Wild Ride to Fakarava and the Insane Standing Waves!

We are happy to report that Ellie is safely anchored off the village of Rotoava
in the NE corner of Fakarava.  We just survived the most insane 2 hours we have
had on the voyage thus far.  As if the wild downwind ride from Makemo in 30
knots and big breaking seas wasn’t exciting enough, we had to spice it up with
wind against current in the north pass of Fakarava with 8-10 foot standing waves
and Ellie bucking like a bronco from peak to trough, oh and just as we were
fighting our way through the gauntlet a huge dark squall line overtook us
cutting visibility to zero!  Our reward for pushing through the huge standing
waves was to be met with 30 – 32 knots (not exaggerating) directly on the nose
between us and the town, 5 miles to windward.  There were 4 foot waves inside
the lagoon!  Luckily we can sail, so out came the main and we short-tacked up
the channel against the 30+ knots and were able to make 5.5 knots and about 3
knots VMG (velocity made good) and had the anchor down about an hour and a half
later.

Alyssa is a seriously hardened sailor now and we wouldn’t have
been able to get through the pass and beating to windward without her.  She was
awesome.  She was tethered in on the foredeck adjusting reefing points, moving
backstays, lashing preventers all while getting sprayed by the huge waves we
were taking over the bow!  Ellie and I are in awe of her sailing prowess and
very thankful she was aboard.  She has earned dinners out, spa days, pearl farm
visits and a much needed rest.

We both just enjoyed hot showers to get
all the salt off us and another squall passing overhead is providing Ellie with
a much needed bath.  We are still trying to calm our nerves after an extremely
intense entrance into the lagoon.

Rotoava is a relatively large town with
restaurants, bakery, stores, etc.  We are looking forward to exploring tomorrow
and enjoying a meal out!  We haven’t spent a dime in three weeks so it looks
like the kitty will allow for us to treat ourselves a bit while we are
here.

We will seek out an internet connection tomorrow to upload some
pics and our track from the hair raising lagoon entrance.

Cheers from
Fakarava!

Lewis and Alyssa

May 29, 2014

Rotoava, Fakarava,
Tuamotus, French Polynesia

Anchored

16 03.483 S
145 37.330 W

Still Hiding Out at Ellie Island and Surviving the SHARKS!

Hey Everyone!  Happy Friday!

We are back at Ellie Island on the east side of Raroia atoll after a couple days on the west side of the atoll where we were diving the pass.

Anchoring on the west side of the lagoon was a sh!t show to say the least.  We spent a whole afternoon anchoring no less than three times.  The entire bottom is coral that snags the chain and will not release the anchor and there was a relentless two foot wind chop trying it’s best to break our ground tackle free and set us on the reef, a mere 100 yards from our stern.  At one point we even managed to anchor too close to the pass and during a leisurely sunset cockpit session the current changed immediately and we found ourselves sideways in the current with 3 foot standing waves!  We have never put the dinghy on deck so fast before and had the anchor up immediately.  Then we proceeded to frantically find another spot before the sun went down.  Luckily we found a shallow patch of coral (that happened to be in the middle of the marked channel) and managed to snag the anchor on a coral head and ride out the night.

The next day we dove the pass, which was amazing.  We were flying over bright, healthy, colorful coral at 4+ knots in the ebbing current!  There were thousands of fish all around dancing in the current eddies and after we cleared the shallowest part of the pass the coral dropped down into huge canyons that were full of hundreds of sharks!  We surfaced and quickly fired up the dinghy before we were pushed out into the open ocean and raced back into the protection of the lagoon.  It was an amazing dive and we have some cool video to share.

Later that day we headed back across the lagoon hell bent on reaching the calm protection of Ellie Island.  Our friends on the catamaran Skabenga had sailed in the night before so we invited them to follow us to the east side and we both spent a couple hours motoring across the lagoon dodging the coral patches.  After we were both anchored we got together on Skabenga and had an awesome potluck and caught up.

