Friday, 13 March 2015

French Pol, Moorea 04-03-2015

So we made it back to Tahiti. Just. Moorea is only a few hours away from here - in fact, the outline of Tahiti's sister island takes up almost the entire horizon when you look out from Tahiti. On our way back we actually had enough power and enough wind to sail for once, which was exciting. So up the sails went and we set in for a comfy trip back to civilisation and chocolate crossaints. But before we'd even cleared the reef around Moorea, there was a pop and a bang. Meg was steering at the time and everybody else was just lazing around. I had been nominated to laze around in the cockpit whilst Garth had retired downstairs, and I sat bolt upright at the scary noise. Meg was still steering in a straight line, and to her credit she didn't seem to be freaking out at all at the sight of our forestay dangling out over the water, taking the sail and the whole furler with it.

Cue organised panic. Garth jumped up on deck and together we managed to drop the main, dump the headsail on deck, loosen the backstay and attach the furler close to where it was supposed to be. Garth then made a makeshift forestay out of one of the halyards so we could tighten the backstay back up. Leaving us with a mass of sail piled up on the deck from where both had been dumped, and dumped fast. Meg was amazing, following Garth's instructions to a T and keeping us pointing the right way in order to do minimal damage. But this incident really made me grateful that we'd managed to get our hands on a new autopilot. We use it so rarely and it's so easy to forget how important the damn thing is. Why do we even need it when we've got windvane steering? We asked ourselves that quite a few times in the last two months when faced with just how much a new autopilot was going to cost us. The answer was always 'I guess we need to have it in case of an emergency.' I always thought of an emergency as the windvane steering breaking. But this was an emergency. And we needed both of us on deck to drop the main, hold the forestay and then drop the headsail. We were lucky to have Meg on board, but if she hadn't been there the autopilot would have gotten us through (albeit it would have involved more running around than if somebody was sitting there holding the wheel). Without a third party steering for us, this could have been disastrous. Garth informed me later on that if we'd had more mainsail up (double reefed as we made our way out of the shelter of the island in preperation for whatever was out there... We'd like a gold star please Nick), we could have lost the mast. As in, it could have come down. Crash. Gone. Instead, we gave our guests a bit of a freight and snapped a bolt (which has already been replaced. The others have all been checked as well). We've only just installed the new autopilot in the last two weeks, and I'm never going anywhere without one again.

Moorea... Not a bad place to kill time

So it turned out well that we hung around Tahiti and Moorea for an extra two weeks, because if this had happened in the Tuamotus we would have been really annoyed. It probably would have taken us a while to get a new part shipped over to a tiny island in the middle of nowhere. It has also just hit me exactly how far away Panama is from here - I can't imagine what we would do if the forestay broke on our big passage. We would have been in trouble. So we did an extensive rigging check to make sure everything else is okay and it all looks good. The forestay is under more pressure than anything else on the boat, especially considering how long we've been sailing upwind for. So we probably should have been keeping an eye on it. It had already cracked halfway through, which we could tell by looking at the break, and there was rust around the edges of it. So we've made damned sure there's no rust on any of the others!

So that was a bit of sailing related excitement. I'll be happy if we don't have any more incidents in a while, considering the last two times we've beens sailing we've broken the spinnaker and then the forestay. It would be nice for things to stop breaking now! No such luck though, I suspect. We're doing a big overhaul before we leave Tahiti - patching some rotten bits in the deck, mounting things properly, acquiring both a shade cloth and water catcher, servicing all the winches etc. I'd really love to finish our dinghy - it needs some love, epoxy and paint. But I'm not sure we'll be able to leave it out of the water long enough to do it up considering we zip off to get baguettes every day.

Before we arrived back in Tahiti and threw ourselves into a fixing frenzy, we had an amazing time in Moorea. We did a lot of relaxing and a lot of snorkelling, both of which were fabulous. We spent the rest of our time anchored out in 6m of water surrounded by reefs. There were what looked like coral heads all around us, but they turned out to be stone tikis lying around on the bottom of the ocean. I wonder how they got there!? There was a dock not far away, which was right next to two shops. Two! That's high class right there. We tried to find a roulette for dinner though and there didn't seem to be anywhere to eat nearby, which was a shame. But the anchorage was beautiful and the water was crystal clear every morning. I could even see the bottom under the light of the half moon, which was pretty amazing.

