May 31, 2010

How many colors of blue can there be?

We're pushing the answer to that question this week. We left the anchorage near the village in Makemo and beat for the southeast corner; a big SE breeze picked up and the fetch down the long atoll created wind waves that made the anchorage very uncomfortable. This also gave us our first very challenging lesson in coral head anchoring... it is almost impossible not to get a little tangled.

Down at the other end, the ride was much more comfortable- and the blues were out of this world. We thought we'd seen the brightest turquoise, the clearest sapphire... well, we'd seen nothing yet! At the far end of the atoll, the water shallows to 20' for a long stretch into the beach. Dotted with coral heads, it's once again like floating in a big aquarium. Impossible as it sounds, it just keeps getting better.

We hadn't planned to eat any reef fish, but every local we asked in town said there was no ciguatera in the atoll, so Jamie and Chris (s/v Stray Kitty) went on a fish hunt. Every day, they brought back beautiful fat fish that we tried every way: grilled, pan fried, squeezed with lime...

Today, we're departing Makemo and headed for Fakarava. This overnight trip will get us out of the pass here at slack, and put our arrival at Fakarava with, in all probability, a few hours before slack- nice comfort zone.

There are a few new pictures on Flickr- we are having computer troubles now (what next?!) and hopefully didn't lose the rest.

May 25, 2010

We're in the Tuamotus!

Totem is now in Makemo, in the Tuamotus. Yesterday's snorkeling adventure was nothing short of epic.. better clarity and more fish than we could ever have imagined. Listening to the girls squealing through their snorkels wasn't something we'll soon forget!

Our radio is still not working (%&*$#@) and our internet access is limited, so the blog is going a little hungry lately. For the folks at home- we're in company with Capaz, and they're updating our position on YOTREPS. We've bought some wifi time with the post office in Makemo and are getting synced up today/tomorrow before heading towards... Tahanea? Fakarava? Not sure yet!

Meanwhile, more pictures from the Marquesas are on Flickr... check 'em out! http://www.flickr.com/photos/giffordclan

May 21, 2010

Birthday Season

We recently had birthday season on Totem: all three of the children's birthdays fall within a two-week span. It was been really fun to have lots of other kids boats around to share their special days.

Each child is granted provisional king/queen for a day status on their birthday . What will we eat? What will we do? It's their call! All three have opted for games on the beach. This makes it seem an awful lot like every other day to us, but hey, it's what they want.

We were on Tahuata for Mairen's birthday, and spent the day playing in the surf. I think this pamplemousse from Mulan might actually have been one of her favorite presents...ask, and she'll tell you: it was bigger than her head!
Happy birthday girl

Niall's birthday became a feast of the pig roast leftovers plus potluck items to prime ourselves for his cake.
Niall's birthday party

What did Siobhan want? Dinghy driving lessons, a cake with a manta ray on top, and a bonfire on the beach. Since her birthday followed the fishing expedition on Oso Blanco, a bonfire was in the works to cook and share the tuna- serendipity! Stray Kitty prepared their goat from Ua Huka- BBQ sauce for the ribs, a delicious rosemary marinade for the leg...all was cooked over the hot coals to smoky perfection. Boats in the anchorage brought side dishes, and a feast was had under the starlight.

she wanted a manta ray on her cake

Siobhans birthday wish:

May 19, 2010

Morning hike into Hatiheiu

Baguettes cravings called, so it was time to hike back to Hatiheiu again. The round trip is about 3 hours: following switchbacks straight up to a ridge, then straight back down again into the next bay. As often is the case, the journey was the adventure.

We passed quite a few of the diminutive Marquesan horses... riders bring one, and lead another. They go over to Hatiheiu empty, and come back to Anaho loaded with provisions.

Critters on the hike to Hatiheiu

Max (Mulan) modeled a very cool crown woven from palm fronds, found hung on a stump along the path...
Max and the palm crown

It was a little unnerving to have a bull smack in the middle of the path.
Critters on the hike to Hatiheiu

At the other end, this is what passes for a supermarket:
Marquesan supermarket

Their stock isn't extensive, but we gathered plenty of fruit as well. Andrew found the perfect tool, so we collected a few mangos from a tree between the bays: note PJ with the hat ready to catch.
collecting mangoes

May 17, 2010

Field trip into Hatiheiu

After growing fat and sassy for several days on the Anaho beach, I craved exercise and hiked with Anne (Oso) over the ridge to the town on the other side. We scouted the magazin (general store), scared off a few goats from the main thoroughfare, and wandered through the tiki statues at the waterfront. The restaurant in town, Chez Yvonne, is rumored to be among the best in the Marquesas...dinner for a crowd the following night was arranged, with a traditional pig roasted in an underground oven as the main course.