The next day I dove on some coral heads and pried off some clams to use as bait.  Let me tell you, clams are amazing as bait!  As soon as I dropped the baited hook down below the boat I had a huge fish on the other end!  I filleted it up and was about to drop another baited hook down when Bruce (Captain of Skabenga) showed up.  He laughed at my tiny hook and said he doesn’t even have a hook that small on his boat.  He asked if I had a larger hook.  I jokingly handed him my largest hook and he said “Perfect!”.  We rigged up a new 4″ hook on 125 lb leader, put a huge chunk of meat on it and dropped it down.  A half a beer later there was a huge tug on the line.  I grabbed the pole and set the hook.  It was a big one!  About ten minutes later I managed to get the monster to the surface and it was a SHARK!  I fought him up to the boat and Bruce grabbed the leader and managed to get the hook out of his mouth.  Alyssa was rolling video but unfortunately it was pretty dark by the time we got him in.  You can still see his huge jaws though!

As if we didn’t get enough fishing action the day before, we decided to all go spearfishing the next morning.  We picked a “bommie” (huge coral head) out in the lagoon, set the anchor and dropped down.  Bruce and I were about 45 feet down when we came upon some huge grouper.  Bruce shot the first one, snapped his neck and then immediately shot another!  This got the attention of the local shark population, which apparently hasn’t been fed since 2010 because they immediately went into a frenzy.  The blood in the water and flailing fish got them all excited and they were swarming.  At this point there were only about 6-7 of them and they were keeping their distance so I wasn’t that alarmed.  While Bruce was dispatching his second kill, I pushed on around the corner in search of another grouper.  I came around a coral head and there on the bottom was another monster grouper.  I lined him up and got a head shot!  After I shot the fish my focus went to the sharks.  I had this bleeding grouper on the end of my line, 45 feet of water between me and the surface, no one in sight and I wasn’t sure exactly where the dinghy was anchored…..adrenaline was pumping.  The sharks immediately came my way and before I knew it there were about 12 of them circling me.  I was trying my best to stay calm and not kick too hard but I’m sure I was failing.  I was trying to get to the surface as quickly but safely as possible so I could find the dinghy and get this bleeding fish out of the water and away from me.  About halfway to the surface I started getting charged by the sharks!  It was incredibly scary because to my amazement the sharks weren’t going after the bleeding fish on the end of my line, 20 feet below me.  They were going after ME!  They took turns sprinting right at me until they were about 2 feet away and then violently veered away.  I was frightened and thought the next one may try and take a bite out of me.  I was still making my way back to the surface with the speargun in my left hand and my knife extended in the right.  Once I got to the surface I was able to locate the dinghy which was about 40 yards away.  My activity on the surface made the sharks even more excited and they came even closer so I decided to descend back into the water so at least I was able to see the oncoming missiles and had a chance of stabbing the one who got too close.  After what seemed like a lifetime but was probably only 4 minutes I made it to the dinghy and we all quickly got out of the water while no fewer than 20 sharks were all around the dinghy!  Alyssa was snorkeling on the surface taking pictures and had to shove the camera in the face of a few hungry sharks that got too close!

It was intense but we all survived unscathed and with a full bounty of grouper for dinner!  We enjoyed another awesome dinner together complete with Alyssa’s eggplant parm and very delicious fresh caught grouper.

It’s raining and quite windy this morning so we are hiding out down below.  I need to make water again so that is my chore for the day.  Looks like at this point we are planning to stay forever….unfortunately not possible….so we will stay another 4-6 days before pushing on to Makemo.

That’s our update from Ellie Island.  How is everyone doing?  We always love to hear from our friends!

Have a great weekend!

Lewis & Alyssa

May 23, 2014

Ellie Island, Raroia, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

Our Own Private Island

We have been anchored behind our own private island we named ‘Ellie Island’ for the past two days.  We found this spot on our Google maps satellite images and threaded our way through coral heads and reefs to get here.  It’s even more picturesque than the last spot.  Palm trees, white sand beaches, turquoise water, tons of coral, fish and lots of sharks!

