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Mico Verde

To read about our Pacific Ocean crossing to the Marquesas, click here.

Season Three: South Pacific

For our journals in sequential order, read from the bottom up or use these links to jump around the page. When you reach the end of an entry, click on the "Next journal entry" hyperlink to go to the following entry.

June 25 - Rangiroa, Tuamotus

July 7 - Tahiti

July 17 - Tahiti

July 20 - Tahiti

July 31 - Moorea

August 8 - Huahine

August 12 - Taha'a

August 17 - Bora Bora

August 21 - Bora Bora

August 23 - Bora Bora

August 29 - Bora Bora

September 1-9, Passage to Suvorov

September 9, Suvorov

September 14, Suvorov

Suvorov (Suwarrow), Northern Cook Islands
September 14, 2005

(Steph) We are having the most amazing time here. We both agree that this has been the highlight of our cruising experience to date. It's almost indescribable, but I'll try.

First of all, Suvorov is like a Leisure World for cruisers. It's like an all-inclusive Club Med, with the exception that you BYOB. Everyone anchors off aptly named Anchorage Island, which becomes the social Mecca for everyone. Hammocks abound around the island, so at any time you can sneak off on your own to nap or read a book. There is a sandy beach on the lagoon side of the island, where volleyball games are scheduled daily and you can go for a dip whenever you feel. On the ocean side, you can snorkel amongst some totally untainted coral and mingle with sea turtles and a variety of sharks. Every two nights or so, John and Veronica, the warden and his wife, invite everyone to a fish barbecue. Everyone brings a potluck and we all sit around for hours talking and eating (and for us, this was a highlight, because we are seriously down to about a cup of rice and one package of spaghetti. We have absolutely no appetite for any of the food we have left on this boat, so the potlucks have been quite the stroke of luck). Daily activities include field trips to various deserted motus, fishing trips, snorkeling, and just plain lying around.

A trip out to one of the uninhabited motus, with great snorkeling and fishing off the reef.

John and Veronica hosting one of many nightly beach gatherings

Sushi night with friends

The only thing missing was chopsticks

Not only is it a magical place, but we managed to time our stay with some other great boats. We knew a few when we arrived, but have made many new friends. We are by no means ageist, but most of the cruisers we've met have had at least 20 years on us. Don't get me wrong, we've made some great friends. But meeting people around our own age has been pretty rare, and is almost always an occasion to become instant friends when we do encounter each other. Anyway, for some strange reason, a bunch of boats here have crews of people in their 30s. So volleyball games have been lively and spearfishing trips have been exciting (or maybe you could say death-defying, as we were eagerly escorted from their territory by three very assertive grey reef sharks).

We'll be sorry to go.

New friends we hope to see again                

 

Woj just turned 31 this week. Not a bad place to spend a birthday. Year 30 was pretty good to him and he even managed to meet his goal of starting the cruise before his thirties.

More Suwarrow photos courtesy of SY Skardu (Mark and Quinton):

Weach Wollley-ball!!

The anchorage at Suwarrow

The name of the drink was "Skardu" and it Skar-did the trick

Anchorage island beach

Suwarrow yacht club

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Suvorov (Suwarrow), Northern Cook Islands
September 9, 2005

(Steph) Lying at anchor at last! Our friends here were eager to hear why we had arrived in Suvorov so soon -- they all knew we had planned to go to Penrhyn first. After telling them our tale, we heard about what a treasure they had found here in Suvorov. My first priority was going for a swim. After eight days at sea, I was ready to clean up a bit and get off the dang boat! I had heard that reef sharks abound here, and was a little nervous about swimming amongst them, but my eagerness to get in the water was stronger than my trepidation. The water was a wonderful temperature (warmer than in the Societies, because we're closer to the equator here) and clear as a bell. I only saw one shark, 2-3 feet, very far away. Big deal! Once I had given the all-clear, Woj decided to jump in too. Sigh ... I wish Woj didn't make me do all the dangerous stuff.

We had lunch, put the boat away, and then went on a snorkeling trip with our friends from sv Tandem. Next, a sun shower with fresh water. Showers are quite the event for those of us without a watermaker. Clean hair is a luxury, and even more appreciated after an eight-day passage! Then we went to shore to check in with the warden and for some volleyball and bocce ball with fellow cruisers.

Check-in was extremely relaxed. A few other boats were checking in simultaneously, so we all sat around John's (the warden) outdoor kitchen table to fill out the paperwork while chatting. Several cruisers who had been around for a few days were making themselves at home in the open-air kitchen, and joking with John and his wife. We played games until sundown and were happy to finally lay down to a full night's sleep.

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Passage to Suvorov, via Penrhyn
September 1-9, 2005

(Steph) Weather kept us in Bora Bora for about a week longer than we planned -- first, almost three straight days of a maa'ramu (a weather event pretty specific to French Polynesia in which you get 24-48 hours of sustained 30 knot winds, with gusts up to 50), then, three days of no wind at all. We were itching to go, so when winds started to increase on the third day of the calm, we were among the first of many boats to leave that had been waiting for weather. We were headed for Penrhyn, one of the northernmost of the Cook Islands, 600 miles NW of Bora Bora. We expected the trip to take 4-5 days.

The first 48 hours were uncomfortable, as both of us were seasick. We were worn out with fatigue and weakness from lack of food save a few crackers, white rice and Top Ramen held down over the course of a few days. That physical state led to the climax of our seasickness escapade, when we took down our drifter headsail (a big, light air sail) and hanked on the genoa. After about 30 minutes, we finally made it back to the cockpit where we both erupted in a fit of barfing. Let me tell you, it does nothing to get nausea under control when someone is heaving his guts out about a foot away from you. Sadly, the epilogue to that event is that we ended up with a huge rip in the genoa. We had decided to give ourselves a break and not haul up the genoa quite yet, and just let the boat go slow for a bit so we could have a rest. Part of the sail washed into the water and the weight of the water rent a giant, 8-foot rip in it. Just another project for American Samoa!

Finally, we were getting close. We expected to arrive in Penrhyn in the morning. Woj woke me around 8 a.m. with some unwelcome news: "Steph, I don't think we're going to be able to get into Penrhyn. I made a navigational mistake." It turned out that the prevailing winds in the area are Northeasterlies. The entrance to the atoll is on the southwest side of the island. Woj had taken us along the south of the island, with the intent of heading in to the entrance from there and avoing Flying Venus Reef on the windward side during the night. The problem with that was we'd be headed northeast into northeasterly wind and seas. Right on the nose. I was so disappointed -- I insisted we make the attempt anyway. After three hours of beating into the seas and wind, we decided to give up and just head for Suvorov, another 300 miles south. I suppose we could have fallen off and attempted to round the atoll around the east and the north, get into the lee in the west, and then have an easier time of attempting the entrance, but it would have meant another 24 hours in order to enter in daylight. Just turning around and heading downwind for a bit, on a comfortable sail, sounded so much nicer. So, we missed our chance to see Penrhyn.

