The costs of motoring (and benefits to batteries)

The locals call it “mer d’huile” , which means Sea of Oil. When it’s so calm and glassy, the surface of the ocean is silky smooth like oil. That’s how it was all the way from Tikehau to Apataki, 23hrs under motor, heading east 125nm total distance covered.

Picking a calm day is one of two approaches when going east against the prevailing easterly trade winds. The other approach is picking a day with north winds. In that case, you must watch out for squally weather, as northerlies are indicative of frontal systems; but you can save lots of money on fuel! Just how much savings? See below.

Diesel Consumption of motoring 23hrs: 1.1 gallons/hr = 25 gallons used (total 100 gallon tank).
Cost per gallon: $5.80/gallon (purchased in Tuamotus as a 200 liter drum from the ship for $300, and syphoned into tank)
Cost of motoring to Apataki: $145, plus emission of CO2 into atmosphere, and wear and tear on engine.

There is a big advantage of motoring overnight: this charges the batteries FULLY. It is our surrogate for going to a dock with shore power (which we haven’t done in 3 years). Most boats have generators + wind turbines to charge batteries, but we only have a 9 solar panels (~900watts).

You ask, “why doesn’t the solar array charge the batteries?” Yes, but usually only to 90%. The last 10% takes a looong time because the charge controller restricts the amount of amperage. The equivalent is like trying to fill a water bucket with a hose— as it fills up, you must turn down the water pressure, to prevent water from spilling over. So the batteries can’t accept the full production of the solar array for the last 10% of their capacity. The result is that the chemical plates start to get hardened, without equalizing fully, the batteries can have premature death. That’s what happened to our last battery bank, which only lasted 3 years due to us never going to a dock and charging with shore power all the way.

That’s a long way of saying that the diesel costs a bit, but we don’t have the cost of a generator onboard… so if this is saving our batteries a little bit (which cost $1500 to replace) it seems to balance the equation out.

The mechanics of 20 minutes sleeping

24 hours of solo sailing, heading east along the Tuamotus archipelago, dodging 4 atolls. The boat is running at 6 knots, and if I fell asleep, we could crash catastrophically onto land or boats. Staying up all night seems torturous, though.

People wonder how solo sailors keep a watch when offshore overnight. Personally, I don’t trust my radar to warn me, as some sailors do. The only thing I trust is for my phone alarm to ring, every 20 minutes, telling me, “Wake up dummy, look around, and make sure you’re not about to hit something!”

So I get stirred from my slumber, every 20 minutes, and try to open my eyes and scan the horizon for hazards… and once satisfied, within 15 seconds I fall back asleep. It is almost instant.

While underway, I sleep on my therma-rest in the cockpit bench. When the alarm rings I can simply open my eyes in a stupor, and hazily survey the instruments… wind speed, GPS location, course. Check. Then I’ll look at the horizon for lights & ships, while admiring the stars…the Scorpio constellation rising over the dawn hours… the Southern Cross twirling around Alpha Centauri… and the Milky Way bright as snow in the moonlight. “Oh-oh I see a ship’s light, coming my way!” Ah… common error. It’s just Venus rising on the east, at 3:40am.

Today I feel remarkably refreshed. Certainly much better than spending all night fighting to stay awake.

Is 20 minute interrupted sleep something anyone can do, or only lunatic sailors? My unsupported theory is that if you allow your body to sleep for more than 45 minutes, then you enter REM sleep and it’s really hard to awaken. Perhaps that’s why 20 minute power naps feel so good.

I wonder, however, how the 20 minute sleeping regime would affect a solo sailor (or astronaut?) over several weeks time; whether their bodies would end up fatigued and run-down, and mental functions become impaired… I’d be curious about the studies on interrupted sleeping. If you’re intrigued and have internet, let us know 🙂

Photo: Approximately what I see at 1am with blurry eyes.

Birthday Reflections

I’m alone now on the boat — Sabrina, Jonathan, and Gary left last week. We had lots of fun… but now it’s time to buckle up and get to work. I just received a call from Toni at the Apataki boatyard last night that we are “Go” for hauling out next week. Well, the wind is blowing from the opposite direction as normal, light NW, so there’s no time to lose. I raise anchor to begin a 24hr passage. I suppose it’s appropriate — I’ll be sailing east on my birthday.

I’m turning 38 years old today. Going east on a solo overnight trip for 115nm isn’t really a birthday party, and probably not relaxing. On one hand I’d prefer to stay in Tikehau a few more days, and enjoy time with a remarkable group of young sailors who have collected there. But on the other hand, it is the right thing; since what I want to do most, is to give back to this boat Aldebaran, which has given us so much.

So many boats were disabled on the crossing from Panama to French Polynesia: I just heard another story of a broken rudder, disabling the boat for two weeks at sea while the crew jury-rigged a rudder. That’s the 4th broken rudder story I heard. Then there’s the broken mast stories: 6 of them, including 2 big catamarans. A broken mast is pretty much the worse thing that can happen at sea, other than a big hole in your hull. None of the boats were even close to the age of Aldebaran. She just turned 50 years old this year. Happy birthday, Aldebaran!

Aldebaran has been taking care of us. She’s been this amazing platform of exploration for over 120 friends, so far, who have experienced the wild freedom and heart-lifting beauty of sailing to remote islands. Still, her crew from the past 6 months can testify: she’s looking tired, in fact, battered, like she’s been in a long battle, and needs to lick her wounds. It’s time to give her some loving and bring her back to a state of respectability.

It’s time to give back. We’ve received so much from this boat, that the Cup is no longer Half Full. The Cup is Overflowing and it’s been spilling for quite some time. There’s not much to do except offer deep appreciation for all the blessings that have unfolded. I’ll start by thanking the anonymous people in 1968 who built Aldebaran; cutting and nailing and screwing the wood, fiberglassing, and making this vessel a seaworthy work of art.

I must also send thanks to the previous owners of Aldebaran: Bob & Jackie, whose care for 20 years while raising their twin sons and sailing the Channel Islands kept the boat in the soundest condition, which we as a result inherited. They’re in their 80s, and they’re awesome. They continue to support the dream from afar as Patrons (www.patreon.com/greencoconutrun)

It’s hard not to thank my parents Bob & Susie for giving me unconditional love to pursue my dreams. I had the great fortune of being able to share the joy of this experience with them this last December, as we sailed 5 islands and arrived in Bora-Bora in perfect blue skies for New Year’s Eve; which basically captured the pride of being a son into one iconic moment.

I thank my brother Dylan, sister-in-law Christine, and sister Samara, who were also there, for their life-long fraternal proddings, which have made me slightly less soft than I would otherwise have become. Our family friend Hans was aboard, and I credit him with joining me in Papeete one week later to voluntarily repair our engine pump and transmission; demonstrating such a fervor and irrepressible drive in his quest to get the boat back to a sailing state, one could have been mistaken for thinking it was his first born child on the line.

