The Cooks miss the Cooks

by guest blogger, Diana Bagnall

Almost a month has slipped past since Sea Cloud was boarded by a couple of pale-skinned, bleary-eyed, past-their-prime individuals whose most convincing claim to a berth on the vessel as she headed westward from French Polynesia was an intimate knowledge of her dark and private spaces, and a fair to reasonable understanding of how she is likely to perform in a variety of gnarly situations.

So far, so good.

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Would you sail across an ocean with these two?

The crew are still on board. Jeez, Barry.  The good-humoured captain continues to propose Dark and Stormies each evening as the sun goes down – or not, as was the case last night when Neiafu harbor was a blur of low cloud and fine drizzle. We are tied off to a mooring here, debating endlessly (as happens always in these situations) the merits or otherwise of departing for New Zealand today, tomorrow or the day after. You wouldn’t believe the algorithms these weather people can come up with now. The skipper has a rather inelegant phrase to describe what they do to your head.

This next 1200 mile passage from Tonga down to the top of New Zealand is the big one. It’s the one everyone stresses about, and it’s when a couple more hands on deck can really be useful. We’ll just say that it’ll be fine, and we’ll tell you when we’re into Whangarei, our nominated port of entry.

To backtrack though….The passage from Bora Bora through to Tonga is frequently under-estimated by cruisers. More tradewind sailing, dah de dah. Piece of cake. Actually, it proves not to be so often. Actually, it’s also 1200 miles, and that’s a long way.

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Downwind sailing never loses its appeal

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On passage we are all big readers

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It doesn’t happen often but every so often the girls bring out their stitching

Sea Cloud broke her voyage at the 1000 mile mark in Niue, bypassing all of the Cook Islands including the curiosity of Palmerston (an atoll supporting 60 people) in order to have something more interesting to do during the enforced four-day layover. There was no proceeding past Niue because the weather ahead had turned to custard. Big seas, big winds.

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Big seas are always difficult to photograph

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The swell off Togo cave on the south coast of Niue – glad we weren’t out there

Niue was fun. Sea Cloud’s skipper and his fabulously cheerful wife put high store on achieving a decent fun-to-crap ratio (another of the skipper’s memorable phrases, by the way). So we got out there in a rental car for a couple of days. You really can’t go that far in Niue, which is a smallish limestone rock surrounded by crashing seas. But what you see is dramatic, and the water is so startlingly clear (the limestone again) that when you don mask, snorkel and fins, the sights under the water are astoundingly vivid. Top marks to Niue for water clarity and surely some of the world’s most bizarre limestone formations.

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The mooring field off the town of Alofi on Nuie island was rollier than it looks here

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It seems complicated at first, but you soon get the hang of lifting your tender ashore on Niue

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Walking on Niue with Dominique (front) and Frederic of Cap a Cap, a French-flagged Garcia

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The glorious colour in Limu pools, one of the clearest snorkelling spots on the planet, surely

Ian will not remember Niue for the quality of its bush roads however. They are off the chart in terms of potholes, scratchy bushes, and reliable lack of signage.

We pushed on from Niue a little ahead of time, forcing Ian and Cathy to cancel a dive. More’s the pity, but if there’s a choice between taking the wind, and taking a dive, the wind wins. Even so, we lost it about 12 hours out of Tonga. That opened the way for a bit of fishing. This (below) is the money shot, perhaps not the one Ian wanted, but it expresses the essence of the fight. The Prof vs the Sailfish. Yes, that’s right, folks. Game on. Cathy wasn’t keen on the event at all, but Ian was determined to bring the big fish into the boat. Then, and only then, did the first mate get the go ahead to cut it free.

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The Prof vs the Sailfish

Sea Cloud entered the Vava’u archipelago on a perfect Sunday afternoon, when all of Tonga was either asleep or feasting on barbecued pig, and dropped anchor in Port Maurelle, a bay remembered fondly by the crew from their own cruising days in Vava’u in 2015.

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Swallow’s Cave, on Kapa island, in the Vava’u archipelago, Tonga

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Port Maurelle was a sight for sore eyes on entry to Tonga

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Diana in one of those old Turkish tee shirts that keep on giving

With only five days out in the islands, we’ve managed to tick off Swallow’s Cave, Hunga lagoon and the splendid coral garden snorkel near anchorage 16 (the Vava’u island anchorages are so difficult to remember, and there are so many of them, that cruising yachts and fishermen refer to them by numbers).

