Friday, July 29, 2011

Suwarrow living

Suwarrow Atoll, 28 July 2011.
I had planned to stay a couple of days. Almost two weeks later Twister remains anchored by Anchorage Island. I have explored Suwarrow more thoroughly than anywhere else I’ve stopped so far.  I couldn’t imagine a better place to learn to slow down and just be.  My days have been spent snorkeling, fishing, reading (among other things a story by James Norman Hall about Robert Frisbee who also lived on this atoll before Tom Neale), napping, playing guitar and a little fiddle, tossing the frisbee (not by myself, I found another sailor who enjoys throwing the disc), and socializing with the other sailors and the rangers.  It seems John and James think I’m underfed, as they often invite me to join them for their meals (those guys can cook!).
There are now 11 boats here in addition to Twister. “Rutea” anchored next to me contains a family from Ocean Beach, the neighborhood in San Diego where I lived my last year in San Diego.  Small world. Tonight there will be another potluck ashore.
 There is an abundance of fish to be hooked or speared, and there are almost always several sharks (black-tip, white-tip, and grey reef sharks) nearby ready to pounce on your catch, so you have to be quick in getting the fish into the boat.  I have managed to pull in one parrotfish fishing from Twister, anchored at a depth of ca 30 feet, the sharks gobbled up the other two before I could reel them in. So now I do most of my hook-and-line fishing in shallower water. I’ve speared one Grouper. Yesterday I went trolling through the reef pass with John the ranger and caught my second tuna (a Dogtooth Tuna according to John, it had white meat). Apparently the fish here do not have Ciguaterra. I have not suffered any ill effects from eating the parrotfish and grouper.
I’ve been learning  atoll survival skills—coconut husking and opening (there are several techniques), making coconut milk (which involves grating the white flesh and squeezing the pulp through a piece of cloth, leaving a delicious white liquid) and like I mentioned I have actually caught a few fish. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Suwarrow Atoll

Suwarrow Atoll, 15 July 2011.
As I write this, I’m anchored along with 4 other boats in the lee of Anchorage Island inside the lagoon of Suwarrow Atoll. On the passage from Bora Bora, I read Tom Neale’s An Island To Oneself which describes his solitary years on Suwarrow. An enjoyable read, you can download the pdf here.  Now it’s a Cook Islands national park and only two rangers live here and only for half the year (this half, the not-cyclone season).
I anchored yesterday morning after another sphincter clenching entrance through the relatively narrow reef pass. There was 3 to 4 knots of current going out of the pass adding to my stress (I don’t mean to say that it’s very difficult or dangerous, it’s just new to me, and running aground in Bora Bora left me a little gun-shy).  Last night there was a pot luck dinner ashore with all the sailors (I prefer that term to yachties) and the two rangers (James and John from Raritonga. Very friendly and laid-back guys). I made lentil curry. Among the highlights were lobster, parrot fish, and tuna (all caught here in Suwarrow) which was prepared as poisson crue, except here they call it ika mata. The underwater scenery is wonderful and the parrotfish (for example) are noticeably bigger here than anywhere else I’ve been (I guess because there are fewer folks around here to eat them). I have read that Cook Islanders are very friendly, and if John and James are representative, I agree 100%. In addition to Twister, there are two American boats, one from New Zealand, and one Swiss (I asked them how they sailed from Switzerland, but I think my humor escaped them).
In Bora Bora I reconnected with a couple of boats I had met previously—Gary and Rory on La Cueca,  Paul on Rebellion (he’s also a solo sailor—did I mention that he sailed into the Pacific through the Beagle Channel (at the southern tip of South America)? No small feat in a 27 foot Albin Vega sailboat), and Chris and Terry, Aussies on Double Diamond (they had an American couple—Jason and Polly (when I first heard her name pronounced, I thought it was Paulie and had visions of a fat Italian mobster) and Terry’s wife along for the Society Islands portion of their journey). I also made some new friends. Roland on Connivence is a Swiss singlehander. Wattie (short for Watson—though it’s the same number of letters and syllables) and Di (Dianna) on Cariad are on their way to New Zealand, thus completing Wattie’s leisurely-paced 14-year circumnavigation. La Cueca and I departed Bora Bora together, but they set a course for Raritonga. Rebellion is probably still en route to Tonga. Connivence has probably reached Niue by now and Cariad and Double Diamond are still in Bora Bora as far as I know.
Thoughts on French Polynesia.

I was ready to move on when I left Bora Bora July 7. It took me 7 days to cover the ca 680 miles to Suwarrow, though I did a bit more than that because I ended up about 30 miles farther north than I wanted to be. I only got a short and superficial look at French Polynesia. I had been looking forward to seeing Tahiti and Bora Bora as their names were synonymous with south seas paradises in my head. I enjoyed Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas and Rangiroa in the Tuamotus.  They are visually stunning, but otherwise I was less impressed by the three Socity Islands I visited (Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora—of the three I like Moorea the best).  Of course the language barrier did not help, and if I return to French Polynesia, I vow to learn some French beforehand. The extremely unhelpful and hostile immigration officer I dealt with in Papeete also left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.  

