What with the cyclone season?

Nominally, it’s over. El Niño diminishing by the day and the consensus among metoffices is that later this year conditions will likely be neutral, or even a La Niña.

All this means we spent these months on an exceptionally strong mooring for nothing. Though; better safe than sorry! In hindsight we would have preferred to be in the Marquesas group, but no one has a crystal ball to know what the future will be like.

As far as sailing goes, nothing much to tell and the weather has been less than great though infinitely more agreeable than cold, windy winters in France or Sweden. We have had copious amounts of rain. So much that we had to wash every square inch of the boat exterioraly since green algae started growing everywhere and threatened to convert Nanna into a sculpture of slippery green. In between the rainy spells we’ve had fine sunny weather for a week or even two at a time. At the head of the bay where I built our mooring, there is rarely any wind so it’s been very hot onboard and in fact the rain always welcome as it cooled things off. Each time it rained for a few days at a time, we repeated the mantra; – lot better than a cyclone-, and filled our tanks, jugs and jerrycans with ‘eau de ciel’ as they say here, water for the sky.

Apart from weather and daily checking of several meteo websites, we have enjoyed free wifi, for a change, albeit very slow. The big Carrefour supermarket a few hundred meters from the boat, making possible a more varied diet than when we are out on the islands.socializing with neighbors and friends and doing some odd little jobs on our boat. One morning a couple of weeks ago I discovered a shorted cell in one of the batteries onboard. Next week another so decided it was definitely time to replace them all. Two gelcell batteries available from a local supplier, and so far they seem very promising. Gel batteries accept charge much better then wet cells, and even better, they suffer less of “Peukert effect” meaning that on a gel after discharging say 10 Amphrs you’d have to charge with about 11,5 whereas on a flooded lead battery it would need about 12-13. Doesn’t sound like huge difference? Well. Over a year it makes a world of difference. Other advantage with gel is they do. It spill electrolyte even if lying on the side, they do not release explosive hydrogen gas as wet cels do, and they will normally live longer! The drawback is they are about twice the price, and need very precise charging procedures since water can not be topped up they must NEVER be overcharged.

This strong El Niño year didnot bring a single cyclone into French Polynesia, not even to Samoa or Cook Islands, some 1000 miles west of us. Notwithstanding, TC Winston developed into a category 5 monster, killing over 40 people in Fiji and causing huge property and infrastructural damage.

From our perspective, after living six months in Ecuador a little more than 3 years ago, the earthquake there recently was terrible news. We still not now exactly the extent of it in Bahia de Caraquez, where the boat was while we travelled the whole mountain chain in the interior, bit it is bad, unfortunately very bad news.

Here again, during the entire season we never saw more than 30-35 knots of wind in squalls. This was while some mini-lows passed by. During heavy rainfall a few of the rivers on Tahiti flooded and washed away some houses but other than that, nothing much considering what was expected from a ‘bad niño year’.

What’s next? -we hope to sail to windward a few days, to visit one of the closest of the atolls in the Tuamotus before flying back to Europe for a few weeks.

Once back in “Fenua” the maohi name of this island country, we’d like to visit more of the Tuamotus, as stepping stones on the way to the Marquesas wher we’d like to spend next wet season beginning at the end of the year.

Sent from my iBoat

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Happy New Year

It’s over three months since I last made a blog post. I have previously on several occasions mentioned that time flies, so I will not repeat it…but it does fly, and when I think back, there isn’t really that much of interest to mention.

I ordered some odd little things for the boat. Some new zincs, impellers for the raw water pump and perhaps most important, a new charge controller for the solar panels. As usual, it took longer than expected for them to arrive and by the time it was installed, and we had replenished our supplies onboard,we were already late October, or even a few days into November. Officially the cyclone season starts here at Nov 1. Very strong El Niño year announced so a real risk of cyclones affecting French Polynesia. The plan was to sail to the Marquesas to spend the season there but just before deciding to go, we came across a book written about the history of cyclones in FrPol. The worst year, 1982-83, in modern times, no less than 6 cyclones hit Polynesia, and those who were around will never forget. The Tuamotus got badly hit, so did the Societies and the Australs. Marquesas, we always heard, never historically got hit. But, and it’s a big BUT, they do develop around the Marquesas, which means that tropical depressions, and tropical storms does occur in strong El Niño years even there. Most of our friends on boats around here who are mobile( harder for those who work, have children at school and so on) already had left by then.

