Sunday, 17 September 2017

Life on board

Yesterday we took a taxi to Rakiraki, a busy market town 20 minutes from
Volivoli resort, where we are anchored at the moment. It was Saturday
morning and everyone was in town to do their shopping - great fun browsing
the market stalls amid the almost entirely Indian-Fijian crowds. We were
incredibly excited to find mangos, but disappointed to discover after we'd
bought them that they won't ripen and are only fit for making chutney.
Our taxi driver asked where we were from and we explained we'd sailed over
17,000km at a maximum speed of 15km/hr. It made me stop and think:
approaching nine months of living aboard, how have we adapted to our
floating home? It is, after all, like a floating caravan, albeit a
luxurious one with our own design touches, such as the reading lights in the
cockpit. Space is limited and many items are stowed away in cubby holes,
corners and underneath the sole (floor). Charles (high tech) has an app
which tells him where spares are stored; I have (low tech) The Book, which
informs me that we only have one more jar of peanut butter, beneath my
bedside sole, but are unlikely to run out of lentils, hidden away in the
forward cabin.
Some day to day routines are much like those at home. Cleaning has to be
done and stainless steel always needs polishing. There's no corner shop or
Waitrose and no restaurants to deliver meals. We bake bread and make yogurt
- our latest batch has the seeds scraped from a Tongan vanilla pod, which I
hope will taste delicious for breakfast tomorrow. No gym or personal
trainer, but we do stretches most mornings, inspired by Dinah's yoga.
Laundry needs to be done - what a luxury to have a washing machine on board,
and clothes dry unbelievably quickly in the sun and breeze, pegged out on
the rail. There's always DIY, charging the batteries, fixing things,
mending. The difference is, there's nobody else to do it for us. Other
differences: no shoes and no news - I don't miss either of those. Our
commute is a dinghy ride ashore, almost always resulting in a wet bottom,
but so much more pleasant than the Tube. And I think there's a difference
in mentality, too, which is perhaps most important. There's no room or time
for grumpiness. We are in this together and whatever happens, it's our
voyage, our adventure. Nine months in, that feels great.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Fiji - so many islands!

Fiji is huge - its 333 islands and ten thousand square kilometres of coral reef. There are only a few points of entry, so most yachts approaching from Tonga, as we did, would have to sail to Savusavu, fulfil clearing-in formalities and then sail back, upwind, in order to visit the eastern group
of islands. Being part of the Rally (27 boats) meant it was worthwhile for customs to come to Vanua Balavu and clear us in there. The team of five officials (health, immigration, customs and ummm - what were they all there for?) went round from boat to boat before we were allowed to go ashore. It
was time-consuming, paper-consuming, carbon paper consuming and certainly biscuit-consuming: a packet per yacht, we reckoned. We bent the rules a little and the night before the clearance we gathered on Sea Flute for drinks (OK, we were leaving our boats, but not actually setting foot on

Vanua Balavu was badly hit by Cyclone (aka hurricane) Winston in February 2016 and there's still plenty of evidence of the damage it caused. On one side of the island, coconut trees had been beheaded, their tall trunks standing bare. Apparently they will regenerate in a year or two. Everywhere new houses have gone up, most with bright blue corrugated iron roofs, a gift from Australia. We spoke to a New Zealander who is overseeing the construction of three new school buildings, one in its very final stages in Lomaloma. The village school in Daliconi, where we were anchored, had 16 pupils aged 5 to 11 in one classroom, working in three groups. They sang a
Winston destroys, nature grows back
couple of songs, one accompanied by complicated drumming. The other, accompanied by actions, was unfamiliar at first, with lyrics in Fijian, but soon became recognisable as 'I'm a Little Teapot'!

The village consists of houses set on improbably green lawns, with no roads, fences or boundaries between them. As everywhere we've been in the Pacific, chickens and roosters stroll communally - and in the case of the roosters, proclaim daybreak throughout the day. There was a large canopied area, where I ran an eye clinic with Rob and Jeannette of Tianelle and where we gathered in the evening for a welcome party, with Fijian dancing, singing and food.

For three days, we acquired new crew: Stu, a photographer based in Fiji, and Brittany, who works for an Australian yacht magazine. It was great fun to share our experiences and show them what life on board is like.
Calliope in Bay of Islands by drone initiate
One day we and three other yachts sailed up to the Bay of Islands (Fiji version, not NZ), where Stu took some amazing photographs of the extraordinary mushroom-shaped rock formations and convoluted bays. On the return trip, Lisanne and Calliope flew their asymmetric sails and Stu's drone flew between them, capturing some incredible footage. It's the property of Ocean magazine, but we hope to be able to post some of Stu's pictures soon. The following day, we returned to the Bay of Islands with most of the fleet and had a great barbecue on a sandy beach. We transferred 300 litres of water onto Boysterous, whose watermaker isn't working, and were invited to supper on board. We had to bite our tongues at times as one of the other guests is a strong Trump supporter!

