American Samoa

Posted by John

American Samoa is a territory of the United States. With that comes certain familiar things, such as the US dollar. The main benefit of this is you don’t have to dig out reading glasses and study each coin to figure out its value when trying to hand over the correct change. You can also get NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts any time you want just by pressing a button on the radio, but you’ll probably have to wait through the Samoan language version. And there is none of that special feeling you get when all of the traffic screeches to a halt just for you when you walk up to a crosswalk, like in Papeete, on Tahiti. Here, the traffic is more likely to pretend they didn’t see you standing half-way out in the street. Beyond that, the lifestyle here appears more in line with other Pacific islands rather than the United States in general, or Hawaii. The family homes with the elaborate burial plots in the front yards are still a bit startling, even though commonplace. It’s nice for us to have this mid-trip re-connection with the USA, no matter how slight, after having been away for so long. But it can be confusing.

For example, I was walking around trying to find the rumored laundromat in the area. The street was narrow and uneven and the small buildings seemed randomly placed. Chickens and skinny dogs wandered across the street. Someone in a group of people sitting on the side of the road asked if I was looking for something. I kind of fumbled over the word “laundry.” I had just spent ten months in Spanish and French speaking places and wasn’t sure what one was called here. A woman in the group looked at me weird, then asked in perfect English, “You mean, like, a laundromat?”

Laundromat. Yeah, that’s it. She then directed me to its location about a block away.

I’ve never been a huge fan of McDonald’s, but I do like their breakfasts. The Pago Pago Harbor dinghy dock is, basically, the McDonald’s dock (since it’s right there), and the large, air-conditioned seating area with Wi-Fi and television is the de facto Cruiser’s Lounge. We spent several mornings in there doing email, catching up on news, talking with other cruisers and making plans. More than once breakfast carried over into lunch, sometimes even with a snack in between. McDonald’s does make it easy.

American TV is broadcast here. We were able to watch a nationally televised preseason Seahawks game being played in Seattle which, if nothing else, made me think about how much ocean is between us and getting back home again next year. With our two-year trip half over, I’m allowing myself the occasional thought about the day we sail back into the Straits of Juan de Fuca. I don’t know what that day will be like except that it will be a noteworthy day.

American Samoa is kind of an odd place. There are no real services for visiting yachts; no recreational boating industry that we’ve seen. Need a replacement navigation light? Try Amazon. And judging from the number of Amazon packages that get picked up at the Post Office, they do a good business here.

The harbor is dominated by a huge Starkist tuna operation on one side, and a container ship dock on the other. The electrical power plant for the entire island is also on shore, running day and night with never-ending, industrial-quality noise. What few cruising boats are here are relegated to a designated anchorage area.

There is not much tourism here, no resorts or big hotels. All through French Polynesia locals, usually men, would come out in the early mornings and evenings to paddle around in their canoes, and you’d see families in boats all the time. Not here. Perhaps one reason there isn’t much recreational boating is because there is nowhere to go. Leave the bay and you’re in the big seas. This is, after all, just a big rock in the middle of the ocean. The weather has even hindered our ability to get to shore. It kept us on the boat for a week straight. Twenty-five knots sustained, gusts to well over thirty, and whitecaps in the bay are a bit much for our little dinghy and 2hp outboard motor. We wouldn’t get much wetter if we swam to shore.

It was during thirty-knot gusts and heavy rain that cruisers in the bay came together on very short notice to save us and rescue another boat in the process (or maybe the other way around), when a sailboat that had anchored just upwind of us dragged anchor over the top of our anchor and came perilously close to our bowsprit. If we had hit, both boats would certainly have been damaged. Andiamo was unoccupied at the time and had a reportedly crappy anchor. We could not raise ours and move out of the way without hitting him since he was on top of our anchor. Just in time, dinghies from Slow Flight, Me Too, Terrapin and the British boat, Pickles converged and tied onto both sides of Andiamo. With people climbing on board to steer and handle the anchor, they used their outboards to move Andiamo away from us while we brought up our anchor so we could move and re-anchor ourselves. The subsequent attempts to re-anchor Andiamo were unsuccessful, and the boat was moved to the end of the bay and tied to an unused mooring.

When Andiamo’s owner eventually returned, he was mystified (let’s say concerned) as to how and why his boat had been moved, and by whom. When told what had happened, he was most appreciative for the team effort to save his boat. We are too.

Our three biggest reasons for coming to American Samoa were the United States Post Office, Priority Mail and “If it fits it ships” boxes. We had not had mail forwarded to us since Mexico, and that was a hassle coming by DHL through Mexico City. So we had mail, including credit cards, bank and insurance documents, parts that we hoped would fix the autopilot, canvas fasteners, renewed boat documentation and other things all being sent or forwarded to us at General Delivery, Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799. Most of the packages were being tracked, arriving on a flight from Honolulu. They should have all come together, about the same time we arrived, but [as of this writing] it has taken five trips [and still counting] to the post office to retrieve [most of] them, [more than] three weeks later than we expected. One post office employee told me “Do not use priority mail, use EXPRESS priority mail. (Unfortunately, the parts did not fix the autopilot.)

Many things here have been disappointing. We tried to get a phone SIM card, but the system here is not compatible with our phone. We bought Wi-Fi access from Bluezone. We can barely get a signal out on the boat from the nearest Bluezone hot spot, but at least it’s something. McDonald’s Wi-Fi is pretty good when we’re there, but neither Bluezone nor McDonald’s is fast enough or stable enough to load photographs to the web site without it timing out. Robyn went to the public library and said that for $5 they have really fast internet. If this post includes pictures below, it means that the library internet came through for us. The weather has also gotten to us a bit. It’s hot, even when it rains all the time. And the wind gets pretty crazy out in the bay. That keeps us on an uncomfortable boat, not doing much except checking our anchor and watching the boats upwind from us.

