Monday, August 27, 2012

Update from Suwarrow

It must be a week or so since our last post and we are still anchored in Suwarrow - a remote atoll in the Cook Islands.

We have spent the last week snorkeling on reefs around the lagoon, swimming with the giant mantas, and visiting nesting bird colonies on the motus that lie around the edge of the reef. There is also an active social life here, with potlucks on the beach about once every three days. We organized a wine tasting a few days ago and have had some great musical sessions with the island care takers and cruisers from a couple of musical boats who have recently arrived.

The snorkeling has been amazing: visibility up to 30 meters, gigantic coral formations with fantastic shapes and colours, and many fish that are new to us because they are not found as far east as French Polynesia. The corals at 7 Islands rise like three story buildings out of 10 meters of crystal clear waters and you can swim through openings in the coral and weave your way between the buildings - a feeling much like flying through a Disney-created fantasy city. On 'Perfect Reef', we swam across the top of the reef in only a foot of water - a sandy coral plain strewn with bi-valves the shape of baseballs. On the edge of this plain, the reef plummets into an abyss providing a startlingly blue backdrop to large schools of greeny blue parrot fish. At a smaller reef between 7 Islands and Entrance Island we saw a Napoleon Wrasse as large as the one we swam with at Fakarava - over a meter in length.

The mantas have a 'cleaning station' on a reef close to the anchorage and we have visited them a couple of times. One of these is entirely black, without the usual white underbelly. It is also the largest we have seen at about 3 meters - a truly imposing sight. We will post some pictures of these that our friends have taken with their underwater cameras.

The bird colony we visited lies on the Gull islands near the entrance pass. The birds were not frightened by the arrival of a dozen people and we were able to view them without binoculars. We saw a variety of frigate bird, different from the 'Magnificent Frigates' of Mexico. The young birds develop a rather handsome russet head covering as they grow older. There were also tern colonies and a handful of red-beaked tropic birds.

We had a potluck to celebrate setting a new record with 21 boats in the anchorage. Harry and Ants (Anthony), the caretaker and his assistant, played and sang Cook Islands songs as well as popular tunes that we were more familiar with. It turns out that Harry was professional musician in New Zealand. He is an excellent guitar player and has a fine voice. Ants harmonized with Harry and became more and more creative in his vocalizations as the evening went on and the drinks continued to flow.

We organized a red wine tasting and a dozen boats and more than 20 people took part. Michael and Barbara on Astarte helped by printing out scoring sheets and bar-tending. The wines were mainly French and from the duty free shop in Papeete, but strangely, the highest rated wine was from California - a Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon. In second place was a Serame Cab from France, and in third place a Bordeaux.

We will probably be here until the middle of the week and then plan to sail for Apia in Samoa.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Arrived in Suwarrow

We are anchored in the small atoll of Suwarrow - a Cook Island administered as a national park. Position: 13 14.8 S 163 06.5 W We were the 21st boat here when we dropped the hook early this morning - some kind of record for number of cruising boats, I think.

The passage took almost exactly 6 days, with a brief wait this morning for enough light to enter the pass. Ladybug ran 720 miles to make good about 660 for an average speed of 5 knots. Not a fast passage, but given lighter following winds, we are happy with our fat little boat's performance.

We plan to stay a week or more here to snorkel the unspoiled corals and enjoy the reefs and beaches of Anchorage island. To balance all the dry, boat maintenance related posts, Rani has promised to write something interesting soon.

Motorcycle Chain Lube

Last night the wind vane pulleys were squeaking, so I reached for a can of dry lubricant that has become a staple of maintenance on board Ladybug. One squirt in the right place and I could go back to sleep while Rani watched for ships on our 5th night out from Maupiti.

I came across this product while sailing in Mexico. The marine version is called Sailkote - a Teflon-based dry lubricant that we first heard about from a sail maker in San Carlos. This costly product (about $30 for a medium sized a spray can) is excellent for lubricating sail tracks and jib head foils as well as for blocks and other areas where you do not want to use oil that will wash off or stain. The lubricant sprays on and then dries leaving a slippery waxy coat.