Three days later, we were in line to to enter the pass at Suvorov. It was 9:30 a.m., a perfect time to enter the atoll with the tide and the daylight on our side. A huge squall line came through just then, and we decided to heave-to while it passed, so we could enter with better visibility. We were very frustrated. Woj said to me, "We could just go to American Samoa." (Another 300 miles away.) I looked at him and said matter-of-factly, "F$*& that, dude. It is only 9:30 in the morning. We have until 2:30 when the light starts going. If we can't make it into Suvorov in 5 hours' time, then we can head for American Samoa. We are NOT giving up this time!"

Shortly thereafter, we made it in with no problems at all. We got a great spot to anchor (recommended to us by three different boats who were all happy to see us), and were soon tucked in comfortably inside this gorgeous, remote atoll. Suvorov (also known as Suwarrow) is also part of the Cook Islands, but is a nature reserve. The only people who live here are the warden and his wife. The only people that visit are those that come by boat. We feel very lucky to be one of the few hundred people a year who experience this place.

(wojo) The pass to Suvorov is actually a lot more straightforward than it appears on the chart (of which, the NZ version is absolutely dead on). Follow the route laid out in Charlie's Charts with according bearings. The water is deep near the island and the east shoal is easy to note due to the large breakers. Come nearly straight in 'til you clearly ID South Reef. You can use Entrance Island on the south end of the atoll as a range. We chose the deep water route to the east of South Reef (see chart below) but the west side is wide and deep enough to pass safely as well. The biggest key is finding the reefs as you enter the pass. Even without perfect light you'll see slicks and small wave breaks over them.

Chart plan of the Suvorov pass (the anchorage is just to the left of Anchorage Island)

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Bora Bora, Society Islands
August 29, 2005

(wojo) Yesterday was one of those days where I wish I’d simply stayed stayed in the forepeak and finished reading Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Things started out innocently enough. We dropped the hook the day before behind motu Topua which is one of the most gorgeous and calm spots we’ve found yet. Around noon we pulled up the hook to head around the north of the motu to take on fuel at the dock near Vaitape. As soon as we were out of the lee of the motu the blast of the thirty knot maara’mu winds hit us. Didn’t I read something about this in my weather faxes last night? No big deal, we’re getting more accustomed to being in a lot of wind most of the time and besides we were completely within the lagoon. Still in lots of wind we dropped the hook in eleven fathoms near the fuel dock and I took the dinghy over for a few gallons. It was not fun loading the full jerry jugs into the dink with three foot wind waves at the sea wall.

We transferred the fuel and were quickly back underway, this time back to the south of the island for Bloody Mary’s to take a mooring. Picking up a mooring would allow us pull lots of our heavy 3/8’’ chain back to the secondary storage locker to keep the weight off the ends of the boat (better performance and easier on the crew). After spotting an available mooring, we cruised in and were right on track. Our usual procedure is to have Steph at the helm and to put the boat alongside the ball to windward. Everything was going fine in the 30-35 knot gusts and I grabbed the pickup line for the mooring. Mico then started to drift away a bit and I was holding onto the line with the boat hook like “desperate Dan.” In lighter winds, if the pickup doesn’t go perfectly well I can usually manhandle things to get at least one line on the boat and then make some adjustments. Not this time …

The next thing I knew, the boat hook has been wrenched from my hands and is disappearing into the deep. It’s wood, so I knew that I'd get it back … eventually. I then noticed that the boat was heading right over the mooring, and I tried to motion for Steph to go to neutral but it was too late … BAM!! I knew exactly what had happened from the buzzing sound of the low oil pressure alarm. We just sucked the mooring line into the propeller and it killed the engine stone dead. I was thinking, "OK, now what?!” I did have a backup plan, right? Knowing that we were only seconds from getting blown hard aground right on the nasty reef only twenty meters away, I ran to the bow and dropped 40 meters of chain faster than anytime in my life. I was hoping this would hold us while my mind went to the other matter of the line in the prop.

In the next thirty seconds, I put on my dive mask and fins, grabbed a good knife and dove over the side to assess the damage. I cut the float pickup line free, and the boat started moving away at a good clip in the 30-knot breeze. I quickly jumped in the dinghy and tied her alongside as tightly as possible. With Steph at the helm we were able to make just enough steerage with the little 5HP Tohatsu (glad we fixed it earlier in the week!) to move the boat back to the mooring to get a line on. This took about four or five tries and we knew we weren't out of the woods yet, but at least the anchor was holding.

Eventually we tied up to the ball and I fretfully started to check out the engine. Luckily, only the pickup line had wrapped, and we had been saved from total disaster by a plastic milk jug. The worst wrap one can get is when a small diameter rope gets wrapped extremely tightly. The wrap itself kills the engine, and in the process perhaps the gearbox and shaft as well. A bad wrap can mean having to slip the shaft to get the line out. A really bad wrap can pull the engine from its mounts (just ask our friends on R Factor what can happen). In this case however, the line was attached to a milk jug serving as a float that slammed into the aperture for the prop with enough force to shut things down before more damage could occur. In the end, the only damage was to the zinc, which needed replacing anyway. With relief, we settled back for some serious decompression.

Ha Ha! The story doesn’t end here, however. As we were having our own little debacle fighting the mooring ball, a big cruising catamaran was departing Bloody Mary’s. Not more than an hour later we started getting reports of a cat named Sylvester which was now sinking! We knew it was the same one and got on the VHF to let people know when they’d departed – it seemed that although it was known they were now sinking, no one knew exactly where they were at the moment. My immediate paranoid thought was that they’d just headed out of the pass, probably lost power and gone on the reef – outside. If this was the case, someone with some expertise needed to get out there and start looking for people in the water. I talked to Vito on Wanderer and we decided that I’d issue a pan-pan (non-life threatening distress call) to the local authority.

I chatted with the gendarme, in French, for about fifteen minutes on channel 16 letting them know the situation. Eventually they just got more and more confused and finally asked me, in English, “uh sir, what do you want?” The eventually seemed to understand, but didn't seem to care much. Luckily, another friend on sv Tandem contacted me just that moment to let me know that they’d actually seem Sylvester heading north ‘round motu Topua just an hour ago. This was good as it meant they were not heading for the pass and were still inside the lagoon. Ted decided to take off in the 30-knot winds and head around the other side of the motu and try to find them. There were numerous break-ins during our conversations with people on the north side of the motu letting us know that they could see all the way down south and that this was a waste of time and just a wild goose chase. Ted sped away anyway.