We had intended to explore the islands south of Vanua Balavu, but it would have meant motoring for hours into the wind and rain, so we headed west and anchored in a bay in Qamea.
Qamea school
The following morning we visited the village,
school and health clinic, glad that the Chief wasn't around so we didn't have to do sevusevu; this tribute involves drinking kava (crushed pepper root), which tastes like dirty dishwater and has a mildly sedative effect.
Time to head for the village of Somosomo, described by our Sail Fiji app as 'delightful'. We were looking forward to charming restaurants, perhaps a shop or two, possibly even a spa... Somosomo was a disappointment from the rocky, litter-strewn beach, where feral dogs chewed used nappies, to the dingy roadside stalls and the awful 'Wine and Dine' (BYOB if you want wine) restaurant. Oh dear.

Hiring a car the next day gave us the freedom to explore Taveuni. The northern end of the island was much prettier and about a quarter of the island has been designated a nature reserve. With James and Tiggy from Miss Tiggy, we climbed to a waterfall, swam and enjoyed fantastic views. As we walked, we fantasized about our perfect lunch: chilled beer, salad, grilled fish or meat, rose wine... it was getting late and we hurried back to the car, hurtled down the dirt roads, leaping the potholes, only slowing to cross the rickety wooden bridges. On a chance, we stopped at a restaurant called Coconut Grove -- and, oh bliss, on their shady terrace, we fulfilled our fantasy (all except the beer) and more, with decadent cake for dessert, too. The following day Charles dived from a resort on the incredible
Rainbow Reef and I indulged in a massage and much-needed pedicure.

From Taveuni we had a long day's sail in great conditions to Savusavu on Vanua Levu, Fiji's second-largest island . It's a busy little town, with a yacht club (The Copra Shed) and pontoons to tie up to. We prefer being out away from the noise, so we picked up a mooring and then took the dinghy ashore to explore. Fiji-Indians make up 38% of the country's population and that was immediately evident, with masses of small shops, curry restaurants and retailers displaying saris in their windows. Fresh fruit is still hard
to come by but the bustling market had salad, cucumbers and tomatoes as well as mounds of ginger, turmeric root and spices.

We hired a car again and Charles and I crossed the island to the north coast and the main town of Labasa. Hindu temples and mosques lined the entrance to the town, revealing the background of the population. The Indians were brought to Fiji to work on the sugar plantations. They still don't have
equal rights, which makes politics quite contentious. Outside Labasa, the
Charles at Palmlea
sugar mill pumps out sweet-smelling smoke and has a narrow-gauge railway running alongside the road. On the way back to Savusavu, we stopped for lunch and a refreshing swim at Palmlea, a small resort in the hills owned by Julie and Joe, who settled there after five years sailing in the South Pacific.

After a terrific, close-hauled sail yesterday, we are now anchored off
reef-surrounded Namena Island, a lovely spot which used to be a luxury resort until Winston destroyed it. Hurricanes are very much on our mind as we see pictures of the devastation caused by Irma to places we know well in the Caribbean. We'll be able to catch up properly with news when we get to Suva on Vitu Levu in about a week. Meanwhile, much love to all of you faithful readers and happy birthday to Pippa!
This was your luxury bedroom on Namena

Friday, 25 August 2017

Tonga - The Friendly Islands (with a lot of rain)

Into each life (and ocean passage) a little rain must fall - we had a fair
bit of rain back in May in the Marquesas, which came in short intense
bursts, but not much since... until we reached Tonga. Our crossing from
Niue (just the two of us, as Peter and Sue had left us there) was rough,
rolly and windy and wet. We were trying to go slowly so as to arrive in
daylight, so had a heavily reefed main and a tiny staysail, but were still
rushing along at 8.5-9 knots. Neiafu Bay, in the Vava'u Group of the
Kingdom of Tonga, is amazingly sheltered, yet even in there, boats were
dragging their anchors and pulling the mooring buoys. After checking in
(what a lot of form-filling, which some of you will know I secretly enjoy!),
we went ashore to find internet and re-connect with lots of Oyster friends
we hadn't seen since Bora Bora. Many of them had sailed straight from
there, missing out on all our wonderful Maupiti/ Mapihaa/ Aitutaki/
Palmerston/ Niue experiences - such a shame, we feel.