Garth playing with the stone tikis

You have to go see the sharks and rays when you go to Moorea, so we obviously participated in the only real tourist activity on the island. Meg wasn't feeling well when we went and so she stayed on the boat. But it was so special and so spectacular, we went again the next day when she was feeling better so she could come along too.

I was slightly nervous about swimming with sharks. We've only ecountered them in the water a few times and I hate it when I'm exploring a reef and then look up to find myself face to face with a shark. They're always reef sharks and I know they won't eat me, but they still make me nervous. Nevertheless, the dinghy ride over to the feeding area was a lot of fun - it wasn't splashy and the scenery was stunning.

When we got there we tied up to a mooring buoy and Garth and Cam started getting ready to get in the water. It was crystal clear and we could see the sharks and rays swimming around underneath us in the shallow water. There was already a tour boat there, and a friendly guy came over to see if we wanted any fish to feed them. He was all smiles and when we said we already had some, he made one of the rays that had been following him very happy indeed.

I stayed in the boat for a while as Garth and Cam played with the rays. There weren't very many sharks around at first, but the stingrays made up for it. Garth fed them first, and they literally climbed all over him. He had one sliding all over his front, one on his back and a few hovering around trying to get closer. They very much reminded me of puppies. So eager and so excited, they were jumping from person to person looking for treats.

Garth was trying to pass some along some fish to Cam... The stingrays would have none of that

I eventually got in so I could play with them as well. It was a little nervewracking having these huge things swimming all around me. And they are seriously huge - most of them could have wrapped me up like a slippery blanket. Even though they're friendly, I know they have barbs and that they can kill you if they so choose. I think Steve Irwan's bad luck has left everybody a little apprehensive of stingrays. But these guys were so very friendly. They weren't at all bothered by people, which was to be expected seeing as they get fed every single day. Before I had any food they just swam around me, not overly interested. But as soon as I fed one of them, the rest followed. We figured out that the smell of the oil from the sardines we were feeding them stayed in the water and on our fingers, so they were excited long after the food was gone. Just like puppies. They could smell something delicious, and they were coming up to all of us to try and nab some of it. There was one that kept coming back to me over and over again - he would climb up my front, slide across my chest and then hang around for a while before getting distracted and wandering away. Garth thinks they like the feeling of having something smooth to slide over, but I think they've just been trained by the tour boats to be overly friendly in exchange for delicious fish.

This cracks me up every time I see it. Somebody had been drawing faces on the rays! (Not literally, they just rubbed off the slime)

We played with them for hours, swimming in amongst them and being delighted by their antics. As time ticked away and more tour boats came and went, the number of sharks increased more and more. They knew which boats were going to feed them the most and you could see them make a beeline for their favourite tour guides. They move in packs, which I guess makes sense seeing as they're fish. But I've never thought of sharks as being in schools. Little fish move in schools. Sharks are loners. They're mean and they don't have any friends. Which I guess is a great example of the media distorting reality, because there were great big groups of sharks swimming around us.

There were a lot just wandering around on their own too, but I became less and less scared of them after swimming around for a while. Mostly because they weren't at all interested in me. But also because I kept trying to take selfies with them using the gopro, and they refused to sit still for the picture. As soon as I started swimming towards them they turned and went off in another direction. They wouldn't have anything to do with me at all. Which was comforting, because I couldn't make them bite me if I tried.

The next day when we came back with Meg, I was a little less apprehensive of everything. One of the rays even bit me when I was feeding him because I wasn't being as careful about holding the food clear of my hand. Their teeth are tiny and blunt! It just felt like a little pinch. There were lots more sharks the next day, so I mostly just swam around with them. They were between 1 and 1 1/2 metres long, so they were all smaller than me. I like sharks to be smaller than me. They were magnificent though, and it was really amazing watching them swim. A lot of them had remora fish swimming underneath them to steal all their scraps. It was remarkable how streamlined they were, moving exactly the same way as their shark did.

We found some shops on that first day, taking the dinghy to shore and walking in amongst all the tourist shops to find lunch. We also went to investigate the Intercontinental Hotel. They have a turtle rescue program there so we went to see the turtles. I was really impressed with this little operation on a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific, trying to help save the turtles. We were told that they fly turtles to Moorea from all over French Polynesia whenever they're found injured or sick. Polynesians traditionally eat turtle meat and this program helps to educate young kids on why turtles aren't food. They get them involved with rescues and everything, which I guess makes sense - you're not going to want to eat them after rescuing them and giving them all names. We were told that they don't even try to educate the adults, because they've been eating turtles for decades and most refuse to stop now. But the lady said they relocated some eggs a while ago because a woman was distraught that her husband kept eating them - she saw a turtle laying one night then called the volunteers to come get the eggs while her husband was away. So I guess there's still hope for the turtles.