We reconsidered, and decided to spend the season here in Port Phaeton, rather than in marginal anchorages in the Marquesas. After all Port Phaeton is the best protected spot in all FrPol, so even if we will get hit by one, chances are better here to come out without serious damage. Time will tell, there is a slight flavor of Russian roulette over all this, but we can also take some comfort in that the area of FrPolynesia is as big as Europe, and cyclones are in fact quite small, rarely more than 350 NM across. Being some 100-150 miles from the eye, can make all the difference. As 30-35 knots of wind instead of 65+.

Until now the season has been surprisingly tranquil. TC Ula touched the northern Vavau group in The Kingdom of Tonga a few days ago before turning SW passing south of Fiji where it has become more or less stationary and is expected to dissipate. Over here, days and even weeks of fine, sunny weather, followed by squally periods with heavy rainfall.

Latest update on El Niño-related info, suggests that this event already peaked, but the risk is still high at least another couple of months, and particularly the coming two weeks or so in our area. Daily check on several weather sites each morning is the routine by now. Internet feels like an ultimate luxury after our 8-9 months in the ‘wilderness’ from Feb last year even if it is chronically slow.

Apart from that, we’ve enjoyed seeing some old friends, and new ones too, in this our Polynesian Home Base. Boat projects are never absent, but the humid conditions this time of year makes it a slow process. If I can find a little corner of a roofed place, I consider building a new dinghy, in foam sandwich/epoxi using our current one as a mould, another possible idea would be a hard dodger/sprayhood, we’ll see how things unfold. I have constructed a hopefully hurricane proof mooring on and off the last few weeks, hoping to have it ready before needed. Otherwise, my preferred tactic, if a cyclone heads this way, is to go to sea 2-3 days before it’s arrival. Enough to get away200-300 NM from the eye. Problem is, the met office people say that the trajectory can be forecasted with an accuracy(statistically) of about 50 miles per day so it could be a close call in case the storm change course a couple of days away from here.

This option is obviously not possible for all the people living on land, where the worst impact always comes from the heavy rainfall, causing landslides and inundations.

Hopefully a (highly) possible cyclone will stay at sea and track between the island groups. The Tuamotus being low atolls, are of course most vulnerable even though they have shelters nowadays on the bigger ones built out of concrete.

Between all this we do some lagoon navigation for a day or two at a time so life is all good, albeit it with a ‘dark cloud’ at the horizon…

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In Port Phaeton, Tahiti again

The last leg going back was an overnighter from Huahine to Tahiti. Hard on the wind for the duration of the trip but we made on one tack, and made good speed in 15-20 knots of wind. The forecast was for NE winds backing N then NW. This never happened, we had winds at ENE but our heading was about 110 degrees true, so it worked. Quite a wet ride, the only second time we had water sloshing over the side deck more or less continuously, the first time during the leg to Raiatea a couple weeks ago. Nothing broke and all is well. We’ve got some accumulated practical matters to tend to hear before continuing eastwards, probably within 2-3 weeks.

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Apologize for my latest post, at the last part ‘ going westward’ should obviously be Eastward and nothing else. As a bird flies we are 170 NM east northeast of Tahiti and nothing else.

I should know the points of the compass by now…..no idea what i had on my mind as I wrote that.

We’re still in Maupiti, such a lovely spot, but will likely start moving back east at the next good weather window.

