Waterfalls and ocean rivers

After not moving much, we’ve been rattling thorough islands. Spurts, lulls, pausing, rushing. It’s how boat life works. I’ve now realised this after only a few years. I would appear I’m not a quick learner! Now that a big ocean passage to Fiji is on the horizon in a month or so, our pace has quickened.

An overnight sail took us from Makatea to Raiatea, bypassing Huahine. We originally planned to stop in Huahine but knew we had friends already in Raiatea so decided to that was a bigger draw. It was one of those sails where the final miles seems to take forever. We had about 25 miles to cover when we made the decision to keep sailing. The islands here are relatively high so we could see our destination but it didn’t seem to be getting any bigger, even though we were making progress towards it. (Refer to that classic scene in the brilliant TV show Father Ted, when Ted explains to Dougal about near and far).

As often happens, a squall announced itself as we approached the pass. Hey ho, but once inside the outer reef, things settled down and we motored the final 4 miles or so to the anchorage where our lovely friends on Sea Rose fed and watered us. Right decision to go and hook up with them!

We chose to spend a few days around different anchorages, out on the reef for a few days on the NE side then round to an area called The Coral Gardens on Tahaa. This was a fun place. A break in the outer reef brings a salty river between the motos into the lagoon. Not particularly deep, it’s a great snorkel as you get pushed along with the current. It’s one of the more touristy places we’ve been with more human traffic but the coral was in relatively good shape, quite a lot of small colourful fish and a monster six or seven foot moray eel who came out of his / her hole and frightened the bejesus out of me.

There were also sting rays and eagle rays. It was rewarding just being still holding onto a rock facing into the current as underwater creatures came by. I can see why it’s a popular spot.

And we squeezed in a walk up to three waterfalls. That’s a good use of a Sunday afternoon. 

Makatea

I’m sure you’ll agree. I’m taking a punt here. Positive change happens…… a new place, seeing friends or family, a holiday or great day out for example and there’s an immediate upturn and alteration in your energy levels. I’m there. The island of Makatea has delivered.

The Tuamotos as an island chain are amazing. But after a while one atoll looks much like another. When your land mass extends to maybe 3m above sea level it’s tricky for the geography to incorporate interesting hills and elevation. 

Makatea provided a welcome change to low lying atolls. This place has limestone cliffs, incredible recent history and offered us a playground for a few days as we remembered how to be ‘outdoor-ies’.

The island is stuffed full of phosphate and for 60 intensive years the phosphate was mined by men with shovels literally digging holes in the ground then the product was transported away by ship for the fertiliser industry. Each man dug up to 10 tonnes per day. That seemed a big number to me.

3,600 people lived on this piece of land in the pacific which measures about nine square miles. The island had a cinema, churches, a clinic, big machine shops to service the plant and three massive diesel engines which provided power 24 hours a day. We took a tour with the major, Julien and he proudly told us they were the only place in the pacific where basketball was played after dark.

Then one day in 1966 production stopped overnight. Julien said the French government wanted all the skilled workers for the nuclear testing industry which was just starting as Algeria had declared independence and stopped the French testing their bombs there. French Polynesia was to suffer this affliction and the upset and compensation claims still progress seemingly unsatisfactorily today.

About 100 to 120 people live on Makatea today. There are remnants and scars from its mining past.  The community are now looking at ways of generating more income using the natural environment and adventure tourism is firmly on the agenda. 

In 2019, a bunch of climbers spent time here, putting up new climbing routes, bolting as they went. If you want to see more, look here. https://fanatic-climbing.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Makatea_Escalade_Topoguide_2019-low-OK.pdf

Lots of the climbs were absolutely beyond me, but Dave picked out some of the lower grade stuff and we had two days climbing limestone in the South Pacific with the ocean as the backdrop and absolutely no one else around. Quite remarkable.

The climbers also installed a via ferrata. This is a series of wires and steps at height taking you on a journey around the cliffs. We took ourselves off and found this, leading to a couple of hours of rather good fun.

We both loved Makatea, this bizarre piece of rock which juts from the sea. There’s nowhere else like it around here. A true one off place.

Nicknames

Apologies but this will likely be a dull read. These ramblings had two purposes when I started writing. 