I bought a partially used can from the sail maker, but when it came time to replace this and lay in a couple of cans for our trip south, I balked at the price. So I did some research and found that what I believe is a similar product (possibly identical?) is used to lubricate motorcycle chains and control cables. The cans we bought are made by DuPont and are called "Teflon Chain-Saver". You can buy this in hardware stores in the US for about $6!

We should make landfall in Suwarrow tomorrow morning after heaving to tonight to wait for good light. The entry pass is coral lined and there are more cruising boats anchored here than at any time in the recorded past, so it may take a while to find a place.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Energy Consciousness

Another thing about living on a boat is that you are always conscious of your systems - energy (diesel, propane, and electric) as well as garbage waste disposal and water. In a house in town, you have utility companies and municipal services for most of these On a boat you are the head of your own multi-faceted utility company. I have written before about water use, so will talk now about electricity, which I don't think we have blogged about in any detail.

When a boat owner is trying to work out their requirements for an electrical system, there are three areas to be concerned with - storage, use, and production of electricity. Storage is a matter of selecting the correct number of suitable batteries. These are usually lead acid deep discharge batteries and the common choices are vented wet cell batteries that require periodic topping up (e.g., golf cart batteries or marine deep-discharge units) or sealed units such as AGMs or Gel Cells. We chose to install three group 27 Trojan AGM batteries because we plan to leave the boat in warm sunny areas and will not be around to top up the batteries. AGMs also typically last longer than regular wet cell batteries, although they are much more expensive ($750 US for our three batteries).

It turns out that the number and size of batteries depends on both how much electricity you consume and how much you can produce in a day. You also need enough capacity to tide you over between recharge periods, which may be when the sun shines (if you use solar panels), when the wind blows (using wind turbines) or when you run your engine or a generator to generate electricity from gas or diesel. You don't want too many batteries because they cost plenty and weigh a lot and because if you have more battery capacity than you can recharge easily, this is just wasted.

To produce electricity, we rely mainly on solar panels (250 watts total) and an 80 amp externally regulated alternator on our diesel. As a rough way to calculate how much we will generate per day, I used a rule of thumb of taking the watts and dividing by 5 to get amp hours per day (although in the tropics on sunny days you may do much better, this allows for the odd cloudy day). Amp hours are a useful common unit for dealing with production and consumption. I also assume I will run the engine on average for an hour every other day, producing about 12 amp hours per day from this. I try to treat this as a bonus, because ideally I only run the engine when we need to as part of a passage or on leaving or entering anchorages. So that gives us a total of 62 amp hours generated per day.

That leaves consumption of power. To determine this, you do an energy audit, which is simply a list of all the things that consume electricity and an estimate of how much you use each one per day. This is different when on passage versus at anchor, so I did 2 lists. Here is one list for at anchor:

Fridge: (varies with air & water temperature - measure this to calc): 6 amps for 10 minute/hour: 24 amp hours
Interior lights: 2 @ .4 amps for 4 hours + 1 fluorescent @ 2 amps for .75 hours: 4.95 amp hours
Propane Solenoid: .5 amps for 1 hour: .5 amp hours
Anchor light: .3 amps for 12 hours: 3.6 amp hours
Net-book charging: 2 amps for 3 hours: 6 amp hours
SSB transmission/reception: 2 amps for 1/2 an hour + 25 amps for 10 minutes = 5 amp hours

This list gives us a total of about 45 amp hours per day. underway, we probably consume another 12 amp hours for instruments (24 hours @ .5 amp/hour) and 4 for periodic use of the radar for a total of roughly 60 amp hours. You can see that the fridge is the main consumer of power, especially in the tropics. We actually used about 15 amp hours per day in cooler Mexican waters. Our fridge is very small and we do not have a freezer. As an aside, we have friends whose refrigeration consumes far more than 100 amp hours per day - they run a generator every day to keep things cold.

It looks like we have a slight surplus here when in port and a rough balance when underway, assuming we do not get too many days of cloudy weather. If this happens, we must either cut down on our optional consumption (mainly Net-book time) or run the engine more often. Note that I have not included the water maker consumption here as we only run this when we have a surplus of solar energy on sunny days or when we are running the engine.