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Regine, the sailmaker on Raiatea did an excellent job on our genoa, and after a couple of days of explorations on land, the climb of the highest peak on the NW part of the island being a highlight, we got a pretty good weather window for scooting westwards. Mainly thanks to our friends on ‘Parenth’ese’, who has been to Maupiti a couple times before we decided to go with the flow. Raiatea will still be there later on. So, right after breakfast we took off for Bora Bora, some 22 miles to the west. Nice downwind sailing in fine weather and we had the anchor dropped behind a motu just inside the only pass at lunchtime. The forecast predicted light winds and a diminishing swell – down to about a meter- tomorrow, but then the swell will quickly build to 2-3 mtrs, so no time to lose. We relaxed during the afternoon, taking a good look at Bora through the binoculars and then slept a few hours in the evening. Just before midnight we heaved anchor and took off for Maupiti, 28 miles further to the west.
Wind just aft of port beam, full moon on top of us, we enjoyed one of these magical tropical nights at sea. The idea was to arrive just before dawn, to enter between 6 and 7 AM at low slack tide, and before the wind might pick up again.

The only pass is open to south, narrow, and makes a dogleg between two motus before you’re inside the lagoon. There is always an outgoing current, but not too strong, so the only issue is the size of the swells. We circled just outside the pass for 20-30 minutes and it looked good, but it’s always harder to determine the state of the surf from behind, pitchpoling our dinghy on a beach landing in Mexico comes to mind…. Anyway Parenthese offered to go in first, a 50′ alu sloop with a lot more horsepower per ‘ ton of boat’ than Nanna has, so we saw them go in without problem and quickly followed. It was quite easy on the day, but it is a bit daunting with heavy surf both sides of the boat just a couple boat lengths away. We had already heard some horror stories, a few years ago a big catamaran ended up on the reef and even a ferry from Tahiti once. The key is to not negotiate the pass if the swells are over 1-1,5 mtr. Some folks we know arrived here in conditions where the entire pass is nothing but foam and surf, making it impossible. The options then are to chose another destination, or just wait at sea if the forecast suggests the swell might come down. Good visibility obviously helps, and even though it’s well marked and lit, entry at night are for daredevils or locals who do it on a daily basis. On a fast powerboat, it’s another story obviously, since you could ride a wave through the dangerous part of the pass.

Writing this, we’ve been here for almost two weeks, enjoying this gem of a tropical island. Geologically the oldest of the Societies, just a few mtrs over 400 m for the highest peak, 1100 inhabitants, a shallow coral studded lagoon surrounded by loong motus it is very close to the ideal Paradise tropical island.

We’ve climbed the mountains here again, a 7 hour trip, that took us down along a ridge on the opposite side, making it a complete tour of the island. Spectacular view from the top, it took some ropes to ascend the steepest parts, and a good machete to clear an old, rarely used path downhill.

Apart from that we’ve watched yet some more of dancing, singing, and all of those Polynesian sports. The wind has been from due south for a few days, and it’s significantly colder than for many years in this -supposedly strong El Niño year- several of the locals say it’s exceptionally cold. They, and we too, had to dig out long pants and sweaters or jackets for the evening shows.

Tomorrow the swell is to be over 3 mtrs, so we’ll enjoy being ‘trapped in Paradise’ for a while longer before it’s time to start going back westwards. The transient boats are mostly gone now, we still here some on the VHF, at Bora Bora, and the rest of us, who’ll spend hurricane season in either Marquesas or the Gambiers, will have to backtrack for a few weeks to come. Not too bad, plenty of nice spots to revisit on the way, to make passages during the most favorable conditions.

More later on…

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The Heiva

Heiva is the big party that lasts for about a month until 14 July, the French National Day.

We decided to stay in Huahine for this event. We were already familiar with the place, had friends around, and on Raiatea, our other alternative, it’s a lot less convenient with regards to good anchorages(read lack of) at a reasonable distance from where it all happens.

Seems like we did a good choice and we enjoyed the whole thing immensely.

We visited the dance and song contest no less than 8 nights, and then all the traditional Polynesian sports. How about Beach Wrestling, javelin throwing where the target is a coconut on top of a 12 m pole, carrying big stones, lifting big stones, ‘ the strongest man’ which included big stones too, but also towing heavy sacks with long ropes, a running contest with a 40 kg load of bananas on a yoke made of bamboo, and you’ll get an idea of the ‘traditional’ flavor to all this. And then of course the Va’a or outrigger canoe races. Men, women, and mixed teams in 3-6-12 seaters and of course the V1, for a single paddler. Fishing contests, in the lagoon one day, and ‘au large’ on the ocean another. We were glad to see the team with our friend Kike from the opposite side of the island, my fishing mentor here, win the lagoon fishing trophy.
For the less physically demanding part, a contest in flying kites, the old style in bamboo and thin cloth, flower arrangements and the making of roof- or wall panels in braided Pandanus and coconut palm leafs are but a few…oh and not to forget the hat braiding contest! -all in all a crash course in Polynesian culture.

