More time in Suvarov

As remote as it is, Suvarov (or Suwarrow) has been the most
sociable place we have been so far. There are about 12 boats
here right now with boats coming and going every few days, but
we know most of them. There is a big pot-luck party nearly every
night on shore – right on the beach, under the palm trees, and
there was a full moon just a few nights ago so it is especially
beautiful. One of the men on the boats is a very keen fisherman,
and he usually supplies the main course – fresh fish that he
barbecues up for us on the spot. Yesterday it was grouper. Last
night some of the musically gifted people who happen to be here
decided to perform and we had such a great time. Our friends
Alexandra and Peter from “Rishu Maru” had a band in Austria –
she is a singer and he is a guitarist and composer – and they
performed for us. Jazzy stuff. Really nice. Gail, from the boat
“Fifth Season” is a professionally trained singer who
accompanies herself on a mid-sized harp! She sang French, Irish
and American songs of all styles. Another guy, Tom, from the
boat “Rasa Manis” is a musicologist who studied in Indonesia and
was there when Mark was there 30 years ago (his boat name is
Indonesian for sweet,pleasant place). He sang bawdy sea songs.
Another group of people with guitars just strummed along as we
all sang some old corny folk songs. So much fun. All we needed
was for someone like Uncle Itz to be here and the singing would
have gone on all night. The caretakers of the island are very
sweet, mellow people and they come to the pot-luck parties every
night (except Sundays) – and they bring fried coconut pancakes –
very much like potato latkes.

Thanks to a timely e-mail from Frannie we stayed up late two nights ago
to watch the lunar eclipse. It was absolutely breathtaking from here.
Perfectly clear night with shooting stars ,
palm trees in the background and warm tropical breezes. We could
watch it through the hatch right in the forward berth of the boat so we
didn’t even have to get out of bed to watch it. Fantastic.

Mark just hopped in the dinghy to go fishing with Peter. He
wants to try his hand at catching grouper. More later…

At anchor in Suvarov

It is now our third day in Suvarov Island in the Northern Cook
Islands. This atoll was discovered by the Russian ship
“Suvarov” in 1814. After the Cook Islands gained independence
in free association with New Zealand, the name was changed to
Suwarrow which is more in tune with the Cook Islands language.
The islands that make up the atoll have been mostly uninhabited
for hundreds of years. There is evidence of some limited
Polynesian settlement long ago, and the discovery of rusted
muskets and two chests of Spanish treasure suggest other
visitors. This place was made famous to sailors by Tom Neale, a
New Zealander, who lived here as a hermit from 1952 to his
death in 1978. Yachts camed to visit him during those years and
he wrote a book (An Island to Oneself) that was published in
many languages. We visited his simple shack on shore which now
serves as a book swap for sailors and an office for the
caretaker family that lives here six months a year.

Tom Neale

The island is a national park and nature reserve, and the
caretakers (park wardens) for the past three years are John and
Veronica and their four young boys ages 4 to 9. They come here
from Raratonga in April and leave about November 1. When they
are dropped off in April they are on their own until the
November pick-up.

John and Veronica

There are no facilities and the only way to
get here is on your own boat. This is now the peak of the
yachtie season as sail boats make their way west from French
Polynesia to Tonga and then eventually to New Zealand or
Australia for the typhoon season. Most boats take the southern
route through the Southern Cooks but the charms of Suvarov and
Samoa, plus the vagaries of the weather, lead an increasing
number to come through here. Most nights there is a fire on the
beach and a potluck in which John and Veronica participate.
Veronica makes wonderful coconut pancakes. The yachties also
give John and Veronica whatever fresh food and gasoline that
they can spare. We gave them frozen hamburger that they seemed
delighted to receive. John and Veronica go out of their way to
be helpful to their visitors, offering advice on places to
snorkel and best times to exit through the pass back to the sea,
leading trips to the other islands in the atoll, and just being
gracious hosts.

Laura and I are enjoying our stay here immensely. We swam
with the sharks yesterday — there is really no choice since
they are everywhere, we see them swimming around the boat.
There was this big black-tipped shark circling around us but he
never got closer than 20 feet. I have some great video of him
(with a nice toothy smile). Unless one has not just speared a
fish, these sharks have no interest in humans. Needless to say,
we are not spearfishing.

