Monday, July 31, 2017

The Good Die Young

0800 Position 18-39S 173-59W. On a mooring off Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga

After a lazy morning in Port Maurelle we powered the six miles into Neiafu to clear in with the authorities. Government is big business here in Tonga, and they take the clearance formalities seriously. First there is the Health Department, who I think just comes down to extract a few dollars. Next was Quarantine who was only interested in taking our garbage from us, thank you very much. Last came the Customs/Immigration man, who looked familiar to me.

Rob's hand was cramped after filling in the multiple forms in triplicate, and by noon we were cleared into Tonga. After talking to the Customs/Immigration man for a while, I realized that he was the local guy that we always saw smiling in the corner of the Bounty Bar during our extended cruise here in 2014.

The Bounty Bar is a Captain Cook themed watering hole that sits on the hill above Neiafu's small boat harbor. The bar's main attraction was its management team of English owner, Lawrence, and his golden retriever, Bentley. We figured that Lawrence, like many of the palangis (foreigners) here at the end of the earth, settled in Tonga because they were running away from something. We never figured out what that something was. It was difficult to walk by the Bounty Bar without stopping in to say hello to Lawrence, give Bentley a scritch, and have one of the bar's signature rum punches.

Yesterday the Customs guy told me that Lawrence had died a couple of years ago after a short illness. I was really looking forward to seeing him again. There have been other changes in Neiafu as well. Mike and Lori, the owners of the Aquarium Café, have sold the place and moved back to the USA. They were a bundle of energy in this sleepy island community. Lori ran early morning yoga classes and evening hula lessons. Mike had organized a morning radio net on the VHF that was always entertaining. There was always something going on at the Aquarium, a movie, kava night, or evening lecture. We became pretty good friends with Mike and Lori, and took them sailing when they passed through Hawaii in 2015. The Bounty Bar and the Aquarium are still operating businesses, but I can't bring myself to go into either yet.

We walked around town, had a sandwich in a local café, and went back to move the boat from the customs dock out to the mooring field. We picked a ball up off the Aquarium and had a pleasant evening dining aboard on grilled lamb and salad.

This morning I turned on the VHF to listen to the morning net only to find that it also is kaput. I guess it didn't have the momentum to keep going without Mike's leadership.

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Favorite

0800 Position 18-42S 174-02W. At anchor in Port Maurelle, Vava'u, Tonga

We motor sailed west all day yesterday in rainy weather and light winds. At noon the island of Vava'u poked its top up out of the ocean in front of us and rose higher as we approached. At 230PM we had a strike on the fishing line and landed a nice twelve pound big eye tuna. Fish for dinner!

Vava'u is a collection of sixty raised coral islands in a ten mile by ten mile area. It is protected on the east and south by a barrier reef and on the north and west by large islands. In the middle is a maze of deep channels and islands completely isolated from the open ocean. The water is calm and there are hundreds of great anchorages. Most of the islands are uninhabited.

The main entrance into Vava'u's maze of channels is a large opening on the western side of the group. We went around the group to the north, entered through the channel at 430PM, and had the anchor down in Port Maurelle at 530PM just as the sun was getting low.

Port Maurelle is one of my favorite anchorages. We had some great times here in 2014 hiking, snorkeling, and partying. I still smile when I think about Lori paddling the dinghy back to Moku pe'a all flustered after being chased into the water by a huge pig. She had been walking alone in the bush behind the wide sand beach at the head of the anchorage and somehow got between a sow and her piglets. I wish I could have captured it on film…

The anchorage here is flat calm and we had a wonderful night, quite a difference from the rolly open roadstead off of Niue. The tuna was great, and we all slept soundly.

This morning after breakfast we'll head into Neifu, three miles deeper into the maze of channels, to clear customs.

The date line is supposed to follow the 180th meridian and we haven't crossed it yet. Tonga does most of their business with the countries to the west though and decided to move the date line to the east so they'd all be in the same day. So we lost a day yesterday and it is Monday here.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Tonga Bound

0800 Position 18-33S 172-49W. 67 miles east of Vavau, Tonga

During the night the wind shifted to the north east bringing a wind chop with it which made the anchorage very rolly and uncomfortable. After breakfast yesterday we put out the "flopper stopper", a sea anchor that hangs over the side of the boat from the end of the boom, to help minimize the rolling. The flopper stopper helped a bit, but it still wasn't comfortable. The forecast looked like more of the same for the next twenty four hours so we decided it was time to depart Niue.

Piers was flying home to Australia from Niue yesterday at noon, so we all went ashore to say goodby to him and use the yacht club WIFI one last time.

At 1PM we hoisted the mainsail and slipped our mooring for Tonga, 235 miles to the west. Van Diemen enjoyed two hours of glorious broad reaching before the wind died and we were forced to start the engine. We needed to keep the pace up if we hoped to arrive in Vavau before dark the next day.

We motor sailed all night long in squally weather. At 7AM this morning I was in the galley making fried rice when a front hit us and the wind went from zero to thirty knots in an instant. The boat was knocked over, fried rice fixings ended up on the floor, and the engine died. Rob thinks the fuel level in the tank we were using was getting low and the dip tube sucked air when we laid her down. After we got Van Diemen back on her feet we were able to sail at eight knots under mainsail alone for an hour, and then started unrolling the jib as the wind lightened and the front moved away to the east. By 10AM we were back under power again.

We are still on track for a late afternoon arrival today in Vavau. We crossed the date line last night, so it is Sunday today in Tonga. We won't be able to clear customs on the weekend, so we are planning to anchor for the night in Port Maurelle and head into Neiafu, Vavau's capitol city, tomorrow morning.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Exploring Niue

0800 Position 19-03S 169-56W. On a mooring off of Alofi, Niue

At 9AM yesterday we all piled into the dinghy and made our way into Niue's only landing site, a concrete pier that juts out into the Pacific. There is no protection from swells and surge so getting onto the pier is difficult. After unloading the crew, you immediately hoist your dinghy out of the water using the built-in crane so the dinghy won't destroy itself against the pier. The dinghy is dropped onto a dolly on top of the pier, wheeled to a parking stall, and lifted off the dolly. Local fishing boats are retrieved the same way, but they are put on trailers and driven away. The locals are very good at getting their boats hooked into the crane and lifted quickly to avoid damage. It was fun to watch. The process is reversed for launching.

Niue sees a lot of visiting yachts so Customs and Immigration have mobile offices in vans that they drive down to the pier. While we completed the entry process the Commodore of the Niue Yacht Club, Keith, arrived to greet us. After the paperwork was done Keith took us up to the club house in his van.

Quoting Frank Zappa, if I recall correctly, "To be a legitimate country, you need your own beer and your own airline. Some nuclear weapons and a football team help, but at a minimum you need a beer."

I believe that similar rules apply to yacht clubs. The Niue Yacht Club has no boats and no sailors, but it does have a bar. To be a yacht club, at a minimum you need a bar. NYC qualifies. They also have WIFI, and we were able to catch up on email and talk to loved ones. Keith, who also runs a tour company on the island, pointed out all the island's highlights on a map and where we could rent a car.

Piers went to the car rental place, but nothing was available. They did have a beat up old van for sale though. "Do you think you'll sell that thing today?" he asked them.

"I doubt it", the proprietor replied.

"Will you rent it to me for the day?" Piers asked him.

"OK, but it doesn't have a battery."

They found an old battery somewhere, installed it, and we had our rental car. Piers picked the rest of the Van Diemen five at the NYC and off we went.

The first stop on our circle island tour was a sushi bar in town for lunch. The sushi was excellent, but it seemed strange to eat sushi on Niue served by an Indonesian waiter.

