A Capella of Belfast Blogs

Not all plain sailing in Tahiti

We have spent three weeks in Tahiti. This island is much busier, more sophisticated and somewhat less charming than the previous ones we have visited but it is a happy place. In the evenings there is nearly always local music and the ladies just love to wear flowers – even the bus drivers. In fact this particular lady bus driver had a collection hung up by her steering wheel presumably ready for any eventuality or colour scheme. It really does make you smile. We have learnt new days of the week – petit Sunday – a euphemism for a late start on Monday after weekend partying. Yes, the Polynesian people are very laid back and seem to have very limited entrepreneurial spirit. There must be plenty of tourists here but there are no high rise hotels and the tourism does seem relatively undeveloped or just contained in resorts. We have very much enjoyed the excellent Carrefour supermarket just near the anchorage – excellent French bread, cheeses, pate and New Zealand meats. I know this sounds a little strange but a really good supermarket within walking distance is a great treat.

A Capella anchored in Papeete, Tahiti

The pass in Tahiti was quite exciting

BBQ ing on the coral spit

Out rigger canoes racing

The excellent market in Papeete

Our initial anchorage was just off the south pass to Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, and nearby to a sand spit/coral reef. This was the local play ground and every weekend numerous little motor boats came out and anchored to have BBQ’s etc. We found seeing tents, and BBQ’s just sitting in the water definitely novel.

Keeping a sailing yacht going over this timeframe and travelling these distances is a never ending challenge. We found that there was a problem with our feathering propeller which was sticking and not going into reverse properly so we have spent a week becoming experts in propellers. Our spare was not quite as we had expected. It was missing a crucial spacer which, fortunately we did managed to source in Papette. It was also the opposite directional configuration to the original and a fixed propeller which is less than ideal. In the end we decided to return to the original feathering propellor and this has been thoroughly cleaned and is now moving freely. The propeller had to be re-fitted under water and divers Philippe and Sebastian could have not been more understanding and helpful.

Our anchor roller also needed attention. Mending this required metal bashing and some welding. The result is not beautiful but will get us safely to New Zealand. The welders turned out to be more metal bashers than welders and only spoke French so Julian’s language skills were well tested.

One very shiny, free moving propeller
Over seeing the metal bashing

The spare part for the generator arrived via Alex, son of Bill, on s/y Krabat. This was fitted, but generators being generators it had developed a water leak issue probably as a result of sitting idle with salt water in the system. The water pump was replaced and with a bit of coaxing the generator is now working properly.

All this meant we could not anchor so we spent two weeks in the marina Taina. Although cruisers tend to dislike marinas (primarily due to cost and being too close to other people) we had the most lovely spot just in front of a £1.5M chase boat belonging to a super yacht. Our marina spot had become very sociable. S/Y’S Wilderness, Wildside, Larus, Bruno’s Girl and Ikinoo were all here. We were in danger of becoming a fixture, but with everything in excellent shape we have now moved onto Moorea which is a small island just near Tahiti.

There are worst places to be curtailed and our enforced stay in Tahiti allowed us to go to the Heiva competition. The Heiva is a festival over about six weeks and celebrates local Polynesian culture and includes dancing, chanting, canoe racing etc. We bought tickets to the opening evening of the Heiva competition and were about to learn that drama production techniques in Tahiti have much to develop. To be frank it made school productions look seriously slick. The production started 1/2 hour late and overran by at least 1 hour. All introductions, of which there were many, were repeated in three languages- Tahitian, French and English. The whole event lasted 5 and a half hours while sitting on small plastic chairs. The more experienced locals seem to come and go as they pleased!

The dancing was really spectacular. We saw two sessions of about one hour long each depicting a story. There were about 100 dancers in each session and at least three complete costume changes, albeit there are never many clothes but wonderful head dresses. Quite how both the men (knee wobbling) and the ladies (bum wobbling) move their bodies is incredible – they just must be made differently from us, but the effect is like a shimmering of colour on the stage – sort of mesmerising. We also heard the chanting – a sort of singing. This is a strange melody and interesting but not really a spectacle. Julian has now just about recovered from the experience. It was really worth going to, but next time we would do it like the locals, get a programme, arrive and take a few breaks!