Black tipped shark

The water is crystal clear and the coral is beautiful and
healthy. That is what one should expect in an uninhabited atoll
with no other islands around for a few hundred miles, I suppose.
There are lots of grouper and other large fish in the lagoon,
not just the cute little tropical guys. We stayed up late to
watch the eclipse of the moon last night which was spectacular
here. The closest town (Pago-Pago) is about 500 miles away so
ambient light is not a problem. We are a bit closer to the
equator than Bora-Bora but it is still noticeably warmer than
anywhere since Panama. The water is like a bath. Fortunately,
it has been quite breezy so we are comfortable.


Tonight there is another potluck supper, plus those yachties
with musical talents are putting on a variety show. They just
finished a practice on “Fifth Season” and we are preparing to go
ashore for the show. There is always tons of fresh barbequed
fish and other delights. There are currently 12 boats at anchor
here (there were none last week when the weather was bad) and
many are planning to head west for Tonga and Samoa over the next
few days as the weather outlook for the coming week looks quite
good. Indeed, two boats left today — “Barefeet” with Erin and
Chris from our marina in Rhode Island, and “Ariel” a beautiful
gaff-rigged English boat. We had Ian and Cathy from Ariel over
to Sabbatical III for beers last night and heard some great
stories about crazy English sailors. They also offered
experienced advice about passage planning as they know these
waters and weather patterns very well.

We may leave in a few days and join “Rishu Maru” on a 520
nautical mile passage to Apia in Samoa. From there the plan is
to go to Niuatoputapu, the northern most Tongan island. Its
name is too hard to pronounce so the yachties just refer to it
as “New Potatoes”.


Safe Arrival

We arrived safely in Suwarrow today at 11:30 a.m. 4 day 18 hour
passage. Great passage – even baked two banana breads en route.
Only one family lives here. I will describe more in our next
blog as I am too tired tonight to write much. We joined a beach
barbeque tonight with the 5 other boats in the anchorage. One of
them is the boat “Barefeet” which is the boat that is from our
marina in Rhode Island. They began their trip about a month
before we did, and we have been seeing them everywhere since we
were in the Marquesa’s. Another boat here, “Special Blend” is
a boat with a very accomplished Florida fisherman on board and
he came to the barbeque with at least 20 pounds of fish and
cooked for us all. I brought my banana bread. Great fun. We are
exhausted now after the passage and must sleep. Mark has passed
out already having slept only two hours out of the last 24.

En route to Suwarrow

Friday August 24th
2:00 P.M. local time
S 15 51
W 161 03
Heading 280 degrees
Winds 5-8 knots
125 miles to go!

We are in our 4th day now of our 4.5 day sail to Suwarrow. We
expect to arrive tomorrow morning (Saturday). Yesterday we had
good wind for most of the day and sailed with our headsails
poled out – averaging about 7 nm per hour for most of the day.
About 4 p.m. a squall came up and brought some rain, followed by
a drop in wind and a change in wind direction and after a couple
of hours of trying unsuccessfully to sail our course, we gave up
and motored for the night. It has not been the windiest sail,
but at least it has been quite comfortable most of the time –
with not much ocean swell at all. We have both been able to
sleep one six hour stretch each day followed by as many catnaps
as possible. Mark is not much of a napper, but I am really
getting good at passing out for an hour or two at any hour of
the day (talented girl that Laura). Today, Friday, we are
continuing to motor since the winds are still extremely light.

Yesterday Mark caught another fish! We aren’t even sure what
kind it was – only what it was not. Being neither a tuna, a
wahoo, or a mahi-mahi- we are guessing it might have been a kind
of mackeral. Anyways it was really delicious – much better than
the tuna we had caught two days before. And this morning I was
awakened at 7:00 a.m. by a loud cry of “Laura – get up – I’ve
got two fish on the lines!”. Mark had just set out the two
fishing lines and within a minute both had been grabbed. One of
them leapt clear out of the water and Mark could see that that
they were large mahi-mahi – the premier fish that you want to
catch out here. Unfortunately the bigger one bit the hook right
off the first line and disappeared. The second fish, however,
was well snagged and Mark managed to reel him in and onto the
boat. It was quite big – maybe 25 or 30 pounds – and was such a
beautiful fish. Once on board he (or she) was still thrasing
around and was very angry and before we could stun him, he
wiggled out of both the gaff hook and the hook in its mouth and
wriggled off the boat. Mark was so disappointed! I was
disappointed, but also kind of relieved because it was such a
beatiful big fish I hated to kill it.
We are looking forward to arriving in Suwarrow tomorrow. It is
supposed to be beautiful and it will be fun to be there with a
flotilla of boats that we know. Although there about 12 boats
we know of that are sailing this route, we are all spaced out
too far from each other to really communicate except by the SSB
(single side-band radio), and we are doing a check in twice a
day. We have ended up sailing very close to another boat named
Nadezka on the whole route. We have never met them in person,
but since we are only about 20 miles from each other at sea, we
are able to talk on the VHF radio at any time. It has been fun
checking in with them a few times – they even called us
yesterday to give us a heads up on the squall coming through –
as it passed by them before it reached us. They said that there
was a 200 foot fishing boat just a few miles from them which was
quite a surprise as we have seen no commercial boats of any kind
out here.