The next afternoon, all 28 members of six different boats piled onto Oso Blanco for the cruise over. The 45 minute transit seemed easier than our 90 minute hike over the ridge...that is, until we had to get everyone into shore! The quai is a steep set of slippery concrete steps, washed over with a substantial surge. A system was arranged, and Jamie took everyone in our dinghy (brought for the purpose) to shore in five trips- helping hands on shore lifted passengers with each surge. Last ashore were Jamie and Eric, who anchored the dinghy out and then kayaked in.

Roast pig party in Hatiheiu

We arrived early enough to explore in town a little before watching the pig be unearthed from the underground oven (umu). Hot rocks and coals slowly cooked the pig during the day. Sandwiched in layers of banana leaves, then covered in burlap and earth, the residual heat was surprising.

pig...fresh from the umu

What a feast! We've been looking forward to trying traditional food, but I didn't know I'd enjoy it so much. Packed in with the meltingly tender pork were breadfruit wedges and bananas. Both of these are very starchy: breadfruit has the taste and texture of a potato, and the bananas were similar to plantains- but sweeter, and just transformed into delicious, smoky mouthfuls by the umu. More breadfruit (fried chunks, and fritters) and tapioca mashed with herbs and garlic were served alongside. Coconut sauce to pour on top was passed around; trays of fish and shrimp were brought for the non-pork-eaters, and all was washed down with pitchers of fresh lemonade or an icy Hinano beer. The excellent company capped an unforgettable evening with the crews of Capaz, Riga, Mulan, Oso and Nika.

May 14, 2010

Why rush through paradise? Anaho Bay

I am sharing my morning tea in the cockpit with a sea turtle, who pokes his head up now and again (making sure I haven't moved?). A few spotted rays cruise by the boat as the sun finally peeks over the top of the mountains.

* quick callout to Mum who has her birthday today! hopefully we'll find someone with a sat phone who can sell us a few minutes. *

We've spent an idyllic week and a half in this protected bay at the Northeast corner of Nuku Hiva. Our friends on Capaz and Oso Blanco were here when we arrived, and additional "kid boats" trickled in during the following days until we had the remarkable total of eight boats with children aboard.

What a great group: let the beach games begin! Bocce (with coconuts, until a proper set was procured), snorkeling on the reef, and some truly epic sand castle construction have been the chief entertainment for all ages in the bay. Occasionally, a squall comes through and sends a small fleet of dinghies hurrying back to close the hatches on board: but oh, the rainbow payoff!

here comes the squall!

Other days, the ridgelines around the anchorage call out to be climbed, and we share the path with convoys of horses being driven over for supplies.

Anaho Bay

There have been fishing expeditions, in Oso Blanco's whaler and on the mother ship Oso; and we tease our providers to bring back a catch so we can have fresh fish. Reef fish here, and in much of the south pacific, carry the neurotoxin ciguatera and so we aren't fishing in the bay, but only eating pelagic fish. With local knowledge, some reef fish can be safely consumed- but we don't want to take any chances (our friends on Elixir found out the hard way). No disappointments: we had a sushi feast of mahi and skipjack one night, and a beautiful tuna to power a beach potluck another.

The water clarity has been up and down, but in addition to the awesome mantas are schools of brilliant reef fish, the odd shy octopus, and sea urchins with the longest spines I've ever seen. We became pretty adept to identifying fish in Mexico, thanks in great part to Niall, our walking field guide. Here, though, they're all different and we're starting over. Our references aren't great, but they're good enough. One day blends into the next: hiking, swimming, playing on the beach. We could be exploring more anchorages in the Marquesas, but with such a comfortable, beautiful spot that offers so much... we are content to just be here.

May 12, 2010

Unforgettable

Jamie swims with the fishes

This past week, we've shared an anchorage with manta rays. These gentle giants have wingspans averaging around seven feet. Filter feeders without teeth, they swoop in graceful arcs, hoovering up the rich micro/macroscopic marine life that fills the water right now. We've been out to swim with them on a number of days. I cannot describe the feeling adequately, but it is magical to be in their presence! I feel immense gratitude and am almost frozen, hanging in the water and watching them; so thankful they welcome us in their space.