One final thing - how did we determine we needed 3 Group 27 batteries? I assumed we would need to last for two days without recharging. We do not want to run the batteries below 50% charge as this reduces their lifespan, so two days is 120 amp hours, which is a little less than the 150 amp hours (300 amp hours/2) the batteries claim as their rated capacity. You want this extra room for various reasons, but mostly because you rarely charge your batteries to 100% of their rated capacity.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The sick room

I was struck today by how similar the experience during the first few days on a long passage is to that of being home from school with a cold or the flu.

You spend much of your time in a state of semi-consciousness with the thick head caused by lack of sleep. In some cases you suffer from a mild nausea caused by the rolling and pitching of the boat. You can't go anywhere and you spend way too much time lying in your berth or slouching around the cabin. Your back starts to ache and your bum gets sore.

You eat easy to prepare comfort food, read books, and watch movies because there is nothing else to do. You can't go for a walk and all your friends are playing somewhere else.

On the plus side, if you like clouds and water, there is an every changing vista of these rolling by. We spend hours in the cockpit when the weather is good. We check in to a radio net each day to hear other cruiser's voices and learn where everyone is. Oh - and the thick head usually goes away after a few days...

We are 2.5 days out of Maupiti with about 366 miles to go to Suwarrow. Position 15 22 S 157 08 S We have been averaging 125 miles a day in light SE winds and mixed swells - broad reaching.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Off to Suwarrow

We are on the 'road' again on a 5-6 day passage to Suwarrow (pronounced, I think Suvarov). This is a national park managed by New Zealand and made famous by Tom Neale who lived here alone for many years from the 50's to the 70's. There are a goodly number of yachts there already and more ahead of us en route, so Tom would probably have had to look elsewhere for solitude in these days of 'mass' yachting.

It feels a bit strange to be on a multi-day passage, our first in nearly 3 months. We have been spoiled by day sails and the occasional overnighter in French Polynesia. We will definitely miss French Polynesia - the people and the intense beauty of the volcanic islands and coral atolls. Someday we hope to return.

It is 655 miles or so from Maupiti to Suwarrow and the winds are predicted to be light to moderate and from well behind the port beam. The seas are short and maybe 4-6 feet, rolling Ladybug enough to make it a bit hazardous to cook. However Rani is brave and we did manage to have fried breadfruit chips for lunch and re-heated curry for supper.

Looking forward to reading a few good books and watching some of the TV series Jericho that some friends gave us back in Mexico.

Our position at 0430 GMT is 16 14 S 153 03 W - about 606 miles from Suwarrow.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fixing things on a boat

The other day, a friend was working on his boat and he told me that every project he starts seems to cascade into multiple projects as one thing after another breaks...

Today the piezo electric lighter on the oven stopped working. I looked below the oven and found that the plastic battery holder for the little penlight battery that powers the sparkers had cracked and fallen apart where the spring contacted the battery. This sounded like a job for duct tape. So I pulled out the battery holder and removed the battery so as to effect a repair. At this point, the negative wire fell off, probably due to corrosion on the terminal.

No problem - I would get out our soldering iron and inverter to re-solder the wire to the terminal. I waited while the iron heated up and managed to tin the wire and the terminal. But before I could bring the two together, the iron stopped working. It is a cheap unregulated iron and I had this happen before, but this time it did not come back to life with a little waggling of wires, so I drilled out the rivet that held the iron together and removed the AC cord. I recrimped one connection from the cord to the resistance element - still no life - so I took apart the rest of the iron. I noticed that the insulation on the resistance wiring had failed and was flaking off, probably due to corrosion again.