All is well here.

Leaving Bora Bora and back out to sea

Wednesday August 22, 2007
4:00 P.M.
Position: S15.10 W156.17
Heading: 274 degrees
Avg. Speed: 6.5 knots
Winds from the East North-east at 12-15 nm
Initial miles from Bora Bora to Suvarov: 690
Miles remaining: 390

Here are are in the middle of the ocean once again. We left Bora
Bora just before sunset on Monday the 20th having delayed our
departure approximately one week from our initial anticipated
departure date. On the day we left, we went back into town to do
some final provisioning and went to have lunch in the town’s big
Chinese restaurant. Our favorite gendarme, the strict guy who
checked us out of the country the week before and insisted that
we leave no later than the 14th of August sat at a table right
next to us, just as he did when we ate there last week. Luckily
he must see a lot of middle aged American yachties around here
and didn’t recognize us .

We had delayed our departure because the weather forecast was
not good for last week. First there was too much wind, and then
was no wind for a few days. We waited until Monday because the
forecast looked decent for Monday and Tuesday, and then
excellent for the rest of the week. Our friends on Rishu Maru
will be leaving on Wednesday (today) and will be following us
to Suvarov. Most of the boats we know left Bora Bora about the
same day as everyone was waiting for the right weather to leave.
We have set up a “safety net” with everyone calling in to a
pre-determined SSB channel twice a day. There are about 10
boats participating. It’s a nice system. We have not seen any
boats at sea yet.

Our first several hours at sea were great with moderate winds
and very smooth seas. The winds died down pretty quickly though
and we passed most of Tuesday motoring. The skies were grey
and the seas were extremely flat. It was not bad though, and
the best part of the day was when Mark caught a fish! A nice
fat tuna! It was a lot of work to bring him in and then pretty
disgusting when Mark cleaned and cut him up, but definitely a
very exciting event. We are not sure how big it was – guessing
about 15 pounds or so. Definitely enough for us to be eating
tuna everyday for the remainder of our passage to Suvarov.

Today the winds picked up and we have been sailing since early
morning. It has been a beautiful day with smallish but
increasing swells and a nice steady breeze behind us. We set the
two head-sails, one of which is a pretty red,white and blue
(French colors as well as American), and we are trucking along.
Mark has his fishing poles set again, hoping he can get
another lucky catch – this time maybe we will get a mahi-mahi.


Leaving for Surarov

We are leaving for Suvarov Island(Suwarrow) in about one hour
(0330 Zulu Aug 21). This island-atoll is part of the Northern
Cooks Islands and is uninhabited, except for a caretaker. It is
a national park and fairly popular with sailors. The route will
take us north of Maupiti and Motu One on a course of about 275
degrees magnetic. The entrance to Suvarov is at South 13
degrees 14 minutes and West 163 degrees 06 minutes, about 689
nautical miles from Bora-Bora. The forecast is for light winds
for the first 24 to 36 hours then moderate winds thereafter. We
should arrive Saturday morning local time.


Still in Bora-Bora

We are still in Bora-Bora waiting for the wind to pick up after a weather disturbance came through.  We posted a new slideshow and a short video today.  The underwater photography and video uses our Olympus digital camera.


More Bora Bora

Wednesday August 15th, 2007

We are still in Bora Bora. We had planned on leaving tomorrow,
having checked out of French Polynesia and gotten our bond back
on Monday. When we went to the gendarmerie to check out we told
the big buff gendarme that we would be leaving the next morning.
They are so strict about checking out here that the gendarme
actually said that if we are leaving tomorrow we should come
back to do the checkout tomorrow, not today. We told him that we
would be leaving at the crack of dawn so that would be
impossible, and he relented, but not before asking three times
if we were “definitely” leaving tomorrow and then he insisted on
writing “departure definite” on our papers. Of course we were
not really planning on leaving the next day as there were too
many things to take care of before we left and we had to wait
for the right weather. Some poor guy tried to check out just
after us and made the mistake of saying that he planned to leave
on Wednesday. The gendarme refused to check him out and the man
got fed up and said, “Ok, so check me out and I will leave
today”. That same man is currently anchored next to us (3 days
later), and after talking to him today it is clear that he is
only going to leave when the weather is ok – just like we are
doing. We are actually having beautiful weather but the
forecast is for a disturbance to come up from the south in the
next few days causing unsettled weather, strange wind direction
(north and northeast) and then a couple of days of no wind.
Since we have a 4 day sail ahead of us to get to Suvarov (in the
Cook’s), we don’t want to take a chance with such strange
weather, so we are “roughing it” by hanging around this pretty
anchorage in Bora Bora for a few more days.

