Tuamotus

On the third day at sea, we arrived to an atoll in the north of the Tuamotus. To give you an idea of what we’re talking about, if you don’t already know, an atoll  (from wikipedia) is a ring-shaped coral reef that encircles a lagoon partially or completely. There may be coral islands or cays on the rim. The coral of the atoll often sits atop the rim of an extinct seamount or volcano which has eroded or subsided partially beneath the water. The Tuamotu archipelago that belongs to French Polynesia consists of 75 atolls. It was a rainy and windy morning and the only entrance to the atoll looked even more scary than what we had imagined.

Luckily, maybe by some divine intervention, at the same time of our arrival, another sailboat was there, a catamaran, navigating the pass without any problems as to letting us know, that everything was going to be ok. That gave us enough encouragement to try it ourselves, and without waiting any longer, we motored through the narrow pass, and made it through safely.

Inside the atoll to the left of the pass, we saw two other boats at anchor and decided to find our own spot behind them. We set the anchor safely and sat in the cockpit to take in this amazingly different place.

In front of us we could see 4 or 5 small houses set between palm trees and sand. To the left and right, we could see a narrow rim of sand, reef and palm trees. Behind us and all around us, all there was was water.  I felt so remote.

We went downstairs, had long showers, cooked a wonderful hot breakfast and fell asleep. It was 24th of December. We had finally arrived to a destination that we had always dreamt about. It felt surreal. The wind was still howling but we were protected in our anchorage.

For the next 3 and a half months we stayed in this part of the world. Every day we got more and more used to our surroundings. The weather would sometimes change and become calm and so glassy we could see our reflections on the water’s surface. We quickly learned to coexist  with our neighbours the millions of fish that visited us to get some little scraps of our food , the noisy birds that were on a constant feeding frenzy and the many sharks that came to do the rounds every day.

We met our human neighbours too, we didn’t have too many of those but thankfully the ones we had, were really nice, and being in such an isolated place, made our newly made bonds even stronger. We shared some good surf sessions with them, had bonfires on the beach, went spear fishing and  sailed together to other parts of the atoll.

We spent most of our time in this one atoll. We didn’t feel the need to move from it because we found everything we liked here: good waves, beautiful beaches and amazing ocean life. After almost two months here, we decided to explore some of the other atolls.

We sailed south through the atoll chain and arrived to one of the most visited, a Unesco World Heritage site, known for the biggest concentration of sharks in its south pass. Fakarava didn’t dissapoint. It was quite impressive and we spent almost two weeks sailing the lagoon, visiting different spots along the way and getting our minds blown away by watching all those sharks cruising around on the south pass.

We also visited the uninhabited atoll of Tahanea, where we saw a completely different behaviour by the sharks. Maybe there were a bit too curious, but we felt a bit intimidated by the closeness they wanted to have with us. Many times we decided to jump back to the dinghy because we felt that they were getting to close to our liking.

And in the atoll of Toau, we experienced our first real interaction with locals. We met Regis and Katie, two of the friendliest people we’ve ever met, welcoming us with freshly caught fish and cold coconut water.

Every day they would give us something that they had around ; some kind of local fruit called kava, bread fruit, coconut bread. They invited us one day to eat coconut crab, Mick even went with Regis to catch the crab. So we tried to reciprocate their generosity and invited them over to our boat for lunch and shared with them some magazines, clothes and fishing gear. When we said good bye they sent us off with gifts of black pearls and big smiles that we will never forget.

These months in the atolls were the icing on the cake.  We improved our free diving, wave riding, coconut harvesting, cooking and baking skills, bonfire building, we became more crafty, better at untangling the anchor from coral heads and navigating through the mazes of coral gardens across the atolls….Being in such a testing environment, where you’re so exposed to nature, so far away from everywhere, gave us so many new lessons and we felt our lives so enriched afterwards. It was an unbelievable time, that we will never forget.

Reunited back with Ondular

After a long time of dreaming and waiting for the moment to arrive, it was here and we were all packed and ready to go back to Ondular. We thought this time wouldn’t be that bad going back (weight wise), considering that we’d already lived on the boat for almost two years; what other things could we possibly bring back with us?… I was so wrong! Mick’s luggage was packed full of boat parts, fishing things etc, it was so heavy and we were stopped so many times on the way to Tahiti; they must have thought we were real weirdos. Who travels with a coffee grinder, a pressure cooker and 100 or more fishing hooks and lures? We were also carrying with us, 4 new boards and a stand up paddle. Quite a bit of weight.

Anyway, after almost two days of travel and 500 us dollars in overweight luggage down, we made it to Tahiti with all our belongings, that’s always a plus! We spent a couple of days in Tahiti, we rented a car and went around the island, checked the supermarkets for future food stocking and went to see a local insurer for our boat. We even went to check the port from where our cargo boat would be leaving the next day to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems. We had booked this cargo boat called Hawaiki Nui months in advanced as we’d found out this was one of the only options to get to Raiatea from Tahiti to avoid the expensive airfares. It would take longer than a plane as it would travel  overnight but we were saving lots of money by doing that.