Niall caught a brief ride holding the wing of one ray... this picture of Jamie best helps put their size into perspective.

May 11, 2010

Questions about the passage

Some few people we aren't related to who read this blog are prospective Pacific passage makers, and have emailed a few questions about the passage. What do you want to know that we left out? Post your question to the comments or send a note to us at sail (at) sv-totem (dot) com, and eventually we'll post another passage review based on the feedback.

May 7, 2010

Trouble in paradise

One of the defining looks to these steep, rugged islands are the clouds which seem stuck on top, parked on top and obscuring the peaks. There were also clouds of gray and white creeping up the hillsides above Atouna- but these looked different. Was it fog? Was it smoke, sent up from burning the island's garbage at an inland dump?

Nightfall told another story. Orange flares we couldn't see in daylight lit spots up the steep hillsides. It was hard to believe what our eyes were telling us: that wildfires were burning. Isn't this the wet tropics? Aren't we at the end of the rainy season? Can't you feel the humidity in the air? Yes, yes, and yes- but there were the fires.

It seems that El Nino has brought drought. The gendarmes in town said there had been no substantial rain since January, during what should have been the bulk of the rainy season. It's hard to believe, given how lush things are here, but there you have it. Those really were unchecked wildfires we saw. Too big to fight, they were being allowed to burn out their tinder in the enclosure of the mountains. Meanwhile: the view from the harbor is lush and green. Flowers bloom everywhere. Roadsides are lined by fruiting papaya trees

It's such a sharp contrast with the experiences our friends shared with us last year. We heard about daily squalls throwing mayhem into the anchorage... boats closed up tight despite the heat and humidity to keep the rain out ended up dripping with moisture inside and out. And the bugs... oh, the bugs! Even our guidebooks, to a letter, go on and on about the volumes of mosquitoes and tiny "no-nos" that plague bugs.

We've had a couple of sprinkles, and two outright dumps (neither more than 10 minutes), but as the wildflowers attest it's plainly not enough. Even the famed 300+ foot waterfall near Taiohae is dry. And bugs? We've hadly had a nip. OK, so maybe there are some silver linings...

May 5, 2010

Oh, the baguettes...oh, the fruit...

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm pretty food obsessed...although there is still much to learn and experience, my first impressions here are centered around things to eat. A culinary introduction to the Marquesas is all about the fruit and baguettes.

I wondered how hard it would be to break my tortilla habit from Mexico, but am happy to report it is a seamless affair thanks to the spectacular baguettes. It seems each town has a bakery turning out fresh, meter-long loaves every morning (thank you, French colonialists!). We've even had rich, buttery brioche and I saw pain au chocolate listed on an empty shelf. The baguettes are subsidized and about $0.50 each, making them one of the most (only?) affordable foodstuff in the markets.

Here on Totem we have quickly developed a three-baguette-per-day habit. Here's how it works. After purchasing, we make lunch with the possibly still warm first loaf...smear it with brie or turn it into a sandwich with some salami. Dinner: it's perfect sliced alongside whatever we're having, but sometimes, just having the baguette with bruschetta is enough! Following morning, the slightly stale loaf is now ideal to toast and serve with butter and jam for breakfast. See? EASY. Really, though, you need four per day because much like tortillas are best eaten warm on the way home from the tortilleria, baguettes are best torn directly from the loaf while walking back the boulangerie.

Niall has already requested baguette french toast for breakfast on his birthday next week, and Mairen insisted on baguette pizzas for her birthday lunch earlier this week. Siobhan on the other hand wants ramen with sushi on *her* birthday (the 9th), but then again, she's always been an individualist.

The fruit is outrageously good. It's almost impossible to go for a walk without seeing trees hung with mangoes, bananas or pamplemousse*, or the papayas clustered at the top of those funny Dr Seuss-like sticks that produce them. These, and the breadfruit* trees hung with huge green globes of poky-looking fruit, belie the drought. Ironically, these are all are so commonly available to people in their backyards that it's difficult to actually find them for sale. Why would you purchase something you can get for free? We can't just go picking, though: every tree belongs to someone. On the other hand, I have yet to hear of anyone being refused when they asked if they could pick from a particular tree.

