Monday, July 30, 2012

Cruising Computers

We carry two netbook computers on board that we have come to depend on for many facets of our cruising life. We chose netbooks rather than full-sized laptops because they are inexpensive (< $200), consume much less power (< 2 amps versus 5+ amps), having smaller processors and screens, and are easy to carry with us to shore in a small dry bag. A viable alternative is Apple's iPad and we have seen several cruisers with these. Excellent applications are available and the built in GPS in some models makes them very useful for navigation. Our netbooks run Windows, which gives us access to loads of free or inexpensive software, useful on board.

When netbooks first became available a few years ago, I bought a little Asus EeePC, which came with the Linux operating system, 512 MB of RAM, and a 4 GB flash drive (no hard drive). Before we left on this cruise, I wiped out the operating system, which was no longer well supported, and installed a tiny stripped down version of Windows XP, specifically tailored for this computer. I added an 8 GB SD drive to store documents and navigation data, and installed the following software:

OpenCPN - a free charting/navigation program. We installed vector charts of the world, which provide detail to harbour level in most countries. We have a USB GPS that was easy to interface to this software and provides real-time positioning of our boat on the chart - very cool for those of us used to paper charts :)

Libre Office - MS Word/Excel compatible open source software (a light version of Open Office). We use this to write and do spreadsheet calculations.

Chrome browser for internet access/email.

Airmail - for Pactor II radio emails. Also needed to install drivers for USB to serial adapter to talk to the modem. This includes GRIB (weather) file viewer and weather fax software. Free.

WXTide - worldwide tide and current prediction software - free.

VLC media player - to watch movies - free.

Skype - to make phone calls.

PaintShop Pro V 4.0 - ancient (1998) but adequate image processing software

Avast antivirus - free edition to protect the computer when connected to the Internet.

PDF XChange - free PDF viewer with editing capabilities. This is great if you need to modify a PDF file when dealing with paperwork remotely.

Calibre ebook management software to manage our large collection of ebooks.

Our other netbook has similar software installed but adds MaxSea - a commercial navigation program and runs Windows 7. We like to use the built-in Microsoft software for photo management, which includes some nice tools to touch up and improve photos. We have found that with the slow processor in this machine that we need to resize (shrink) our photos before editing them with this software. For this we use Easy Thumbnails which allows us to quickly resize an entire folder of pictures (free software). The newer netbook has a 10 inch screen (the EeePc has a 7 inch one) so is much better for photo processing and watching movies.

Incidentally, OpenCPN provides an easier to view interface on these small computers than MaxSea, whose charts are very cluttered. Perhaps there is an option in MaxSea to improve this, but the program is complex and not all that intuitive, so we rarely use it.

The only limitations we have come across so far using these machines is that very high definition movies sometimes refuse to play properly. This has been a problem with only one series of videos, where each hour of video is about 3 GB. With smaller AVI files, we have not had a problem.

Bora Bora

We nearly gave Bora Bora a miss due to its reputation for being the expensive playgrounds of well-heeled tourists. We are very glad we decided to stop here. Despite being anchored off a Hilton resort with over-the-water palm thatch bungalows, the water is clear and the views are gorgeous. Cloud shrouded volcanic Mt.Mauaohunoa rises behind the resort's private island and behind us is the dull roar of surf on the reef a half mile away.

The wind has been calm for a few days so we have been snorkeling on a nearby reef to see the many varieties of colourful corals and fish. Yesterday we swam near spotted eagle rays in deeper water. They looked like birds flying below us in a down-under sapphire blue sky. In the shallower waters of a small island we came across two large moray eels hiding in coral castles. This morning we watched another moray dart out of it's home towards a diver who sprayed something out of a small canister, probably shrimp or fish meal. We were surrounded by little yellow butterfly fish and black and white banded fish and it felt like we were in an aquarium.

There are more tourists here than in the other islands we have visited but this anchorage is fairly quiet. Last night we rowed to the main town to watch some Polynesian dancing - two miles of rowing each way in the moonlit night was good exercise. It was also somewhat challenging navigating through the shallow coral field in the passage between two little islands near our boat. I held a flashlight in the bow directing Chris around the coral head. I tried to do my share of rowing in the deeper water but Chris was not impressed by my steering - I blamed the chop!

Friday, July 27, 2012

One Fine Day

We were walking along the main road to town one morning in Tahaa when a woman hailed us from her driveway.