Yesterday we loaded up the kayak with all our dive gear and headed out into the lagoon to dive the back side of a huge coral head that dropped from a few feet below the surface down to 60 feet.  The coral is in amazing condition and the colors are beautiful.  There are thousands of tropical fish and we even had about six black tip reef sharks investigating us, which made the Princess a bit nervous!

After lunch I put on the dive gear and dropped down directly below Ellie and found a coral head about 20 feet high teeming with life.  There were a few big groupers and some other good sized fish that looked like good eating so I surfaced and had Alyssa throw me my spear gun.  We attached a line to the spear gun so that after I got the shot off she could pull the fish up to the boat before the sharks got a hold of our dinner!  I went back down and sat on the sandy sea floor near the coral head and patiently waited for our dinner to arrive.  After about 8 minutes the big grouper came back and I slowly took aim and landed a head shot.  I tugged twice on the line and was nervously scanning for the sharks.  The gun wasn’t rising and it seemed stuck.  Just as I managed to free the spear from the coral I saw the black tip sharks coming fast.  Luckily Alyssa got the fish up to the boat before they were able to tear into it.  After I surfaced I realized that objects underwater really do seem larger and my ‘huge grouper’ looked more like a guppy.  So we decided to have a little fun with the sharks.  I cut off its head and with cameras rolling we threw it in.  Immediately the sharks went into a frenzy fighting over the head.  I then took the camera and put it into the water to film them underwater while Alyssa threw more chunks of fish to them.  We got some awesome video and some of the sharks came within a few feet of the camera!  We’ll have to upload it when we reach civilization again.

This anchorage is amazing, beautiful, secluded, private and peaceful.  There are no boats, no people, no noise, no pollution, just the sound of waves, wind, birds and swaying palm trees.  The cockpit also faces west in the prevailing east wind affording us amazing sunsets.  I have dreamed of finding a place like this and now we are living in it!  I wish we could stay forever.

Today is Alyssa’s ‘free day’ to do whatever she wants.  Apparently I am exhausting with all my energy to go diving/fishing/exploring/swimming/kayaking/etc so we had to establish these ‘free days’ when she gets to go as slow as she wants and do whatever it is she feels like.  Fortunately for me the result is usually amazing food and baked goods and ALWAYS a happier Princess!  It’s a win-win.  Today I have to fire up the watermaker and dive compressor and fill all our tanks.  Then I’m thinking hammock time and starting a new book.

Yea, life is good on Ellie Island.

Oh and if you have any recipes utilizing bananas (besides banana bread) please email them to us.  We brought a stock of bananas from the Marquesas and they all ripen at once!  We need to use about 35 bananas in the next couple days and I can only eat so many peanut butter and banana sandwiches!

Cheers,
Lewis and Alyssa

May 17, 2014

Anchored: Ellie Island, Raroia, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

Anchored in a Postcard – We’re in Raroia!

We are anchored on the east side of Raroia atoll in the lee of a palm tree-covered island in the most beautiful setting I have ever seen.  Life is amazing.  We made it to paradise and are anchored in a postcard.

Ellie and crew are doing well and we had a great passage.  We covered 425 miles from Ua Pou to Raroia in 2 days and 22 hours, an average speed of 6.1 knots.  This is a passage that takes most boats four days and we did it in under three.  There are three other boats that left a day before us and they were making landfall on the island at the same time this morning.  The weather was great last night and we had a pleasant 14 knots on the beam and relatively calm seas.  By the end of the passage we were both settled in to our routine and could have easily knocked off another 700 miles or so.  I for one love it at sea (as long as the swell is somewhat behaved so we aren’t feeling terribly seasick) and truly enjoy the peace and freedom that can only be found out there.  I spent yesterday afternoon on the bow getting soaked by the waves, watching the dolphins play in the bow wake and then the birds dancing in the wind before the sunset.

As for fishing, huge fish took my lure yesterday.  I have concluded that I need wire leaders.  I’ll buy some when we reach Tahiti.