We spent most of Saturday (August 11th) doing boat maintenance
(changing generator oil) and doing boat cleaning, but then had a
beautiful snorkel by the reef here. We found a gorgeous coral
garden just inside of the fringing reef with some spectacular
coral, clams of all sizes and colors and lots of fish, including
varieties we had never seen before. Saw some very bizarre and
very big fish that were stuck inside a large fish trap. In the
evening we went over to Rishu Maru to visit and ended up staying
for dinner and dancing on the deck together. We will miss Alex’s
mom Ericka (Ricky), and her sister Sol a lot. We just had so
much fun together these past two weeks.

On Sunday morning (August 12) Mark and I moved the boat back to
the Bora Bora yacht club so we could be closer to town and get
internet access. We spent a lot of time trying to upload a
movie of me swimming with the stingrays to our web site and
taking care of bills and other business. I even got our taxes
(2006) submitted! In the evening we invited Vanessa and Morgan
from the Canadian boat “Mostly Harmless” and Oden and Wee from
the Norwegian boat “Valkurie” over for sundowners.

Monday we were still moored at the yacht club, but went to town
to check out, get our bond, get some groceries, etc. We also
checked out the marine gas dock so that we would be prepared to
use it to fill up our tanks the next day. It is always helpful
to get the lay of the land before approaching a new gas dock and
this one was no exception. It is a very small dock, but looked
easy to approach. The woman who runs the place is exceedingly
unfriendly, but I guess as long as they sell us fuel we will be
ok. In the evening Mark and I dinghied over to the dock at the
yacht club just to have a drink and watch the sunset. A man
with two very cute sons came and sat beside us and he turned out
to be another yachtie from the British boat Clarabelle. They
invited us to play a card game with them and it was a lot of
fun. The two young boys, Tom and John (they call him John-tee)
were so adorable and had the most wonderful British accents. We
really had a nice time with them.

On Tuesday morning we wanted to go to the fuel dock and then
move back to the anchorage by Motu Toopua. We had promised Rishu
Maru that they could have our mooring at the yacht club as they
are hard to come by and they had spent the last two nights
anchored by the motu. We called to let them know we were ready
to vacate the mooring and they motored over to us. Another boat
that we know, Scholarship, was approaching the yacht club right
beside Rishu Maru and saw us leaving. For a few minutes it
looked like it was going to be a race between the two boats to
see who could get to the mooring ball first, but we called out
to Scholarship to let them know we were saving it for our
friends on Rishu Maru. Kind of like getting a parking spot in
Manhattan I guess. Hopefully there will be no bad feelings on
account of that episode.

We motored over to the fuel dock and were glad to see that there
were no other boats there. Just as we were pulling up to the
tiny dock, a small fishing boat raced in front of us and pulled
up at the dock, completely blocking our access to it and giving
us no time to stop our boat. We yelled frantically at him that
we were coming in and that he had to move or we might
accidentally hit him, and he moved out of the way just in time.
Funny because this is a very low key kind of place but we had
two “parking space” episodes in the same morning. We filled all
8 of our 20 liter jerry cans with diesel, topped off our tank,
filled up our gas tanks (for the dinghy) and went back to Motu
Toopua to find a nice spot to drop anchor. There were a couple
dozen boats there, but we managed to find a great spot.

It is Alex and Peter and Alex’s sister Sol’s birthdays this week
and we were invited to their boat for a birthday party last
night. Two other groups of friends on boats that we have not
seen for a long time pulled in today and they were also there
for the party — Yara and Nautilus. We had another fun evening
with lots of food, wine, and then everyone danced on the deck
again. Besides all of their other talents, Alex and Peter are
terrific dancers and it was fun to watch them dance together.

