Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Kevin and I wanted to thank you both for an unbelievable vacation. Both the highs and the lows are an experience we will soon not forget, although it's only the highs I can think of right now. The amazing ocean life, both on land and in the water. The different people and their boats we met and will remember forever. The infinite stars, beautiful moon and sun rises. The sunrises on Moorea were amazing. The indescribable blue of the water. It's really interesting when I mention to people the demographic that we met sailing. "how can they afford to live like that"? or " they must be rich". I just laugh and tell them anything is possible when you are determined, aren't focused on material wealth and chose to live your dream. I am also getting a lot of comments on" what a glamorous way to live" or "how romantic". Again I just laugh, if they only knew how glamorous and romantic sea sickness is or staying awake all night to the rocking of the boat and the sound of chain rubbing on coral! Wondering how big the swells will get.
Hyo, I am still in awe when I think of the wonderful meals you produced in a three foot square space and with limited resources. Fresh hot coffee every morning regardless of "conditions" I know I would not have been able to do the same. Mike, thank you for your fishing skills, I know I will never eat fish so fresh ever again. It was also a very special treat to be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with someone so vast with knowledge about the area. I know I not only appreciate the education about every little life form, but I also felt much safer knowing that you would warn us of potential dangers. I had know idea needle fish have killed people! Thanks to you both for taking care of us, giving us the trip of a lifetime, and keeping us safe.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Point Venus, Arue, Tahiti
S17 31.4 W149 32.1
We raised Tahiti out of the horizon at about 1 AM yesterday. Under a near full moon, the grand outline of the island came into focus as we sailed in light winds carrying all the sail that IO could manage. I spent my shift (midnight till morning) silently working the winds from three squalls to get us near shore. As the sun rose, we could make out Point Venus, the historical landing point of both Captians Cook and Bligh and the sight where the mutineers of the sailing ship Bounty returned to after they took control. We were guided into a local marina overlooking this place by our friends aboard Totem and Capaz.
While approaching Tahiti, at about 2 AM, I heard a French voice come on the VHF and give some coordinates that sounded close to us. A minute later the same voice, only speaking good English spoke again: "This is the French War-ship P802 calling the vessel off our port side at coordinates xxxxx, traveling on a course of 241 degrees at 4 knots, do you read me?" Crap, that's us! Seriously, does the navy of every country that we visit have to bother me? I mean really, we are the smallest boat on the bloody ocean, how much threat could we be? It turned out to be no big deal as usual, they just wanted to confirm our status and get our country of registration. It was most likely some bored radio operator with nothing better to do. But after I was hailed by the nuclear submarine in the strait of Juan de Fuca aboard my last boat (buy me a drink and I'll tell you that story some time), I find being hailed by the military of any country, simply annoying! And just for interest sake, since IO is a Canadian-registered vessel, we are bound by some archaic law that says IO is, in part, owed by the Queen of England and if any navy other than the Canadian navy tries to board her, it is considered an act of war! Cool, huh? If a foreign country wants to board us, they have to send their coast guard; it can't be the navy (as was done in the US several times and in the Marquesas).
As it turns out, we arrived here at the same time as Escapade, the other 30-foot sailboat that we met in La Cruz. We all went ashore to do the usual, find laundry, a grocery store and generally explore. While we were ashore, we saw a poster with a beautiful Tahitian woman on it saying that the 50th anniversary Miss Tahiti was being held tonight. The general consensus between Jim, Brendon, myself and surprisingly Hyo was that we definitely needed to experience some Tahitian culture. I will say that after being at sea for so long, all that drumming, dancing, hip shaking and exposed skin.WOW. And remember that I was with a beautiful woman the whole time at sea! (I think young Brendon was well and truly enthralled by that particular experience.) I admit that I may have been counted as one of the mutineers if that was what I was to return to!
Three days at sea is still a long passage, especially when the winds are light and the slatting of the main sail was enough to blow out three webbing sail slide attachments! More repairs, more sewing, but I cannot sew until I fix our "new" broken inverter. The Autopilot is busted, the sink fresh water pump is leaking and the list goes on and on. Like I have said before, the highs are so high and lows so low. Despite my whining about the little ongoing repairs, I am actually very grateful. There are two boats beside us that lost their masts somewhere between here and the Marquesas and we have heard many other stories of seriously broken boats including one that was abandoned during the major crossing. IO has been strong and not failed us in any way.
Position: S 16 34.4 W146 57.1
We are sailing to Tahiti. That has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? The winds are light but fair and we have said good-bye to the Tuamotus. They have lived up to my expectations. While planning this trip to the South Pacific, there were a couple of places that captured my imagination more than the rest. The deep blue lagoons of the Tuamotus offered me all the remoteness of location and pristine wildlife I had expected. We also ate our fair share of that pristine wildlife, specifically the lobster and the parrot fish! While hanging out with the locals and fellow cruising spear-fisherman, I think I captured parrot fish in every way possible, from throwing 9' long Tahitian spears, using beach seine nets, spearfishing while on snorkel, and of course, the machete fishing.