The fruit is often given to us poor landless cruisers as gifts: a bag of papayas and manoges was given to our friends when they rented a car by the agency manager. The lady in Atuona who sold fruit and vegetables has a special stick to offer so you can grab your own pamplemousse from the tree behind her. I'm useless at French, but am pretty sure the translation was "help yourself!"

Note to self: must continue to work on eating more fruit than baguettes...

* for the uniniated:
Pamplemousse is a lot like grapefruit, but with a much (MUCH) thicker rind. You might know it as a pomelo. Breadfruit is actually a very starchy "fruit" that's eated cooked, not raw... think: potatoes.

May 3, 2010

Water, water, everywhere: the land version

Do you know how good it feels to take an unlimited shower, letting water just cascade over you for as long as you wish? Right.... so you probably do, and I can remember it, but let me tell you- it's not a common experience for most cruisers. Our boats carry limited water and even with watermaking capabilities there is a cost to running the unit and so water is used very, very sparingly (we average 2 gallons per person, per day). We "shower" with a bucket and dipper, Indonesian mandi style. We use salt water, and just rinse off with water from our tanks- thus keeping the fresh water use to a minimum.

This is probably why one of the first things that we were told after arriving in Hiva Oa is an outdoor shower was adjacent to the anchorage, right next to the dinghy landing. Ambient temperature Water from a spigot may not sound special, but this was perfect, gentle, just warm enough, and there was a LOT of it. No lo-flo restrictions on this baby. Nobidy cared that it was in a doorless concrete structure, walls situated to provide a modicum of privacy. Privacy, schmivacy; it was heavenly, and we made great use of it! Closer to the dinghy ramp, another shower setup- with water running from an overhead pipe- did away with any attempt at privacy. We called it the family shower (see Flickr photos for an image).

More fresh water luxury awaited. Besides bathing, another great suck for water use is laundry. Anyone know how many gallons their laundry machine consumes in a typical cycle? On Totem, we typically wash salt water and reserve the precious fresh water for a final rinse. Clothes have to be very well wrung after the last saltwater rinse to minimize the use of fresh. Once again- serendipity in the anchorage. On the other side of the shower wall was a long sink with a high tap. We washed everything on board over a few days. I wish I'd gotten a photo of the boat with sheets strung on every availble lifeline used (and a few additional lines strung up)!

Who knows when we'll have this chance again...I expect to be back to doing saltwater laundry on deck in a 5-gallon bucket soon. We're already thinking about counting down our days in the Marquesas, and there is scarce fresh water in our next destination, the dry atolls of the Tuamotus.

May 2, 2010

Reflections on the crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas

With a little time to rest and regroup, Jamie and I reflected on the passage this morning over coffee (J) and English Breakfast tea (B- thank you, Clauson's Fine Teas!).

First, some statistics:

Total miles: ~2950
Top speed: 12.2 knots
Best 24 hour run: 193 miles
Diesel consumed: 40 gallons
Highest windspeed: 35 (ITCZ squalls, and one intense night in the SE trades)
"Keeper" fish caught: 0, unless you count the ziploc bag of tuna fillets s/v Escapade tossed into our cockpit

Overall, much of this passage was right out of the textbook. We left with the evening land breeze and sailed our way offshore. Things broke, but nothing serious. We bobbed around in the doldrums, and screamed along in the trades. We reefed (and unreefed) countless times- Ty and Jamie were downright slaphappy when they wrestled with the reef lines for the 12th time one afternoon. We sat in the cockpit watching for the green flash at sunset, and traced constellations at night. Many books were read and many knots were practiced.

What *wasn't* textbook? Plenty. Most notably, because it made our lives uncomfortable, were the swells. Think of riding swells in the ocean like riding a roller coaster, except in this mental film you are slowly moving one frame at a time-- the gradual uuuupppp and dowwwwn happening so slowly that it's more like the world moves around you, instead of you moving in the world. We had those rolling swells...very briefly. Instead, during our first days at sea, the swells began coming from not just the prevailing NE but from the SE as well. Wind waves often joined these two swells making for water coming at us from three or more directions at any given time. It made for very confused seas, slapping our hull one way when you'd expect to be pushed another. The overall result was lumpy, bumpy, and occasionally very jerky. Only in the ITCZ did the multi-directional sea state finally abate, but at that point there was nothing happening anywhere around us... just big, flat, doldrumy expanse. We know of a couple of other boats in the fleet who flooded their engines in the sizeable following seas.