It was a little scary getting back to our boat in the dark. Our
anchorage was about 1 1/2 miles from the yacht club where Rishu
Maru was and it is amazing how long that distance can seem in
the dark. Luckily there were lots of navigational lights in the
channel and all went well. We will definitely avoid any more
long dinghy rides at night though as I was quite uncomfortable
the whole way. It is a distance that we would have covered in
about 12 minutes in the daylight going “warp speed”with the
dinghy planing, but at night you have to go much slower so it
took more than 1/2 an hour.

We had planned on spending today getting ready to leave for
Suvarrov, but after talking to Peter in the morning and checking
the weather forecast ourselves, we decided it would be better to
hang out here for a few more days until the weather disturbance

Bora Bora – August 6th – 10th

We left Tahaa on Tuesday morning, August 6th, as it looked like a good day to sail to Bora-Bora. Our friends on Rishu Maru were also leaving that day so we ended up following them out. It is only a 27 mile sail, which takes about 4 to 5 hours depending on the winds, so we left Tahaa mid-morning. It was a beautiful sail, with the famous peaks of Bora-Bora in front of us, and the more subdued peaks of Tahaa and Raiatea behind us. The sail from Tahaa to Bora-Bora is mostly in a west north-westerly direction and we were pushed along nicely by the swells as well as the wind. When we pulled into the harbor in Bora-Bora we still were not sure which anchorage we would stay in, but Rishu Maru called us on the radio and said that they were at the Bora-Bora Yacht Club (famous among sailers), and had a mooring, and would reserve one for us if we were interested. So we decided to stay there for the night. Our wonderful friend Peter, from Rishu Maru, tied up his boat to one mooring ball quickly and before we had even entered the anchorage was sitting in his dinghy by the free mooring ball waiting to tie us up. Peter and his wife Alex are really some of the nicest people we have ever met. Just after we got tied up we noticed that our Danish friends on the boat Margarita were also in the anchorage. Within a few minutes Anders from Margarita dinghied over to us and invited us to their boat for cake and coffee later in the evening.
We ended up having a very international evening. At 5:30 we met Rishu Maru on shore for a sundowner and met their French friends from another boat. This couple had done a circumnavigation 25 years ago and were now doing their second. Interesting. Then we went over to Margarita for our Danish cake and coffee (forget about dinner that night), where we were joined by some very interesting young men from Norway who were also doing a circumnavigation, but in their 22 foot sloop. I think that is the smallest boat we have seen yet. They were very entertaining, and we hope to see them again.

Bora-Bora is different than all the other places we have been as the harbors are filled with jet-skis and small boats that are constantly shuttling people back and forth from the many luxery resorts- making for a lot of unwanted wakes in the water and a different atmosphere than the quiet islands we have been in up to this point. Even Tahiti did not have as much boat traffic.

In the morning we went to check out the main town of Vaitape. It is not a very nice town – but there are a lot of service there that we need to use – primarily the grocery stores, fuel dock, gendarmerie (to check out of French Polynesia), and the bank (to reclaim the bond we paid when we first arrived in French Polynesia in late April). There are also cheap phone cards and lots of telephones so we used the opportunity to call the kids and other family members.
We left the yacht club at mid-day and motored over to a beautiful anchorage on the eastern side of a fairly large motu(island), Motu Toopua. It is a funny moto, shaped incredibly on our charts like Bart Simpson! The anchorage has beautiful white sand to anchor in, and is pretty close to the fringing reef where there is good snorkeling. Our friends Christian and Pockie, from the sailboat Irie, were in the anchorage with us and came over to watch the sunset and chat. They were the couple who literally threw us several pounds of fresh fish last time we met them nearly two months ago in Nuka Hiva. They are a very young couple who love sailing and have worked for the last 10 years to save enough money to buy and completely overhaul their boat. He bought it for almost nothing, but had to spend hundreds of hours fixing it up. I think he is the kind of guy who could and has fixed practically anything.
Yesterday afternoon we took the dinghy out to a shallow area near the reef as we saw several tourist boats anchored there in the morning and we figured there must be something interesting to see. Much to our delight we found that the sandy bottom there is full of large stingrays – all hanging out waiting to be fed by the tour boats. Even though the boats had left the area when we arrived, the rays were still there and we spent more than an hour swimming with them, and Mark took some great photos and even made a movie with our underwater camera. We hope to post the movie on our web site in the next few days. Rishu Maru joined us for our snorkeling and then came over later to watch the sunset. Their 7 year old son Finn made all of the women adorable little ankle bracelets from shells he had collected.