We fitted in an island tour with Andrew and Kate from s/y Wildside and headed off in Carl’s Taxi. We saw all the usual, touristy things – waterfalls, the spot were Cook had watched Venus in front of the sun, the spot were Cook had collected water, a lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s father, and some tikis. As with all things in French Polynesia these were well set out, but the truth is we are becoming very hard to please but it was good to see the around the island and how the people live. The best bit was our lunch at the restaurant Musee de Gauguin owned by Roger Gowan, who was delightful. Roger is 85 and had sailed to Tahiti in the 60’s. He wrecked his boat on a reef, decided this was paradise and just stayed. He showed us his office complete with beautiful plotted charts from his trip which, of course, was all done using a sextant – tough stuff.

Collecting nonos with Carl. Apparently they prevent cancer but taste awful.

And finally we did trek up one of the magnificent mountains to see a waterfall.

The dangerous archipelago – The Tuamotos

The time had come to move on from The Marquesas but on our last run ashore I managed to get a photo of one of the Marquesian ponies having a gallop along the beach – just magic. These are tough ponies and impressive jockeys. I also thought you would enjoy a photo of some lovely ladies making flower bands for their hair.

The Tuamotos are the largest chain of coral atolls (78) in the world. The quide book describes them as looking like pearl necklaces gracefully tossed in the ocean, and certainly on our charts this description seems quite apt. However, such pearl necklaces make for tricky navigation.

Each atoll has one or two passes and these need to be crossed at slack tide, with the sun either high in the sky or behind you and preferably no wind against tide should you be a little late. There are no tide tables here but an enterprising yachtsman has produced a “guestimeter” which is shared amongst our fellow cruisers along with various stories of woe! The guestimeter seems to do a good job and we successfully negotiated the passes to Kauehi and Fakarava. Actually Jack Sound, just off Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire, is much more frightening in our opinion.

We anchored in the south of the Kauehi atoll. This was an idyllic tropical anchorage close to various uninhabited islands or motos. The view at breakfast is just what you dream of and the sea was finally smooth representing a very positive change from the Marquesas where the swell and roll were constant.

What a view for breakfast

Anyway they say cruising is doing jobs in paradise and so we set too. First job was to change the deck organiser as the original was damaged. This involves taking down the ceiling lining and (the worst part) putting it back. The ceiling lining is about 3 by 2 metres, made of bendy plywood covered in fabric and must go in exactly the correct place to clip back up. This requires 2 people with at least 4 arms each! Ummm. Frustratingly the replacement part was just, ever so slightly different, as seems to always be the way. Fortunately in Julian’s supply of bolts there were a couple that were long enough to do the job and this will certainly get us to New Zealand or the next time we feel the strength to take down the ceiling lining.

The second job was cleaning the hull. The clear, non tidal waters made this an excellent spot for this never ending job.

We fitted in some snorkelling and socialising, and managed to trade some nearly overripe bananas with Ian and Manuela from S/Y MisterX. They then came to supper with banana cake and a bottle of champagne to celebrate our wedding anniversary – how wonderful it that?

The next atoll we visited was Fakarava. This, in theory, has the second largest settlement in the Tuamotos, but it is still tiny, and delightfully unsophisticated but as always beautifully looked after and really clean and tidy.

It was here that we were to encounter a new hazard unique to coral atolls – bommies. These are tall coral chimneys which grow from the sea bed. The anchoring in the atolls is relatively deep (about 10 metres) so it is often not possible to spot the bommies when anchoring. We managed to get our anchor chain wrapped around one of these and it took about four hours to extract ourselves and re-anchor in a better place. The next time we anchored we strung fenders off the anchor chain to (hopefully) keep it floating above any lurking bommies. Certainly the anchor lifted the next day. Whether this was because of the fenders or just better luck we will never know.

Note the bommies in the foreground

The Tuamotos are reknown for their black cultured pearls. We took our bikes ashore and cycled to a small pearl farm. The only road is flat, concreted and there is no traffic so although a fair distance in the heat, it was not too bad. We were so lucky as at the farm, the owner took us through the whole process and even opened an oyster and extracted a small pearl for us. I am now the proud owner of a shell and pearl necklace – just lovely and very in keeping.

