Thursday – all is quiet in Hirifa

Well, mellow day so far, breeze has backed off a bit which makes it more comfortable to go snorkeling, which is wet but fun! Lots of fishes to see under the water.

Yesterday was quite windy on the lagoon, 20-25 knots and that made dinghy rides wet. Not so bad when you plan to get wet anyway, but no fun if you intended to stay dry. Fortunately, I had pre-planned to get wet so it was ok. Not a lot to see this time, either my timing was wrong or the cloud cover was too extensive and instead things looks mostly grey under the water. Note to self: next time wait for bright sun to appear before jumping in the water with a camera.

We had 15 boats in the anchorage last night, so there’s been a small amount of boat-shuffling going on as a few people depart and a few more + 1 arrive. Weather looks to remain about the same for the next two to three days, so I’m planning to hang here and enjoy the surroundings, even if it is windy and wet in the dinghy.

Not a lot to report, I fixed a couple things on the boat (replaced a burned out light bulb, re-attached the port side bungee jib-car puller-backer line that slides the jib cars aft when under no load), and relaxed with books. I’ve also got a forecast now for International Space Station fly-bys courtesy of my Mom; that will make it fun to look for the ISS as now I know in what direction to look at what time should there be clear sky off in that direction. It’s really bright compared to the stars and should be easy to see, plus it moves really really fast relatives to stars.

And latest news on the ground catamaran: the boat is likely a total loss, and the incident is being blamed on the Navionics electronic charts, in that the reef point they were attempting to round ‘moved’ based on the zoom level into the chart. That sounded really odd, so I went and plugged in the reef point they hit into my C-Map charts and the reef doesn’t move as I zoom in/out. I also did the same on the Navionics charts on my Furuno chart plotter and that reef does not move at all based on zoom level. I do not know what hardware/software combination the boat was using, but I can’t replicate the reported issue on my gear.

Later on today Ashika and Beetle are considering going ashore to visit Liza and see what’s what on shore.

The weather window is looking good for a Monday/Tuesday departure for Tahiti, looks like the windy bits are due to lay down as the High departs to the east and a front passes to the south of the area, opening up the pressure gradient over the area. If that holds true I will hop up to Rotoava on Sunday and set up for the hop over to Tahiti.

All is good on this end!

– rob

Wednesday morning – wind has arrived

It’s Wednesday morning in Hirifa and the the air pressure has risen 3 more millibars, which should signify that the High has come a bit closer and we’ve got the wind now. Breeze is now a fairly steady 20 knots gusting to 25 and that’s strong wind for the SE trades. Beetle hasn’t budged from where the anchor is down in the good holding sand bottom, nor have any of the other boats. It’s a bit grey outside as the clouds have returned in a fairly dense cover of puffy clouds with the larger darker squall clouds interspersed – the strongest wind will be with those squalls, only one went over the anchorage and that was last night.

Yesterday was a good day, lots of sunshine to go with the cooler wind, and I went and did some aquatic exploring in the form of snorkeling one of the reefs that is marked by a red-lit channel post – these are the reefy bits visible in the Google Earth satellite imagery that we’re all looking at as there are no navigational charts for this section of Fakarava. Turns out they are serious reefs, lots of calcium carbonate corals layered on top of a chunk of lava basalt rock that is 80 feet high and comes essentially straight up from the bottom to surface level. I anchored the dinghy by the simple expedient of tossing the grapnel anchor onto a sandy patch without obvious coral, and the anchor caught on a notch of the rock. Lots and lots of fishes underwater of different kinds, the big clams set into the coral in various places, and when you swim around the deep side there’s a drop-off that goes much deeper than in the drop-off are the bigger fish hiding out beneath the rock and coral overhangs. So that’s what the satellite imagery is warning us about – and do not hit one with the boat, it would be bad for the boat.

Then I went across to check out an area right along the shore and found that at high tide it is possible to take the dinghy directly into an indentation in the reef that goes right up to a small flat beach (10′ across), no chop, and there’s a section of reef that has been ground smooth – that must be the low point and the water washes through there and has turned the spiky uneven coral into a ribbon of smooth flat surface, like having a sidewalk to take you straight to the ocean-side of the reef. Over there I found two more pearl buoys sitting high and dry, and a bunch of black fish netting weashed up and stretched across the reef in various directions where it got caught on the coral. The coral up this high is all old dead coral, and the outer reef above the low water level is composed of chunks of broken off dead corals all lodged together – the unevenness of the coral turns the reef into a series interlocking little puzzle pieces that are surprisingly well joined together.

