Monthly Archives: August 2015

Ah…Moving day

Well, it wasn’t really supposed to be moving day. Marce is under the weather so we fancied a couple of quiet days at anchor and after a less than calm passage over to Bora Bora we’d thought we’d found it, just off of Bloody Mary’s in the cat box. [ed: We call any place where shallow draft catamarans gather the “cat box.”]  

The lagoon is very deep right up to the beach so when we saw several catamarans anchored together we knew that it would be reasonably shoal water but found a lot of coral there so we opted instead for something close but unfortunately semi deep. 

Boat secured, and with Tim from Liberty Call and the ailing Marce in tow we bounced and splashed in the dinghy through the chop around the corner to the dock at Bloody Mary’s which looks a lot like a set from a Johnny Depp movie. Marce was less than amused. On the way in, we passed a large hanging slabs of wood with lists of celebrity names painted in gold. Don’t ask.  

The movie set theme continued as we entered the bar walking on perfectly groomed sand floors, but a quick price check revealed who would be paying for some of this and it wasn’t going to be us. I haven’t met a hamburger yet that was worth that kind of money and a night aboard Escape Velocity was sounding better and better. 

We awoke cozied up way too close to a boat we had anchored a discreet distance from just the night before. We hadn’t dragged but the high winds stretched our chain out in his direction. We got the hook up tout de suite, motored out of there and after a quick consult with the navigation department decided to chance rounding the southern point of Toopua Iti. It’s a nervous, circuitous route through the coral heads, around Point Mohio and up the coast of Toopua Island, past all the luxury resort palm frond bungalows suspended over the lagoon on stilts. Soon, off in the distance, we could see dozens of anchored sailboats. Maybe they have a wifi signal. No joy on the wifi but a nice anchorage just the same, in ten feet of the clearest water to date. I watched as our anchor dug into the sugar white coral sand. 

All morning Safari adventure boats, camouflaged to look like Polynesian catamaran proas, ferried singing, camera-toting, lobster-red tourists out to the reefs and chummed the water for sharks, then took them back to their luxury resort palm frond bungalows suspended above the lagoon on stilts.

By mid afternoon and with weather moving in I was keen to reconnoiter Mai Kai Marina and the town that surrounds it. I invited Liberty Call to come along on the bumpy wet dinghy ride across the lagoon to Bora Bora. Pulling into the mooring field our friends on Enki II told us that a mooring ball had just opened up so we quickly tied their dingy to the pennant to discourage the vultures and turned around to make the run all the way back to get Escape Velocity. After totally disrupting Marce’s solitude aboard EV we motored around Vaina Mu, skirting it’s massive reef and did the always enjoyable gymnastics of securing  EV to the mooring while avoiding crushing Enki II’s dink, all on the same ball. We then launched our dink and towed  Enki II’s back to their boat. After a few social calls in the anchorage we popped over to pay the man but it’s Sunday and there’s no man today. I scored the marina wifi password which is why you’re reading this and then Tim and I headed back to Toopua, where Liberty Call was still anchored.

As we were picking our way across Vaina Mu’s massive reef Tim said, “Whoa, what was that?!” This is what I love about this cruising life. Magic happens with breathtaking regularity. Long flippers were slapping the water and twisting all around. Not threatening. It was a kind of mad-cap behavior. Now, dear Escapees, as you know I do not have the fish gene but I do know a whale when I see one, especially at such close range. I killed the outboard and we drifted. Is it my fault the whale swam over near us? I don’t think it was intentional. It seemed to be just goofing around, floating pink belly up, splashing and slapping the water.  

Well, the killjoy fish gendarmes took exception to our special relationship with our new friend and demanded that I start my motor and back off a good way. As we slowly putted back other boats approached and the fish guy began to have a very bad day, such is the magnetic pull of whales. I dropped off Tim and turned around bashing into wind and chop back up the channel giving the reef and the whale lots of space and as I turned towards home. Mount Pahia was lit up by a slash of orange slanting light and for the first time I could see the top of the mountain that dominates Bora Bora. 

If anyone asked what I did today I’d probably just say I moved the boat. It’s good to be home.



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Down but not out

It was bound to happen, rare flaws in the perfect tropical paradise life. It started when we noticed the electric winch was struggling to raise the mainsail. This is an operation that usually goes quickly and easily but increasingly I have to use the slow gear to inch the big sail up, and to get it down as well. We checked all the usual things, the roller bearings, the angle of the boom with the mast, the tightness and evenness of the wrap as the sail furled. When our own troubleshooting didn’t lead us to a solution I wrote to our rigger, Colin Mack of Mack Sails in Florida and hoped for some words of wisdom. We’re facing some long and challenging sea miles ahead and we don’t want a mainsail that’s in less than full control. 