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Sunset over Port Maurelle

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Moving between Hunga (#13) and Vaka’eitu (#16) anchorages

And Cathy and crew hit the market hard. We’re leaving port with a stack of pineapples on the aft deck, and the benchtop packed tight with tomatoes, green peppers, bananas, papaya and new potatoes.

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To market, to market…to buy what we need

P1130227The crew have a tan now, by the way. It’s unfashionable to acquire a tan these days, but here in the islands, it works better than pale with the prevailing fashions. If summer temps have arrived by the time we reach New Zealand though, I’ll eat my salt-infused hat.

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Jeez Barry,  you’d think they would have had enough of each other by now

Photos by guest photographer, Alex Nemeth

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This market lady sold sweet basil and other herbs, with cruisers in mind

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Staff at Mango cafe polishing trophies in anticipation of the opening of the billfish competition 

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Future Tongan rugby player on the mean streets of Neiafu

Last of the Societies

After a very speedy trip back to Sydney to catch up with family and friends, we flew back into Raiatea.

IMG_8817The small Opoa hotel was a perfect place to enjoy lunch on our last day on this lovely island.

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IMG_8827The weather for the next 10 days was superb, the calmest and sunniest stretch we’d had in this part of the world. The calm weather enabled us to anchor over lovely white sand, just off the Coral Garden on Tahaa.

IMG_6497IMG_6521What a beautiful spot. The days were spent snorkelling amongst the coral and many colourful fish. Some say that the best thing about Bora Bora is the view from Tahaa. We’d yet to visit Bora Bora, but they may be right.

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The wind came up enough for a slow sail across to Huahine. As we threaded our way along the inside of the reef to Avea Bay we were joined by a local in his Va’a, obviously training for the big race between Huahine, Bora Bora and Raiatea which occurs in November. He had no trouble keeping up with Sea Cloud.

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Avea Bay at the southern end of Huahine is such a beautiful anchorage. After months of avoiding coral heads and trying to find a spot with good holding, it was wonderful to drop the anchor in sand holding in beautiful clear water. It was a week of exploring by dinghy, enjoying happy hour and local entertainment at the Mahana Hotel

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IMG_6575cycling around Huahine Iti, and driving around the larger Huahine Nui.

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Huahine is known as the wild one because of its rugged lush green soaring hills. As well as being a spectacular island, it is also incredibly friendly and laid back.

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IMG_6590Unfortunately the good weather ended the day before the Diana and Alex arrived to join us on our next adventures down to New Zealand. We met them at the dinghy dock in pouring rain which continued relentlessly for the whole day.

IMG_8996Provisioning complete, we sailed to Raiatea for the night, then on to Bora Bora the next morning. Luckily the rain had stopped so we could enjoy approach to the famous Bora Bora to check out of French Polynesia.

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The good weather didn’t last for long, with very strong winds and lots of rain for our first few days in Bora Bora where we anchored off the very bumpy MaiKai Hotel. This used to be a haven for yachties, but the new management certainly wasn’t welcoming.  We moved to the much calmer and friendlier Bora Bora Yacht club where we met up with a number of cruisers also heading west to Tonga.

Although we haven’t seen much of Bora Bora we are keen to move along. The weather is looking pretty good, so on to Tonga, hopefully breaking up the 1200nm (8 day sail) with stops in the Cook Islands of Palmerston and or Niue if weather allows.

 

 

Society Islands – Tahiti and Moorea

Although it was hard to leave Rangiroa and the Tuamotus, we were excited to be heading to Tahiti to meet up with Bron and Tim, my sister and brother in law.

The Bay of Venus where Captain Cook spent time to watch the transit of Venus was a perfect anchorage. It was peaceful, calm and had stunning views of the green hills of Tahiti.

IMG_6166 It was a shock to the system to be back in the ‘big smoke’ of Papeete. Marina Papeete is right the middle of town, conveniently located close to the central market.

We had a relatively calm day to sail to Moorea. As we rounded the top of the island, Ian thought he spotted an uncharted reef, only to realise that it was a whale. The whale seemed quite interested in Sea Cloud, diving under the boat, surfacing just nearby and breaching so many times. An incredible welcome for Bron and Tim, we had to tell them such a display is not a normal part of our daily cruising life.