Niue can be characterized by extremely bad roads, impenetrable jungle, randomly located graves, and empty houses. Nearly fifty percent of the houses we saw were abandoned. Keith told us that Niue's population had declined from 6,000 to 1,600 in recent years, hence the abandoned houses. Apparently young Niu-bies find better opportunities in New Zealand.

Over most of the island the jungle comes right up to the side of the road. I suppose the land is owned by somebody, but it looks like nobody has ever set foot there… except for the graves. Openings in the jungle are carved out everywhere along the roads and there are small tombs constructed, most of which are decorated with plastic flowers. We saw hundreds of these burial sites as we drove around the island. Somebody must come along periodically to keep the jungle at bay and the grass mowed around the tombs.

The rental car stalled and wouldn't turn over while we were exploring a sculpture garden on the most remote part of the island. It turned out one of the terminals on the newly installed battery had fallen off due to all the jarring on the poor roads. Good thing we had a car full of guys used to fixing anything and everything on a boat. We got it reconnected and off we went.

The island is an uplifted coral slab, and eons of rainfall has eroded many chasms and caves on the island. We explored a couple. There wasn't much else to see on the island.

We got back to Van Diemen just as it was getting dark. Another great day.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Island Nation of Niue

0800 Position 19-03S 169-56W. On a mooring off of Alofi, Niue

We sighted Niue from twenty miles away at 4PM, a remarkably flat slab of coral rising slowly above sea level.

Just after dark the outhaul on the mainsail let go with a bang. No problem. We put in the first reef and continued on.

Night time arrivals are becoming a habit as Van Diemen works its way across the South Pacific. It was pitch black as we rounded the south end of the island and headed for the mooring field off of Alofi, the island's main town. We were surprised by how few lights we saw ashore as we motor sailed along Niue's west coast.

I tried to call the Niue Yacht Club on the VHF radio a couple of times as we approached Alofi, but got no response. After my second call the skipper of another yacht came on the radio and said he didn't think there was anybody at the club. He and another yacht had departed from Niue a half hour earlier heading west, and he said the mooring field was now completely empty.

The range lights into the wharf were lit, but the rest of the town of Alofi was dark as we made our approach to the mooring field at 9PM. Without a moon or lights ashore it was very difficult to judge distance. Powering in towards a dark shoreline in the pitch black was quite unnerving, but we spotted a mooring with the flashlight and picked it up. Time to relax.

We were just getting comfortable in the cockpit enjoying our first "Van Diemens" of the evening when we heard the "whosh" of a humpback whale taking a breath twenty feet from the boat. We couldn't see the whale, but heard him clearly as he worked his way astern of us.

The open roadstead off of Alofi was remarkably calm last night, and we all slept great. Piers got up this morning and went to have a swim off of the stern only to find a sea snake slithering along beside the boat. No swimming this morning.

We've just finished a pancake breakfast and are getting ready to call the officials on the VHF to clear us into the country. It will be a busy day.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sprinting for Niue

0800 Position 19-10S 168-03W. Days run 192 miles. 100 miles from Niue

The wind stayed out of the north all day yesterday and we enjoyed great sailing in flat water and sunny skies.

At 6PM the wind lightened up and headed us to where we couldn't lay Niue anymore, so we turned on the engine and rolled up the jib. So far the wind had matched the gribs exactly as the high pressure area passed. By my interpretation of the forecast, the wind would continue backing, pass through due west at about 3AM, and quickly settle in the south. I was sleeping in my bunk and woke when the boat tacked from starboard to port. I looked at my watch. 230AM. The shift was a half hour early. Still, it amazes me that the forecasts are so accurate out here in the middle of nowhere.

By 4AM the wind had come far enough aft to set the jib and kill the engine. Since then the mighty Van Diemen has been screaming along on a beam reach at ten knots aimed straight for Niue.

We should arrive there right around sunset tonight, but if we are a bit later it is no big deal. Niue's anchorage is an open roadstead on the west side of the island. The Niue Yacht Club has fourteen moorings there for visiting yachts. Rob has been in contact with the club by email, and as of yesterday there were nine empty moorings available. It should be easy to approach and pick one of them up after dark. Our only deadline is to get settled there in time to enjoy an evening "Van Diemen" tonight after completing SOP 1.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Life on the Coconut Milk Run

0800 Position 19-23S 164-40W. Days run 156 miles. 290 miles from Niue

We could see the front approaching from the west yesterday just after sunrise. The clear skies had slowly turned cloudy and then a north-south wall of cloud with rain below it marched in. The boat got a much needed rinse as the front rolled over us and our easterly breeze lightened and shifted to the south. It rained off and on for a few hours, and then the skies started to clear as the weather moved on to the east behind us.

By mid-afternoon we were ghosting along in smooth seas and clear skies. The gribs showed that a high pressure area would follow eighteen hours behind the front and pass right over us. The winds would stay light and slowly do a full circle shifting from south to east to north to west before finally settling in the south again thirty six hours later.

The winds slowly backed, and at midnight they were out of the east. This was not a good direction because we were headed west, dead down wind. To keep the speed up over six knots we had to head forty five degrees off course. Normally we would have powered with the speed toward our destination so low, but it was crystal clear, there was no moon, and the seas were flat. The Milky Way was spectacular above us. How could anybody be in a hurry in conditions like that? We left the engine off and enjoyed the evening.

Last night for dinner Doc cooked us the best curry dish I've ever tasted. He had intended to make Lamb curry using the leftovers from the night before, but after adding carrots, white turnips, cauliflower and coconut milk to the cooked onion, garlic and curry sauce, he decided that the meat wouldn't help and we went vegetarian. Good decision.

I am sharing watches with both Piers and Doc. During the day we do our own thing, but at night the guy on standby usually keeps the guy on watch company in the cockpit, and I have heard some great stories.

Piers has been a journalist for forty nine years. He has had amazing experiences, has a remarkable memory, and knows how to tell a tale. That makes for a great watch mate. Doc, a retired radiologist who has sailed all over the world and in the America's Cup finals, also tells a great story. Night watches are not boring aboard the good ship Van Diemen.

This morning the wind continued to back towards the north and head us, and as I write this we are almost back down on course headed for Niue, 290 miles away.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Niue Bound

0800 Position 20-30S 162-11W. 140 miles from Rarotonga

Yesterday morning Craig and Tom from the Rarotonga Yacht Club came down to the harbor to inspect Van Diemen with their kids. It was fun showing the young sailors, who hadn't seen a boat as big or nice as Van Diemen before, how a large sailboat functions. Customs and Health showed up to clear us out of the country while the kids were there, and Jim Bruce arrived with Rob and Renee in tow after picking them up at the car rental return. It was a party at the harbor.

All our visitors left in the early afternoon and shortly thereafter we got underway for Niue, 585 miles to the northwest. The winds and seas had backed off considerably over the two days we were in Rarotonga, and for the past twenty hours we have had great downwind sailing right on course. It is nice to have dry decks for a change.

The forecast calls for a weak front to come through this morning with variable winds behind it. We may be under power later today.

I put a fishing line out at dawn, and have my fingers crossed.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Chicken Skin

0800 Position 21-12S 159-47W. Moored in Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga

There is a huge three acre open market every Saturday here in Avatiu right next to the harbor, and the whole island shows up. Most of the locals eat breakfast and lunch there at the food stands and do all of their produce shopping for the week. All of the tourists on the island show up to buy pareus, ukuleles and souvenirs. Piers went early to get fried flying fish for breakfast and we stocked up on fruits and vegetables.