I was going to throw the soldering iron away and had resigned myself to using a match to light the stove, when I realized that I could remove the now-useless electrical cord and heat the iron's tip in the flame from the stove. Doing this, I was able to re-solder the battery connections and finally to tape the holder back together. Thus a two minute job took more than an hour to complete!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mt. Teurafaatiu hike on Maupiti Island

The wind has been blowing 15-20 Knots from the southeast for the last few days, not great for snorkeling. It seemed the ideal time to explore the land, so yesterday we hiked up the highest mountain on Maupiti, Mt. Teurafaatiu (380m). Steve and Rankin from s/v Gypseaheart came with us while Sandy stayed on the boat to take photos from below. The access to the trail is a set of cement stairs very close to the dinghy tie-up area. The dusty trail wound up the hillside in a moderately steep ascent, most of it under the shade of mango trees. It was a sharp contrast to the muddy, slippery ascent of Mt. Pahia on Bora Bora. There were frequent views of the lagoon, motus, Onoiau Pass, the charcoal coloured volcanic cliffs of Mt. Hotu Paraoa, and the village with it's red roofed catholic church.

All around the lagoon the shallow turquoise water is laced with spidery gold coral reefs. No wonder there are only three safe anchorages on this island, two of them close to the pass and the third off the village. We watched as a sailboat approached the pass from Bora Bora. From our vantage point at the top of the mountain we could see the strong ebbing current flowing out of the lagoon and frothy standing waves at the pass entrance. The sailboat took down it's sails, motored for a closer look and then sensibly turned around, most likely carrying on to Suvarov or Mopelia.

We heard drums playing down below and watched as a procession of people in orange shirts walked down the main street following the musicians riding in the back of a pick-up truck. We found out later that a youth group had arrived on the ferry from Papeete for a week of activities on Maupiti and this was their welcome. On the previous day, we had seen the drummers practicing near the church and I had been allowed to beat a tune on a hollowed out tree trunk drum called a toera. The boys had laughed and encouraged me while an older man made jokes at my expense to everyone else's amusement. The ladies in the audience clapped when I demonstrated a few bhangra moves in me hiking boots!

On the way down from Mt. Teurafaatiu, I took my time as I had stretched a muscle (quadriceps) in my right thigh on the Bora Bora hike and it was still a little painful to bend that leg. As luck would have it, I slipped on the gravelly sand in a fairly level area and stretched the same leg muscle! If only I could find a good masseuse...

The photos that follow are from our first few days on Maupiti, including a walk around the island, mentioned in a previous blog post.

Motu at the pass into Maupiti

Just needs a lick of paint

Ahky's castle gate

Ahky - playing a song for us. 

Scene on the island hike

Fuel efficient island transport

At the public beach.

Beach scene

Carol and Livia from Estrellita are keen kite boarders

Chris and Rankin from "Gypsea Heart"

View from the summit - note the incredible coral reef colours

Snapping a picture from the summit

On the summit

Corals and sand in the lagoon.

A roped section of the hike

View back towards the pass.

Another view of the pass and rocky bluff of the main island - photo courtesy of Rankin

Anchorage - we are the left-most boat - photo courtesy of Rankin

Sunday, August 5, 2012

More books

A few more books we have read recently...

An Island to Oneself by Tom Neale - This is the story of a New Zealander who spent several years living on a tiny island in the south Pacific. The author does a good job of describing his motivations for doing so, how his life in the surrounding islands had prepared him for this, and how he goes about arranging things on his island to make living feasible. I was struck by how capable the man was, yet how difficult it really is to do something like this entirely on one's own. The island he lived on is Suvarow, now a New Zealand national park, which we will visit in a couple of weeks.

"Where Men Win Glory" by Jon Krakauer - The tragic true story of Pat Tillman, an NFL football player who left his career and signed up for military duty after September 11th. I have read Krakauer's other books and this one seems most similar to "Into the Wild". It is a thoroughly researched piece of investigative journalism that follows Tillman's life through his unlikely rise to NFL stardom and on to his enlistment, deployment, and death in Afghanistan. This is both an exploration of an extraordinary man and an investigation into the circumstances around his death. The book also sheds (unfavourable) light on how Tillman's death was used by US politicians during the time leading up to the presidential election.

"The Prince" by Nicollo Machiavelli - Like many of the classics we have on board, I have been meaning to read this for a long time. This short book is a treatise on how to rule. Apparently, many such books had been written prior to Machiavelli's work. However, he was the first to write about the gritty reality of how to attain and keep power as opposed to how things should be done in theory. I was struck by how his advice and techniques are used to this day by both democracies and dictatorships. We have not moved as far from the 16th century as we like to think. E.g., the US still has a prince (the President) advised by a council of influential people. With a few changes of terminology, this book could also be made over into a business management guide for the aspiring CEO.