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IMG_6232IMG_6234IMG_6211We spent a week anchored behind the reef in the beautiful Opunohu Bay in Moorea.

IMG_6258IMG_6249It was a week of relaxing,

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IMG_9454swimming with the sharks and rays

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IMG_8674IMG_8678IMG_8686Bron and Tim had a taste of the cruising life, meeting some of the friends we’d been cruising with over the past few months,

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and sampling some of the local cuisine. We ate a lot of tuna!

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Snorkelling with the whales was one of the experiences of a lifetime. Looking down through the water you realised the large shape slowly appearing then rising below you was a pair of whales. Such beautiful, graceful and gentle creatures.

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Tim thinks we should be trading in Sea Cloud for a catamaran such as Panache! Price and Benny cooked a feast of dumplings for our last night in Moorea.

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We all (including Bron) enjoyed a lovely sail back to Papeete

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We rented a car and circumnavigated Tahiti. We’d hoped to see some of the Billabong Pro competition at Teahupoo on Tahiti Nui. Unfortunately there was no surf that day, so no competition.

I can’t imagine that there are many places where you can anchor your boat so close to the really big waves.

IMG_6276IMG_6295IMG_6278this is how the waves should have looked..

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Lunch in this part of the world was a very casual affairIMG_6297IMG_8722We farewelled Bron and Tim and sailed overnight to Raiatea, where we’d planned to haul out and leave Sea Cloud for the cyclone season. The day we arrived we were told that Sea Cloud was too big for the lift at Raiatea Carenage.

We had non refundable flights booked home and family and friends looking forward to seeing us. Luckily, we were able to leave Sea Cloud for a week in Marina Apooiti. We flew back to Sydney to catch up with family and friends. On our return, we will prepare for the 2500Nm sail to New Zealand. Not what we’d planned for this season, but it is our only option. You need to be flexible in this cruising life!

 

Rangiroa

Entry via Avotora Pass at slack water looks benign, but the 2 wrecks (one each end of the pass) are a timely reminder that these passes can be tricky.

1Tiputa pass during outgoing current in benign conditions can still look pretty ugly for the sailor but..

Great sport for the dolphins and the evening dolphin watchers..2

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Especially when a larger vessel exits 4

Dropped anchor (under sail for the 3rd time this season thanks to another failure by the “Green Death”, aka Volvo diesel) in calm idyllic anchorage in sand (littered with coral bommies) overlooked by the lucky guests at the Kia Ora luxury resort.

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7Taking advantage of the calm weather and the next outgoing current, just a hop skip and a jump in an inflatable with Rangiroa Plongee to dive the outer reef.

8We were extremely lucky to not only see the dolphins but one clearly keen to “chill out and play”.

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14The snorkelling inside the atoll behind a small motu kept us entertained when not diving. The myriad of fish and lazy black tip sharks is why this very accessible spot is called “The Aquarium”.

15161819Our daily routine started with a morning dive; either a drift dive into the Tiputa Pass where one felt like flying over canyons.

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21More enjoyable and interesting were the outer reef dives with the chance of seeing “the big stuff” with a foray out into “deep blue” to see dolphins, this school of large sailfish or the sharks lingering in the deeper water.

2223… as well as the coral gardens supporting copious reef fish of all shapes and colours.

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We’d highly recommend a daylong excursion to the Blue Lagoon (an atoll within an atoll) on the SW margin of the atoll. It’s a tricky place to take Sea Cloud as there is no protection from virtually all prevailing wind and waves – so it’s not tenable in anything over 10kts of breeze. Instead we relaxed while Manu from Rangiroa Fishing Tours took as small group to his family’s island for a magical snorkel amongst the sharks, fresh fish lunch and some simple R&R while soaking up the ambience. Manu did a superb job and we felt totally alone in this popular tourist attraction.

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Tuamotus

IMG_8275Unsettled weather prolonged our stay Fakarava. We seemed to be in synch with our friends Benny and Price on Panache who had their lovely kids visiting from Canada. We’d transited the canal tied to Panache and have met up with them in many places since. Panache is notorious for good food and company, usually in the ‘Tiki lounge’ of their lovely, very spacious catamaran.We visited the little pearl farm/resort in Rotava, all buying a pearl in their lucky dip. Some were very lucky when their oyster was opened to reveal a large black pearl.