  1. A written history for dave and I of what we’ve done and where we been. A précis of highlights and lowlights and medium lights 
  2. A way of keeping family and friends updated now that postcards can only be found in antique shops. Don’t you miss receiving a picture of the roundabout in Milton Keynes or a crazy golf course in Margate. 

Then I added a third.

  • A record of random Helen thoughts which may amuse others but are primarily for my personal selfish benefit. Stuff to look back on when I’m more mature.😀

This post hits number three.

I had this moment while out walking when a memory flew to the front of my mind from its usual oblivion. A friend of mine at school, called Eleanor had a nickname which I’d not considered for eons. The name was Pom. Trudge as I tried through dim and distant memories, I have no recollection of how Pom came about. What is it about nicknames and their origins?

Dredging more, it became apparent that most of that group of school friends had nicknames. Alison was Gab, Kevin was Joe, Tony was Smurf, Stewart was Pip, Marion who’s middle name is Isabel was ‘Isabel necessary on a bicycle’ which was the height of hilarity, David Urwin was Durwin and Allan was Rod. It wasn’t like we were FBI representatives that needed cover. We were 16 year old kids in a small high school in rural Northumberland. And these names are still used today. Bad luck parents who spent hours um-img and ah-ing about what to call their precious offspring. A bunch of unruly teenagers will sort that out in a flash. 

I know I quite often attribute names to people we meet along the way. Recently there’s been Naked Kevin, a single hander who appears to have an aversion to clothes, (prepare yourself Australia, he’s on his way), there’s Eric the dentist, retired but this nomenclature comes as a complete phrase and Mister Aldric who always gets this prefix. He seems to like the implied irreverent reverence.

Dave has a ‘chesty thing’ going on. The covid test says no. We’ll not move till he feels better. Means I’ve been out walking lots. A loop around the village takes between an hour and a hour and a half depending on the route. It was during  one such walk when I trawled the dark crevices of my mental filling system and Pom fell out.  

And finally. What’s the going rate for a haircut? £10, £20, £30? I’m not up to date here. Today I exchanged 12 iced cup cakes for a cut. Seemed like a fair deal. It’s short, very short, actually very very short. Even I think it’s short. There was no mirror, just much chopped hair gently wafting downwind into the sea. 

Other people’s tales

Last night we met a couple on a boat who spent the lockdown back in 2020 on Tahanea. We know Tahanea as we spent over three weeks there recently. There’s no village or permanent settlement. Local Polynesians visit occasionally to crop the coconuts. For the majority of the general population this would be a very out there place. 

This couple had provisioned up in anticipation of a two week stay. Then the world went lockdown crazy which they heard about as they had a sat phone to receive email. They made the decision to stay put with two other boats, not returning to another atoll with a village or Tahiti where strict movement restrictions were prevalent. They chose a version of remote Castaway life till travel and freedoms were permitted again. Alone (well with two other boats) for two and a half months. 

We listened to stories of daily spear fishing, crabbing, coconut collecting, rationing supplies of food and fuel. We have pondered if we could do this and be comfortable. As long as your water maker keeps going, or there’s rain fall, it would be doable.Limited but possible. I don’t think we’ll try it as an experiment though. Says Helen as I munch my way though a bag of shop bought ready to eat moist apricots. 

Another Tahanea tale involved a wingfoil. A different boat and people we count as good friends now. Let me paint a picture of this if you’re unfamiliar. 

The wingfoil kit uses a surf board but has a 1 meter mast and a carbon fibre hydrofoil attached at the other end of the mast. The foil bit looks a like the shape of a basic aeroplane The rider has an inflatable kite which resembles a Batman wing. By holding this kite to the wind, the board moves forward and when there’s enough speed, due to differences in pressure like an aeroplane, the mast rises out of the water so the rider is standing on the surf board which is 1m out of the water. 

The dad and his daughter were wing foiling in the pass at Tahanea. Both are pretty competent riders and had gone to the pass as there were some small waves to practice jumping. 

Dad is cruising happily along when suddenly, bang, he’s knocked off his board by….wait for it….. a large grey shark. He’s startled, very scared and keen to get back on his board in a millisecond. Which he does only to be knocked off again when he gets moving. He’s bricking it and shouts to his daughter who doesn’t know what is happening to go back to the big boat and get the dinghy. 

Third time he thrashes and scrabbles back up onto his board and manages to hold it together enough to get back into the lagoon away from the pass and head towards their boat.  Thankfully the inflatable kite hasn’t been punctured so he still has propulsion. 