At noon we picked up a rental car and took off on a circle island tour. Our first stop was the Rarotonga Yacht Club where Craig, who we met the day before, was the Commodore. We found Craig there and he introduced us to Stella Neale, the Vice Commodore. Stella is the daughter of Tom Neale, the hermit of Suwarrow.

I have a dozen or so books in my library that I will never part with. "An Island to Oneself", written by Tom Neale about his ten years of living alone on Suwarrow atoll, is one of them. I had read the book a couple of times and there was no mention made in it of a wife or family.

Suwarrow atoll in the northern Cook Islands was uninhabited when we arrived there in 1986 aboard my Ranger 33, Eleu. There probably wasn't another human within 400 miles. Tom Neale had been dead for ten years, but visiting yachtsmen who had read his book maintained his house, yard, and the pathway up from the beach. As we walked up the path for the first time we were surprised to see cats and chickens, descendants of those that Tom had with him on the island, running around. We passed a life size concrete bust of a man on the path with the inscription "Tom Neale lived his dream on this island". We knocked on the door to the house, called out, and received no response. We opened the door, entered cautiously, and found that Tom's kitchen had been converted into a book exchange for visiting yachts. Tom's bedroom remained as it was when he lived on Suwarrow. His bed was made and hanging on the wall above it was his machete with the name "Neale" carved into the handle. I had goose bumps.

We had this half mile long by quarter mile wide idyllic tropical island all to ourselves for two weeks. The island's beauty and isolation alone made it magical, but the history of the place made it surreal, and it was one of my most memorable experiences.

Unexpectedly meeting the author's daughter yesterday and discussing our experiences on the island were almost as special. She had known about the machete hanging over the bed, but heard that it was later stolen. The house has since been turned into a store room for the Cook Island caretakers who are now sent there annually during the cruising season to collect money from visiting yachts.

Tom was estranged from his wife when he wrote the book. He didn't write about his family because it didn't add to the story of a hermit living on a deserted island. Stella, is also the great grand daughter on her mothers side of William Masters, the man who established the settlement at nearby Palmerston Island. Stella's ninety two year old mother still lives on Palmerston. Stella is planning a re-release of her father's book with some additions by her soon.

Our next planned stop was the Shipwreck Hut, a bar voted as the third best beach bar in the world by CNN a few years ago. My wife Lori was related to Jim Bruce, the owner of the bar, through her first husband and recalled meeting him a few times on Maui years ago. We stopped at the bar and were directed to Jim's house a couple of blocks away.

Jim had been expecting us. His cousin Leslie Brey, a good friend in Hawaii, had sent him an email warning that we might come looking for him. He immediately invited the whole crew in for a beer and story telling session. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with him and we all went out to dinner later at a nearby restaurant. It turns out this larger than life character had sold the Shipwreck Hut shortly after it received the accolades from CNN.

What a great day.

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Saturday, July 22, 2017


0800 Position 21-12S 159-47W. Moored in Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga

There is supposed to be a security guard on duty 24/7 here in the commercial part of the harbor. He makes his rounds on a scooter. At 8AM yesterday, just after the shift change, the security guard showed up at the boat. I don't know where the guys from the two previous shifts were. We never saw them. He found out that we had just entered the country and volunteered to call the officials for us. An hour later Customs, Immigration, and Bio-Security, in the forms of Dennis and Paul, arrived to check us in. These were a couple of great guys who helped us through the tedious paperwork process but also acted as tour guides to give us advise on where to go and what to see on Rarotonga. A couple of hours later they left and Agriculture arrived. He didn't even bother to climb aboard the boat. We filled out a piece of paper for him and he left.

The next issue was mooring. Rob and Renee took off for the harbormaster's office to work it out. They were gone until mid-afternoon. They got approval for us to stay right where we were. That was good news as it is difficult to move around and get moored in this surgy and windy harbor.

We had one more official visit to make. Since we were planning to depart on Sunday, the entire crew had to show up at immigration to check out of the country. The immigration office is at the other end of town so we had a tour of the place walking the half mile there and back. While in the immigration office a nice guy walked in and struck up a conversation. Craig Clennett is from Hobart, our destination and Rob's home town, and is Commodore of the Rarotonga Yacht Club. He invited us to stop by the club today for a drink.

After returning to the boat, Piers and I went to work on improving the recipe for "The Van Diemen". It is getting better and better. We've substituted mango juice for the fruit juice mix we were using previously and have added mint leaves and a wedge of pineapple.

We had a superb dinner of grilled lamb, sautéed bok choi with garlic and ginger, and mashed potatoes/carrots/white turnips. Piers was on a roll telling stories, the most memorable being one from his youth about an orphaned camel in the outback of Western Australia. "Cecil" grew up living in a bar, and the patrons there often bought him beers. Cecil became a fixture at the bar, and an alcoholic. As he matured he became more ornery, and after a number of years the bar owner had no choice but to get rid of Cecil, giving him to a zoo. The bar threw a big going away party for Cecil, and because of the camel's fame folks came from miles around. Cecil got so drunk on the beers folks bought for the honoree that he fell down outside the bar and couldn't get up. Piers later went to visit Cecil in the camel pen at the zoo, called his name, and Cecil came over to him. Piers claimed he could see a tear in the camel's eye as he stood there forlornly remembering his previous life. I wish I'd had a tape recorder running.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Cook Islands

0800 Position 21-12S 159-47W. Moored in Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga

Yesterday was quite pleasant sailing. The wind was far enough aft and dropped a little bit allowing us to fully unroll the jib to fix the furling line. Rob had a replacement aboard and in a couple of hours the repair was done.

It is amazing what a difference a couple of degrees of latitude makes on the temperature. In the Society Islands at latitude 17S I was sleeping with just a sheet, and the air temperature was perfect. Water temperature was in the low to mid 80s, also ideal. As we headed southwest toward the Cook Islands it got progressively colder. Last night on deck I wore a fleece lined jacket and I'm now using a sleeping bag in my bunk. Water temperature was 78 the last time I looked.

We sighted Rarotonga about an hour before sunset, and as it got dark the lights of the island started appearing. It was pitch black as we approached Avatiu, the only decent harbor on the island. Normally we wouldn't enter a strange harbor at night, but the approaches appeared to be well marked, relatively wide, and our GPS plotter was matching with our visual observations. We entered cautiously and without incident but once inside the harbor we found no place to tie up except a large commercial pier intended for big ships. It was also surging quite a bit as the harbor is open to any swell from the north.

Tying to the commercial pier was a difficult task with the large fenders built into it and high quay wall. Rob backed in and I jumped onto a ladder built in to the quay and climbed to the top to catch lines thrown from the boat by the boys. Our intent was to tie alongside with our fender board up against one of the large ship fenders to keep us away from the concrete quay. We had to rig bow, stern, and spring lines simultaneously in the wind and surge to make it work. Fortunately the strong winds were pushing us away from the quay, great for keeping the boat from hitting but making it more difficult to get lines ashore. It took nearly an hour, but we got the boat secured with only one minor booboo on the stern.

At 930PM I finally had a chance to look at my watch, relax, and open a beer. We were safe for the night.