We went back the next day to watch them get fed, which was a lot of fun. They have a heap of baby turtles there - they were the ones at the bottom of the nest who would usually die. When they hatched and didn't make it to the water on their own, they were rescued to be beefed up a bit before being released. Which was adorable, because there were baby turtles swimming around everywhere. There was one that was smaller than all the others - he was put in his own little tub of water for feeding. He just swam around and around in a sea of lettuce bits. He would take a tiny nibble out of one, then swim over to the other side of his bowl and take a tiny nibble out of another piece. Round and round he went, unable to decide which one to eat.

The other highlight of that trip was the ice machines at the hotel. They were everywhere. Just sitting around. Anobody can come up and just take ice. ICE!! Our freezer has trouble freezing things - it takes so long and uses so much power it's really not worth it. So I filled up all the water bottles with ice. Then I found another machine that made smaller ice chips and filled in all the gaps. Best. Day. Ever.

We're preparing for our big trip now, from the Tuamotus to Panama. We have to get to the Tuamotus first, but we won't find any more shops for at least two months. So the whole boat is filled with food and we're trying not to think about how far we have to go. I wish I had an endless supply of chocolate crossaints, but they go stale after one day. I'll have to get used to cabin bread again.

Xxx Monique

More pictures

Sunday, 1 March 2015

French Pol, Tahiti and Moorea, 23-01-15

We made it to Moorea! It's taken us a while though. We spent the last month in Australia and New Zealand, visiting friends and catching up with family. We were lucky enough to be able to attend one wedding in each country, both of which involved people we care about dearly.

Sarah, the bride to be!

Sarah's beautiful farm

We found an echidna!

We even managed to catch up with these crazy cats. Nick was our sailing instructor in Wellington and he's pretty much responsible for this whole thing. He and his wife Candyce are always good fun - this time they took us skateboarding!

So that was really exciting and we had a well deserved holiday. It's a bit bizarre leaving a tropical paradise to escape from the world and go on holiday, but I guess most things about my life are a bit twisted from the norm.

Good old Wellington, NZ

I haven't posted in so long because I didn't really want to advertise to the world that we'd abandoned the boat on it's own in Tahiti in the middle of the cyclone season. But that's exactly what we did. We left it on a mooring at Marina Taina, which is the same marina that our friends on Irie left their boat when they had to travel back home. Their mooring broke loose while they were away and on their return they discovered that another crusier had rescued their baby just before it floated off to be destroyed on the reef. So we were understandably worried about leaving our boat there. There are other places to leave a boat in Tahiti, but we were told that all the mooring balls on the island are installed by the same people. And that they're all idiots who don't give a damn when they break loose. So with one day left before we were supposed to fly out, I ran around trying to find somebody who could dive down to check that we weren't about to float away. For a reasonable price. I suppose finding something for a reasonable price in Tahiti was a battle we were always going to lose, so we had no luck. We quickly ran out of time before we'd done anything useful at all, so we went and made friends with our neighbours. They were a lovely brazillian family and they told us that they had already been forced to rescue two boats in the last few months due to the moorings breaking loose and the boats floating over and threatening to crash into our new friends. They were more than happy to keep an eye on Heartbeat, and even insisted on giving us a lift to shore and then driving us to the airport quite late at night. They even went back and rescued our outboard when we realised we'd left it on deck, then babysat it for the whole time we were gone. So thank goodness there's still wonderful people in the world! We've officially survived the cyclone season (almost), and we returned back to find everything intact. Except for the basil plant that Mark and Liesbet gifted me for Christmas. Sadly I came back to a fried up little stalk, which was pretty devastating. Our new boat guests Meg and Cam replaced it though, and the new basil plant is now called George.


