Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wrong Way

If you can put to sea in your own boat and get where you want to go in reasonable comfort - well, I reckon that you could do most anything.  The sea is the sea, after all, and the challenges are immense and varied.

So when things go right, you will be immensely pleased with yourself.  But, if you have either imagination or experience, you will also know that there was some element of luck in your success and you will cultivate a deep sense of humility having to do with everything concerning water and boats.

I mean - all this travelin' from place to place on Galactic is generally a hoot.  But you do have to keep an eye on things.
Some things get better.  Readers of South From Alaska may remember
what an epic we had anchoring on our first visit to Makemo in 2008 - our
first coral anchorage ever.  Since then this wharf has been built, and if
the supply boat isn't due you can tie up in complete protection from
the prevailing winds.

We've been going the wrong way through the Tuamotus - west to east, against the prevailing winds.
The route so far.
But, armed with onboard access to weather models, we have been able to pick the right time to make our two big legs to the east  - from Fakarava to Makemo, and then onwards to Hao.  We were on the wind both times - heeled over and all that.  But both times the wind was gentle, the seas were still, and Galactic made good progress with no fuss.

If it hadn't been for Eric getting seasick, they would have been the perfect passages.

A Spanish mackerel - four meals fresh, and
Alisa canned up another 8 meals from it.

So even though picking our weather did just boil down to looking at the little wind arrows on our computer, I was very pleased both times with how enjoyable it was to travel upwind.

But if I was tempted to get too pleased with myself, there was the experience of some acquaintances at Makemo to bring me down to earth.

They were a very nice family on a catamaran who anchored at the village of Pouheva a day or two before we moved on.  The adults were fun and they had three kids who played nicely with our own - sometimes it's just effortless to spend time with someone you've just met.

They ended up leaving the anchorage the same day we did - we were heading out of the pass for the two-night sail to Hao, and they were heading down the Makemo lagoon towards the western pass.

The tooth fairy always seems to visit at sea. 

An hour after we left the pass, just after we had enjoyed a great view of a small group of cetaceans (tentatively southern bottlenose whales) we heard a pan pan call on channel 16 - that's one step down from calling mayday.

It turned out to be these new friends of ours.  They had gone up on the reef and could not get themselves off.

My birthday

The drama was short-lived.  We stopped our progress to Hao against the possibility that we would need to return to Makemo to give them a hand (no other boats in Makemo had their radios on).  But the rising tide freed them, and inspection revealed that though they'd chewed up a keel quite badly, they were taking no water and had not damaged props or rudders.  They expect to be able to make it to Tahiti or Apataki for repairs.


Later on the passage to Hao.  We saw two green flashes that day - first one
as we were down in a wave trough, and then another a second later as the
next crest lifted us up for a higher view of the horizon.  That's happened to
us a couple times before. 

We don't know exactly what happened to put them on the reef, but it was a good reminder of how easily some combination of a mistake (or two or three) and some poor luck can put you in a bad way.  So we try to be forever vigilant.  And I guess that's what makes this life afloat so bloody fierce and immediate.  We're in the arena, day after day.

Standing waves in the pass.

And the skipper, less than pleased with our transit a short time later.
Just as we were in the arena, for instance, when we entered the pass at Hao.

The passes are one of the big things about the Tuamotus.  The water screams through them, and, as Pierre on Kea told us before our first visit, "You must respect the tides!"

We arrived at Hao just before low tide to find the water screaming out of the pass.  Two hours after low, the pass was still pumping.

I looked at it long enough to convince myself that it would be alright to go through.

And it was alright - just.  The water was still coming out at six knots or more.  We cut around the race on the outside and then positioned ourselves right in the pass.  We were committed - and the GPS showed us making 0.4 knots, at full throttle and with the main catching some wind.  I had to look at the sides of the pass to reassure myself that we were making 0.4 knots forwards, and not backwards.

It was fine - we motored through, slowly, and then made the turn for the village.  But we prize the condition of having things under control on Galactic, and we were a little too close to not in control there.

I don't think I'll try that again...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Still Makemo

At Makemo, we experienced dead calm conditions - all through the night and into the dawn. 

By day the lagoon was infinite - our sight stretched out to the far flat horizon, and then bounced back to us.  At night the stars and clouds chased each other in the lagoon's embrace.  

What a four-year-old thinks about it all:

We sailed into the west pass of Makemo a couple days earlier with bad light for seeing coral.  It was an easy overnight sail from Fakarava.  The crew was anxious to see what we would find in this new place.