We all slept great, but kept an ear open in case some ship showed up to use the pier. None did, and this morning we are waiting to see if we will be kicked out and reassigned somewhere else in the harbor. We also have to go through the formalities of officially entering the country. How long we stay will likely be dependent on the availability of a safe mooring.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Now I Remember

0800 Position 20-16W 158-04S. 110 miles from Rarotonga. Days run 241 miles.

The last twenty four hours have been some of the most unpleasant sailing I can recall. It reminds me of my daughter Kara's and my passage to Tahiti in 2011. It blew harder as the day progressed yesterday with rain squalls hitting us every hour or so. Not that it mattered. The boat was soaked anyway by breaking waves. There was a southerly swell left over from some storm down there that combined with the southeast swell our current wind pattern is making to produce chaos in the ocean. We are headed southwest so we leap over the south swell with a jerky motion, and the southeast swell is trying to round us up. The peaks combine right next to the cockpit once every few minutes to produce a few buckets full of water on our heads. It is days like this that make me vow to never sail on another transoceanic voyage in a small sailboat. I've made that promise a number of times but have a hard time keeping it.

I seem to have some kind of a bug too. My head aches and I go through periods of nausea that disappear and reappear for no apparent reason.

Everything on the boat is wet. Clothes, bedding, towels, pillows, hair, and the floor. Doc took a spill this morning on the wet saloon floor that scared the shit out of me. Fortunately he landed on his back and is fine.

Last night at 10PM the jib furling line broke in a thirty knot squall instantly turning the double reefed jib into a full size one. Rob and I had to go forward in the pitch black and spray to figure out how to deal with it. We ended up tying the broken ends of the line together to get our double reef back in, but we have lost some turns on the drum so it won't furl completely. We will figure out how to solve that issue today in the daylight.

At 4AM this morning I came on watch to find Rob and Piers staring at the chart plotter anxiously. Van Diemen was in the middle of the 23 mile wide channel between Mauke and Mitiaro, two islands in the southern Cooks, when they encountered the Paul Gaugin, a 600 foot cruise ship, headed in the other direction. Van Diemen would turn north to avoid the Gaugin, and the Gaugan would turn north. OK, let's turn south. The Gaugin turned south. This game of chicken went on too long for Rob's comfort but in the end we passed about a quarter mile apart.

Today looks like a better day. We've only been rained on once in the last two hours, and we have been able to slack sheets a bit after clearing the islands for our final run into Rarotonga. I'm feeling better, and the boat is starting to dry out. Unfortunately, it looks like we will arrive off the island just after dark tonight.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cook Islands Bound

0800 Position 17-53W 154-41S. Underway headed for Rarotonga

After breakfast we moved the boat to the anchorage off of Vaitape. Doc and Piers went shopping and Rob and I went to visit Bruce and Ramine Seaman, family friends who have a home in Vaitape. The Seamans were off island during our first visit to Bora Bora and it was great to see them as well as their granddaughter Poerani who is visiting from Tahiti.

They also had great local knowledge on the availability of a doctor for Renee, and Ramine was able to make an immediate appointment for her. It turns out Renee is on the mend as we suspected, and the doctor gave us the OK to go to sea.

Van Diemen sailed out of Bora Bora's lagoon at 1PM with the intended destination of Maupiti, twenty five miles to the west, but we decided against going there once we saw the sea state outside the lagoon. Maupiti has one of the most dangerous passes in the Pacific, and many boats have been lost trying to use it during rough weather. When the surf is high and the tide is ebbing the current can flow at up to nine knots out the channel. The surf was up and the tide would be ebbing until after 4PM, not good conditions, so we set our next waypoint at Rarotonga, 540 miles to the southwest.

Last night was the roughest of the trip so far with winds well over twenty five knots in the squalls and very confused seas. The wind was shifting up to forty degrees in the pouring rain and pitch black night. Not pleasant sailing, but we are still here this morning soldiering on. We now have a triple reefed mainsail and have had as many as two reefs in the jib. We've made good time though averaging more than ten knots since departing Bora.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Back to Bora

0800 Position 16-29S 151-46W. At anchor off of the Bora Bora Yacht Club

After breakfast yesterday a power boat showed up astern of us with a couple of Tahitians aboard offering tours of their pearl farm in on Tahaa. Piers and Doc went with them, and came back an hour later pleased with their experience and toting a kilo of pearl oyster muscle meat. This was just the cleaned muscle that holds the shell closed, not the mess you find inside a fresh oyster. They were told that the meat makes great poisson cru, the Tahitian version of ceviche.

We haven't had much wind since Piers and Doc arrived, and it was light again yesterday, so we ended up powering all the way to Bora Bora with the awning up. It was a bit rolly without any sails up, but a couple of hours later we were anchored off of the Bora Bora Yacht Club. We were too far offshore to pick up the club's WIFI signal, so we headed ashore to have a beer at the bar and check email.

Piers and Doc made some great oyster meat poisson cru for pupus at cocktail hour and we enjoyed another movie night after dinner aboard.

Renee has been feeling lousy since we left Tahiti. We are not sure if it is flu, chicken gunya, zika, or something else. She appears to be on the mend, but we don't want to take any chances since we are about to leave civilization for a couple of weeks as we head west. She and Rob are going to try to find a doctor in Vaitape this morning to make sure it is OK for her to go.

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Monday, July 17, 2017


0800 Position 16-36S 151-34W. At anchor off of Taotao Motu, Tahaa

It is always nice here in the Leeward Islands, even when the weather isn't perfect. Yesterday was one of those post card days though. The air temperature was ideal. The wind was about six knots, just enough to keep us cool but not enough to chill us when we got out of the water. The sky had enough puffy cumulus clouds to be interesting but not enough to create shade when we were snorkeling.

After a morning swim at Naonao we pulled the hook and powered up through the lee of Raiatea until the trades filled in where they funneled between Raiatea and Tahaa. We killed the engine and sailed under jib alone at six knots with the awning up. The wind lifted as we approached Tahaa which allowed us to sail into Tahaa's lagoon through Paipai Pass and then along the coast to the Coral River where we anchored at 1PM.

I have probably snorkeled the Coral River a dozen times over the years, and yesterday was the best so far. The surf was as small as I've ever seen it here, and since surf coming in over the reef creates the flow in the Coral River, there was no current. The bright sunshine had warmed the stagnant water to nearly bathtub temperature, but the river was clean and full of fish. With little current we could take our time meandering downstream and some of the guys took almost an hour to complete the ¼ mile drift. Our timing was perfect for both sunlight, which was almost directly overhead, and crowds. There was only one other pair of snorkelers in the water. I got more than five minutes of video of a school of striped fish that numbered in the hundreds. It was hypnotic to watch the school change direction and feed as they migrated along the reef.

Last night was just as magical. The trade winds died off completely and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The moon didn't rise until midnight, and there isn't any light pollution here, so the Milky Way was brilliant above us for the first half of the night. It was completely quiet in the glassy calm except for the gentle sound of surf breaking on the outer reef and fish feeding on the surface around us.

This morning Rob tossed some mango peals over the transom and a pair of remora came out from under the boat to check them out. These suckers were nearly three feet long and apparently are not vegetarian.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Working our way West

0800 Position 16-55S 151-26W. At anchor in the lee of Naonao Motu, Raiatea

Rob bought a fat roll of vanilla beans from his friend the farmer and returned to the boat at 10AM yesterday. We put the awning and bicycle away, pulled the hook, and powered down to Fare. Doc, Piers and I dinghied ashore to do a bit of shopping while Rob and Renee drifted offshore.

We bought some vegetables and beer in Fare's well stocked supermarket and Piers bought a dress for his granddaughter from a shop on the way back to the dinghy. Back aboard Van Diemen we hoisted the mainsail and took off for Raiatea.