 

The resort was a lovely place for lunch, the delicious local poisson cru – fish marinaded in lime and coconut milk.

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After a boisterous sail back into the wind we anchored for a few more days in Kauehi, a place we’d loved but had left all too soon.

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Normally the 40Nm sail from Kauehi to Toau would have been an easy day sail, but not here in the Tuamotus. To ensure we coordinated our exit through Kauehi pass and arrival at the Toau pass at slack current, we needed 2 days to get from Kaeuhi to Toau, with an overnight stop in North Fakarava. Kauehi to Fakarava worked well, conditions were good and the passes manageable. When we tried to exit N Fakarava the next morning, the current was stronger than we’d expected– 5knots of current pushing us towards 1m standing waves in the pass. I am sure Sea Cloud would have coped, but we are pretty conservative. So, another night in Fakarava. The next morning we arrived at the pass at what was supposed to be slack current and had a manageable 4knots of outgoing current and only small standing waves. The winds were stronger and seas higher and more confused than predicted, or expected. After a few rather uncomfortable hours of sailing, we realised that we wouldn’t be able to get through the Toau pass that day. We kept sailing to Anse Amyot, a lagoon like haven on the NW corner of Toau. Anse Amyot has an opening to the sea through a small pass, but no opening into the main atoll of Toau and can be entered at any time. We could have come straight from Kaeuhi, as Panache did in one day, rather than take 4 days. Luckily we have lots of time.

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It was hard to tear ourselves away from this gorgeous spot. Gaston and Valentine, the owners of the nearby motu have a small restaurant serving lobster and a few mooring buoys which they rent to yachts.

As there is a constant flow of water into the lagoon, the water was exceptionally clear, the coral beautiful and the fish prolific. It was incredible to see the colourful fish swimming around the coral head 9m below Sea Cloud.

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We were often the only boat in the lagoon, but did have 2 rather big visitors during our stay, a very unusual sight in this part of the world.

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aaApataki, the next atoll north was a pleasant day sail away. The south pass was scary looking but easy at slack current. Pearl farming is big in Apataki, and the Chinese influence obvious.IMG_5859 half

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We anchored off the Apataki Carenage. The enterprising local family had turned their pearl farm and vegetable gardens into a boatyard, providing hurricane season storage for about 50 boats, mainly catamarans.

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The anchorage near the Apataki’s north pass was fabulous. We anchored in sand about half a mile from the pass, taking care to avoid the numerous coral heads below.ap13

The weather was calm and sunny and the drift snorkel of the pass breathtaking.  The clarity of the water was unbelievable. The water under the dinghy was about 3m deep and you could see the coral so clearly.

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Once in the pass we drifted along towing the dinghy, feeling as though we were flying, easily seeing the bottom of the pass 30m below us. The coral banks on the side of the pass extended for a few kms. It was so good, we did it again and again and we were the only ones there.ap9

As the southerly winds came in, we headed out through the pass for a very slow overnight sail, ensuring we would arrive at our destination Ahe at daybreak and slack current. As we couldn’t average a speed of more than 4 knots, it was a change for us having to constantly try and slow Sea Cloud down.

Ahe is unusual for these atolls, it has good shelter from nearly all winds behind a reef, just off the main town. You just need to make sure you avoid the pinnacle like coral heads that rise from 10m below to scarily close to the top of the water. Fine for many boats, but with our deep draft of 2.35m, a real worry. As strong southerly winds were predicted, Ahe was a good place to be.

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Good light is essential when anchoring. This large coral reef behind Sea Cloud is all but invisible in the wrong light.

Its Heiva time, the major festival season in French Polynesia. Most cruisers, and many of the locals are in Papeete for the huge celebrations there. We decided on having a few weeks more out in the islands rather than heading to the big smoke too early. Ahe has a population of 300, many of whom live on pearl farms on the small motu that surround the atoll. Heiva, is a small affair here, but has a 2 week calendar of games, races and celebrations. The locals are very friendly and welcomed us to their July 14 national day flag raising ceremony and opening of the Heiva games.

