Monday, June 27, 2011

Two Weeks in Tahiti

I can't believe that we spent two weeks in Tahiti and I never got a chance to post an update. We've been busy busy busy with all the things you do in a new port... customs/immigration, provisioning, repairs, sightseeing, meeting new people--both cruisers and locals, and getting ready for the next port.

We went in with our friends on Infini and rented a car for 3 days. They needed to get their son Matt (and all his stuff) to the airport, and taxis are ridiculously expensive, and so they decided to just rent a car to get him there. At the time of committing to rent with them for 3 days, we thought the rental price was a great deal at $35/day. Well, when we got to the airport to pick up the car, we found that too-incredible-to-be-true price WAS too incredible. The real price ended up about $120/day!! That booking price was only for the car--and included no mileage and no extra insurance for an international rental.

The mileage cost was going to be 54 CFP per kilometer. When you do the calculations for the exchange rate and mileage, the cost ended up near 70 cents a mile!!! (without considering refilling the gas tank at $7/gallon). So we ended up switching to an unlimited mileage rate, which was quite a bit more expensive, but worked out better for us in the end.

We did, however, get to see every major road on the island...we drove all the way around Tahiti Nui (the big half of Tahiti), and all the way down both sides of Tahiti Iti. We also attempted to, but did not succeed, in driving over the top of Tahiti Nui. This is a route that a friend of ours told us about, as a 'not to miss' experience. The Lonely Planet said that the road was closed, but a couple of locals we consulted said it was open. So we attempted it. A very bad road--gravel--full of potholes and lake-like mudpuddles--and 2 river crossings... in our tiny Peugot rental car. It took us 2 1/2 hours to go the 20K (12 miles) to the top of the mountain. Then it started raining. And the small hotel at the top of the mountain told us the road down on the other side was blocked. So we turned around and went back the way we came. But it was a spectacular drive up through a gorge in the mountains of Tahiti. We did get a chance to hike for an hour up into the rain forest during part of our drive, and also see the Paul Gaugain Museum and the famous surfing spot on the SW corner of Tahiti.

Next was provisioning--checking out the grocery stores and markets, and trying to figure out what we need to restock with and can afford. Fortunately there is a huge Carrefour--the French version of a Super Walmart--2 blocks from the Yacht Club. So this made everything easy. And the end of the bus ride into town is at the big downtown fresh-air market.

The only thing that took a little extra effort was taking advantage of the opportunity to buy duty free liquor... we had to get paperwork from our agent and make several trips to the duty free liquor place. But we'll have some $5/bottle wine, rum, and liqueur delivered to Tahiti Yacht Club this morning. Unfortunately, beer, even duty free, is not a bargain here. The cheapest deal was Hinano, the local beer, by the case, on sale at Carrafour, at 3500 CFP/case in cans. Ouch! At the current exchange rate, that is about $43, or about $1.75/can. A few boats still have beer from Mexico or Panama, but everyone else has cut way down on their beer consumption!

We also did a little gift shopping in downtown Papeete. Nearly every store is selling black pearls of every shape and color. Since we had already bought plenty of pearls last year, we were not really buying much. But did get a few gifts. The least expensive deal--a non-perfect pearl of moderate size on a string--runs about 1500 CFP (about $19), and the prices go up rapidly from there, according to the quanitity and quality of the pearl(s) and the necklace and finishing. There was one shop where you could buy very blemished pearls by the gram. And another where you could pick your pearl (for varying prices) and pick your setting, and they would set it for you 'while you wait' (in a few hours). There are also loads of beautiful wood carvings, etc. All expensive, though. But it was fun looking and touching.

Finally, we just enjoyed hanging out at Tahiti Yacht Club. It reminded us somewhat of our own Melbourne Yacht Club--lots of sailing going on, and children in prams taking classes, etc. After a few days, we found that the bar which advertised a daily special lunch at $16-17, also had a hidden 'snack' menu, where you could get a cheeseburger and fries for about $10 (a pretty good deal in French Poly). Also, this was the first place (except Hawaii) in about 4 years where we could actually do our own laundry in a machine--wash and dry a moderate load for $8 total. Another bargain.