We would have liked to have stayed a little longer in The Tuamotos but the winds were forecast to get much stronger and we felt it was prudent to leave and sail to Tahiti. As it happened we had plenty of wind (25 knots plus) for the 36 hour sail to Tahiti and spent a fair time sailing with three reefs in the main and no jib in order to slow down so that we would arrive in Papette at first light.

We are enjoying Tahiti. It is the first time we have heard road noise or had light pollution for three months, but it also the first time we have had a supermarket with choice, albeit at a price, so not all bad.

Definitely something different – Marquesas – the land of tikis, tattoos and human sacrifices

The Marquesas, in French Polynesia are definitely something different – tikis, extensive patterned body tattoos, evening drum rolls, ladies wearing a flower in their hair and ancient sites of human sacrifice. Thankfully the locals have become much more peaceful now and this is a charming place – very friendly people, good French cuisine, French bread and croissants, and everywhere is clean and well looked after. The Marquesas are high atolls and rise up to over a 1,000m with mountains and deep valleys. This makes for dramatic scenery and exciting roads.

A great lunch spot overlooking the bay

Our knowledge of the geography of the Pacific has rapidly improved. So, we are now half way across this huge ocean and have a further 2,500nm to sail before we head south in November to New Zealand. French Polynesia includes 5 Archipelagos – the Marquesas, the Tuamotos, the Society’s, the Austral’s and the Gambier Archipelago. Due to the prevailing wind conditions we will not visit the Australs and Gambier Archipelagos. French Polynesia is about the size of Europe! From here we will visit the Cook Islands, Tongo and then Fiji.

Being part of France and Europe, The Polynesian’s are able to vote in the European elections. The election boards where the candidates posters are supposed to go remains empty on Wednesday! Elections are on Saturday! Ummm.

Election boards!!

The Marquesas Archipelago includes 6 islands. After arriving in Hiva Oa we had to do an overnight sail to Nuka Hiva where Stuart was catching his plane onward to Tahiti and then New Zealand. This has proved an excellent spot for some rest, relaxation and a general “sort out ” of the boat, and we are enjoying catching up with old friends and meeting some new ones. We have spent some time in Taiohae Bay and Hakatea Bay on Nuka Hiva, and plan to visit Hakahau Bay on Ua Pou. These names are extraordinary – impossible to remember and pronounce, and the spelling is difficult, inconsistent and not improved by “spell check” adding its own version.

A tiki complete with his weapons

The Cathedral

Frustratingly the generator has broken – the exhaust pipe has corroded after a mere 1 and a half years. It is not a fundamental piece of equipment but does mean we need to be more frugal with electric use and water. A fitting for the spinnaker halyard at the top of the mast was also damaged. As it happened we had had evening drinks with Graham, Johnny and AA from S/Y Karma who are from Belfast, and their boat had been kept in Strangford! Graham is a very experienced rigger and he very kindly helped replace the damaged sheave fitting for us. We could have used a spare halyard but it is so much better to have fixed the broken fitting. In common with all the boats which have crossed the Pacific the hull of the boat has picked up a feast of wildlife. I fear these nutrient rich waters are going to make hull cleaning an endless job.

We had an excellent island tour of Nuka Hiva from Richard who was extremely knowledgeable. Since Captain Cook’s time these islands were unwilling hosts to a multitude of explorers, whaling ships and missionaries until France took formal possession in 1843. There were also various tribes and so over time there has been plenty of warfare. European diseases devastated the population at times. We visited sites of human sacrifice which were really quite elaborate with elevated platforms (presumably to get a better view) for priests and chiefs. Some of these sites have been reconstructed and are used for celebrations, and once you get past the gory bit are actually rather lovely. Tikis are spirits of the dead and old and new are plentiful – they certainly add to the mystique. The views and roads are spectacular.

A very old tiki, with the sacrifice site behind

There is very little native wildlife but we see many smallholders farming pigs, and cattle mostly tethered. There are many small tough looking ponies, wild pigs and goats. Feral hens are everywhere. Tropical fruit is plentiful when in session. There are always bananas and we have now tried purple bananas and orange plantains for a change. Pamplemouse (like a sweet grapefruit) and star fruit are in session at the moment and until the supply ship (once every three weeks) comes that is the fruit we will be eating. Choice is limited but we certainly will not starve.

