ende

Jun
28

Mantas!

Yesterday we were anchored off ‘smurf island’ in the middle of the lagoon. During the night a northwesterly wind set in (the forecast had nothing but easterlies predicted…) and we got dangerously close to the steep reef off the island. We brought out a second anchor at 1 o’clock in the morning and spent a rather restless night with fortunately not strong, but consistent winds from the north and even northwest. At dawn the wind picked up, we got the dinghy and the kayak up on the already precariously pitching deck, let the line of the stern anchor drift with a buoy attached and started the engine, worrying whether we’d be able to get up both anchors or if they’d be stuck under coral after the windshift. We had to manoeuvre close to the rocks, but fortunately both anchors put up no resistance and we could sail up to a protected anchorage next to the west-pass. All that happened before breakfast…

After lunch we took the dinghy to the pass for a drift snorkel and were amazed to see lots of little black fins sticking out of the water and splashing around–manta rays! A group of about a dozen of these big rays were swimming just under the surface with wide open mouths, filtering out the plankton and splashing the surface with the tips of their large, black wings. We swam with them for an hour, watching them gracefully ‘fly’ in and out of the strong current, while we tried to stay in the shallower water just out of the current. We’ve seen mantas a few times, but never that close and never for so long. An awe-inspiring experience!

Unfortunately we no longer saw the big dog-tooth tuna that had turned into old friends at the west-pass. When we arrived 8 boats were anchored here, maybe some of them had tuna steaks for dinner…

Jun
22

Weather quirks

The French Polynesian Meteo as well as the grib files predicted a disturbance with wind clocking to the north, then west, south and finally southeast. During such episodes the southerly and/or southeasterly winds are usually strong which the Polynesians call ‘Maramu’.

Ideally we would hop from anchorage to anchorage around an atoll to be on the protected side, but in an atoll as big as Tahanea with wind shifts during the night that is just not possible. We therefore did the next best thing and moved to an anchorage behind a reef sticking out from the southern side of the lagoon that offers protection to all sides but the north. We arrived yesterday with light northerly winds and anchored on a leeshore, shortly later we were bouncing in short, steep waves when squalls from the north set in, but fortunately the wind shifted to the northwest during the night and we were fairly well protected behind the reef while the wind was blowing with 25 knots sustained and up to 40 knots during squalls.

This morning dawned rainy and grey, Pitufa’s sitting in calm water in Southwesterly winds and we’ll stay in this anchorage for another day.

Jun
21

Bird islands in peril

Tahanea was the first atoll we ever sailed too. We were enchanted by the bird colonies and healthy reefs and expected other atolls to be just like that. We were disappointed wherever we went. On populated atolls the motus were all burned down (‘cleaned’) at some point and the endemic shrubs replaced by coconut plantations where people make copra that is then turned into palm oil. Here in French Polynesia the price of copra is subsidised, so the locals are encouraged to continue burning down the last remaining motus with natural vegetation–the only places where birds can dwell and nest.

Additionally coconut trees only have shallow roots that cannot resist the assault of the ocean and so erosion starts once the endemic shrubs are gone. There are many uninhabited little atolls in the Tuamotus and we used to think that they were wild, unspoiled places, but we found out that even these were turned into plantations by well meaning organisations in the past. Quite often rats were accidentally introduced during the copra raids and these rodents finish off the eggs and chicks of remaining nests.

Last year a few people from the neighbouring atoll of Faaite moved to Tahanea, which had been uninhabited for an extended period before, and we can already see the effects. We were hoping that they would limit their activities to the large, long motus in the north, east and south of Tahanea that were already cultivated before and feature mainly coconut trees (and rats). But revisiting the 3 motu clusters in the Southwest that used to be bird sanctuaries we see fewer terns (their eggs are considered a delicacy) and yesterday we were shocked to find a copra drying rack, a basic hut and plastic trash on one of the bigger bird motus. In October 2014 we were anchored in front of exactly this motu and wrote a blog post called ‘the sounds of a motu’ describing the cackling, squeaking, chirping and roaring sounds that reminded us of the South American jungle. This morning we listened again, but could only hear a few sporadic calls. The quietness of the motu is a silent cry for help.