Meanwhile, the weather has been completely ferkochte. Rain, wind, squally, very unparadisical. We sailed to Bora Bora and what should have been another of those iconic landfalls with the distinctive double mountain peak rising from a blue lagoon turned out to be a mist-shrouded and gray silhouette above a choppy sea. With day after day of rain, wind and rolly anchorages I’ve been lax about my usual daily routine of restorative yoga on deck as the sun rises, my own personal sun salutation and welcome to the day. And my back was starting to feel it.

Somewhere between Huahine and Bora Bora my body decided to give me a wake-up call and I was struck with my first-ever bout of excruciating sciatic pain which I could trace to tweaking my back while climbing into the dinghy after snorkeling in Huahine on my 64th birthday. I know people who’ve experienced this — and heard from lots of cruisers nearby who also suffer from it — and I can tell you, there’s no joy in joining the crowd. I’ve always worked hard to keep my spine healthy and I’m kicking myself for letting challenging conditions lead me down the path to a back out of whack. I vow never again to let my yoga practice lapse. 

For now, though, I have to heal. There’s no shortage of helpful advice wherever cruisers gather, and miraculously, many of them actually know what they’re talking about. I’ve been prescribed all manner of medications, techniques and devices, and with consultation at Google University I’m following a plan of targeted stretching, my regular yoga, rest and anti-inflammatories. A few days later and I’m way better. I was even able to go ashore and walk around a bit for the first time in days.

Colin Mack wrote back that the sheave box that connects to the articulating track of our Shaefer gamma furling boom has been redesigned in response to the problem we’re having and he shipped out a replacement the very next day. So it’s one more gold star for Mack Sails, who’ve been nothing short of wonderful from the day we bought the boat through our dismasting and rerigging. Colin is always quick to respond and we thank him and his crew. Kudos to Schaefer, too.

This morning the wind has finally abated and there are patches of blue in the cloud cover that we’ve grown used to. Things are looking up. So we’re stuck waiting for a boat part, but we’re in Bora Bora. Not too shabby.  



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More fish under water

In Taha’a we snorkeled a reef between two motus. It’s called the coral garden and it was beautiful. These photos are courtesy of our friend Tim, who’s way better at fish pix than I am.  





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Birthday snorkel

It’s my Beatles birthday and we picked up Tim and conned the dinghy out to the reef for a bit of a snorkel. Not a lot of variety but we enjoyed the clear water and the company of black-tipped sharks.  



In the evening Tim joined us and the crew and guests of Enki II brought some fine bubbly and a gift for the birthday girl and we all shared my famous chocolate cheesecake (ok, it’s Anna Thomas’s famous Chocolate Cheesecake) and we topped off a beautiful day in the company of friends. 

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Exploring Fare

We rented bikes to ride around the northern island of Huahine with Tim and loved the smooth, paved, mostly flat road. Still, we’ve lost our cycling muscles and we think we really ought to do this more often.  

Just outside town we saw this young man bagging up coconut husks to ship to Tahiti. I would have thought Tahiti had enough of their own, but as Jack says, everybody works. 

  A little further down the road we saw a tiny vanilla plantation. Actually it was about as big as our city backyard in Pittsburgh. All the vanilla trees were in pots, and the owner walked us through process. It takes nine months for the beans to ripen, and three months to dry them, so now you know why pure vanilla extract isn’t cheap. The woman and her mother have a shop selling all their vanilla products, from powder and extract to whole beans and vanilla scented oil. I had just bought some extract in Tahiti but I bought another small bottle here. I know that every time I use it, this day, this island, and the friendly mother-daughter duo will be on my mind. It’s the best kind of souvenir.


Along the river are stone fish traps, hundreds of years old. The fish are swept toward the point of the vee on the outgoing tide and trapped in a holding area. Some of these traps are still in use. 

Our farthest foray was the little town of Faie, famous for its blue-eyed eels. Creepy, I say.   


We saved the big archaeological site for the ride home, maybe not a good plan. By that time it was hot and we were tired. But it’s the most extensive site in French Polynesia and very well taken care of. The problem for us at these sites has always been the marginal interpretation materials. Most have large placards at the entrance to a site, but no brochure with a map and numbered guide so we know what we’re looking at. This construction, with vertical slabs of coral, is something we hadn’t seen before and we’re not sure what its purpose is. 

We ended the day ashore at happy hour with half-priced beer and a pretty good sunset. That’s Raiatea on the horizon, our next landfall. 



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It’s good to be home

Whatever Bob says, we do. If Bob says go, we go, if Bob says stay, we stay. If Bob has no opinion…well, we wait for one. The Bob I’m referring to is a weather guru who lives in New Zealand, sends out a weekly weather synopsis, via email, and for a fee, will route you through the valley of the shadow of death for Bob art with you, kind of deal. Of course if you don’t pay him you just hope he’ll share an opinion about where you want to go. 