I learned during the radio net that at Liza’s place on the motu is a set of lemon shark jaws hanging from a tree. It seems that the folks living in the atolls treat sharks somewhat like Americans treat wolves – not so good, and if the wrong one shows up they will go kill the animal. In Liza’s case there were kids swimming on the beach and she saw the Lemon shark there, and those sharks have a tendency to attack anything – including people. Out came the kids and she went in to get the shark. I don’t know how one targets a specific animal out of the many sharks here, but they do; the story about the Tiger shark is the same thing, someone saw the Tiger shark, reported it to the dive shops, the dive shops sent people out specifically to find that animal and they did. In Liza’s case she found that Lemon shark and killed it – voila! – safe to go back in the water. I think what I’m learning is that if I see something other than a Blacktip, Whitetip, or Grey shark then I should assume the shark may NOT leave you alone, in which case get out of the water. The first two are very distinctive what with the vividly coloured fin-tips, the third one I don’t know about as I haven’t seen one but I do the know the Gray sharks are typically outside the reef in deeper water. And the Nurse sharks don’t count.

Had a nice dinner on board last night, talked a bit with Ashika, and was informed via the net the Palmerston Island now has THREE new mooring balls set up, managed by Bill and Bob. From what I remember about Palmerston, it’s a tiny island about 1000 miles off to the west, and there are two families living on the island. The stories I’ve heard paint a picture of two feuding families that don’t talk to each other, which I must say is absurd; it seems that isn’t the case now, that Bill and Bob get along well and have struck a friendly deal – when a boat arrives the first one out in the skiff to greet the boat gets to ‘host’ the boat for the duration of the boat’s stay. Black Watch has arrived there (they were 10 days ahead of me departing La Cruz, Mexico) and said it was amazing – they were ashore for dinner at Bill or Bob’s house, pork and chicken and ice cream and all kinds of things. The supply ship arrives on a 2-3 month interval and Bill and Bob must have big freezers to keep everything in. Sounds like an unusual place.

The current news from the morning radio net is that a private catamaran Tandem Alika (or Tandem Malaka), possibly from San Diego or seen in San Diego, went on the reef at the south end of Hauahine last night. Tahiti Rescue flew a helicopter over and rescued the family of six (they are all ok, no injuries, now on shore at Huahine), and several cruisers I know that were part of the Puddle Jump had moved anchorage to right there at the south end in order to maximize protection from the strong ESE winds: Terrapin, Beach Flea, and Cape D went out in their dinghies to try and help. Beach Flea in particular has a large dinghy with a powerful 25hp motor. The catamaran went up after dark and they are on the outside of the reef, it appears they were attempting to enter (or round) Huahine right after dark at 6pm when things went wrong and possibly misjudged the reef. Conditions at the time were 20+ knots from the ESE and a relatively large sea state. The catamaran is definitely on the reef this morning, the cruisers are going back out to see if the boat is salvageable, and recover what they can from the boat for the family. It’s got to be tough working around the sharp coral reef in rubber boats with any kind of swell at all, and the swell is up today. And just walking across the jagged exposed reef in daylight at low tide is difficult to do without turning an ankle (hiking boots are more in order than flip flops). I hope everyone is careful!

It’s time to put the show on the road at this end, I’ll be launching the dinghy and doing some more aquatic exploring today. Would also be fun to visit Liza around sunset and see if she has a chilled beverage available – would be fun to try out her Snack Shack. I also talked with SV Naoma after the net, turns out that Liz on Swell (currently sailing from Tuamotus to Huahine) has a corroded HF radio and therefore doesn’t get out well, but she is in email contact with Naoma and he should have her position for the net this evening.

Enjoy the day! The grey clouds have broken up some and now we’ve got a bit less wind and bit more sun.

– rob

Back in Hirifa, SE corner of Fakarava

Well, the wind is supposed to blow hard over the next 3 days from ESE or thereabouts; that wind makes it across the fringing reef at the south end of Fakarava and generates chop that bends along the motus and finishes up at the north end of the lagoon, at Rotoava. I know that in 10 knots of wind the chop is about 12″ in Rotoava, I do not know what the chop is if we have 20-25 knots doing the same thing. If you want good protection and a comfortable anchorage, Hirifa is the place to be when the wind is S of E. Given conditions are stronger than I would like for the hop over to Tahiti I instead opted to make my way down the East channel to Hirifa – and here I am. I’m getting better at it, mostly as I’ve plonked onto the electronic chart the reefs seen on prior runs through the channel, this makes the trip much less stressful. This morning there are 8 boats here and it would not surprise me of more boats appear today. I can also see the superstructure of French Polynesia Master anchored at the South pass – most likely their guests are diving the pass as they seem to be a multi-day dive operation (10 days?) that is probably quite popular.

