Monday, August 28, 2006

Poisson Cru

The weather's been kind to us so far, (I'm sure that just tempting fate too much). Yesterday we ran for 24 hours in more-or-less the right direction without adjusting the sails, except for a brief period during the night when we gybed to steer round the back of our first ship of the passage. The wind remains E - ENE ~15knots, making the sailing fast and enjoyable. It's our easiest passage to date. We should arrive in Penrhyn on Tuesday morning, timing our entrance to allow for sufficient light to pick our way through the coral to the anchorages.

We've been busily demolishing the tuna. So far we've enjoyed multiple servings of seared fillet, and sashimi. Last night we decided we'd experiment a little and came up with "Poisson Cru" and "Nori Rolls". The "Poisson Cru" was an unexpected success - raw fish with coconut cream, lime juice, vegetables and onion, chilled in the fridge and served with cold rice. It tasted fantastically refreshing and provided the perfect antidote to the close-to-unbearable heat during the day. It also appeals to my hunter-gatherer instinct as the major ingredients are readily available for the taking; fish and coconut milk.The "Nori Rolls" looked the part - we'd bought some seaweed sheets in Papeete - but tasted a little more chewy than the sushi I've had before. Worth trying again though especially as we've another eight sheets to chew through. We plan to finish the tuna today then put the line out again, hoping to catch something before we arrive.

The only other news-worthy item is the a minor drama with Ellen's iPod - "Philip". For a while, it appeared terminal, the startup screen was replaced with a image of a "sad" iPod and a web address for Apple support.
sad iPod
It looked like we'd be music-less until New Zealand, but after some experimentation we found the equivalent of ctrl-alt-del and all's well again. Phew.

Position @ 16:30 (26/8/06): S13° 45' W153° 40'

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Catch of the Day

We had a great sail through the night, making good progress to Penrhyn. During my first watch there were no stars and no moonlight to see by, just incredible phosphorescence and Noa's mast-head light twinkling reassuringly to our port. During my second watch, however, Noa had disappeared over the horizon. They really need to learn to take it easy on that boat! The wind died early this morning which may have had something to do with us catching our biggest fish to date; a whopping great tuna, as fat and round as a rugby ball, and about twice as long. When Nick landed it, we noticed that something had taken the opportunity to have a nibble at it while it was on the line as it had a chunk of flesh about the size of a hen's egg taken out of it's belly. Poor thing! Like it didn't have enough on its plate. Anyway, it's being relished by us now on our plates - we've had 4 meals of sushi and pan fried tuna already!
Bounty of the sea

Only 415 miles to go.

Postition at 13.40 ship's time (GMT-10) - S14deg58, W157deg01

Friday, August 25, 2006

Departure from Bora-Bora

Our departure from Bora-Bora has been marked by an unusual degree of indecision. The wind has been howling through the anchorages since our arrival, denting our enthusiasm for leaving. In addition the sight of the waves breaking on the reef has tempered our thoughts of an early departure. So for days we've been watching the weather, studying New Zealand weather faxes, subscribing to various weather email services, listening to weather reports from boats further west and generally confusing ourselves with too much information and too little knowledge of South Pacific weather systems.

Not only has the weather kept us in port, but also indecision about our destination. Since Panama the route across the Pacific has been well defined; Galapagos, Marquesas, Tuamotus and the Society Islands, but on leaving Bora-Bora a number of options present themselves. The main choice is whether to head to the Northern or Southern Cook islands or even miss out the Cooks and head straight for Tonga to try to arrive while the aging king is still around.

The Southern Cooks have many attractions, the main ones being, Rarotonga the capital, Palmerston watched over by the Marsters families, Niue with allegedly fantastic diving, and the isolated Beveridge reef. The Northern Cooks, include the almost deserted Suvarov made famous in sailing circles by Tom Neale's book "An Island to Oneself" and the infrequently visited Penrhyn with a coral infested entrance.

After much debate a plan formed; we'll take the Northern Cook route - the weather further north looked sightly more stable. We're aiming for Penrhyn followed by Suvarov, before heading on to Samoa and Tonga. After much procrastination the weather looked favourable for a departure yesterday (Wednesday). We were all set to leave when a chance conversation with a fellow cruiser severely dented our faith in our decision making ability. He helpfully informed us that, "Well boy, if you want 50knot winds, go ahead and leave, but I'm staying put along with the rest of the boats in port". We thanked him and fretted that we'd somehow overlooked the forecast saying "Don't leave! 50knot winds ahead", but a frantic search through our weather information revealed nothing approaching 30knots, never mind 50knots. By this time it was mid-afternoon we were tired so decided to get an early night and leave first light the next day. Typically the wind completely died overnight, leaving the water in the anchorage eerily smooth the following morning. Yet another delay, as we hoped the forecast wind would arrive by the afternoon. Finally at 1.30, we cleared the pass and set sail for Penrhyn – 580 nautical miles to the north-west.