We've also returned carrying the chikungunya virus. We left carrying it as well, but weren't aware of it until we arrived in New Zealand. Garth started getting cold as we were waiting for the plane and developed a fever once we were in the air. We left Tahiti at 2am and arrived at 6am the next day (Which gave Garth two hours to celebrate his birthday before it was lost over the date line). We were both feeling weak at this point, and tried to check into a hostel but were told we had to wait until 2pm. So we went to a park and fell asleep on the grass like bums. When we finally found a bed, we developed high fevers and were unable to move for two days. Garth had to literally carry me to the bathroom. Chikungunya is a mosquito borne virus that freezes up all your joints and pretty much makes life horrible, similar to really bad arthritis. It got a bit better over time, but now we have returned to French Polynesia it's gotten worse again. It takes me a lot of painkillers, anti-inflamitaries and time before I'm able to get up and move around in the morning. Garth is almost better, but we're both just hoping the virus leaves us soon. One thing's for sure, only we could manage to stay here for two months and then get sick on the plane as we were leaving the country.

We spent our time in Tahiti before we left fixing things and trudging around town trying to find parts to fix things with. My feet were sore for weeks after a particularly memorable ten hour walkathon in jandals under the hot sun. We replaced our two house batteries with three bigger ones, added a solar panel and patched up a heap of other things. So we didn't really do anything touristy, but I don't think theres much to do there anyway. It's just a city, filled with icy drinks and expensive souveniers. We were repeatedly lured away from the hot sun by the former, but avoided wasting money on the latter.

In comparison to a relatively boring stay in Tahiti, the trip over to Tahiti from Huahine was a bit exciting. It was a two day sail with not much wind. We were actually downwind for once, so we had the spinnaker up for the first time in ages. On the first day Garth was on watch while I was asleep downstairs. The wind died completely and I woke up when the spinnaker pole started banging around. Groggy and still half asleep, I poked my head up to see what was going on. Garth said he should probably take it down, so suddenly I was holding the wheel and he was heading up to the bow to pull in the kite. I looked behind me and saw a black wall of blackness heading towards us. Still half asleep, I asked "Is that rain?"

Garth told me not to worry, and continued sorting out the spinnaker. Yawning, I turned back to look at the squall. And the boat started turning with me. Not awake enough to notice, I continued steering too far upwind. Which the boat did not like. Soon enough we had our first breech, with the boat tipping right over and the end of the boom making it into the water. We were being pushed upwind, with Garth screaming at me to turn down. I had taken drowsy sea-sickness tablets before going to sleep, so I still wasnt thinking clearly. " Which way is down!?" I sceamed back, as I looked up at the windex and tried to kick my brain into gear. I didn't have time to respond though. Our tired old spinnaker started ripping from the top, tearing all the way along the seam until it was just a few pieces of material flapping in the wind and the boat was back on course. So no more big spinnaker.

When we arrived in Tahiti we laid it all out over the boat to try and dry it out. Garth hauled the biggest piece up on the halyard so it would dry faster in the breeze, but it disintigrated around his fingers in the place he was holding it up. So I suppose it just wasn't going to survive for much longer regardless of our stupidity. Our poor spinnaker! We still have a smaller blue one, but this was the pretty kite. So that was sad.

Now we're in Moorea with our friends Meg and Cam. We got them onto the boat after a very stressful day while we were in the middle of catching a 3 hour bus then a 4 hour flight to Auckland, where we were to sleep in the airport overnight before a 6 hour flight back to French Polynesia. As we were waiting for the dreaded bus, Facebook informed us that our friends had flown out to meet us a day early - we were flying back on the 15th, and they were arriving on the 15th... but our date was Auckland time and theirs was Tahiti time. The two are a day apart. So after a lot of phone calls, stress, hastily booked hotels, more stress and more phone calls, we got their passports flagged so when they arrived in a foreign country at 11pm they would get the message that we had organised somewhere for them to sleep. With no Internet, no phone reception and no smartphones with which to connect to the wifi hotspots in Tahiti, they were not contactable. Our last desperate attempt to reach them was to call the airport in Tahiti and have them paged, but we would be on our own flight by the time they arrived and weren't sure the airport people would actually do it. I couldn't even talk to them, because I can't speak French and the endless loudspeaker announcements in Sydney airport kept talking over me and the lady in Tahiti just kept hanging up on me. But with some help from Garth's brother, we contacted the airport, had their passports flagged, left them a message and organised for a guy with a sign to pick them up just in case.

Moorea, Opunohu Bay

Of course none of that worked. Their passports did end up getting flagged, which forced them to talk to somebody instead of just being waved through security. But he just let them through anyway. So they ended up at the marina at 11pm waiting for us to come get them, a day earlier than we would be there. Luckily they discovered some French Polynesian hospitality and found a bed plus an extravagant BBQ breakfast, with no muggings or extreme danger. So that was a relief!