The other big exception to typical crossings (is there really a "typical"?) was the wind direction. The standard course, and one we planned on, is a swoopy S-shaped curve. Once we were well offshore from Mexico, Totem would continue west/southwest through the NE trades, jet south through the ITCZ around the equator, and then angle back to the west to complete run to the Marquesas. This puts prevailing winds at or behind the beam, giving us a mostly downwind journey. By contrast, the wind was forward of the beam for almost the entire passage. This has some definite advantages: we had excellent sailing. Going upwind, we were better able to handle the confused seas. Chafe to our sails was minimized, although it's fair to say we simply had other forces resulting in different kinds of wear and tear to contend with instead. On the other hand, it introduces more heel, and life at an angle takes some getting used to.

Currents played us more than we anticipated. The counter current north of the equator was generally not favorable. At one point we were pushed east at over a knot; at other times, it was right on the nose, kind of south/southwest, just slowing us down. Starting at around 2* south, we had up to 2 knots of current pushing us west- very favorable! These didn't entirely agree with the historical data...an El Nino symptom? We don't know.

What would we do differently? In hindsight, We would have tried to cross the ITCZ sooner. This would have let us take advantage of the strong westbound current which lay just below the equator without worrying about being swept so far west that we would not be able to get to Hiva Oa without tacking upwind. As it was, we aimed for roughly 6* N, 126* W- but didn't get across the equator until 129* W. Boats following the conventional wisdom (and 2010 advice) of weather guru Don Anderson were directed to 130*W as a target. This put them so far west that we know several who had to tack upwind or power their way into a more favorable position...really not a desireable situation.

Most of the gear breakage was the result of slatting (banging back and forth) in the combination of light air and lumpy seas that we spent many days working through- here's a rundown.
  1. The single-sideband radio. This stands out as it was by far the most painful and still unresolved breakdown. The symptoms began on our 5th day out, and it was dead for transmission by the 17th day. I would really like the Furuno fairy to come sprinkle some pixie dust on us now, please.
  2. Fishing gear. Yeah, yeah, poor us! We only landed two piddly little fish (a wee mahi mahi, and a small skipjack...both returned to the sea) but something much larger ran off with a our gear... not once, but four times. But you know what? That big fish that bit our stainless leader cleanly... we probably didn't want it anyway.
  3. Tricolor bulb. The pretty red/green/white light at the top of our mast burned out the very first night. We ended up using our anchor light instead, which may have been a blessing in disguice as it was an LED and saved us oodles of amps.
  4. Boom vang tang. A 5/8" plate, less than two years old and welded to our boom, broke cleanly off at the weld.
  5. Another eye, this one a 3/8" stainless eye on the boom for the main sheet to attach to, broke right off as well. More slatting / repetitive shock damage.
  6. Two shackles broke in succession; both used for a barbor haul to sheet our genoa at a more favorable angle. In one, the center pin broke (note to self: must write harken. not happy about this) and it bent into uselessness. In the other, a the pin backed out (our fault. forgot to mouse it)- that at least was readily replaced.
  7. UV cover on jib: the bottom row of stitching has come undone over about a two-foot stretch. We might have noticed this back in La Cruz when we could fix it that trusty sailrite from Ceilydh which lounged in our cockpit for a couple of weeks. Evan, you're just goign to have to bring it to the south pacific.
  8. Dodger stitching busted. It was only one panel, but basically, after two years, stitching had become sun-rotted and failed when pressure was applied to the eisenglass pane- it just popped it right through. Although sails were well inspected for rotten stitching, we completely missed going over the soft sides of our hardtop dodger. This too could have been easily reinforced before departure, although with a little hand sewing and 5200 it was back on duty in short order.
Overall, this really was a *good* passage. Our breakdowns which occured were all in lighter air where we could readily address them. Nobody got hurt. We had an amazing addition to the crew, Ty Anderson, who perpetually added positive energy and contributions to our floating island. The kids were a dream, despite the uncomfortable sea state- conditions which have driven more than a few of our fellow cruising friends to reconsider their notion of ocean sailing...there are non-joking jokes going around about the Flying Wives Club for several first mates on their future ocean crossings. We had fun playing around with good ol sailing stuff, from finding positions with the sextant to learning and tying knots. You might even say that our unexpected conditions were to be expected, becuase it's a big effing ocean and there is no perfect consistency.

Would we do it again? Oh yes! But this time, with a functioning radio please.