When we arrived to their local offices, there was a sign on the door that said something about jeudi (Thursday in French) but reading it quickly we thought it said that the office was closed today and will open again on Thursday. We left the premises very satisfied with ourselves, thinking that French wasn’t that hard after all and continued touring the island.

Next day came and we went early to the dock to leave all our luggage and have enough time to return the rental car. When we arrived, we saw that the office was still closed and read the message again, this time a bit more carefully and realised that it said that the normal trip to Raiatea was cancelled this Thursday and would resume back next week. We screamed, kicked and almost cried, felt pretty silly …what to do now? We went back to the hotel and asked a nice girl at the reception to help us calling all the other cargo boats or shuttles around. It seemed that there wasn’t any other boat going to Raiatea and that the Hawaiaki nui was our only option.

But then we found out we may have another shot with a different cargo boat called the Tapooro, that apparently didn’t take any passengers but maybe we could send our luggage with them and even see if they could fit us in somehow. We went to their office and found out that this trip they were travelling with diesel and gasoline so definitely no passengers but we were able to send our heavy luggage with them for 50 dollars then rushed to the only airline and managed to buy two tickets to Raiatea that afternoon. It wasn’t cheap but it got us there. We arrived around 6.30 pm and because we were supposed to arrive with the boat the following morning we had no accommodation booked for that night. We decided to rent a car and drove to the Carinage where Ondular was stored. We got a glimpse of the outside of Ondular and spent our first night in Raiatea sleeping in our tiny rental “the panda” outside the marina.

The next morning came and with light we were ready to open up Ondular and have a look inside of her to see in what condition it was in. We were happily surprised to see that all our hard work before leaving her, really paid off. There was a bit of mould especially in our front cabin but nothing like it could’ve been. So for the next few days we cleaned and cleaned and got our boat ready to be liveable again.

We spent the next two weeks in the boatyard, cleaning first and then fixing a few things that we thought were important to do before getting her back in the water , like the boom , setting all the sails and of course doing the antifoul.

Finally the day came when we were ready to do the splash in. Ondular was carefully picked up and put in the slip. We tried the engine but it didn’t start. Tried a few times and nothing happened and figured it might be the starter battery. Because they needed the space for another boat, they moved us and tied us to a stationary old ferry nearby and full of disappointment we left the starter battery charging all night to see what happened.  In hindsight it was the best possible outcome to be tied to the Ferry that night because we had time to test everything else that couldn’t be tested when out of the water, like the anchor , the toilet, etc and even though we weren’t quite ready yet, it felt so good to be back floating in the water.

To avoid making this post too long I’ll just name all the new problems we’ve encountered after storing our boat for over a year and being put back in the water.

The starter battery wasn’t really the problem, but it was actually fuel related and once the fuel got treated we were good to go.

The fridge wasn’t cooling, and the water maker wasn’t working properly: Mick thought of possible solutions and tried the water maker without the little pump that was failing, and it now seems to work fine. With the fridge, once we realised that the evaporator plate had several leaks, we had two options: order a new one from Papeete or try to fix the one we have. Which one do you think Mick chose?

The evaporator plate has an aluminium tube which was the one that had suffered from electrolysis and was full of leaks. Mick being Mick, decided to replace that tube with a copper one and joined it to the plate using fyber glass and later on fusing it properly. We are still in the process of fixing our fridge but I can honestly say that we can survive just fine without one. Our lives would definitely be a bit fancier with one and the fridge saga isn’t over yet but we’ve made sure to not only be stuck here trying to fix everything without enjoying ourselves.

Of course, there have been some frustrating times trying to sort all these different boat problems when we were so eager to go out and explore.  Being out here in a tiny French speaking island adds to the difficulties, especially if our level of French is saying good-morning and good-afternoon not even at the right time of the day sometimes. But anyway google-translate is our new best friend and we are using duolingo to try and get better at it as we go along. There’s still hope for us and we are definitely learning to be more self-reliant, to persevere and to work on our patience big time.

I guess this is life on a boat. There’s a lot of hard work and it can be really testing at times but that’s what makes the good times even better. I have to say, the Pacific is showing to be so much more challenging than any other place we’ve cruised before. Now that I think back on our time in the Caribbean or Panama and Ecuador how easy it was, everyone spoke English or Spanish, there were all kinds of shops and access to parts and things all around, the cruising books made everything so easy; you knew where to anchor, how to anchor, what to expect, most navigation was straight forward and apart from strong winds there wasn’t much to worry about.

Here is a completely different story; shallow waters filled with coral heads so no more relying only on the charts but keeping a close look on the depth sounder and using our eyes to spot corals and show the way.  A weather, that as our new friend Tom described it, is nothing short of schizophrenic , one minute is calm, the next is stormy then rainy, then sunny, windy, calm.. And in general it feels like a more explorational kind of cruising; it’s not all given to us in extensively researched cruising guides but it’s more dependent on us, where we decide to anchor and how to navigate certain areas. So yes, definitely more challenging.