The water here is quite murky but we have seen sharks and turtles and the anchorage is visited by mantra rays. Julian spotted the rays while up the mast!

We had a fantastic walk with friends from 3 other boats (Krabat, Hullabaloo, and Jolly Dogs) to see the third highest waterfall (1000ft) in the world. We enjoyed it so much we did it twice. Once again the scenery was amazing. The scale is such that photos will never do it justice. This was followed by an excellent lunch – wild pig, citrus salad and bread fruit, followed by coconut ice cream – provided at a local house. A real experience as the cooking is done on an open fire and the facilities are very basic.

We are now waiting for a weather window in order to move onto the Tuamotus about a four day sail away. These are low atolls and are only as high as the tallest palm tree, and do come with a reputation as they were previously known as the Dangerous Archipelago. Hazards include the very strong tidal currents in the passes, and numerous coral heads. We will undoubtedly learn some new skills.

Land Ahoy!

Land Ahoy! We have sailed 3,000 miles and taken 17 days to arrive in Hiva Oa, in the Marquesas part of French Polynesia. Hiva Oa is a tiny island in the middle of nowhere, but it has the virtue of being the first land fall, and port of entry, going west after the Galapagos. It is a strange thing when you finally reach land after such a trip. Part of you is of course, relieved to have arrived safely and pleased to have reached the end; but another part of you is sad that the adventure, the rather splendid isolation and the simple world were small activities can bring much pleasure has finished. Such a trip is not exactly a holiday, but is a very special time and truly unique.

The weather has been kind, and for most of the way we have had good winds from the right direction. For the more technical our best daily run has been 189 NM at an average of 7.9 knots and our trip run is 7.0 knots. All sail plans have been deployed – spinnaker, code zero, poled out jib plus staysail and normal white sails – something for every eventuality. The boat has gone well. We have motored less than ten hours so arrive with a nearly full tank of fuel. This is good news as getting any decent quantities of diesel in Hiva Oa will be challenging.

We can confirm that the Pacific is a huge rolly sea and very empty. We have seen a few birds, ocassionally dolphins and have seen some whales blowing. Most mornings we have cleared the decks of flying fish and small squid. We have seen only two other boats on AIS about 30 miles away so we never saw them physically. The skies, particularly at night are amazing. We have had daily radio contact with our friends on Krabat, and email contact with a Norwegian boat who both left Galapagos at the same time as us. This all makes for rather easy night watches, but the rolly seas have been tiresome.

The fishing has been exceptional thanks to Stuart who takes on his fishing responsibility with some gusto. The grand tally is 4 mahi mahi, 2 tuna, 3 nearly caught and numerous false alarms. One of the tuna was an absolute monster – 1.35m long, depth 0.35m and probably weighed in at 70lbs/30kgs. It took over an hour to land and was too big for our new net, so it was expertly gaffed by Julian. It took another 3 hours to deal with the fish and clean the boat afterwards. We were all absolutely exhausted. Should we ever catch another fish of this size, I think photographic evidence will be sufficient! Following this effort, fishing has had to be suspended as the freezer is full. As always the fish also have it their way, and a rather angry fish took our lure and all the line – we probably did not want that fish, but did it really have to take our equipment? The new, very big catching net has proved a great success and we do not miss the rather bloody, bludgeon affair with the gaff.

Julian has been honing is astronavigation skills and has successfully plotted latitude and longitude to within less than a mile of our GPS position. This is a very time consuming process but at least we can feel assured that if the GPS went down we would still nearly know our position. It does seem to require at least 2 people on tender hooks 3 times a day. We did spend a few minutes considering what it was like for Shackleton in his open boat in the Southern Ocean navigating from Elephant Island to South Georgia. How incredible and tough they were.