He gets back to his boat in one piece with his heart thumping monstrously in his chest and adrenaline coursing through his body. No physical injuries, substantially more grey hairs and a rather terrifying tale to tell. On examination, the black hydrofoil has sharkie teeth marks. Dad thinks the shark mistook it for a fast moving fish and ‘struck’ to catch dinner. The foil is carbon and very hard. Not soft and fishy like a jack or a tuna or a grouper. So it may have have necessitated a trip to the shark dentist for the watery predator. An uncomfortable munch. 

Dad says they are staying away from foiling in passes now. Understood. 

We are in a bit of a holding pattern waiting for May when cyclone season is over and we can head west. Moving for the sake of moving feels a bit pointless at the moment. Kiting, wakeboarding, boat jobs, walking and generally hanging out is how we fill some of our days. We watched the space station fly over a few nights ago. It rose at 19.12 in the NW and disappeared at 19.19 in the SE. It’s a speedy beast. That’s two space station mentions in consecutive blogs. 

Final space reference. I just read a book called The Martian by Andy Weir. Apparently there’s a film too although I know nothing about it. The book is about a bloke who gets stuck on Mars. It’s a compelling amusing romping read. If you get stuck on a remote planet being a botanist and an engineer are helpful skills. There’s not much call for social media influencers or hedge fund managers if you’re stranded and in a pickle on Mars. Unsurprisingly.

Come on Jacinda

I woke up a few days ago to the news that Barry Cryer had died. He was one funny man. Dave and I once went to see him tell stories at Buxton Opera House. Colin Sell accompanied him on the piano. Another “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue stalwart”. There was no pizzaz or razzmatazz. Just a bloke sat on a stool in his v-necked Marks and Spencer’s jumper, holding the audience in his hand with his impeccable comic timing, straight faced naughtiness and his ability to laugh at himself. It was a good night out.

This morning is not a good morning in. We planned to sail to Harifa from the main village in Fakarava for the coming weekend. Up at 5.30. Ashore to buy bread, dump the rubbish with a view to hauling anchor at 6.30. All good till pressing the engine start button illicited nothing. Nada. Silencio. Poor Dave is now scrabbling for his multimeter and opening the battery box. Troubleshooting here we come.

Jacinda announced yesterday that NZ are planning to open their borders this year. A cause for a small whoop of delight on Grace. A fellow sail-ey friend messaged back….”That is the best news ever. She better stick to it or we’re going to punch her lights out 😀”. I like the raw sentiment but I’m not sure how you can do that if you can’t get in. That’s the pedant in me. 

We have started on the paperwork necessary to get west. Fiji entry requires engaging an agent. I contacted one who responded immediately and passed on links to the forms you need to download and fill in. Plus the dosh you need to splash. Prior to Jacinda making the announcement yesterday, I’d also downloaded the necessary forms to get into NZ on the refit exemption. Fingers crossed now, we don’t need to do this any more. Covid is here to stay. The world  media bandied the phrase “waiting for the new normal’. Well there is no waiting. The new normal is now. Crack on. Let us in please. 

What else have we been up to. 

The generator made a strange noise. There’s something about being tuned into noises on the boat. It’s amazing how quickly we pick up on difference. Unusual noises stand out. A rattle, a change in tone, a squeak. They normally mean something is kaput or on its way there. 

A quick check and there’s no water coming out of the exhaust. Press the off button forthwith. The problem turned out to be a broken impeller, a little rubber piece which is a bit like a water wheel pushing sea water round the outside of the engine. To change the impeller takes about 15 minutes. Turn the sea cock off. Remove the outer case. Unscrew the face plate on the water pump. Pull the dodgy impeller out. Insert new one and reverse the process.

However, we ended up with a three day job as part of a bigger overhaul. Flushing the sea water cooling system to remove the silty crap took several hours. Remaking the broken rubber feet that support the generator took a chunk of time. And squeezing it back in its case after hauling it out with a block and tackle was tricky.  But all is good now.

Plus we’ve had some fun wakeboarding behind our dinghy and Dave had cracked upwind when kiting. Both activities offer the possibility of a Superman. Lurching forward out of control with an outstretched body. Kiting when a squall kicks in gets number one status. Shame I have no piccies of Dave jettisoning forwards then splatting before International Rescue, aka me, turns up on the scene.  