Half and hour later I received a call from the admiral (Sue) on sv Tandem, saying, “Oh my gawd, we found them!” Sylvester had been moored in front of a five-star hotel on the west side of Topua when they were asked to leave. As they were moving out, they backed down on the dink painter (bad day for props) and lost the engine. Not being able to maneuver on only one engine, they soon hit a big coral head and started taking on a lot of water. The crew of Tandem (Ted and Sue) were able to help them get their dagger boards up and find a clear spot on the beach to perform a quick haul out. They patched up with some loaner underwater epoxy and were back in the water a few hours later with the leak down to a trickle. Phew.

Sunset behind motu Topua with sv Precious Mettle

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Bora Bora, Society Islands
August 23, 2005

(wojo) The past few days have been very interesting and entertaining. We've made tons of new friends and every evening has been an opportunity to spend time with old ones as we all get ready to head on to the next set of islands to the west.

It's also been an exercise in frustration since the outboard packed it in last weekend. Scott (from Tournesol), Steph and I decided to head across the one mile channel at the south of Bora to do some snorkeling in a well known spot just off the big motu. After we'd rounded everyone up and stowed the gear we started zooming off. Not long after Steph broke the rules and stated to Scott, "Don't be surprised if you have to swim back ..." Within five minutes something had broken on the outboard and the flywheel would only spin wildly under even a slight load.

After numerous discussions with our local friends and neighbors we came to the conclusion that we probably lost the sheer pin on the prop. Upon examination we found that our little Tohatsu doesn't have a sheer pin but rather a spline-drive-hub set. It's amusing now, but people tried extremely hard to explain how this setup works and I just never seemed to get it. I assumed that we had something different going on with the outboard.

Introducing Jim from sv Intention. He dropped by to say hello after we'd anchored near him off of the main town of Vaitape. We were planning to head into town to inquire about outboard mechanics here in the most expensive of the Polynesian islands. I quickly ensnared him in our problems like I had many before him, but for some reason he was able to verbalize the spline-drive rubber issues like no one else had. Upon next removal of the prop I understood what he was talking about and spotted the problem immediately. (The spline in the prop is designed to detach itself from the surrounding rubber when you hit something. This saves the outboard drive shaft but destroys the prop.)

Fifteen minutes later we rowed 100 yards over to the local chandlery to ask if they could fix the prop or could order us a new one. We met Jim onshore again and he said, "Come with me. I know a couple people who might be able to help out." At the chandlery we met a gringo who'd lived in French Poly for the last 25 years and knew everything and everyone in the boat biz here! He just called up the Tohatsu dealer in Papeete in perfect French. They had the exact prop we needed, and they could even get it over to Bora the next morning. Everything worked out beautifully -- this kind of thing never happens. It's kinda spooky, actually.

Today we fitted the new prop, took if for a spin and everything is OK with the universe again.

(Steph) Last night we invited Jim, our outboard savior, over for a few celebratory cold beers. Sv Precious Mettle pulled into the anchorage later, so Woj eagerly invited them to join in the happy hour. He loves their 68' aluminum boat. As we were stuffed into our cockpit, the young couple from sv Chardonnay buzzed by, so we called them over to join us for a few.

We haven't met so many new people since we first pulled into Hiva Oa, our first port of call in the Marquesas. There is a more social vibe here, as people realize after leaving French Polynesia they may not see many of these boats again, or at least for a long while. From here, many boats are heading for either the southern or northern Cook Islands (rarely both), while some are going straight for places like Niue, Samoa or Tonga. And most boats feel like they have to choose between Fiji or Tonga, without being able to visit both. The choice of destination definitely starts to vary as we continue west.

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Bora Bora, Society Islands
August 21, 2005

(Steph) This morning we said a sad final farewell to the crew of sv Tequila. We were able to spend a couple more days (and of course nights at Bloody Mary's) together before they departed for Fiji. I'm not saying that Woj is a bad influence, but within two days of Mico leaving Tahiti, Quinn had the gearbox, generator, batteries and alternator all working again. (wojo) Hey I'm an expert at holding the flashlight.

Tournesol and Novia invited us to spend a day at the beach with them. We've never hung out at the beach in the entire year we've been cruising. I guess there's a first time for everything. It was a lovely, cloudless day, with just enough breeze to keep the heat from overwhelming us. Swimming and Scrabble kept us busy for the afternoon.

Later in the evening we were invited over to sv Nike for drinks. I'd been eager to meet this crew, as they're the first boat from Ireland we've seen out here. They're a lovely family from north of Dublin, with two young kids. The kids are probably the most charming kids we've ever met -- Woj described them as hypnotic. And they're also excellent bartenders! Nike also has another crew member on board, Graham from Aberdeen, Scotland. He was pretty horrified to hear I've been to Aberdeen before. He's also Tom Cruise's doppelganger.

This is what every public beach should look like

Beach Scrabble with Tournesol and Novia

Mico at rest off Bloody Mary's

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Bora Bora, Society Islands
August 17, 2005

(Steph) We've finally made it to Bora Bora, our last stop in French Polynesia. It's a strange feeling to be here. First of all, it is the most touristy of all the islands here in French Polynesia, so many interactions we've had with locals have been tainted with a "you're a tourist, I know what you're all about" kinda vibe. And every cruiser we meet on the street wants to know where we're heading next. It's hard to live in the moment here -- we feel like a significant part of our journey is over, so rather than focus on the present and all of the wonderful things here on Bora Bora, I find myself planning for the future.

But it hasn't been all bad. We've still managed to get picked up by nice people while hitch hiking. And other people we know were treated to freshly opened coconuts when thirsty on a hiking trail. Although, I can see how some locals can become exasperated with tourists. While we were in the gendarmerie, getting our official departure papers, a woman came in and rather than wait in line for her turn, just started yelling over the heads of other customers, "Can I get a driver's license as a souvenir? I heard I could get a driver's license!" The gendarme politely told her that no, it was not possible here on Bora Bora, and she then made some snide exit comment. So, I guess I can understand some of the locals' assumptions about tourists. I just hate to be lumped in with those with bad behavior.

Back to recent events of the more uplifting kind. Our friends on Tournesol joined us in Taha'a on Saturday night, so we enjoyed a pleasant dinner at L'Hibiscus restaurant together. Our first parrot fish! It was delicious, but both Woj and I had a pang of regret when seeing these gorgeous fish that we have often admired while snorkeling served up grilled on a plate. We both left on Monday morning for the 35-mile trek to Bora Bora.