When we were twiddling our thumbs with confusion in the Pearl Islands, almost as an aside at the end of his email, Bob said ,”Oh by the way if anyone is waiting for a rare weather window to go to the Galapagos, leave today”. We left and had a pleasant sail all the way to San Cristobal. Now I’m not saying, “spend it” but it’s a hell of a sight better than Accuweather or NOAA. 

On the other hand you could try old sailors’ superstitions such as never leave for a passage on a Friday, Well, that one’s true but there are many others that just don’t pass the mustard, or is it muster? You see the problem. 

The dead pig had drifted past the boat and Huahine Nui was calling us but the weather was abominable with wind and rain, we hadn’t refueled because of it, there were supposed to be pirogue races, we were tucked away in a nice little corner of Taina Marina anchorage, and it was a Friday. Of course the fact that we had recently taken a pasting traversing the same body of water that we’d have to go through to get to Huahine Nui may have had something to do with it.

Suddenly there were rumors that the marina didn’t sell unbonded diesel over the weekend, so Yours Truly was already in hot water for not refueling on Friday, but a quick VHF call to the fuel dock straightened that out. Waiting in the swirling waters just off the fuel dock about a thousand brightly colored racing pirogues descended upon us like a plague of angry but colorful sponsored locusts, and while I don’t know the French word for asshole I’m fairly sure I must have heard it that morning.  

 But first, one has to negotiate either the southern pass while being entertained by surfers riding huge Pacific combers coming in while you are trying to get out, or motor your way up the chanel inside the reef to Papeete while waiting for clearance from the airport so that an airliner doesn’t clip your mast while taking off or landing.  

 Actually it’s kind of fun but when we finally got clearance we found ourselves surrounded by exhausted but still angry French Polynesians coming in from the ocean, in no mood to be held up again. Paddling furiously, they were weaving their colorful pirogues around EV and this time I really think I’ve learned the French word for asshole.  

 Soon the mix-master between Tahiti and Moorea started to toss Escape Velocity all over the place but at least we had decent wind and it wasn’t raining. Oops. As the wind backed around the rains came back and we soon found ourselves slowly altering course to try to keep EV’s jib filled with wind. Sailing directly down wind was out of the question in this slop. Now where did I store my foulies? Squall after squall hit us. They weren’t severe but after each one the wind would drop to nothing, box the compass which we had to fight for up to twenty minutes and then repeat the whole thing all over again. 

Two hours into Marce’s night watch a strange set of lights appeared out of the rain and gloom behind us. She began to call the unidentified target, but no joy . Finally a fifty foot French catamaran called but while we couldn’t see each other we quickly plotted our positions and realized that he was a good distance in front of us and we were unlikely to catch him. I tried to get some sleep but that’s when the ship finally called us wanting to know why we were hailing him. It turns out it was one of those huge windjammer cruise things. He had been steering right up our wake for hours and was less than two miles behind without returning our call. I may not know the word in French but it’s asshole in English. Answer your effing radio!

My watch just morphed into M’s, and the wind, rain, and sudden windless pattern just repeated and repeated. There were no catnaps this night, if you’ll excuse the phrase. I had my own unidentified target but he crossed in front, left to right, lit up like Chicago at night from 25,000 feet. 

At dawn M. joined me and we felt it was time to gibe over to close with Huahine shore. Shooting the pass at Avapihi in less than a quarter mile visibility would not be fun. Finally the chart plotter said we were on top of the entrance to the pass but you couldn’t prove it by me.  

It was a little tense but soon, through the gloom we saw old friends on Fare’s free mooring balls and even the rain let up a little, allowing us to see the reef’s crystal clear water. It is like floating on a sheet of glass. 

It’s good to be home.  



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Tahiti road trip

We shared a day’s car rental with Enki II and drove off to see more of the beautiful island of Tahiti. It’s so steep that there are no proper roads over the interior of the island — unless you rent a 4×4 — so we planned to drive the circumference. You can’t actually circumnavigate because the road doesn’t connect on the remote southeast side, but we did our best to cover the territory in the time we had. 

We started at Point Venus, notable as the first landfall of Captain Cook when he was sent to observe the transit of Venus in 1769. Now it’s mostly a lovely park with some recent commemorative markers and plaques.


 We continued eastward around the island then crossed the bit of land connecting the big island of Tahiti with Tahiti Iti. The south side of Tahiti is a world away, more rural, less developed, and very beautiful. Our goal was Teahupo’o, an international surfing location and site of the Billabong Pro Tahiti championships. Hard to tell from this perspective that a major sporting event is starting two days from now. 

 When we got out to the beach we saw a community getting ready for the show. Local women were weaving the side panels for the medical station and athletes’ area. The camera crews were loading in, which involved ferrying gear by boat out to the big camera platforms on the reef. The break is quite a distance from the beach and much of the coverage will happen by small boat. On this day the surf was down.  