We took a bus ride to the Cost U Less for provisioning for the next two months. The buses here are made from pickup trucks of various sizes. The passenger area is made of wood, with plywood floor and seats. They all seem to have very loud music systems. The buses are all privately owned and painted as such, sometimes elaborately, but they follow established routes on no set schedule. The Cost U Less itself resembles Costco. It even has several Kirkland brand products. There was no way to get everything we bought back on a bus, so we took a taxi back to the dinghy dock. On an English-speaking island, we apparently got the only non-English speaking driver. He made more than one stop for reasons we never understood. At one point he handed his phone to Julie so she could explain to his dispatcher where we wanted to go. And on one of his stops he bought us some coconuts, maybe to make up for all the confusion? One thing though, the road between Pago Pago Harbor and the Cost U Less is very scenic where it runs along the shore.

Although even some of the locals we’ve talked to say that the other Samoa is nicer, we’ll probably skip it if we get a good weather window and go straight to Tonga. Somewhere in southern Tonga will be our last stop before crossing to New Zealand in November. We plan to spend the South Pacific cyclone season doing boat work and exploring New Zealand before turning around and heading for home in 2018.

Pago Pago Harbor with All Day at anchor and Starkist plant in background
Spontaneous team effort to re-secure Andiamo in the wind and rain after it almost dragged into us
Farmer’s market in Pago Pago
Buses built from pickup trucks, one we rode even had a flat screen for passengers
Some buses are big
Some buses are small
This canoe is huge
Best dinghy dock we’ve seen since Mexico

Bora Bora

Posted by John

I don’t know when I first heard of Bora Bora, but I do remember seeing someone with a Bora Bora T-shirt at Greenlake Park in Seattle during the summer of 1983. I wanted a Bora Bora T-shirt too. I don’t think I knew exactly where Bora Bora was then, except that it was an exotic place far away in the Pacific. And okay, I know for sure that it was summer, but I admit it could’ve been ’82 or ’84. Memory is a funny thing.

Now, all these years later, my thoughts were not so much about Bora Bora’s exotic nature as that it was generally the end of the line for French Polynesian cruising. All of the Puddle Jump and Oyster Yacht World Rally boats would be stacking up there like floats at the end of a parade. Oyster Yachts are a high-end sailing yacht. I can’t imagine many of them cost less than a million dollars each. Since they all arrived in French Polynesia at about the same time as all of the Puddle Jump boats, we’d all be faced with the same 90-day visa limit.

Although not far from each other, we wondered if Bora Bora could be as nice as Tahaa. I keep remembering the smile on that woman’s face in Papeete as she coached us on the proper way to say Ta’ha’a. It was like she was laughing and saying “ha-ha.” She had fun with it. We’re glad we spent time there. But we also needed Bora Bora for diesel fuel and groceries (“provisions” in yacht-speak) for the long road ahead. We also wanted good Wi-Fi (one could only hope), and to re-supply our beer cooler. And we wanted to find a cheeseburger and/or pizza. These were all things we’d been lacking lately. And of course, we needed to fill out forms and check out before our expiration date. As they say, “Thank you for coming, and thank you for leaving.”

Although I imagine relatively few have heard of Tahaa, Bora Bora is a tourist destination with hotels and restaurants and fleets of Sunsail, Moorings and Dream Yacht Charters that people fly in from all over to rent for a week or so. The two main anchorages in town are too deep for us but have a few fixed mooring buoys. When we arrived we found what we had been afraid of: all of the mooring buoys were occupied, and our anchor chain was too short for anchoring in the 100-foot depths. We cruised slowly and hopefully through the mooring fields at both the Bora Bora Yacht Club and the Mai Kai Marina, passing Puddle Jump boats we knew: Fandango, My Dream and Sweetpea; and Oyster Yachts we had been crossing paths with since Nuku Hiva: Calliope, Dalliance and Miss Tiggy. Many of the Oysters speak with British accents, and it seems that their boat names are intended to be spoken with such as well. They sound so sophisticated that way, like an expensive yacht should. We ended up anchoring in about thirty feet in a quiet bay on the far side of one of the small islands inside the lagoon; too far away, and too much intervening bigger boat traffic (choppy water), for us to make a dinghy trip to town.

The next day we were just sitting there, when we heard an outboard approaching. It was Dan from My Dream. He and a friend were out looking for the manta rays that hang out nearby. He also said that he was leaving at first light in the morning, on his way to Palmerston in the Cook Islands. We told him we wanted his mooring, and we’d be over there very early in the morning, circling like a vulture until he let it go. We were. He did, eventually. And we swooped in and snagged it.

A little while later the guys from Sweetpea dinghied over and talked for a while. They had been there for several days already and filled us in on what they knew. We could pay for the mooring at the bar in the restaurant that was right over on shore. There was a dinghy dock, but its connection with shore was “sketchy” and not recommended if you stayed too late in the bar.

So with that, we launched our dinghy, took our remaining French Polynesian cash, and went in search of answers to our questions. The dinghy dock, one of the few floating docks we’d seen in French Polynesia, was indeed a little rough. For one thing, it floated like a bobbing cork in the wind and waves, making it difficult even to just stand up on. It was held in place by a large rope tied to something on shore and a few more anchoring it to the bottom. It made no physical connection to the wooden deck in front of the restaurant and there was a gap of three to four feet. Not only were the steps up to the restaurant’s deck on the far side of this gap, but the first step was up higher and at a right angle to the dock. There were no railings of any kind; nothing to grab or lunge for. After trying to stand and stare at the problem for a while, we were finally spurred on by the two large boats tied to one side of the dinghy dock. Every time the gusting wind bashed one of them into it, the dock gave an extra lurch. We couldn’t keep standing there all day.

Interesting digression: there are only a few inches of “sun tide” in the Society Islands, with high tide at noon everyday. Due to a fluke of geography, there is virtually no “moon tide.” Docks don’t need to float up and down with the tide because there really isn’t any.