Time to replace the masthead light

Today we had some boat work to do including taking Mark up the mast to the perpetually broken light we have for the foredeck. Mark had to go up to repair the light fixture and replace a broken bulb, that unfortunately does not just snap or screw back into place. He had to go up with crimping tools and had to spend some time dangling 30 feet in the air in the bosun’s chair trying to put the light back in the poorly designed fixture. Taking Mark up the mast is something I used to have nightmares about, but we have done it a few times now and we are both quite comfortable with it ( well, maybe not quite comfortable, but we can do it when we have to). Then we went for another snorkeling expedition with Rishu Maru. It was a very calm day with almost no surf breaking on the reef, and we had heard that there was great place to dive or snorkel outside the reef. It was absolutely fantastic. We tied the dinghies up to mooring balls placed outside the reef and all jumped in – including Rishu Maru’s 7 year old son Finn, and 65 year old mom Ricky. The water was at least 40 feet deep and crystal clear. Two large black tipped sharks were swimming in the water below us (quite far below us), and the sea-floor was covered in beautiful coral. We swam towards the shallower part of the reef, watching the incredible sea life below us. Peter had his spear-gun with him, but there were no fish big enough to spear – and he wouldn’t dare try to spear a shark. It was a lot of fun. We ended up spending 2 hours in the water and were absolutely exhausted by the time we got back to the boat. I am sure bedtime will be early tonight.


New slideshows

We just posted some new pictures.  Go to “slides” from our home page, then select “Current slideshows:Society Islands” . The newest pictures are under “Huahine” and “Tahaa”.

Tahaa – Island of tough anchoring

Monday August 6th We are still in Tahaa and are now moored just outside of the Taravana Yacht Club (previously known as Marina Iti). We don’t usually pick up moorings – first of all because there are almost none anywhere in French Polynesia, and secondly because we generally prefer to drop the anchor. Picking up a mooring here, however, was very convenient as we have found that this is a hard island to anchor in. The coral reef that fringes the entire island is shallow and when it ends the water depth really just plummets, making it difficult to find a place to anchor. The water depth goes from just a few feet deep at the reef to about 35 meters deep without any gradual shallowing. This makes for difficult anchoring as we (and most people) do not have enough chain to anchor in 35 meters, and the coral reef is too dangerous to anchor in. There are a few anchorages here on Tahaa with reasonable depths of 10 – 20 feet in sand, but you have to be careful as the sandy bottom is often littered with coral heads and you have to make sure that neither your anchor nor your anchor chain gets stuck in the coral. You always have to count on a wind change during the night meaning that the boat will, or at least can, swing around, sometimes as much as 360 degrees. This makes it especially important to set your anchor in a spot as clear as possible from coral heads.

We had a few adventuresome anchoring experiences here, following our friends Rishu Maru who are on a catamaran, and can attempt much shallower anchorages than we can. After spending two terrific evenings in the beautiful sandy anchorage in Tahaa (just off of Mahaea Islet ) we followed them to another anchorage just a few miles farther north, near a pearl farm. The lagoon was very deep when we started, but after we left the main channel, we found ourselves over a rather shallow shelf of coral that proceeded for a long way. At times there was less than a foot of water between our keel and the coral reefs. We finally made it to a more sandy area where we could set our anchor, but still there were numerous coral heads dotting the bottom, making it a rather hair-raising place for us. Once we got settled in and swam around the boat to check the depth of the water, and the height of the coral heads, we rested easy. We were also lucky because there was virtually no wind for the two nights we were there, making it unlikely that we would drag our anchor or wrap around any coral.

When we left the anchorage we followed closely behind Rishu Maru as they slowly picked their way through the coral to the deeper pass. At one point they found themselves in an area so shallow that they almost hit the reef. We continued on our counterclockwise circumnavigation of the island to try another anchorage – this time without Rishu Maru, as their guests were anxious to go for a walk on land .

Our trusty “Guide to Navigation in French Polynesia” listed several anchorages around Tahaa that sounded nice and we decided to try one near Tehotu Islet which afforded incredible views of nearby Bora-Bora. As we started heading from the deep water towards the shallower reef area I climbed up onto my little perch several feet above the deck to keep an eye out for coral heads. The water suddenly went from a seemingly bottomless depth to somewhere about 30 or 40 feet deep and was crystal clear. All looked good until suddenly right under us there appeared an amazingly thick cable, suspended just under the water and stretching out through the water just under our bow. It was really quite horrifying as it looked like the kind of thing that if you got caught on, you might have an awful time getting out of. It was very thick and stretched out under the water with several large mooring balls attached to it, all under the surface, but it was unclear exactly how far under the water it was, and for a minute it was not clear at all that we would be able to pass it. We did pass it however, but within another 30 feet there was another, and then another. We had somehow sailed ourselves into some kind of nightmarish cable area that looked like it was going to grab us – like Medusa. We backed out of there as quickly as we could, but it seemed that the cables were spread everywhere and you just could not see them until you were right on top of them. We finally realized that we were in the middle of a pearl farm and the cables were apparently spread from the shallow reef across a wide expanse of open water to another area – maybe 1/2 mile away – where there were floats holding up the other side. We were so relieved to get out of there safely.