Check out the Billabong Pro Tahiti site and see how this tranquil beach gets transformed into a surfer madhouse just two days after our visit. The championships are still going on as of this posting and it’s fun to watch. We’re sorry we didn’t get to see any surfing, but we loved the location. (Thanks to my surfer cousin Joey Riday for the tip.)

 We needed to get the car back to town so we left Tahiti-Iti and drove straight back to Papeete. What a lovely island, and a fun day with good friends.  



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Goodbye, Moorea

On our last day in Moorea a couple of cruise ships anchored in Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay. Rather than be annoyed by the sudden crowds, Jack and I know by now that the locals welcome the influx of shoppers and we hurry ashore to see the activity. Sure enough, a little souvenir village sprouted overnight and we browsed the booths of pearls and pareus and carvings along with the cruise ship passengers.    

We strolled through the village to a farm stand for fruit and on the way back I said to Jack, “Bet that guy’s a bass player.” Sure enough, he’s in one of the cruise ship bands, a great life, he says, and he listed all the places he’s been.  


Sheldon is from Trinidad and we told him how much we love his country and how we miss the national breakfast food called “doubles,” the spicy, messy curried chick peas on two little pancakes that starts the day right. He high-fived us in agreement, and we laughed that he was carrying four big bags of Doritos back to the ship.

Back on EV we weighed anchor, motored out of Cook’s Bay and said our fond farewell to beautiful Moorea.   

   We were only going the twelve miles back to Tahiti but the wind didn’t cooperate for a nice day sail. First we had 30kt gusts, then 20 on the nose, then the wind died altogether and we ended up motoring the whole way back in lumpy seas.  

 Our budget won’t allow us another week at the Papeete town marina so we motored an hour down the channel that wraps around the airport to the anchorage. As we passed each end of the runway we had to ask permission to proceed because we could be a hazard to a plane on takeoff or landing. I’m thinking they’d be a serious hazard to us, too.   

  We’re a bit off the beaten track but we have a view of the sunset over Moorea. Not bad. not bad at all.    




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Going native

Oh I’ve heard the rumors. Even here in Papeete the buzz is audible. Starts with lots of verbiage about the noble savage, a little talk about Captain Cook and his illustrator, maybe a fascination with people and tattoos and before you can blink, we both have ink. Well Escapees, we have not gone native. It turns out we do have a profound appreciation for the Polynesian culture and its people, driven to explore and build monumental architecture of stone with stone tools. We’ve seen going native and it’s not so compelling. There’s a couple of rum-soaked Frenchmen that could dissuade anyone from jumping ship. 

That said we’ve a few, let’s agree to call them mementos, that we take great comfort in. It’s like having a few touchstones like a tee shirt, a black pearl or two, maybe a cup. Ok, there is a presence aboard that’s difficult to explain, kind of like an energy source. Growing, pulsing, it speaks to me…let me back up a bit. 

Back in 2013 we’d just completed our passage to St Thomas, US Virgins, and I met an old friend of Marce’s who  circumnavigated twenty years ago. While at his house high above Magen’s Bay I noticed two beautifully carved wooden club-like items above his mantel and he explained that they were Polynesian war clubs that he picked up on the way through. They spoke to me then and I still hear them today. I vowed right there if I were lucky enough to make it to the Marquesas I would find one. 

Well…it took a while but I found one for sale in Nuku Hiva and it shares space in a padded case with Marce’s backpack guitar. I don’t think it minds, but every few days I feel compelled to unzip the case and run my hands over the classic Marquesian carvings. Is it wrong, my precious? I don’t think so.  



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What’s down there?

Behind EV at our day anchorage near the reef we noticed a white marker buoy that seemed randomly placed. When we got back from Stingray City, Jack pointed out that occasionally a small snorkel boat or a line of jetskis would tie off to the buoy and jump in the water. What’s up with that?  


I remembered reading about some sunken tikis hereabouts and we thought this might be the place. When Enki II dinghied by after a stingray snorkel we told them about it, climbed into their dinghy and Diana went in to check it out. She swam over to what looked like a coral bommie, then popped her head out and gave the thumbs up. With that, the rest of us donned our masks and fins and jumped in to explore. The water was a little murkier than we’d have liked, and the sun kept disappearing, but here you have it. Mystery tikis on the reef at the mouth of Opunohu Bay, Moorea.   



 Edited to add: just got enough internet to learn this from the Moon Guide:

“… “Le Monde de Mu,” an underwater sculpture garden in the lagoon off Papetoai with 10 large tikis created in 1998 by the renowned Tahitian stone carver Tihoti.”

Hats off to Tihoti and I wish we’d known there were ten. I don’t think we saw them all. 

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