Today this rather nasty passage ended on a very positive note: after tacking at 4 o’clock in the morning we sailed really fast up on the last leg north, caught 2 yellow fin tunas off Hao, made it just before sunset to the pass and found just the right conditions to go into the lagoon. Hao’s pass is infamous for strong currents up to 20 knots and difficult timing, but we had an ingoing current of 3 knots and made it without any problems. Exactly 3 days from pass to pass… Now we’re anchored just inside the pass (instead of tacking up and down waiting for daylight, hurray), just had sashimi and will now fall into the bunk
After a brief excursion west to Tonga, Niue, and the Cook Islands, Pitufa is back in French Polynesia.
Somehow this passage is refusing to work out as planned. The waves are higher than expected, the wind more easterly, so we’re bouncing along and heeling at a crazy angle as close-hauled as it gets, Pitufa’s ploughing through the waves slowly and we’re making loads of extra miles to the south and will have to go on a tack up north during the night. It looks like we’ll actually need 4 days for a passage of only 220 nm. Still 74 nm to go as the sooty tern flies and still no fishing luck despite the 3 lures that we’re trolling.
Yesterday we reluctantly left Tahanea after 6 weeks, it’s not easy to leave such a beautiful place behind, but the cyclone season has already started and we should move further east.
Even on Tahanea the human influence already shows negatively (some reefs are fished empty, some motus have been burned down, it seems that more people from the neighbouring island are visiting and there’s even one permanently inhibited house now), but it’s still the most pristine and untouched place we’ve found between Galapagos and Tonga. Bird colonies, phantastic underwater coral landscapes, some places with big, curious fish and lots of reef sharks–it’s sad how rare such unspoiled nature has become. We enjoyed every day there and were amazed how every beach walk or snorkel excursion brought yet another highlight: a manta ray, hunting sharks, a new variety of reef fish, a colourful display of parrot fish in all shades from purple, pink, turquoise, blue to white, a morray eel that caught a crab in the ankle deep water just next to shore–simply incredible. It’s a privilege to witness such natural spectacles.
Today the sailing is slightly annoying. The wind is more easterly than predicted (as usually), so we’re as close-hauled as it gets, therefore sailing slowly and still not on course. 160nm to go to Hao (another atoll of the Tuamotus).
During the past few days the weather hasn’t been great, so we did a maintenance week:
We dedicated one day to the Tohatsu outboard engine (changed the gear oil, greased all squeaky parts, replaced the worn out propeller, repaired the old propeller to have a spare one, etc.), resewed the dodger that is stretched between lifelines and toerail to keep spray out of the cockpit (the ‘pitufa’ letters were coming off and needed restitching all aroundaroundaround…), glued new handles onto the dinghy, spent one day with the Yanmar main engine (changed engine oil and filter, retensioned the V-belt, etc) and checked the watermaker (replaced the sediment filter, etc.).
It’s impossible to get bored on a cruising boat…
Our last visit to a supermarket (still in Tahiti) was on October 10, so more than 6 weeks ago and you could think that the diet on Pitufa is getting boring, but no, with some creativity (and of course the fresh greens from the boat garden) we still manage to keep up our gourmet standards
For breakfast/brunch we usually have fresh bread and cheese (for me) and salami-style sausages or patés (for Christian), for lunch we prepare a salad (using self-grown sprouts, spinach from the garden, the last remaining (bought) carrots, ocassionally a can of beans and left-over rice, pasta or quinoa) or a muesli with self-made yoghurt. In the evenings we prepare our main meal of the day and here’s for example what was on the menu last week:
- Tartare from a freshly caught snapper (chopped fish, chopped gherkins with honey, mustard and fresh cilantro) with buchwheat bread
- Poisson cru (raw fish marinated overnight in lemon juice with pieces of apple, beans, thai basil from the garden and onions in self-made cocounut milk) with rice
- Pasta with fried fish in a creamy white sauce with cabbage and basil from the garden
- Fried Snapper and steamed parsley potatoes and pumpkin in sauce hollandaise
- Stir-fry with snapper, (canned) bamboo sprouts, (canned) water chestnuts, thai basil from the garden and coconut rice
- Snapper in a crispy sesame seed panade with creamy pumpkin and mashed potatoes
- Potato burgers with (canned) sauerkraut
- Pizza with cheese, (canned) mushrooms and (canned) anchovies
- Teriyaki-style tofu with home-grown mung-bean sprouts
Last weekend our anchor winch started making ugly, grinding sounds and we got very worried, because neither the prospect of manually heaving up the anchor while moving regularly around the atoll during wind shifts nor sailing to a place with an airport to order spare parts and wait endlessly for them seemed like much fun. Fortunately Pitufa is a self-sufficient boat with lots of spare parts, scrap pieces and tools aboard, so we disassembled the winch hoping to be able to repair it here. It turned out that a bushing Christian had made during an extensive overhaul 1.5 years ago had been worn out. We didn’t have a bronze part in the right dimensions, but our neighbours on SY Ednbal had a hose coupling made of brass that almost fit, so Christian got out the lathe and got it into the right dimensions. The next day we assembled it again and voila–no more nasty sounds.