Also aboard our momentous Bora-Bora arrival (yes, there were a lot of people!) were Bear & Kati, who, between promoting Burning Man internationally and starting a socially responsible bank, are amazing people; but here I praise them for their role in the Green Coconut Run as Early Seabird investors. They were one of 30 different people who believed in us, saying “Heck, we’ll each give you about $1000 for the boat improvements, and hopefully we’ll see you in a few years in Tahiti.” And here we were. I thank all of you for your faith — you know who you are.

There was one other person aboard Aldebaran that day, arriving in Bora-Bora with us. His name is Zuck. He’s a friend of Bear & Kati’s, an ex-Yahoo employee who after being disillusioned with tech, and through all kinds of irrational followings of the heart, has become a force in the world of refugee camps. I thank him not only for his unceasing enthusiasm for every moment of every day, but also for his fearless drive to do good in the world, amidst extremely challenging environments.

So that arrival in Bora-Bora symbolically captured most of my world in a nutshell: family, old friends, and new friends that we’ve made through this expedition; arriving together in a place of beauty.

Well, I say “most” of my world, because, for one…. my sweetheart Sabrina wasn’t there. She was back in Sacramento, California working in a hospital’s intensive care unit for a 6 month contract taking care of patients in extremely ill health. Yep, that’s the kind of stoic woman she is… willingly taking care of the sickest of people, while her husband is sailing in freakin’ paradise. I appreciate her on every level imaginable, but most recently, when I was having a meltdown-day of stress (yep, happens to me too, even in Tikehau), she stopped me and gently asked, “Kristian, what are you grateful for?” And all my rationale about the day’s intractable problems evaporated under the enormity of this question. Sabrina is an incredible woman.

Ohh…. I lied about something. On New Year’s Eve, Sabrina wasn’t actually working in the hospital — she was in a weeklong vacation in Puerto Vallarta with our friend Heidy sipping on wine in a marina. Thanks for getting her out there, Heidy, and saving my skin!!! I would have felt really bad otherwise, if I was sailing into tropical heaven while Sabrina was working on the 5th floor of the Cardiac ICU. That just wouldn’t do.

Finally… thanks to YOU for reading all the way to the end of this rambling sailor’s soliloquy. Consider that your birthday present to me. If you insist on giving a real present, give it to boat. It’s time to give back. Yes! She’s gonna be sparkling again soon! Boatyard here we come.

Love you all.
– Captain K, out

Send any gifts to the boat to: “Aldebaran’s 50th Birthday Make-over” Fund, in any form of currency via Venmo, PayPal, or courier Pidgeon, to greencoconutrun@gmail.com.

Sabby’s Mantas

Snorkeling is our version of going for a walk around the block — doing a little exercise, a little sightseeing. But this morning was extraordinary… not only for what we saw, but for the unusual journey that led us here. Allow me to explain.

Let’s say there’s something you LOVE to do, but are unable to due to injury. You weaved your entire life around this activity, and for three years, people come visit you, because you live in one of the world’s best places for it; but you can only participate a little bit.

Then one day you say “Screw it, my injury is feeling pretty good, and I’ve got a doctor’s appointment next week anyway.” What follows is a few hours of liberated ecstasy — where all the past pain and frustration subsides into a cathartic joy, and half the day disappears in a daze of wonder and awe.

That is how our morning with the Manta Rays went.

Due to her ongoing ear injury, Sabrina hasn’t been underwater in over three years. She LOVES being underwater. She’s a SCUBA dive master and would amaze me by sitting still next to a rock, 40 feet deep, and finding the most intricate creatures, which she would excitedly share with me. She’d freedive down to find shells on the ocean floor, looking graceful and calm as a ballerina. She is a natural athlete surfing, and learned her best squiggles at Scorpion Bay, which made her giddy with delight. Then all that was halted from a bad ear infection that become a blown ear drum infection, followed by two timpanoplasty surgeries over three years and suffering from an ongoing pinhole which to this day has refused to fully heal.

Many people live with ear drum issues — but how many of those people are divers living on a cruising sailboat?? Sabrina has had to cultivate an incredible fortitude and acceptance of her situation. She’s been able to snorkel on the surface with earplugs, but has to watch everyone else play freely in the water, while we cruise through some of the world’s most remarkable underwater playgrounds: Galapagos, Tuamotus, Isla Cocos.

At least here in French Polynesia, the water is so crystal clear, and the reefs are so shallow and amazing, that we often snorkel in just 3-5 feet of water; and even in 100 feet of water, outside the lagoons, you can see the bottom. Like many people who snorkel exclusively at the surface, Sabrina has been enjoying herself lots… but still. She yearns to dive underwater, so badly.

With Jonathan and Gary, we took Aldebaran to a Motu and went looking for the Manta Rays. This is a place where the Mantas gather to get “cleaned” by little fish. Still, we’re lucky if we find one or two; we’re lucky if the water isn’t too silty (it is notoriously turbid in this part of Tikehau’s lagoon); and we’re lucky if the Mantas hang around for long.

On this day, not only did we dive with 6 (!) Mantas, the water was the clearest I’ve seen it here, and they swam around us for hours, calmly getting cleaned by the tiny fish that live on these coral heads.

Sabrina dove down for the first time in over 3 years… and kept diving for the next few hours… The majestic Mantas gave us the greatest gift we could receive.

How do we make Coffee onboard?

5:45am. Some of us (!) are awake drinking coffee or tea on deck. It pays to wake up early to enjoy the sunlight dancing softly on the atoll, before the heat of the day. These glassy, windless days begin like a watercolor painting! Soft, pearly tones cover the sky, and the clouds light up like frivolous strokes of the artist’s brush.

Not everyone is bright & bushy-tailed at this hour. So we ended up with 3 forms of making coffee on Aldebaran, to cover the bases. Of course, lots of tea gets made; but in the honor of Jonathan’s daily ritual, let’s explore our 3 options of making decent coffee, expensive, energy intensive machines:

#1 – French Press is the go-to bulk approach if more than 1-2 people are drinking coffee. The preferred approach is to grind the beans fresh, which takes just 20 seconds. The coffee grounds steep in the water for 5 minutes then are gently pressed. I am partial to this approach over drip coffee; I’m not sure why.

#2 – For 1 serving, we sometimes make Aeropress coffee, which has a cleaner robust taste. Thanks to Hamid, back in the Panama days of 2016, for leaving this amazing contraption behind with us. It takes no extra power, just special filters and boiling water. The coffee grounds don’t steep in this case, rather they are immediately pressed at a higher pressure (by hand).

#3 – The closest option to espresso is Percolator coffee, which is a genius Italian stainless steel contraption: it heats up on your stovetop, and pushes steam UP through the coffee grounds, and the liquid condenses on on the top container. This is pretty strong stuff and can make a mean cappuccino. Unless you have iron vessels of a true Italian, you’ll want to add hot water to dilute this.

When my dad Bob came aboard he brought a high quality hand grinder for the beans, along with a manual espresso maker (no power, just add hot water and pump). This made even stronger, richer coffee. Maybe he can remind us the name of this device.