Jun
12

Anniversary

It would be hard to find a more perfect spot than beautiful Tahanea for our 6th cruising anniversary. As an anniversary present we got ourselves a phantastic snorkel trip through the pass with white tips, black tips, grey reef sharks and even a lemon shark, and as a special highlight an eagle ray and a turtle passing by to congratulate ;-)

Jun
09

Lagoon sailing

It’s a pleasure to sail across a calm lagoon on a sunny day, but yesterday’s trip from the northernmost point to the pass area was quite exciting. Sailing close-hauled in quite some wind (around 20 knots) we were dodging bommies and of course a fish decided to bite just as the wind was gusting up a bit. Now we’re anchored next to the northernmost pass, the fridge is full of fish and we’re looking forward to do some snorkeling in the 3 passes over the next few days.

Jun
08

Around the atoll

We’re enjoying our time in Tahanea, moving around the atoll according to the wind and spending the days with a nice balance between boat projects and fun like snorkeling, kayaking and long walks along the motus.
At this time of the year a big fleet of yachts passes through the Tuamotus. We see some of them on the AIS, hear them talking on the VHF and on the SSB net we’re on (PolyMagNet 8173 kHz at 18:00 and 4:00 UTC), but most of them spend only a few days here and never explore beyond the pass area and the popular SE anchorage, so we still have our favourite places just for ourselves ;-)

May
27

Repairs

The downwind passage from the Gambier to Tahanea with quite a windy start put lots of strain on the material. We bent a stanchion and one of the genoa poles actually ripped the pole track out of the mast (a 15 cm long bit, we could still use the other pole). Christian has already cut out the bent bit and will move the remaining piece up to get it fully functional again.
The garden under the sprayhood also suffered some damage. For the first time ever we got some salty spray in and both the thai basil and the basil died from ‘salt burn’. The bok choy has fully recovered from the 3 m plunge dive into the galley though ;-)
In the evening we had a beach BBQ with old friends (Ednbal and Raynad) and the other 3 boats that have anchored here in the SE corner to sit out a maramu (SE wind). It’s amazing how busy the Tuamotus are at this time of the year when the fleet sailboats rushes through French Polynesia on the way across
the Pacific towards New Zealand.
The downwind passage from the Gambier to Tahanea with quite a windy start put lots of strain on the material. We bent a stanchion and one of the genoa poles actually ripped the pole track out of the mast (a 15 cm long bit, we could still use the other pole). Christian has already cut out the bent bit and will move the remaining piece up to get it fully functional again.
The garden under the sprayhood also suffered some damage. For the first time ever we got some salty spray in and both the thai basil and the basil died from ‘salt burn’. The bok choy has fully recovered from the 3 m plunge dive into the galley though ;-)
In the evening we had a beach BBQ with old friends (Ednbal and Raynad) and the other 3 boats that have anchored here in the SE corner to sit out a maramu (SE wind). It’s amazing how busy the Tuamotus are at this time of the year when the fleet sailboats rushes through French Polynesia on the way across
the Pacific towards New Zealand.

:de_start “Reparaturen”

Der Vorwindtörn von den Gambier nach Tahanea mit einem recht windigen Start hat das Material ziemlich beansprucht. Wir haben eine Relingstütze verbogen und einer der Genuabäume hat tatsächlich die Schiene für den Baum aus dem Mast gerissen (ein 15 cm langes Stück, wir konnten den anderen Baum nach wie vor verwenden). Christian hat das verbogene Stück bereits herausgeschnitten, wird die Schiene versetzen, sodass sie wieder voll einsatzbereit ist.
Der Garten unter der Sprayhood hat auch gelitten. Zum insgesamt ersten Mal ist etwas Gischt so weit gekommen und hat das Thai Basilikum und das Basilikum ‘verbrannt’. Der Bok Choy

May
26

Good sailing

This morning we arrived at the pass of Tahanea after a very slow nightsail (we didn’t want to get there during the night). At 8 the pass still looked quite impressive with high standing waves (wind against an outgoing current), so we sailed up and down with 3 lures out hoping to finally catch a fish. After 2 hours the pass calmed down, so we went in–unfortunately without the tuna we had hoped for…

May
23

Good sailing

The wind is still holding out, we did a daily run of 150 nm–a fabulous speed for Pitufa (downwind isn’t usually her thing) and were still comfy enough (despite waves of still about 3m) to bake bread. 210 out of 660 left!

