I don’t like long blog posts, but lot has happened since my last one so I’m packing it all in here. Please try to consider these as SEPARATE so as not to get too bored reading such a long essay! Our satellite phone minutes have been used up at an alarming pace (only 16 minutes left!) so we will only be doing this one send/receive before we leave for Papeete (Tahiti) this afternoon.
OUTBOARD ENGINE WOES (May 7th)
The final three days of our stay near the south pass of Fakarava were impaired by our dinghy’s Mercury outboard engine. A piece of equipment that has never failed us before suddenly did so at the most inopportune time.
I mentioned in previous posts the friends we made at the small pension near the pass. Nico, one of the guys, works as a mechanic so we appealed to him to take a look at the engine. He was happy to help. We left our dinghy, Quill, at the pension dock one evening and they gave us a ride out to Hydroquest in their big boat. Nico spent some time inspecting the engine the next morning and towed Quill out to us before noon.
In a combination of French/English/Franglais/Hand gestures we were able to decipher that one of the problems he had found was a damaged carburetor gasket that was causing a fuel leak. We were glum about the diagnosis – this is not a part we were going to be able to get our hands on any time soon.
“Don’t worry. I ordered the part,” Nico teased. “It’s on its way from Papeete by plane.”
Katy and I, always too trustworthy with Nico’s jokes, were somewhat incredulous: “What?! Really? Are you serious?” A conversation a few nights before had centered on trying to translate the word ‘gullible’ to describe us and he’d been having fun with it ever since.
“No. Hahaha,” Nico and Max, another one of the young guys who was actually born and raised on Fakarava, laughed and we laughed at our gullibility with them.
“But, actually yes, it’s true,” Nico continued in French after a moment. “I called my friend in Papeete this morning and she went to the store and found the part for your engine. She took it to airport and gave it to Sonny (the pension owner) who is coming back today. The flight arrives in Rotoava this afternoon and so you will have the part by 4:00pm today once the boat arrives.”
He was serious. It was true. We were in such a remote area part of the world and yet we would have the specific Mercury engine part to fix our problem before the day was over.
Amazingly, the part arrived that day and Nico, Max, and Rooney spent a few hours with Will and Ben taking the carburetor apart and replacing all the necessary pieces.
Of course, another problem was found as the boys fixed the first. Diagnosed by Sonny, the second issue and reason the engine would only putt-putt was a spinning hub inside the propeller.
Once again, a ‘Fakarava Fix’ was performed by all the guys – as the sun was setting there they all were, concentrating on our engine, drilling two holes through the propeller and hub and driving in nails to stop the spinning. And it worked! Sonny gave us a ‘Fakarava Guarantee’ of ‘1 Day’, but we figured it would probably hold up long enough for us to get to Papeete and buy a new prop.
The day we left the south pass to head north, Ben and Katy took Quill to shore in the morning to say a final goodbye to everyone and to leave a present for Nico (some hats, a bottle of Tequila, Surf magazine). Despite us having seen the 8000 CFP ($90) receipt for the engine part, Nico would not let us pay him for it. He absolutely refused and every time we gave him the money, he gave it right back.
GOODBYE B & K (May 9th)
We said farewell to Ben & Katy on Wednesday last week. Wow – was it that long ago?!
Will and I are so happy that they were able to share the experience of a 2,800 nm passage, the landfall, and the great days we spent in Nuku Hiva, Ou Pou, and Fakarava. There’s no doubt that the week we spent together in Fakarava South will be one of the major highlights of our entire south pacific trip. The highs, the lows, the boredom, the excitement of the past seven weeks – the whole experience is something that’s hard to describe and fully understand unless you were there. We’ll have this shared experience as a bond between us for the rest of our lives.
We said our goodbyes on the dock before they caught a ride to the tiny airport outside of the village. Will and I returned to the boat and our reclaimed the V-berth cabin and living room and realized how big Hydroquest is.
Fate would have it that the day after they left the outboard engine propeller starting spinning again. For this reason we were lucky to only be two people once again – the weight of four would be too much to make it anywhere. At least in Rotoava we could slowly putt-putt to shore and back for the very necessary baguette, croissant, and vegetable runs.
WHITE WATER (May 14th)
Early on Tuesday morning we hauled up the anchor at Rotoava and headed for the northern pass of Fakarava. We had spoken to a guy at the dive shop regarding timing the pass so we were confident that the tide would be outgoing all morning. I was also glad to see two other boats leaving at the same time.
It took an hour to get to the pass but long before we came close we could see the wall of white water.
“We have to go through that? You’re kidding.”