Just a mile away we spotted a nice looking anchorage with lots of boats – very close to an attractive hotel – and still with beautiful views of Bora Bora.

View of Bora Bora from Tahaa

We dropped our anchor there – once again very cautiously – as the sandy bottom was littered with large coral heads (see our pictures). Although our keel was close to several coral heads, we seemed to be safe, and had our anchor securely set in the sand so we decided to stay the night. It was a beautiful spot and although the wind shifted around all night, we found our anchor still secured deeply in the nice sandy spot we had dropped it, with no wraps around the coral, and were able to leave in the morning without incident.

So after all that, when we ran into our friends Rishu Maru again yesterday, and they invited us to join them here at the Taravana Yacht Club, with moorings and a restaurant, we were eager to do so. We had a great time with Rishu Maru yesterday, swimming off the boats together, and then all going in to the restaurant on the beach to treat ourselves to sundowners and a nice dinner with lots of toasts to friendship, sailing and good health. The manager of the restaurant is a young handsome boy who reminds us of Ben . They also make the best “poisson cru” we have yet tasted which is quite a treat, and they sell baguettes for $.50 each, so we are having a good time.


Photo from Tahaa


Here we are standing in the water next to our private island, Ilot Moute, one of the motus on the eastern reef of Tahaa. This place has exceeded our expectations. The water is crystal clear, the sea life abundant, the weather perfect, and our company delightful. I am a bit concerned about how Sabbatical III will get out of this anchorage since she almost hit a couple of coral bombies getting in, but that will all work itself out in the end. — M.

From Huahine to Tahaa

From Huahine to Tahaa

Wednesday evening, July 25, we had drinks on “Priscilla” with Tom and Susan from Washington DC whom we first met in the Shelter Bay Marina outside Colon, Panama. The next day we had some great snorkeling and also walked along the beach road checking out the two hotels (we used the dock of Relais Mahana as our dinghy dock) and other establishments. We had a great poisson cru lunch at a small snack (“Snack Avea Parea”) and walked to a marae (temple ruin) on the road to Parea. That evening there was a big potluck party on “Scholarship.” Hosting were Mark and Liz from Phoenix (he is a dentist who continues to practice his trade on the boat for the benefit of cruisers). Attending were “Chiquita Bonita” (Mike and Heather from the US) who were in the Galapagos with us, “Robyn’s Nest” (John, Scott, and Dave from South Africa, Lucy from France, and Chris from Canada) who we met on Isla Isabella in the Galapagos, and Tom and Susie from “Priscilla.”

The next morning all of these boats left for Raiatea, leaving us almost alone in Avea Bay. The wind picked up considerably that afternoon and a series of squalls passed through. The strong winds and squalls persisted for three days, limiting our time off the boat and making snorkeling impossible. While the fringing reef provided us with decent protection from the high seas generated by this weather, we could see huge waves breaking only 1/2 mile away, Avea Bay provided us no protection from the winds. We did get ashore on Saturday and found a beautiful necklace for Laura. It is made from mother-of-pearl made into the shape of a traditional Polynesian fishing hook with a black pearl attached.

Sunday morning, July 29th, the winds moderated slightly and we were finally were able to snorkel in the lee of the low peninsula forming the southern boundary of the bay. We then took the dinghy to shore to check out the Polynesian Buffet at the little restaurant on the beach. We thought that we would just have a look and then head over to the “snack” for light fare. When we landed the dinghy on the beach directly in front of the restaurant we could see that it was packed. There were tables set out on either side with people eating heaps of interesting looking food, and a line of people waiting at the buffet — and all of them were local Polynesians. Plus, there was live music. So we quickly jettisoned the idea of eating light and joined in. We are not sure what everything we ate was but most of it was very good. On our second trip to the buffet we concentrated on what we liked the most in our first plate. Our third pretty trip was mostly sweet stickly dishes made from breadfruit and red bananas. People hung out at the restaurant pretty much all day — the music went on without stop until 10 pm. They did not just eat, there was serious bocce ball playing in the back, some couples danced, others swam with their children. All the food plus the large bottles of Hinano beer kept us glued to our chairs for longer than we expected.