We were also able to top off our fuel at duty free prices, with the 'Yacht in Transit' paperwork from our agent. Instead of paying about $6/gallon for diesel, like the locals do, we only paid about $4/gallon. Nice.

We have been trying ever since we left Florida to get Dave's Naval Academy roommate to come visit us. He was signed on to do the Panama Canal trip with us, but a medical issue forced him to cancel. So finally he has realized that we are getting farther away and more expensive to visit by the week, and he decided to come meet us while we were still in the Tahiti area. He told us 2 days in advance that he was coming (with our approval, of course). So in what was supposed to be the lull between arrival and departure from Tahiti--we were getting ready for a visitor.

Jim arrived without problem--in spite of the fact that, because he was arriving at 5:30am, and taxis are so expensive, Dave declined to go meet him at the airport. He made Jim take the bus. But Jim managed just fine. Tahiti is a pretty friendly place and everyone was helpful to him. And we had given him good instruction--"Write the name of your destination on a piece of paper, and show it to everyone you see." That worked well.

So, on Friday, we officieally joined the Tahiti Moorea Rendezvous, sponsored by Lattitude 38 Magazine and the Tahiti Tourism Board. That kicked off with a nice informational briefing and a welcoming reception by the mayor of Tahiti. 42 boats officially joined the Rendezvous. In previous years, this was free, but this year there is a $25pp entry fee--times are tough here in Tahiti as well, and they couldn't muster enough sponsorship to make it free this year. The event includes a 'rally' to Moorea, 15 miles away, and a day of fun and games on the beach in Opunohu Bay.
In French Polynesia til August, then west toward Tonga
At 6/26/2011 12:56 AM (utc) our position was 17°29.30'S 149°51.05'W

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nous sommes arrivee a Tahiti

We (along with about 15 other boats on passage at the same time) arrive in Tahiti early this morning. We managed to be the first ones at the Tahiti Yacht Club and have gotten on a mooring. Though we emailed them a couple of times, they will not reserve moorings. What we heard was 'come in and if you find one, take it, then register in the office'. We are liable to be kicked off at any time if a member returns, but the manager, Michel, did not seem fazed when we told him we were hoping to stay for 10 days.

Our friends on Infini, who arrived from Rangiroa yesterday and anchored overnight at Point Venus (made famous by Captain Cook), arrived right behind us and also got a mooring. Two other boats we met in Toau are also here (Songline and the Dutch boat Libis).

Our first order of business was breakfast (omlettes ashore at the 'snack' next to the yacht club), and then the grocery story. We have notified our agent that we are here. We have 48 hours to complete our formalities, and may go ashore in the meantime.

The moorings at YC de Tahiti are 900 CFP per day (about $10) per day, and come with hot shower privileges. There is a laundry here too, which costs $8 for wash and dry.

Most of our friends proceeded on downtown to the 'Quai de Yachts' or to the moorings/anchorage off Marina Taina.
At 6/13/2011 9:18 PM (utc) our position was 17°31.42'S 149°32.17'W

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Au Revoir, Anse Amyot

One of the biggest downsides of traveling as we do is eventually having to say goodbye to special friends we have met along the way. It was with genuine tears in our eyes that we hugged Valentine and Gaston one last time this morning, and started preparations for a two-day trip to Tahiti.

The last week has been frustrating for the 15-18 boats bottled up at Anse Amyot--waiting first for some wind, and then waiting for the wind to stop blowing. We went from literally zero wind to 25-30 knots within a few hours last Saturday as a cold front swept in, and it has been blowing like stink since then, until late yesterday.

Before the wind started blowing, we took advantage of the calm conditions to do a lot of diving. We made at least one dive a day, and on the really calm days, two dives. We explored along the wall further in both directions--finding a few more neat dive spots. We usually had an entourage of several dinghies following us--some new friends. One a diver, and another couple were avid snorkelers. It was nice sharing our favorite dive spots with everyone, and it's always safer having at least one extra dinghy along when going outside the atoll (it's a long drift to Tahiti!!).