Tournesol is having engine issues, so they try to sail as much as possible. We happily turned on our engine in the light winds, so we managed to arrive in the anchorage two hours ahead of them. Unfortunately, they arrived at the entrance to the pass right at sunset. Sunset around here is not a long, prolonged period of light-dwindling twilight. It's pretty much dark within 20 minutes of the sun setting behind the horizon. By the time they came into range of the anchorage, it was totally dark. We offered to guide them through the anchorage and help them find an anchoring spot. After about 30 minutes of that, we realized there wasn't a spot for them to drop the hook. It's an incredibly deep anchorage, with only a thin shelf of depths around 60 feet, and there was no space available. So, Woj and I offered to let them raft up for the night. It was a little nerve-wracking, but it went off without a hitch.

Mico and Tournesol after a good night's sleep

The next day, Woj and I managed to get all our administrative tasks done. We officially checked out, which basically means we are now here illegally. But officials here aren't too stringent, so most boats hang out here for a bit to wait for some good weather before heading off to points farther west. Our visas were soon due to expire, so we had to check out to avoid a fine. We also received mail from home. Hurray! Woj and I both got Teva sandals, Woj got new shorts and some tools, and we both got new DVDs. My mom told me it was our Christmas present, just a few months early. Thanks Mom and Dad!

In the afternoon, we went to the Bora Bora Yacht Club for happy hour. When we chartered a boat here four years ago, we spent an afternoon at the BBYC sharing beers with friends. Then, it was a sleepy little bar with a few reeeeally drunk Frenchmen and tons of burgees hanging from the rafters. It was a pretty run-down place, but affectionately visited by cruisers the world over. At some point, it changed ownership, and now it's a posh restaurant that provides services to cruisers at a hefty price. Showers are the equivalent of $10. They also charge for water. This is the first place in all of French Polynesia we've encountered that charges for water. I guess that's Bora Bora for you.

Today we got to have some fun again. Woj desperately wanted to climb Mt. Pahia, the famous peak that distinguishes the Bora Bora silhouette from all other tropical isles. Scott and Pam from Tournesol were eager to join us, and they brought with them the three crew of Novia. The seven of us enthusiastically started up the trail, chatting away. Soon we were silently concentrating on climbing up the trail, which was basically a straight line to the peak. Switchbacks were apparently a foreign idea to the original trailblazers. Roots, tree branches and outcroppings of volcanic rock were eagerly pointed out to those people in the rear as a good place to get hand holds or foot holds. In four different places along the trail, long lengths of rope had been left to aid in climbing an almost vertical stretch of rock and dirt.

Three and a half hours later, four of us made the summit. Three had decided to turn back. For me, personally, it was quite a struggle to make it to the top. It was definitely the most difficult hike I've ever done. I'm not as physically fit as I used to be when I had a gym to visit regularly, but I think I still would have found it difficult then. Woj, Scott, James (from Novia), and I were triumphant.

A view worth the harrowing climb to the top of Mt Pahia

Just another one of the incredible views

James, Scott and Steph. We are so awesome.

After 45 minutes or so of enjoying the incredible panoramic view around the island and its lagoon, we started down. Woj was in the lead, but after about 30 minutes James replaced him. At the rear, I dutifully followed along. At one point, I voiced a nagging suspicion that we were no longer on the trail, but without confirmation from my three compatriots, I decided I must be wrong. But soon, I realized definitively that we were off the trail. We were sliding down slopes that would have been near impossible to climb up -- there was no way we took this route on the way up. But rather than turn back and find the trail, I was outvoted and we pressed on.

Eventually, we made our way to a dry creek bed. At this point, James was still at the lead, and every once in a while he would try to go bushwacking into some forested area, but I was pretty adamant at this point that it would be foolish to leave the creek. It was incredibly difficult terrain to maneuver in -- dried coconuts littered the ground, and tree branches we used for support were so dry that they'd break in two with the lightest touch. I was pretty much seething with anger and getting more and more physically uncomfortable. We'd been out of water since the summit, and the only indicator that we might be nearing civilization was the altimeter on Scott's watch. Every 10 minutes or so, we'd ask for a report on how many feet we'd descended. Now, I may have been annoyed, thirsty, and tired, but just imagine how Scott (who we've mentioned is legally blind) must have felt. But he was such a great sport about it all. Tripping over coconuts, scraped knees, covered in dust -- an outside observer would never have been able to pick out a difference between Scott and the rest of us "sighted" people. There were a lot of jokes about the blind leading the blind and so forth when we were trying to figure out who originally lead us off the trail.

Eventually, though, we gratefully made it to civilization. We wandered through a farm and eventually through a woman's backyard. She offered us water and we greedily slurped down many glasses. After that, it was a quick walk down to the main road, a thumb out, and a ride back into town. We were only thirty minutes behind the group of three who had turned back! Without injury and with a happy ending, we can already look back at that experience and laugh.

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Taha'a, Society Islands
August 12, 2005

(Wojo) I can't believe our visas will expire in only four days! These three months have gone by incredibly fast and we'll be sad to leave French Poly and will look forward to coming back again someday soon.

But we're not done yet ... We had a good sail over from Huahine on Tues but as usual lately we had to beat the entire way. We're now in Haamene Bay on the little island of Taha'a just North of Raiatea. We enjoyed a visit here last time round. There's a little pension in the bay called Hibiscus run by a guy named Leo. He splits his time between host and also running a preservation program for sea turtles. He buys turtles that have been caught in fishermen's nets, rehabilitates them, and then sends them along with cruisers in the bay to be released off the reef. He also has free moorings outside his place, which is good since most of the bay is in over 100' of water.

Yesterday we took our trusty little dinghy Bonobo on another long excursion. This time across the grand banks to Raiatea (about five miles each way). We tried to find a local chandlery that sells courtesy flags for our upcoming island groups but to no luck. We did meet several friends we'd not seen for awhile during our visit to the village of Uturoa. The ride looks like a very long trip on the chart but it's completely protected behind the reef, although you definitely don't want to get hit by a squall while heading upwind between the islands.

The reef between Raiatea and Taha'a

We had a little scare yesterday that our oven may have finally kicked the bucket but it's managed to pull through. Here's a tip about using cooking gas while in Polynesia: bring enough propane to make it to Tahiti. If you can then you'll be able to bring in your tanks to any Mobil gas station on a Friday morning and pick them up full on Monday. Otherwise you'll need to get butane like the rest of us. We've been using it for months and most of the time things work the same except that butane seems to generate much more carbon build up than its propane cousin. This means that you need to regularly clean your pilot light assembly in the oven or it will gradually pack it in and make lighting your oven a nightmare.