I hear that back home people are paying lots of money for fancy coffees. Jonathan, who is a regular in SB’s French Press coffeeshop, reports that cold-press, nitro, and what is it— artisanal coffee? — are fetching $7-9 a cup. Wow. Is it possible to make all this stuff with just a stove top? Without thousand dollar machines, even let’s say while camping? Share your best coffee making hacks in the comments below 🙂

6 Boats, Reef, and the Blue

Thanks everyone for your comments last week on the posts… I must admit, I feel like a dog getting yummy treats, with every comment I woof woof in pleasure and “go fetch” the photo for the next post 🙂

Check out the attached photo of our anchorage in Tikehau. Seems so idyllic and mellow! Which it can be… but look closely at the number of coral bommies (those little black dots in the sandy blue) that are scattered around the anchorage. Those are all chunks of reef, big and small, hungry to snag a boat’s anchor chain.

For perspective, this anchorage is pretty clear compared to many… This is what we contend with in the Tuamutus, just one of several reasons why this archipelago is such a challenge for anchoring. Sure enough, when we left, I had to freedive 30ft to unwrap our chain, since the wind had swung 360 degrees over 3 days, and the chain had made a “gift wrap” package out of the rock.

Photo courtesy of Honey Bee 2, our faithful Mavic drone that replaced the one I crashed into a coconut tree (yes, it pays to have DJI’s insurance, they gave us a new one for a replacement cost of $80… which is better than spending $1200 on a new Mavic)

Have you heard what they say? “It’s better to have a captain that has the experience of shipwreck than one who doesn’t…” Well, I’ve crashed both our drone and our boat Aldebaran… so I’m highly qualified! But perhaps that’s a story, or shall we shall series of stories, for another day.

BBQ à la Tikehau

The weather is calm with variable winds, alternating sun & rain. I dont think Ill bother bringing a rain jacket next time, says Jonathan. We just go outside in the rain in our bathing suits… for the sailor shower.

We hoist anchor on Aldebaran and leave Teavatia, the northern anchorage, and head to the pass, on the western side of the atoll. Wow there are so many boats here! Sabrina comments when we arrive. Its unusually crowded for this this time of year. But even more unusual is how many boats are captained by young people.

In the US most sailboats are owned by people 50-60+ years old. This seems the case along the entire Pacific Coast of the Americas. Retirees dominate the world of cruising sailboats. During our two years in that coastline, it was rare to see sailors in their 30s or 40s… until we arrived in French Polynesia.

Our friends Ryan & Cami invite us to a BBQ potluck on the beach that afternoon. Good to see you guys! Ryan waves to us. We spent a month together at anchor last year around the holidays. Hes on a 48ft ketch Soul Rebel with his Chilean/French sweetheart, Cami, and their 8 month old baby. They are in their mid 30s and early 40s. The San Francisco couple on the neighboring 46ft ketch Lola has the same age range.

Behind, a 29ft boat bobs at anchor with a bohemian French couple in their late 20s. A nice catamaran is anchored behind us with Tahitian friends in their mid 20s. However, theyre the only non-owners, having borrowed the boat from their parents for a month cruise of Tuamotus.

Only the two other boats, of the 7 at anchor, are run by couples in their 50s and 60s.

We all migrate to shore for a fish BBQ to celebrate a Hawaiian girls birthday whos traveling aboard Lola. The bigger boats all have crew visiting them, who are young too. The beach BBQ is a great time; it feels like a party back home. The few older cruisers, who are normally the vast majority in the Americas, are now the minority. What is it about this place? Or more accurately, what is it about all these cool young people making the sailing dream come alive?

The times they are a-changin….

Photo: Cami, baby Chloe, and Sabrina; Yanik the local motu owner barbecuing the fish; the birthday girl Leticia laughing with friend Taylor and Sabrina.

Post by satellite.

Aquarium in the north

We took the dinghy into a channel between the motus, which is called a “hoa”, until the dinghy ran aground; I dropped our anchor to keep it secure; and we kept walking along the rocks and coral rubble to the ocean side of the hermit’s motu. A pretty bay greeted us.

Inside the atoll, the lagoon can have silty water — which means 15 to 30 foot visibility underwater. Outside the lagoon is another story: the open ocean has no silt or sediment, except what is kicked up by wind or swells. Typically there is between 60 and 150 feet visibility underwater. It can look so clear that fish appear to be floating in air.

Some places have underwater life that is lackluster. Exploration pays off. Despite its small size — only about 400 feet across — we found a big difference between one side of the bay and the other. The right side was a little boring, with only small numbers of fish, and ok rocky formations underwater. The left side, however, was exploding with life.

The coral formations were brightly colorful and pronounced; rocky overhangs and little caves harbored dense masses of red soldier fish; large schools of parrotfish, unicorn fish, surgeon fish, picked at algae as if nibbling on a Las Vegas Buffet, then floating intoxicated in the water column. Occasionally blue jacks and crevalle jacks patrolled the area; as did black tip sharks, cautiously maintaining their distance. Rainbow runners appeared and disappeared in a flash.

There is a nearly constant stream of sea creatures going by, entertaining our attention in any one field of vision; and if that becomes mundane, and curiosity is piqued for a closer look, the coral formations themselves are like surrealist sculptures, their mystique and detailed beauty changing and increasing the closer one gets. An hour or two goes by as we watch this underwater world in its full glory.

The diversity between the right and left side of the bay was astounding, and made me wonder: what is the rest of the perimeter of this atoll like? The 36 mile circumference of Tikehau must hold many secret zones. They are probably like the undiscovered places in a city, which may be hip and cool but invisible except to those who venture into their ungainly corners. We are re-energized to keep exploring the different corners of this wild Aquarium.

Hermit of the North

He was fishing when we paddled up to him. “I use clams as bait,” he explained. I noticed a rusty chunk of metal he used as weight for the fishing line, which evidently worked well because he had five fish on hand. “These two are for the pigs, those two for the dogs, and that one is for me.”

I can’t remember his name, but will call him Tino. He had come from the Austral Islands, which is the colder, stormier archipelago of French Polynesia that we haven’t yet visited. Tino had grown tired of his little island — something about problems with his ex-father-in-law? — so had migrated to Tikehau where he had a cousin.

Six months ago, Tino got a job as the caretaker of this motu, doing the copra harvest for the owner, who came every two weeks. “The owner works in the airport. When he has vacation he comes here for a few days.”

A sailboat from Tahiti had left the yellow kayak for him, but it had holes and he wasn’t able to use it. This seemed a shame since the Broccoli islet and various shallow waterways in this area beckon exploration — and would be good fishing options. I brought back to shore two sticks of underwater epoxy, the type that you cut, mix, and then cures in 15 minutes above or below water. We carry a bunch of those epoxy sticks onboard Aldebaran, they are so handy. I packed the holes with the epoxy, and while it cured, we went harvesting coconuts.

We walked around the motu with a long stick to pull down green coconuts. It’s a Green Coconut Run! Tino also brought a short sharp metal rod, which he used to quickly de-husk the coconuts… without the thick husk, that makes them much lighter & smaller, and easier to open later. De-husking is hard though! The gringos (us) took about 2-3 minutes per coconut, while Tino was de-husking at 20 seconds per coconut.