We rented the mooring for a week, and it came with use of the pool and vouchers for two free drinks. There was a laundry down the street somewhere, if we could find it. The best part about our first Bora Bora shore trip, however, was the couple of hours we spent having a cheeseburger lunch while sitting at a table just inside the open wall of the restaurant, above the wooden deck, with a sweeping view of the boats in the bay. There was a gentle cooling breeze making its way inside, but it was blowing twenty knots outside. It would’ve been rough trying to anchor that deep in that wind. Thanks Dan.

Within a day or two the Oyster yachts began departing. This opened up several moorings, but instead of quieting down the bay, the extra space seemed to give the local boats more room to drive faster and put up bigger wakes. In addition to that, we have been plagued by what I call “Air Balls.” These are sudden blasts of air, coming from seemingly random directions right out of a gentle breeze, and with a ferocious, even frightening intensity lasting mere seconds before a return to the previous conditions. They come without warning, and go just as quickly. They spin and toss the boat and tear at things aboard trying to suck them away, even the dinghy with outboard attached.

So while we had idyllic days on Tahaa, things were more boisterous on Bora Bora, especially with it being the last week of the month-long Polynesian Heiva festival. But although not so idyllic, we found everything we needed to prepare for the next leg of the trip.

With the departure of Fandango, My Dream and even Sweetpea, which was a surprise when they came to say goodbye, we are the last (as far as we know) of the Puddle Jump boats that departed from Mexico and California all at about the same time. From here our plan is to head to American Samoa, with a possible rest stop at Suwarrow. In American Samoa the rumor is we can get mail and packages sent from home as if it was just another destination within the U.S. Then, depending on how bad the Pago Pago harbor is, we may hop across the dateline to regular Samoa (formerly called Western Samoa?). We’ve heard it’s really nice there.

So, next up, I guess it will be Bora Bora to Pago Pago. Total distance to Pago Pago by way of Suwarrow: 1,140 nautical miles.

The island of Bora Bora as seen from inside the lagoon of Tahaa
Coming into the lagoon of Bora Bora
Only time will tell if we run across any of the boats from the Oyster Yacht World Rally again
Mai Kai Marina restaurant on Bora Bora
Surf breaking on the fringing barrier reef of Huahine
We woke to a muddy bay on Tahaa after heavy rain overnight
Black pearl farm on Tahaa
Polynesian houseboat above the reef on Huahine
Supermarket in Fare on Huahine
Churches like this one on Tahaa are all over French Polynesia
French Polynesia still has lots of phone booths, some of which are oddly placed
Julie snorkeling on Huahine
Fish and coral on Tahaa
Bora Bora, after the sunset

Raiatea and Tahaa

Posted by John

It seems like a long time since our last post from Huahine. Maybe that’s just because it feels like we’ve done a lot since then. And maybe it feels like we’ve done a lot because we’ve actually done so little. And maybe we’ve done so little because these last few islands, protected by their fringing reefs, are such a perfect place to do nothing.

The weather varies from hot and humid with no wind (swim to keep cool), to hot and humid with light wind (perfect), to hot and humid with a twenty knot wind (stay out of the wind until too hot, then stand in the wind until cool). Both our cabin humidity and temperature gauges read a constant 85. Maybe they’re both stuck.

The sky is never completely clear of clouds. Most of the time it is probably more than half covered with fluffy cotton balls, and at some point during nearly every day or night there will be at least a few minutes of torrential rain.

So with the days passing easily, we jumped off the boat into crystal clear water to swim and snorkel, we read books, we gazed at the stars and, when absolutely necessary, we ventured to shore to stock up on baguettes and cheese.


Posted by John

On nautical charts the proper name of Cook’s Bay on Moorea is Baie de Cook, which I think should translate to Cook Bay, but Cook’s seems to be the popular name. I don’t know if this is similar to how people use Sea of Cortez instead of Gulf of California, or if it is more akin to Hood Canal (where we live) versus saying Hood’s Canal, which is just plain wrong and sounds to me like fingernails scraping on a blackboard. So for now, without further guidance, I’ll take a chance at being wrong and call it Cook’s Bay like everyone else. It’s named after the explorer Captain Cook, of course.

As nice as Cook’s Bay was, we had reasons to leave. One reason was that the weather was changing. The wind had come up. We were mostly protected in the bay, but we could see the much faster speed of the clouds blowing past the mountains. Every once in a while a strong gust, from no particular direction, would hit the bay, sometimes going from dead calm to as high as thirty knots in a matter of seconds. Then it would die just as quickly. The gusts seemed to increase in frequency and duration, and eventually anchors started to break free, including ours. The solution for a more secure anchor is to put down more rode (chain or rope). Cook’s Bay is deeper than we like to anchor. We only have 190 feet of anchor chain before it transitions to a rope rode. The transition does not happen smoothly, and we never marked the rope for length. At some point we plan on taking the chain off our stern anchor and adding it to the bow anchor, giving us much more chain up front and making the stern anchor all rope. But that is a project for another day, preferably when the boat is in a yard somewhere. Going to a shallower anchorage was one reason to leave Cook’s. The other, more important reason, was to get Robyn to her scuba diving lessons on Huahine, about 90 miles away. The opportunity had just fallen into place, and we wanted to try hard to make it happen.

French Polynesia includes three types of islands. The Marquesas are volcanic rocks surrounded by open ocean. The shorelines are mostly rugged and pounded by surf. Dinghy landings are a little rough, even at dinghy “docks.” Bays open directly to the sea, and the calmer ones are on the opposite side of the islands than the prevailing swell direction. This was so true when comparing our nights on Tahuata to those on Hiva Oa, or even Nuku Hiva.

By contrast, the Tuamotus are coral atolls, with a ring of coral reef surrounding an inner lagoon. Atolls are low, just barely breaking the surface by a few feet. Water that finds its way over the reef and into the lagoon eventually flows back out through passes in the reef (there is minimal tide in this part of the world). If these passes are deep and wide enough, they can be navigated by boats. The lagoon can be like a lake in the middle of the ocean, with the surf breaking on the reef, and the lagoon inside flat and calm. We had originally planned to spend some time in the Tuamotus, but ended up not stopping in order to maximize our time in Papeete.