During the past 2 days the weather was calm and we explored three motus in the south that we hadn’t seen previously and discovered 4 more couples of nesting masked boobies–that brings the count to 15 couples of these beautiful and rather rare birds. It’s so sad that there aren’t many uninhabited atolls with endemic shrubs and trees as vegetation left, because sea birds need these safe havens to raise their chicks. Here on Tahanea we saw eggs and chicks of red-footed, brown and masked boobies when we were here in September (2 years ago) and now the same between October and November so it seems the nesting season goes on for quite a while.
This morning the wind picked up again and we sailed to a reef on the southern side. Instead of the predicted 10 knots we got 15 to 20 and we were bouncing miserably, so we lifted the anchor again and sailed to the small island in the middle of the lagoon where we had already spent a calm week during easterly winds. This time we finally named it: Ilot des schtroumpfs–Smurf Island
Last week the wind was predicted to turn from the North to the West, so we did a last snorkel in the pass (on the northern side of the lagoon), then lifted the anchor and used the calm weather to take Pitufa out through the pass, quickly caught a yellow fin tuna and were back inside the lagoon of Tahanea within an hour. Afterwards we sailed down to the southern side to hide behind a reef during the predicted westerly winds (it shifted twice between east and west instead, so we alternated between anchorages west and east of the reef…).
Two days ago a strong southeasterly set in, so we moved to the well protected southeastern corner of the atoll where we’re now sitting behind a motu while it’s blowing 25 knots and gusting up to 40. Timing is everything in an atoll! It’s important to always keep an eye on the weather and move in time. Of course the numerous GPS tracks we have by now all over the lagoon help us to reach safe spots (within distances between 5 and 15 miles) even in bad visibility…
We use the windy weather to do some sewing jobs and other domestic tasks to keep life comfy on Pitufa: we brewed beer (already the second batch ), made yoghurt (a weekly task), baked bread (every second day anyway), did tuna preserves, etc. etc. We’re almost out of veg provisions we brought, but with the thriving garden and different kinds of sprouts we still eat as well as one month ago when we set out from Tahiti
We are now anchored next to the western pass of Tahanea and used the opportunity to snorkel the pass yesterday and this morning. The amount of fishies in the pass is just amazing. In the deep water (about 10 m) we saw big groups of grey reef sharks and white tip reef sharks (the biggest we’ve seen so far) hunting swarm fish together with tuna and groupers almost as big as the sharks themselves. In the shallower areas the colours and variety of the coral is mindboggling and small reef fishies in all colours (butterflies, trigger fish, surgeon fish, parrots, etc.) are packed so tight that animal rights group would protest if it was an aquarium…
On the way back we trolled a lure behind the dinghy. At the first attempt we caught a grouper we could hardly lift into the dinghy. We didn’t really know what to do with that giant (more than 1 m) and in the end we released him back into the water (we used a single hook so hardly any damage done). At the second attempt we caught a fish so big that when we tried to roll in the line he pulled the dinghy backwards through the pass–thank goodness the hook bent open and we didn’t have to deal with that unknown monster. We bent the hook back in shape and at the third attempt we finally caught a reasonably sized grouper and had sashimi shortly after we got back home.
Cleaning fish in an anchorage of course attracts sharks and we have a group of 10 black tips circling Pitufa. They freak out as soon as bits of fish hit the water, but the resident surgeon fish under our boat are usually faster and snap the pieces away before the sharks can get there
Usually we use windy days when neither splashy dinghy rides nor dumpy snorkeling seem appealing for indoor-projects. This time we have such nice protection from the tiny island that we can still go snorkeling and go ashore every day, but we’ve still found a nice balance between fun activities and ticking off some projects from the to-do list.
Yesterday we brewed beer (23 litres are bubbling now in two jerry cans and will be ready to be bottled soon) and today we sewed a new cover for the big hatch on the foredeck. The old one consisted of more patches than original material, but we kept postponing this difficult task. In the end it wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be. We did one corner after the other (with detailed fitting sessions in between), then we turned over the fringe with space to fit a chord in and in the end wiggling the chord in with the help of a wire snake turned out to be the most complicated bit. The new hatch cover fits better than the old one and we were proud enough to celebrate it with an orange-sparkling wine punch (certainly the best on the atoll)
Yesterday it was flat calm and we used the opportunity to motorsail 2 miles up from the southern side of the lagoon to a tiny islet inside the lagoon. It’s just a huge bommie with some shrubs, a few palm trees and lots of nesting birds. The shelf around it is very narrow and shallow and then the drop-off goes down to about 30 m steeply, so first we thought we wouldn’t be able to anchor at all, but then we decided to throw the hook on the slope and at least go snorkeling before heading on.