Hanateli and his botanical garden
We have enjoyed a great tour of the Botanical Gardens at Ene'io, shown around by Haniteli, former Agriculture Minister for Tonga, who started collecting plants when he inherited the land aged 8. The name Ene'io, which means to tickle someone until they say yes, is very appropriate for someone who has managed to extract celebrity and sponsorship funding for his
venture. Hanateli is a charmer who regaled us with stories of Tonga, his life and his garden. He introduced us to his wife Lucy, who works in town at the Ministry for ... well, everything: culture, the environment,  medicine, education. She in turn took us to the hospital eye clinic, and that contact, Mary (Mele in Tongan) has shaped our time in Vava'u so far. The hospital then got in touch itself and through its two clinics in the rural areas, and so to the Town Offices and then to the people by loudhailer
to say "come to eye clinic Monday 0830".

So we have run three eye clinics, one in the remote western end of the island where there were about 60 people waiting for our arrival, and have seen about 120 in all.
We have increased our efficiency dramatically, but it still is particularly rewarding to help people with short sight move 4 or 5 lines down an eye-test chart or see the other side of the road for the first time thanks to our clever eyejuster glasses that can be altered to serve a range of short sight. Charles has tried them, and while he can't read the top line without glasses, he can read to the bottom line with the eyejusters, so they are really a very clever $30 invention. Reading glasses for the older population help them
with their bible reading and sewing. Another Oyster, Meteorite, went east and distributed glasses to over 90 people. That means that we have distributed glasses to 2% of the population of Vava'u of about 12,000. There's a huge need but not all cases are simple. For the more complicated cases (cataracts or diabetic retinopathy) patients have to wait until a surgical team arrives in November. No glasses at all are made in Tonga. All most outsiders know about Tongans is that they are large. That's true, and it means that diabetes is a huge problem and impacts on Tongans'
eyesight and health. The islanders are very friendly; one worries that they are suffering from a diminishing gene pool as many younger and smarter emigrate. Agriculture seems vibrant, tourism albeit undeveloped; aid (from
Australia, Japan and China) and remittances are evident.
Thank you present from a lady with her new eyejusters

Rain, rain, rain. One morning the dinghy was full of rainwater to above the paddles - nearly 20cm! Not wanting to trudge too far through the puddles, I ended up at the nearest school to the town centre, a leaky-roofed
Tongan school singing
English-language primary school with 40 children and 4 teachers. The Head, Dorothy, welcomed me in and I read a book about London, introduced Lucky the Pakeman Teddy in his orange lifejacket and listened to enthusiastic singing. Charles and I returned to give them an inflatable globe, on which we were
able to show them what a long way from London we have travelled.

Oyster definitely know how to throw a party. Most of the yachts navigated their way last Friday through shallows and coral reefs to the uninhabited island of Kenutu, on the eastern edge of the Vava'u Group. There, we were
treated to a Tongan feast, fire-juggling and Tongan dancing. We stayed on for another day and had a barbecue on the beach.
Beach party

The water here is a beautiful greeny-blue and we found some beautiful snorkelling near Mala, nicknamed the Japanese coral garden. There are also lots of caves, but they need better visibility. We are booked to go
swimming with whales again, having found it such an extraordinary experience on Niue.

For now, we are settling in to watch a DVD and hoping for better weather. We've enjoyed The Missing and have lots of ideas of books to read, after a fun session of the OWR Book Club, where we all contributed suggestions. Our next book is Golden Hill, about late 18th century Manhattan.

In a few days we will head to Fiji, about 350NM away, where we'll spend
about five weeks. There's lots to see so we have been planning a route and
on-shore activities.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Niue - the smallest country in the world

Niue has only 1500 inhabitants but it has a primary school with 250 children in it.
It is the largest lump of coral and lava in the world, and is cliff-faced with an outlying reef around it, but no passes around it. So getting ashore means bringing the dinghy into the wharf and lifting it out on a little crane.
Once you have the knack of it, it works fine, but it means you think twice about popping ashore for a beer or some shopping.

We waved goodbye to Peter and Sue in Niue after a month on board; we have been together to some extraordinary places out-of-the-way and it has been a very happy time, with some good sailing and about 1200NM in all. A happy and competent crew.
Niue is a lovely island; we have been diving, whale-watching and snorkelling with humpback whales. The whales have been swimming in the anchorage where we are moored. We have hired a car and driven round the island where there are many sea tracks marked, which are paths down to the coast or onto the reef where you can go exploring. There is a golf course of sorts, bikes for hire and general chill out. Nicky visited the happy and thriving school.

We have become members of Niue Yacht Club which has 1669 members now and bought the burgee and the T-shirt!

Locals have been very friendly; quite how the economy works is as ever a question with these Pacific islands. NZ support is evident and the currency is the NZ dollar. The supply ship has been in for the last 4 days, off-loading and on-loading containers one-by-one, which requires crane from ship to barge; crane from barge to lowloader, then crane off again. Quite a process.