Unforgettable, what else can I say!?

There’s an end to everything, and after indulging fullheartedly in the Heiva for about three weeks we felt it was time to leave for Raiatea.

A nice following wind of 10-15 knots made for a decent morning sail, the 24 miles across, course due West. Laid back enough we just unfurled the genoa and still made close to six knots average so not bad at all.
This was yesterday, this morning we folded the genoa into a smallest possible size and rowed ashore to meet the sailmaker here. Largely because of the large number of charter boats based here, there’s plenty work for the loft apparently, they are four people at work there on an island with 13000 inhabitants.

After almost five years I the tropical sun, the genoa needed some work. The webbing in the three ‘corners’ of the sail started to deteriorate, due to UV, as the thread on the protective UV strip in particular. I have hand stitched the UV cover a couple times already, now was the time to have it re stitched completely so it could be in service another 4-5 years.

Regine, the sailmaker, wanted about a week to finish that, so in the meantime we’ll try and see as much as we can of the island. Not that easy it seems. The lagoon is very wide, and also deep, so good anchorages with easy access to the shore are not abundant. And where the depth is a bit more agreeable, well, that’s where the mooring balls are placed and with them the crowd.

At any rate, we gotta see the largest Marae ( ancient structures for gatherings and cult) on the SE side of Raiatea, it’s over 3 hectares (30000 square meters). Raiatea was named Hawaii originally ( or Hauaii depending on spelling) and was the seat of the royal family in ancient times. So of course this enormous Marae was constructed here.

According to the latest research, Raiatea/Hauai’i was also the hub in the eastern branch of Polynesia. From here,they voyaged in their big double canoes, and discovered Tahiti, The Tuamotus, Marquesas, Hawaii(the one north of the equator that is) and Rapa Nui (Aka Easter Island) and last but not least New Zealand.

James Cook was fortunate enough to take with him (on his first voyage) as crew a priest from Tahiti, who could without too much problem speak to and understand the peoples of the other islands they called on, including NZ.

For example, here the ‘Polynesians’ call themselves Maohi, compare with Maori of NZ.

So some more history and Maohi culture is in the pipeline, and hopefully a few sessions in and under water too. Right now though the swell is a whopping 3,5-4 mtrs, great for the surfers, but quite uncomfortable in the lagoon. Huge amounts of (relatively cold) water enters the lagoon, and this has to exit through the pass(-es) cuasing some weird currents and flow inside the barrier reef.

After Raiatea, we want to visit Maupiti, but this is only possible when the swell is less than about 1,5 mtr. This time of the year, due to the passing winter storms in the Southern Ocean, the swell is almost always from S-SW so the right conditions aren’t always there. We’ll see how it works out, from Raiatea we will go to Bora-Bora and wait for the right weather window to scoot over to Maupiti, some 25 miles further to west. Hopefully it works out, allowing us to spend a few weeks there before having to start backtracking (back-tacking too) to windward to Tahiti and then The Marquesas for the cyclone season. More about that later.

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Kura skymning

‘kura skymning’ is an age old expression in Swedish. Literally meaning hunching the twilight, the allegorical meaning is more along the lines of gathering in front of the fireplace, as nightfall makes it difficult to do anything useful outdoors. This obviously goes back to the time before electrical lighting, when the dim light from the furnace or stove was what allowed our ancestors to gather in front of it, doing some little ‘handycraft style’ work. Often while telling tales, histories and legends or just chating or singing for that matter.

So why did I come to think of that now?