"Do you like bananas?", she asked.

"Yes, we do!"

And with that we were led into Maki's backyard. She lifted a hemp sack from a makeshift table and removed eight just-ripe bananas from a large stalk. As we placed these in our backpack, she cut down a couple of coconuts from a palm leaning over the ocean. With a few swift strokes of the machete, she opened the nuts for us to drink. Does life get any better than this? We were quenching our thirst with sweet coconut water in a lovely lady's garden with a misty view of Bora Bora rising out of the ocean like a mirage.

The land we stood upon was reclaimed from the reef bordering the island of Tahaa. I asked whether it was dangerous to live so close to the water and she recounted that her original home was destroyed by a cyclone in the late seventies. The new house is a pre-fabricated vinyl sided bungalow supplied by the French government after that catastrophe. All she has to do is pay the annual property taxes, which are modest. She was shocked when We told her that the amount she pays is less than a tenth of what one would pay in Canada. As we looked out across the lagoon dotted with the outlying motus, she told us that one of the larger of these islands belongs to her family. The copra they harvest there provides the money for necessities, other than food, which is plentiful on her land. We agreed that she truly lives in paradise. We shall return for a visit to thank her with something from our gift bag.

Later on the same hike we walked along a stream that flows out of a lush valley. Te pavement ended and we plunged into the rain forest, which in places had been cleared for banana and papaya plantings. The road dipped down over a hill and across the stream, where it ended in a small plantation.

We asked a family here if we could buy some pamplemousse from their garden. Their trees were literally sagging with the heavy bunches. The young couple were cutting open coconuts for copra and their 4 year old daughter was dancing and singing nearby. They said to take as many as we wished. I gave little Manolina a shell bracelet I was wearing and a necklace of seeds. She was delighted, even offering up her cheek for a little kiss. However when Chris tried to show Manolina the Polynesian dance steps he had picked up in Papeete and Moorea, she looked concerned and told him to "Arret, Arret!".

We staggered back to the main road with 14 large pamplemousse bulging from cloth bags and backpack. Back on the pavement, a man called down to us from his farm plot. Seeing that we liked pamplemousse, he invited us to taste one from a large tree in his own garden. His girlfriend watched as he cut slices and handed them to us. As we talked they would spontaneously burst into uncontrollable fits of laughter. Perhaps they were enjoying the effects of another home grown plant common in these parts.

On the main road I stuck out my thumb and we were picked up by the first car going by. The driver was a retired French teacher who had traveled and taught all over the world. We can see why he chose to retire here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Heiva Preparations in Huahine and Raiatea.

The dancers themselves often make their own costumes. This takes a lot of time because in many cases, new costumes are made for each performance from natural fibres, flowers, and leaves. Here are a few examples of dancers preparing head dresses for evening performances in Huahine and Raiatea.

Fitii dancer holding one of her head dress creations

Men make their own costumes.

Taputapuatea -  preparing centerpieces for Heiva feast

Friday, July 20, 2012

Four Months of Cruising Costs

One thing that we are often asked when we tell people about our trip is how much this kind of life costs. We recently did our finances for the first 4 months out from Mexico. About a month of this was on passage, where it is difficult to spend money, but to balance this, we purchased a huge amount of groceries and alcohol in Mexico - enough to last us for 6+ months.

Our expenses in Canadian dollars for a little over 4 months are broken down roughly as follows:

Food $1500 (we have used about 50% - so $750)
Booze $350 (we have used about 70% - so $245)
Boat upholstry project: $200
Trade items $100
Diesel $100
Misc $100
Total: $1495 with about $850 worth of groceries and booze left on board to date

French Polynesia:
Agent fees $330
Food    $1000
Mooring  $110
Internet $125
Souvenirs $300 (note we also traded for some items)
Tours   $85
Diesel  $100
Propane $55
Boat Parts $60
Total: $2165

Grand total is $3660 - about half of which is for food. We eat well on board, but do not eat out often, in particular in French Polynesia, where prices even for street food can be high. Note that these costs do not include things like travel home or haul outs, which should really be amortized over this period. We were also lucky in being able to carry out repairs of the roller furler bearings and the traveller with assistance from fellow cruisers. Without their help, we would have incurred labour and additional parts charges for these projects. Still, it is nice to be able to say we are cruising out here for less than $1000 a month. Adding in a yearly trip home and haul-out/boat maintenance, this number would be closer to $1500/month.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Boat Projects

Leak near the rear: We traced the water in the bilge to the rudder post stuffing box. This required my crawling into the lazerette (through a cockpit locker) while underway in a big sea - great fun as you can imagine. I had to hang upside down with a flashlight to watch for drips and spurts and yes indeed - there was a good sized drip coming from the stuffing box. I tightened the stuffing box down until I could feel the packing compress - a couple of turns with our biggest plumber's wrench. Hopefully this will give us a dryer bilge!