Entering the atoll and then making our way to the anchorage was quite exciting to say the least.  The gauntlet we had to run had three major obstacles:  First was the pass, then the coral heads in the lagoon and finally we had to negotiate the pearl farm buoys.  We entered the pass at what we calculated as slack tide, but apparently we were off and we had 4+ knots of ebbing current against us and three foot standing waves!  I punched our engine almost full throttle and we were only making 0.5 knots over ground!  Mind you we were also dancing port to starboard in the current while keeping the range markers lined up so we didn’t drift into the coral on each side of the pass!  Allan warned us that the ‘pucker factor’ would be high and he was sure right!  After about 20 intense minutes we entered the lagoon and the current started to subside.

Then we had to run the gauntlet of coral heads in the lagoon.  Go ahead and use google maps to get a satellite image of this atoll and you will see what I mean.  There are huge coral heads about a foot below the surface and they are spread across the entire lagoon.  We timed our entry so the sun would be behind us and we were able to see the coral heads and judge the depths pretty easily.  This obstacle turned out to not be so tough to negotiate.

Then as we reached the east side of the lagoon we saw a sea of red buoys and it didn’t take long to realize what we were up against.  From the bow I hear Alyssa scream “Neutral!” and I took her out of gear and we watched in fear as Ellie drifted over a string of pearl farm lines.  Turns out we had a ton of these things between us and the island and this same procedure went on for about 40 minutes as we passed over about 15 lines.  Our shallow draft was hugely beneficial and we made it through the last obstacle unscathed.

We dropped our anchor in 45 feet of gin clear water in the lee of the largest island on the east side of the atoll.  It’s a spectacular setting.  We are looking forward to exploring Raroia over the next week.  There are only 50 people who live on this atoll, there is no airport and the only way to visit here is by private yacht.  It truly is an unspoiled paradise, just what we were seeking out!

Alyssa is whipping up a mango salsa for the potluck this afternoon with the other boats that sailed in today and I have to go inflate the kayak.  The guys on the other boats just called and I guess we are going to the island to hunt some coconut crabs for the potluck so better run.

Cheers!

Lewis and Alyssa

May 14, 2014

Anchored: Raroia, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

16 06.14 S
142 22.76 W

Marquesas to Tuamotus – Day 3

We have covered over 300 miles in the past 48 hours; a new record, and this is without much help from the west setting current.  Still maintaining over 6 knots despite the attempts of the squalls to slow our progress last night.  Yesterday the waves subsided and the sailing was awesome.  Unfortunately it never lasts and we are back to 20+ knots and 7-9 ft waves.  Still under double-reefed main and looks like we’ll keep it tucked in.

Napuka island is 30 miles off our port beam and our destination of Raroia atoll is 130 miles SSW of our position.  Hoping to make Raroia by tomorrow morning right at slack tide at 10:00 am.

Caught a yellowfin tuna yesterday but threw him back because he was a bit too small and we wanted to let him grow.  Have a larger squid lure out now and hoping to snag either a tuna or dorado for the freezer.

We are more than ready for the calm, clear, protected waters of the atoll.  We are going to set up our ‘fort’ with shade, hammock, kayak, bbq, compressor, dive gear and pool float and not go anywhere for a whole week.

We have concluded that covering over 3,500 miles in less than two months is a bit excessive and we are looking forward to island hopping through the Tuamotus and Society Islands.  We would have loved to spend more time in the Marquesas but we only have a three month visa in French Polynesia.

One big advantage to the French owning these islands is that we are never short on baguettes and fresh brie.  Our afternoon appetizer sessions are always a boost to morale.  A special thanks to Danielle (my Mother) for sending us off with a jar of jalepeno and apricot brie topping; I can’t tell you how amazing that tastes out here in the middle of the ocean!

Hope all is well back home.