Today we leave for the Haapai group in Tonga. There is a weather system with 35 knot winds forecast so we want to reach shelter before that arrives next Tuesday - which by then will be Wednesday as we are about to cross the international date line, and lose 24hours!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Guest Blog - Peter and Sue

Sue as hairdresser at an angle.  Aldeburgh Yacht Club ensign
Guest blog by Sue and Peter Wood

27 August AITUTAKI (Charlie's Island)

Arriving late morning, we anchored on a deep narrow coral shelf, fringing the reef, outside the one "Arutunga Pass" on the west of the island. A huge shallow blue lagoon stretches south/southeast surrounded by eight or so motu
(tiny islands). This one pass, blasted by the US military in WW2, well-marked through the coral, allowed a draught of 5.5 ft - not for Calliope! Despite our flying the Q flag, officials seemed uninterested in our arrival so, anxious to secure scooters for the weekend, we went ashore regardless.
Cook Islands Christian Community Church

With Charles and Nicky "two-up" and Peter and I solo, mistrusting each
other's scooter skills, we enjoyed "sundowners" at the 5 star, beautifully manicured, Pacific Resort, at the NW tip of Aitutaki. Well equipped for exploration on Sunday, we could not help but be drawn to the Cook Islands Christian Community Church, belting out their Sunday morning Halleluiahs, raising the rafters, causing "goose-bumps" and even a
tear of overwhelming emotion - a sound we will never forget.

With 50cc engines protesting, we climbed 400 feet to Peraki Lookout for a stunning 360 view of this gem and its motus. A circumnavigation revealed cultivation of bread fruit, pineapple and coco, a "golf course" next to the airstrip, many abandoned shacks, several rugby posts, a community of kite
suffers and, as we have seen on many of these Polynesian Islands, family burial sites in the back yard.

We were excited to find Charlie Wood's house ! "Mister Charlie" (Peter's son), spent six months living on Aitutaki as an 18 year old, teaching in a primary school and drove the local troupe of traditional dancers and fire eaters around in a minibus in the evenings. It is so much easier now to
imagine his life here and enjoy all the places as described by him 7 years ago. We had brought a photo of Charlie and five of his pupils and found a young boy who knew two of them.

More traditional singing awaited us that evening; not put on for the benefit
Aitutaki church singing competition
of tourists, of which there are few, but an island just getting together.  We dined at the Pacific Resort, celebrating Charles and Nicky's 34th wedding anniversary with delicious food and fine wines. Congratulations!

On Monday morning the wind shifted suddenly so it was time to go. We watched a small Swiss yacht fail to lift anchor, snagged on the coral, with much damage to windlass and bowsprit. With a masked signaller in the water (Charles) and Peter on helm, we eventually un-snagged our wrapped chain and were free - next stop, Palmerston 198 miles away to the West.


Measuring 6 miles by 4 miles, this atoll surrounded by lagoon and about 24 small motus (one of which is called Kiss Me Arse, was first inhabited by William Marsters, a Lancashire sea captain who settled here in 1862 with his three wives he had acquired in Penrhyn, one of the other Cook Islands. Over the years he fathered 26 children and divided the island into three segments, one for each family, with strict rules on marriage and inheritance rights. He was, and still is, referred to as "Father" and English was the decreed language. His original home, built from shipwrecked timbers
William Masters' grave and eighth generation Henry and Madinia
(destined for Australian goldmines), still stands. Coconut palms cover all the islands and a handful of mahogany trees in the centre stand majestically. Their timber is used for construction. Just 50 people live on
the Island now and, thanks to a gift from Queen Victoria to the original William Marsters, they own the island outright. They claim to have recently turned down an offer of $30 million from a rich Brit.

On arrival, each yacht is greeted by one of the three families who act as water taxi, tour guide and host, in our case seventh generation Bob Marsters. They are very proud of their history and keen to share old stories about their forebears.
William Masters' house build out of a shipwreck's cargo
Parrot fish fillets are exported by refrigerated
ships, three or four times a year, earning as much as 27 NZD per kilo when sold to restaurants and hotels in Raratonga. Bob claimed that they export 10 tons of fillets per year which at 27 NZD equates to about £180,000 or £9000 per person on the island.

Martha, a qualified nurse from Fiji, is the only medical personnel on the island, dealing with newborn deliveries, dental extraction, diabetes, heart disease, defibrillation - you name it, she does it! We asked her how long she would have to wait for help in a serious emergency; nineteen hours, she replied without any hint of worry !! Supplies were plentiful, the drug
cupboard well stocked and a new delivery of 4 wheelchairs sat on her veranda. Martha also doubles as the Health Official and came aboard to spray our boat with insecticide from bow to stern.