Feathering Propeller Re-grease:  I noticed that our feathering propeller was feeling rough when I last cleaned it. The grease I had put in before we launched in Mexico must have washed out (it was lithium grease and must not be completely water proof). Doing this while the propeller is above water in a  boatyard is fairly simple. One removes an allen keyed plug from the propellor casing and fits a zirc (grease) fitting, then squirts in grease with a grease gun. Next you replug that hole and repeat the procedure with a second hole, waiting for grease to squirt out the hub and propellor blades before re-capping. As you might imagine, this is not so easy when you have to do it underwater without diving gear.

Rani stood by and handed me bits and pieces as I made multiple dives, first to clean up the allen key fittings so we could back out the plugs and then as I backed them out, fitted the zirc fitting, fitted the grease gun, pumped and pumped, and then reversed these steps and repeated for the next fitting. I only dropped the grease gun once and fortunately we are only anchored in 20 feet of water here. Cleaning the salt water out of grease gun and everything else took as long as the actual greasing.

Dragging Update

The "Ladybug Rescue Reserve" on board Astarte. From left to right - Deb from Buena Vista, Rani, Ann from Charisma, Barb from Astarte, Chris, Don from Buena Vista, and Bob from Charisma. Photo courtesy of Mike from Astarte.

I dived the anchor today now that the winds are down and found our drag pattern from the other day as well as the pattern from where we tried to reset the first time. The bottom type in this anchorage varies greatly. There is an area extending from the shore that is mixed fist sized and smaller coral chunks with sand. Just outside this is a nice area of fine sand that appears to be fairly deep. As this drops off, larger coral chunks appear, some of them a meter across. We were initially set on the edge of the mixed coral/sand and our drag pattern showed that we simply pulled free of this and our CQR plowed merrily along until it dropped into deeper water. A similar straight furrow was evidence of our first re-anchoring attempt. The anchor is now only partially set, having gathered a nice mound of loose coral to half cover it as we dragged it while resetting. I believe it is the weight of the chain and great scope (10 to 1) that has held us for the last two days. If I had put out more chain in the first place, we probably would not have dragged.

I swam over to look at some nearby boats, which is how I came to realize that the bottom varies so much. Astarte is swinging over clear sand and their anchor is buried nicely well inshore of them. The only way we could set this way would be to drop our hook just behind their transom, but even here, there are larger coral heads that need to be avoided. We will likely remain where we are because we intend to leave tomorrow and the forecasted winds are much lighter than the last few days.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ladybug Goes For a Sail - On Her Own

The wind has been consistently high for days, now - 20 knots with gusts into the 30s all day and night. Two days ago, we re-anchored off the town of Fare at the edge of a large sand and coral shelf. On our passage between anchorages, along the west side of Huahine, the wind blasted down off the hills and through the gaps over the bays. With only 30 or 40 square feet of sail up (out of our normal 650), we still made rapid progress, heeling at times to 20 degrees in the stronger blasts.

The dinghy on a too short painter gave us some trouble when a short but steep overtaking wave lapped in over the transom. The wave partially filled her with a dozen gallons of water. I pulled her up on the transom to empty her, stretching my arms a foot or so with the strain, but could not empty her completely this way. Eventually, we had to reduce sail, tie her tightly alongside. and bail her by hand as we continued downwind.

In the anchorage at Fare were more than 20 boats, bound here by the high winds. We saw one boat try to re-anchor four times and remembered that our cruising guide cautions that the anchorage is loose coral rubble with patches of sand and holding is not great. Despite this, we found a place near to where the re-anchoring yacht had previously set and managed to set our 45 lb CQR in about 23 feet of water with 125 feet of chain out (nearly 6 to 1 scope). We remained on board that day and watched our GPS screen, which shows our track, to make sure we were not dragging.