Once the wind started blowing, we mostly stayed on the boat and caught up on chores. I finally got the courage to upgrade the hard drive in my laptop. I had bought the drive back in February, but never had the time while we were in Hawaii to get it installed. Our friend Gene on Reflections, on a mooring with us at Toau, gave me the encouragement I needed, and also loaned me his drive enclosure and a disk cloning program. That made the job really easy.

Dave did Preventive Maintenance on the dive compressor, and also lots of other similar chores around the boat. Together we spent one whole afternoon removing and re-bedding the port genoa track--which leaked like a sieve on our way down from Hawaii.

In addition to the boat chores, we enjoyed socializing around the small fleet. We had several happy hours ashore, as well as other social gatherings for important functions like burning trash and swapping books.

Today when the weather finally calmed down, Anse Amyot emptied out. 14 boats scattered to the wind--3 went south to Fakarava, 1 went north to Apataki, and the rest headed west for Tahiti. We were the last of a group of 4 boats who left around 3pm today. Everyone is joking about having to keep a proper watch on this trip, because so many boats are headed for Tahiti right now.

Anyway, all is well. We are looking forward to getting to Tahiti and checking out the big grocery store we have heard about. We are almost out of bread, and are down to our last tomato.
At 6/12/2011 7:50 AM (utc) our position was 16°05.37'S 146°43.16'W

Heading for Papeete this Afternoon

No time to write right now, but just want to report that we are heading out this afternoon for a 2-night passage to Papeete. ETA Papeete early Monday morning. More later!!
In French Polynesia til August, then west toward Tonga
At 6/12/2011 12:41 AM (utc) our position was 15°48.19'S 146°09.17'W

Thumbs up for New Solar & Frigoboat

Now that we've had some time to watch and observe, we are really ecstatic about the upgrades we made in our solar charging system, and our refrigeration system in Hawaii.

On a sunny day, our solar array now handles all the electrical requirements and has the batteries topped off by early afternoon. This is in the South Pacific winter, where our days are only about 11 1/2 hours long, and the sun never gets properly overhead. At 7:30 am, we are generating over 10 amps into the batteries, and at mid-day, we are generating a peak of 30+ amps. Even on a fully-overcast day, we are charging 8-10 amps mid-day.

The Frigoboat systems have been performing well too. Our freezer stuff is rock-solid, and the fridge is adequately cold to keep everything nice. We still have a small bit of lettuce, green peppers, celery, cabbage, and carrots, as well as some apples left in the fridge after 6 weeks. Plus all the butter, cheese, eggs, and milk products. Fridge run time varies quite a bit depending on how often we get in the fridge. Both units combined are using approximately 80 amps in 24 hours.

The 'Smart Speed Control' on the Frigo systems has not been as useful as we'd thought. One problem is that the Danfoss compressors (or their controllers) make quite a bit of SSB noise, so we turn them off at the circuit breaker frequently when we are on the SSB. This resets the 'memory' on the SSC--so it seems they are always running full bore rather than at slow speed. We can manually force it to a slower speed, but that somewhat defeats the purpose of the SSC. And we have to manually reset it every time we turn the power off. I think if we had to do it over again, we wouldn't bother with the SSC and would use instead the Danfoss speed control module, or a very inexpensive (about $30) manual switch. We have both of these as spares and might switch out at some point.

But all-in-all we are very happy with both systems.
Sherry & Dave
In French Polynesia til August, then west toward Tonga
At 6/7/2011 11:10 PM (utc) our position was 15°48.18'S 146°09.17'W

Friday, June 3, 2011

At Work and Play in Toau

We have been here a few days now and are really enjoying the 'idle time'. But we haven't been completely idle.

We have been diving every morning outside the atoll on the drop-off. So far we have only visited the sites we had found last year. But the wind has finally dropped off to nothing, so today we will go further afield and find some new spots. I also have been snorkeling the reef beside the anchorage every afternoon. The water is only 8-10' deep, with coral heads that come up to within a foot of the surface. When the tide is coming in, it is crystal clear. All the pretty fishies are playing around the coral heads--hundreds around each big head. I like to just drift around watching them feed and play. After I snorkel, I go back to the boat and leaf through our copy of Reef Fish of the Pacific Ocean, trying to become familiar with the names of all the fish.