Captain Meg!

We were planning on heading over to the Tuamotus with them pretty quickly, but decided to stay here for the duration of their visit after realising that a two day passage might be a bit much for regular folk. We anchored in Cooks Bay for a few days, while Garth and I fixed some things. We did manage to escape for a few hours to the juice factory though, where we were met with a very hospitable lady behind the counter who immediately started feeding us tasters of all their alcoholic punch mixes. So that was a lot of fun. If we hadn't stocked up on duty free spirits I would have grabbed a few of their tasty concoctions. Cam bought a bottle of coconut cream liqueur, which was delicious mixed with pineapple juice.

Swimming at the entrance to Cook's Bay

The lady who was anchored next to us is one of the happiest, friendliest people I've ever met in my life. She came over to say hi when we first anchored, then continued to be a sparkly ball of happiness every time our paths crossed. She even brought us some fish she caught spearfishing out on the reef, assuring us that they were safe to eat. I was delighted by what she wore spearfishing - for the ride between her boat and the reef she was dressed in a bikini and wore a pretty wreath on her head like the locals do. She just seemed to really be enjoying life, which is always nice to see. It's lovely how infectious happiness can be.

Meg gutted all the fish for us! They were the first fish we'd eaten that were too small to fillet

We moved to Opunohu Bay after we'd exhausted Cooks, which is the next one over. The anchorage here is stunning. We're in 8m of sand sandwiched between a reef and the mountainous island, with bright blue turqouise water stretching out all aorund us. When we first jumped in the water we were swimming in amongst baby eagle spotted rays, a few fish and some small reef sharks. There's turtles everywhere, but we have yet to find one while we've been swimming. Cam and Meg keep missing them by an instant, so the mission now is to go and find some up close.

We went swimming on the reef straight out from the boat yesterday, which was fun. Mostly just because it's been so long since I've been snorkelling. The current got too strong to swim against after a while and a lot of the coral was dead, but there was a healthy supply of fish swimming around. I didn't find anything I hadn't seen before, but it was a nice snorkel regardless. It felt great to just be out on a reef again in amongst all the fishes.

After our swim and a quick lunch we all headed into shore to climb up to the belvedere, which is like a normal lookout only French. I couldn't find much information on it - One of my notes said it was an hour walk to the top, but I wasn't sure how accurate that was. We were stopped on the way by our boat neighbour. He had seen our dinghy by the road and then chased us down to tell us that somebody would probably steal the outboard if we left it there. We had locked it up, but with a dodgy lock. So Garth ran back to save our little boat and the remaining three of us continued up the mountain. When our friendly neighbour stopped us he also said it was about 1 1/2 hours to the lookout, so we weren't really sure how much of a walk we were in for.

It was a beautiful day though, and the road wound through a breathtaking valley as we made our way up the mountain. Everything was so lush and green. We found a shop selling icy drinks at the agricultural school about halfway up, which was a welcome break. None of us is particularly loving the heat here. It's still the middle of summer and French Polynesia is lovely when you have the ocean to jump into every few minutes but not overly pleasant when you're trudging up a mountainside under the hot sun

There were a few Maraes to explore on the way up, which was quite interesting. They were similiar to the ones we'd seen in Huahine but really different at the same time. These were hidden away in the forest and were adorned with huge trees. There was a path leading in between them lined with mossy stones, which I thought was a really lovely touch. Probably because I love rainforests. The platform near the bottom was the most interesting, as it was a few tiers high and made out of round stones.

We eventually made it to the lookout where we were rewarded for our efforts. The view was spectacular, looking out over both bays with a stunning mountain smack in the middle. We could see the spot where we had anchored in Cooks bay, with the two boats we parked next to still sitting there in the corner.

The walk down the mountain was much more pleasant, with the setting sun providing us with a lot more shade. We made it down to the bottom just as the light was starting to dissapear. We investigated the shrimp farm before returning to Garth and the dinghy, which was being bombarded by hungry birds. There were swarms of them going crazy, circling the farm before diving down and feasting on the shrimp below.

These kids were playing soccer when we passed them on the way up, and they were still at it when we went past again on our way down

We're moving to a reef anchorage today, so hopefully we'll find some more sharks to swim with!

Xxx Monique

__I'm sure this is how you do it..._

The bride to be, my bestie Sarah

Hanging out on Sarah's farm

Cooks bay

The view from the belvedere