The third type of island is a combination of the other two. The Society Island chain is mostly made up of volcanic islands surrounded by a fringing coral reef. The surf breaks on the outer reef, and the inner, island fringing lagoon is generally flat and calm in comparison. The larger islands are Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a and Bora Bora.

We left Cook’s Bay late in the afternoon to get out through the pass before dark, then sailed all night to enter the pass at Huahine after daylight. Sure, we had some higher wind than we generally like, and some swells knocking things around, but the trip was uneventful. The wind pretty much completely died before we got there, forcing us to start the engine. There were no new failures or breakages on the crossing. The fixes we had made in Papeete stayed fixed. Our planned anchorage for the first night turned out to be deeper and more crowded than we expected so we motored slowly through the lagoon to the south end of the island, arriving at the bay where the scuba class was to be held. It was shallow enough, and calm enough, with no swell. There were few other boats there. It kind of felt like a lake, and was so quiet we could hear people talking on shore.

Kristy, from the catamaran Te Poerava was the dive instructor. She and Dan had come down from California with the Puddle Jump. When not sailing, she runs a dive travel business that had been started by her father. Robyn’s classmates included crew from the boats Slow Flight, Me Too and Fandango. All were also Puddle Jumpers. We all met up in Avea Bay at the south end of Huahine Iti.

Basic scuba skills, which normally might be taught in a swimming pool, were instead taught in shallow water on the reef. Classroom sessions were conducted on Te Poerava and Slow Flight. Open water dives were held right off the stern of Kristy’s boat. Between all of our boats we scrounged up almost enough dive gear that all the students could be in the water at the same time, with Kristy instructing and Dan assisting. What gear we couldn’t scrounge up, we were able to rent from a dive shop in Fare, at the north end of Huahine Nui after an early morning rental of a little stick shift Fiat to get us there. Huahine Nui and Hauhine Iti are two separate islands inside the reef, connected by a bridge.

All of us had a fun time for the duration of the lessons, including a 4th of July barbeque on Slow Flight. And in the end, Robyn got her certified scuba diver card, which was a goal of hers for this trip.

To wrap up our stay on Huahine we rented the little stick shift again, returned the rented dive gear, did some shopping in town, and drove around the islands to take in the sights.

And so it was on Huahine where we finally found the perfect combination of air and water temperature, gentle breeze (most of the time), clear water, a secure anchorage and the relaxing fun that we had hoped to find in French Polynesia.

This is as good as it gets. Except, of course, for reliable internet access, which made loading photos an exercise in more frustration than I was willing to accept.

Photo by Robyn


Posted by John

We enjoyed our stay at the new downtown marina in Papeete, but like our previous marina stays, it was over much too soon. We attempted to divide our time between boat work and fun, but there is always so much boat work.

There is one main highway that circles the island of Tahiti. This highway is also the main drag through the city of Papeete (Pape’ete—four syllables.) Our marina slip was about fifty yards from this main drag. Morning and evening traffic was heavy, and emergency vehicles with the not-unpleasant sound of European-type sirens went up and down the street all day. As a city, Papeete is very French. Between us and the street, all along the shore, was an over-water walking/bicycling/skate boarding/roller blading path. Underwater lights beneath the path gave the water a blue glow at night with the surreal sense that our boat was floating in a swimming pool.

Our first priority was to repair the jib and the jib roller furler. The problem with the furler was easy to figure out. Three screws had come loose and fallen out. It turns out that those three little screws were highly important in making the sail roll up when the furler drum was turned. Without them—as we learned after arriving from the Marquesas—the connection between the drum and the sail was lost. So, we’d just have to find some 1/4 inch x 20 stainless steel screws about a half-inch long. However, it turned out that many hardware store clerks in metric system-using, French speaking Tahiti didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Finally, I found what I was looking for (almost) in a fishing tackle shop. Seems like an odd combination, but when I found out this shop had a large selection of screws, I nearly ran to get there before they closed. About half the shop was drawers of screws, the other half plastic squid and hooks. The owner did, indeed, have some 1/4 x 20 stainless bolts, although a little long. Once I screwed them into the furler, I wrapped around it with self-fusing rescue tape. They won’t come loose again without us noticing.

It took a few days of asking around, but we ended up taking the jib on a taxi ride several miles out to Tahiti Sails. They’re located in a large barn-like building with a sleek, black, raised floor. Sewing machines are recessed down into the floor so an entire sail can be slid across the floor and through a sewing machine. The operator sits in a pit at the machine. When I mentioned this to Evan from Sweetpea, he said that was a standard setup. Well, okay, I guess the only other sail loft I’ve seen is in funky Port Townsend. Anyway, they did a great job with our jib and brought the sail back to us the day before we left, delivering it all the way to the boat.

When we had first taken the jib off the boat and folded it up, we loaded it onto a little wheeled luggage carrier we have and wheeled it down the dock. We only got as far as the boat in the next slip before the thing tipped over. The boat in the next slip was a charter catamaran and the woman working to get it ready for the next client offered to help us. First she cleaned out a dock cart that she was using, then helped put the heavy sail into the cart. Then she insisted on pushing the cart down the dock and up to the marina access from the street. Then she helped us call a taxi, and waited until it came. While we were waiting she told us the proper way to pronounce the island of Taha’a and told us not to miss stopping there. The street access to the marina is gated, so she got her brother, who she was working with, to go get his access card to open the gate for the taxi. Then she helped to lift the sail into the taxi. We’ve found a lot of this kind of helpfulness here. We found a lot of help in Mexico as well, but there everyone wanted a tip for helping. Here, the custom is to not tip for anything (although we did tip a waiter who was extra helpful). It feels weird sometimes, but it sure makes everything easier.

