Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Societies - Six Islands in Nine Days

After leaving the tranquil Marquesas forty-five years ago when John arrived in one of the South Pacific's busiest cities, Papeete, it felt like we'd sailed into Los Angeles.  This time around a very fast passage transported us from Hirifa, a motu on the Fakarava atoll, population 3, to Papeete, population ah, well... a lot.   Our mission was to reprovision after two months cruising and prepare Moonshadow for guests, but first we had to take a moment to adjust to the contrast between island living and this.  

At Marina Taina, we found ourselves able to access all the conveniences of a big city, like internet, supermarkets, laundry facilities, boat parts and car rental.

But we didn't expect a few things, like being able to drive our rental car right up to Moonshadow's boarding gate with propane and groceries. 

Deb also learned that at the Carrefour grocery, one must find and collect the toilet paper they think they'll need from the returns department before entering the restroom.  

 Before we knew it Scott and Deanna were at the Faaa Airport terminal right on time at 5:00 AM.  We didn't waste any time getting right to the fun.  After a quick tour of Papeete in the rental car, we cast off and were on our way across the short channel between Tahiti and Moorea, where we encountered some of the biggest waves we've seen in four and a half years.  Fortunately, these waves were sent from storms far away in the southern Pacific and weren't steep or breaking, but definitely big.

At Moorea's Opunohu Bay, we found the 97 foot cousin to Moonshadow, Iceberg.  After Steve Dashew built the Deerfoot and Sundeer cruising sailboats, he developed a special breed of offshore cruising powerboat he calls FPB, or Fast Patrol Boat.  His prototype, an 83 footer named Wind Horse was in Beaufort NC when we were there with Moonshadow, and again in Maine, where we got to meet Steve and his wife Linda. 

So it was fun to lay eyes on the next generation of Steve's creations, which look a lot like the Deerfoot, except for the big windows, fly bridge, no mast, no sails...  

... let's just say there's a family resemblance.

Rather than anchor in 90 feet of water with Iceberg in Opunohu Bay, we followed the narrow but well marked channel in the lagoon to the west between the reef and the island until the lagoon became too shallow for anything but dinghies and jet skis.  Here, we anchored in shallow water with a sand bottom.

The kids seemed to enjoy the transition they'd just experienced flying from LAX, then sailing to this spot.

Yep, we're in paradise!

I should have prepared Scott before he dove in...

...hey kid, that water isn't very deep!

Visibility?  well over 62 feet!

This anchorage sits in the wind-shadow of the rugged mountains so it's a great place for paddling...

...or anything you want to do on a paddle-board.

I could have prepared Scott and Dee for what was in the water too!

These species of huge rays tend to hang out in sand bottoms where the water is shallow, so you stand on the bottom and watch them swim right at you.

We had just the remedy for all the tension of flying, sailing, swimming, paddle-boarding, and not getting eaten by big sea animals.

Now, take your medicine...

Feeling better!

Full disclosure time.  It rains here.  But there's a rainbow around every cloud.

 We found a guy with a 4 x 4 truck who drove us around, mostly up and down.

Moorea has some incredible scenery in it's interior.

Including a big pineapple farm.

After a particularly steep section...

... we found ourselves high above Moonshadow in the lagoon...

 ...and the pass through the reef into Opunohu Bay on our right.

When we sailed the 85 miles from Moorea to Huahini, we saw some more of those big waves.  Moonshadow likes to surf and that's just what we did with winds in the high twenties and gusts to the low thirties, we flew along topping out at 17.8 knots.

The Societies are so different from the Marquesas and Tuamotus.  Here, you have deep lagoons inside a barrier reef that surround mountainous islands.  The only problem with these deep lagoons is that they are really deep.  So, boats are always looking for a sandy spot that's not too deep yet not too shallow.

Back in the old days, the ships that anchored here had to anchor in the deep lagoons and deal with monster anchors like this.

Scott and Deanna are avid fans of the Golden State Warriors, so our mission in Huahine was to find someplace to watch the NBA finals on television.  We asked at the Yacht Club, no dice.  We asked at grocery where they looked at us like we had three heads.  Finally at a gift shop where Deb bought a dress, Jenn, who was there filling in for the shopkeeper, thought for a moment and said "Come over to my house.  My husband Peter worked for the Warriors, so he'll be watching for sure!"

So we followed Jenn's map to Pete and Jenn's house on the water about 15 minutes from the town dock and found ourselves sitting in the bedroom of the cozy home where they've lived for 17 years.  We learned how Pete, a New Yorker, travelled to California and asked for a job with Oakland's Golden State Warriors.  He was hired the next day and spent several years there loving his job where he could shoot hoops with his buddies on the same court we were watching on television.  Eventually, Pete chucked it all to travel the world forty years ago.  He met Jenn and settled here in Huahini.

Alas, the last piece of the puzzle didn't fall into place.  GSW lost.  But we figure we won, coming away with new friends we didn't plan or expect to find.  