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Our final atoll before Papeete is Rangiroa, a place with spectacular snorkelling and diving. But it is tricky, with the main anchorage exposed to any winds south of east. Unfortunately we’ve had south winds, with more predicted so our stay in Ahe has extended from a couple of days to over a week now. Luckily, it’s a very pleasant place to be.

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Tuamotus

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Our planned stay in Ua Pou was cut short when we looked at the weather and realised we had a perfect window to cross to the Tuamotus. It was a delightful 4 day sail with gentle winds and seas and a full moon. This was the Pacific sailing I’d been hoping for!

The Marquesas to the Tuamotus, what a contrast! We left the lofty peaks of Ua Pou behind and arrived at the flat coconut fringed atoll of Kauehi.

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As strong winds and big swells were expected so we had decided to make landfall in the ‘easy’ pass of Kauehi, rather than Makemo. It was still pretty hairy for a first pass with 4knots of current against us! Sea Cloud coped well.

IMG_5554In retrospect, we should have visited Makemo first. After a few weeks in the Tuamotus we have realised that going south east at this time of the year is an impossibility. Unless you don’t mind sailing to windward and against the seas. Not our idea of fun!

It’s a different world in the Tuamotus. Kauehi was all we had dreamed a coral atoll to be. Crystal clear water, good snorkelling and palm fringed coral beaches to wander. The weather was perfect for those first few days. We were greeted by cruising friends with a pizza dinner on the first night. Its such a social life out here in the Pacific.

 

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IMG_5667With the group moving to Fakarava, we decided to tag along. It’s great around here to sail with a buddy boat or two – it makes the long dinghy rides to good snorkelling areas safer with two dinghies.

IMG_5590We’ve now spent 2 weeks in Fakarava, one of the largest of the Tuamotus. There are plenty of anchorages and places to explore, even a small town with much better provisioning than we’d expected. The snorkelling is fantastic. We’ve snorkelled and dived the legendary South Pass, famous for the hundreds of sharks which frequent the bottom of the pass, between the coral banks.

IMG_8232IMG_8218I never thought I’d feel comfortable about being so close to these magnificent creatures, but they really don’t pay any attention to us. It’s a wonderful time of the year to be here. Groupers are arriving in their hundreds, an estimated 18,000 of them will be here, ready to spawn at the first full moon after the Equinox. The daily increase in the number of grouper below us in the channel was very noticeable. After about 5 days of sheltering from northerly winds near Rotoava, we are headed back to the South Pass. I can’t wait to see how many are there now.

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The Tuamotus are not called the dangerous isles for nothing. It a complicated place to sail. As well as keeping an eye on the weather, calculating slack current on which to enter or exit the atolls has become a preoccupation. Get the timing wrong and you could encounter standing waves, or current strong enough to turn a boat sideways. Anchorages are littered with coral bommies. There is a real knack in not getting your anchor stuck in coral, or wrapped around a bommie. Anchor buoys to float the chain seem like a good idea, unless they tangle around themselves, creating even more problems! We have a lot to learn. Sailing is challenging also. Although most of the large atolls have marked channels, there are still very shallow areas. We now have ‘rat lines’ on the stays, so I can climb up about 10m to better view the area.

IMG_5746Even experienced and careful people hit things here, keeping a lookout for shallow spots is essential. Not so easy when there is cloud, rain, waves, or poor light. It does not pay to be in a hurry in this part of the world. So our pace has slowed down, we are enjoying the slow life here, taking our time, meeting locals and other cruisers and chilling out a little more.

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Lisa – Hirafa restaurant

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Rotoava

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The Marquesas

 

Fatu Hiva
What a thrilling sight after nearly 3 weeks at sea – the lofty vivid green volcanic mountains of Fatu Hiva rising over 2,000ft straight up out of a vast deep blue sea – clearly visible from the sea even though Sea Cloud is still 25 miles to the East closing the gap rapidly as she romps along in very consistent 18-22 kt ESE trade winds.