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Huahine, Society Islands
August 8, 2005

(Wojo) We've finally crossed over to the leeward group of Society islands. The overnight sail from Moorea was very pleasant in winds never more than seven knots out of the NW. It took us a bit longer but we still managed to sail 60 of the 90 miles.

It was wonderful to raise the peaks on Huahine the next morning as this had been our favorite island when we visited the group four years ago. We motored around the west side and dropped the hook just before the village of Fare in 10 fathoms. There are two passes which lead almost directly to the little village and are both well marked and very wide.

We set the boat to rights and took it easy for the rest of day with only a quick stop on land to get a pizza at one of the many roulottes on the quay.

The next day we rented a scooter from Eurocar and set off to see the island. It was surprising to see how little everything had changed in our absence. The only marked difference being that now there are these annoying little green signs in French and English that mark all the touristy stops like the lookout and famous sacred blue-eyed eels (which are huge!). We also learned about a 'secret' anchorage (it's probably in the newest Charlie's Charts) to the south of Huahine Iti in a bay called Avea. It's heaven down there and we'd have headed straight for it if we knew it existed when we arrived. There's also an excellent pension right on the beach overlooking the bay were you can get reasonably priced traditional Polynesian dishes.

We stayed on for a couple of days and enjoyed making new friends and lots of good snorkeling just behind the boat. One day while playing in the water we decided to swim over and introduce ourselves to our neighbors on sv Tournesol (French for sunflower). We'd shared quite a few anchorages with them but somehow hadn't met them yet. So we met Scott and Pam who are embarking on a 'round the world trip but with a twist. They're both legally blind. This really put many things into perspective for Steph and I. They're a great couple and we enjoyed quite a few pitchers of cold Hinano with them later at happy hour. They had planned on skipping Tahaa, but we may have talked them into experiencing the excellent restaurant and turtle rehabilitation center in Haamene Bay on Tahaa. We hope they'll join us.

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Moorea, Society Islands
August 4, 2005

(Steph) Moorea is a vortex that will not let you go. Despite the fact that our visas here in French Polynesia expire in only 12 days, we are still sitting here in picturesque Cook's Bay. The funny thing is that the weather has been so icky that we've not had much else to do besides exchange DVDs and share homemade soup with our new acquaintances on sv Oliva Hela out of Vancouver, B.C. Despite all the rain we've had, however, we have managed to get out to see the island when the clouds give us a break. Here's a recap:

Scooters! Or rather, I should say, scooter! One of our favorite ways to see these tiny islands is to rent a scooter for a day and chug around to see all the sites. The scooter managed to climb a rocky dirt road up to see some marae, former dwellings of the ancient Polynesians.

Moto-dork rides again.

Steph and marae. This is the last marae picture we will subject you to.

We circumnavigated the island and stopped at a pineapple juice factory to sample their wares. You'd think they would have plied us with pineapple juice, but instead kept a steady supply of liqueur samples coming our way. Coconut, coffee, and vanilla aperitifs were appreciated, as was "Tahiti Drink", a tropical fruit juice mixture with a good percentage of alcohol. We were a little nervous to hop back on our scooter after that, but we managed to keep upright.

With an hour and a half of daylight left, I insisted that we attempt to view one of two waterfalls. Woj drove me as far on the scooter as possible, and then left me to my own devices. Apparently, riding on the back of the scooter all day is much less tiring than the driver's position. With waning light, I started my hike. I could soon see the waterfall in the distance, so steadily marched on until I made my destination. It was a lovely waterfall, although without a deep pool at the bottom. I told Woj he didn't miss anything (although to everyone else, I'll say it was a nice hike and would have been a great waterfall to stand under for a gentle, massaging shower).

The waterfall Woj will never experience.

The next day we drove our dinghy 13 short miles roundtrip to catch a sighting of the elusive stingray. These mystical creatures are quite a rarity to behold. Okay, just kidding, they're just big puppy dogs waiting for handouts. When we reached the spot, I jumped out in 4 feet of water to tie the dinghy to a rock, and about four of them came at me at top speed to see if I had any snacks. Alarmed, I tried to catapult myself back into the dinghy, but these particular stingrays are so tame that no harm could come from them. We were able to pet them as they swam up to us. A strange touch sensation -- they are buttery leather-soft, but are quite solid. No mushy flesh on these guys. They're all muscle. Sorry, we didn't get any photos.

That night was date night, the first we've had in a very long time. We went out for a nice meal and enjoyed ourselves for hours over some great French cuisine.

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Moorea, Society Islands
July 31, 2005

(Wojo) After three weeks(!) in the Tahiti lagoon we've finally cut the lines and moved over to Moorea. We were fortunate enough to even have crew for this leg. [the lovely] Cameron, [the mighty] Quinn and [the tiny] Dulce signed on for the 20 nm sail to Cook's Bay. This little trip is usually ideal in SE trade conditions but a low was passing through at the time and it was basically an uphill bash all the way 'round the NW point of the island.

Cameron and Dulce onboard Mico

The pass to the bay is very easy to negotiate with two reds and two greens to guide you in. We dropped the hook inside the reef around 1630 and settled back for an evening of rum punches and Scrabble (Quinn and Cameron tied for first place).

The Tequila crew really deserved a day off. They've been working way too hard the past few weeks getting the boat back together for the passage to Fiji. The gearbox issues have been diagnosed and she should be turning again by early next week. Though they've proved everyone wrong and have been skillfully sailing in and out of every imaginable anchorage, including the Tuamotus (Steph interjection: yeah, everywhere but in Tahiti where they finally pushed their luck too far and went up on some coral heads. It only took eight or so dinghies to pull them off). Quinn is still planning to write up the complete adventures of Tequia and crew from the past two years. I keep threatening to do it if he doesn't get started soon!

We turned in pretty early around 2230 and just as everyone had fallen asleep, about a half hour later, we were rocked by a 40 knot squall! This is the biggest one we've ever been in to date, bigger than anything we'd seen in the ITCZ! Conditions weren't too bad however since we had the island and the reef to keep the seas down but what a racket with the wind in the rigging! We managed to hold our ground and some smaller squalls hit us in the later part of the night but I didn't even bother to get up for those after the big one.

The next morning the wind had changed from NE to S, the boat swung and I quickly realized that although we'd dropped anchor in 55 feet we were now in 7. The anchor had held through the night but there's a very steep shelf before the reef. It meant that we could almost step right off the boat to the good snorkeling in the morning.