Late the next morning we went ashore to find out what sort of celebrations were going on for Bastille Day (the French equivalent of Canada Day or July 4 in the US). We wandered through town finding a huge supermarket (surprising for such a small town) and then hiked out to a stadium on the outskirts of town where we learned of a dance that evening and another on Monday. On our way back we located the Gendarmerie, where we will check out of French Polynesia, and explored a couple of side roads that looked interesting. As we returned to the beach, we looked for Ladybug in the anchorage and saw that there were people on her bow and dinghies alongside. A man at a beachside cafe handed us a portable VHF and said that if we were Ladybug, we were needed on board. We talked with Deb on Buena Vista who told us that her husband Don, Bob from Charisma, and Mike from Astarte were on board our boat after seeing her start to drag.

We dashed back along the beach and jumped in our dinghy, rowing quickly back to our boat where we were greeted by Ladybug's rescuers. They had managed to get the engine started and pulled up the anchor, but were waiting for us to return before attempting to re-anchor. With four captains on board, we were able to get a set in two attempts, but only after letting out almost all our chain (about 10 to 1 scope) and dragging back through the loose sand for 100 feet.

Apparently Bob on Charisma (anchored just to our starboard) had noticed that Ladybug had changed position and had asked for assistance from other nearby boats because he did not have a dinghy in the water. When they boarded her, ladybug was still in deep water (55 feet), but would likely have dragged out the pass and out to sea or possibly ended her days on the reef had our friends not come to our rescue. We were lucky that we had left her unlocked, with the key in the engine and Bob, Don, and Mike had been able to figure out how to turn on her instruments, start the diesel, and work the windlass to pull in the chain.

This was a humbling experience. Once set, we have rarely had a problem with dragging and have only dragged anchor a few times in all the time we have owned the boat. We dragged on two separate occasions in Honeymoon cove near Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Here there was a rocky bottom and I probably did not set the anchor properly on the first occasion. The other time was in nearby Nopolo where the bottom was also covered in head-sized rocks and the anchor was most likely not properly set.

We are grateful and very lucky to have good and watchful friends out here who are willing to risk life and limb to help a fellow cruiser.  Check out Charisma's blog for their perspective on this event.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mape Nut Warning

The crossing from Papeete, Tahiti to Huahine island in the Iles sous le vent (the 'Leeward Isles') is only about 90 miles. This is too much to sail in the 12-13 hours of daylight in one day, so we slipped our mooring at the Tahiti yacht club and wound our way out through the narrow channel at 3pm. Assuming 5 knots, we should reach the south east end of Huahine in the early morning, after a brisk overnight passage in the forecasted 15-20 knot winds.

The reality was quite different. A dark layer of squally clouds lay between us and Mo'orea and the winds varied from as low as 2 knots to about the lower end of the forecast range. The seas were big and confused between Mo'orea and Tahiti, as they had been on the two previous occasions we had made this passage. Ladybug rolled through 20 degrees on either side of vertical. As night fell, we drifted and slatted our way into a patch of drizzly calm. After waiting half an hour for the wind to return, we held a conference and decided to motor out of this belt of rain. It appeared that even though we were nearly 10 miles from the coast of Mo'orea, we were in its lee The wind returned after motoring for a couple of hours, once we were well clear of the island.

The remainder of the passage was run nearly downwind, with a following breeze of 10-15 knots from the east. It is not possible to sail Ladybug straight downwind without using a whisker pole to hold out the jib on the opposite side to the main. Otherwise, the main will block the wind to the jib or the jib will collapse if we try to fly it without support opposite the main. At night, with the prospect of squalls, and in rolling 2-3 meter cross swells, I was reluctant to hoist the pole on the wet pitching foredeck. So we tacked downwind, running first to the northwest and then southwest to reach our destination to the west.

At daybreak, I hoisted the pole and we steadied into a lovely downwind run aimed straight for Huahine, with double reefed main and partially furled jib. The steering is quite balanced with this configuration because the jib opposes the forced exerted by the main. Off to port we spotted another sailboat under sail and to starboard a catamaran motoring downwind, both bound for Huahine. More showers passed and as we neared the island, an intense, crisp full rainbow arched overhead.