Once we cleared Bora-Bora the wind filled in with ENE 10-15 knots. We've been effortlessly making 5-7 knots on a beam reach, with a slight southerly swell. Not only was the wind favourable, but by late afternoon the visibility was such that our view was bounded by three spectacular islands, Bora-Bora to our south, Maupiti to the west and Tupai to the east. We couldn't really ask for a better start to the trip, perhaps all the waiting was worthwhile after all.

It seems that we're not the only sailors wracked with indecision. Noa left just before us, bound for Surarov. We watched as our paths slowly diverged, then appeared to re-converge. We checked our course – we were still heading for Penrhyn, perhaps Noa was tactically heading further north for more favourable current or wind? Later we talked on the radio and it turned out that they'd changed their minds and were following us (or rather leading us) to Penrhyn. We think that talk of favourable exchange rates between black pearls and alcohol had made Rita convince Walter of the merits of our choice of landfall. Since pearl farming is the main occupation of the islanders and we have some spare Panamanian rum we hope to leave Penrhyn slightly lighter, but potentially more decoratively endowed.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Our stay at Motu Nao Nao to the south of Raiatea was fabulous.It was a landmark of the trip for Nick as he managed to spear his first reef fish there - a squirrel fish. They're quite small and beautiful, and happen to be very good to eat. We took it to show Charles, who lives on Nao Nao, and instead of laughing at our diminutive catch, he was seemingly impressed, gave it the ok as far as ciguatera is concerned and pronounced it 'bon protein, bon protein' and better than 'la viande'. Hmmm, not sure about that, but it was tasty! Noa joined us the next evening and we had a beach fire, baked potatoes and watched the stars.Alas, no fish for supper that day! The snorkeling was excellent - beautiful psychedelic clams and the usual plethora of fish.A walk around the island gave us the opportunity to marvel at the wonder of hermit crabs. They are a new entry in my top ten list of favourite creatures. Their intrepid, incessant explorations while saddled with an awkward, usually oversize second hand shell are so endearing. Their size is also miraculous. What you think is a cluster of sand grains suddenly shuffles into action and heads off with and air of industry - places to go, things to do, people to see! I was tempted to slip a couple in my pocket but decided to leave them to their business on the motu.

In mid-August, we made our way back north to Raiatea's main town, Uturoa, to take on water and other provisions. We spent the night tied up to the wall which felt very strange. At anchor you get used to your privacy, and to be the focus of curious glances from whoever should be passing felt very intrusive. One couple had a good snoop and I was about to go and confront them when I realised it was Ragtime! Having stocked up we left for Bora Bora which is a short 20 mile hop north west.We had a great sail but unfortunately no joy with the fishing on passage. When we do catch our next ocean fish, it's going to taste so good. We're both wishing for a wahoo. Bora Bora has a stunning skyline and the lagoon is an almost impossible array of hues ranging from deepest blue/black to pale azure.The weather here has not been great for our stay. We've had 20-25 knots of wind in the lagoon which makes snorkeling more difficult, and has probably affected the visibility below the surface. We have seen manta and sting rays in the anchorage, however, one of which leapt 4 feet into the air just ahead of the dinghy as we were heading back to Kika, and scared the flippers off us! Bora Bora feels as if the genuine Polynesian culture has been swamped by tourism, and hotels are still being built on the motus surrounding the island.
A walk on the mainland revealed more hotels and tourist shops, but heading inland and upwards, we were soon rewarded with fabulous views of the lagoon and we had the opportunity to practise our skills of scrumping amongst the lush vegetation. I managed to grab a tempting breadfruit from an obliging tree, and we had our first taste of breadfruit chips that evening. It is an extraordinary, versatile fruit with a curious texture that, when steamed, is close to mashed potato. Breadfruit was the main mission of HMS Bounty. Captain Bligh was commissioned to transport seedlings from Tahiti to the Caribbean in order to provide food for the slave labour there. The mission failed and history was made in the process!

In search of some seclusion, we took Kika around to the East of the island which involved some tricky navigation and thoroughly tested our buoyage skills. Coral dodging around Bora Bora
Coral dodging around Bora Bora
Nick shouted directions from his vantage point up the ratlines, and I helmed, manoeuvring Kika safely through the chicanes and switchbacks which comprise the safe passage around to the east. Arriving there we felt elated at our achievement - we're still building up our confidence around coral after the close encounter in Raroia. The 'seclusion' was limited due to our unavoidable proximity to hotels, but it was great to get another view of the island. The crater dominates everything and its silhouette changes radically as you move around, always dramatic and usually topped with a generous helping of cloud.Yesterday, we returned to an anchorage in the west, with a departure to the Northern Cook islands in mind. The main pass through the reef is to the west of the mainland and this is the only exit and entrance for sailing vessels. We took a quick trip into town for some provisioning, and I was delighted finally, to receive my birthday parcel which has taken a month to arrive from the UK! I almost kissed the owner of the yacht club (who, I'm sure is sick of the sight of me due to my numerous previous visits) when he produced a big package from behind the bar. I think he was quite surprised and I wouldn't blame him if he suspected it contained something more sinister and valuable than birthday cards, magazines, photos and, of course, Werther's Originals! I ask you, what's more valuable than that? So, departure is planned for later today although we are waiting for a weather forecast as, annoyingly, the wind seems to have died. Next stop, Penrhyn in the Northern Cooks. It means a slight detour from our rhumb-line west but from what we've heard, it's well worth it.