During the crossing Piers and I were talking about my cruising experiences here, and I realized that over five trips I've spent nearly a full year in total just messing about French Polynesia in boats. I've seen most of the good stuff multiple times, but I don't get tired of it. As I write this the sun is just rising over the horizon and lighting the lush green hillsides of southern Raiatea. It is flat calm, and I can hear the surf breaking on the barrier reef behind me. The boys are talking about boats, as usual, while they are enjoying their morning coffee in the cockpit. I think I could do this forever and not get tired of it.

I did have a new experience yesterday, entering Raiatea's lagoon through Teavamoa Pass at the southeastern end of the island. One of the cruising guides I've always used recommended against using that pass, but the seas were flat, the wind was light, and it was the closest pass to our destination, so we gave it a go. The pass was easy and once through we were right off of Taputapuatea where we anchored.

The boys dinghied ashore so Piers and Doc could have a look at Taputapuatea's magnificent marae, and after returning to the boat we powered down to Naonao Motu at the south end of the island to snorkel and spend the night. I got some great video on my Gopro of the six inches of clearance between the sand bottom and Van Diemen's keel in the Naonao anchorage. I don't think we ever touched the bottom.

Last night after a great dinner of grilled tuna we watched my Dad's hour long movie of his sailing trip around the world in 1939. It was one of the first color movies ever made, and the world was a different place.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017


0800 Position 16-49S 150-59W.  At anchor in Avea Bay, Huahine

We had a busy couple of days saying goodby to Mike, collecting Piers and Doc, clearing out of the country, provisioning, fueling, watering, and sailing to Moorea and Huahine.  We earned a vacation from our vacation, so we vacationed yesterday in Huahine.  We didn't do anything but laze around on Van Diemen.  Oh sure, we did check out the talent that arrived on the charter catamarans and went for a swim, but did little else. Our biggest accomplishment for the day was moving Van Diemen 150 yards back to "our spot" in front of the Relais Mahana Hotel when the usurping catamaran there departed. 

We didn't even launch the dinghy until it was time to hit the food truck for dinner.  It was great food, as usual, but they were out of chow mein, their specialty, which disappointed a few of the crew.

There is more energy aboard today.  This morning the boys were up before sunrise to head into the hotel for fresh baguettes.  Rob is off on his bicycle now to buy some vanilla from a farmer down the road.  We will be departing for Raiatea when he returns. 

Moonset over Raiatea from the anchorage in Avea Bay

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Ones that Got Away

0800 Position 16-49S 150-59W.  At anchor in Avea Bay, Huahine

The wind never did fill in as forecast yesterday.  It only got up to about eight knots from right behind us, not too good when we are motor sailing at eight knots making the apparent wind strength zero.  We powered all the way to Huahine and arrived in Avea Bay just after 5PM.  We found a charter catamaran moored in our spot off the Relais Mahana.  The nerve…  We anchored behind him but are still close enough to get wifi from the hotel with the extender.

I had three fishing lines out yesterday, and at noon something big hit my long line.  It broke the 300 pound strength monofilament leader right at the swivel and was gone before we could see what it was.  The lure that I had out there was a hideous resin plug that I had butchered in the '80s with a hack saw to get more action out of it.  Unbelievable.  I dug through my bag of reject lures, found another the same size and color, and put it out on the same line.  Just as we were approaching Huahine it also got hit by something big and the leader broke again right at the swivel.  Damn.

We typically land more than fifty percent of the fish that strike our lures.  On this voyage we are well below ten percent.  I have probably lost seven or eight lures to fish strikes, and most of the time the fish aren't hooking up if we don't lose the lures.  I can't figure out what the problem is.   It could be that Van Diemen is much faster than other boats I've sailed on and the shock loads on the gear during a fish strike are greater.  Van Diemen's hand lines are made from a woven line that is not as stretchy as the monofilament nylon that I've used on my boats.  We are using bungee cords to absorb the shock loads of the strikes, but perhaps they are not long enough.  I will keep working on it.

The Relais Mahana Resort seen from Van Diemen's saloon table

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Van Diemen

0800 Position 17-23S 150-02W. Underway headed for Huahine

On an earlier trip to Tahiti some other cruisers told me about duty free liquor from Kim Fa, a Chinese store in Papeete. Liquor is about half price there when it is duty free, and it can be obtained that way if it is purchased after clearing out of the country. I've never been there myself, but the boys were intrigued by the story and headed over to Kim Fa first thing yesterday morning to check it out. Renee did some more vegetable shopping, and after everybody returned we departed Papeete Marina and headed around to Marina Taina to the gas dock.

Van Diemen holds seven hundred gallons of diesel in five separate tanks. Filling them all is a slow and tedious process and it hadn't been done since we departed Newport two and a half months ago. It took over an hour, but we got her topped up and then moved across the channel to another dock where we could fill water. While we were moving Mark and Blossom Logan came by in their dinghy. They are anchored off of Marina Taina until Kana arrives Saturday night.

Shortly after we finished filling water the delivery truck from Kim Fa arrived. The boys really went wild there. Cases of beer, rum, wine, and coffee were loaded aboard. We got it all stowed and cast off for Moorea.

There wasn't a breath of wind on the crossing to Moorea, and it was hot. Van Diemen dropped the hook in Oponohu Bay on Moorea at 5PM and everybody went for a swim.

The crew has been working diligently for some time now on the ultimate rum and juice cocktail. Last night we believe that we stumbled onto the perfect recipe, which includes fresh passion fruit, and decided to call it "The Van Diemen" in honor of this epic voyage and all our hard work. We will likely be enjoying more Van Diemens tonight.

This morning at 630AM the mighty Van Diemen got underway for Huahine. We are still motor sailing as I write this, but the wind should fill in once we get out of Tahiti's lee. The forecast today calls for fourteen knots right on the quarter, ideal conditions.

This ninety plus mile passage is one of my favorites. It is always down hill, and the destination is the Leeward Society Islands, four of the most beautiful islands on the planet. On my little boats it has always been an overnight trip because we were so slow, but Van Diemen can easily make the crossing in daylight hours, a much more enjoyable experience.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017


0800 Position 17-32S 149-34W. In a slip at Papeete Marina, Tahiti

If you have read this blog for a while, you will know how tedious and bureaucratic the immigration formalities are here in French Polynesia for sailors on cruising sailboats. The government wants to ensure that any foreigner arriving in French Polynesia has the means to get home, so they require that a return airline ticket be presented upon arrival or, if not departing by airplane, that a bond equivalent to the price of an airline ticket be deposited in a local bank until that individual leaves the country. A cruising sailor planning to depart by boat has to post the bond which is expensive due to fees and conversions, and the process is tedious. I've sailed to French Polynesia five times now, and have figured out the perfect work around for this problem. I buy a fully refundable one way ticket from Papeete to the US scheduled to depart two months after I am going to arrive in French Polynesia. This is done well before I ever leave the USA. I print out the itinerary which shows that the ticket is confirmed and paid for. Next I immediately cancel the ticket and within two days the full dollar amount of the ticket is credited back to my credit card account. I hang onto the hard copy of my itinerary to show to the immigration authorities when I arrive in French Polynesia. This satisfies them that I have a return ticket. Problem solved at zero cost.

Yesterday the whole crew was required to go to the immigration office at the airport to clear out of the country. The head cheese there had Rob sitting in his office while the rest of us waited in the hallway. He was examining the ship's papers and our passports and asking our skipper questions. After fifteen minutes of paperwork, comparing the passports to computer screens, and loud stamping sounds, the big man asks Rob with a frown, "And where is William Leary?"

Now, he hadn't asked about anybody else on the crew. Everything seemed to be going fine up until that point. I figured the jig is up. They must have caught on to my fake return airline ticket ruse. Piers had jokingly pointed out the holding cell in the hall way a few minutes earlier. Now it doesn't seem so funny. I step into the immigration manager's office expecting the worst. He smiles and holds out his hand, "Happy Birthday!" he says.