We entered the pass near Fare but turned south, away from the main village, toward the more sheltered bay of Haapu where our friends on 'Chapter Two' were anchored. En route down the narrow channel we made a snack of the chestnut-like mape nuts we had gathered on Moorea. About half an hour later Rani fell quite ill and was soon making use of one of the ship's buckets. I also felt ill, but perhaps my greater weight spared me the worst of it. So - a warning to those cruisers who have been told that mape nuts are edible - eating half a dozen nuts on an empty stomach is a bad idea!

We plan to spend a week here at various anchorages.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Heiva i Tahiti

One of my wishes was fulfilled on Friday night when we attended one of the Heiva shows in Papeete. This Polynesian tradition was revived 130 years ago after being banned by King Pomare V under the influence of Christian missionaries in the 19th century.

According to the Tahiti Tourisme brochure, the word Heiva ( hei meaning to assemble and va community places) refers to activities, distractions, pastimes, sports and festivals. Music, dances, songs and games integrated under this notion held a very special place in Polynesian communities. While being distractions, songs and dances were also essential components in religious and political ceremonies of ancient times. Dance was one of the most sophisticated and ritualized arts practiced in groups or individually. Songs kept pace with daily life and accompanied everyday chores as well as religious ceremonies. The festivities were commonly held to mark the changing of seasons or periods such as the fruit harvests.

The annual Heiva competition in Papeete takes place in July and professional groups throughout the Polynesian islands practice for many months on their own turf to win a place amongst the finalists in the capital. There are prizes for the best costumes, dance, singing and music.

On Friday night, there were hundreds of people outside on the boardwalk but the temporarily constructed open air stadium looked half empty when we took our seats. We were surprised when the crowds started arriving after the show had begun. Some people did not appear until the last act!

There were two dance acts separated by three singing presentations. The first song group did not have good microphone coverage and appeared discordant – very unusual as almost every Polynesian seems to sing in perfect harmony whenever we have heard them in the past. There was a formulaic presentation of a capella singing by a mixed choir sitting in a U-shape facing the audience followed by two people singing in turns accompanied by ukelele and guitar. The two singers seemed to be mocking each other with amusing expressive gestures. Apparently the lyrics tell the story of daily life, capture tales of heroism or signify important places. We found the choral chants very repetitive.

The dance groups were a cast of hundreds. Gorgeous costumes made of natural fibres, leaves and flowers covered all the naughty bits on the svelte bodies. The older and larger ladies wore more conservative dresses but were just as energetic in their hip gyrations. The dances were accompanied by an orchestra of about 20 musicians and the sound of drums dominated the stadium. The drummers' hands were a blur as they beat their complex rhythms in a dizzying frenzy. The dancers were graceful and sensual in their perfectly choreographed movements of hips, hands and feet. There is no doubt in my mind why the missionaries thought they were erotic.

There were themes to the dances. The first was about the birth and growth of a chief's son under his father's watchful eye. They used a real almost newborn baby for the birth scene. The principal male dancer had incredible strength. You could see his muscles rippling as he thrust his hips and opened and closed his legs in scissors-like fashion. It's hard to describe in words and probably harder to imitate.

All I can say is “Bollywood take note!”

The pictures below are from the Museum of Tahiti and her Islands - we were not allowed to take pictures at the Heiva performance.

Modern Heiva costume

Male dancing 

Wonderful head dresses are common in many Heiva costumes

What a feeling this 1960's picture conveys!

Coconut fiber and cowrie shell skirt detail

Costume and poster from past Heiva

Friday, July 6, 2012

Back in Papeete

The scenery of Papeete (pronounced Pa-pay-e-tay) was a bit of a let-down on our return, after 10 days anchored under the lovely mountains of Moorea. However, it was nice to come back to a snug mooring at the Tahiti Yacht Club.

After our sail with Menita, Ropa, and Ahei, we spent a day touring the Moorea with Vicky from 'Inspiration at Sea'. We drove completely around the island, stopping at a couple of small villages, where we bought fresh baguettes and browsed in a shop that specialized in up-scale Polynesian art. As we rounded the west side of the island, the surf began to break spectactularly on the offlying reef and we passed two surfer resorts. We later heard that the surf was unusually high this week. A friend on a catamaran had anchored inside ther pass here and had planned to go surfing. However, he was trapped in the anchorage because the waves had blocked the pass. Ironically, the waves were also too steep and violent to surf. On the south side of the island we drove up a dirt side road to the start of a hike to a waterfall. The short hike was muddy after the previous day's downpour, but despite the recent rain, the waterfall was little more than a trickle and the pool beneath barely deep enough for a swim. I guess we have been spoiled by the spectacular waterfalls of the Marquesas.