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bora Bora Gazette

Bora Bora, Wed 29 June 2011 17:30 Tahiti Time
Sailing across the Pacific is a lot like getting a Ph.D.—it’s not difficult, it just takes a little time and determination. If I were to recommend one, I’d say sail the Pacific.
                Twister was looking a little scruffy on the bottom of her keel, so I decided to run her aground on some sand. I had made an appointment for the following day to do two dives with a local dive shop and decided to move the boat near the dive shop which is on Matira Beach. The last few hundred meters into the anchorage were a minefield of coral heads. I managed to barely scrape the keel over one (I probably would not have touched had I not just topped up the water tanks and filled all my jugs at Bloody Mary’s pier). I made it through the coral heads without further incident and turned into Matira Beach. Trying to avoid another patch of coral I turned right when I should’ve turned left and ended up grounding Twister on sand (fortunately sand and not coral) in just under 5 feet of water (Twister normally draws about 5 feet—draft (or is it draught?) is the distance between the deepest part of the keel and the water’s surface). I noticed that the depth meter read 3 feet at that point. Good to know. The keel doesn’t appear to have been damaged, just some paint scraped off.  It was pretty stressful after I first scraped against the coral, anticipating a bone-crunching impact to follow at any moment. Oh well, I had figured that the entrance to Matira Beach was going to be tricky (with one person. With one person on the bow and one steering, it wouldn’t have been hard). It’s difficult to see how deep the coral heads are while steering from the cockpit. Part of me had wanted to stay in the comfort and safety of the mooring by Bloody Mary’s, but sailing is like other pursuits, you have to test your limits sometimes to grow and learn(maybe I learned to stay on the moorings when they’re free?).
                I jumped in the water and walked/swam an anchor out to try to pull the boat off the sand (kedge I think it’s called in nautical terms). Before I tried to use the kedge, I found I was able to slowly push Twister toward the deeper water, about 25 cm at a time. A French couple saw my predicament and came over in their dinghy and offered to pull me off which they were able to do. By pulling sideways on the boat, the keel cleared the sand and they pulled me to where Twister was floating freely again. They invited me to their boat for coffee, so I brought the now-chilled beers. They—Pac and Marie—have been living in French Polynesia for six years, working as charter and delivery captains. Bridget and I actually met Pac briefly in Rangiroa—he was the guy walking the opposite direction as us when we were had just walked from the dinghy dock with our surfboards. He asked if we knew that Liz Clark was there in Rangiroa (she’s a sailor and surfer with a website and some sponsors). They said that was the first time they had helped a grounded boat. I replied that it was my first grounding (at least on my own, ).
                Before I left Bloody Mary’s I tied up to their dock for 30-40 minutes to fill the water tanks and jugs. I have become much less conservative with my water use than I was during the first, long passage. I think the longest passage from here to Australia will not be much more than a week (I used 38 gallons on the passage from San Diego to Nuku Hiva).  Bloody Mary’s is also kind enough to give sailboats free ice, so I filled up a small cooler with some ice to cool a six-pack of beer (which I had bought in anticipation of the free ice—normally I wouldn’t  buy that many beers at once as they’d get warm before I could drink them all—hey it could happen). It’s a real luxury to be able to tie up to a dock and fill water and ice.
Thursday 30 June, 2011
                You know what I miss about my old job?  That’s right, not a goddam thing. No, I kid--I really miss the ultrafast internet connection.  I did two dives today with Bora Diving Center today. Bridget and I had met the owner while hitchhiking in Tahiti where he was kind enough to give us a ride (he was sailboat shopping in Tahiti).  The main draw of the first dive were the lemon sharks. I had never seen one before and they are quite imposing. I’d say they were about six feet long and quite hefty. There were also black-tip sharks, lionfish, octopuses, and lots of fish I can’t ID.  The main attraction at the second dive were the Manta Rays, but the reef and many colorful fish were nice too. After diving I took my bike for another loop around the island. Still no buyers.
                I feel a bit claustrophobic in this anchorage. Not because it’s crowded or small (in fact it’s just about perfect at the moment—quiet, calm, sand bottom, 20 ft deep, spotted eagle rays swimming around the boat) but because I’m not sure I could get out of here without running into a coral head if the weather turned nasty. The last forecast (GRIB file) I saw called for calm winds the next couple of days, so hopefully that is what we’ll have, but tomorrow may be my last day in this anchorage if conditions are good for moving (ie not cloudy so the coral is more visible). 
Just posted some pics from BB