The first time I was here (anchor down in Hirifa) I stayed on the boat and tried to keep things safe (that was the nasty front that played through), the second time it was super nice and I explored the motus and reef by dinghy and foot; this time I’m going to go explore aquatic things. It also looks like Liza might be here, so I might finally meet this mythical person – I can see her boat on the beach in front of her snack shack.

Current conditions are wind from 120T at 15-18 knots, nice puffy clouds and a bright blue sky above – no squalls in sight. The air we’re getting here is brought up by the High to the south, and is noticeably cooler than ‘normal’, which makes things nicely cool and pleasant. Of course it’s only 7AM so there’s lots of opportunity for it to heat up through the day, but the breeze should keep temperatures pleasant.

Ashika is here, I met them in Nuku Hiva and they’re keen to explore everything as this is their first time here. And on yesterday’s radio net we heard from Opalima (sp?) with Phyllis, Ana and Gary on board, they have been in Nuku Hiva for a month and are waiting for a starter motor to be shipped in so they can continue their trip to the Tuamotus. It was suggested by Steve on Liward that they must be the last boat making the crossing to French Polynesia, and to please remember to turn the lights off when they depart Nuku Hiva.

On an interesting equipment note, I’ve learned that Avatar has not only the normal down-looking depth sounder that tells you how deep it is, they also have a side-scan fish finder that is good for determining if the bottom is smooth or has bommies, and they even have a forward-looking sonar. Shelly pointed out the sonar is a very narrow 15 degree beam angle, and it does give you an idea of something that might be directly in front of the boat. That’s a lot of depth sounders! I continue to be keen to figure out how to integrate side scan fish finder information (plus GPS location & time) with software that can generate a .kap chart file that can be shared among cruisers and charting applications. From what little I’ve been able to glean (given extremely slow speed internet access out here) it appears that Garmin and Humminbird have proprietary systems that will create charts but the bathymetric data is not in a form that can be shared – you’re locked into the respective company’s systems, which sort of misses the whole point. The goal is to only require one person to visit a place and gather information, then that data can be shared to anyone else that would like to visit the area.

So that’s what I’m up to, it’s a super nice morning, breeze is making the wind generator kick out power therefore I am unlikely to need to run the generator to keep the batteries up, radio net is in 29 minutes, and all is good in the world.

– rob

Beetle organizing day

It’s a most pleasant Sunday morning, hanging out on the mooring ball at Rotoava, the breeze is running happily along at 10-12 knots out the east, sun is up and about, and I’ve been organizing the boat, taking trash bags ashore, putting things away, topping up the fuel tanks from the jerry jugs (I’ve used 25 gallons of diesel since departing Nuku Hiva). Waterline has breen scrubbed on port side (I’ll get to starboard later on today), cockpit washed out with the convenient extra-long anchor washdown hose and pump, dodger has been wiped down. Beetle looks as bit spiffier now.

Plan for the day is to keep reading up on Tahiti, I’m getting a handle on where to aim for now: Point Venus is at the North end of the island and has an easy open anchorage west of the point, and from there it’s a well-marked channel to follow in through the reef, downtown Papeete is more of less directly in front of the pass, turn to the right and go past the airport and follow the marked channel for 4.5 miles to the anchorage across the channel from Marina Taina. The moorings that Marina Taina maintains have a reputation of breaking free, therefore it’s preferred to utilize your own anchor. From that place one can get to most of Tahiti though downtown is a bit of a ways. Theft is a problem in the Society Islands (unheard off out here in the Tuamotus), therefore the boats must be kept locked up and the dinghy locked as well – nothing left loose on deck. Kind of like Alameda and Oakland, not a good idea to leave useful or valuable things out.

The weather is looking pretty solid for two days of moderate to light air starting this morning, with a strong High pressure system building to the south that will generate stronger ESE winds by Tuesday morning or so, and by Wednesday it should be 20-25 knots out of the East or just south thereof. The boats that want to get to Tahiti now departed this morning, there’s a 36 hour window to get there and then it will be blowing strongly at Tahiti, with the increased pressure moving north towards Fakarava. Four boats took off and are outside the North pass, and now we have extra mooring balls suddenly. Several other boats are moving down the East channel with the intention of being in Hirifa on Tuesday. I may do the same, as it doesn’t take much wind out of the south to produce a noticeable wave refractive bounce to the anchorage at the north end.