Around noon we piled into little Bonobo and headed deep into the bay to the little village for lunch. There's a very good French/Pizza shop called Alfredo's near the fuel dock. We were seated right behind the Kiwi crew of sy Why Not and chatted them up incessantly about all the details of the crossing from Tonga to NZ, their backyard. After lunch it was nearly time for the Tequila crew to start making their way back to Tahiti. We said our goodbyes for now and they hitched rides around the corner of the island to the Tahiti/Moorea ferries. It's a 30 min ride across for only about $8.

Quiet sunset in Cook's Bay

This morning the boat was strangely quiet ... but we decided to check out the neighboring bay near the Club Med by dinghy. There's a narrow pass between the two bays that has some spectacular scenery but it was too wet a ride this time around for photos.

Lovely Moorea

BTW -- the lovely Mel from Seattle was kind enough to send us pics from her visit to Mico in Puerto Vallarta last Jan ...

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Tahiti, Society Islands
July 20, 2005

(Steph) Almost back to the business of cruising. We've spent about two weeks here in Papeete. About a week longer than we'd originally hoped, but it's no surprise. After two days of sulking and stressing out that we were not making progress on our various boat projects, I finally took a cue from the skipper and decided to have some fun, too. Most of our time here has been spent shopping, hanging out with our friends on Tequila, seeing the local sights, and eating fast food. But, with only four weeks left on our visas, it's time to get cracking.

Today, Woj further investigated the ongoing hot-engine problem. Having finished most of the projects on my list (ahem), I was elected to go on a hunt for some new hose for the heat exchanger. My journey today was a small-scale version of the hunt for the sail in the Mexican postal system, except I speak a total of about 30 words in French. But, I got the hose for free, so I guess I can't complain. When you can't get out of McDonald's for less than $20, you realize how difficult it is to come by free stuff around here.

Yesterday, our last official day of slacking off, we rented a 4WD car with the crews of Tequila and Dr. John. We went off in search of some lava tubes (geology lesson of the day: lava tubes are formed when a river of lava cools off on the outside, but continues to flow on the inside. Eventually, the flow of lava tapers off, leaving a hollow inside the cooled-off outer layer). After a lovely drive around the northern edge of the island, we got to do some serious mud-slingin', rock-climbin', and tailbone-crunchin' 4-wheel-drivin'. After a few tries down dead-end roads, we found our lava tubes. We hiked through the lava tubes, along a small river. Gorgeous scenery and fun rock-scrambling.

Lava tube, everybody!

The group during our hike: Steph and Woj on the left, Quinn, Cameron, and Steven of Tequila, Maddie and Courtney of Dr. John, Eric of Tequila

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Tahiti, Society Islands
July 17, 2005

(Wojo) I have a theory that the world would be a very different place if life back "home" was more like cruising. It would actually be a very simple process to get things moving in the right direction. There are two keys to making it happen.

Step one is to initiate pot lucks in every neighborhood. Everyone loves 'em but no one ever seems to be the one that puts out the call to the neighbors. It's hard to be a bastard in your 'hood when you can put a name to every face you see.

Step two (a bit more grandiose) is to start a grass roots program where every American is required to become fluent in at least two other languages. I'm convinced that a huge portion of the world's problems, especially America versus everyone else, are due to misunderstandings due to language issues. When you travel you see this all the time. For example, the French are widely regarded as being extremely rude but this isn't really the case they just speak enough English to be perceived as such. There are huge differences between French and American cultures. The French are very direct and open about everything and want to give you their opinion at all times. Imagine if you were French and trying to speak English with a tourist. You'd be translating from French in your mind, as best you could, into their native tongue. The result, though often hilarious, can often be misinterpreted as abrubt or coarse.

The past week has been a reenactment of the classic Mico Verde way of planning to do lots of work but having mucho playtime instead. And what a weeks it's been! We're in love with the lagoon here at Marina Taina and can't understand why anyone would ever stay at the quay dowtown unless they really, really had to. This spot has it all: calm anchoring, fresh water and even a Mickey-D's just 100m from the dinghy dock.

We're parked about twenty feet off sv Tequila's stern and have many mornings with very large heads as a result (not their fault!). I can hardly even remember Bastille Day but I do know that Quinn and I had a very good time and somehow came home around four in the morn. I don't think I've recounted the story of sv Tequila yet but I think it will deserve its own entry.

Hinano's la Lagon with The Mighty Quinn (cap't of sv Tequila)

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Tahiti, Society Islands
July 7, 2005

(Wojo) We're currently anchored about a half mile north of Marina Taina on the NW side of Tahiti. We were very sad to leave Rangiroa after our blissful two weeks in utter paradise. It was probably the closest thing we've ever had in the past year to a proper vacation.

Room temperature (at least 80 degrees F) butter is not working for Steph's cookies ...

While on Rangiroa, I finally broke down and decided it was high time to get dive certified. After Steph's very mediocre experience at the big fancy hotel, I was a bit cautious but quickly learned about a little place right off Mico's bow called "The Six Passengers" (the name coming from the fact that they only ever have a max number of six divers per boat). I had three instructional dives in the lagoon at the gorgeous motu nuhi nuhi ("l'aquarium") and two ocean dives. The instructors were very patient and it was all on a one-to-one basis. I did have some pressure, though, as I was going through certification with the 12 year old son off a friend's boat (R Factor). He did everything perfectly and fearlessly and I actually needed a bit of remedial buoyancy lessons in the end!

The ocean dives really opened my eyes to the whole other world that exists under our keel while we're out here. My first was off the Avatoru pass and was around 20 meters deep. The reef from the ocean side was spectacular and dropped off into a 1000 meter abyss at one end. My last dive is what I'd been leading up to in my instruction -- "Le grotto du requin" (aka the shark cave). It consists of being dropped off quite a ways out in the open ocean, heading down to 30 meters (100' feet), swimming with lots of big sharks and then doing a "drift dive" through Tiputa pass. Just an amazing experience ... I wish I'd had an underwater camera to capture some of things we spotted, including sharks, giant barracuda and a very up-close view of a green sea turtle munching coral.

Something even more interesting thing happened at the end of my dive lessons ... One day I just finished putting away all my gear and was milling around the shop and chatting with the guys working there. I'd asked if I could do the shark cave dive later in the day but was told there weren't enough people interested yet and I'd need to wait for tomorrow's tide. As we were talking a young couple showed up and started talking to the staff in French. I immediately thought that I knew the guy from somewhere but couldn't think of where I'd have know him (and he was speaking so well that I assumed he was French).