The school, modern but roofed with plaited banana leaves, is well laid out and seems to have everything it needs including two young South African teachers. The 14 pupils, aged 5 to 19, follow a home-schooling programme, so they mostly work independently. We enjoyed spending time with Bob's youngest children, Henry 4 and Madinia 7.

Despite their laid back, almost comatose, attitude to life the Masters families seem exceptionally adept at getting money and gifts showered on them. Witness the brand new solar power station, brand new medical facility, street lights, broadband/telephone, brand new water storage and in particular two full-scale JCB-style diggers donated by China.

Regular hurricanes pass through Palmerston, most houses having large concrete blocks buried underground with shackles attached. The corrugated tin/timber houses are then lashed down by rope to these blocks, in an effort to keep it from being totally flattened by the 80-300 kn winds. Our
contribution, an old halyard, was gratefully received.
Bob Masters and traditional boat

Despite Palmerston's completely isolated position, wifi is available to all, street lamps line the coco avenues, many examples of western packaged food are evident and the lunch served to us on both days included no local ingredients other than parrot fish fillets. This was particularly remarkable and in stark contrast to Mopelia where we saw the hardworking, totally self-sufficient people of Polynesia.

The snorkelling was amazing ! Fifty meters from Calliope we swam to the reef finding parrot fish 60-70 cms long, the iridescent blues and greens unreal, huge Napoleon fish, three different types of shark, immense Grouper (150cms) emerging like dinosaurs from the pass. At one point, alone in the water, only 20 m from the boat, Sue was surrounded by 5 or 6 six sharks and an enormous menacing "Barry Barracuda" - she admitted to being genuinely frightened for the first time this trip and shot up the swimming ladder in 1.2 seconds!!

We left feeling that this stunning gem of an atoll felt "strange". Incest is prevalent, marriage only banned to siblings, a lack of aim, and dare I
say, an eerie unhealthy and quite odd feel to it.

Much reading has been done on board - Peter is on his 10th book, which is more than he usually reads in a year. Sue and Nicky have been sewing,
creating a top out of a sarong and a dress out of material Bron brought back from Africa. A sewing machine would have been helpful, but we had time, so didn't mind backstitching. The finished creations were much admired by other yachties.

Food supplies on Calliope are holding up well (gin and wine less so, though we don't drink on passage). The fish we were given as a thank you for glasses in Maupiti has been made into fishcakes for lunch today. It will be good to find more greens (salad especially) in Niue, now less than 100NM
away; the market in Aitutaki was disappointing, though it did yield some tomatoes and carrots.
A new meaning to small government

Some great sailing and far less motoring than we feared would be necessary
-" altogether a right old romp" ( quote Peter) !

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Out into the deep blue - Maupihaa and meeting Tuarae - eye clinic in Maupiti

I finally feel as though we can match Alex a bit for having met the locals and not just being a tourist trip passing through beautiful places.

We spent three nights on Maupihaa (the Polynesian name) or Mopelia in the francophone version. We dined one night with Tuarae, his Italian girl Friday Gianne, Opupu and others.
Dinner on Mopelia

Opupu and coconut crab
 Dinner was langoustes, crabe de coco, red
snapper, parrot fish, benitiers (the inside of clams), breadfruit and tapioca, poisson cru au lait de coco. Not a great meal for Nicky, but the
rest of us found it delicious. We had gone ashore the night before and none of the above had been organised. Langoustes are caught at night on the windward side of the reef by torch light as they come in to shallow water to feed - so caught by hands which are best protected by gloves! Crabes de Coco are huge and are caught in the forest; fish is caught by spear gun in this case outside the passe in the ocean. This was the hippy night - music
and singing, smoking of the local Pakololo, drinking of home-made hooch. All food served off leaves and eaten with fingers. The hermit crabs tidy up any scraps or leftovers.

Then the following night we dined in style with Adrienne and her two daughters; a matriarchal society who very much are not hippies but are
making their part of paradise produce the maximum amount of food and copra - the cash crop made from dried coconut flesh. Adrienne and family (her
husband Marcelo heads the cooperative) are the most productive copra producers on the island and they manage to harvest about 3 tonnes every 3 months. You need 40 tonnes produced by the island cooperative to justify the supply ship coming to pick it up, so it only comes twice a year.
Nicky and Peter

Adrienne and daughters have some English, good in the case of one of the
daughters, learnt from books and films and some at school. They were all on the island 22 years ago when the last cyclone flattened it. Adrienne then had a 5 year old, a 2 year old, and a baby. Husband was away and the water came into their house about waist high. Luckily all survived; they then had some time away from the island and came back 5 years ago, and with much hard
work have created a very well organised home. Food comes easily in paradise, but everything else, including staples such as rice and flour must come on the supply ship.

