 4:30 and 5pm and hopefully hear about their adventures so far. They are planning to bip on over to the next atoll in the group, Toau, and set up there for the next significant wind event so he can go kite boarding. The wind is forecast to remain light NW to E over the next couple of days, and then fill in strong from the East (20+ knots). Everybody in Fakarava will be fine with wind out of the east – we have the motu to hide behind – and Rob is hoping to go do some zooming around on his board when that breeze fills in.

So that’s the world according to Beetle, having your anchor on board is a fine thing to have in the morning. I sure hope the fellow at Kauehi isn’t still stuck in front of the pass. He was so hoping to be out yesterday afternoon, and that could turn into several days of waiting. Anchors and chains are not inexpensive (Beetle’s is on the order of $2,000), not something you casually discard, and replacing one out here is a nightmare. So if the anchor is stuck, so is the boat – you don’t jettison the whole thing over the side and carry on, unless you’re a charter boat (lots of jokes out here about charter boats and anchors)… We also become attached to our anchors, once it has been through a storm or two it has proven itself and you trust it; getting a brand new anchor resets the level of trust to near-zero, and that trust has to be rebuilt over time in bad weather.

So have a good afternoon, this is Beetle signing off until the 0400 radio net.

– rob

Bommie at Hirifa

Here is the small bommie that Beetle's anchor chain is wrapped around. The anchor is 25 feet off to the lower left, I set the anchor, then the chain lay on the bottom. The boat followed the wind around counter clockwise, and that's the wrap the chain makes around the coral bump sticking perhaps two feet up out of the sand. Normally people complain about bommies; I'm sorry I hurt this one, but I am very glad it hung on to the chain through the strong westerlies we had.

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

Saturday morning, not much of a Maramu after all

It appears the Maramu winds haven’t appeared, and probably aren’t going to – what has happened is the wind has shifted nicely right round the clock and remained on the light side at 12-15 knots and nicely cool, as the wind is from the south and at this time of year (middle of winter) it’s cool to the south. I even wore a T-shirt yesterday! Last night it was pleasant here, I got in a good night’s sleep and was only up three times to check on things. No squalls, either.

The frontal passage has been the big news for the past couple of days, and boats spent most of yesterday resting and staying on board as everybody was tired from the all-nighter anchor watch. There was quite a bit of discussion regarding how to handle another similar event: how do we avoid being the idiots on the lee shore with 30 knots of wind pushing us into the reef and 3-4′ chop? From what I gleaned of the conversations, the only real option is to find protection from the west that will break up the wind waves. In Fakarava such protection doesn’t exist, in Tahanea there’s an area where a fringe reef extends into the lagoon and you can position the boat between the little fringe reef and the motu – several boats hung there and said it was ok. For Fakarava the option seems to be to get out of the atoll entirely and go to the other side of the motu – only doing this requires that one plan the exit through the pass as the pass is a tidal gate, but once you’re outside you have open ocean to move around in.

The Fakarava lagoon is 13.7 miles across west to east to Hirifa where I am, and that’s plenty of fetch to build up big chop – no chance to run a dinghy through it (the dinghy would swamp), the wave tops are cresting over and occasionally breaking in the strong wind, meanwhile the boats are hobby-horsing in it, the bow rising and falling a good 6′. Shindig was burying their bow while on the mooring, Beetle was doing the same thing, so was Coastal Drifter. I’m glad I tied the dinghy to the foredeck, as the water would have pushed the dinghy around despite the weight of the outboard motor.

With the bow going up and down like that a big concern is that the chain can get caught up on a bommie that steals the catenary, at which point the next time the bow goes up a tremendous load is applied to the chain as it goes bar tight. Shindig stated that for him it would tear out the bow roller, the chain can start to cut down through the deck and hull or the chain can break. If that happens and the chain doesn’t break then you have to start paying out chain and that’s rather dangerous in those conditions as the snatch loads as the bow rises are very high and you’ve got your hands down in there with the chain. Normally you have a nylon snubber acting as a rubber band between the chain and the boat to relieve the shock loads. S/V Leeward (in Tahanea next door) had their snubber break and then the shock loads started to hit the bow directly. Fortunately he heard the ruckus and crunchy noises and was able to fashion a second snubber quickly and install it without hurting himself or the windlass.

I dove the anchor several times today, and can see that the anchor is set in sand, the chain runs perhaps 15′ and does a 270 degree wrap around a small bommie, goes another 30′ and bends around another bommie, then up to the boat. The first bommie is what held Beetle off the reef in the worst of the conditions, so I guess I like that bommie(!), the second bommie is not so good as that would start to steal catenary. I did a couple more dives and attached a pearl farm buoy to the chain. The buoy will support 15kg and while the chain weighs more than that the buoy’s location along the chain is such that the chain (under light load) is lifted several feet above the second bommie and under more load (when the wind pushes the boat back against the chain) the chain straightens some and remains above the bommie. The problem before the buoy went on is under light load the chain would drape all the way to the bottom and run alongside the second bommie.