Then it hit me ... this guy was my former boss while working for Excite.com years ago in Seattle! What a coincidence! He was more than a little surprised as well. The really interesting thing was that he is a serious world traveler (as is his wife) and had definitely played a part in my epiphany (or life-wrecking event, depending on your perspective) that I wanted to see as much of the world as possible, too. They were only on the atoll for a couple of days but beers were enjoyed at the Kia Ora and they were even good enough to make the trip from Avatoru to have some afternoon wine and cheese on Mico. Guys, if you're reading this, send us an email -- we need to get together again soon -- and you've always got a berth here. All of this and I even got to do the shark cave dive with them.

On Tuesday we pulled the hook, happy to get it back, and set off to the pass, at what we thought was the slack. When we were close we stopped and checked everything out with the binoculars and thought there might just be a little swell at the outer entrance. What these actually where was twelve foot rollers breaking heavily on both sides. I'll save everyone from the details but I will say that we were very close to needing much longer visas. I was also nice to know that the engine "works-real-good" at full friggin' blast (3500 RPMs). Oh well, to walk away from one of these is a blessing, especially since you learn so much in the end.

We had a great sail over to Tahiti and arrived in about a day and a half, earlier than planed, so we hove to for a few hours. We entered the pass at Papeete and just as we did a ferry from Moorea blasted right by us at thirty knots inside the 200' clearance --- @#$%!. The trip through the lagoon to Maeva Beach was very pleasant however, and we had some friendly pirouges with us on our stern the whole way.

Looking out over the reef on the way into Tahiti

Anchoring Tequila under dinghy power (don't ask)

After getting the hook down and Bonobo in the water I immediately set out in earnest to fulfill my goal for the last 4000 miles which was to find a McDonald's and gorge myself with abandon. This anchorage is great and has everything -- including a McDonald's right next door! It was delicious if not nutritious and ridiculously expensive but worth every penny ... ahhh ... mission accomplished.

I also vented recently on the subject of boat brokers and how bad the whole boat buying process is now.

It's interesting to checkout the islands the last time we were here four years(!) ago. You can watch the video here.

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Rangiroa, Tuamotus
June 25, 2005

(Steph) This morning started off with my first scuba dive ever. Woj had set my expectations for my first dive, telling me I'd probably watch a video, then take a little test, and learn all sorts of stuff about the gear and how to use it, and sign language to use with my instructor under water. I showed up, he threw some fins and a wet suit at me, told me to make the "OK" signal with my hand when things were good, to make the "so-so" signal with my hand when things were not so good, and we were off. I realized that I was going to get no instruction and was going to go scuba diving with absolutely no training whatsoever. I was a little nervous, especially because my instructor spoke hardly any English at all. Whenever he wanted me to do anything, he would say "Would you like ... ?" and kind of gesture at something until I surmised what he was talking about. Oh, you want me to put on my fins. Gotcha. What if I got the bends? Where is the nearest decompression chamber?

It occurred to me to tell him to forget it and walk away, but I decided to just go with it. We went out to the same place that Woj and I had snorkeled the day before, but this time it was cool because I got to swim down amongst the coral, rather than just observe everything from above. My "instructor" planted my hands down on some coral and had me just hang on while he adjusted all my gear and I got comfortable breathing with the equipment. Then we went on a little swim. He showed me how to feed the fish with little pieces of coral, and we saw a white-tipped reef shark. Another girl who was also on her first dive, so he had to divide his attentions between us both. She had an underwater camera, so he got pretty wrapped up in finding her good shots. I wondered if he was forgetting about me or if he thought I was doing well enough to maneuver on my own. Oh well, I was managing to breathe and not implode my skull, so I guess everything was going well. It was very cool and I would love to do it again, although I think I'd feel safer learning a bit more about the equipment and safety procedures next time.

The mythical coconut crab

After my dive, Woj and I rented bikes and explored this small section of the atoll. We had lunch near a quay where we watched kids fishing and basically mutilating anything they managed to catch  (wojo: the kids did seem to eat most everything they caught, on the spot, eventually). Animals are not precious to the people here, that is for certain.

Tuamotu girls playing kickball on the quay with a puffer fish

We also enjoyed the view of the anchorage. Check out the size of Mico compared to the monster sailboat. The funny thing about this picture is that Mico is closer than the big boat, so Mico is actually smaller in comparison than she appears.

Hey, the view is the same for us both. (wojo: yeah, we get goin' real good if you rev us up on carpet a few times)

After lunch, as we rode along, the lagoon on one side, the reef and the open ocean on the other, we realized it was just about slack tide. The reef walking that Woj had been so keen on the day before might actually have some merit -- it being the lowest of low tide, before the flood, the reef was exposed for about a quarter mile out to sea. The day before, we had tried walking on a tiny bit of exposed reef and just got really wet. Today, I could finally see the appeal of reef walking at the right time. Under the surface, where the reef hadn't been exposed, life was going on as it always does -- fish a-swimmin', crabs a-crawlin'.

Reef walking on Rangiroa.

Our next stop was a black pearl farm, where we watched pearl technicians insert little "seed pearls" into oysters. In two years, the pearls will be harvested. There are numerous pearl farms in the Tuamotus, many of them family-run. A lot of cruisers like to trade stuff for the reject pearls that don't meet market standards. On Rangiroa, at least at this savvy farm, that's not an option. So we paid cash for a few pearls, but at much lower prices than we'll reportedly find in Tahiti.

Pearl technician inserting a seed pearl into a host.

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Rangiroa, Tuamotus
June 23, 2005

(wojo) I don't even know where to begin with this entry. After a very peaceful time in Daniel's Bay we headed back to Taiohae to get ready for the SW passage to the Tuamotus. We made good progress wrapping up nearly 90% of everything we needed to get done in the first two days yet still managed to stay a week. Oh well, at least we managed to get our propane filled (with butane at magasin Bigot up the hill). As reported in the guides the water at Taiohae really is quite bad and the locals will literally beg you not to drink it. We were able to trade for about thirty gallons of crystal clear water "from the source" at Daniel's with the cousin of the namesake (he was super thrilled when I gave him the bonus gift of some puna pua atoro). All tanks topped off and provisions stowed we set off after getting a favorable five day forecast.

Most boats headed this way in the past weeks had extremely light winds and found themselves motoring nearly the whole way (usually around four or five days). For the first four days we had some of the most delightful, enjoyable sailing of our careers. Everything just clicked and we had soft warm downwind sailing at five and half knots ... ahhhh. We thought we had it made until we finally we about thirty miles north of our first stop, Mahini atoll.