The last two days in Moorea were spent at an anchorage to the west of the bay of Opunohu. We met up here with Mike and karen on 'Chapter 2' and enjoyed catching up on our respective adventures. One morning, we dinghied to a shallow sand bar about a mile from our anchorage where tour boats bring people to swim with the stingrays. We brought along a can of Mexican sardines to feed the rays. When we arrived, we were the first boat and the rays immediately surrounded our boat. There were about 20 rays ranging from 2-3 feet in width, the older ones having impressively long barbed tails. We jumped into the water, sardines in hand, but the rays were not impressed with our offering and while they swam around us, they did not feed from our hands.

It turns out that stingrays like fresh sardines and when a tour boat arrived, the rays came to the operator and rubbed against him, even lifting their mouths out of the water to take a fresh fish. We swam over to the tour boat and were delighted to have the stringrays swim right up and rub themselves against us. When they swam along the bottom over our feet they tickled our toes. They do not mind being touched and seem to like being petted and having their noses rubbed. They also seem to recognize certain people, because both the tour operator and one of the tourists who had done this a few times were more popular than the other tourists. Just off the sand bar, about a dozen black tipped reef sharks passed back and forth, occassionally darting in to grab a sardine, and overhead terns fluttered and a frigate bird swooped after the fresh fish.

It is amazing how differently animals and fish behave when used to man. In places where we either feed or interact daily with them, such as here and at the south Fakarava pass in the Tuamotus, the animals are relaxed and either pay little attention to us or come over to see if we have something to feed them. The same species in a more wild setting are skittish and hard to see because they dart away from us on first approach. On the reefs off our anchorage at Opunohu, I saw many of the same species as at Fakarava, but I was only able to approach a few of these closely enough fof a good view.

We sailed back to Papeete the next day against headwinds and the same miserable mixed swells that had accompanied us on the way to Moorea. The trip took 9 hours, more than 3 times as long as the same passage downwind had taken. Swell, wind, chop, and an adverse currrent made this passage slow and rough. Around dusk, we turned on the motor and used it to help us beat toward the main port of Papeete. Once under the lee of the island of Tahiti, we turned into the swell and motored for an hour, entering an anchorage west of the yacht club in the dark. We had seen this anchorage on our way to Moorea and noted that it was well marked by buoys and a transit line and had a gentle shelf suitable for anchoring. Despite this, we were both tense as we navigated through the narrow channel between the coral reefs.

The next morning, I sailed our little sailing dinghy down the channel inside the reef to the main port of Papeete, with an empty propane cyclinder. Inside the pass the waves were much reduced by the coral shelf, but a 10-15 knot wind made the trip exciting. Running downwind with a one to two foot swell, the dinghy surfed and rolled and I had to squat in the center of the boat, steering with a hand behind my back, moving my weight around to prevent a broach.

One of our cruising guides mentioned a ladder on a pier just the other side of a low bridge. The mast just cleared the bridge and I spotted the ladder on a concrete pier, dead downwind. I headed straight for the concrete wall at a good clip, and was able to execute a quick turn at the last minute and tie the dinghy to the ladder. I felt conspicuous carrying a propane tank through the fenced in dockyard, out the gate, and back down the road to Tahiti Gas, but clearly people were used to cruisers doing this and either said "Bonjour" or ignored me. At Tahiti Gas, they immediately filled the tank, despite its North American fitting and charged 1800 Polynesian francs (about $20) for 9 liters. This is expensive compared with Mexico, but cheap in relation to our last fill in the Marquesas. The return trip to Ladybug was uneventful, but wet - an upwind beat past boat yards and fishing boat docks. An occasional wave splashed over the sides, but I was able to spill wind from the sails in the puffs and the dinghy was much better mannered than on the downwind run.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Canada Day with a Moorean Family

This post is by Rani... 

We met them on the beach - a young family sunning and swimming in the public park close to our anchorage. Ropa works at the Hilton resort as a sous chef and his beautiful wife Menita looks after their children. Menita is also a professional musician, with a lovely voice. We had picked up a small breadfruit (or uru) on our walk and we told them how much we enjoyed making fries with it. Menita laughed. “It is only a baby – no good for cooking!”, she told us and whispered a few words in Ropa's ear. He drove off in his pick-up and soon returned with several large breadfruit and papayas. Thus began our friendship.