Besides such fun little adventures as buying a new cell phone, finding new dinghy oars and getting lost finding my way back to the medical clinic for a follow up visit (no additional charge), our water pressure pump failed. This pump is what makes the water come out of the faucet when we turn it on. Finding the marine store with water pumps, and then installing the new pump, was an unexpected project (and expense), as well as another experience of wandering the back streets of Papeete with sketchy directions drawn on a napkin. Note: Calling Papeete a very French city could also mean that street names are not always obviously visible, if there is even a sign at all; and streets are not necessarily straight, making the concept of “going around the block” sometimes interesting. But I finally found the store I was looking for—Oceans 2000—with additional directions from someone in the nearby outboard motor shop, as well as a guy looking over a fence from his back yard, calling to me when he saw me looking lost. Yes, he knew that place, after I showed him my napkin.

The highlight of our Papeete stay was the last night. A few days prior to our last night we saw more and more boats we knew come into the marina, or heard them on the radio clearing a passage past the airport runway to go to the other marina or anchorage. We also started getting visits from people asking if we were part of the Puddle Jump and if we were participating in the Moorea Rendezvous, or if we were planning to head to New Zealand for the cyclone season, or even if we were going to Raiatea and needed electrical work done once we got there. We were given brochures and business cards by all of them. In other words, there was a sense that, once again, we were getting ready for something; that we had not actually made the trip from the Marquesas to Tahiti alone (we saw no one the entire way), and that all of this was gearing up to continue on.

On our last night in Papeete we went to the Puddle Jump event, held down the street, which began the celebration of the fact that we had all made it thousands of miles across the ocean to French Polynesia. But there was also a feeling of another beginning, with more places to go. Representatives from New Zealand and Fiji made presentations inviting us to come. We shared stories with many of the cruisers we had met along the way but hadn’t seen in a while. The Tahitian Minister of Tourism gave a speech telling us how important we were to their culture because we were the modern version of seafarers crossing the ocean just as their ancestors had done to originally settle in the islands (well, actually, they had canoes and we have GPS, but it was a nice speech). Then the gut-moving drums started and the Marquesas dancers put on a show. It was dark, the drums were loud, the lights harsh, the bodies sweaty, the costumes skimpy, the women mesmerizing, and the men downright scary. It didn’t take much imagination to see these guys as cannibals.

The next morning, with the drums still echoing in my head, we sailed out of Papeete harbor to participate in a no-pressure race to Cook’s Bay on the island of Moorea. A few boats were experienced racers and took the race seriously, but most of us just made an attempt in the light wind. We were racing our houses, after all. By the time enough wind came up to actually make some decent progress, we all started to figure out that we wouldn’t make it by dark if we didn’t rev up our engines. One by one, boats fired up and motored toward Moorea.

The party continued that evening and the following day at the Club Bali Hai hotel with more presentations, food, canoe races (Robyn joined a team), activities and events, and two more shows of Polynesian dancing, the most spectacular of which was a Saturday night fire dance. Impressive. And all with gut-rattling drums.

We’re on our own from here on, planning to continue west for a few months, then turn south. Although there are no more organized sailing rallies, we aren’t really alone. We know boatloads of people in this ocean, and they’ll be out there, all around us, somewhere.

The streets of Papeete were deserted on Sunday morning…
…but jammed during the week. There is a mix of Tahitian, French and English languages.
Waiting around for the start of the “race” to Moorea.
Fast inter-island car ferry.
Mid-race, the Canadian boat “Music” behind a swell.
This does not look real. Not part of our group, but also going to Moorea, this is a huge, obviously unique boat. I put any sailboat that requires a mast top aircraft clearance light when in the harbor into the Super Yacht category.
Entering Cook’s Bay on the island of Moorea.
They’re like human fireworks.
Early Sunday morning we all got fresh bagettes delivered to our boats.
Almost a photo finish. Robyn is second from front in middle boat.
It was not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
It really doesn’t get much better than this.

Marquesas to Tahiti

Posted by John

Most definitions of the word “Adventure” specify an element of risk and uncertain outcome. To that I’d add exhaustion. An adventure then, cannot possibly be just relaxing poolside. Something else must happen. And so it is true that we have not relaxed poolside since leaving Mexico. We certainly did not get much rest in the crowded anchorage at Hiva Oa. Even if it hadn’t been so crazy with crashing waves, gusting winds and heavy showers, the work on the wharf reconstruction, with its jack hammering and pile driving, was enough to keep us on edge all day.

We did, however, meet Evan and his dad Kevin traveling together on Sweetpea, a boat that Kevin had rescued from the mud of Morro Bay and spent a period of years restoring. They helped us get our stern anchor set (so we wouldn’t swing into them), showed us a “secret” canoe launching ramp that they had found which made dinghy landings on shore less risky, loaned us their jerry jugs and helped with getting fuel out to our boat. When Kevin and Evan learned that the only place they could fill their drinking water jugs was in town two miles away, and the only taxi on the island was already booked up for the day, they came out to our boat. After we filled their jugs from our tank, we all sat in the cockpit and talked for the rest of the day. We talked about race car construction (or how to take a $100,000 Porsche, put another $100,000 into it, and then have it end up being worth $50,000), boat restoration (similar deal, maybe), the aerospace industry, Boeing, Microsoft, Elon Musk, Space X, and huge, elaborate, one-of-a-kind 3-D printers. We forgot, for a few hours, the hazards around us, went lax on the normal evening routines, never secured the dinghy properly, and because it bashed against the boat all night, by morning we had lost a dinghy oar. That was depressing, and all my fault.

From Hiva Oa we went back to Tahuata, and the flatest, quietest bay we had found in the Marquesas. Sweetpea was already there. One day they came over in the dinghy, picked up Robyn, and took her to the village in another bay a couple of miles away. I’m sure she enjoyed getting away from us for a while, and they even bought her lunch.

Despite the fact that this was where we had hauled up the rock with the anchor, we managed to spend a few days relaxing and mentally working up to crossing the 770 miles of ocean that still lay between us and Tahiti.

Adventure does not always have to mean that bad things happen. Our first day out of Tahuata was excellent sailing. The weather report had said “MER PEU AGITEE,” or that the sea was only a little bit agitated (we think). It doesn’t really matter because it was easy going, yet speedy.