It was really easy to console Scott.  Hey, just look around!

An easy sail from Huahine brings you to two islands, Raiatea, and Tahaa, which are surrounded by one large reef.  Most of the lagoon is safe for navigation, so we entered through a pass on the east shore of Raiatea, stopped for fuel and groceries then proceeded 20 miles beyond to Tahaa.

Our destination was this band of sand on the northwest corner where if you get it right, you can anchor in 25 feet and stand on the sand just off your stern.  

But the real reason to come here is a dinghy ride...

... to someplace called the Coral Gardens...

 ... which should be called the aquarium!  These were the tamest tropical fish we've ever seen, willing to swim right up to your facemask!

Next to the Coral Garden is a gorgeous five star hotel where we were allowed to sample their rum drinks and eat their restaurant fare, all of which received high marks.

The surrounding sandy playground is spectacular.

We found that the local internet company had a very fast signal pointed right at the resort, so we were able to stream the next game of the NBA finals, while enjoying John's delicious margaritas.

From our anchorage aboard Moonshadow we could watch the sunset behind Bora Bora, our next stop, just 17 miles away, 

Bora Bora has changed a lot since John's visit here in 1971 when, from the pass through the reef, the only evidence of mankind's presence was a church steeple poking up through the palms.  Now Bora Bora is a honeymoon destination for those willing to pay $1,500 a night.  Evidently, there are a lot of those.  

On a drive around the island with Paul, who knew every single person we encountered, we stopped at a white sand beach for a post card photo op.

That evening Scott and Deanna's whirlwind tour of the Societies was capped off with dinner at Bloody Mary's famous restaurant, where we spent our 25th wedding anniversary.  

It's still a great place.

We took Scott and Deanna  in the dinghy to Bora Bora's town dock where they boarded a ferry to the airport which sits on a motu (small island on a reef) across the lagoon.  From there they caught a plane back to Papeete, then boarded a red-eye to LAX, then drove 200 miles down to San Diego where their employers expected them to make an appearance the next day.  

Whew!  Just thinking about all that travel makes us tired.  All we had to do was sail Moonshadow 130 miles upwind back to Papeete.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Goodbye Tuamotus, Hello Tahiti!

These atolls fill up with water, then empty again twice per day with the tides.  All the water must enter and leave through one or more passes where there are breaks in the reef systems that ring the atolls.  Cruisers have four chances to get across the pass when the water is slack, but only two occur during daylight.  A nighttime crossing by someone as unfamiliar as us would be very unwise.  If you miss the slack water, you might encounter some rough going with standing waves and turbulence. 
When we left Kauehi, we arrived at the pass early so the conditions in the photo below were the worst we saw, and it really wasn't that bad for a big heavy boat like Moonshadow.  Still, until you've experienced it, it doesn't look like something you want to try.

Our next destination was the town of Rotoava in the Northwest part of Fakarava, a very large atoll.  After we entered through the north pass (there is a second pass at the south end of the atoll), we had a short motor to the village where we found mooring buoys available for cruisers.  These buoys had just been installed in December and they are a welcome sight for cruisers wary of anchoring in deep water with unseen coral heads below.  In fact one of our cruising friends had to hire a diver to un-snag his anchor from between two large coral heads.

We enjoyed a few days here exploring the town, and some of it's small eateries.  A young french couple live here and offer up their front porch and internet connection, then serve fresh juices, coffee, etc. to their clients.  Basically it's a tropical Starbucks I guess.  But really, seriously different.  So cruisers find a place to park their dinghy and walk over to Yacht Services, the french couple call themselves, where it is possible to meet other cruisers, find out where the baguettes are fresh, and check out Facebook.

Another frenchman sells panini, crepes, and beer from his beach house here.

We are finally back in the mode we loved in the Caribbean where we move on to explore new places every two, three or four days, and we love it.  As we worked our way south down the eastern rim of the immense  Fakarava atoll, we had to keep a sharp eye out for bommies, which are individual coral heads that reach up from the bottom to anywhere from mere inches to a couple of feet below the surface of the water.  The best advice is to move with the sun overhead or at your back because on days like the one below, you can barely see anything below the surface.  We had the sun overhead many days, just never when we were moving from place to place.

After a few hours we arrived at Tukaega, an unpopulated stretch of beautiful white sand beach and aqua water.

With our friends Mark and Deanna aboard Speakeasy, we had the place to ourselves for two days.

Flowers seem to love it here.

Tukaega, it turns out has some really beautiful examples of South Pacific coral to explore through the lens of a snorkel mask, so we enjoyed a couple of trips below the surface.

This grouper might have made a good meal, but we weren't armed.

There was a beautiful sight around every corner.

And where there is healthy living coral, there are tropical fish.

They are remarkably well adapted to the particular type of coral they call home.

There were many species and colors of coral around.

Looks like this clam just ate something sour!

Really nice dive spot here.