The supply ship also only takes 2 passengers by law, which is where sailing boats come in and why Calliope and its crew had such a wonderful welcome. We were anchored in Maupiti lagoon when Hio - the son of Adrienne and Marcelo - came across in his boat with Tuarae. Hio speaks excellent English and skippers yachts. He also builds radios from scratch, is starting pearl farming in Mopelia and is super bright and energetic. So Hio was there to ask if we would take Tuarae and "some" packages to Mopelia, which is 100NM downwind of Maupiti.
Tuarae and Dalia
We say yes - word gets around, so we then have two more passengers who ask, but who in the end don't make it although their parcels do. We then go for a walk to the top of Maupiti which is a steep climb up 300 metres with stunning views of the lagoon. Tuarae comes to guide us- helpful, though not
needed - but a good chat, and then leaves us to go collect his cargo. As he
is leaving, he asks "do you mind if I bring Gianne's dog with me". So we
say no problem. Dalia, a young German Shepherd, was impeccably behaved, sleeping in Tuarae's arms in the cockpit, her bladder holding out until we were an hour from our destination - though she left us a lot of dog hair as a souvenir!

When we reach Mopelia, which is an atoll with no mountain in the middle like the Tuamotus, unlike most of the Society islands like Tahiti where the
mountain is still there inside the reef, we are met by two of the local
craft and unload dog, bicycle, a dinghy full of bananas, assorted barrels, many bags of rice, sugar, and other packages which have filled both forward bunks and two jerricans of fuel, plus Tuarae.
Calliope discharging to lighters!
So what for us had been a very simple helping hand over a 16 hour voyage was an important supply service for the island and rewarded way over the top by the hospitality we received. I should add that the total population of the island is 18! Most have relatives in Maupiti and spend time there as children. You are allowed to buy 200 metres of shoreline and the land going through the Motu from lagoon to ocean, maybe 3/400m deep, for $40 and that land is yours to harvest from the coconuts which are there. A ton of copra is worth about
$300, so that is the cash economy.

For eggs you go to bird island, where there are multitudes of frigate birds and a tern like bird which lays eggs on the sand in abundance. Pick up the eggs, take them to the shallows; if the eggs lie on the bottom horizontally, they have no embryo in and you can eat them. If they float or stand
vertically, put them back on the sand to hatch.
Charles and Tuarae on Bird island
There are thousands of
eggs. Tuarae told us his simple test to find out whether a fish has the potentially fatal toxin ciguatera: leave it out, wait till flies land on it and if they die, don't eat the fish. One of Adrienne's daughters said flies won't even come near poisonous fish. Either way, trust those flies... though we were also told there's no ciguatera or stone fish here.

So Tuarae and friends have fed us, provisioned us, and Tuarae on our last night went langouste hunting again giving us six cooked langoustes to take with us. In return, we have left them with our old but in very good  condition mainsail halyard, olive oil, various perfumes, spaghetti and tinned tomatoes in case Gianne feels homesick, some LED lights wired and
ready to plug into their solar-powered battery (though one of the batteries is dead and we are not quite sure how Tuarae will source another car battery), reading glasses for Gianne. They think they are in our debt; we think quite the contrary. Adrienne has the old genoa sheet, a box of reading glasses for the island, olive oil and perfumes etc for her girls.

We would have stayed longer but we suddenly realised we had Peter and Sue's return flight dates wrong by a week so we have to push on towards Tonga. We have just reached Aitutaki which is where Charlie Wood spent his gap year. The passe into the lagoon is too shallow for us so we have anchored outside the reef. We will go on to Palmerston and Niue, both of which have mooring
buoys on the lee side and no lagoon.
Pass of Maupiti

Talking of reading glasses, we held our first eye clinic in Maupiti. Nicky was in charge and what a fabulous job she did of arranging and organising it. Over to her.
Calliope in Maupiti Lagoon

On a long voyage like this, we seldom stay anywhere very long, and we're usually ready to move on to the next exciting destination, but I must admit to feeling quite sad to leave Mopelia this morning: the people we have met,
spent time with and been able to help here and in Maupiti have been so welcoming and opened their lives to us. They're not particularly curious about where we come from, just eager to share their bit of paradise.