The snorkeling turned out to be the best we’ve done in a long time. Healthy, colourful coral, lots of swam fish and curious blacktip reef sharks came to inspect the funny bipeds. Other parts of the lagoon were empty compared to 2 years ago, so it’s a relief to find some spots that have remained untouched. After checking the anchor and the weather forecast we decided to spend the night in this pretty place. This morning the wind picked up, friends who tacked across the lagoon to the safety of the southeastern corner (the weather forecast predicts wind of 15 to 20 from the SE for the next few days) reported 25 knots on the way. We can see waves and whitecaps wandering by in the lagoon and from time to time the masthead registers some gusts, but the island gives such nice protection (even though it’s only 280 m long) that we’ve decided to stay a bit longer.
On passage we dread calm weather and the flapping sails it brings, but inside lagoons it’s just what we wish for. Yesterday we sailed across a grey, rainy and stormy lagoon (during squalls we had 30 knots sustained…) to the southern side in anticipation of a windshift from the NW via the W to the SW. We were glad we had GPS tracks from our last visit to Tahanea as the visibility was down to almost nothing.
This dawn saw the lagoon transformed into a mirror-like lake. The windmeter beeped from time to time as it does when there’s 0 knots of winds (panic due to sensory deprivation?). On such perfectly calm days it’s hard to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins–the motus seem to float in mid-air. We paddled the kayak over this flat surface and marveled at the coral that we could see in all details without sticking our heads under water–like from a glass-bottom boat. The colours and atmosphere were magical, almost surreal…
We had a pleasant sail across the lagoon doing about 5+ knots in winds around 12-15 knots, Pitufa sailing clause-hauled like on rails and Christian keeping a sharp look-out from the bow for coral bommies. It’s amazing, at 40 degrees on the wind she doesn’t need any steering, I could go downstairs and have a cup of tea and she’d still be on the same course afterwards…
Maybe I should have gone under deck for a cup of tea, because when we were searching for an anchor spot at the coral-strewn northern side of the atoll I suddenly heard splashing from downstairs. Alarmed we rushed down to discover that the watermaker had not drained through the kitchen sink like usually (the drain got blocked by an air bubble during sailing), but had flooded the boat. We quickly set the anchor and started drying up the bilge cursing violently.
After that we wanted to have lunch, opened the fridge and discovered that it was full of water as well! While we were heeling the water from the sink had sloshed onto the top-loading fridge and the content was floating in about 20 litres of salt water… Another few hours of happy cleaning followed.
Provisioning for a remote area is always tricky and we tend to focus so much on special goodies, that we usually forget to buy something basic like sugar (last time in Tahanea), salt (Maupihaa) and this time it’s black tea. Apart from that we’re doing fine. 12 days after our last visit to a supermarket we still have apples, a mango, half a stack of bananas, lemons, carrots, radishes, courgettes, broccholi, cucumbers and 2 pumpkins as a last reserve. The garden’s also doing well with basil, parsley, thai basil, cilantro, spinach and 3 tiny tomato plants and apart from that we have bags of mung beans and lentils to sprout.
On the bottom of the fridge sits a large box filled up with cheese and sausages to last us for a few months. Yesterday we ate the last of the tuna we caught on the way, so we’ll start trolling when we sail in the lagoon next time (no ciguatera here).
This morning we thought we’d have a lazy day, just a bit of snorkeling, kayaking and relaxing between the incredibly vibrant shades of azure, turquoise and mint here on the southern side of the lagoon. But when breakfast bread had been on the stove for about twenty minutes, the flame suddenly started shrinking and soon after went out. A clogged up line? Out of kerosene? No, the pressure gauge showed 0 bar and the handle of the air pump was pushed up: the valve of the air pump had started leaking. Damn. We quickly pumped up the pressure again, put the bread back on the flame and then took turns pumping for 10 minutes until the loaf was done.
After breakfast Christian took the kerosene tank out of its compartment, took out the air pump and tried to disassemble it. While trying to get the lower bit out it cracked open a bit and voila, suddenly the valve worked again. Of course we wanted to try out immediately if it would actually keep the pressure, so I put my little finger on the kerosene hose (the one that usually leads to the stove), Christian started pumping and we were thrilled to see that the needle of the pressure gauge remained stable. Hurray, without thinking I took my little finger that had started cramping from the hose and immediately a kerosene fountain shot out, drenching us and the cockpit until I got my finger back in place. How stupid can you get? I paid for my lack of intelligence with a cockpit cleaning marathon… Even the bimini had got a stain, so we took off the rain collection canvas that sits on top to keep it from contamination. As it was already off we got the sewing machine out after the
cleaning frenzy and I restitched the seams that had started to come undone.
When we had finished it was already 5 in the afternoon–not exactly a relaxing program…
Tahanea was the first atoll we ever visited two years ago. Back then we loved the serenity of this uninhabited atoll, the bird colonies, the colourful underwater life and the motus with their white beaches so much that we stayed 8 weeks. You may think that we were only so impressed because it was our first experience of an atoll, but in the meantime we have seen quite a few other atolls and motus and we’re just as awed by this fabulous place as we were the first time round. Pitufa back in paradise