But hey, we are in "move on" mode, so move on we did, down to the pass at the south end of the Fakarava atoll.  This is a tricky pass to navigate, and our plans were to exit the lagoon through it in a few days, so we did a little drone flying to understand the best way to get through.  

While we were here, a boat attempted to enter this pass at night.  There was no moon and as the skipper was trying to learn if the channel marker up ahead was red or green, he ran hard aground on the reef. We and several other yachties tried with our dinghies to help get the ketch free but we didn't have enough horsepower.  Fortunately for the owner, a dive boat operator showed up and was able to pull him off the coral.

West of the pass, among a labyrinth of reefs and coral bommies, is a stunningly beautiful place to anchor in 15 feet of water so clear you can see your anchor on the bottom 100 feet away.  The coral heads littering the sand bottom pose a threat to cruisers' anchor chains which can become entangled when the wind shifts.  We use a buoy to float the chain over large bommies, and that seems to work very well.

We took a flight around the anchorage here which shows the stark contrast between the deep blue pacific and the calm protected waters of the lagoon.  Click on the movie below for a look:

(after starting the movie click the box [ ] in the lower right corner to view full screen)

The plumeria trees here produce the most fragrant flowers which John can't resist picking for his best friend.  Ain't she cute with a flower in her hair?

But without doubt, the best reason to visit the south pass is the drift dive that can be done once per day on the flood or incoming tide.  We snorkeled here three times.  Yachtie/cruisers take their dinghy out to the mouth of the river then jump in and let the current transport them over the coral canyon walls on the side of the pass.  It is like you've suddenly awakened to find yourself in a huge tropical fish aquarium.

These fish have the most exotic coloring patterns

Some are bigger than the others.

For more views of the snorkel dive we did, 
click on the arrow below to watch the movie John made.

(after starting the movie click the box [ ] in the lower right corner to view full screen)

 After three dives in the pass, we were ready to move on to Hirifa which is tucked into the southeastern-most corner of Fakarava.  Navigating inside the lagoon can be hazardous, but the process is fairly simple.  Place a babe on the bow to look for coral, then watch and take pictures.

This time we followed Speakeasy with the morning sun in our face.  At least we knew anything we might hit would be at least 3 feet down.

That thing about having the sun at your back is good advice inside the lagoons.  Compare the two photos of the same day marker.  With the sun in our face the silhouette of the marker appears to be in deep water.  

But after we motored past and looked back with the sun at our backs, voila: that same marker is sitting on a reef about 2 feet below the surface!

Hirifa doesn't have great snorkeling in the anchorage area, but it has lots to appreciate.

Like a long white beach, beautiful women on paddle boards,

 ...and Liza.

Liza runs a small beach patio dining establishment for cruising yachts.  Liza is the real deal.  She is a warm touchy person who instantly feels like part of the family.  

Liza's marketing plan?  Put out a sign and welcome visitors with open arms.

Liza is a sweatheart.

Liza is a hugger.

One look at the place and we knew we had to find out more.  

Our second dinner there was a party with ten people from five cruising boats.  

And Liza!

Four of the boats crew seated at this table shared dinner in La Cruz, Mexico shortly before departing for the Pacific Puddle Jump.  Such reunions make this cruising life so rich.

Next time you drop the hook at Hirifa, stop by and say hello to Liza from John and Deb aboard Moonshadow.  Don't forget to look for Moonshadow's San Diego Yacht Club Burgee hanging on the wall.   Chances are you'll never want to leave.

Did I mention that Hirifa has a palm tree chair?

After studying the charts and looking at our drone pictures of the pass, we figured we were ready to take Moonshadow through the tricky waters during the slack tide at daybreak.  We were pretty nervous about this one, but then a miracle occurred.  The small freighter "Cobia 3"  stopped to drop and pick up supplies, then transited out through the pass, so we quickly snapped on our chart plotter and followed the trail left by his AIS transponder, placing waypoints on the electronic chart every time Cobia turned.  Next day at the crack of dawn Moonshadow followed Cobia's track within 20 feet right or left and reentered the Pacific to continue on to Tahiti.

Along the way, this skipjack tuna nearly bent our fish rod in half while we were streaking along at 10 and 11 knots.  We had to stop the boat to get him aboard, but finding he was just a skipjack, we tossed him back.

Our trip to Tahiti was one of our fastest passages, clocking 219 miles in 24 hours and arriving at Marina Taina before noon the next day.  

Now we must transform our two huge storage lockers back into staterooms to provide living quarters for guests visiting Moonshadow.  First our son Scott and his fiancee Deanna will fly down to Papeete for a trip aboard through the Society islands to Bora-Bora, then in July our other son Ryan and his family, Shelly, Brandon and Natalie will join us.

No doubt we will have plenty of material for the next blog!!

In the meantime we'll try to find time to reflect upon our brief time in some of
 the most beautiful islands in the world.  

Goodbye Tuamotus!