So, the eye clinic. We've had 400 pairs of reading glasses, in assorted strengths, on board since Antigua, and four dozen 'Eyejusters', very clever adjustable glasses for short sight, caught up with us in Moorea. We'd managed to use a few readers to barter with when we first arrived in Fatu Hiva and had no Polynesian currency, back in early May, but had begun to
wonder whether we'd ever manage to find a market for all the others.
Eye Clinic Maupiti
we arrived in Maupiti we spoke to the mayor, who arranged a room we could use and sent out word that we would be running a clinic the following day. We had a queue outside already when we arrived at 3pm and Solange (troisieme maire adjointe) was fantastic at keeping them orderly, sending people in one
at a time to "read" the symbols (capital E facing up/down/left/right) on our chart. If they managed that, I passed them on to my incredibly efficient and capable assistants, Charles, Peter and Sue, who repeated the test at
close quarters to establish whether reading glasses were needed. It was very gratifying to watch individuals go from squinting and faltering over line 2 on the chart, to romping through to the very bottom line. One man, standing on the balcony outside, exclaimed 'there's a yacht out there!', not having been able to see it before. Although an opthamologist does visit the island every few months, those we were testing can't afford their services. They were surprised not to have to pay any money for their glasses.
Deputy Mayor, Nicky, crown maker, and Sue
Within half an hour, thank you presents began to arrive: shell necklaces, crowns of flowers, grapefruit, cucumbers, a cabbage, bananas, lemons, a little bag of pearls each for me and Sue, and fish: a huge piece of tuna fillet and a
yellow and black striped fish, both frozen. We shut up shop at 6pm and ran another small clinic the following morning before climbing the mountain.

Earlier that day, we'd hired bikes and ridden around Maupiti, which was impossibly pretty, with sandy beaches (you can wade across the lagoon in places), tall, leaning coconut palms and beautifully kept gardens, many with family graves in them (what happens, we wondered, when you move house?!) Even the dogs were friendly: one of them accompanied us on our ride. No shops at all, but a post office at the hub of the village with a wonderful congratulatory poster stuck up outside: in December last year, 30 Maupitians passed the first ever driving test administered here and there they were in a photo, solemnly lined up with their certificates which entitle them to drive the 10 miles round Maupiti's one and only road, but which are not valid on other islands.
Maupiti's first driving test!

We hear some news of other Oysters, mostly behind us for once after we have been tail-end Calliope from the Caribbean through to Tahiti. It was fun to spend yesterday (great snorkelling!) with Paulina and Mariusz of SunSuSea, who joined us in Mopelia lagoon.
Whale outside Mopelia pass
Au revoir, French Polynesia - we will be back!

Navigating through passes - in the Tuamotus the passes we went through were generally wide, some shallow (Fakarava South), but, if you timed it near slack water, not too troublesome in navigating. Maupiti's passe is open to the south, quite narrow, very well marked, but, with any southerly in the wind, it can create quite some wind-on-tide as the water is always coming out from the lagoon, as the lagoon fills with water over the reef from the windward side, which has no way to get out except through the passe. Going in to Maupiti the winds had been 20 knots or so all day but from the East so we were worried, swallowed hard, looked at the smallish gap, judged the
waves small enough, and went in easily with 3 knots against, following the clear leading lines, accurate charts with just a little water over the bow. On exit, maybe over-confident and in the afternoon with stronger outgoing current, Peter and Nicky had gone forward to the bow, with cameras in hand. All appeared smooth until we met standing waves which were quite steep and
about 3 metres tall, although only about 150 metres in duration. Peter's iphone is now dead, Nicky's video has some interesting swooping movements in it, but all were safe!
Manta ray in Maupiti lagoon

Mopelia passe used to have red and green markers; it now has one white for port and one white for starboard side, is maybe 30 metres wide although very well defined coral to either side and deep right up to the marker. The
Navionics charts gave good representation but we were about 20m left of where the chart plotter said. Since it faces north-west much less risk of wind-on-tide against the easterlies, and we had softer winds around 10 knots, so we had no problem in or out. In stronger winds and waves I imagine it could become more emotional because it is so narrow and you would have much stronger outgoing current. All the water coming over the reef
into the lagoon has to exit through the passe. Navigating coral heads inside the lagoon is done by sight as it is uncharted. Another one not for the faint-hearted and we had a local on board to help on the way in.

Nicky was absolutely brilliant with the eye clinic. She was the one to talk to the Mairie; she looked beautiful of course, particularly with the flower crown they made for her and Sue, gave the clearest instructions, and charmed the occasionally shy locals to do the eye tests, and organised the shy(ish)
Peter and Charles into doing the close-up tests. Being able to speak French here has been so useful, after feeling helpless in Spanish-speaking Colombia, Panama and Galapagos before Alex arrived.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Leaving French Polynesia

We are anchored in shallow turquoise water in Maupiti, which is about 30NM
to the west of Bora Bora. It is delightful. An atoll with a big lagoon and
with a 350m mountain in the middle. Yesterday we cycled round the island and
today we have been snorkelling with manta rays in the lagoon. Not the best
view so we shall try again tomorrow morning. They go out to the pass to sea
to clean themselves in the morning with the aid of fish who eat barnacles
etc off them, and then they disperse through the lagoon during the day.