We all have a laugh and our business with Immigration is done. Our next stop is the Socredo Bank branch there in the airport to recover Mike and Rob's bond. That also goes without a hitch. They get their money back and we head back for town. Mike ducks into the Air Tahiti office to check on his ticket to California. Piers and I get thirsty and head into the brew pub for a cold one after buying limes for our evening drinks at the open market.

The rest of the Van Diemen crew said goodby to Mike at 8PM last night when he caught a cab to the airport. He was a great shipmate and will be missed.

At 10PM Rob realized that he hadn't told Doc where to meet the boat when he flew into Papeete. The only solution was to meet him at the airport when his flight arrived at 5AM today, so Rob and Piers made a party of it and took a taxi there before dawn's early light. When I woke up this morning the three of them were back aboard and ready to face the day.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Big City

0800 Position 17-32S 149-34W.  In a slip at Papeete Marina, Tahiti

We waved goodby to Mark and Blossom and powered out of Oponohu Bay at 830AM.  The wind and sea out in the ocean was even calmer than the day before and we had a lovely motor across the nine mile wide channel to Tahiti. 

Papeete can be accessed through either of two channels through the barrier reef.  The main entrance channel is right downtown, and is very busy with container ships, ferries, fishermen, other commercial traffic and yachts.  It is so busy that all vessels are required to obtain clearance over the VHF radio from "Papeete Harbor Control" to transit the channel.  The other entrance is five miles to the south.  It is too narrow and shallow for vessels longer than 100 feet, but it is far less busy and is closer to the region's primary mooring facility, Marina Taina.  We entered at the Marina Taina entrance and picked up a mooring there at1030AM.

Rob and Renee dinghied ashore to do some provisioning at Carrefour while Mike and I stayed aboard.  Rob and Renee returned a few hours later loaded down with provisions, and we powered north in the lagoon to the Papeete Marina where we found an empty slip just after 5PM.

Our newest crew member, Piers Akerman, was flying into Papeete to join the boat, with his plane scheduled to land at 11PM last night.  With flight delays, customs, immigration, baggage claim and a taxi ride, it could be well after midnight before he got to the boat so it made sense to be in a slip where he could find us easily. 

Mike and I walked up to the food trucks for dinner.  Rob and Renee had a bad experience the last time around there and decided to stay on the boat.

Piers had no problems with the arrival formalities, and he found us at 1130PM.  He got settled into the guest cabin with Mike and we were all asleep by 1AM.

The next couple of days should be interesting.  Our final new crew member for the trip west to Tonga, Doc Greenaway,  arrives tomorrow.  Rob is going to complete the formalities to allow us to depart French Polynesia and hopefully get the $1,500 bonds back for him and Mike.  We see a potential problem though.  Rob's and Mike's bond receipts are on the same piece of paper but Mike is flying back to California and Rob is departing on the boat.  Hmmm.

A canoe decorated for the evening parade in Fare, Huahine

Monday, July 10, 2017

Old Friends

0800 Position 17-30S 149-51W. At anchor near the mouth of Oponohu Bay, Moorea

Huahine was apparently responsible for what little confusion there was in the sea early yesterday because the water flattened out as we left the island behind. The wind continued to back and build, and at 10AM we set the jib and killed the engine. Van Diemen was in her element, screaming along at eight knots in the same amount of wind headed right for Moorea.

Much of the Pacific Puddle Jump fleet chose yesterday to make the crossing from Moorea to the leeward islands. We passed at least six sailboats headed in the other direction. At 4PM the wind started to die off and head us, so we fired up the engine and motorsailed for the final hour into Oponohu Bay. Ninety three miles in eleven hours. Not bad.

No fish again today. Truth be told, we took the time to troll a terrific trio of tantalizing tidbits intended to temp the taste of even the most temperamental tuna, but we couldn't get one to take the tackle. It was terrible…

We found a fleet of twenty four boats in the shallow anchorage at the mouth of Oponohu Bay when we arrived. We were hoping to anchor there, but it looked pretty crowded. I was surveying the anchorage with the binoculars when I saw a boat I recognized. It was Puanani, Mark and Blossom Logan's Beneteau 39 from Kaneohe Yacht Club! We powered up to them, yelled greetings, and invited them over for a sunset cocktail.

It was great to catch up with Mark and Blossom. I spent a couple of months buddy boating with them through Fiji and on to New Zealand at the end of last season. They had a challenging trip from New Zealand to Tahiti a month ago, and we got to hear all the details. Mark dinghied over to Van Diemen again this morning so I could show him where all of the best anchorages are in the Leeward Islands and give him a copy of the GPS track from my 2014 cruise there.

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Sunday, July 9, 2017


0800 Position 16-53S 150-57W. Underway headed for Moorea

Late in the morning yesterday we weighed anchor and powered up to Fare, the biggest village on Huahine. The engine overheat alarm came on after we were underway for ten minutes. Quick! Kill the engine and get the anchor ready! It turned out the cooling water intake valve was partially shut and restricting flow. We had it started again in five minutes and didn't have to anchor.

We found an empty ball in the Fare mooring field right off of the beach and picked it up just after noon. It was very convenient not having to deal with the anchor. The boys dinghied ashore, picked up supplies, and went to the Huahine Yacht Club for lunch. We figured we could get their WIFI password if we ate there, but found out that they don't have free WIFI for customers. That's OK, the fish burgers and Hinanos were great.

While shopping the fruit lady said that there was going to be some kind of dancing show in town later in the evening, and after returning to the boat we saw a couple of double canoes being decorated on the beach just inshore of our mooring. After a fantastic grilled lamb dinner aboard, the crew dinghied ashore to check it out.

The town was having what looked like a parade, except it was taking place on the water. Eight double canoes were decorated to the hilt with ti leaves, flowers, tiki torches, kahili, and loaded with dancers and drummers. It looked like the Rose Parade on the water. Some of the canoes only had a couple of inches of freeboard. Fortunately it was glassy calm. If a large power boat had come by and made a big wake a few of the canoes would have swamped. Each of the canoes passed in turn in front of the official viewing platform on the pier to be judged. An emcee using an amplified sound system so loud that the entire town could hear the proceedings spoke continuously in Tahitian. A large portion of the island's population was in attendance cheering for their favorite canoe. It was quite a spectacle with the torches, drumming, dancing, and cheering under the full moon.

After the parade ended we went back to the boat thinking that the evening's festivities were over. Wrong. A wedding was taking place at a resort directly inshore of our mooring. The party there started at about 830PM and their sound system was even louder than the parade's. They were playing an annoying pre-recorded mixture of Tahitian drumming and euro-techno-crappo. The music was so loud I couldn't sleep and it went on at full volume until 230AM this morning. Apparently they don't have noise ordinances here.

We let go our mooring this morning at 6AM and are on our way back to Tahiti. Van Diemen just slipped out from under the lee of Huahini and the winds are blowing at about six knots from just forward of the beam. Seas are a little bumpy, but there is no water on deck. Not perfect conditions, but close enough for a boat. The fish lines are out with some new lures that will hopefully change our luck there. We are still motor sailing and are headed right for Moorea. Our plan is to stop there for the night and continue on to Tahiti tomorrow.