May
22

Better conditions

Yesterday the sun came out and we were happy to be able to dry out our damp foul weather gear, the wind got lighter and we optimistically rolled out the genoa, but then it died down completely and we started the engine to stop Pitufa from rolling in the still high and confused seas. While sailing we use the windvane to steer Pitufa, but when motoring we turn on the electric autopilot. This time it went beep, beep, beep and refused to steer… I grudgingly started handsteering, while Christian started to search for the problem. Luckily it was quickly found: the remote control in the cockpit had drowned in its locker.
As soon as the autopilot worked again the wind came back, first from the NE, then the SW and finally it backed to the SE again and we’ve been swiftly sailing all night long.

May
21

Miserable passage

It’s been squally with winds around 35 knots gusting 45 since yesterday, torrential rainfalls add to the general misery on Pitufa. A shitty trip so far.

May
20

Sailing again!

After 5 months in the lagoon it took us two full days to get Pitufa back into passage mode. In our case that doesn’t just mean clearing and organising, but also repotting and securing the garden. It seems we didn’t do such a good job, because the Pok Choy did a plungedive through the companionway and into the kitchen leaving an epic mess just when we were sailing through a squally area with gusts over 35 knots. Happy cleaning with the help of seasickness meds followed.
Now it’s morning, the wind has settled down to about 15 knots and we’re nicely sailing along.

May
16

Better late than never: pics of the Gambier festival

Te Matapukarega festival in the Gambier

In February 2017 the first cultural festival of the Gambier Islands took place. Almost the whole population of the Gambier and all the cruisers in the anchor field attended this fabulous two-day event.

(19 photos)

May
13

Anchoring around Coral

Each year sailboats cruising in the Tuamotus get into trouble at anchor: they get trapped on lee shores after a shift in the wind direction, foul their anchor and/or chain in coral and the results are stressful manoeuvres to get the anchor back up, bent bow rollers and ruined or even ripped out windlasses. Of course the fragile coral structures get badly damaged with each of these messed up manoeuvres. Isn’t an anchorage with colourful coral and fishies much nicer than a dead rubble field?

It is easy to avoid damage to the coral and your boat if you

  • anchor in conditions with good visibility (don’t drop your anchor blindly)
  • anchor in shallow water: 1. you can see the bottom, 2. there are usually fewer coral heads on the sandy shelves and 3. you require less chain
  • try to find a big, sandy spot to drop your hook
  • float the chain so that the boat can swing around in shifting winds without getting the chain caught in coral heads
  • keep an eye on the weather forecast and move to a safe anchorage before the wind shifts

Floating the chain is a simple procedure. You just need

  • 2 medium sized fenders
  • 2 carabiners that fit into your chain
  1. Drop the anchor in the middle of the biggest sandy spot you can find
  2. Pay out chain while reversing gently
  3. Look around at the surrounding coral heads to estimate the swinging radius and hook in the first fender before the chain could touch any of them.
  4. Pay out some more chain and set the anchor gently pulling in reverse.
  5. If the scope is still not sufficient, a second fender can be added followed by more chain.

Enjoy the Tuamotus!

The principle of a buoyed chain (click for larger image)

Approaching the next anchorage. Two fenders with carabiners are ready on deck. (click for larger image)

Hooking in the 2nd fender (click for larger image)

Floating chain (click for larger image)

May
11

Tour de Motu

We didn’t really have the time to explore around the motus on the barrier reef during this cyclone season. First we were busy with the house and then I spent some time in Austria. Now we’ve been doing a tour along the barrier reef for a week. We started with southeasterly winds anchored off the bird motu Tauna, then we spent a phase of northerlies at the pretty northern motu Puaumu and now we’re at Tarauru Roa where we visited Eric’s pearl farm today. We are taking it easy, did some snorkeling, but we’re also preparing Pitufa for the passage to the Tuamotus (we changed the sail on the furler, cleaned the hull, inspected the rigg, etc.).

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