I made up several 6″ loops of 1/8″ dacron cord that can be luggage-tagged through a chain link and the buoy has a 6 foot length of 1/4″ line leading to a bronze snap hook; it is possible to lift the chain high enough to get the loop luggage-tagged in place and snap the buoy’s hook to the loop.

When I went in the wanter the remoras came out from under Beetle to follow me around. They are funny fish, wide and flat. There two distinct types under Beetle: larger shiny silver ones up to perhaps 24″, and smaller ones with a dark stripe that runs the length of the fish. They have inquisitive eyes and will swim right up to you in the water to see if you’ve brought them something to eat. And at rest you can see them suckered onto the keel, hanging vertically like hand tools hung on a peg board over the work bench. There’s also a large trumpet fish swimming around, it liked to follow me back and forth along the anchor chain while I was working on the pearl buoy. This trumpet fish had a long thin white filament trailing aft of the split caudal fin, it must have been for decoration, or maybe it’s a feeler if the fish likes to hang vertically in the water tail-down, the filament might tell the fish when it’s close to the bottom. Interesting fish.

Deb and Phil from Coastal Drifter launched the dinghy late afternoon to go ashore and look for pearl buoys, but didn’t find any. They did report that Liv (sp?), the lady reported to have a restaurant in the area, in fact has the structure at the tippy end of the motu and she has a large pile of pearl buoys at her place. Maybe they can score some buoys from her? After their dinghy ashore they stopped by Beetle for a visit and we talked about the weather travails over brie and crackers and Hinano beer. Phil is looking at their anchor setup for ways to improve it: update the snubber, the buoys, maybe a chain stopper. Turns out Phil and I were both looking at the shore to figure out a safe place to swim in, if the boat was lost where would you go? Unlikely you’d get through unscathed if you were in the water and tried to get out on the rocky reef, there’s sharp coral there and the chop was simply smashing into it. There is a building visible on shore and just to the south of that structure the reef gives way to sand – that seemed to be a safer place to aim for. It was interesting to note that we were both thinking through the same problem.

Fun to have folks over for a bit, and here in the Tuamotus you can get canned brie cheese – it’s literally brie cheese in the regular wrapper, then placed in a can and sealed. Has an amazing shelf life!

During the night the wind has shifted round another 45 degrees and we’re back to the SE breeze, still have 100% grey cloud cover up high, and the water is nicely flat as there’s minimal fetch here in the SE corner. I’ve been up to look at the chain and snubber, all is holding well. I think today I will launch the dinghy and do a little exploring here. One thing I don’t have that would be fun to add to the kit is one of those small handheld depth sounders – it could be used in conjunction with a handheld GPS to draw up a rough picture of the bottom contours and locate the rocks and coral heads. I do have a fishing weight on a dacron cord marked off in 5′ increments, I’ll experiment with that today and see what I can do.

Enjoy the day!

– rob

We’re having the opposite of ‘post card’ weather

Last night and today have not been pleasant in Fakarava – the front pushed through SW to NE and it was no fun at all. Everyone here knew it was coming, and being inside an atoll is a lot like being inside a bowl filled with coral heads that limit your ability to travel – you can run around the interior and whichever side you’re on will have no protection from the other, and you hope you don’t hit a coral head in the process – so no moving in the dark!

In Fakarava there is no protection from winds from the West – the area to west is a reef without much in the way of motus, that area is filled with coral heads, is uncharted, and the boats that have gone over to explore that area (on good clear days) have reported nothing shallow enough to use as an anchorage. So when the forecast says winds from the west your choices are to get out of the atoll entirely and be in the open ocean (not much to hit there), or hang inside and trust that the anchor will do its job. From that perspective the Society Islands (Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea) have a lot to offer – they have both a fringing reef and a center island, kind of combining the benefits of Nuku Hiva with Fakarava, protection from the ocean swell and good anchoring with protection from the opposite side.

Here I’ve been talking with three boats on the radio:

Shindig is about halfway up the motu, on a mooring, exposed from the NW to S. He had a sleepless night and finally moved up to the cockpit and slept there to keep an eye on things. Nothing bad happened, just very bouncy and he’s glad the mooring held.

Tumbleweed is at the south pass, I believe they are on a mooring, and they had an unpleasant night with much more wind than expected and 3′ waves washing through. Everything is ok for them.

Coastal Drifter is next to me in Hirifa, and they believe they are wrapped on a bommie. Their stainless steel chain hook for attaching the snubber to the anchor chain bent and now won’t stay attached to the chain. He’s attached a short snubber via a prussik knot to the chain in order to unload the windlass.

I had some chafe issues where the snubber bridle lines run from the cleat and out over the deck – some fairing compound was worn through at the port cleat. And the starboard bridle line must have gotten wrapped on the chain as 1 strand of the 3 strand nylon is worn through. I hopped in the water during a lull and cut away the trip line and buoy, as it turns out I’m not actually lying to the anchor but in fact the chain is wrapped around a bommie. As the wind shifts to the south I will eventually do a 450 degree revolution around the anchor (and bommie) and will wrap the working part of the anchor chain into the trip line – can’t have that, as that would tangle up everything down there. This would be bad, in particular if the chain comes free of the bommie and then the anchor will need to remain set an the trip line would in fact pull it out. So I cut the trip about 15′ above the anchor, that line has a lead core and will sink, so should stay free of things – at least I hope it does. I also added a dock line as a backup to the damaged starboard bridle line.

The front has now passed overhead, and we’re looking at light air (and possibly more squalls) until the trades fill from the S to SE. When that happens we should have wind again, but now will be very well protected by the Motu here at Hirifa. A fourth boat arrived a short while ago, and sounds like several more folks are headed over this way – this is definitely the place to be in a strong southerly.

And now that the squalls with the lightning in them have gone away, I can get the computer back out of the oven and check-in to see what’s happening!

– rob

Postcard shot from Fakarava

The view from a small fine sand/coral beach near the north pass of Fakarava.

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Notes on getting to Hirifa, in Fakarava south

Notes for folks that are thinking about coming in to the anchorage at Hirifa, at the SE corner of Fakarava, from the South pass or traveling South down the center channel of the lagoon.

Tiger Beetle draws 8 feet, I traveled down the center channel through the Fakarava lagoon from Rotoava in the north to Hirifa in the south, June 2017. The channel is charted on CMap and Navionics. The CMap chart was the one I looked at during the trip, it was accurate. I did not know if the shallow water features were accurately located on the chart, so I kept at least a 1/4 mile distance between myself and the charted location of rocks and coral heads.

Pearl farm buoys are all over the place in the north end of the lagoon. They are 12″ to 18″ diameter plastic floats, the lines from the floats go straight down to a weight or anchor on the bottom, there should not be lines connecting the buoys together at the surface. That said, avoid traveling through the large collection of pearl farm buoys southwest of the anchorage at Rotoava. I was advised by Stephanie at Fakarava Yacht Services to go west around the buoys, taking the buoys to port. Once clear of the buoys, then proceed to the center channel.

Waypoints I used in the center channel (degrees, minutes.thousandths of minutes)

1: 16º 08.170’S x 145º 37.564’W
2: 16º 11.275’S x 145º 37.003’W
3: 16º 15.428’S x 145º 34.725’W
4: 16º 16.708’S x 145º 34.391’W
5: 16º 16.962’S x 145º 34.057’W
6: 16º 17.471’S x 145º 34.054’W
7: 16º 18.666’S x 145º 33.605’W
8: 16º 27.774’S x 145º 29.055’W
9: 16º 29.791’S x 145º 27.582’W

At waypoint 1 there is a rock charted as 0.53M to the east

Waypoints 4,5,6 are going around two charted coral heads (depths of 6 and 8 feet) and two charted rocks, none of which I observed.

Coastal drifter reported a coral head close by to 16º 16.9629’S x 145º 34.0554’W. I did not see such a coral head, and in looking at my track I went by 50 feet to the east of that point.

At the south end of the channel there’s a red vertical pole marking a coral head and bit of surrounding reef, which is taken to port when heading to Hirifa from the center channel. Red markers are kept to the lagoon side, green markers are kept to the motu side.

Between the red marker and Hirifa thare is no depth information or cartography on CMap or Navionics. Eyeball navigation and using the existing marks is required. The sandy shallow area to the south are easy to see in good light, the deeper water simply looks dark blue. I kept the boat in 60 to 75 feet of water and went relatively slowly (4 knots) and found no obstacles that I needed to avoid.

Waypoints are:

10: 16º 29.988’S x 145º 27.163’W (keep red marker to north)
11: 16º 29.318’S x 145º 26.438’W (keep green marker to south) 12: 16º 27.708’S x 145º 23.766’W (keep red marker to north)
13: 16º 26.854’S x 145º 22.144’W

The last waypoint put me in the anchorage. The bottom was white sand, coral bommies were not observed until quite shallow water, at 20 foot. The bottom shoaled up to 15 feet at point 16º 26.760’S x 145º 21.844’W. I did NOT anchor there, but turned the boat around to look at the bottom for bommies, which are dark brown against the white sand.

Anchor point, 30 foot depth, white sand bottom:
16º 26.787’S x 145º 21.955’W

S/V Tumbleweed supplied four waypoints for coral formations that were near the surface and near the East channel that runs along the motu – these would be things to watch out for when navigating that channel:

A) S 16º15.305′ W 145º33.348′
B) S 16º10.589′ W 145º34.938′
C) S 16º15.297′ W 145º33.353
D) S 16º24.840′ W 145º23.805

– rob