Garuae Pass is quite wide and therefore documented as being one of the easier ones. However, a monstrous southern swell had reached the area on Monday night and that meant seawater pouring over the low lying south and southwest edges of Fakarava. This resulted in a higher than normal volume of water in the atoll – all of which wanted to leave via the pass.
The catamaran in front of us went first. We saw it disappear into the white mess. We glimpsed a hull here, the other hull there, and the mast could be seen ricocheting back and forth. At one point it looked as though they were sideways. Overall, it looked very scary.
We strategized for a few minutes before committing to a similar route. It appeared that the water was most turbulent in the middle of the pass whereas the edges were calmer. We kept Hydroquest inside of the pass and motor sailed until we were almost past it, on the left side. At that point we tacked and set a course for the right side of the pass. The current was strong and trying it’s best to push us down into the frothy mess of waves so Will pointed high, towards the shallow reef at the right edge. We stayed inside of the biggest waves and white foam but still ended up moving through part of the bad section where the waves bounced us around like crazy. We took two giant waves over the bow that brought green water all the way up to the mast. I sat under the dodger, calm but white knuckled, knowing we’d strategized well and avoided the worst of it. I stared wide eyed and mouth open at the larger waves 25 meters to the left of us. Then we were through and it was over. That was an easy one?!
I wish I had time to take a picture.
A SWEDISH DINNER IN ANSE AYMOT (May 15th)
We arrived at Anse Aymot (Aymot Cove) on the northern edge of the atoll of Toau at 4:00pm Tuesday afternoon after a pleasant enough sail from Fakarava.
Anse Aymot is a ‘false pass’ because you don’t actually enter the atoll. You navigate a break between two motus, but that is as far as you go. A wide and shallow bank of coral blocks entrance to the inside of the atoll and further protects the cove from the south and south east. A welcoming and friendly family of twelve people live on Matauiua Motu. On a trip shore, Valentine gave us a tour of their houses, copra operation, and offered us as much fresh water as we need.
We had made new cruising friends in Rotoava: Johannes and Caroline on SY Orkestern. They are a young Swedish couple who bought their boat in Panama only four months ago (!). We’ve been having fun hanging out with them and they invited us over for a Swedish dinner on Wednesday night.
We were happy to make the plan with them, “if we can make it to your boat” being the only caveat. We were only half kidding.
The current through the cove was running at least 6 knots, probably more in the middle. Again, this was caused by the huge southern swell. No southern waves or make it into Anse Aymot because of the protection of the coral impasse, but the water certainly rushes through. Add 20 knots of wind to the mix and you get the picture.
The mooring ball that Orkestern was tied to was in the middle of the worst of the current, about 300 meters in front of where Hydroquest was anchored. We were closer to the mouth of the cove in a slight back eddy and in 55 ft of water (A side note: the person who told us that our 150ft of chain was enough for the south pacific was wrong!).
We hopped in our crippled dinghy at 5:30pm, just before sunset.
In order to make any headway, we had to first travel towards the shore where the current was least intense. We putt-putted up towards Valentine’s dock which was almost perpendicular to Orkestren out in the channel. Then we went for it, keeping Quill aimed high as we pushed off to the right. The current was so powerful that it side swiped us before we had a chance to make any headway. We putted and putted our hardest but were already 10 meters behind Orkestern by the time we made it close. A group on a sailboat nearby watched us from their cockpit, wondering what on earth we were doing out there.
Attempt number two, after we made it back to the dock and fought the current until we had a better angle to the boat, had me handling the engine and Will furiously rowing on the right hand side. We made it over with inches to spare before and a lucky throw got our painter line to Johannes.
A great dinner of Swedish pancakes followed. We sat down below, lathering our pancakes with jam, as the wind howled outside and the water kept gushing by like a British Columbian river in the spring.
To leave from their boat was a down current ride, in the dark. It was frightening getting in the dinghy as it bounced around and constantly hit Orkestern’s side. We only had one shot: miss Hydroquest and we’d be swept out to sea with no chance of fighting the current and wind back in. I should mention that Orkestern was having trouble with their outboard engine as well, so wouldn’t be able to come to our rescue. As always, Will navigated the waters perfectly and we caught onto Hydroquest’s toenail near her bow.
We flashed Orkestern with a powerful light to communicate safe landing and tied an extra safety line on Quill to ensure she would still be there in the morning.
OFF TO THE BIG CITY (Probably today, May 18th)
The south swell is meant to be subsiding now which means we can probably leave for Papeete (on the island of Tahiti) today. The distance is 220 nm so we will leave in the late afternoon with the aim to arrive early Monday morning. Papeete is, in our minds, the ‘big city’ and we have a long list of things to do. First on the list is getting the outboard working to full capacity!