A combination of a vigorous high sandwiched between two lows created very strong reinforced tradewinds and we knew just looking out the port lights that we were in for a blow. This was helping our confidence levels of getting into our first real atoll reef pass. Within twelve hours we had twenty five knots of wind and ten to twelve foot seas with these conditions expected to last for the next three days.

Sunrise on passage as the seas build

We arrived off Manihi about two hours after slack water and with an overcast sky and strong winds we decided to heave to for the night and try again the next day. Let me back up a second ... to navigate "safely" through an atoll pass in the Tuamotus you need good light (an hour or two before/after meridian passage for your longitude), slack water since the ebb can run nine knots, a good lookout as high as possible and a bit of luck.

The next morning, beginning to feel a little frustrated we joked about just speeding on in these conditions to Tahiti, but the thought of completely skipping an island group made us even more weary. We were now five days into a long passage and feeling a little worn. Determined to get into Manihi that day we started to beat up the channel between Ahe and Manihi and were thoroughly bashed. The wind really started to pick up and seas built such that even though we made it all the way down the channel, when we were even with the Manihi pass we decided to jibe and headed back out.

We were now feeling very skunked and the weather was not improving. From our position near Manihi it was eightly miles to Rangiroa, a very large atoll at the very western edge of the group and we decided to give it a shot hoping that by the time we made it there conditions may have improved enough to get inside. I don't recall exactly how long it took us to get to Rangiroa that night but I do recall Mico making ten knots down some big waves in thirty knots of wind. I was having the time of my life sailing out there! However, Steph as the usual voice of reason suggested that we be a little more conservative and pull in the big genoa and head downwind with double reefed main and stays'il. I was having too much fun to want to reduce canvas and we paid the price. Finally conditions built enough that I was convinced we needed to reef a bit more deeply and we immediately noticed that we blown the foot out of the genny ... ergh. And to think that we still made six knots with the Hasse stays'il with an easy sail. That foot needed to be replaced soon anyway, right (and now we have an excuse to get the foot line sewn in to stop the flutter that blew it out anyway).

Early the next morning we were on station near Tiputa pass at Rangiroa (Rangi) but we still didn't feel good about heading in ... We decided to give it a day or so, headed out a little farther and once again hove-to to wait. Before this passage we'd only hove-to with Mico once -- and in Puget Sound -- while having dinner with our friends Jeff and Michele! Well it's a good thing that Larry and Lin Pardey have such good diagrams and instructions in their Storm Tactics book. It took some experimentation, but Mico hove-to beautifully, producing a good slick, just by dropping the headsail and setting the tiller about twenty degrees to leeward.

The day hove-to was actually pretty comfortable. We lounged around in the big seas and hoped for the best. At one point I'd been playing with the tiller shock cords a bit and headed us down wind a little too much, causing us to lose our slick and forereach and went below. Within about five minutes Mico was struck by the biggest wave she's ever taken on. There had been only whitehorses all day that I'd seen and no overhanging (breaking), dangerous waves but this one was definitely an exception, bordering on "freak" wave. The wave broke completely over the top sides of the boat and water gushed in through the closed hatches. I don't even want to think about how much water would have been below had we had our usual arrangement employed with all hatches open, including the companionway.

After the big wave we resumed our proper hove-to position and never had another worry. The next day (day seven of a once four-day passage) we woke at 0400 to beat the thirty miles back to the atoll to get back on station for the slack tide at 1130. We arrived at Avatoru pass (the secondary pass for the atoll which is west of Tiputa pass) within ten minutes of our predicated slack, cinched up our undies and went for it.

Steph was on the bowsprit (she has terrific eyesight) and guided us between the reefs and markers in fine style. Due to all the water blasting through the passes the previous days we didn't have quite slack water with about a one and a half knot ebb, not bad. There were all sorts of small standing waves, rips, eddies and slicks on the way in and it was the most exciting ten minutes we've ever had -- a very real, tangible sensation of "What next?"

The colors around the pass were spectacular and I've never seen anything like them. Even with the sun behind a passing cloud "eyeball" navigation was still fairly strong through the lagoon. After turning east through the pass we beat three miles up the lagoon to a good anchorage, sheltered from the SE trades, off the Kia Ora hotel in the bight.

We poked around a little trying to spot coral heads that might snag the rode and settled down on the hook. What a relief ... We even managed to get the boat put away within a couple of hours. Our friends from sv Bianca were next door and were kind enough to ferry us over to the hotel bar for some much needed cold drinks (we didn't manage to get Bonobo in the water yet).

... What a difference a day makes ... The fax for the next day had predicted less than five knots of wind and we, needless to say, were somewhat skeptical. But it was completely spot on and thus began a truly perfect day in the South Pacific.

After breakfast we fired up Bonobo and headed over to "the aquarium" off a motu near Tiputa pass which was reputed by the dive shops as some of the best skin diving on the atoll. There are even moorings to take as to not damage the live coral with your dink anchor. As soon as Steph was over the side of the dink she surfaced again quickly and yelled "This is amazing!!" The reef was stunning and I've never before seen so much marine life variety.

The next item on the day's agenda was to get the biggest cheeseburger we could find on the atoll. Our penpals on Bumfuzzle had hyped up the eats at the posh Kia Ora. Altough it was very pricy it was worth every cent ... I can't remember enjoying a meal more. After thanking the hotel manager for our "visit" we asked about the hotel's dive center and headed over to "Blue Dolphins." Steph has never done any diving and this was the time if ever to get started. We arranged for a plongee de baptisme (first dive) for her, later in the afternoon. We then headed across to the ocean side of the atoll for some reef walking (I fell in) and hermit crab racing.

Back on Mico Bianca dropped by and I suggested that the four of us get together soon to drift snorkel the pass on the flood. They had done the drift the day before and were very disappointed because they had stayed in the middle of the pass to avoid getting their dink on the reef, thus missing all the good stuff near the shore. I knew that the edges (particularly the eastern edge) were the big ticket items and suggested that we pair up in one dink with one couple drifting down the pass while the other follow along leisurely in the dink to keep it off the reef and render assistance if needed. Something clicked right way in their minds about the "two teams" idea and Bruce said "OK ... let's go right now while the flood is on!" Steph moved her dive to the next morning and the three of us were off to the pass (Maria, his wife, was not interested in the experience, so Steph got to drift twice -- once with me, and once with Bruce).

The drift was super fun -- especially near the start of the pass on the ocean side, there was a very dramatic underwater cliff between the channel and the reef. The bottom was flying along at five knots as we only kicked our fins to turn left or right. Lots more beautiful fish and coral and some very big moray eels.

It's now 11 local time and the water in the lagoon is like a mirror without even capillary waves. A good time to catch up on some much needed sleep.

Sunset inside the calm lagoon

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