New culinary achievements include fruit cake and onion chutney. We are missing good old branston pickle but the onion chutney has proved a suitable substitute. I am no cake baker but three fruit cakes (Moira’s recipe) have disappeared quickly. Top menu items were Mahi mahi in oatmeal with pickled beetroot and black rice, blackened mahi mahi with couscous flavoured with cucumber and coriander, and cappachio of tuna with pickled beetroot and flatbreads. We have just about managed to spin out the fruit and vegetables.

It seems hard to explain where all the time goes on a trip like this but between sail changes, astronavigation, fishing, cooking, cleaning, water making, battery charging and a few extra sleeps we fill the days. We have an hotly contested sweep stake for the daily run. I have managed to draw a blue footed boobie – not so easy on a rolling boat. Stuart has tackled rope work, Julian taking on the supervisory role! and we now have at least a years supply of soft shackles and rope loops. Stuart and I, occasionally joined by Julian, have taken up daily scrabble and the top score between us is 756. Stuart nearly always wins, hence the collective goal! Local rules allow double points for nautical terms.

So, all in good spirits here, looking forward to some french cuisine, catching up with the world, and exploring the Pacific Islands.

Goodbye Galapagos and onwards to French Polynesia

Tomorrow we set sail for French Polynesia after three weeks in the Galapagos. The forecast is good for a 20 day trip. This, of course assumes we manage the “leaving” bureaucracy! And yet another boat inspection, this time to check for baby tortoises and drugs. Do not get me wrong the officials are all very polite, it just doesn’t happen like this anywhere else.

Stuart Dawson has joined us for the trip so we have a “Team Pacific” which is great news.

We have re provisioned at the local market. The pricing still remains a mystery or maybe a “dark art” and most things seem to cost a dollar. If we look a little perplexed we just get a bit more produce and it still costs a dollar. Bananas are virtually free so we have two large hands of bananas for a dollar. Sadly no Branston pickle or indeed any decent pickle. I suspect we will have to learn to live without it for sometime.

Our cobbler cum sail maker has come up trumps and the code zero has been mended, checked and re furled. This time we shared the football pitch with a construction lorry.

We have had a great time in the Galapagos but we will really remember the Galapagos because of the animals – they have been fantastic. The fish market at Santa Cruz is full on entertainment. The big, very fat sea lion just reminds you of a Labrador – very, very greedy and always in the way. I thought iguanas were vegetarian but clearly not all. Although the pelicans are very keen, but the heron with his evil sharp pointy beak is king. The frigate birds are just shameless and have no manners hence the plastic screen defences.

These guys can fillet fish at speed. We, of course have not purchased any fish as with Stuart on board we are completely confident of catching are own. In anticipation we have purchased the white wine to complement the fish as even on passage, fish really does need some white wine!

I have awarded myself a “I love boobies t shirt” as a souvenir!

Nearly Good bye to Galapagos

What can I say…. For us, on a sailing yacht, Galapagos is a bureaucratic nightmare most of which we still do not really understand. A permit here, a permit there; a few more dollars for something or other; restrictions, rules; and plenty of waiting around for something or someone! Today we had the cheese, we had just bought in Santa Cruz photographed before we boarded a local speedboat – why we don’t know? We can only assume it is a game designed to deliver some more dollars, keep people employed and enhance the eco marketing credentials of the Galapagos – but it might just be bureaucrats completely out of control.

But you cannot help being charmed by the wildlife. Where else in the world will you climb out of the dinghy and have to step over sea lions, and iguanas and going for walk navigate around giant tortoises? These guys know they are in charge, and we have to walk around them, but they do let you come incredibly close. On the boat at anchor we have pelicans diving, the sweetest little penguins, sea lions and black tipped sharks just metres away. I am not sure who eats who but it all seems to work.

We have visited three islands – San Cristobal, Isabella and Santa Cruz. Isabella is our favourite being more relaxed and has a better anchorage. We have seen all three boobies – blue footed, red footed and Nascar’s and definitely earned the right to wear the “I love boobies t-shirt.” We were lucky enough to see the blue footed boobies dancing which is the mating ritual and very comical. We have had some amazing snorkelling and the highlight must be swimming with rays and giant turtles. On the way to the snorkelling spots we were also lucky enough to see jumping rays – another mating ritual, and the blows and fins of fin whales.

