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,

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)


+ 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.



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.


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.

Spectacular underwater jewels, Haraiki

“Bizarre,” I thought, as I looked at the corals below me. “The sun is already low in the horizon, hidden behind the clouds. The visibility should be marginal. Yet it is so clear. What is going on?” I wondered, looking around with astounding clarity at the diversity of marine creatures.

(Click here for more Green Coco posts about Haraiki atoll, in Tuamotos, French Polynesia)

The Tuamotos is famous for clear water: “100ft plus visibility” is common outside the lagoons, at least. Yet here in Haraiki it was “next level”; the fish & corals looked like a 3D movie, ‘popping’ in the sheer transparency of the water. Part of the reason for picture perfect water, I realized, was the shallowness of the reef pass (10-20ft) and the small size of the atoll, which meant a lack of sediment.

The next surprise: the white tip reef sharks were remarkably… BOLD. Usually they are quite timid, compared to the somewhat more confident black tips, and especially the crazy-eyed, often fearless gray reef sharks. But here the white tips were swimming right up to us, not veering away as they usually do when we face them. It was unnerving. 

“Errr maybe it’s shark feeding hour, and we should come back tomorrow morning,” I rallied Gary and Ethan back to the dinghy. 

Although the white tips were more relaxed the next day, they were still the most curious sharks I’ve ever encountered. They kept doing loops to check us out – not menacing, just really curious. Watching  from this close was transfixing: their cat-like narrow eyes, and bodies undulating like dancing snakes. 

If the multitudes of sharks ever got boring, you could spend hours looking at the nuanced details of every coral formation in Haraiki’s pass. It was a huge carpet of fervent life. 

The Tuamotos is renown as a rare archipelago in the world whose corals are improving in quality. The lack of human population & fishing pressure, and possibly cooler water temperatures, are some of the reasons why the coral in Tuamotos is in great shape – at least outside the lagoons (in comparison, inside the lagoons there is a widespread degree of mortality in corals, especially near villages; and in the Society Islands, much more so.)

However, in none of the other 10 Tuamoto atolls we’ve visited, I’d never seen coral at this level of peak health (Tahanea and Makemo are next in line). The corals’  colors, shapes, and textures were a true thing of beauty.  The shallow water  created fantastic lighting, and closeness made it feel like we were hovering over an entire city of coral. We floated past sky scrapers of coral and looked down at suburban neighborhoods; their resident fish and organisms flying through the water column like futuristic self-driving vehicles, commuting to work or play.

Black tip sharks

When we were exhausted from being underwater, we explored the motus surrounding the boat, collected shells from the coral-debris beach, and harvested coconuts.

The “land” in the Tuamoto atolls is mostly composed of coral debris which is washed up by the waves and currents. If the coral stopped growing, these islands would disappear.

Well, if we got stuck here, we could surely survive on these huge coconuts!

Despite being amazed by Haraiki’s underwater world, and thoroughly enjoying  the deserted island, a thought still nagged at our brains. We still had to navigate Aldebaran back out of Haraiki, through the minefield of coral and breaking waves in the pass, before the next swell was due to arrive.

We still needed to “escape” this little paradise…

We left our homeport 3 years ago…

On March 26th, 2015, Aldebaran sailed out of Santa Barbara harbor heading south. That was exactly three years ago. As we sit inside our boat rocking in a Tuamoto lagoon, listening to the humm of the trade winds in the rigging, we dug up some nostalgic pictures from Departure Day…

March 26, 2015. Ed France rode his bike to the harbor to see us off.  He is cherished in Santa Barbara as the bicycle godfather of BiciCentro; but a little known fact is that, if it weren’t for his care of Aldebaran for 2 years (when we were boat partners), we wouldn’t be where we are now. Love you Ed!

In addition, we recently came across farewell messages that friends wrote to us, scribbled on blank labels taped to wine bottles, which we drank along the way (thanks Keri & Bryan for that incredible gift, that kept on giving!)