That evening at dusk we were suddenly surrounded by dozens and dozens dolphins. At first they just swam along with us, diving under the boat and passing from one side to the other. Then they started doing acrobatics, including a Rockettes-type move where several leaped out of the water simultaneously, all in a row. Later, after dark, we were caught off guard and overtaken by a squall with rapidly increasing winds and torrential rain. When the wind went from ten knots to more than thirty in less than two minutes, I was a little uncertain of the outcome. After the squall passed we were treated to a moonbow—a pale rainbow created by moonlight. Certainly, this all adds up to an adventure by anyone’s definition. And it was still the first day.

Once we had threaded our way through the reefs and atolls of the Tuamotu Archipelago, we came to what we had expected to be the best sailing of the trip—a beam reach the rest of the way to Tahiti. But alas, no. A weather disturbance farther south had altered the normal flow of the trade winds into a feeble five knots from the north. We had sailed this far without using the engine, and we were determined to sail the entire way, even if it added a couple of extra days to the trip and our speed dropped to two knots, or less.

By the time that Robyn had spotted the distant lights of Papeete on the evening of our last day, we already knew that the jib sail was coming apart, the cell phone had died, and we needed to find a new set of dinghy oars, among other things. By sunrise, when we tried to furl up the jib and motor into the harbor, we learned that our jib furler was broken as well. We needed to get out on the bowsprit and drop the jib onto the deck and tie it down so it wouldn’t blow into the water. Adventures are always full of the unexpected. And by this time it was also clear that a painful hole in the back of my leg, which had not healed after more than a month, would likely need some medical attention.

Because of the narrow channel through the reef, and the commercial ship traffic, as well as low flying aircraft coming into and out of the airport, entering Papeete harbor requires contacting the Port Control and receiving permission to enter. Once that was done, we were able to get a real slip (not Med-moor) at the new “International” marina. Sadly, the marina lacks “American” 115 volt electrical shore power. Everything here is 220 volt.

Papeete is lights, traffic, sirens and people. I spent much of our first full day waiting for my name to be called at a medial clinic staffed by French doctors. I knew we had found the clinic when we noticed lots of people sitting around outside, some even with infants in bassinets. We squeezed into a tiny waiting room inside. Once my turn came, the hole—an insect bite gone bad, perhaps—was quickly cleaned out and re-bandaged. Even though a nurse did the cleaning, the doctor stayed the whole time, watching and talking to me. How often do you see that in the U.S? The doctor was concerned with the depth of the hole. I said, I was too. He then wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and special bandages, and asked me to come back in five days to make sure it was healing. The bill for the doctor visit was the equivalent of $36. So far, however, everything else here is phenomenally expensive.

Papeete is the official end of the Pacific Puddle Jump, the loosely organized sailing rally from the Americas to French Polynesia with no set starting place or schedule. There will be a party here in Papeete, then a group sail over to the island of Moorea about 15 miles away. The party will continue there, including a dinner. Once it is all over, we’ll continue out the Society Island chain until we leave French Polynesia from Bora Bora for whatever comes next. Hopefully, we’ll find some time to relax along the way.

The anchorage at Atuona on Hiva Oa.
There is a boat yard at Atuona, but no travel lift. Some kind of hydraulic lifting trailer is used to haul boats up the ramp, pulled by a tractor.
Approaching Tahiti and the city of Papeete.
Outrigger racing canoes in storage.
There is a public park all along the waterfront.
Mysticeti is starting to look beat up after 6,000 miles.

Photos from The Marquesas

Posted by John

The island of Nuku Hiva. Our first view of land after 33 days. It’s a little blurry, but so were we.
Outside Kevin’s Yacht Services. Kevin can help with anything that might be needed, from formal check-in to tattoos.
Free Wi-Fi under this awning for the price of a cold drink or, better yet, lunch.
View of the boats in the bay from the Taiohae waterfront.
Another colorful view.
One picture is worth a thousand words. The maintenance guys had all the latest required safety equipment—and a horse.
Supply ship/passenger ferry, as well as a couple boats from the Oyster Yacht World Rally. Plenty of room for supply ship and visiting boats at Nuku Hiva, not so much at Ua Pou and Hiva Oa.
This is the sailing vessel Shakedown, from Useless Bay, WA. They left from Banderas Bay, Mexico but had mechanical problems, including engine failure. Their crossing took 49 days. The small yellow flag just below the first spreader arm indicates that they have not yet formally checked-in to the country.
Once checked-in, the protocol is to fly the French flag above the French Polynesian flag. We also added the Marquesas flag just for fun.
From Nuku Hiva we crossed to Ua Pou. As we got closer, the mountains seen in the distance became rock spires.
Mysticeti at Ua Pou.
Robyn’s nice evening view of the spires.
To buy bread you usually need to be out very early. It also helps if you know where the store or bakery is. We spent a lot of time looking.
We finally found a store. It’s off the street, and has no sign. It also had no bread.
From Ua Pou we made our way to this bay on Tahuata. We got there late at night.
Julie scraping barnacles off the hull.
Diving off the boat into warm water is something we can’t do at home.

Hiva Oa, and the Ups and Downs of Anchoring

Posted by John

May 30th turned out to be a day devoted to the ups and downs of anchoring. Here’s a little story to explain.

When we had gone into the bay on Tahuata, we were happy that the anchor had grabbed so solidly. We were tired, and the solid anchor meant we were done for the night. But something was different. It had never made a sound like that before. It had never dug in so quickly, either. Usually it drags across the bottom before sinking in and holding.

Over the next couple of days I had a nagging unease about it that wouldn’t go away. Our anchor watch showed that we were staying within one of the tightest circles I had seen us stay in. The anchor was just not moving. It was not dragging, or flipping and resetting. Nothing. Another boat came into the bay and asked us how deep we were because their depth sounder was not working. We told them, then added, “Great holding.” They ended up anchoring near us.

When the other boat left a few days later, we watched with curiosity as they spent a lot of time looking down in the water toward their anchor. My uneasy feeling continued, but they eventually got their anchor up and were on their way.

We were enjoying a nice Memorial Day (which, at the time, we didn’t realize was Memorial Day), when a voice—“Hey, Mysticeti!”—called up from the water. Looking over the side, we saw a snorkeler. He told us that our anchor was jammed into a crack under a rock and looked like it might not come out. Well, that was it, I guess. My uneasiness was now validated. Not that that made me feel any better.

In the conversation that followed, we told him that we were off in the morning for Atuona on Hiva Oa before taking off for Tahiti. He’d been to Atuona and said we’d need to use both bow and stern anchors there. Wonderful, I thought. Now I have two new things to worry about. We had tried to use a stern anchor at Ua Pou and failed. We asked about the fuel dock. He said we’d have to use jerry cans.

The anchor windlass that came with our boat is a nice one. At the time it was originally purchased in the 1990’s it cost as much as a compact car. It is almost guaranteed to bring up your anchor, or so the brochure seems to say. I decided to trust it, so I could get some sleep.

I woke up before sunrise and couldn’t wait to get the day over with. By 7:15 the engine was running, and by 7:30 the windlass was pulling chain up off the bottom. We were in 40 feet of water with 120 feet of chain out. Two years ago Robyn and I had laid all the chain out on the dock at Port Ludlow and attached markers (colored plastic zip ties) at 50 foot intervals. Now I knew that once the 50 foot marker was down the hole and into the chain locker the anchor would be well off the bottom.

Looking down over the bow I could watch the chain coming from quite a way down. It looked too tight to not have a heavy weight on it. I was pretty sure that the anchor had not been broken off and left behind on the bottom. I was optimistic, just looking for the first confirmation. But as the chain kept coming up, I saw what looked like a big ol’ sack of something draped across the anchor. It had brought the rock up with it. This, I was not prepared for.

With the windlass stopped and the rock just breaking the surface, I stared at it. It was an old piece of dead coral, covered with patches of brightly colored algae. (At least that’s my story.) I tried to push it off with a boat hook. Nope. I tried to pull up on it and flip it off with the boat hook. Nope. It was wedged tightly between the plow part of the anchor and the shank. The boat hook wouldn’t do a thing, we needed some ideas.

The first idea was to get a loop of rope around it and try to lift it off the anchor. That did nothing. The next idea was to get a big hammer, raise the rock up closer to deck level, and whack at it with the hammer until it broke off. We’d have to think about that idea a little longer. Next idea was to send someone into the water to run a rope through the lifting ring on the top of the plow part of the anchor, then winch that up higher than the chain end. That would both flip the anchor over, and change the forces on the anchor and maybe open the gap a little and let the rock fall out.

Since Robyn is the strongest swimmer of the three of us, she got the job. It was early still, before she normally gets up, so maybe she wouldn’t be clear headed enough to protest too much. She did a great job. Perfect. And not only that, the plan worked. The rock silently returned to the bay before I even noticed it was gone. We were off for Hiva Oa and the sun was barely up.

Hiva Oa and Tahuata are next to each other across a channel a few miles wide. We didn’t have far to go, but we don’t fall for that idea anymore. We were ready for just about anything. Then we went around the end of the island and saw a gray funnel cloud—a water spout. That was a new one. We weren’t expecting that. It was several miles ahead of us, and possibly on the other side of a ridge, maybe even in the bay we were headed to. We watched it dissipate, and thought sure we’d had enough excitement for one day. Of course, we were wrong.

The bay at Atuona is pretty small. It is a potato patch of water; shallow, muddy, choppy and rolly, with a river flowing into it at the end of the bay. The edges are solid rock with the occasional blowhole shooting water high into the air with a “boom” when the surge hits. It is also packed with boats trying to get at least a little shelter from the swells. Lovely. But there is a fuel station there. We’d have to jerry-jug it. There is no dock except for the supply ship wharf, which is not fit for a recreational boat. We knew the supply ship had just been there and so shouldn’t be back for a while. That meant we should be able to anchor just about anywhere.

We decided on a spot next to another boat about our size. We set our bow anchor, but to keep from swinging into the boat next to us we’d definitely need a stern anchor too. We learned from our last attempt that we can’t just drop a stern anchor on a chain. First, the anchor has to be set; and second, a chain scraping along the rudder is not a good thing.

Julie’s plan was to remove the chain from the anchor and attach a long rope rode instead. Then the dinghy would be launched and rowed around to the stern, where the anchor would be lowered into the dinghy. The the anchor would be rowed out in the dinghy, at an angle behind the boat, and lowered to the bottom. Then it would be winched back toward the boat until it set, and then the stern would be pulled so that we were parallel to the boat next to us.

Okay, first, launch the dinghy the fastest way by hoisting it up by a sail halyard and swinging it over the side of the boat. Since the dinghy was upside down on deck, we’d just attach the halyard to the tow rope already fastened to the bow of the dinghy. We’d raise it to a vertical position, twirl it around so it was right side up, then push it out over the water and lower it in. We’d done this many times before. Apparently, this time was one time too many.

The tow ring on the dinghy is held by a hypalon patch glued to the front of the dinghy. This was the day that the glue decided to let go. Down came the dinghy on top of me. Okay, okay, I’m okay, but it’s time for another plan.

Julie can make this big, old full keel Westsail turn around in its own length. It’s taken a lot of practice, but people notice. When we left the La Cruz Marina in Banderas Bay, a local marina employee in mirrored sunglasses watched her turn the boat 180 degrees completely around in the fairway between the docks. When I looked at him, he smiled, gave a thumbs up, and said, “Bueno.” Now, while Robyn and I were getting the dinghy in the water, she was using these skills to keep us, with the bow already anchored, from swinging into the boat next to us. It took two tries, but she also got the anchor, long rope rode attached, rowed out and onto the bottom, while I winched the stern straight. It seemed to hold on the second attempt.

As the afternoon wore on, we watched as more, and bigger boats came in to join the crowd. This takes the record for the closest and biggest crowd of boats we’ve ever been squeezed into. I hope it works out. Definitely enough fun and excitement for one day.


Posted by John using SailMail

One thing about sailing to Tahuata is that it is upwind from Ua Pou. The trade winds blow east to west and we’d have to sail west to east, into the wind. We thought about this a lot. Weather information was minimal. We hadn’t been able to hold a connection with SailMail long enough to send or receive an email for two weeks so we couldn’t get any GRIB files or other weather data. The only thing we could get was an intermittent and painfully slow phone data connection to It showed the wind shifting around a little to the northeast, which we hoped would be enough of an angle to allow us to sail southeast to Tahuata. The supply ship was coming, we had to leave.

I suppose that after sailing 6,000 miles to get this far, you might get a little complacent. We were only going about 60 miles, after all. The engine had been working great. I didn’t even bother to look at it. We didn’t want to arrive at Tahuata in the dark so we planned to leave late in the day and get out beyond the rocks in daylight, then sail all night and arrive at first light the following morning.

Just before we departed, the sky turned ominous. Dark clouds, strong wind gusts and torrential rain showers descended on us. The girl’s canoe team, in the big double canoe from the school on the beach, let out shrieks of protest. It would pass over in a minute, we thought.

Once out of the bay we could see that the rain was much more widespread than just a passing shower. The seas were high, steep, close together and confused. The wind was 25 kts, gusting to over 30. We put up just one sail, the staysail, but we were leaving the engine running until we got past the rocky point. It got dark, really dark.

The rocking and rolling of the boat was severe. Like a mechanical bull in a 1980’s Urban Cowboy bar, it was best to hang on with both hands. It was nearly impossible to stand up. Our course was southeast, but we had to go north first in order to clear the point that we could no longer see except on radar. It took much longer to get past the point than we had expected. The AIS let us know that we were on a collision course with the supply ship. As we were leaving, it was coming in. We stayed on our current northward course until it was behind us, then we turned southeast. The engine sputtered and coughed. We shut it off immediately and set about figuring out what was wrong. It didn’t take long to understand once I had crawled down to the engine room. Ever since we had switched tanks after the engine quit on the way to Banderas Bay, we had never switched back to the center tank. We were still running on the starboard tank, which was now empty. Even after removing the clog from the fuel line, and refilling the center tank with all those jerry-jugs of diesel brought out in the dinghy, I had forgotten to switch the tanks back. The engine restarted. Luckily, we didn’t need to bleed the fuel lines.

With just the staysail, and winds topping out at 40 kts, we tacked back and forth for much of the night. We went north, then south, then north again, trying to make headway upwind. At one point while winching in the staysail sheet, the pull cord on my self-inflating life jacket (which I wasn’t even wearing) somehow got wrapped up in the line and got yanked on by the winch. It inflated. (OK, it does work! Or, at least it did.) In the dark it was difficult to understand what was happening.

By daylight we were completely disheartened. We still had more than 40 miles left to go. Ua Pou was still clearly visible right behind us in the morning sun. Instead of wasting all that jerry-jugged fuel trying to motor-sail and tack, we could’ve just powered straight into the wind all night and been a lot closer to the destination. We had never shut off the engine, anyway.

We furled the staysail and motored on a course direct to Tahuata, and directly into the wind and 10 foot swells. It was slow going, with each swell bringing us to a near stop. I’ve never seen the bowsprit spend so much time underwater, plunging into the bottom of nearly every swell. The inadequately secured anchor on the bow bounced in and out of its roller, grinding into the teak cap rail.

We hand steered, trading off every hour, and finally arrived at Hanamoenoa Bay on Tahuata when we hadn’t wanted toat 11:00 at night. We’ve anchored in unfamiliar bays in the dark before, but it is never fun. The anchor set on the first try. We broke out the beer we bought at the first store we’d found on Ua Pou, talked for a few minutes, then went to sleep. If we keep making trips like this, we should be veteran ocean sailors in no time.

Ua Pou

Posted by John using SailMail

From Nuku Hiva we crossed the 25 miles to Ua Pou, the theory being that if the swells were coming into Taiohae bay on the south side of Nuku Hiva, then they should not be going into Baie d’Hakahau on the north side of Ua Pou. Besides, they had built a breakwater there that we could anchor behind.

When the sky was clear, we could see the mountains of Ua Pou from Nuku Hiva. As we got closer, the mountains became more clearly defined as impressive rock spires, conjuring up all kinds of exotic images, including hordes of flying monkeys descending from the clouds. The seas were up uncomfortably, but the distance was relatively short.

Where the Nuku Hiva anchorage had been huge, with dozens of boats and plenty of room for more, the Ua Pou anchorage was tiny and shallow. I can’t think of anywhere we’ve been anchored more closely together, with more danger of swinging into another boat, than here. At one point we were squeezed between an Australian, a Belgian and an I don’t speak English, French boat. We tried using a stern anchor to keep us from swinging, but not only did it not do so, it may have contributed to causing our bow anchor to drag. To make things even more stressful, the supply ship wharf is right there and the ship was due any day. We would be in its way when it came in.

We met Dan, off the boat My Dream from Kirkland, WA. He rowed over and we all sat in the cockpit and talked for a while. He had single-handed it all the way from San Diego and had stories to tell. He said he’d been through some stuff and had a tough time with the crossing. We said we understood completely. His wife was flying down to Tahiti and was going to meet him when he got there.

We stayed in Ua Pou three nights. At first light on the final day we did an excursion to shore in search of beer, bread and other supplies. It was not as easy as we had expected. What had looked like an inviting beach cafe from the boat, turned out to be a school for swimming and canoeing. We found the bank, and the Air Tahiti office, even the post office, but no store. We asked around. Magasin? But we got sent in different directions. Finally, we found a small store. They had beer but no bread. They tried to direct us to the bakery. We never found the bakery but we found another store that had bread. So, hot and tired but satisfied, we made our way back out to the boat.

Our next planned stop was Tahuata, about 60 to 70 miles away. We thought we would leave late in the day, sail all night, and arrive in the morning. Too bad it didn’t work out quite like that.