The islands are volcanic and it does make for dramatic scenery. The very dark tangled rocks against the bright turquoise water is spectacular. We visited the Sierra Negra which is still an active volcano and has one of the largest craters in the world. We have been on push bikes and did an “only downhill” bike ride on San Cristobal. This sounds a bit slack but the heat is draining and quite frankly the bikes had very dodgy gears and were fit for downhill only. The ladies, Helen, Moira and I biked to the “Wall of Tears” and this is uphill but we did see wild giant tortoises which is really special on the way. The wall of tears is a wall 100m long and 7m high. It was built by convicts from the penal colony and served no real purpose except punishment.

The place is extremely clean and we have seen none of the dreadful plastic waste that has been on other islands. There seems to be no single use plastic cups or plates, no plastic straws and even in the supermarket no plastic bags for vegetables. It can be done.

Our friend Helen Phillips has been in Galapagos for a month and joined us on the boat for a week. Stuart Dawson has joined us today to do the long Pacific crossing to the Marquesas.

The boat jobs do not stop. Helen very kindly went up the mast to polish the shrouds -what a star because this is not a popular job. Julian and Bill, from Krabat, fitted a aft roller so we can use a stern anchor more easily. We have taken our torn (again) code zero sail to be mended on Santa Cruz. No posh sail loft here but a rather rough football pitch to roll the sail out on. We suspect the sail repair man is more of a cobbler, but he has a machine and some material, and for what we feel is rather an expensive price, seems willing and is probably competent – needs must.’

We are now preparing for the long voyage to the Marquesas. This will be 3000 NM and our longest non stop trip so far. We expect it to take about 20 days. Amazingly we are looking forward to it!

Limited broadband has meant smaller and fewer photos than usual in this post.

We have crossed the Equator and arrived in Galapagos

We set of from Panama City about 10 days ago and our now in Galapagos. I can’t include many photos as the internet is very slow here.

We enjoyed Panama City but after a final provisioning trip we were, as always glad to be moving again. We were looking forward to getting back to the islands after nearly a month near Colon and in Panama City.

The first stop after Panama City is the Las Perlas Islands about 50 miles south. We needed to do a final clean of our hull to ensure it was good enough for the Galapagos and we hoped the water was cleaner here than in Panama City. We thought the water temperature at 22c was rather cool but with wet suits on and deep breathes we got on with the job! We also visited a little settlement on one of the islands but this was very remote and although friendly we were definitely the tourist attraction!

The trip of 6 days to the Galapagos was uneventful and we were pleased to only motor for 30 hours out of 150 hours. This trip goes through the doldrums and is notorious for poor winds. Sadly our code zero which did a fantastic job in the light winds has ripped. We are hopeful we can get it mended here in Galapagos as we will miss it on the long trip to the Marquesas. You are supposed to celebrate crossing the Equator but for us it was 9.30 in the morning and after night watches that didn’t seem like a great idea. We allowed ourselves a glass of wine with supper, which we do not usually do on passage.

Just passed the Equator on the way to Galapagos

We were expecting a thorough bio security inspection on arrival in Galapagos and we had spent considerable time ensuring our hull was clean, the boat clean, no raw meat, no vegetables, many labels, numerous waste disposal bins. Clearing in was an experience.  9 officials got on board. No divers – they are all sick, apparently. It took about 1 hour and it was not really clear who was doing what. They checked our safety equipment and our paper chart, which covers the whole “other side of the world”, was deemed to be sufficient for emergency navigation. I fear there is much process, officialdom and corresponding checking but little real or useful rigour. We are all for sensible bio security but when you actually see what is happening on land we, as cruisers, are not the real risk.

A new friend!

We are just feeling a little underwhelmed by Galapagos at the moment. I know – first world problem. The cruising is very restricted and everything costs money. Perhaps we have just been spoilt and have become used to such freedom. Truthfully we are yet to see amazing wildlife but hopefully that will come. The sea lions at San Cristobal are great to watch and do get everywhere and that includes our swimming platform. Unfortunately sea lions do what sea lions do, and they are very smelly! Julian spent a good hour, moaning and grumbling, cleaning after them! Our defences have been reinforced!

Giant Cactus Trees