“Be sure to add some color to your cheeks! Until we meet again, Valle con Dios”
-Mark Weeks
“Dear Aldebaran crew y el Capitan
We hope each sip of this wine brings following seas, fair winds and fuzzy memories! We love you guys,”
-Krista and B.
“We wish we could all fit on the boat with you! All 50 of us !!”

March 25, 2015. On the night before departure, Alex gifted us this hard-bound journal to keep as the official Captain’s Log. It was a welcome touch of tradition, bringing a sense of mystique to our daily log entries on Season 1, sailing down Central America. Of the guys pictured, Alex and Ben joined us for long stints in Costa Rica and Tuamotos; Michael and Ryan were aboard 6 months the first year, and returned the second year (and even kept returning…) These guys have become family to us!


“Much Love and laughter and blessings to all who embark on this epic voyage. May hearts be filled with bliss over and over.”
 “Hi guys!
So excited for your adventure. Always remember that not all who
wander are lost. Enjoy every perfect moment, live each day to the fullest and of course, take lots of photos and post them on Facebook
so we can live vicariously through you…”
-love Michaela
“We are so inspired by your fortitude and vision and courage for taking on this impressive and important endeavor of passion and purpose. With great love and awe,”
-Kimber and Carter

March 23, 2015. Sabrina with a deck-full of provisions from Costco.  Oh, how wondrous are the bulk conveniences of Costco…

“Team Inspire,
How amazing it has been to see this idea go from a glimmer in our eye to
full manifestation. What amazing things you can accomplish with vision and community. Laugh in the face of fears and enjoy the adventures in this beautiful life you have created. Much love,”
-Katniss a.k.a. Sarah F.
 “Keep on
Keepin on!”

Santa Barbara Newspress, February 2015. We called it the “Green” Coconut Run because we wanted to bring back a little ecology into the world of modern cruising sailboats. Its been challenging to do everything we wanted, but we’ve managed a few things along the way: research in micro-plactics, distributing solar lights, and promoting innovative marine reserves (see

“May there be many amazing experiences! Be sure to drink this wine naked under a starry sky! xo,”
-Lindsey G. 
“Close your eyes,
smell the sweet sages
Feel the warm breezes
coming over the mountains
SB will still be here to welcome you back.
Now get out there and savor the tropics and the moment
in front of you.
Love you!”

Thanks to EVERYONE who has helped make this voyage a success for the last 3 years, in small ways and big ways! We are so blessed…

Haraiki’s nearly impossible entrance

This is one of those places that you think: “Well, if we shipwreck here and the trip is done, it will have been worth it.”  It was THAT beautiful.

The dangers weren’t just imaginary: later we learnt from our Tuamotos friends that at least two power boats with copra have been lost to this pass, and they were baffled that we had entered this pass with Aldebaran. We knew it was sketchy but we didn’t realize just how dangerous it was.

(Click here for more Green Coco posts about Haraiki atoll, in Tuamotos, French Polynesia)


Why Haraiki? We are always looking for atolls that are uninhabited yet have navigable passes. We met a couple in their late 50s on a brand-new sailboat that had entered Haraiki and raved about it. While they warned us frankly about the difficulty of the pass, their benchmark for adventure was obviously much higher than I had assumed!

The major problems with entering (and leaving) Haraiki are two-fold: 1) the breaking waves in the pass; and 2) the minefield of coral bommies just inside the very shallow waters. On the plus side, it is a tiny atoll (1nm wide) so the currents are minor.


Haraiki’s pass faces due south, and has no protection from other atolls. The constant stream of swells from the southern hemisphere slams head first into this pass. Forget about ever going here during April to October, at the peak of the south swell season. During November to March, the south swell dies off but there are still pulses of swell that could close out the whole pass for days on end.

We arrived in mid March with a dying south swell, SSW 1.2m going to 0.8m @11 sec. From our forecast, we figured we only had 3-4 days before a 2m @15sec SW swell was arriving, and we’d be stuck inside.


Our friends had entered Haraiki on a monohull, so we figured we’d be ok in our trimaran with shallower draft. The subtle difference: the issue here wasn’t the draft (depth of the water), as much as maneuverability around the pinnacles and coral bommies that sprouted to the surface of the channel (bommies are coral formations that come from deeper water to the surface of the ocean, like apartment buildings in a city of coral).

Turns out our friends on the monohull had an advantage over us: their brand-new 45ft sloop has a bow thruster, which is a little sideways propeller on the bow of the boat. It allows them to spin the boat on a dime, and turn around tight, narrow channels. Meanwhile, our 42ft long 21 ft wide trimaran only has 1 propeller, and turns like a raft in a summer camp; only with lots of persuasion, and without lots of control.

Sabrina at the bow with a portable VHF to communicate with Kristian steering the boat in the cockpit. Gary and Ethan kept watch for hazards on each side of the boat.

This photo illustrates the issues of “visibility”. The glare of the sun (left side of frame) makes going into the sun impossible, compared to where the sun is shining onto (right side of frame). Also compare this photo with the lighting in the photo above with Sabrina holding the VHF, which is into the sun — it is much darker and hard to see. Hence, we must always enter new reef passes and navigate inside unsurveyed lagoons with a favorable angle to the sun. Ideally, when the sun is high (10am-2pm is best) and also slightly behind to prevent glare, can we then see the hazardous shallow coral bommies. This ‘timely precision’ is hard to achieve on a sailboat, given the shifts in weather… making this one of the great challenges of navigating in Tuamotos archipelago.


We sailed overnight from Amanu 150nm. That morning there were baby bird blue skies, so we were optimistic. Then, clouds and light squalls began in the afternoon. It was fairly cloudy when we arrived at Haraiki, putting a damper on our hopes. The visibility was not “stellar” as we had hoped; but at least the sun’s angle was ok.

During the past 7 years we’ve anchored next to many surf spots in our search for off-the-beaten path waves. We’ve steered the boat near big crashing waves and navigated through channels with intense standing waves. Regardless of that experience, upon seeing Haraiki’s pass I was very intimidated!

Overhead waves were breaking on either side of the pass. The channel itself was very hard to identify, because it is only 12-15ft deep. Unlike most atoll reef passes where a deep channel of 40-90 ft is carved by the large forces of water currents, Haraiki is a tiny atoll of only 1nm across, so the currents are minimal. The result is that the waves were shifting and breaking irregularly. Disconcertingly, the swells were standing up in the middle of the channel, threatening to break, and wavelets would occasionally cap over in the rough water. We were considering giving up.

From afar in the lumpy seas, we watched the waves on the pass for 25 minutes. Eventually we gained confidence in the timing of the swell and pattern of breaking waves. We planned the approach at a diagonal angle to the pass, starting close to the western side and moving to mid channel.

Then we went for it…

Despite the warnings, Gary was happy to ride the bucking bronco on the bow. He and Ethan are old time surfers and were getting a perverse joy from us surfing Aldebaran down the waves in the reef pass.

Our hearts were pounding as waves crashed on the reef next to us, and a large swell rose behind us. Would it break on us? Would Aldebaran’s design as a forty-foot surfboard now be tested? I steered to starboard away from the peak of the lump approaching us, and Aldebaran began to surf down the swell, picking up speed from 6 to 8 to 10 knots. The wave was breaking 150ft away, which is just a stone’s throw! Fortunately, where we were, it didn’t get steep and break; the wave rolled under us. We had timed the sets well and entered into the lagoon. What a relief!

But there was no time to relax. We were immediately confronted with the minefield of coral bommies littering the lagoon, which we now had to navigate around.


What we were saying as we entered Haraiki. This aerial photo was taken with our Honey Bee (mavic drone), which we flew once we were inside and safely anchored.

From the satellite imagery (see top photo of this post) we had an idea that the western side of the channel was probably deeper. Our friends who had entered Haraiki confirmed this is the way they went. Yet, even in perfect visibility and light wind, this channel would be very stressful on a sailboat. The maze-like “channel” hovers around 12ft deep, blanketed by a carpet of  stunning coral reefs; this blanket of coral makes it very difficult to evaluate depth from a sailboat, and discern whether that “darker patch” could be a pinnacle of rock sticking straight up.

The cloudy conditions also did not help with the visibility. We were struggling to see more than 1 boat length ahead, even from Sabrina’s vantage point on the bow. On the positive side, the wind was a gentle 6-8kts, which allowed us to crawl along very slowly, while retaining steering control of the boat. The lightly ebbing tide also helped me keep steerage (if the tide were entering, it would push us with more speed toward hazards).

NAVIGATION NOTE: Counter-intuitively, the light breeze we had is much better than no breeze. If the wind is totally calm (close to zero) it creates a mirror-like surface on the water, and it’s nearly impossible to see hazards below. In fact, when we are navigating across unsurveyed lagoons, it is much easier to see coral bommies and underwater hazards when the wind is strong, as the wavelets and color contrast become more evident. Dead calm conditions can spell disaster and the common understanding is that it’s best to stop the boat and wait for the wind to return.


The carpet of coral just a few feet under the boat. 10 feet of water over sand is one thing; 10 feet of water over hard coral sprouting in spires every which way, is a very different thing!

Sabrina was at the bow giving directions while I was at the cockpit steering the boat. We communicated non-stop on the VHF, while Gary and Ethan chimed in from their lookout positions on the amas. I reported every turn of the wheel, every change in throttle. Sabrina reported every hazard the crew saw from deck. We were a well-greased machine; like a basketball player in “the zone”, 100% focused for about ten minutes.

There were several near-misses. A few times, the coral was 1ft deep just 6 feet from the outside edge of the boat. We did our best to keep the main hull, which is 4ft deep, in a deeper area, while the amas, which are only 1/2 ft deep, were not as big a concern for us.  Given everything, we are still not exactly sure how we didn’t run into anything!

Aerial view of Haraiki: Aldebaran anchored, sheltered by the motu from the east wind, and a long finger of coral reef sheltered us from the north. The reef pass is seen in the distance. The anchorage is spectacular.

We were ecstatic and relieved to arrive inside the lagoon, past all the minefield of coral. And mentally exhausted… as shown by Ethan in the picture below…

Ethan chilling in a pool of water during our beach exploration shortly after arrival. Unwinding as tiny fish gently pecked at his face like a fancy day spa. Lets just say he needed it after the stress of our arrival!

Amanu is so picturesque!

We sailed a few hours from Hao straight to the pass in Amanu. With its bold white church, lush foliage, and narrow entrance, it is one of the prettiest passes we have ever seen. We arrived with a mild outgoing current, conditions were calm, and we motored in without a problem (Oddly, our Cmap charts were incorrect which is unusual here in French Polynesia’s reef passes, as the French have generally done a good job surveying the entrances to atolls; even though the vast majority remains “unsurveyed”).

Around 300 people live in Amanu. There is no airplane landing strip, which makes it only one of a few atolls with a navigable pass and no airplane access.

How gorgeous is this?? Aldebaran at the anchorage just south of town. It has good!protection from the East to North to West. We dropped the hook inside what we called the “natural breakwater” anchorage. The breakwater surrounding the boat looks like dry reef, but it is actually 1-2 feet deep, so there is more swell action that you’d expect by seeing this photo. Note the white sailboat in the distance, in the next “inside lobe”, further left as you’re looking at the picture. That’s what the next picture is focusing on.

The “inside lobe” with a sailboat anchored inside. Fantastic spot! They had bow and stern anchors to prevent from swinging into the shallow coral reef. This inside lobe has better protection from the wind and swell, especially from the SE, which the outside “natural breakwater” did not offer.

A satellite image of the Amanu pass (top of image), the village (middle of image), and the anchorage (the reef structures in the bottom of image). Since navigation charts are incomplete, we often use satellite images to plan our entry into these atolls. This is from Open CPN software, so I can access it offline.

Squall approaching the anchorage. Although our natural breakwater anchorage was rougher than the inside lobe, we like it because its a shorter dinghy ride to the pass/village (a wet ride at that!). Also, there is outstanding snorkeling in the area just outside the natural breakwater.

Captain K trying to camouflage with the fish.

Needle fish blending into the surface of the water.

The beach motus are idyllic spots. It was nice sand so we did some jogging (and napping) here!

Rainbows are a-plenty in French Polynesia, and we never tire of them… Amanu did not disappoint!

Provisions from the Maristella

If only I had known the challenge of getting diesel from the “Maristella” ship! It arrives in Hao every 3 weeks or so and sells a drum of diesel of 200 liters (53 gallons).

It had been months since we’d filled Aldebaran’s fuel tank. The constant trade winds helped us to keep sailing and hibernating Mr. Isuzu.

Then in January, I had finally planned to refuel at the dock at Marina Taina (while in Tahiti to pickup Sabrina). But the weather was bad, with stormy north-west winds. The nearly 60 mile roundtrip didn’t seem appealing in those conditions. So we just hunkered down in the sheltered bay of Taravao.

However, that meant we needed to top off our diesel tank here in the atoll of Hao, in eastern Tuamotos. I thought that being an ex-military base, Hao would have a fuel station with a dock. Not so! The only option was to purchase a drum of diesel from the ship, and syphon it into my fuel jugs, and then lug it by skiff to Aldebaran, which was anchored offshore.

Syphoning diesel into and out of jerry cans proved to be a mess. To complicate matters, as the fuel reached the bottom of the drum, the diesel was filthy. Oh great. Now I had to filter everything slowly into my tank over several tedious hours, all the while making more or a mess. The only saving grace were two fishermen who kindly helped me, seeing as I was looking like a lost gringo.

Besides diesel, the ship also sets up a mini “store” that sells vegetables and food staples for the 6 hours it is in port. If you miss it, you can buy food at the store at a higher premium. Placing the food order was similar to placing an order in a sushi bar where you write the quantity of what you want from a long list of items. How many kilos of carrots did I want? Shucks I don’t know.

Result: I purchased too much (most of the produce is refrigerated aboard the ship and won’t keep terribly well). Ipu and his wife Alda, who helped us so much with laundry, ended up the happy recipients of a big box of veggies.

They came aboard Aldebaran with their kids for an afternoon of boat fun. They left with veggies, more gifts, and big smiles on their faces.

Coconuts and Fish: a floating lunch in Hao

“When we go camping in the other motus,” said our friend Tevahine, “all we take is flour and a cooking pot. Everything else is there: coconuts, crabs, fish.” This was her short way of explaining the delightfully simple meal she was now preparing with us.

We fetched brown coconuts from the ground around her property, which in contrast with the green coconuts, have already fallen from the tree. The brown coconuts are the ones used for ‘copra’, which is coconut meat dried for body products. I grated the coconut meat, and Sabrina pressed the grated meat through a cloth to extract fresh, delicious coconut milk.

Tevahine then took a long pole with a hook on the end and pulled green coconuts that hung from the tree. She hacked off the tops and poured out the coconut water. Note, the commonly misunderstood distinction between coconut “water”, and the aforementioned coconut “milk”.

Tevahine then had us mix the coconut water with flour into a dough. Once she deemed the dough mixture ready, Sabrina spooned out small chunks of dough into a pot of boiling water, and cooked the dough morsels into sweet doughy nuggets until they floated to the surface indicating they were done.

After draining, Tevahine poured the freshly pressed coconut milk over the yummy morsels. It was just like sweet gnocchi!

Tevahine also made “poisson cru”. This is the local favorite dish made of raw fish. She whisked up a tasty vinaigrette to marinate the dish. We carried our picnic down to the beach to cool off while we ate.

Once at the beach we found a plastic table, then placed the table in the water (which floated!) and adorned it with Tevahine’s sarong. It was our first floating lunch ever!

The contrast between the savory poisson cru and the sweet coconut gnocchi was absolutely delightful. Eating while standing in chest deep calm turquoise waters seemed to add to our taste bud satisfaction. Our plates rested on the plastic table which bobbed gently in the water. This was an incredibly simple and tasty lunch made almost entirely from things the Tuamotans harvest around their houses – in a most unique setting!

Presidential visit

On the second week of our visit to Hao the president of French Polynesia came to visit the atoll. As a welcome, the locals put on a traditional dance and drumming performance.

After the event a lovely lady in her early 30s approached us to offer leis made from coconut fronds. “Welcome to Hao!” She exclaimed with a big smile. Her name is Tevahine, which in Tahitian means “the woman”. Simple and effective!

She was quite gracious and invited us to visit her house for lunch. This meant that she had to borrow bicycles from relatives in the village, since her house was a 30 minute bike ride away. When all was arranged, we rode together along the streets of Hao with our new friend.

Photo below, from left to right: Tevahine; Sabrina wearing the coconut lei; Tevahine’s aunt; and Ipu (who is our laundry angel and first host in Hao), holding his guitar which he played during the performance. Ipu is also Tevahine’s uncle. Of course, everyone is related!

Powerplant Aldebaran

It’s been 2 full years since Aldebaran was connected to city electricity – which sailors like to call “shore power”. Our last time at a marina plugged into power was Costa Rica in early ’16 . We did dock at Tahiti’s Marina Taina for a night last December, but they have 220v power, and our boat runs on 110v.

Being fully self-sufficient from an energy standpoint is fairly tricky. Our batteries are supposed to last 4-6 years, but started giving us serious problems after 3 years. This is because they aren’t regularly getting the complete charge they want; which shore power in a marina does so well. This began the third phase of improvements in the boat’s electrical system since we left California.

Here are the 5 ways that “Powerplant Aldebaran” has been trying to handle its energy needs:

  1. More power production: We installed 5 more flexible solar panels onto the hard roof we built in Ecuador (for the panels, water collection, and better shade). Our crew Jesse and Anna brought the panels to the Galapagos in a bodyboard bag- legends! Then we installed them mid Pacific on Day 4 of 21 with Spencer and Michael Payne (was this the first ever mid Pacific solar array installation??) Now we have a theoretical 900w of solar power, although in practice, due to shading, a bit over about half of that power is being produced at peak hours.
  2. More battery storage: Our battery bank began to fail in November, so we had to replace all five batteries in Raiatea, allowing us to increase storage from 550 to 600 amp hours. We are maxed out in terms of space and weight for battery storage, unless we had ‘beaucoup bucks’ for Lithium batteries.
  3. Battery Monitoring: During the battery installation the electrician in Raiatea managed to short circuit the battery monitor (I was so mad!) so we had to replace it, which just got finished after countless hours of wiring. It is easy to view voltage on a boat- but the beauty of the battery monitor is that it gives you detailed info about amperage. This is like seeing the real-time fuel consumption in a Hybrid car, as opposed to just the fuel tank gauge.
  4. Lots of Switches. Being able to turn on-off everything easily is important and has created endless hours of wiring work for us. Latest example: we just installed two new switch panels to be able to turn off the solar arrays independently and troubleshoot them, as some panel connections have been occasionally failing, and it’s hard to figure out which is bad.
  5. Efficiency! The desire for increased comfort (lights, fans, autopilot, charging electronics) keeps placing increased demand on power. We keep battling this by installing LED bulbs, increasing passive ventilation, shading to reduce cabin heat, improving the fridge’s performance, etc. to reduce the energy draw.

In the last month we probably spent two weeks working on wiring and connections, which has been tedious but gratifying. The latest installations are the three below: solar array switch panels, battery monitor, and inverter switch to turn it on-off from the galley.

We are working hard to keep the electrons flowing!

Aerial View of Otepe, Hao’s village

Since Hao used to be a French military base for 40 years, the infrastructure is really nice. A large wharf for the ships has a beautiful inner basin for small boats to dock and a boatramp. The two grocery stores are very modern and well-stocked by Tuamoto standards.

There is even a pseudo “marina” less than a mile from the wharf, which cruising yachts are able to use. This is handy because during the dry season, ‘maramu’ winds from the south-east blow along the length of the atoll and cause uncomfortable fetch (waves from wind blowing across water) at the village anchorage. It also offers decent protection from north-west winds during the wet season.

The village of Otepe is located on the west side of the atoll, which shelters the prevailing easterly trade winds and generally offers calm waters. We’ve stayed anchored offshore which we like for the breeze and privacy; at risk of getting snagged on the coral bommies (underwater coral formations) that litter the ocean floor; easy to view from this aerial shot. To overcome this problem, we float the anchor chain on three buoys 10 feet from the sea floor, and have a scuba tank ready to dive to free the anchor chain, 60 feet deep.

When the French military ran its base in Hao, we heard that as many as 3,000 people lived here, having relocated from surrounding atolls for the jobs. Now only 800-900 people live in Hao; many have migrated to Tahiti in search of work.

The nuclear test sites located about two hundred miles south (atolls Mururoa and Fantagaufa) were the focus of the military base. Besides those atolls, which are still highly restricted, Hao is the southernmost atoll with a navigable ship’s pass. Hence, Hao continues to be the administrative and educational center for the southern Tuamotos. All the school kids come here for high school, and many families move here to be with their kids.

People work in fishing, copra, and government jobs (teaching, health care, administration). Although the loss of jobs in the post-military phase is a problem, the general sentiment among locals appears to be relief that the nuclear tests are finally over.

Laundry Salvation!

Praise be to the god of fresh linen! Praise be to Alda, Ipu’s wife, who kindly devoted her afternoon to running her small laundry machine in our service!

We hung the clothes to dry on the “beach” in front of the house, Aldebaran out front. Not a shabby view. Alda’s super cute chubby grandson walked around inspecting our work.

Arguably, laundry is one of the most difficult parts of cruising French Polynesia. IF you can find someone to do it, laundry usually costs $10-20 per (small) load. Is that fluff and folded? No way, dry your own clothes! It costs a small fortune here (the complete opposite of Central America, which is laundry utopia).

To subsidize this cost, we’ve been known to trade rum for laundry, which is also over priced in these islands. Lucky for us, we still have a few cases of wholesale priced rum from Ecuador. But not always are laundry owners drinkers.

Once we were so desperate we paid $20 per load and still had to hand wash because the machine was so pathetic. So the eight loads of quality laundry that Alda did for us was an enormous gift!

This was a major relief to the “culture shock” that Sabrina was experiencing upon return to the boat… which always smells, uh… stale compared to fine laundered clothes at mom’s house. Most certainly helps smooth out the reintegration to boat life!

Fortunately Sabrina brought back perfume from US, which is highly coveted by the local ladies, and she gifted these to a very happy Alda.

Ipu, host of Hao

It took us 2 days to clean up the boat after the passage from Tahiti: dry all the towels, shop vac the bilges, and finally relax.

On the third day we went to the village in Hao. Within an hour a funny fellow named Ipu adopted us, and spent the morning walking us around. He is constantly joking and laughing. With medical training in the French army, Ipu had visited all the remote atolls as a traveling doctor. Now he was enjoying his retirement with good cheer, welcoming visitors to his atoll.

In the past, Ipu had worked on the army base in Hao. The base closed down (for the most part) ten years ago. Hao was an important military site for forty years. It was the headquarters for the infamous nuclear testing that France conducted in the remote atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa, 250nm to the south. The nuclear testing ended in the 1990s.

Ipu said he loves welcoming sailing yachts to Hao. He insisted on lending Sabrina his bicycle as we hunted for internet and visited the gendarme to check in (port captain/police).

And what about laundry? “Bien sûr!” Ipu agreed, “Come to my house tomorrow and you can do all your laundry — and you can do my laundry too!” He laughed heartily.

ALL our laundry?! Do you have any idea what you’re offering, Ipu?? It was a warm welcome to Hao.