In one of these lazy snorkels, I discovered tiny pipe fish--only about 4-5" long and as big around as a piece of yarn. They look like little short snakes, but with a funny goose-like beak. They hang out in clusters in the mossy areas around the top of coral heads. Now that I know where to look, and what to look for, I see them on almost every head with moss growing on it. I like to just hang motionless and watch them 'grazing' on the moss and swimming around.

The 'work' part of my day has been disassembling and cleaning our big genoa winches. On our last passages, under heavy strain, our starboard winch started squeaking a little. As the 'sailing master' aboard Soggy Paws, it's my job to keep the sailing equipment shipshape. This is a nasty dirty job--we clean the old dirt and grease off the winches with a pail of kerosene. These winches (Lewmar 48's) have about 10 gears inside, and every gear has to be soaked in kerosene and patiently scrubbed with a toothbrush and a metal pick to get all the old caked grease and dirt from between the teeth in the gears. Then it has to be reassembled and every square millimeter of surface area coated with a thin coating of new grease.

I thought I had the manual for our winches downloaded from the internet, but found it doesn't properly cover our older Lewmar 48's. There was one part we couldn't figure out how to take apart. But fortunately one of our CSY friends back in Florida, with directions in hand, actually took their winch apart so they could try to figure out what I was talking about (thanks Warren!!). It is very difficult discussing technical assembly instructions without being able to share diagrams, which we can't do on our Sailmail. But after several back-and-forths via email, we finally got it figured out. As I took everything apart, I took pictures of each gear assembly before I dismounted it from the main drum, and then took it apart. These were invaluable in getting the darned thing back together correctly. But I finally finished both winches--they are back together with no pieces left over, and they are operating smoothly!!

Dave, meanwhile, has been splitting his time between keeping up with boat-related maintenance, being 'mooring field manager', and social director for the boats here at Anse Amyot. With the help of Bruce and Clark from s/v Two Amigos, they finished restoring the last mooring to 100%--just as 2 more boats came in and took the last two available moorings. We now have 11 boats on moorings here. There is currently only a catamaran mooring available (in shallower water than most monohulls would be comfortable in).

Valentine and Gaston (the family ashore) are as gracious as usual, but also as disorganized as usual. So trying to make arrangements for all the boats coming and going to pay their mooring fee by having dinner with them (at $30 per person) gets a little complicated. Plus we've had 2 charter boats drop in unannounced and want to have a meal 'now'. So twice the cruiser dinners have been pushed back. I'm not quite sure how Dave ended up as Mayor of Anse Amyot again, but he obviously relishes the position.

Today Dave has arranged with Gaston to lead an expedition into the lagoon to see if we can find the Manta Rays. We had a great time on a similar expedition last year. But when we tried to find them ourselves last year (after the trip with Gaston), we couldn't. If we can't find the Mantas, we'll head east to a part of the atoll where we found some good shelling.

A few of the guys were supposed to have gone out lobster hunting on the reef last night at 1am. Dave and I passed. In this location, it's difficult to get to a good spot in the outer reef without running through coral heads. And blundering around at night with the outboard in a reefy area is a sure way to wreck your prop.

Though we are really missing the boats that were here with us last year (Visions, Nakia, Whoosh, Bluebottle, Sidewinder, etc etc), we have made new friends. We have been leading an entourage of dinghies out to our favorite dive spots.

The wind, which has been howling through the anchorage day and night since we got here, has finally dropped off to 5-10 knots. The unsettled weather that has been hanging over us for a week has dissipated. Today looks like it is going to be another drop-dead gorgeous day in paradise!!
Sherry & Dave
In French Polynesia til end of August, then onward to Tonga
At 5/28/2011 12:55 AM (utc) our position was 15°48.19'S 146°09.17'W