Fair winds,
Lewis

May 13, 2014

21:39 z

14 01.8 S
141 45.0 W

170 T

6.5 knots

Wind: 20 – 22

Seas: 7 – 10 ft

Bar: 1009

Tearing Across the Pacific, Bound for the Tuamotus

Kaoha Nui,

We are barreling along on a beam reach and have managed to maintain speeds over 6.5 knots for the past 22 hours covering 140 miles since leaving Ua Pou yesterday; this will certainly be a new 24 hour record for us.  Trying to maintain speeds above 6 knots so we can make it to Raroia in under 3 days, a passage that normally takes 4 days.  The toll of maintaining these speeds is a less than happy Princess as the motion is pretty severe.  The weather has been pretty narly.  We saw 28 knots leaving the island and it has rarely dropped below 20 over the past day.  We had some squalls hit us last night just to keep us on our toes.  The forecast is calling for lower wind speeds but it has yet to materialize.  The seas are 10 – 12 feet with 2 – 4 foot wind waves on top.  Once again Ellie has a bone in her teeth and she is roaring towards palm trees, white sand beaches and FLAT WATER!

We received the raw water pump for the engine on Friday afternoon and were up and running 100% by Friday evening.  Despite the fact that a $350 pump cost us almost a grand to have delivered to a remote island in the middle of the Pacific, we went out to pizza to celebrate having our beloved engine back and in good health.  Saturday morning we pulled anchor and sailed for Ua Pou.  We spent the night at Ua Pou to wait out what we thought was the worst of the weather and then set sail for Raroia at noon on Sunday.  The anchorage at Ua Pou was rolly but magnificent with amazing bare stone spires shooting straight out of the lush green mountains.  Our trick is to spend a night in a very rolly anchorage right before a passage to help acclimate us to the rocking so we don’t get so sea sick.  This works 80% of the time but when it’s this rough there is really nothing that can help.  I am struggling to even write this and will need to go back topside soon.

We are anticipating a Wednesday morning arrival at Raroia, a low-lying coral atoll in the Tuamotus.  It’s imperative we arrive both at slack tide AND with the sun high in the sky so we can safely navigate through the tight coral pass and then navigate through the many coral heads that dot the lagoon.

By the way, quick note on the prices in the Marquesas.  We are torching our cruising kitty.  Here are some examples:

a) 1 gallon of diesel or gas (duty free): $10 US
b) SMALL jar of mayonnaise: $11 US!
c) Half gallon of juice: $8 US
d) Loaf of bread: $8 US
e) Single can of Tahitian beer: $4 US
f) Bag of chips: $6.75 US
g) Small can of tuna: $4 US

Don’t even get us started on the crappy wine for $30 a bottle.  We are glad that we stocked up on ample provisions in Mexico but walking out of the store with only two bags of groceries that cost $200 US makes me sick!  In Mexico we could have loaded up a full cart for $200!  Our plan is to eat every last Mexican bean on the boat and pull into Rarotonga while we eat our last granola bar (we hear it’s cheap provisioning there).

That’s our update from the rocket ship Eleutheria.  Speedo is reading 6.9 knots and we are under double-reefed main and a handkerchief of jib.  Will try and write tomorrow.

Lewis & the seasick Mermaid Princess

May 12, 2014

19:24 z

11 31.4 S
140 51.5 W

6.8 knots

185 T

22 knots ESE

10 – 12 ft seas

1010 bar

Is a week too long? Maybe, but it’s still Paradise!

Ka Oha from Alyssa!