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Saturday, July 8, 2017


0800 Position 16-49S 150-59W.  Anchored in Avea Bay, Huahine


My wife Lori Lloyd gifted Van Diemen with fifteen pounds of Keopu Coffee before we departed California.  Keopu is 100% Kona coffee grown by the Gillette family on the slopes of Hualalai and it is good stuff.  Every morning aboard Van Diemen a ritual takes place in the brewing of the coffee, and there is often discussion on the proper method.  Our new French press came with instructions on how to use it including grinding procedure, proper water temperature, stirring at just the right time after adding the water, and brewing time.  We are getting pretty good at it, but still discuss tweeking our process in pursuit of the perfect cup.  This morning's discussion concerned stirring the mixture after adding the hot water.  Renee said we should stir it gently so we don't "bruise" the coffee.  That's one I hadn't heard before. 


We have WIFI here from the hotel, but the signal is poor at this distance.  I brought along a WIFI extender that I've used successfully on my boat in the past, and it is helping improve the signal for me here as well.  It hangs under the boom and is hard wired to my computer at the saloon table.  With the extender on my signal has been great, but the rest of the crew on their phones and computers were struggling with the weak signal from the hotel.  After many days of trying, yesterday I finally figured out how to turn my computer into a WIFI hot spot so the rest of the crew can connect to the internet using my stronger signal. 


We are finally getting off of our lazy butts and heading eight miles north inside Huahine's lagoon to the town of Fare today.  We'll do a bit of provisioning there (we are out of beer) and get ready for an early start Sunday on our sail back to Tahiti.

Renee and Rob SUPping in the lagoon

Friday, July 7, 2017

Getting Comfortable

​ 0800 Position 16-49S 150-59W.  Anchored in Avea Bay, Huahine


We are waiting in Huahine for a weather window to head southeast back to Tahiti.  It is a little over 100 miles away, directly into the prevailing southeasterly trade winds.  Fortunately, the trade winds in the South Pacific are not as steady and reliable as those in Hawaii.  Every week or so during the winter months here a weather system passing to the south causes the wind to swing into the western quadrant for a little while giving boats the opportunity to sprint east.  Sometimes it lasts for just a few hours, sometimes days.  In 2014 we jumped on a passing westerly in Tonga and stayed with it for eleven days and 1,500 miles to get east to French Polynesia, unusual but not unheard of.


We need to sail to Tahiti to pick up a couple of crew members who are flying in, do some shopping, and clear out of the country with customs and immigration.


Avea Bay is a great place to hang out waiting for a wind shift.  The Relais Mahana has a dinghy dock100 yards from where we are anchored that they invite visiting cruising boats like us to use.  It is convenient for us, and all the other boats' dinghies pass right by Van Diemen to use the dock.  We've made friends with a couple of cruisers passing by, and there is always entertainment with tourists from the hotel on SUPs and kayaks.  The hotel has ice for sale, we love the food truck across the street, and there is a store that sells fresh baguettes about a half mile away.  We have free WIFI from the hotel, the water is clear and warm for swimming or snorkeling…  What's not to like?


We have been watching the weather closely for the past few days, and it looks like our next window for sprinting east won't come until this Tuesday.  That's unfortunate.  We need to be in Tahiti by Sunday night to pick up our first arriving crew member so it looks like we may have to tough it out and sail to windward to get there.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Pursuing Bandwidth

0800 Position 16-49S 150-59W.  Anchored in Avea Bay, Huahine


Yesterday was a lazy day spent recovering from the 4th of July festivities.  Rob and Renee went for a short bike ride.  I only left the boat to go for a twenty minute swim and Mike went ashore once to pick up ice for our rum drinks from the hotel bar.  It rained off and on all day so wasn't a good day for adventuring anyway.


This morning at 4AM I got up to relieve myself, walked to the stern of Van Diemen, looked down, and saw a number of sea cucumbers on the sand in the moonlight directly below me.  We have very good visibility in the water here, but not good enough to see the bottom clearly in thirty feet of water where we dropped the anchor.  I woke up Rob who came aft with a weight on the end of a line.  He measured the water depth.  Six feet.


The wind had shifted to the north during the night swinging us around back to where our French pals on the catamaran had anchored on the sloping sand bank.  Our desire to get an optimized WIFI signal from the Relais Mahana had put us a little too close to the sand for adequate swinging room.


No big deal.  Sand bottom, smooth water, and we hadn't touched, yet, but we were too close for comfort so we reanchored a little further from the sand bank.  Now we have good swinging room but the WIFI signal sucks…

A nasty looking squall rolls into Avea Bay

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Tour de Huahine

0800 Position 16-49S 150-59W.  Anchored in Avea Bay, Huahine


There is a little known bicycle race that was held yesterday on the island of Huahine Iti.  The Tour de Huahine, held in conjunction with the Tour de France now underway in Europe and celebrating Independence Day in the United States, is a relay race twice around the island.  This year's entries, Team Relais, made up of Rob and Noodle, and Team Mahana, made up of Rene and Mike, were closely matched in the competition.  It was a classic battle of age and experience versus youth and beauty.  The first pairing, Rob and Renee, started at 830AM.  Other than a few rain squalls their lap around the nine square mile island of Huahine Iti was uneventful.  They were neck and neck as they entered the transition area at 1130AM.  The handoff was a thing of beauty.  Rob called Van Diemen on the hand held VHF and the second pair dinghied in to take custody of the bicycles.  It's a long way to Tefarerii, the halfway point in the course, and it was tough going past that point.  Mike and Noodle didn't get rained on, but the headwinds after Tefarerii consumed what little gas was left in the tank and they agreed to stop at a store a mile from the finish and reenergize with a beer.  The rest of the race was close and there was no clear winner except the Hinano Brewing Company.  With the competition concluded at 3PM, the teams repaired to Van Diemen to nurse sore okoles and tired muscles with more Hinano.


We had a post race 4th of July dinner party aboard Van Diemen last night inviting over a cruising family from Newport Beach who are here in Avea Bay on their Pacific Seacraft 38, Sweet Pea.  Kevin, Brit, and son Evan Fullerton are crossing the Pacific as a part of the Pacific Puddle Jump fleet headed for New Zealand.  We had a great time comparing our cruises.  Their passage from Newport to the Marquesas took twice as long as ours did.  This is their first ocean crossing and the program is a bit less sophisticated than ours.  They only just lit their stove for the first time two months into the voyage after Brit flew down to join the boys in Tahiti.  Up to that point everything they ate or drank was cold.  That is really roughing it, but they are having the time of their lives.

Noodle tries on the "yellow beanie" that is traditionally worn by the winner of the Tour de Huahine

​Van Diemen proudly flying the Stars and Stripes on the 4th of July​

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day

0800 Position 16-49S 150-59W.  Anchored in Avea Bay, Huahine

Our nightly routine includes hoisting the dinghy alongside Van Diemen for security.  We spent all day aboard yesterday and didn't even launch the dinghy.  That's a first for this cruise.  We were all busy working on projects.  Rob and Renee built an awning for the foredeck and Mike cleaned and oiled some of the teak gratings below.  With good internet access on the boat for the first time, I updated the blog to include pictures with the posts for the past two weeks.  Mike went for a quick swim, but otherwise nobody left the boat.

There is quite a bit of daily vessel movement here in Avea Bay.  The charter boaters have a lot to see during their short visits so they rarely stay in the same spot for more than a night.  Our French entertainment was replaced by an English speaking family on a catamaran that anchored a reasonable distance away.  Somebody on the new catamaran plays the saxophone, and we could hear it well into the evening.  The player was pretty good, but that kind of music seems out of place here.