And a few bullet points to finish.

  • Thankfully we were unaffected by the Tongan tsunami
  • There’s been lots of squally weather recently with big lightening storms
  • Having hauled out and cleaned the hull in Tahiti, Grace is sailing really well 
  • We have 4kg of cucumbers to eat. Yes, that is a lot.
  • We have written a couple of work proposals recently. That’s a novelty. 
  • Orange and raisin cake is my current cake of choice.
  • We hope to depart for Fiji around May, this year.
  • I just read the International Space Station will crash into the Pacific Ocean in 2031. That’s going to be a big splash.

Off grid

I think you call this a pasting. We are anchored behind a motu (small island with vegetation) in the north of Tahanea. Strong winds of around 25 knots and heavy rain were forecast from the north so having some land directly in front of us should provide shelter from the wind and more importantly the fetch. The fetch being the build up of waves across a body of water. It’s the waves that create problems, more than the wind.

Well. Last time it was my turn to go outside and check on things, I glanced at the wind instruments and noticed it was a fairly constant 45 knots.  Someone anchored near us has just been on the radio saying they saw a momentary 60 knots. I can vouch in true british understated fashion, it’s darned breezy. And there’s fetch so it’s a bit of an unwanted  bucking bronco ride. And this is at anchor.  Not at sea. Today would not be a good day to be out sailing. 

It’s the middle of the day here and the many different forecasts we look at that come in via our iridium sat phone suggest it’s going to like this for another 12 hours. It’s not cocktails on the poop-deck weather. The best items to wear when you have to go outside to check on things are a waterproof jacket and a pair of goggles. Nothing else needed. Anything else gets soaked in minutes, wet stuff just drips in the cabin and it’s not cold out there. Don’t fret. The next boat is anchored quite a way away so they have no reason to be offended! Well unless they are spying with their binoculars. 

We left Tahiti on 18th December. Since then, until today, we’ve had no phone reception, 4G or WiFi. We have been in our own little bubble of quiet removed ignorance. Mostly enjoying the company of three other boats, Gecko, Belladonna and Sea Rose.

We shared Christmas with our friend Holly on Tahanea, an uninhabited atoll in the middle of the Tuamotus when the weather was somewhat different. Snorkelling in flat clear blue water, a few small pressies, lunch, and a motor to a different anchorage. We towed Holly’s small 27’ boat, Gecko 6 miles across the atoll which was a bit of a wheeze. The water in Tahanea is so clear if a bird flies over when you’re snorkelling, you can see it’s shadow on the sand. 

Dave has done a fair bit of kite surfing in the last few days and has cracked going up wind. Which makes him happy. And saves on dinghy fuel as otherwise I need to chase after him downwind to retrieve him and his kite. One of the girls on Belladonna made a great little edited video on her phone of Dave whizzing across the water. 

We’re not sure what we’ll do between now and May when we will return towards Tahiti and the Society Islands. In the short term, a few freshies and some internet are in order. Green food required. Picking up news from the past month and reconnecting with folk is the order of the day now.

Off to sea

Early Christmas wishes my friends. We’re off to sea back to the Tuamotos later today so all a bit rushy. Not sure we’ll have any comms so make it a good one and say boo to covid.

Varnishing finished for now.

We had a quick two day haul to scrub the hull and waterline, service the prop and a couple of other jobs including removing a nest from under the radar. Dave spotted it one morning. Sorry birdies.

Grace, Dave and H are ready to get going. We all look sparkly.

Hurtful tunes

There ought to be a law as to how many times Boney M’s “Hooray, hooray it’s a holi holiday” is allowed to be played in a public place. I was thinking maybe once every five years was about the right frequency. Any more than that, the person in charge of the audio in a public environment would be liable for prosecution. 

The punishment will be to be locked up for five years where the only music available is Boney M’s “Hooray, hooray it’s a holi holiday.” Didn’t someone once say the punishment should fit the crime.

I mention this as there’s a bar near to us which continually plays ….yes, no need to write anything else here.  You get it. 

Our varnishing project progresses. After endless days of scraping and sanding, we’ve reached the varnishing stage on the bulwarks and side planks on the boat. I think the super yacht agent who sells varnish took pity on us and gave us a discount when we topped up on supplies. But it’s starting to look good. 