We are on the western part of Huahine since a few days, at the main village, Fare. The weather is squally and not too inviting to explore those shallow lagoon anchorages so we are spending most of out time onboard, with all those little projects that are a part of life aboard a boat. Our modern version of ‘kura skymning’.
We rented bikes two days ago for a ‘circumpedalation’of the island. At the northern end there’s a fair size salt water lake and a huge ‘Marae'(archeological spot with religious and cultural interest) Here we got stuck for quite a while, magnificent and very interesting and then of course, we got into conversation with some ‘Huahineans’. After this we had to abandon the plan to ride the bikes around the Iti, or smaller of Huahines islands, but little did we care, the Nui was quite enough. The road goes around the entire island so along sea level. Pretty much…but on a few places, it went uphill and then down again, and it’s steep too. Rather crappy rental bicycles without gear made it necessary to walk uphill on several occassions, with backpack, leading the bike, so we had a pretty good leg- and cardiac work-out before arriving at FAre just in time for….that’s right, the twilight. Kura skymning!

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Huahine – Part 2

First a closer position report, we’re anchored off Motu Murimahora(exotic name, right? esp. for fellow swedes) on the southeastern part of this beautiful island, in the leeward group of the Society Islands, French Polynesia.

My new friend, Kike, is taking me to the next level in fishing as in this part of the world. He is thouroughly enjoying all three branches, fishing with rod and line, with speargu/harpoon, and with nets, so who am I not to be sooo happy. Finally I am also to learn the tricks of the trade in finding octopus…one of my favourite dinners. They live in holes and little caves as we all know. We also might know that they change colours instantly, and apparently each and every part of their body independently and instantly, so not that easy to spot. Very interesting specimen, just to watch them move, again all eight tentacles completely indepent of the others, they possess a lot of a particular intelligence in their environment for sure, and it is with very mixed feelings I decide to kill one. That last part is not too difficult, once you’ve made them attach themselves to a spear, stick or even knife you poke into their home, you just swiftly grab it and cut off the head, never mind that all the eight other body parts are all over the place😀 (I am not yet ready to take on a BIG one, I confess)

Again the difficulty is to find them in the first place, since they feed on shellfish solely, spotting a little heap of empty shells on the seabed is a good hint…I will never forget this guy I met while snorkeling in Sea of Cortez, MX. HE had perfected the art, no doubt he made his living on ‘picking up’ octopus. He just swam along the rocky shore, at 2-3,5 mtr depth, a huge net sack over the shoulder and a long stick with a barb in one hand. I folloowed him a minute or so and he caught 3 or 4 while I was clueless at how he found them. It was like he dove about every 25 mtrs, and just poked that stick in one and upp it came and straight down the sack. Incredible! I can only hope he didn’t revisit the same place too often.:-/

Anyway, apart from above mentioned pleasures, this anchorage is so incredibly calm (as in flat water) despite an often strong current coming through, that it allows me to polish the topsides of NANNA while in the water. This being the only second spot making this possible I do take advantage and do a part of the hull early morning.

Hmm, some day our provisions will run short, so the choice will be to either hitch-hike to FAre, the main village, or go there with our boat. We’ll have to ponder a while on that one.

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A New Horizon

and a new favourite bay. Currently anchored inside the lagoon; eastern part of Huahine. Splendid, simply splendid. Within 24 hrs upon arrival we made friends with some local people who took me fishing with them, loaded us with fruit and some veggies fresh from their fields and it just goes on…island life the Tahitian way.

Huahine is less than half the size of Moorea, 85 nM NW of it, so not a huge land mass. Who needs land anyway? It’s all about the lagoon, the lagoon is what has supported this easy-going and hardworking people through a millennia or two, fishing, shelling, octopus and whatever. The lagoon here is wide and except for the well marked coralstudded parts, 3-4 mtrs deep above a very white sand bottom…the most beautiful -and the biggest- swimmingpool I ever seen.

I have to warn you right away, we are very likely to ‘get stuck’ yet another time…but then, why not? Looks like this year could become a strong El Nino event, not good, means tropical cyclones can occur even this far east, but as long as we go to the Marquesas (800-900 miles to windward from here) before mid-November it should be fine. There is an extra big Heiva (festival) there in December this year, so should be an excellent place to spend this coming wet season.