Monday, August 14, 2006


It's been a while since our last update and much has happened; we've celebrated both the anniversary of our departure and Ellen's birthday, we've sampled the delights of Tahiti and Moorea, narrowly avoided exhaust-fume induced asphyxiation, sent our first emails via Australia and we're currently enjoying nearly perfect sailing in the sheltered lagoon around Raiatea and Tahaa.We used Tahiti as a bit of a pit stop, restocking Kika with food, water, diesel, fishing gear and miscellaneous boat bits, while gorging ourselves on the readily available delicious French & Chinese food. We finally saw some Polynesian dancing, exhausted ourselves climbing up to a local view-point and generally enjoyed our rapid re-introduction to civilisation. However it's possible to have too much of a good thing and it was great to escape from the bustle of Papeete to the beauty and tranquillity of Cook's Bay in Moorea.From there we set off with Walter and Rita from Noa for the first of our fruit gathering expeditions, returning with a good selection of papaya. We've learnt from Noa that unripe papaya, when cooked, works well in savoury dishes and our papaya now rarely make it to the ripe fruit stage.

While anchored in Cook's Bay, we dug out our "Mutiny on the Bounty" DVD. It's shot against the tropical back-drop of the mountains of Moorea and it was thrilling to realise that the scenery in the film was identical to the mountains visible from our anchorage. Sadly, reality and fiction have yet to meet when comparing the greeting the Bounty received and Kika's arrival; where the film shows the boat being overrun by goddess-like semi-naked Tahitians, all we received were a few friendly waves from passing fishermen and racing pirogue crews. Next stop was Opunohu Bay, where our anchor disturbed and narrowly missed a ray resting on the bottom. It was a great anchorage in clear water with good snorkelling, fresh baguettes from a nearby shop, a short walk to a mango tree and Zeferin to our starboard.After a couple of days we were ready to head off but were delayed by a temporary fix I'd made to the exhaust in Tahiti turning out to be more temporary than intended. I'd given it a month's guarantee; the fix lasted a few hours. I'd bought parts in Papeete for a more permanent fix, so I took advantage of an unusually wet day to rip out the old pipe. Ellen has been primed, in future, to start a Gestapo-like interrogation if she ever hears me utter "I'm going to do a proper job". If I don't relent during the two weeks of bright lights, dripping water and thumb screws I'll be permitted to continue.
My "proper job" on the exhaust resulted in a single leak, being transformed into two leaks, then four leaks. The new pipe I'd purchased turned out to have a 40mm rather than 38mm diameter and the best exhaust sealant compounds in Papeete couldn't bridge the gap. Over the next few days I became all-too familiar with the Moorea-Papeete ferry timetable as I traipsed between chandleries, marine engineers, exhaust fitters and automotive suppliers. French Polynesia has a lot to offer, but it doesn't stretch to 38mm flexible exhaust hose. We were saved from wearing breathing apparatus for the rest of the trip by an exhaust fitter who fabricated some 38-40mm pipe adapters. I've optimistically guaranteed the repair until New Zealand, when I'll do another "proper job". Peter and Sheila, the previous owners of Kika, deserve a mention here; throughout the trip they've patiently responded to my email queries with helpful advice and in this instance provided valuable information about the installation of the exhaust.

We'd originally planned to be in Bora Bora for 10th August, Ellen's birthday, but my enthusiasm to fix the exhaust "properly" delayed us so that we only just made our revised rendezvous with Noa in Raiatea for the celebration. Once we'd recovered from the overnight passage, we enjoyed more snorkeling, birthday cake provided by Ragtime and a dangerous combination of the best Panamian and Tahitian wine.
Raiatea gets our vote for our favourite Society island to-date. It's two islands; Tahaa to the north and the larger Raiatea to the south. They share an almost completely navigable protective reef, in which we've been enjoying fantastic sailing between stunning anchorages with great views over clear water to Huahine and Bora Bora. Also, our fruit gathering expeditions have been the most successful so far, yielding a stem of bananas, papaya, avocados, an orange, breadfruit, coconuts and vanilla pods.
Moorea pineapple field
Moorea pineapple field

We're currently anchored off a motu (small sandy coral islet within the lagoon) in the south of Raiatea with fantastic snorkeling, the opportunity for some spear-fishing (we've checked for ciguatera with a local fisherman), plenty of driftwood for a beach fire and no shortage of hermit crabs for racing. It's going to be hard to drag ourselves away from Raiatea, but eventually we'll head off north to Bora Bora to locate a waiting parcel and sample (according to our pilot guide), "the most beautiful of the Society islands and possibly the Pacific". We'll let you know if we agree.