Yesterday I finally made it to La Paillote and enjoyed a very nice proper crepe complete with cheeses – that was fun. I also spent some time watching the nurse sharks at their dock. I wonder if they feed them or something? The sharks sure seem to like their place.

That’s the current activities, more to do on board. Mike & Shelly from Avatar are coming over around 1 o’clock and we’re going to talk about Tahiti and other places over there. They were here last year as well (this is their second season) and are most happy to describe what they know, recommend, places to go and places to avoid. An interesting detail of the Societies is the central island is tall enough to generate evening katabatic winds that are a problem when anchored up at the head of the many bays that indent the island’s perimeter. I had considered that to before, certainly not in a place as warm as here!

Now off to coil up the washdown hose and wrap up making room belowdecks for conversation with Mike & Shelly.

– rob

French restaurant plans foiled again

One of my plans for yesterday evening was to have a crepe at La Paillote, the little French restaurant near Stephanie’s Fakarava Yacht Services. That plan was foiled when a German or Belgium couple on one of the boats here in the anchorage decided to organize a group gathering on the pier where the supply ship docks: sunset drinks (bring your own drink) and then walk over to the school field where there is a cooking area and the locals will make up a tray of chicken or beef over a bed of french fries. They stopped by Beetle to let me know, that sounded different so why not, and they said to let everyone else know as well.

On board Beetle I’ve been experimenting with a wind scoop that will direct air down the small deck hatch behind the mast – the idea being that air moving through the cabin is almost as good as a fan. I’ve got the sewing machine out and used Jack’s sunshade bed sheet for material and version 1 is up and testing itself. An issue I need to work around is the boom vang location, it passes through directly above the hatch and the vang interferes with my wind scoop. This morning I’m going to modify the scoop and have version 2 – it will have a slot that will allow the vang to go through the scoop. I’ll see how that does, slot goes in shortly.

I spent some time yesterday talking with the owner of Respite, a 60′ sailboat from Sitka, Alaska – he’s here and has the boat tied to the town wharf at the moment so he can re-create the large stainless steel bow sprit that broke off the boat. The original bow sprit is in pieces on the wharf, you can see where the metal had corroded entirely through to the point that the metal could not take the vertical pull of one of the headstays, and the sprit simply collapsed. He was able to get some stainless steel pipe sent over from Tahiti and he’s got the projecting sprit (probably a good 6 feet out beyond the hull) suspended in place and portions of it tack-welded together. Then he carefully cuts and aligns the next piece, slowly assembling the whole thing. When it’s what he wants then he’ll go back through and weld it all together. The problem, he thinks, was the bobstay attachment was too far aft along the sprit so he’s moving that forward, and old metal didn’t help.

He’s an interesting guy from the commercial fishing world in Alaska. After running his own boat for 10 years he moved into building, installing, and maintaining refrigeration and machinery for the fishing fleet. I learned a fair bit about how one pumps salmon from one boat to another through a 10″ diameter hose, and a some of how the commercial fishing industry works and makes it money. Turns out the offshore tuna boats, if they are big enough, find it cost-effective to have the small helicopters ($400/hr to fly) and use the helicopter to find the schools of tuna (look like large dark blobs in the lighter colored ocean) and then direct the boats to the fish. There’s enough fish in one good net haul to pay for all that plus the boat and all the people on it. No wonder tuna stocks are under pressure, if they are that valuable.

The cruiser’s gathering on the wharf at sunset was fun, though it got dark and then you weren’t always certain to whom you were speaking with. Four people had acoustic guitars and played for a bit, then we did as planned and walked over to the school field and there indeed are some sort of cooking setups that produced warm food over french fries. They’d even set up some tables and a lot of plastic chairs for us, that was nice. Fortunately the squalls stayed away and we didn’t have to contend with rain. I talked with several boats about anchorages in Tahiti, and the general recommendation was to aim for the area south of the airport – good holding, not too far to town, and you’re not right in the city. Good to know.