Monday we headed back north to Fare, following the marked channel between the fringing reef and the island. For the first part of the way, which is poorly charted, Laura goes up the mast as far as the spinnaker pole, and sits on the inboard end of the pole to scan the water for coral bombies. We decided to spend the day in Fare rather than go on immediately to Raiatea so that I could fix a problem with the main sail furling, and to do some more provisioning at the excellent market in town. We were too late for good fruits and veggies, but bought some excellent fresh tuna from a fisherman. We had another filling meal at one of the “roulettes” parked in from of the wharf.

Close Encounters with Sharks
In the afternoon, we had time to snorkel in the reef between the two passes into Fare. We snorkeled there the week before and found wonderful coral and abundant fish, particularly under and near a flat metal boat that was permanently moored just behind the fringing reef. There is so much coral that we could not find a way to get the dinghy too close to this area, we had to swim most of the way. Halfway to the moored boat, two 8 foot black-tipped sharks zoomed by us. We knew that there were sharks about, and since these two seemed to have no interest in us, we continued on. A few minutes later we saw another small shark, but we continued on. As we got within 50 yards of the flat boat, an impressive 12 foot shark came our way. We decided to head directly back to the dinghy. When we got to the dinghy we reconsidered again — the day was beautiful, the water clear, and the coral and sea life abundant. We headed back out determined to swim to our destination. Once again, when we were only 50 yards away we saw sharks again. Four of them swimming around with that menacing look that sharks always have. One huge one that I had not seen was just behind a bombie and Laura yelled “Shark!” which was enough to frighten the poor shark away from us. Now we headed back to the dinghy and gave up our quest to get to the flat boat. What we have discovered is that the flat boat is used to feed sharks for the amusement of tourists. The sharks were hanging out in that area hoping for a free meal. Black-tipped sharks are not supposed to be particularly dangerous, but anyone denied an anticipated free meal might get a bit cranky.

Tuesday, July 31, we sailed off to the west in the direction of Raiatea and Tahaa in a dying breeze. I charted three places for us to go with the idea that we would choose our destination depending on the wind angle. It seemed at first that heading on the most northerly course would be best, so our destination became the eastern pass through the fringing reef in front of the island of Tahaa. As it turns out, the wind fell below eight knots and after 90 minutes of slow sailing we turned on the engine so that we could get through the pass in good light. The pass was a bit scary with waves breaking on either side but very well marked. Laura got up on the spinnaker pole and kept watch. Just as we came through the pass into the lagoon we got a call from our good friends on “Rishu Maru.” They were anchored on just the other side of the motu that defined one side of the pass and had seen us enter. This was just the place that Laura and I hoped to anchor except that it was poorly charted and we were concerned with depths and coral bombies. Peter of Rishu Maru gave us all the info we needed to anchor directly behind them. Peter and his wife Alex came out in the dinghy for a reunion aboard Sabbatical III. We had not seen them for almost two months, although we had stayed in occasional email contact. They had Alex’s mother (Ricki) and sister (Sol) on-board for a three week visit.

Risho Maru

That evening we had sundowners on Rishu Maru and caught up on things. Peter’s and Alex’s son Finn showed us the new Legos he had received from his grandmother and Alex prepared her Aztec Love Potion aphrodisiac drink. Last night we had the most intense rainfall that we have experienced from many months. The inside of the boat sounded like a freight train as the rain pounded the deck. The boat shifted during the storm and the anchor chain was totally wrapped around a coral bombie. The water is so clear that every detail is visible even 20 feet down. We used that visibility to good advantage as I maneuvered the boat around in response to Laura’s directions from the bow and got our chain unwrapped.

Today (Aug 2), we all piled into two dinghies to snorkel in the pass. Peter brought his spear gun along in hopes of finding grouper. The current in the pass made swimming a bit difficult but it was worth it. The water was crystal clear and it was most impressive to swim to the drop-off where the bottom drops off a cliff from 20 feet to hundreds of feet of depth. We saw an enormous moray eel and lots of fish, but nothing to spear for dinner. We then snorkeled the fringing reef with just Peter and Finn and saw eels, stone fish, and interesting coral in crystal clear water. Tonight we had the Rishu Maru group over for sundowners on Sabbatical III. The mango juice and rum was a big hit. Tomorrow, our two boats will head north inside the reef to another motu. Current position is South 16 degrees 38 minutes, West 151 degrees 25 minutes.

Snorkeling in Tahaa