Menita at the helm with and Ahei


We rowed back to Ladybug and returned with some Mexican snacks for them to taste – tostados with guacamole and salsa. They found the salsa hot, but even their little girl, Ahei, seemed to enjoy the impromptu picnic. They asked us many questions and we decided it would be fun to show them a little of our lifestyle. So we invited them for a day sail on Sunday morning.

Menita and Ropa made themselves at home in the galley

Ropa opens a drinking nut

On Sunday (Canada Day), Chris met them on the beach. They arrived heavily laden with bags of coconuts and a bucket of manioc, taro and uru. Apparently they had been up since 5am cooking the food and husking and shredding the coconuts for drinking and eating. Once on board, Ropa was set to work hauling up the anchor, while Menita and Ahei toured Ladybug and took dozens of photos with their cell phone.

There was a nice breeze blowing, so we put up the sails as quickly as possible and headed out through the pass. They took turns steering past the buoys, while Chris instructed them on some of the dangers of sailing. It was tempting to speak only English, because both Ropa and Menita speak some English, but we made the effort to talk in French as much as possible. Chris told me afterward that his brain ached from speaking French all afternoon.

With the full jib unfurled we tacked towards Cook's Bay at a good speed. Ladybug heeled and the girls tucked themselves in the corner of the cockpit while Ropa steered. They could not be induced to go on deck, even for a photo! Chris shortened the jib so we could enjoy the scenery at a slower pace – the lush mountains of Moorea with the surf on the reef in the foreground. “C'est tres joli!” was an oft repeated phrase.

Polynesian feast on ladybug

Rani with little Ahei

We anchored in the turquoise waters off a lagoon just inside Cook's Bay for lunch. Ropa demonstrated how to squeeze milk from shredded coconut using a handkerchief and brute strength. Menita fried up a can of corned beef with onions. We ate with our hands, breaking off a large chunk of each food and dipping it in coconut milk. According to Chris the corned beef combined with breadfruit was quite delicious. I found the taro a little too heavy for my taste but enjoyed the sweet flavour of manioc and breadfruit. My papaya salsa was the only spicy addition to the traditional fare.

Menita learns how to raise the anchor

Menita and Chris with Moorea in the background

We remarked that this was a feast, but they told us that this is the way they eat every Sunday when their extended family gathers. In addition to the food we were eating, Polynesians add poisson cru (raw marinated fish), roasted pig, and chicken. They have this for breakfast, lunch and supper on Sunday. In between meals they enjoy a siesta. After we finished our lunch, I could well understand why they needed a lie down between meals!

Ferry to shore

We returned to Opunohu Bay for dessert – papaya dipped in shredded coconut. Chris ferried our guests to the beach just as the first drops of rain began to fall. Our timing for a change was excellent as the rain pelted down for much of the evening.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mount Rotui

From the University of California at Berkley Moorea Adventure Guide by Aaron Wallace:

"You must wear pants for this hike as there are ferns which will rip your legs apart...Most of the hike is in  open sun so you want to be done as early as possible to avoid being baked. Don’t do the hike if it has been raining a lot or if it is cloudy, it is slippery to the point of being dangerous and it won’t be worth it if you can’t see the view...If it is clear and dry this is the most dramatic hike on Moorea... Mt. Rotui stands at 899 meters, the second tallest peak on Moorea and you will have great views of both bays and most amazingly the coral reefs.  Oh, and if you suffer from vertigo, don’t do this hike.  Much of it is on a 1-2m wide knife-ridge with dropoffs of 1000 feet on each side."

View over the anchorage - Ladybug in bottom right. Paul Gaugin cruise ship at left.

Chris and Bruce near the start of the hike

This description of the Mount Rotui hike, written by a researcher at the UCB station in Cooks Bay, is absolutely bang-on. Before we left, we confirmed the details with a cruiser who did the hike a few days earlier (and was still recovering).

Bruce and Rani at first rest point

View up Opunohu Bay.