THe overnight passage from Moorea to here was great. 15-20 kts from E-NE making it a quite fast (for once) and enjoyable sail. In fact so enjoyable I never woke Isabelle up for her watch. I spent the entire 19 or so hours in the cockpit, dozing off in between. There was a 2,5 m swell from SW, thus against the waves which made it a bit bumpy, but NANNA is an incredibly dry boat at sea, we still have to figure out what it would take to get her decks flushed underway😀

About all for now, back soon!

P.S. I checked the stats for this blog while in Moorea, with internet. Poitively surprised by the number of followers and regular visitors. Since the web here is too slow and pricy to be pratical for uploading photos etc. I find the fidelity of you -dear readers- impressing. After all, this blog is mostly like a diary to support my own memory from our wanderings… In due time, with good internet, I will upload photos to my Flickr account, hope you’ll enjoy the text version for the time being. Oh, and comments and questions are ALWAYS welcoom, there,s a link to oour e-mail in the right hand margin on wordpress if you prefer a private contact! D.S.

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Just another Day

Not the perfect weather pattern for heading westward from Moorea. There is at present a convergence(kinda front where the cold southern ocean air meets the tropical warm air mass) ahead of us since a few days, and it is stationary for the moment.
This means winds from N-NW and squally weather with frequent showers. Not so bad right here but more so in the Leeward Islands. Read this morning on Bob MacDavitt’s excellent blog (metBob@blogspot.com) where you can subscribe for a weekly newsletter providing the ‘big picture’ outlook for the coming week across the whole SoPac. He mentioned a friend in BoraBora who hasn’t seen the sun now for over a week. That’s the Southern Pacific Convergence Zone in a nutshell. Bora is around 100 nM west northwest of us.

This means we’ll bide our time yet again, looks like a Wednesday departure could be favorable. Even though it’s just 85 miles to Huahine, we’d like it to be a pleasant night at sea….

We had one squall last night, of short duration, providing approx. 5 liter water in our catching setup, and some gusts up towards the 30 kt mark. Just enough to wake us up, to close hatches and portholes – they are otherwise always open 24/7 since the temperature inside the boat oscillates between 25-31C- to then be closed again 15 minutes later and …..back to bed. Just another typical night.

Early this morning I bailed the dinghy, rainwater then used for laundry, and rowed ashore to pick up our fresh bread at the little store. It’ true that French Polynesia is quite expensive, in fact more so than France itself or Sweden for that matter, but that’s really no wonder. Take a look at a world map or G. earth and it becomes clear that there is no place on the planet as remote as here, including Antarctica and the Arctic. What? Did I hit my head or is Mr Alzheimer sneaking up on me?

I define remote in this case as far from major habitated cities and areas.

From here, a flight to France is over 24 hrs, and for Stockholm add a few more. It would be significantly faster from New Zealand for instance. Pretty much everything, except local fruit and fish and small amounts of locally bred pork is imported. Lots from France naturally, but also from NZ, Aus, China, and South America and the US too, mainly for fruits and veggies. Though the surface area of FrPol is as big as Western Europe, the land area is infinitely small in comparison, a few hundred atolls and then the ‘bigger’ islands of volcanic origin. On top of that the interior of the volcanic islands is mostly inaccessible do to the topography and dense vegetation. To support the 250′ inhabitants, import is absolutely necessary.

Fortunately, living on our home afloat, we do not spend much except for food, and that’s not likely going to ruin even the poorest.

Back to my morning bread run, it’s so nice that here,like in France,the bread is subsidized making the pleasure of not expensive, fresh bread available to everyone. On the beach while returning to my dinghy I met a local guy who was cooling off in the water an had a chat with him before rowing back to Nanna for breakfast. Small, simple pleasures…after coffee I climbed aloft to reeve the spinnaker halyard, it’s been out since I left for Sweden last year in order to protect it from the tropical sun. Since then, we’ve mostly sailed to windward so no need for it. Now I am dreaming of a leisurely nightly cruise under spinnaker to Huahine in a few days, we’ll see how it works out.

´Comme d’habitude’ (as usual) we’ll do a swimming/diving session before lunch and then another in the afternoon, also simple pleasures, making it so easy to feel gooood here!

All for now/Magnus

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