So far I can tell you I’ve been so very happy to be back on Ondular, the closeness to nature, the sunsets, the rocking while sleeping, the underwater world, the quietness and other days I’ve missed land so much, the safety, the stability, the known.  But what is life without a bit of challenges? They say difficult and unease times are what makes us stronger. Welcome to a new season on Ondular. We hope you enjoy our tales and join us on another go at living free in the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The longest passage

It was a Wednesday, it had been raining for a few days and although we weren’t that excited about leaving port in such wet conditions, we were tired of waiting and decided it was only a bit of water and would be alright to start our 500 mile journey to the Tuamotus.

Ten minutes after we had come out of the bay in Nuku Hiva, big black clouds got on top of us and a very strong squall of a bit more than 30 knots started. This usually wouldn’t have stopped us but this time it just gave us a bad feeling and the sky did look like there were so many more like that one coming. So for the first time ever, we decided to return to port and wait for better weather.

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The next morning, the conditions were much drier and the forecast predicted winds of 15 knots for the next few days. We left with high spirits and Ondular was enjoying a nice beam reach and easily making 6 to 7 knots. By the end of the day the wind picked up a bit more and we were kept on our toes throughout the night and the next day as we had several visits from cheeky squalls.

By the fourth day, the squalls had stopped and we had pleasant sailing with steady conditions. We were only 60 miles and one night away from our destination, the atoll of Makemo, one of the biggest in the Tuamotus but unfortunately by sunset we could see that exactly where we were going to, there was a massive front being formed with angry looking clouds.

Before life on the boat, clouds were meaningless to me. I could admire their different forms but that was it, they really didn’t represent anything to me. But being on a boat, in the middle of the ocean, clouds take a completely different meaning; they can be your best friends or worst enemies and when you see clouds like these ones, you really wish with all your heart that they would go away, but they usually don’t.

So as you continue sailing towards them, you try not only to prepare yourself physically by shortening the sails and putting your weather gear on, but more importantly mentally and you’re kind of on the edge, feeling anxious, moving slowly towards the black sky not really knowing what to expect.

We had two nights and two days of rough weather. After the first night, we had to make the hard decision of changing our plans by changing our route and instead of going to the Tuamotus keep sailing until reaching Tahiti. We made this decision based on the fact that this weather pattern was going to prevail for several days which would make the currents and waves at the entrance of the atolls much stronger and bigger. We also didn’t feel like it was a good idea to be inside the atolls, where there isn’t much protection from the wind for the next week or so; going to Tahiti seemed like a better choice.

What impressed me the most was the consistency of the wind’s strength, 27 knots for hours, sometimes hitting the 30s and very rarely going down to the 20s. By the end of the second day, the sea started to get bigger and by sunset we were going down big waves and reaching 12 knots. There was no way our auto pilot was going to hold on these conditions and we were too tired to try and steer like this all night. The forecast showed that the weather was improving in the next 12 hours so we decided to heave to, have a bit of a rest and wait either for conditions to get milder or for daylight so that we could steer more comfortably.

By sunrise, although the wind was still blowing, there was a little blue hole in between all the grey in the sky which gave us hope that the front was through. And luckily we were right, the worse had passed and for the remaining 3 days we had blue skies and nice steady winds.

It was a difficult passage due to the fact that we weren’t mentally prepared for spending that much time at sea. I even found it at times more difficult than the long Pacific crossing; we had definitely worse weather, it was only Mick and I, so we got less sleep and more time on watch but we made it afterall and we also had some good times in between it all.

We caught a mahi mahi, played yatzee on the cockpit when it was calm enough and had some good laughs. We also had a few tears, the worse one was during the strongest conditions, while serving dinner and a wave came and made me spill the curry vegetables and left us with almost nothing left to eat. I lost it badly and Mick even said he was actually worried that I wasnt going to be able to stop and when he thought it was over, I would start crying again. It lasted some good 5 minutes of letting it all out.

With more settled weather it gave us the opportunity to do some more research and see whether we really wanted to go to Tahiti or somewhere else. Because the reality is that our plans not only changed during this passage but also our bigger plans had changed in the last few months which gave us a different perspective on everything.

Our plans at first were to get a longer visa for French Polynesia and stay here for a while and then continue to Australia next season. But we couldn’t get the long visa so we have to leave by the end of August. That, plus being away from Australia for almost 3 years, made us change our itinerary and now we’ll be storing the boat here in Raiatea and flying back to Australia at the beginning of August to be there hopefully for a maximum of 6 months. That would give us enough time to see family and friends, spend Christmas there and save some more money to continue our trip.

With all of that in mind, we later changed our route again and decided that maybe the little island of Huahine would be a better choice to spend the last month here; it’s known to have some great waves and a chilled vibe.

So here we are, we got here yesterday and the first thing we did after getting the anchor down, was to go to town and we just walked around for two hours; it felt so good to just move our legs. At night, for the first time in so long, the boat was completely still and we had a great night sleep.

We have around 4 weeks till we have to make the move to Raiatea to get the boat ready to be pull out of the water and stored and our new reality to begin. Until then, we are in one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been, we have to eat all our stored food and there’s a swell coming. Life is good!