This morning has dawned grey and overcast here in Rotoava, the trades are stronger from the east today than yesterday and currently there’s a wide bank of squalls and clouds working through, 20 knots gusting 30 in front of them. I’m glad the motu is in front of Beetle rather than behind, it must be completely nasty on the interior west side of the lagoon. The dive operation boats are up and running about, getting organized to take folks out on the dive trips – it’s going to be lumpy for those boats when they get away from the wind shelter of the motu.

The grey sky makes it a nice morning to be down below on Beetle, we’re snugged in and happy. If the clouds do play through we might get back to some sunshine! And if it’s going to rain I’ll try to make a rainbow or two. Today I will be over at Stephanie’s to user her internet, and will try once again (!) to make it to La Paillote.

– rob

Holiday time in the Tuamotus

Given that the Tuamotus are part of French Polynesia, and the French still control Polynesia, then the local Tuamotans get to take advantage of the French holidays – and today is one of them (I think it’s Bastille Day?). Rotoava doesn’t seem to go in much for holiday-making, so it looks about the same here as yesterday, boats are out working the pearl farms, people are driving their scooters and cars up and down the main road, the cruisers are chit-chatting on the radio.

The wind has come up a bit from the East, which is not at all bad when anchored here in front of the church. The wind generator is making good power, there is a bit of wrap-around chop from further south in the lagoon, and folks are out and about. Swell and Naoma just sailed by, they are headed to the North pass and preparing to exit the lagoon and off to somewhere else.

I’m making plans to hop on over to the Society Islands, the next island group in French Polynesia. Tahiti is there, Moorea, Huahine, and Bora Bora (plus others). I’m in no rush and don’t have a particular calendar I have to keep to, so instead will enjoy being here and look for a weather window that should have a nice breeze for that sail – perhaps mid to late next week after the stronger easterly winds back off and the swell drops a bit.

Yesterday was a good day, worked through a bunch of images, went ashore to Stephanie’s and was able to send some out as a web log post (after we rebooted her WiFi router as while everybody was connected to the network (except for me) nobody was seeing any traffic), and the original plan was to try foods at La Paillote for dinner. Dinner plans changed when I talked with Katie G, the Kelly Peterson 46 with Karen & Chuck aboard, they are anchored nearby and we decided to have sundowner beverages and Karen said to also plan on staying for dinner. Had a great time with them on the boat, that’s a nice boat for being out here, lots of room to move around on the center cockpit design. They are from Calgary, Canada and kept the boat at the Sydney Marina in Vancouver, a 9-1/2 hour drive followed by a 1-1/2 hour ferry boat crossing to visit their boat. They are very happy to be out here.

Alpha Marine has completed repairs and rebuild work on the two autopilot drives, which is great news. It will be important to have those drives back on the boat before the eventual trip north towards Hawaii later in the year.

Today’s plan is somewhat similar to yesterday’s, work on images, go ashore to Stephanie’s to do some more research about the Society Islands and Tahiti, and this time I’ll see if La Paillote is open for late afternoon dinner; given it’s a holiday they might close up shop and not be open today. I shall find out.

– rob

Pictures from Fakarava

Here are some more pictures from Fakarava, sending from Stephanie and Aldric’s place just south of the town.

The purpke/blue sea urchin is large and has very short nubby spines that are not sharp. It was not hanging onto the substrate at all, touching the animal caused it to roll around.

The clans have beautiful blue mantles, and they must have eyes or light sensing organs as the mantle would pull inside if your shadow crossed them. These guys are 6″ to 8″ across and completely embedded in the coral. With the mantle withdrawn it’s easy to see the shell crennalations.

The Blue Lagoon area has lots of plastic washed up on it from within the lagoon. Of all the pearl buoys, four were reusable.

The motu you anchor behind at the Blue Lagoon is tiny and picture-perfect. There is a surrounding reef that extends off to the northwest, to arrive you want to pass the motu on the south side.

The abandoned house on the motu at Hirifa dates to 1879. My guess is the airport might have had something to do with the main town moving from Hirifa and the South Pass up to the northern end of the atoll. The two graves are adjacent to the house.

The palm tree forest floor is not at all a natural environment as all the palm trees were imported and planted for the copra plantations. This is a good place to find coconut crabs.

Liza’s Snack Shack is right on the lagoon, and is reportedly a popular place. I could nit work out being there at the same time she was, so I have not met her. Nice place, though.

And the atoll’s satellite dish located next to the oost office is how everything from here gets to the outside world. The French Polynesia system seems to combine Communications with the Post Office, so it makes sense to have the antenna colicated with the yellow postal building.

– rob

I recommend not using T-Mobile.