This afternoon we are conducting an eye clinic on land. We have 500 pairs
of long-distance and 40 pairs of clever adjustable short-sighted glasses
with us and various eye charts, supplied by Oregon-based Sea Mercy and we
will see who needs them; the mayor, whom we met this morning, has invited
people to attend. Maupiti has about 1000 inhabitants and nowhere near the
amount of tourism of the other islands. Bora Bora is overbuilt and
overpriced, so don't go there for your honeymoon; we can suggest many better
locations! Maupiti is not poor but it is less affluent than the other
Society islands. Each island has a different feel, even Raiatea and Taha'a,
which share a lagoon. On Raiatea, while Sue was completing her PADI
certification, we hiked with Tiggy and James from Miss Tiggy, from sea level
to the high plateau at 720 metres, saw a Tiare Apetahi flower up close -
it's the national, very endangered flower - and back down again, a tiring 7
hour walk. We've loved drifting with the current through coral gardens,
sometimes having to suck in the tummy so as not to graze the coral,
surrounded by multi-coloured fish.
Fish trap on Huahine
Not so keen on sea slugs, though, which
look like turds... We've visited pearl farms and seen the extraordinarily fiddly process of implanting a piece of shell and a small centre into pearls, and the glorious range of colours the resulting pearls display. And on Taha'a, we loved being shown round a distillery and vanilla plantation,
and continue to enjoy the passionfruit rum. Thanks to Lenny and Sharon on Shalen for pointing us in that direction! Renting a car on some islands,such as Huahine, has allowed us to explore the interior and parts of the
coast we couldn't otherwise get to. A friendly Ia Orana (hello) and Nana (bye) is as far as our Polynesian has progressed, but it's been fun being able to communicate in French, which we couldn't do in Spanish in Colombia, Panama and Galapagos.

We will probably leave Maupiti tomorrow for Maupihaa. It is an island with 18 inhabitants and we will be taking 3 of them with us! The supply ship only calls twice a year, when there is enough copra harvested and ready to
export. The islanders take the supply ship or manage sometimes to get a
lift back 100NM upwind to Maupiti, but then they need to hitch a ride back
home. The pilot book has all kinds of ferocious warnings about the pass
being among the most difficult in French Polynesia; it is only 25m across
but there is plenty of depth and the weather forecast looks good, and we
will have 3 locals on board! The pass into Maupiti was exciting and in
different winds from the south could be truly awful, but it was well marked,
plenty of agitated waves but nothing too bad - power on and we made it
through. The current was against us: there's always a current running OUT
of the atoll, which seems strange until you think that there are always
waves breaking against the reef and flooding in.

So we have now been in French Polynesia since the beginning of May:
Marquesas, then Tuamotus, then Tahiti and the Society islands. The last
month has been in the more populated parts, but we needed 10 days in Tahiti
to change the gearbox (which meant flying 130kg of gearbox and drive
mechanics from the UK, and the engineer from New Zealand), to finalise
fixing the gooseneck, and to reprovision the freezer and other supplies.
All done at 3x the price of Panama.

We had a lovely two weeks with Michael and his friends George and Tom who
will post their own blog. Now we are with Peter and Sue who will accompany
us across the deserted Southern Pacific to Tonga via Maupihaa, Aitutaki,
Palmerston and Niue. The latter three do not have a lagoon, so we will have
to anchor on the lee side and hope the weather is good or leave and move on.
We will be in Tonga (360 islands) mid August, Fiji (333 island) early
September and leave Fiji for New Zealand mid-October.
Grey shark in Raiatea

We have loved the people of French Polynesia, which seems remarkably
prosperous, friendly, with a high sense of community and also selectively
understanding that too much tourism is not a good thing; eg Huahine voted
against any large hotels. How the economy works I really don't know.
Breadfruit, grapefruit and many other fruits grow easily in your back
garden, fish is still in the lagoon or the sea. Life is simple,
egalitarian, and with many community activities.
Heiva in Huahine
It has been the season of
Heiva or festivals, and we will post a video of the fabulous dancing and
singing from Huahine. All the island was there and the cast was over a
hundred of all ages, and all massively enthusiastic. Quite how all this
enables the books to balance I don't know, but it is very happy. I suspect
voting for independence would be a mistake, though we have seen a fair
number of blue and white flags showing support for that idea.

We are now out of 3G coverage, so please.