Tino said the only thing he doesn’t really like about living on the motu are the “no-nos”, aka no-see-ums. They come out between sunset and sunrise and make sleeping miserable. He had a mosquito net in his house but thought it stopped the breeze. I can understand, without a fan pushing air, the cooling effects of a mild breeze are halted.

Tino said he wished he could sleep on the water to avoid the no-nos. We hear this often from the locals — by being a little offshore, the boat has better breeze and no bugs. I suggested that Tino should paddle his repaired kayak and sleep on the Broccoli islet — perhaps there were no bugs there? Or perhaps just sleep on the kayak, anchored inside his protected reef??

We paddled away and left Tino alone with his dogs and pigs, hoping that he’d have better sleeping in the future.. what a life, a hermit on this motu.

Finding new-ness in the old

“Don’t you feel like seeing other places sometimes?” Gary asked me. “I mean you guys could easily sail west to Fiji, Tonga, Micronesia.” Sure, exploration is in our genes..! But now I understand what a guy once told me about good wine: “When you find something you like, stick with it for awhile.”

French Polynesia is the good wine we are enjoying… variety may be the spice of life, but depth is the flavor you don’t forget. So we are going deep into it. (In fairness we are also planning on visiting other islands later this year, on other boats… Aldebaran is sticking around here.)

Back home, we’ve kept things fresh by talking with friends about new things in our hometown: “Ah yes this new restaurant opened up” “Have you gone to this park on the full moon?” I love people who live in a town but act like travelers, always searching for novelty, even if means picking up a Lonely Planet guide of your own hometown 🙂 It’s fun to keep enjoying that feeling of new-ness!

For us here, our feeling of new-ness is about exploring the different corners of these amazing Tuamotu atolls, the different coral bommies, the different people. And thus we headed north with Jonathan and Gary to a corner of Tikehau we’d never been before, called Teavatia.

I had no idea it would be so beautiful. An islet of rock, bushes, and sand protected the anchorage, and we dropped the hook behind it. From the air it looks just like a broccoli ! A little system of reef circles the coast, and a lone house stands on the shore. Who lives here, and what will we find in this interesting nook of coastline? We jump in the dinghy and go explore!

When airports are part of the vacation

I remember an article in Surfers Journal about Tahiti, where the author mentioned, “Tahitians only drive 40mph. Max. Which makes our Western obsession with productivity seem like a silly past time.”

As soon as you walk towards the customs line in Tahiti’s airport, feeling the warm tropical air for the first time, you’ll hear musicians playing Polynesian ukulele with ladies singing in accompaniment; and your concern about getting through the customs line to begin your vacation begins to ebb away. It takes a few minutes… but then you realize your vacation has already begun. The tempo of the people here is different.

The Tikehau airport is one step further into the slow-tempo. Just the view from the airplane (best on the left side to see the lagoon!) is already jaw dropping. On Aldebaran we have the added advantage of never bothering with such things as docks, so we anchor the boat right in front of the airport when weather permits. Our crew is well trained to accept such things as wet dinghy rides upon arrival, and oh isn’t it nice to not even get into a car?

As such, we picked up Gary & Jonathan at the airport, walked across from the terminal to an open lot that led to the lagoon. Through the coconut trees, the cyan-blue water popped like a 3D cartoon, with Aldebaran at anchor and our faithful Lambordinghy tied on the beach.

Pants are swapped for board shorts, eyes squint to understand the colors. “Wait, are those little reef sharks swimming in the shallows??” “Cute, aren’t they?” I wink, loading up the dinghy, firing up the Suzuki outboard engine… to head to our shared home of the next 7 days.

Photo: Beach in front of Tikehau airport.

Sent by satellite.

Gary’s Return

We met Gary while paddling to a little motu in Moorea two years ago, after one of our crew members recognized his girlfriend. “Hey I think we dance together in Santa Barbara!” That brief recognition prompted a sunset meeting for happy hour on Aldebaran.

While we sat in Opunohu Bay watching the sun’s ray sparkle on Moorea’s granite spires, Gary confessed: “One of my dreams has always been to cruise the Tuamotus by sailboat.” I countered: “Well we’re exploring new atolls next year… Would you like to go a little remote… or really remote?” He replied without hesitation: “Really remote.” And thus we began conspiring.

What followed in March 2018 was an unforgettable 18 day journey with Gary and friend Ethan to our deepest jaunt into the Tuamotus archipelago yet (Right now, we are missing you on this trip too, Ethan!!) Search our blog for “Amanu” , “Haraiki” and “Makemo” and you’ll see some of our adventures together with this pair of funny guys who never seem to age. Share links to your favorite ones in the comments below 🙂

Apparently we didn’t traumatize Gary too badly, with our near-shipwrecks and shark infested anchorages, because he returned this year. Granted, we are just chilling in Tikehau this year, which in contrast to last year — if I can use a skiing analogy — is like enjoying a backcountry ski hut in Switzerland, instead of outrunning avalanches in Alaska. But hey, Gary has earned it. He’s a fantastic crew mate, even-keeled and just as happy to make cabbage salad or wash the dishes (two activities that occupy most of our time… haha). In truth though, being a retired professor, he is most stoked reading his Kindle… and of course, the lifetime pursuit of looking at the ocean’s swells… from as close as possible 🙂

Photo: Gary raising anchor in Tikehau.

Sent by satellite email.

Jonathan’s Return

One of the joys of our boat has been deepening friendships with others. After all, how often do we spend 1 or 2 full weeks together in close quarters? On the boat, we cook, laugh, play, sleep, all together. Cel phones don’t usually work, so people are unplugged from internet. Aboard Aldebaran, we are forced to plug in to the present moment 🙂

The last week has been a total delight exploring Tikehau with two great guys: Jonathan and Gary, who both arrived on a Saturday flight from Tahiti (it’s about $220 each way for the Air Tahiti island-hopper; expensive, but very flexible with date changes)

Last time Jonathan was aboard Green Coco was in 2016 along the southern part of Costa Rica from Quepos to Bahia Drake and Matapalo (it was late April, and we were making our way south to Panama, before crossing to the Galapagos in mid June) That area around the Osa Peninsula still has the most lush tropical jungles we’ve seen, along with a huge density of birds and other land animals. The remote river mouths, epic forest walks, and clear snorkeling in Isla Caño — famous for its lightning strikes — were really memorable.

As an NPR morning show host, Jonathan took the liberty of interviewing us during that trip; the story was picked up and streamed on NPR’s Marketplace. Thanks for sharing the Green Coco story on a national platform, JB!

I mean, look at the photo of this guy… he’s got a pen clipped to the collar of his shirt, ready for action.

We love having Jonathan aboard cause he’s ever-positive and stoked to help. This is despite being unfavorably squished into the boat’s tight spaces with his 6’5’’ tall frame. Makes Captain K look like a Pygmy. Yep, he likes to sleep on the cockpit or deck, where there’s room to stretch out…

Jonathan was a Colorado resident for many years and only recently has grown to love the ocean while living in Santa Barbara. Stoked you made it back, buddy, managing to get the week off work to fly in & out!

Oh yes.. since I can’t get online, can anyone look up the link for our Marketplace interview and post it below in the comments? It’s fun to look back on it, and the story is just 1 minute long (as I recall…)

Share below any questions; or comments you have on that Marketplace interview, if you’ve visited Corcovado National Park, or tips for tall guys to squeeze into small spaces 🙂

Big hugs,
K

ps. Thanks for all your comments on the last post! I’m still trying to figure out how to respond via satellite..

Greetings from Tikehau!

We are back where we were a year ago: Tikehau atoll, 200 nautical miles north of Tahiti. Half that year we spent cruising the “backwoods” of French Polynesia. Then the other half of the year, we spent getting married in California. Yep, it took some time, we enjoyed it so thoroughly!

Now we are finally back aboard Aldebaran sharing the magic of this place with others. I’m excited to share stories as we kick our blog back into gear. Some highlights include my mom and sister’s first weeklong trip (enroute to Bora Bora), hosting Aldebaran’s godfather Ed France for two weeks, sailing with architect & business partner Alex Wyndham to a far flung atoll to make an offer on land to purchase; and finally (finally!) seeing my sweetheart Sabrina freedive with 10 foot Manta Rays in the clearest, most cathartic water imaginable.

Share a comment below if you’re reading this and other posts, if you want to see this blog going, it’s my best motivation! Much love,
Captain K

Photo: Aldebaran sailing into Tikehau with our blue & gold reacher sail.

Sent via satellite.

Leaving the boat in Taravao, Tahiti

It’s time to fly home! Where’s a good place to leave our boat in the Society Islands while we go home for a few months? You know, to visit family, work, get married, the usual stuff! 🙂

We chose Port Phaeton in the town of Taravao, which is one of the best anchorages in French Polynesia. It is nearly landlocked,  deep in a bay sheltered by numerous reefs and headlands. It is sheltered from every wind angle, especially the tropical summer storm winds from the NW, and the wintery maramus from SE.

During the summer season (Nov-Apr), occasionally tropical depressions and storms (and very rare cyclones) make their way to Tahiti. However, during the winter season (May-Oct) the weather is usually mild, with the only problem being periodic fronts with drizzly rain and gusty winds.

Taravao is located in the isthmus between the two lobes of Tahiti, which are called Tahiti Nui (“big Tahiti) and Tahiti Iti (“small Tahiti”). In this regard, Tahiti is similar to Maui or Catalina island, with an isthmus separating two lobes.

The anchorage in Port Phaeton, Taravao. The small marina and boatyard can be seen in the back left.

Locals refer to Tahiti Iti as “Presqu’ile”, which means peninsula in French. The presqu’ile has a notoriety for being wet; precipitation is higher because it is east-facing into the trade winds. This is one of the downsides of Taravao- it is more wet than Papeete, which is in the drier (lee) side of the island. In contrast, Papeete’s anchorages and marinas are not very protected from the summertime tropical storms, which hit it square on from the NW.

One of the local liveaboards in Port Phaeton offers a boat watch service, with a weekly visit to check the boat and provide ventilation by opening hatches. We’re seeing if he does a good job 🙂

The Carrefour grocery store is the large building on the foreground, right side. Taravao is second largest town in Tahiti, offering a number of services including a hospital and hardware stores, acting as a crossroads between Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti.

Pros/Cons of Taravao vs. Marina Taina (Papeete)

Taravao

+ Excellent protection from any wind

+ Excellent holding ground

+ Convenient shopping (Carrefour, hardware stores)

+ Low theft risk, rural environment

– increased rain

– less boat services available

– less social activities, no bar

– 1 hour to airport, can cost $100 for taxi

 

Marina Taina (near Papeete)

+ right next to airport, 15min bus to downtown, access to specialty boat work

+ moorings available

+ bars like Pink Coconut and Casablanca

+ across from Moorea

– congested with boats, urbanized environment

– not protected from NW storm wind

– very rolly during big swells (inside the lagoon)

Getting ready for the flight on French Bee, the new budget airline flying from SF to Tahiti! Amazing!

 

Makemo’s Trou de la Baleine

Trou de la Baleine, the blue pool in the foreground. Aldebaran is the dark dot anchored in the background near the motu surrounding the lagoon.

The story goes that ancient Makemo natives would paddle their outriggers after humpback whales that entered the pass, and “corral” them towards the eastern corner of the atoll; then proceed to kill one of the whales and feast on it for weeks. Hence the “Trou de la Baleine” was named, translated to “Hole of the Whales”, a remarkably blue and deep sandy pool in the easternmost part of the atoll.

Our anchorage was 1/4 mile from the Trou de Baleine, in 6 feet of water with pure sand, the anchor chain visible in the clear water. To enter this area required a long and careful navigation around many shallow coral bommies, with good visibility as usual. The prevailing easterly tradewind blows over the land so the water is smooth as a duck’s pond.

Heading out on the Lambordinghy with spearguns

Sabrina swimming in the Trou de la Baleine.

Our friend Henere had a go at spearfishing in the Trou de la Baleine but a lemon shark scared him off!

The Trou de la Baleine is 11nm east/south-east of the village of Makemo, but slow progress is required due to the large density of coral bommies around this lagoon — to get the sun above you for visibility, it is best to transit towards the east after 11:30am and arrive before 3:30pm, and then back to the west between 9:30am and arrive before 1:30pm; otherwise, the glare from the sun prevents seeing the coral bommies.

Location of Trou de la Baleine

Walking across the shallows in the eastern side of the atoll

Coral and Clams mingling in the shallows

Green Coconuts are the best! 

Birthday in Makemo!

From Left to Right: Henere, Leon, Capt K, Soraya, and Kumuhei. Sabrina is taking the picture!

To celebrate Capt K’s 37th birthday, we invited our local friends in Makemo to join us on a 4 day excursion around their atoll. Let’s start with a bit about our friends:

Leon & Soraya: awesome people who love their atoll’s turquoise water!

Leon & Soraya — we met Leon in Marquesas, at the Hiva Oa Boatyard, while repairing the fiberglass damages on Aldebaran (in July of 2017). He’s incredibly enthusiastic about everything he does, and kindly invited us to spend Sabrina’s birthday in Makemo last year, on our way through the Tuamotos.  So it’s uncanny that now, the following year, we were celebrating Kristian’s birthday with them too! Leon is a professor of mechanical repair at the college in Makemo, and Soraya is a retired admin from the government center.

Henere & Kumuhei: They are neighbors of Leon and all teach at the same school. We met them at a pizza party that Leon organized at his home (he’s got an amazing wood-burning oven!). This lovely couple grew up in Tahiti, and just moved to Makemo a few months ago after completing their teaching credentials in France. Henere teaches physical education and Kumuhei teaches English. Living in the Tuamotos is a new experience for them, but they are embracing the atoll life to the fullest!

Loading up the crew at the Makemo wharf, with a stern anchor in 10 feet of sand, and bow line to the dock cleats.

My biggest surprise was how excited all four friends were about being aboard the sailboat. “There are no mosquitoes! The view over the water is so magnificent! Life on the boat is so fun!” They kept exclaiming with glee. I never realized that being on a sailboat would bring them so much joy to the locals who seem to live the ocean life daily! This in turn gave us a lot of satisfaction.

These guys were incredible crewmates– always present and nearby ready to lend a hand with the anchor or loading equipment, keeping a lookout for coral heads to avoid, and generally making our life as captains running the boat remarkably easy.

We went to two spots on the atoll: the motus in the SE side called Napahere, and the shallow anchorage in the far eastern corner, called “Trou de la Baleine” or Whale’s Hole.

 

The most distinct thing about cruising with locals was how they created so much food and camp comforts directly from the land, with very little. Here was the approximate order of events for the first 24 hours:

  • 2pm. Arrival at the Motu Napahere. Within 10 minutes of dropping anchor Leon and Henere were campaigning to spearfish, which we harvested fresh fish until late afternoon
  • 3:30am. Leon and I went to shore with the full moon to look for lobsters
  • 9am. The crew goes to the beach to set up camp, by turning palm fronds into floor mats, serving dishes, and shade; they start a fire to bake breadfruit, lobster; gather brown coconuts on the ground for coconut milk, and green coconuts for drinking coconut water;
  • 12pm. With very little to start, a decadent feast is created!

Upon arrival in the motus, Soraya got to work taking down palm fronds from the coconut trees to start “decorating and furnishing” our camp. These become lovely floor mats for meal time.

Breadfruit from the village was toasted over the fire that Leon made on the beach.

Brown coconuts from the ground around the motu were harvested and we grated them to make coconut milk for the poisson cru (Polynesia’s staple sashimi dish)

Close-up of the coconut milk process: grated coconut flesh (from hard, brown coconuts) is then squeezed through a tshirt (or cheese cloth) to extract delicious coconut milk unlike anything you can imagine!

 

Grilled lobster fresh caught that morning.

A little bit of the feast over the palm fronds… simple and glorious.

Naturally, we have to cap it off with this image, which captures the essence of the “Green Coconut Run”! Sharing the Good living!

10 Rules of Spearfishing with Sharks in Tuamotos

After missing a shot with my speargun, I’m surprised that within 10 seconds there are a number of reef sharks clustering around the scene to see if they can take advantage of an easy meal.

The Tuamotos (French Polynesia) are full of fish, but they are also full of reef sharks. This is one of the archipelago’s wonderful attractions: observing these magnificent creatures from up close, on a daily basis. Fortunately, according to the locals, the sharks are 99% harmless to humans — except if you are spearfishing.

Some background: Reef sharks spend most of their time cruising right next to schools of fish without giving them any grief. The reality is that fish are really fast and are quite difficult for sharks to catch. Like us, they don’t want to waste their energy chasing things they aren’t likely to catch. Sharks need a competitive advantage — hunting at night, hunting in packs, or finding vulnerable fish. Speared or hook caught fish qualify as the latter option. In their excitement, sharks can inadvertently take a bite at whatever happens to be next to the dying fish, such as the spearfisher’s arm, so special attention is needed.

Kristian and Ethan diving down for a shot at some fish. You want a good shot to ensure the fish is immediately put down and ideally does not struggle, so you can get the fish out of the water as soon as possible.

Last year, after our arrival, we spent several weeks in the Tuamotos before even trying to spearfish; and then still we proceeded very cautiously. The turning point for us came when we met Bruno, a Tahitian spearfishing champion who now lives in Faaite atoll.  Bruno taught us much about both lagoon reef hunting and pelagic pass hunting in a series of memorable dives. Since then, we have cross-checked that knowledge with a few dozen spearfishers in Tuamotos.

Eventually, we came to understand the principles of when it is safe to spear fish, and how to do it.  Our experience culminated in our spearfishing sessions in Makemo’s north pass, which has the highest abundance of reef sharks we’ve seen in Tuamotos– along with Fakarava and Haraiki atolls. Here is what we have learnt, digested into 10 handy rules:

Rule #1: “Always dive with a buddy”. Here Sabrina demonstrates the technique of grabbing the (spear)gun and fending off sharks, while Ethan the shooter has the fish which is still held in the actual spear. It sure is nice to have two sets of eyes in this situation!

Another view of the above photo: Ethan holds the goat fish above the water while keeping an eye down below.

 

10 RULES OF SPEARFISHING WITH SHARKS

Rule #1: “Always dive with a buddy.” Your buddy should grabs your gun and act as the ‘bouncer’, to make sure no toothy guests enter your party uninvited. This is mainly accomplished by maintaining eye contact. Don’t jab them or make sudden movements — unless absolutely necessary.

Rule #2: “Show no fear.” Sharks sense fear & anxiety. They become excited especially if your movements are erratic and involve splashing. If you’re afraid, don’t spearfish. You will profit from diving with them (sans gun) several more times to get comfortable, and realize they are not dangerous unless you have an injured fish next to you.

Rule #3: “Shoot smaller fish; and get them out of the water quick.” Once the fish is held out of the water, the sharks are no longer sure where it is, and the feedback mechanism instigating their excitement slows down. Smaller fish fight less than bigger fish, so are easier to handle.

 

If fish parts are discarded off the back of the sailboat, it  no longer remains a friendly, attractive swimming environment.

Rule #4: “Get a kill shot whenever possible.” Sharks respond more to the vibrations of a flailing fish in the water – and the excitement of their fellow shark friends – than anything else. If the spear paralyzes/kills the fish with a head shot, you reduce the chances of attracting predators to the scene and creating a mob effect.

Rule #5: “Look before shooting – especially for Gray Reef Sharks.” Like crossing the road, look both ways!  Ideally, there should be no sharks within sight when you swim down to shoot fish, in particular for Gray Reef Sharks, which are considered aggressive and unpredictable. Other reef sharks, like black tips and white tips, are much milder and pose no significant threat.

Rule #6: “If you just had a recent fight and are upset due to a quarrel, spearfishing is not recommended.” Although I can’t validate the theory that a disturbed frame of mind due to an argument adds to potential hazard of sharks… however, many locals have mentioned this to me. In fact, they didn’t just say spearfishing in such a condition is unrecommended, they said “c’est interdit” (it’s prohibited). Clear words of wisdom!

 

Reef sharks chasing our fish scraps. It’s true that reef sharks aren’t considered “dangerous”, but it is also true that when they are very excited / in mob behavior they could make mistakes. As the locals say, “The sharks are polite. But be attentive.”

Rule #7: “If a shark is going for your fish, let them have it.” Seems like an obvious one, but a number of spearfishers hug the fish in an attempt to paralyze it and “hide their catch” from the predators. And you guessed it, that is the most common way that spearfishers get injured by sharks!

Rule #8: “It’s usually safer to spearfish inside lagoons.” Shark populations are usually more sparse deeper in the Tuamoto lagoons, compared to the reef passes and on the outside of the atoll, where sharks are most abundant (and it’s typically deeper, which adds to the amount of time it takes to get the fish out of the water). Plus, currents are usually milder inside the lagoons, which makes it easier to return to your dinghy.

 

“Shark-infested waters”? The truth is that the sharks seen in this picture are black-tip reef sharks, which are very mellow creatures. However, if you see gray reef sharks, keep a sharp lookout; they are curious, fearless, and occasionally aggressive. Hence the importance of identifying the different types of sharks.

 

Rule #9: “Wait for good visibility.” The incoming current and lack of wind chop can greatly increase the water clarity and your ability to scan for sharks. Obviously, don’t spearfish around sunrise or sunset as nighttime is their active feeding time.

Rule #10: “Discard fish parts in non-swimming areas!” We learned this the hard way, after filleting fish on Aldebaran at anchor.  An enormous congregation of 20+ sharks began swimming around our boat, and they took a long time to dissipate. This made showering in the ocean at night much more nerve-jarring than it should be!

 

Ethan gutting a white goat fish at the dock, instead of the back of the boat. It pays to take a dinghy ride to shore for fillet duty! Note the parrot fish on the left side of the picture — the parrot fish is a staple of the diet in French Polynesia for many reasons. There is a conservation concern about their over-fishing, since parrot fish contribute significantly to the health of coral reefs.

There is an added complication to fishing (in general) in the Tuamotos: ciguatera poisoning, a toxin from algae that bioaccumulates in reef fish. In every atoll there are different types of fish that may or may not be consumed; along with a number of fish which are always safe. Always ask locals before eating fish to confirm that particular type of fish is safe in the area.

A whole new world…

I’ve spent countless hours of my life around waves, but I had never seen them quite this way before! This was the first time I ever brought a mask and snorkel into the waves, and I found it truly enchanting… It’s a whole new world!

There is all kinds of life happening under the waves. Fish are nibbling at the coral and the algae, swaying back and forth with the push and pull of the swells. Schools of little fish dart around the white wash using it as protection from predators.

The waves break with explosive force but underwater it’s still calm. The vortices of whitewash make incredible patterns, backlit by the sunshine above.

Having FUN in the waves.

This is the view from the beach. Who could imagine that all that magic is happening underwater just offshore? Having a mask & snorkel is like having a superpower… the ability to see what is not at all apparent. Add waves to the equation for a totally mind-blowing experience of fluid dynamics!

Snorkeling the west pass

The drop off at the west pass of Makemo is incredible! We anchored the dinghy right at the pass (note white dot in the aerial photo above), from where we could snorkel in the shallows and hover over the depths. The only catch? Be sure to do this on incoming tide, which is fairly mellow at this location. The outgoing tide rips like a river current!

View of the bright red coral rocks at the pass.

Atolls are like icebergs… the vast majority is underwater.

Just looking at the water’s surface is transfixing when the colors are this vivid.

Sabrina with the lambordinghy.

Lots of beautiful coral around the west pass of Makemo.

Looking across the pass to the other side.

Wonderful coral formations in the shallows. Epic snorkeling in 1 ft of water.

I couldn’t get enough of this drop-off… with turquoise water covering shallow coral on one side, and cobalt blue deep water on the other side, plummeting down into the 100ft deep pass, different layers of coral communities as you went down….

Makemo’s West Pass: Bird’s Eye View

Makemo is the among the four largest atolls in Tuamotos (after Rangiroa and Fakarava; and it is slightly larger than Hao in comparison).

Makemo’s West Pass is a unique place — this may be the most remote pass of the larger atolls in French Polynesia. Remoteness, as we’ve discovered, equates very closely with abundant marine life! It is 26 nautical miles from the atoll’s village, which by sailboat is 4-5hours or by power boat 1.5hours. This makes it a little far for the locals to visit with regularity, so fishing pressure is vastly reduced; and there is negligible tourism in the atoll besides sailboat transit.

The nook in the reef, where we are anchored, provides decent protection from the East, and excellent protection from the North-East through to the South-West. For South or South-East winds, the deeper part of the cove would offer protection, which we evaluated by snorkel and deemed adequate for a draft as shallow as 6 feet.

The downside of this anchorage? It is “choc-a-bloc” with coral bommies littering the anchorage, which means that using floats on anchor chain is an absolute must, and the ability to dive to depths of 50ft on the anchor is also critical, as likelihood of the chain being snagged is… 100% certainty, even with floats. This is a non-trivial challenge to overcome when visiting this spectacular place.

Navigating a Reef Pass with a Broken Throttle Cable

The wind freshened and Aldebaran was back under sail, cantering like a horse in open pasture. However, our estimated arrival time, based on our current speed of 6 knots, was 1am in Makemo. No good! Rule #1 is never arrive in the dark, especially when it’s your first time in a reef pass.

So we took down the mainsail, and just plodded along with the genoa headsail at 4 knots. Nevertheless, by 3am we were just a few miles from the reef pass. So we “hove to”, which is a technique to park the boat mid-ocean. I set my alarm for 5:30am and got some shut eye.

As dawn broke, we motored the last 45 minutes to the reef pass. Peering through the binoculars, we surveyed the pass: the current looked mild, without any standing waves caused by strong current. We kept motoring into the pass at an even pace.

Then spontaneously, just as we were flanked with the waves breaking on both sides of the pass, the engine suddenly lost power! It was still running in forward gear, in idle, but didn’t respond to acceleration — the throttle cable had snapped! The boat lost momentum and started slipping out of control due to the current eddies. I hollered at the crew standing watch on deck, and did a u-turn to take Aldebaran back to sea, a maneuver assisted by the mild outgoing current.

Aldebaran drifted outside the pass without danger, as the wind was blowing us away from the land. Unfortunately, the outflowing current was supposed to strengthen substantially during the next 30 minutes so we had to work fast.

After shutting down Mr. Isuzu, we opened the hot engine compartment and saw the throttle cable had broken at the connecting point with the engine’s throttle lever. After attempting a jury rig with tape for 10 minutes, I ended up attaching a string directly to the engine’s throttle lever. Sabrina made a loop on the other end to hold onto — like a waterskier hanging onto a line — and by leaning her weight back, she could pull on the lever, and accelerate the engine. Bingo!

Since we had to keep the compartment open for the string to pass, the diesel engine was making a cacophony. Sabrina wore big earmuffs to shield the noise. “If the string breaks,” I told her, pointing into the sauna-like heat of the engine compartment, “You’ll have to jump in there and pull on this level over here, ok?” She nodded with wide-eyed apprehension.

“Ready to go!” I told Gary and Ethan, our lookouts on the deck. They smiled, not quite knowing just how jury-rigged our throttle cable was. No need to cause alarm, I thought!

The string solution worked like a charm – thanks to Sabrina’s diligent effort. We motored through the pass and then meandered through a series of coral bommies to reach the anchorage. Poor Sabrina was feeling disoriented facing backwards, watching the landscape whiz by on either side, focused on her task of pulling the throttle string. She was relieved when I gave her the word to relax — we could now easily coast in idle into our anchor spot . We dropped the hook and the boat was safe. Success!

The next day, I removed the throttle cable — it had broken just a few millimeters from the end, where the metal threads attach onto the engine lever. Wow, there is no way we’d even suspect that strong metal rod might ever fail! 4000 hours of engine vibration in one little spot did the trick!

We have a spare throttle cable on Aldebaran but we didn’t need to use it — there were still sufficient threads in the existing throttle cable’s metal end to reattach to the lever. Two hours later, hands filthy with rust & grease, the boat was back in action. However, we weren’t planning on going anywhere. It was time to relax in Makemo’s west pass, and enjoy what this wild remote area had to offer.

When $20 is better than $200

Minutes before reeling in the beautiful yellow fin tuna, we were motoring along the calm ocean with little wind. Then, all at once the sky darkened with foreboding clouds, and the winds started howling. As if on cue, both reels started zipping off at once! It was a double hook up synched with the passing squall.

In the scramble to batten down the hatches and safely reel in our fish, one of the two tunas got away – which is better that than losing the lure to opportunistic sharks. Those tuna are probably worth $200 in the US! But hey, we need to keep those precious lures safe for the next battle.

Example 1. It can be better to have a $20 lure that catches many fish, than buying just one $200 fish.

Now, what in heaven’s is Sabrina wearing while filleting our proud catch, you wonder? Well, our snazzy brand name waterproof jackets refuse to keep us dry after just 1yr of wear and tear. So we now resort to wearing the plastic kids raincoat that Pierre and Lianna bought during a thunderstorm in Marquesas while we were walking around town. Note the bright yellow raincoat Kristian was wearing in the last post.

Example 2. Put away the $200 technical jackets – bust out the $20 goofy plastic raincoats, the only things still keeping us dry!

Ahi tuna

Because every time we catch a yellowfin tuna, it’s cause for celebration!! Sushi and seared ahi on the menu for days!

Every fisherman has his favorite lure, and we lost ours last year to a shark who stole our (nearly caught) tuna. So when Sabby was home in January, she made it a priority to replace her favorite trusty yellow and green feathery lure that always seemed to catch us tuna.

We opened the new lure, secured it to our trolling line, and gave it a lucky kiss before tossing it overboard to drag behind the boat as we sailed to Makemo. Within a couple hours, it worked its magic !
Gary reeled in this beautiful yellow fin tuna, and Kristian swooped it into the net. This lovely tuna would feed us splendidly for many days.

Escape from Haraiki

It was time to leave the jewel of Haraiki — but now we were more intimidated about exiting than we were entering! As they say, ignorance is bliss….

The South swell was calm, less than 1m, so we weren’t worried about the waves at the pass (but a South-West swell was due to arrive the next day, so we couldn’t dilly-dally). We were concerned about the coral minefield. Although the sun was shining and visibility was much better than when we entered the atoll, we didn’t want to take any chances.

Haraiki’s entrance runs for 1/2 mile with depth of 10-15ft deep coral. Pinnacles of coral rise to the surface in random fashion, creating a minefield for a sailboat.

A THOROUGH SURVEY

To give ourselves the best chance of exiting without hitting coral, we did a thorough survey with the dinghy. We took it through the entire pass, marking waypoints on the handheld GPS for the route that appeared best, along with notes such as “turn hard right after this spot”.

We transferred all 20 waypoints marking the “best route” across the minefield, from the handheld GPS (the grey device on the table) to the ship’s GPS .

 

 

Our first step in our survey was to fly Honey Bee, our Mavic drone. From high in the air we could easily see the coral bommies and find the path of least resistance. We followed with the dinghy marking waypoints throughout the pass.

Doing the first step of our survey with the Honey Bee sped things up as we got a bird’s eye view of the terrain.

This aerial shot looking straight down captures what we were looking for: dark blue water (deeper) indicating the best route to take around the coral bommies. The Crux were the two areas of tight coral pinnacles, evident at the top and bottom of the frame – the tightest corners we had to make.

We had a good grasp on the zone we called “The Crux” (it was challenging due to the tight corners we’d have to navigate around dry coral)  but the area closest to the pass was not so straightforward. The depth was hard to discern from the air or from the dinghy. So we jumped into the water for an underwater snorkeling survey.

The area close to the pass was difficult to evaluate from the air — note all the scattered coral pinnacles toward the center of the frame, which aren’t “dry coral”, but might be less than 6 feet deep, posing a hazard to Aldebaran.

The four of us – Ethan, Gary, Sabrina and I, swam through different sections of the pass entrance and re-grouped to take note of the shallow zones. There were several narrow, underwater coral pinnacles coming to within 4 feet of the surface, which is Aldebaran’s draft, so we had to take note of them and find a better path.

Ethan swimming across a shallow spot of 2-3 feet deep, right in the middle of the pass.

 

We got a chance to enjoy the gorgeous underwater scenery of Haraiki’s coral one last time… the coral structures were  a source of great beauty and inspiration, but also a source of deep anxiety for navigating our boat!

Farewell black-tips!

Upon returning to Aldebaran, this rain band moved through and blotched out the visibility… so we waited 30 minutes for the skies to clear again. I’m happy they did!

Raising anchor… chain gets easily wrapped around coral bommies in the Tuamotos, so it can be really helpful to have a snorkeler in the water, directing the boat and the crew lifting the anchor. This helps ease strain on the windlass, and makes the process much faster. “Floating the chain” with 2 or 3 buoys also helps keep the chain from snagging on the coral bottom.

Ethan at the bow raising anchor chain with the windlass. Meanwhile, I’m in the water directing the boat to move around the bommies, so as to free the anchor chain that is being lifted.

One last view of the beach in front of our anchorage — spectacular! We used this landmark to evaluate the tides to ensure we would be exiting closer to high tide with as much water under our keel as possible. We were grateful this timing of the tides lined up with good overhead sun direction necessary for visibility.

Navigating through the coral minefield with great conditions. Looks like a walk in the park!

The exit was carefully choreographed: we wanted to leave no room for mistakes!  At the helm, I sloooowly followed the GPS waypoints from our survey, and kept an eye on the depth. Nevertheless, I still need a lot of direction from the crew on where exactly to make the turns around the coral bommies (as you can tell, they are invisible from where I stand near the cockpit!) so Sabrina used the VHF radio to communicate from her lookout at the the bow pulpit.

Note the waves crashing at the pass in disorganized fashion. Even though the South swell was less than 1m, occasional sets still pushed through which could be a serious hazard.  Most navigable passes in Tuamotos have depths of 50-90 feet, and the waves peel very predictably along the reef. However, in Haraiki, the waves break in disorganized fashion because it is only 20-30 feet deep for 300 yards out to sea. So once we got to the edge of the pass, after the minefield, we waited a few minutes to observe, before motoring out.

High Five! We are outside the pass, safe and sound!

One last view of Aldebaran at anchor in Haraiki — a gorgeous spot we may never return to. Unless the conditions are absolutely calm, it is just too dangerous to navigate into. We entered only because we weren’t totally aware of how hazardous it would be. Ignorance then, bliss now!

We were through the pass, back in the open sea… back to safety.  We were now enroute to Makemo, the final destination in our 18 day trip with Gary & Ethan.