Or not quite new, as Makemo was the first atoll we ever visited, six years ago.  We remembered the anchorage off an uninhabited motu as a likely spot for celebrating Elias' 8th birthday.

Which we did.
 Birthday lunch - bacon and eggs.
When buying birthday presents, we're sure of our audience.

The birthday beach barbecue was, unfortunately, rained out.


So, Elias' birthday was only ten days ago as I write this.  And it seems a lifetime ago.  We're now two anchorages, two passes, two nights of sailing, and one atoll further down the line.  We've made quick friendships, and said goodbye to new friends with some unaccustomed drama.  We've dealt with a dozen situations of mutual incomprehension and wondered how we might fit in for a while in a place where we've never been before.

As always when the sailing/traveling is this good, internet access is not up to the task of keeping current on it all.

More soon.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Contingent and Bohemian

If you're paying any attention you'll know that one of my very favorite things about French Polynesia is how the internet access completely sucks.

Here in the village of Pouheva, on Makemo Atoll, the internet surpassed all our expectations for glacial service at a caviar price.  Here it just didn't work, period.

Which, since I didn't have any pressing work commitments that I was trying to meet, was completely fine with me.  I could live my life instead of staring at a screen.

Now, after a couple days, the internet is inexplicably working.  I met a couple of non-pressing work deadlines.  And then, as is my wont, I took a look at the Times online.

And, oh vey, is the world doing an awful job of looking after itself while we're on this endless voyage of ours.

At the risk of being facile, I cannot help but ask why we, and our boys, are living such a charmed life.  Why are we so endlessly fortunate?  Those four (?) young boys who were killed while playing on the beach in Gaza a few weeks ago serve as a counter-example to our experience that will stay with me for a very long time.
One of the natural history marvels of the South Pacific are nesting fairy terns.  They famously don't actually build a nest, but just lay an egg on a bare tree branch and let the newly-hatched chick balance as best it can.  We've seen lots of fairy terns, but never a nest - until we spied this one in front of the Rotoava Mairie - the town hall.  Chick and adult were active when we spied them at dusk, but when we came back for pictures the next day it was siesta time.  That fluffball on the right is the snoozing chick
Tuhoe, the mayor of the commune that includes Fakarava.  As an orphaned teenager, he was adopted by an Alaskan couple visiting on their yacht, and spent the next five years living in Anchorage.  I asked him to pose with the fish he was giving us from his freezer
So, there is no way to segue out of that sort of intro, except to say that we are (touch wood yet again) on the most amazing roll.  It feels like the first seven years of all this nautical carrying-on were just the warm up.  We are now securely living an existence more contingent and bohemian than that led by anyone else we know - with the exception of a dozen or so of our sailing friends.  Well aware of how swiftly the unyielding twists of lifetime narrative can put an end to this sort of idyll, I am treasuring every day.

Like…the day that saw us done with our various business at the big smoke of Rotoava, and sailing off to the south pass of Fakarava:

Here and below - the blokes, more or less keeping watch for coral bommies.

God, do I love sailing in an atoll lagoon.  As long as the light is good.

And me, at the end of our second three-hour day of sailing inside the lagoon.  Moving the boat takes it out of you.

 And this one, for our friends on Enki, who are sailing the populous waters of the Med.  Check out the egregious overcrowding in the south Fakarava anchorage - ten boats in one frame!

The good old days, they're all gone.

The main attraction that brings all these boats is the famous south pass, with its various fauna Chondricthian.  We of course wanted to see for ourselves.  This, and below, is what happens when Alisa tells four-year-old Eric to hold on in the dinghy on the way to the pass.

He flies instead.

And some of the goods: a Napolean wrasse, of which there were several to be seen every time we visited the pass.  Something this big has to be poisonous (ciguatera) to be common.
 Boy and goatfish.
Gray reef shark.

"They're potentially agressive!" Elias loves to point out.

Not that you'd know it from watching him swim around them.  The kid is very very relaxed in the water.

 How Eric "snorkels".  We're holding onto the painter of the dinghy and letting it float in the pass on the ebb tide along with us.  You get a great ride that way.
Toes and sharks - every parent's dream.
I've done all that one kid can do in one day.

Alisa taking a break from the water for a French lesson.  What else do you do if there's a retired French teacher in the anchorage?

Since these pictures were taken, we used the most perfect hiatus in the tradewinds to make tracks 75 miles upwind, to Makemo and its satisfyingly awful internet (and delightful new wharf).  More on all that soon.

Watching the green flash