If you squeeze a grape you get grape juice.  Let the juice sit around long enough and it will probably ferment and become wine.  Over an extended period the wine will turn into vinegar.  What does vinegar degrade into?  Isn't vinegar the end of the line?  Why then, is there a bottle of vinegar aboard Van Diemen that says "best before 9/6/2020?  That's more than three years from now.  What happens on 9/7/2020?  We have discussed this topic at length without resolution.

Avea Bay

Relais Mahana Resort

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Pink Panther

0800 Position 16-49S 150-59W.  Anchored in Avea Bay, Huahine

The cooling water temperature sensor shut down Van Diemen's generator automatically just before we left Bora Bora, and yesterday Rob dug into it to figure out why.  Overheating is usually caused by inadequate flow, so Rob first took apart the water pump.  He found two of the ten flexible rubber pump impeller vanes broken, and the rest cracked, so he removed the vane pieces from the heat exchanger and replaced the impeller.  That was one problem corrected, but water flow was still less than normal and the generator was still overheating.  He cleaned the strainer, but water flow was still less than normal through the intake.  A stiff wire run down through the intake and out of the through hull didn't solve the problem.  What the heck?  I dove over the side to check it out from the outside while Rob probed from the inside.  While I was underwater a 7/8 inch diameter hard transparent sphere came out of the through hull.  It looked like an eyeball.  I don't know if it was an animal or a plant, but it wasn't man made.  It was large enough to get into the 1 inch diameter through hull pipe, but not large enough to pass into the ¾ inch diameter strainer intake.  It was just moving down and out of the way during Rob's previous probings.  Problem solved in a mere three hours.

Just before noon two charter catamarans with French crews powered into the bay.  We could tell they were French because the guys were wearing banana hammocks.  True to form, with the entire Pacific Ocean to anchor in, the first catamaran decided to anchor about seventy five feet dead to windward of us, and his buddy in the second catamaran anchored next to him.

I've had two previous experiences in Avea Bay with French idiots anchoring too close.  The first time I confronted the skipper of the other boat who replied, "Monsieur, I am not concerned."  I moved rather than risk the boats swinging together.  The second time a French catamaran anchored too close directly to windward of us, and their anchor dragged.  I had to tie my own anchor line to a buoy and let it go to avoid being hit by the dragging vessel.  Lori powered Moku pe'a around the anchorage while I swam over and reanchored the catamaran who's crew was ashore at the time.  Here we go again.

During the afternoon the Van Diemen crew decided to go for a drift dive around the southern end of Huahine.  I used the opportunity to get some exercise.  We motored the dinghy south in the lagoon to where the coral was nice.  Mike got in with his fins and mask and I just had goggles on.  It took about a half hour to swim the half mile back to Van Diemen.  Great exercise, and it made that first beer of the afternoon taste fantastic.  As we swam by our buddies on the French catamaran we noticed that their anchor was sitting on a steep slope between the six foot depth over the sand bar and the thirty foot depth of the anchorage.  Their anchor was poorly set and would almost certainly drag if the wind came up.

We got word that there was a pretty good food truck opened daily across the street from the Relais Mahana and went there for dinner.  They had a "3 Cheese Pizza" on the menu, and that's what I ordered.  The proprietor arrived at our table with three cheese pizzas for me.  The place was busy and she was able to sell the two extra pizzas to other customers.  The food was great though, and reasonably priced.

At 130AM this morning the inevitable happened, and Inspector Clouseau's anchor dragged out into deep water when the wind increased.  The wind had also shifted a bit, fortunately, and they didn't hit us as they dragged by but it was close.  It was chaos aboard the French boat as they tried to figure out what was going on and reanchor.  At first it looked like they were going to try to anchor right on top of us again.  Shining our spotlights at them didn't get their attention, but Rob yelling "Go anchor somewhere else!" did.  It took them a couple of hours to get properly anchored and this morning they were 100 yards away.  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Gentlemen Don’t Sail to Windward

0800 Position 16-49S 150-59W.  Anchored in Avea Bay, Huahine

We got an early start in anticipation of a long day sail ahead of us, and powered out of Bora's lagoon at 830AM.  The double reefed mainsail went up in the calm waters of the lagoon.  We set the full jib when we turned the corner at the lighthouse on the south western tip of Bora's barrier reef and shut off the engine when we got out of the lee of the island.  It was blowing in the low teens, right on the beam.  Perfect. 

Tahaa and Raiatea lie between Bora and Huahine and prevented us from heading directly toward our destination.  Our course took us due east until we passed to the north of Tahaa's barrier reef and then south east to Huahine.  After we got settled on course we noticed a sail directly in front of us headed in the same direction.  The AIS indicated it was an Oyster 65 named Meteorite, two miles ahead.  They were taking advantage of the favorable wind to get from Bora to Huahine, just like us….  Race on!

Oyster is the sailboat equivalent of Rolls Royce.  These English built fiberglass cruising sailboats are sleek, quick, and expensive.  Meteorite is a new model 655.  We figure the 655 goes for about $3M.

After about half an hour we could see that we were reeling Meteorite in.  They could see it too and started messing with their sails.  First they set a larger jib and then reefed their mainsail.  It didn't matter, we kept gaining on them.  We caught them just after rounding the northern edge of Tahaa and by the time we arrived at Huahine were nearly two miles ahead of them.  The owner must be humiliated after being beaten so soundly by a smaller, older, wooden boat.  I hope they had him on a suicide watch last night.

Van Diemen arrived in Fare, Huahine's main town, at 130PM having averaged nearly ten knots for the passage.  We doused our sails and powered eight miles inside the reef to Avea Bay at the southern end of Huahine's western lagoon where we anchored off of the Relais Mahana Resort.

The Relais Mahana is our favorite Resort in all of French Polynesia because it has a strong WIFI signal and we have the password.  The crew figured this out when Van Diemen anchored here on their first pass through the area while I was in Hawaii.

A rum drink at sunset, barbequed lamb chops for dinner, and movie in the saloon afterwards made for a pleasant end to a great day.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Front

0800 Position 16-30S 151-45W. Anchored off of Vaitape, Bora Bora

Yesterday morning Mike and Renee took the dinghy around the corner to Vaitape to do some provisioning and returned a couple of hours later with a boat load of food. After it was all put away we slipped our mooring and powered south to do some snorkeling at the south end of Toopua. On the way we paused off of Vaitape to hit a fruit stand since the shore crew hadn't found the fresh fruit they were looking for on their first expedition. Mike and Renee took the dinghy in while Rob and I drifted off shore on Van Diemen. Mike took the opportunity to purchase a bag of ice. Our evening rum drinks are civilized again.

There is a great snorkeling spot at the south end of Toopua where the water that comes over the barrier reef as surf flows into the lagoon. We anchored in twenty feet of water on a sand bar close by and swam over. There are normally a couple of commercial boats here full of tourists but we had it all to ourselves. As a result we were mobbed by the fish there that are used to being fed by the divers. There were thousands of disappointed fish (we didn't feed them) around us and I got some great GoPro video.

We have been watching a low pressure system approaching the Society Islands for about a week now. Our grib files showed it passing just south of us today bringing the wind out of the west for about twelve hours. This would be perfect opportunity to head east back to Huahine, so that is our plan.

Unfortunately, gribs do not do a good job predicting the winds in the area of fronts, and apparently there was a front associated with this low pressure system. We anchored in the bay off of Vaitape late yesterday afternoon in anticipation of strong northerly winds last night. The gribs didn't show a front though and true to form didn't predict winds as strong as we saw overnight. It blew over thirty knots in the gusts as the front passed at midnight, but our anchor held and we were fine.

This morning the wind is back down in the low teens and blowing from just west of north, perfect for today's sixty mile dash over to Huahine.