"The Glassblower of Murano" - An historical novel/romance set in Venice. This follows the life of a famous Renaissance glass blower and his descendent who returns to Venice to explore her roots and escape a messy divorce. Venice once maintained a monopoly on fine glass making (e.g., the production of large mirrors) and the plot is rife with intrigue, betrayal, and ruthlessness needed to maintain this monopoly. Notable are loving descriptions of Venice and of the art of glass making; the author has deep experience with both.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Maupiti First Impressions

Easily visible on a clear day from Bora Bora, Maupiti is a world apart from the bustle and mass tourism of its more famous neighbour. One of the reasons why Maupiti sees less tourism and fewer cruising boats is Onoiau pass. This is the only entry into the lagoon - south-facing and a treacherous place of steep standing waves in a strong southerly swell. Bare boat charter yachts are not permitted here and visiting yachts must be prepared to wait out a southerly wind that can make it impossible to leave through the pass. Tourists and locals are served by a ferry from Bora Bora that calls just twice a week as well as a turboprop passenger plane, which uses the tiny jungle runway on the northern island.

We arrived off Maupiti late in the morning having left our anchorage in Bora Bora in the early moonlit hours. Rani and I were concerned that the recent southerly winds and a long 2-3 meter swell might make things rough for us. From a distance the narrow pass looked forbidding - a solid wall of crashing surf. As we rounded onto the course for a transit, we saw the surf flatten out in a narrow gap between the two southern motus.

We lined up with the white range markers, waves breaking on each side, and as we passed through the narrow coral bracketed entrance, we jogged to starboard onto a second set of ranges. An out-flowing current raised meter high standing waves, but with the engine ticking over and a half furled jib to steady us, we glided between the white sand beaches and into the calm of the lagoon.

The channel to the main village winds through many hued waters amid a maze of coral heads. Rani climbed the ratlines to guide us as we coasted along under jib, drinking in the beauty of the volcanic island set like a black pearl in the swirling green and turquoise lagoon. A great volcanic bluff dominates this central island, dwarfing the village below. We anchored over a shallow field of sand near five other cruising boats, including our friends from Gato Go and Estrellita. The other boats were from Holland, France, and the US.

Today we walked around the island on a level concrete road that runs mostly a few feet above sea level. The walk was very pleasant as there were few cars. Scooters seem to be the most popular form of transpor, closely followed by bicycles. The main island is intensely cultivated and most homes have an uru tree, many growing bananas, papayas, and even pineapples.

We met a musician named Ahky who lives in a coral and cement house behind a fanciful coral wall, both of which he has built entirely by himself. Chatting constantly, Ahky invited us into his compound. He produced an 8 stringed ukulele and accompanied himself on several tunes, explaining the story behind each song. One song was based on the sounds he had heard in the forest nearby when two trees, their trunks crossing, moved against each other in the wind. He fancied that they were the voices of two entwined lovers caressing each other. Another song that is popular with Polynesian children was "Varo d'Argent" about a local lobster-like crustacean called a varo. Varos live in the sandy plains of the bay in holes in the sand, the male and female sharing a hole. Ahky writes all his own songs and has recorded 10 CDs and even a video with Miss Tahiti.

Continuing our circumnavigating walk, we passed a number of marae situated at the water's edge. Archaeologists have found remains dating to about 850 AD. We visited a stunning white sand beach on the south end and climbed across a ridge back to the east side, which provided views across the coral striped lagoon to the fringing surf-pounded reef.

Tomorrow, we will hike to a peak overlooking the village and in a few days, when the wind dies down, we plan to move across the lagoon to a southern anchorage. There we hope to see giant mantas at their 'cleaning station'. Apparently, each day, a dozen mantas line up and take turns having little fish swim into their mouths and clean out the parasites that reside there.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hiking twin-peaked mount Pahia

We hiked Mt. Pahia on Bora Bora a couple of days ago. It was a very steep and challenging ascent with lots of wet slippery roots and rocks. Thankfully there were some ropes already attached in the steepest sections. Along the way, there were views of the small islets (motus), the lagoon, and the reef far below. We enjoyed walking under the cool canopy of trees, giant ferns, hanging vines, and pandanus. Near the top, there were pink hibiscus bushes amid tall wild grass and I also spotted some wild ginger root in the rocky crevices. 