Nuku Hiva is a major port of entry, so there is everything you need. There are groceries, restaurants, wifi cafes with free high speed internet, bakeries, a hardware store, vehicle traffic, and, more recently, it sounds like a techno club stays open overlooking the bay which is full of about 55 other boats. The first few days were exciting for me. I tend to gravitate towards anchorages like this because I love meeting new people, enjoying cockpit time with fellow cruisers, perusing the overpriced grocery stores to see what the locals buy, waking up at 3:30am to get first pickings at the farmers market, and enjoying a cup of hot tea (yes, even in the tropics) overlooking the dingy pier where the fish market is feeding the sharks. Lewis tends to gravitate towards anchorages off the beaten path where little to no boats are ever seen, the beaches empty of people, the water clear of pollution or city runoff, and our little home perfectly anchored in serenity. The great thing about visiting islands is that it is easy to alternate anchorages of these types so we get the best of both worlds. Moving the boat from place to place is a little (usually a LOT) of work, so we like spending at least 2 or 3 nights in each anchorage so we can actually settle in and enjoy the surroundings without always feeling like you’re on the move. We do wish we had applied for a long-stay visa, increasing from a 3-month allowance to 6, however the perks come with downfalls, such as the cost of provisioning here, and more time spent in French Polynesia means less time spent in the islands after here, such as Tonga, because of hurricane season (and possibly an upcoming El Niño?). So with limited time, we say “if we don’t like it, we up anchor and move!” Which takes us to the current blog post. Is a week too long? I think so. Lewis REALLY thinks so! It would be different if we could vary the days in town on the internet with swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing, etc, but the water is dirty (and full of aforementioned sharks!), and the fish have ciguatera. There has been very little wind so sailing the boat around the island would be quite frustrating without an engine. Our engine has been having trouble with the raw water pump which cools the engine. It started leaking, which means that the seals are starting to go bad and the seat inside is corroding. With a gear driven pump, that means that saltwater has actually started going into the engine, into the oil, and even coming out of the crank case. The engine could be run if we needed it, but it’s extremely bad for it. I say we hold tight until the part comes (possibly Tuesday). Besides, it is still paradise!!! Last night was a little annoying with the club music echoing across the anchorage that LITERALLY is still playing (it is 7am)!!!!! But let’s hope it was a one-time, Saturday night kind of thing. In the meantime, I’ll eat every last fresh vegetable in this joint, because there are none in the Tuomotos!
The farmers market is right next to the pier and there are two women who grow organic vegetables on the north side of the island. Twice a week they arrive with their finest lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, green beans, bok choy, cucumber, eggplant, and a variety of fruits. When I arrived on Wednesday at 6:45am to see what they had, everything was gone. I guess I was 45 min late since she opens at 6am Wednesdays. Thankfully she took a preorder for her Saturday delivery, but she said she opens a little earlier. 4AM?! Yes, I woke up at 3:30, smothered myself in bugspray, donned a headlamp and made my way over to the docks. Luckily she was just unloading and I got first pickings of everything, even a bunch of cilantro (or to the French, coriander). She only had one! After that I was wide awake so decided to join a couple cruising friends on a walk to the bakery. The bakery also sells out in the first hour, so I gladly picked up a couple French croissants for Lewis’ breakfast. I sat at the wifi café near the docks for a good hour skyping family after that. Just when I was about to head back to the boat, I jumped down to the dingy with my bags full of produce and felt a tickle on my shoulder. I thought it was just my hair but when I turned to look it had to very large antenna and crawled up my arm! I screamed and quickly swatted whatever it was off my arm. I kept looking around trying to find where it went or what it was, but everyone around me (now a very busy fish market) just looked at me like I was crazy! I cowered back into the dingy and started the motor. Thankfully our friends on Pamela were rowing back to their boat at the same time and I stopped to see if they could help check my back and hair to be sure there was nothing still crawling on me. Nope, still nothing. I thanked them and kept on my way to the boat. As I start to plane halfway through the anchorage, I see something very large and dark come out from under the dingy chaps. MONSTER COCKROACH!!!! I whip the dingy around and head back to Pamela, who’s almost back to their boat. “I found it! I found it!” Dennis was happy to help me hit the 3.5” cockroach into a stun and throw him overboard. You don’t want that on your boat! I still shiver thinking about it crawling on my shoulder, and so close to my face! What was that movie where Ashton Kutcher had a cockroach crawl up his neck?
So with a few more days of waiting, I’ll still be walking the markets, hopefully sans cockroach from now on, and we started doing a few boat projects that we never got around to. Lewis installed a digital engine temperature gauge at the nav station so we don’t have to go into the cockpit to monitor it all the time and it is much more accurate. I waxed our fiberglass dodger which looked so shiny compared to the rest of the boat; I kept on waxing and finished the deck topsides (she looks like a dock queen again!). Today I’m helping our friend Bruce on Skabenga by sewing and reinforcing is torn dingy chaps. I love my new sewing machine (it’s a Singer Traditional for those who have been asking). Well, it’s time for breakfast!
Alyssa
May 4, 2014
Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva