Flights restarted to Nuku Hiva

Received great news yesterday: the firemen’s strike in Tahiti, which shut down the inter-island French Polynesia flights (Air Tahiti) for five days, was resolved (sort-of) sufficiently to get most of the planes flying again. Kristen was able to be on the entirely-packed flight she had originally scheduled for, that plane went for its first stop at the island of Hiva Oa, then zipped up to Nuku Hiva, and voila! – Kristen had arrived.

Kevin had arranged for a car to meet Kristen at the airport, and the fellow was standing there with a sign that said ‘TIGER BEETLE’, and Kristen found her ride back to Taiohae Bay. Not bad: depart 6:45AM in Tahiti, and 2PM she was sitting under the awning at Yacht Services with a big bottle of chilled Lime Citronade!

We hopped out to the boat, got things organized, then hot-footed it up to the Pearl Lodge for drinks and dinner with Jack and Torie. The Pearl Lodge is quite a place, kinda feels like you’re up on the hill-side, beautiful view over the bay, Jack was in rare form and he and Torie both now sport new tattoos received from Kevin’s nephew, a local Marquesan tattoo artiest. Pretty neat tattoos!

Today’s Sunday, the stores are open until 11:30 so we’re going run to shore and hit the bank, fetch drinkables, and otherwise not plan to do too much. Jack and Torie should be on their way to the airport, hopefully their plane is flying today!

– rob

Refueling day at the Total station, and learning about troughs

Yesterday was refueling day for Beetle. I think I previously described the fuel wharf in Taiohae Bay, in which one can med-moor the boat or bring jerry jugs over in the dinghy. I toted up the amount of fuel needed for Beetle, and elected to go with something I had overhead at Kevin’s Yacht Services: for 1000 XPF ($10 US) he’ll take you, your jerry jugs, puls as many more jerry jugs that he has that will fit in the back of his pickup truck to the Total gas station at the wharf, do the fill-up, and bring you back to the dinghy quay. I went for that, and his wife Annabella ran with me over to the Total station.

Seems that Total is the French Polynesia gas/diesel distributor, and from what I gathered (Annabella’s English isn’t that good, my French is non-existent) the only gas in French Polynesia is Total – they are in Tahiti, etc. I have a duty-free letter from the Polynesie Francaise Vice-Presidence, Ministere du Tourisme, de L’Economie, des Finances, du Budget, de la Communication (that person must be very busy) authorizing me to obtain fuel for ‘vessels placed under temporary admission’, no. 5094. Very formal. Also saves rather a lot of money, roughly $2 US/gallon – I paid 78 XPF/liter rather than 130/liter for my 247 liters of fuel.

The island’s gas station is at the wharf, and there are two drive-up pumps, attendants pump the fuel, the girl inside manages payment. Paying duty-free involves photocopies of everything (3 pages of paperwork: the duty free letter, the Customs Declaration, and my FP Ship Arrival/Movement form), and they do accept credit cards. Meanwhile cars form a line up the road as they wait for a pump to open up.

That done it was back to the quay, offloaded 12 jerry jugs from Annabella’s truck, bring dinghy in close to the stainless steel ladder, and at that point a super nice fellow came over and started to hand jerry jugs down to me in the dinghy. All 12 fit in one load – I’ve not had that much fuel in the dinghy before! Out to boat, transfer fuel, all is good. I did overestimate fuel, so I had 10 gallons extra – no problem, that went into the big extra jug obtained in La Cruz.

Beetle has a belly-full of diesel again.

An interesting thing I’m beginning to understand is the nature of weather troughs (aka trof), especially when they appear on the WFax as small crescent-shaped lines. With the large amount of rain we had, plus all the clouds, I was curious to see if I could figure out what causes that. I downloaded (through SailDocs) the US NWS High Seas Forecast for the South Pacific Equator to 25S Between 120W and 160E out of Hononlulu (FZPS40 is the product/forecast number), the Pacific Surface Forecast (24, 48, 72 hour) WFax broadcast by NWS Honolulu, and the GFS model output for the area. And guess what? Right there on the WFax is a little crescent shaped line indicating a trough, and it was right in front of Nuku Hiva. The High Seas Forecast stated:


I couldn’t really see the trough at all on the GFS output, though it did look like there was a bend in the wind direction that might have been due to the trough.

Ahah! While I already knew what a trough looks like on the WFax, the troughs we would have off the California coast resulted in light southerlies and perhaps a bit of mist – so they were great for traveling northbound. Out there they behave rather differently: big clouds, heavy rain, disturbed convective air behind them that can generate lightning. I think I will try to avoid troughs when possible. At this trough’s rate of travel (westward at 12 knots), the trailing convection should already have passed by last night, and thankfully we didn’t experience any thunderstorms or lightning yesterday. In fact this morning (Saturday), it’s rather nice up in the sky, a mushy grey squallness offshore and puffy boxcar clouds over the eastern ridgeline, and pale blue sky.

Let’s hope Kristen’s flight from Papeete makes it into the air today. I found Jack and Torie at the WiFi restaurant at the quay late yesterday afternoon, and learned that the reason they got a room at the fancy Pearl Lodge was because the guest(s) in that room had chartered their own plane to get them back to Tahiti. So planes can fly, at least private ones, and if you don’t mind the financial hit you can hire your own plane and get out of here. If there’s anyone around here that could afford to do that, it’s the folks staying there. Perhaps the hotel can put together a group-charter and all of them can get back to Tahiti for their international flights…

Enjoy the morning! And watch out for South Pacific troughs…

– rob

Grey morning in Taiohae Bay

Good morning – it was a fairly pleasant late afternoon and evening on board Beetle here in Taiohae Bay, the squalls are here with us and last night received about 1.5″ inches of rain; bailed out the dinghy this morning and emptied the on-deck 2 gallon buckets. I did learn that suspending a dinghy with a soft bottom alongside the boat from a halyard, even if tilted aft, doesn’t work – the dinghy takes on water and starts to sag in the center, and then nothing drains. This works for a hard-bottom dinghy (RIB), as they won’t sag. So I’m back to my regularly-scheduled on-foredeck storage for overnighting the dinghy.

I couldn’t get through to the web via the WiFi signal that I can [sometimes!] reach from the boat, so no outside news of the world as regards the fireman’s strike in Tahiti. I did read yesterday, and Kristen sent some notes over, to the effect that four fireman are needed on hand for an aircraft to either takeoff, land, or both. The fireman are unhappy that some airports are private, some are government, and because tourism is down they are receiving less pay than they expected. Of the 32 fireman all but four called in sick, effectively shutting down much of the inter-island air traffic, and to a lesser extent the international air traffic. I find it difficult to believe that preventing people (including tourists) from following through on their planned itineraries is going to increase tourism in French Polynesia; this is something of a downward spiral – fewer people will come, less money is earned, the fireman go on strike again next year, until finally nobody comes and then the airlines won’t need fireman at all as there won’t be any flights. I am highly unimpressed with the fireman. I expect that most air travelers are, also.

It was very hot/humid in the anchorage last night, so I went to sleep early and as a result am up early this morning. No sun yet, and the sky off to the south is filled with big gray masses of clouds. I’m going to pull down some more weather data via my own Iridium satellite connection as I’d like to have a clue on what’s going in the general area, and I can’t connect through ManaSpot (local WiFi folks) to get to the island’s satellite antenna uplink to the IntelSat communications satellite way up overhead.

Torie and Jack did have a hotel room last night, so just me on the boat this morning. And Kristen should have arrived in Tahiti via Air France this morning; in theory she’s on the Air Tahiti flight over to Nuku Hiva tomorrow. So I’ve been trying to figure out what the current state of affairs is as regards Air Tahiti and the strike; what I’ve been told is no planes have been to Nuku Hiva in three days now, this is the fourth day (unless my information from Pearl Lodge was incorrect).

Good morning!

– rob

Mantas in the water and dragging boats into Taiohae

Last night was a most pleasant evening in Daniel’s Bay. The waves stayed down, and I discovered that Beetle is not the only boat that smacks the water with the transom – so do Oysters! I feel better knowing that I am not the only boat that makes bonking noises in waves from astern.

The gang was up early, up with the few flies that survived Jack’s onslaught with the swatter. For whatever reason, it’s not easy to sleep when little flies are keen to land on you. I went out and transferred fuel from the 3 remaining jerry jugs, which makes Beetle ready for re-fueling at the Total station in Taiohae Bay. They don’t have a fuel dock unless you’re the big supply boat – even the large superyacht that came in couldn’t tie up there. What you do instead is set out a bow anchor and then back in towards the concrete wharf. At some point you through stern lines ashore and someone ties them to the bollards, you take up on the bow anchor to hold yourself off the concrete, and a hose is then passed out to the boat. Strikes me that a much simpler approach is to dinghy over with your jerry jugs and they will fill them and pass them back down to you. Even easier still, for 1000 XPF Kevin will drive you, your jugs, and as many of his jugs as you can to borrow, around to the Total station in his pickup truck, fill up everything in one shot, and he drives you back to the dinghy quay – then you can spend as much time as you like shuttling jugs out to your boat which has remained at anchor the entire time. I think I will try out the dinghy-to-the-wharf model first and see how it goes.

The departure from Daniel’s Bay was much more interesting than our arrival; on the way out the river outflow and incoming swell was creating six foot steep short swells in the narrow entrance, and suddenly I could see all the manta rays cruising about in the river outfall water – lots and lots of them, 6′ or so wingtip to wingtip. I’ve played dodge-’em whales, dodge-’em sea turtles, but never dodge-’em manta rays! Definitely don’t want to smack one with the propeller or rudder, even little ones are heavy, and they’re inches below the surface. At least the manta rays don’t like large dark things like boat hulls coming at them, and they would zip out of the way as we did our crashing motor out through the big swell. In thinking about that entrance, if we’d gone in with that kind of swell you’re definitely committing to the idea that there’s a cove in there to duck into, as it appears as though you’re driving right towards a solid cliff of jumbled rocks and heavy breaking waves.

The C-Map charts do not label land contour heights, which is too bad. The seemingly vertical cliff to the west could have topped out at 2000′, rising to a razor sharp ridge that runs a long way inland. And way way up on the cliff we spotted some white things moving, turns out there is a rather large herd of goats up there. I was able to zoom in with the Nikon camera and long lens, then blow that image way up in software and actually see the goat’s body and legs. I suspect those goats have found a safe place to be as nobody is going to be up there hunting them!

It was also Rob’s birthday on Shindig, only we were departing in the morning and wouldn’t be able to join them for the festivities later in the day. So out we went onto the ocean to make the 3-1/2 mile direct run back to Taiohae Bay. The ocean was grey overcast cloudy, a 10-12′ swell running, 15-20 knots of wind on the nose, and an enormous amount of reflected wave chop – one giant washing machine. We motored long slowly making 3.5 to 4 knots, banging into the chop while being lifted and lowered by the swell. The swell was fine, it was the chop that made things very slow – hitting a 4′ wall of water head on definitely throws spray sideways and does a great job of removing any excess speed Beetle might have had. And eventually we arrived to turn the corner at West Sentinel and into the bay we came. This time we anchored about 900′ closer to the east than the first time, will see if that makes any difference.

So all is good in the world, ready to drop Jack and Torie off with luggage for to make to their hotel, and radio comes alive and it’s the Pearl Lodge telling us that there is an on-going fireman’s strike in Tahiti and the airplanes haven’t been flying to Nuku Hiva for the past two days. Nobody can leave the island and the Lodge’s rooms are all full. Huh. Who would have thought? Rats. That sucks. That’s also could become a problem for Kristen’s Saturday arrival on island – a lot of effort and expense has gone into arranging trips out this way, and I find it difficult to believe that shutting down the airlines is a good way to attract tourists to French Polynesia… Hopefully that will sort its way out, but right now it’s all a big unknown.

For the afternoon Jack and Torie went ashore to have a nice dinner at the restaurant, and I retired to Beetle to read and relaxe. At about that time… the VHF comes alive – Shakedown is 4 miles out after a 49 day passage from La Cruz (yes that’s right, 49 days to get here), and they could use some assistance getting in to Taiohae as it will be black when the get to the entrance, they have a broken mainmast chainplate, and the engine starter motor is dead; sailing is risky, and they have no motor. I ask what kind of boat Shakedown is, particularly how long and how heavy: it’s a 55′ steel ketch weighing 33 tons. Looks like we’re not going to tow that around with my 9.9HP outboard, nor Mayaluga’s as they have essentially the same thing I have. Turns out Beach Flea has a 20HP motor on their much larger RIB dinghy, and he’s been in contact with Shakedown – so Beach Flea will go and asks for help in the dinghy for the fetch. I volunteer, and around 7PM off we go into the dark out into the ocean to see what we can do. We don’t go fast because we can’t see the waves, instead we motor slowly and let the waves push us around. When we arrive at Shakedown we realize it’s a big, heavy duty, somewhat rusty, cutter rigged ketch sailing on staysail and mizzen, they are a good 3/4 mile further out than they though, and they are being tossed sideways down the big swell – no chance we can safely side tie to them out there as they would slide sideways into us possibly drive the dinghy under. We instruct them over the radio to continue sailing and follow us into the bay towards calmer water, which they proceed to do. At their slow speeds they don’t have a lot of steerage, so the boat swings widely to port and starboard but does creep along in generally the desired direction.

About 45 minutes later they are well inside East Sentinel, swell is gone, and we attempt a bow tow but the dinghy is too light to get the boat to change course. So we side tie on the port aft quarter and can use the 20HP outboard as a power source while the big boat steers the course. Off we move into the bay, making 1.5-2 knots. After a lot of back-and-forthing over the radio we get Beach Flea to turn on their spreader lights as we know there’s a large area with no boats near by, we’re also asking Shakedown for AIS positions on the boats, and ask him to turn on his radar so we can call out where the anchored boats are (from our position in the dinghy we can’t really see what’s up ahead in the black). As near the anchorage we ask him for the depth and he tells us the depth sounder doesn’t work but he says the chart shows 35′ of water. We know that none of the boats are anchored in 35′ of water as that puts you too close to shore, and then we realize we’re coming up on an anchored boat that we hadn’t noticed and ask Shakedown to drop anchor straight away. He does, drops out 150′ of chain, we recommend more like 300′ on the Bruce anchor, he does, and he stops. Yeah! He’s in! We untie from Shakedown and go over to roust the folks on the nearby boat and let them know what’s going on – turns out they’ve been up in the cockpit listening to our chatter on the VHF. We explain the situation (no motor, very heavy, very tired, don’t know the bay) and they say they will keep an anchor watch for a couple of hours and if Shakedown starts to drag they’ll move instead of asking Shakedown to do so. Very nice people.

Back to Beetle for me. Jack and Torie radio in from the quay, they’re back from dinner, and Jack was out on the restaurant porch listening to us on the VHF and watching the boat coming in. Maybe a lot of people were listening, there wasn’t much other activity in the bay.

Then it was to bed and get some sleep. Busy busy day and evening!

– rob

Daniel’s Bay

This evening finds Beetle on the hook in Daniel’s Bay; Daniel isn’t here any more as he died two years ago, but the bay sure is and it’s a nice place to spend an evening. Calm (certainly as compared to Taiohae), little wind due to the towering cliffs to the west on which goats can be spotted wandering across, and good sand holding for the anchor. There is a fringe reef of rock and coral on the SE side of the bay – I snorkeled over and it definitely is a wall – it goes from deep to 5′ in zero distance, there’s simply a wall there.

The visibility is poor in the bay, lots of suspended sand and river outfall from the big waterfall an 90 minute hike up the opposite bay, and snorkeling wasn’t impressive. However, there are cowries hanging out in the coral, the coral is shallow as compared to Taiohae so you can get quite close and watch it, there is an interesting short-spined sea urchin on the rocks, and some really big snail-type critters (think of a 5″ tall cone, with the animal’s foot on the bottom of the cone, well camoflauged to blend in with the rocks). So the snorkel was certainly worthwhile.

The day started with an hour and a half sail more or less straight offshore, for purposes of emptying the holding tank and running the water maker. Winds were 15-20 knots on the beam, swell was around 6′ and we lumped along off the island, watermaker chugging along. Then we gybed and rolled along back towards the coast; it is essentially impossible to see the bay entry from offshore, which made for an exciting entry as while we knew where we wanted to go, it was difficult to see where we were relative to the rocks. The scale of everything here is vastly different than what I’m used to, and there are no buildings or people or anything to get scale from. Looking at the chart tells you you’re still 2 miles out which is far away but seems way too close given the crashing waves.

So you sail on in towards the green, and then you start to see the separation of the far cliff from the nearby point and realize that you really are in the right place – very cool! Rounded the corner and there were the boats – about 10 on the hook, we were number 11, good room to swing, and nicely calm. We didn’t get the dinghy up and out, and instead Torie took a great long nap on deck in the shade, Jack chased flies heavily armed with two fly swatters (thanks to the Farallone Island trips), and I read back in my bunk and then napped. Very nice to be in a boat that isn’t doing the herky-jerky thing. There is a hike up to the waterfall that starts from the adjacent bay, and I’ve heard that on a high tide one can dinghy up quite a ways – though I imagine you need to exit before low tide! That will be another trip, ideally with Kristen when she arrives, as this is a neat place to be.

There were a lot of boats out sailing around as well, the weather today was a huge improvement over the nasty gray overcast and wind that we had the prior two days. Good sun, box car tradewind clouds, boats sailing over to Ua-Pou from Nuku Hiva and the reverse, a big Oyster traveling down the coast to Daniel’s, and met the sailboat Pelagic that radioed in en-route to Taiohae indicating they were just finishing up a five day run into the trades from the Tuamotus and he indicated they were very tired and wanted to get into town and rest. That’s why people like to go downwind, much more civilized!

Upshot is all is good here, a bit of rain from a passing cloud, and there are land crabs on the beach (a real sand beach, complete with palm trees) that folks were chasing – apparently they are good for dinner, though we haven’t chased any to find out. The stars are out in force, popping up in between the clouds, and the three of us spent some time hanging out on deck star-watching. Torie has quite enjoyed her day on the water, especially with the Dramamine helping out a bit to keep the tummy from being queezy.

Time to turn in for me, it’s a bit after 7PM local time, it’s black out side (except for the excitingly colored anti-panga lighting on the sailboats here – blue, yellow, red, green – lots of colors), and it’s interesting that when it goes black outside it seems that one ought to go to sleep!

Enjoy the evening, time for a bit of a read and then snooze.

– rob

Out for a bit of a sail Tuesday morning

This fine Tuesday morning finds Beetle out on on the big lumpy pond, good sunshine, doing a slow jog offshore for an hour and then back in for an hour (or so), intended destination Daniel’s Bay. The goal is to dump the holding tank (done) and run the water maker (running along nicely at 7.9 GPH into the port freshwater tank). That will give us plenty of water (and an empty holding tank) for when we’re in Daniel’s Bay this afternoon.

A lot of the La Cruz fleet took off yesterday into the strong winds, we elected to remain inside and that has proven to be a good thing – today it is 14-18 knots, nice sun, sea state is 6′ or so. Yesterday reports were 22-27 knots and 8′ swell, plus it was grey and unfriendly looking. Lots of boats scooting around out here today, several have gone past headed for Taiohae, others going tow Ua-Pou with is the 26 miles beam reach across from Taiohae.

Jack and Torie came back from the hotel for yesterday and today, tomorrow the plan is to be back in Taiohae for another three or so nights in the hotel. Torie is feeling better on the water with the aid of some Dramamine, that’s a good thing.

Otherwise not much to report, just jogging along out here. Fish line is out, on the proper rod and reel no less, though nothing has chomped on the lure yet. Jack keeps inspecting it. Two hours left on the watermaker run.

Enjoy the morning!

– rob

Preparing for Daniel’s Cove

Today the plan was for Jack and Torie to join Beetle boat for a run around the corner to the next cove over – Daniel’s Cove, where the water is reported to be flatter and more mellow than the herky-jerky chop that we have here in Taiohae. However, the SE trades have filled and it was definitely fast sailing offshore. Boats headed to the southern islands decided to remain here, several boats headed out in the morning towards the nearest island some 26 miles to the SE and reported 22-27 knots of wind presenting a beat to get there, and one boat (Terrapin) turned around when they discovered the green water coming over the bow was threatening to dislodge their kayaks stored on deck up forward. Definitely a windy day out this way after a week of mellow wind.

For my part I did not have a good sleep last night and woke up several times through the night. A tylenol in the morning helped reduce headache, and I read for most of the morning. I went and picked up the latest weather files and could see the incoming SE trades filling as the pressure gradient moved north (the ITCZ is way north right now). I listened to the folks headed out via VHF as they reported in the outside conditions, and more than a few boats decided to hang here rather than go banging out.

Jack and Torie checked out of their hotel and popped over to the quay, where I picked them up with the dinghy. Communications are a bit problematic at the moment as most people are reporting the internet it out (difficult to communicate via email), and the hotel doesn’t have a VHF radio to talk to the fleet. So we managed, and got them out to the boat.

Torie went swimming, as did Jack, I had a shower this morning and didn’t go for a swim, and ran the Honda generator for several hours to bring the batteries up to charge. Now we have a full day tank of diesel, 15 gallons + port tank in reserve, and 6 gallons of fresh water (which we’ll fix tomorrow with the watermaker run).

And tonight we have some stars, that’s pretty nice. It’s been funny listening to the Oyster fleet, they definitely would like their parts to arrive and when the captains heard that DHL is completely backed up this morning they were not pleased. It does sound as though the Oyster group has sent along an extra boat loaded down with spare parts, tools, and sailed by technicians and mechanics that can fix most anything that breaks in the fleet. I heard them today talking about when the rigger was going to come by and go over the boat to make sure each Oyster is ready for the next leg. That’s a great way to help ensure a fleet gets around the world in short order, without having to wait in various ports for equipment to arrive by air.

So not it is 8PM local, late for me! Time to get some sleep. Hopefully tomorrow is a lot of fun!

– rob