When we reached the first peak with the Bora Bora flag, the view became mostly white - swirling clouds which occasionally parted for a second. We were always too late to capture the vision on camera. There was no point in continuing to the higher peak as rain seemed likely. The scramble down was slow as we had to go backwards on all fours in the slippery areas where ropes were impractical. Our friend Bob had brought a light 60ft rope which Chris volunteered to tie to tree trunks and sturdy roots at some steep pitches. That really helped the rest of us. 

We celebrated in the evening by going in for "happy hour" at the Mai Kai restaurant. It was very therapeutic and a good social with friends from three other yachts. My rum cocktail was delicious but I was unable to do anything else when we rowed back to the boat. We put off our planned departure for Maupiti as neither of us felt like rising at 4am!

Chris sailing - Mount Pahia is to the upper left.

The hike took us through towering ferns.

View back to our mooring off the Mai Kai restaurant

Bob and Anne from Charisma San Francisco joined us on the hike. Note the rock face that we hiked beneath as we  rounded the mountain to the other side where the trail ascended again.

Several sections of the hike were roped.

Rani, Bob, and Anne arrive at a rest spot.

Estelle is a naturalist on the cruise ship Paul Gaugin. Herbert - above her is a baker on board.

Happy to be at the lower summit - note the tiny patch of view through the clouds.

Under the flag on Pahia lower summit. Note the fine clear view (of cloud).

Climbing back down was made more interesting by a downpour. Here we are using Bob's rope.

Glad to be down. Note the blue Cowichan Outdoor Group ribbon that now marks the start of the trail.

Photos from Heiva in Tahaa

A few photos from the Heivas we attended in Tahaa. The singers and dancers had come from the neighboring islands to take part. Most were billeted nearby and a frequent site was a bus load of colorfully costumed Polynesians passing us as we hiked the 4 kms from where we anchored our boat to the site of the festival. The lighting was difficult, so some of the pictures are a bit grainy.

Powerful drumming accompanies all the dancing.

We met Herman before the show when he served Chris a plate of the food that was provided for all the dancers and spectators. He is a chief dancer and leads a group of men in the various moves.

A vanilla vine at the agricultural exhibit.

I think these are 'greater yams'.

Tahaa drummers

Tahaa drummers

Offerings of produce

Singers always sit during their group himenes.

Local scenes in Raiatea and Tahaa

A few pictures from our recent visit to Tahaa and Raiatea. Please refer to earlier posts for more details.

Coral gardens off Tahaa - Photo courtesy of Bob from Charisma San Francisco

Carpet anemone and damsel fish - coral gardens off Tahaa - Photo courtesy of Bob from Charisma San Francisco 

Coral gardens off Tahaa - Photo courtesy of Bob from Charisma San Francisco 

Mike from Astarte - Photo courtesy of Bob from Charisma San Francisco 

Marae Taputapuatea - father of all sacred sites in Polynesia

Carving - Marae Taputapuatea

Offering - Marae Taputapuatea

Stone carving -  Marae Taputapuatea

Children playing at  Marae Taputapuatea

Tahaa - view of Bora Bora

Tahaa - sunset over Bora Bora

Tahaa - copra drying

Maki preparing a drinking coconut

Maki scooping meat from a drinking coconut

Hiking in an agricultural valley near Patio, Tahaa

Preparing copra

Manolina dances for us

Vanilla plantation - black screen provides dappled shade

Pamplemousse on steroids

Marae Taputapuatea - photo courtesy of Bob on Charisma San Francisco

Tahaa anchorage -  - photo courtesy of Bob on Charisma San Francisco

Ladybug and rainbow - photo courtesy of Bob on Charisma San Francisco

Tautau Islet with Bora Bora behind - photo courtesy of Bob on Charisma San Francisco