After rounding the north cape of Fatu Hiva, great excitement and anticipation dominate the mix of emotions as we approach and prepare to make landfall in the iconic and stunningly beautiful anchorage of Hanavave (Bay of Virgins) on the sheltered west coast. This anchorage is on every yachtie’s bucket list and, while words don’t do it justice, the description of Thor Heyerdahl upon his arrival in 1938 comes close:

“A mighty valley opened before us. It looked completely artificial, like the stage of a theatre, with rows of red side screens jutting into the green palm forests from both sides. These fantastic side curtains were outlined with bizarre profiles against the greenery as if cut from plywood by an artist with a sense of shape and effect, rather than crumbling red tuff moulded by millennia of rain and storms. A row of thatched bamboo sheds was discernible between the palm trunks above the boulder strewn beach.” (Thor Heyerdahl, Green was the Earth on the Seventh Day)

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It was so good to launch the dinghy and head for land.

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The locals here are so friendly. While trying to identify a new fruit in someone’s garden, the owners, Henri and Anne invited us inside to look at their beautiful tapa and woodcarvings. They have made a pair of beautiful carved paddles which they will take to the large Artisan festival to be held in Tahiti at the end of June. They offered us fresh fruit, which we could pick up after our walk to the waterfall. On our return they had a bag of pamplemousse (the largest grapefruit we had ever seen, limes, mangoes and a huge hand of bananas, then lent us their wheelbarrow to get the load back to our dinghy!

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They did not want money, but were happy to take some perfume, notebooks and pens in return. The kids using our dinghy as a pool toy smilingly helped us load the dinghy so we could head back to Sea Cloud.

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We celebrated our arrival with Moet and Fois gras on the Norwegian yacht, Alutia. It was great to finally meet Birgitte and Olav, who had left Santa Cruz 30minutes after us, and arrived in Hanavave an hour before us. Ian and Olav had twice daily conversations on SSB radio as we were never more than 50 miles apart the whole way.

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The magnificent scenery is at its absolute best at sunset when the colours of the setting sun reflect off the craggy rocks surrounding the bay and valley.

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fh rainbSunday church is an important part of community life. Listening to the beautiful singing while looking through the windows at the craggy peaks beyond was a magical experience.

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Simon, a local woodcarver took a few of us in his boat to Omoa the larger village on the island. Although the town is only about 20minutes by boat, it is a 17km walk over the island’s central mountain spine. The coastline was very dramatic. The landing in the small harbour easy in comparison to earlier times where landing on the beach amongst the crashing waves was the only choice.

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Fatu Hiva is famous for both woodcarving and Tapa, paintings done on the beaten bark of local trees. We were able to view many of these artists at work in Omoa.

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Hiva Oa
After a pleasant 45mile sail north, we anchored outside the breakwater in Atuona, Hiva Oa. Fortunately the seas were calm so this notoriously swelly anchorage was quite pleasant, and we haven’t had to bother with stern anchors which are necessary inside the harbour.

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The town, a good half hour walk from the anchorage has small museums for its most famous residents, Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel.

We rented a car to explore the spectacular mountainous island, The main road which runs along the spine of the island has beautiful views down to the coast.

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With the help of Monique and Dick, we managed to find the smiling tiki hidden amongst the coconut palms and dense forest. The archeological site of Iipona has very large impressive tikis.

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us tiki hivaThe white sandy beach and crystal clear blue water of Hanamoenoa bay on Tahuata island was the perfect spot to chill and to clean Sea Cloud’s dirty hull and remove the green beard growing along her waterline.

Nuku Hiva

Nuku Hiva, is the largest island of the Marquesas. The huge anchorage at Taiohae, in a collapsed ancient volcano is very beautiful. The hub of the town is the dock where groups of yachties gather outside of Nuku Hiva Yacht services or the adjacent cafe – catching up on emails and enjoying local poisson cru and listening to the guitar players who gather there in the early evening.  A group of us took a guided tour, great for learning about the history and archaeology of the island and hearing about life in the Marquesas.

Atuona Bay, on the north side of Nuku Hiva has been described as one of the most beautiful bays in the Marquesas. It certainly is a spectacular anchorage with palm fringed white sandy beaches, framed by a backdrop of huge mountains. The locals are very friendly. A group of 11 of us were treated to a BBQ goat dinner under the coconut palms listening to the locals playing guitar and singing.

 

 

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The walk across the saddle to the adjacent bay was challenging, but the beautiful view over the anchorage was well worth it.

Back in Tahohaie Bay its been a very social time catching up with friends, trying Marquesan dancing, provisioning and  preparing for our time in the Tuamotus. Internet has been tricky here, but will be even more so once we venture further west, well at least until we reach Tahiti in a few months time.