So good in fact that two random smartly dressed french women wandered down the pontoon today to ask if they could do some filming on the boat. One was a famous singer apparently, according to the other woman. She could have been as famous as Charles Azanavour or Edith Piaf or someone from Boney M.  We shall never know as no one was getting on the boat as the latest coat of varnish was only two hours old and random fingers and feet were banned. 

They nodded wisely, turned their backs and walked away. Grace’s potential moment in the spotlight had disappeared into thin air before it had time to materialise. 

In other news, I epoxied the ceramic teapot lid back together, we have a new loo seat, (one of our purchases in the UK) and the Christmas tree in the park now has reindeer too. Seems like a bit on an anathema in 30 degrees of heat but check out the photos. They are cute.

Varnish and boobs

Health checks and varnish work. That’s been my week. Oh and early morning and evening walks in the park with Perryn, Wendy and the skateboarding boys from Due South. That bit was fun. 

And we had an ice cream hour in the park mid afternoon yesterday followed by a game of football on the sand pitch. That’s knackering. Two large tubs and 9 spoons –  mint with chocolate and mango sorbet. Flavours chosen by Luke. And appreciated by all. 

The french dentist was likeable, had good drugs and spoke excellent English. He had a snazzy camera on a stick that created a 3D image of the hole in my tooth. Never had that in the UK. The fabricated ceramic filling was millimetre perfect and slotted into the cavity rather nicely a few days later. I’d tried to get a dentist appointment in the UK when we were home. I did. The first available slot in the three months we were back according to the ruthless gatekeeper receptionist was the day before we flew back. The temporary filling didn’t last. 

I also had a check up mammogram scan. I can feel my apprehension building from a gentle to a bubbling simmer before the scan. It’s not something to look forward to….what might they find? Will it lead to re-run of 2012 again? And I don’t mean the Olympics in the UK. 

Glad to report, all is good. No naughty lumps that require vanishment. The French Polynesia healthcare system was slick and professional. I knew within 10 minutes of having piccies taken of my boobs that the scans were clear. No waiting a week for a letter in the post from chez vegas, aka Chesterfield hospital. Two years grace now before the next round of apprehension. 

And onto boaty things. I’m thinking of opening a theme park. It’s going to be called Varnish World. It’ll cost nothing to enter and I’ll supply FREE cake and tea. Attractive ‘eh. The payback is a minimum of 20 minutes of scrapping or sanding or varnishing. Instead of selfie photos of punters screaming on roller coasters, there’ll be a glossy A4 print of Grace when the work is complete and we’ve completed our campaign. “Make Grace great again.” 

Let’s be blunt. There’s a pencil museum in Keswick. (Well I’m sure the pencils aren’t blunt.)  So there had to be some mileage in Varnish World. 

We’re both pooped. Too many hours in the sun scrapping today. Dave cooked tuna. We watched an episode of Killing Eve and it’s bedtime. 8.45pm. 

Going to the dark side

We went to the dark side on a sneaky, under the radar four day trip to Mallorca. We didn’t tell many people we were going but slipped out of the UK for a last minute unexpected trip before we were due to fly back to French Polynesia.

This is how it came about. Its a Saturday morning. A text comes in. To paraphrase, its says, do you want to come to Mallorca for a week on a boat? Its the week before we are due to fly back to FP. There’s still 101 things on a list to do. Sod that. 😀 Its not everyday a text like this arrives. We can make this work!

We did a bit of rejigging and a few days later we are on a crewed 75’ boat in Andratx harbour. The best bit was getting to spend time with our friends Ben and Julie and their two kids. Ben works in the marine industry so thats the missing link to us getting the invite. He drives and manages boats like this one. Nice work if you can get it.

We felt very indulged and had a snap shot of a life that is so far removed from living on Grace. But its was bloody FANTASTIC, FAB and a once in a lifetime holiday.

One morning Dave and I lay drinking tea in bed as the boat was driven to the breakfast anchorage. We just giggled like small children.

We are now back in French Polynesia and I’m doing my laundry in a bucket while Dave replaces a washer on a water pump on the generator.

And why the dark side? Generally sail boaters talk about motor boats being the dark side. Having spent a few days living the highlife, it most certainly not the dark side. Its light and bright and for the 4 days we experienced it, rather lovely.