View toward Cooks Bay

We began at 7 am on the beach with our friend Bruce from the catamaran `Gato Go`. We started the climb around 7:30 in a friendly Mo'orean's backyard, whom We had visited the day before to get her permission to cross her land. The hike began on loose volcanic rock through a scrub forest and ascended gradually until just below a grove of ironwood trees. After a steep climb to the grove, the ridge walk began. The vegetation on both sides of the narrow ridge made this climb much less scary than it would otherwise be, but at times as we climbed over the small hills that line the ridge, we felt very exposed. Each hillock required an exposed scramble on slippery dirt and rock with a thousand foot drop on both sides. There were at least 5 such places where I wished we had a long rope for the descent, as we had to down-climb these sections, which were too steep to walk down. Admittedly, if you slipped, you would probably be able to grab on to the scrub and grasses to slow your descent, but neither of us wanted to test this theory.

Around 2000 feet on the ridge

Lush rain forest vegetation appeared as we climbed to cloud level.

Small plane flies below us.

Bruce decided to turn back at 2000 feet because he was unhappy with the prospect of descending any more of the steeper sections. We were nervous about letting him return on his own, but he insisted we continue without him. The trail continued to follow the ridge passing over dozens of small hilloks along the way. At times, firm ground was only as wide as one or two feet and I slipped and cracked my knee in one place where the trail looked solid but dropped off into nothing. We reached the summit around 3000 feet at lunch time after a couple of tricky sections where, thankfully, someone had placed a rope. Clouds hid the sun for a portion of the ascent, which was a great help, for there is almost no shelter from the sun on this hike.

Roped section of hike.

On the top looking south

On the top - Cooks bay

The descent was a bit slow at times, because we had to be very watchful of our step, especially when climbing backwards down the steeper sections. Around 2000 feet we met a younger cruiser who had begun the hike at 9:30. He was out of water and feeling dizzy so we encouraged him to come down with us. We gave him some water and he hiked down to where he had left his two friends in the ironwood grove.

Descending - nice view up Opunohu Bay

Ridge walking on the way down - Tim off the sailing boat `Slick`waves in the distance

The views along this ridge hike are absolutely top rate and many of the best can be obtained in the first ridge section just past the ironwood grove. The UCB guide gives this hike a 10 out of 10 and we would agree.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Three Coconuts Pass

According to the Mo'orea tourism folks, one should carry out any hike on the island under the watchful eye of a professional guide. This attitude is supported by an almost complete lack of signage at any of the trail heads.

View from the Belvedere - Opunohu Bay and Mount Rotui

Rani levitating in front of Mount Rotui at the Belvedere - we climbed Rotui a couple of days later.

We started the day by driving up to the Belvedere (view point) at the head of Opunohu valley with our friend Vicky from 'Inspiration at Sea' and John and his son Jonathan from 'Sherpa'. We had intended to do a 40 minute short loop, but managed to find our way onto the trail to the Three Coconuts Pass (although we did not know this at the time). Jonathan is 10 or 11 and we had great fun with him as his maturity level seems to match ours (Rani says it matches mine, anyway). We found some vines to swing from (although John broke his vine while showing his son how it should be done). Jonathan also made a blow pipe out of a reed.

An impressive epiphyte

Chris of the jungle

Jonathan of the jungle

Even ' mature' Rani had a go and got some good air

The trail crossed several streams and passed through rain forest as it crossed the valley under the ancient caldera that dominates the island. The vegetation was similar to what I saw when I visited Costa Rica 12 years ago. Epiphytes grew from most trees and vines created a thick canopy, slowly strangling their host trees. The trail also passed through dryer Mape forests. The Mape is a graceful tree that produces a chestnut-like nut that is edible and quite sweet when eaten raw. At one point we entered a bamboo grove with giant plants towering 30 to 40 feet above us.

Jonathan about to deploy his MK I blow pipe.

Towering bamboo

Land snail and Mape nuts

The paths were extremely well defined and maintained, despite the tourism map's statement to the contrary and we had no dificulty following switchbacks to the pass. On a hillock above the pass, we found spectacular views over the other side of the island and back toward Opunohu Bay. The pass was named for three coconut palms planted about a century ago. Only one now stands, though people have planted new palms on the plateau above the pass.

Vicky at the plateau above 3 Coconuts Pass. The mountain behind is featured on the French Polynesian 100 franc piece

View back toward the highest mountain on Mo'orea - Mount Ohiea

We returned after a 5 hour hike reaching the end of our water and food as we hiked down to the car. It felt really good to do a solid hike - the first since we left the Marquesas.