You may wonder why I picked on the parrot fish when there are so many tasty reef fish to choose from. Ciguatera poisoning is a toxin that affects reef fish in the tropics and is not unlike paralytic shell fish poisoning (red tide) which we have in Canada and Northwest US. This toxin is accumulated in the food chain when grazing fish eat coral that contains a toxic single-celled protozoan (dinoflagellate). This toxin can then be magnified up through the food chain as small and large predators in turn consume the toxic grazing fish. The toxin does not affect the fish but is very toxic to mammals and a dose can cause everything from stomach pain and diarrhea to paralysis and death in humans. We actually met one boat family that had spearfished on the wrong reef and got very sick to the point of needing IV morphine to deal with the pain.
We were fortunate to be able to share this place with many new and old friends and are looking forward to the Society Islands, which have been described by some of the cruisers ahead of us as being "the most beautiful place they have ever seen".
Monday, June 21, 2010
Nothing lasts forever. I could have stayed near Wallis for at least another week, but we had to move anchorages due to weather. It was a touching scene of good-byes. Although we miss him, we are within sight of Wallis' motu and this evening, we saw his fire signal. All is well with Wallis tonight.
Friday, June 18, 2010
June 17, 2010 - Toau
Anchored in position 16 00.67'S 145 54.80'W
Just when I was starting to think that the postcard picture of turquoise blue lagoons and palm trees seem all the same in the atolls, we moved further south near a beautiful motu (atoll island) and found our paradise. It is absolutely spectacular here. As we approached the shore, noting some houses but no boats, we comment to each other that we are not really craving to be alone right now. And that is when Wallis emerged out of the trees and welcomed us.
Both yesterday and today, Wallis, Mike, and I went spear fishing on the nearby reefs. It is so nice that Mike has a spear fishing partner. Communicating with "C'est bon!" and "No good", hunting seems like an activity that does not require much common language. Besides, you don't speak underwater anyway. It is great that we have local knowledge about which fish are safe from ciguatera poisoning. Getting into our dinghy, Wallis was not shy about expressing his apprehension about the stability of our "petit bato" equipped with oars and a two-horse power engine. (We acquired this engine from another boat back in Nuku Hiva and the little cute engine has extended our playground much farther now.)
Anyway, my job was to take underwater pictures and look out for sharks. After the last couple of "get out of the water!" episodes, I have to admit I'm a bit apprehensive about seeing a grey reef shark appear any time now. I can easily hear the two spear guns firing underwater, so I swim towards the latest catch, and the fish is quickly placed inside the dinghy. The rest of the time, I can leisurely observe parrot fish, unicorn fish, squirrel fish, surgeon fish, groupers, needle fish, etc. and enjoy the corals. I'm enamoured with the giant clams. They display a palate full of beautiful green, purple, and blue colors and pulse, as if to say, "Kiss me!".
Although I don't engage in the activity, it is quite fun to observe the boys spear fishing. In Fakarava, I watched a very skilled local dude dive swiftly, hold himself on a part of a rock and level himself with the fish, and shoot his spear gun with amazing accuracy. It was very graceful. Wallis, maneuvering a spear gun that is longer than his own height, dove so deep for so long, that it was easy to forget that he's underwater. Every time he came up, he laughed, "Very GOOD! Very GOOD!" super giddy, we could not help but laugh with him. Mike dives deep and for a long time, easily on par with the locals. He looks quite beautiful, too. (Especially with the badass tattoo.)
Yesterday evening, we enjoyed our catch roasted over the fire, sitting by a table on the beachfront, watching the sunset. Wallis' dog (Diablo) and cat (Lolita) joined us. Today, Wallis quenched our thirst with coconut milk, made poisson cru with fresh coconut cream, and taught us how to make coconut bread (pain coco) using an oil drum and a metal roofing as an oven - Voila and fantastic! Maybe we're supposed to have certain servings of each recommended food group every day, but I am sure happy with fish and coconuts alone. It's certainly better than the ultra-processed pasta dish I made using canned meat, bendy carrots, and mystery spice in a package.
Wallis owns no shoes. He asked if we had any, so I gave him my Holey Soles. I had nothing else that would fit his wide but small feet. Despite this, when we go for a walk, he still wears no shoes. I can't imagine how he does it because I can feel the sharp coral bits on the beach through my Chaco sandals! Crazy!
Wallis and Mike are both apologetic about not speaking each other's language. We feel more embarrassed because we're the visitors. Nonetheless, we have fun learning words in both French and Tahitian. We learned that he has seven siblings and one 7-year-old daughter. We learned that every night at 6PM, he makes a fire to signal to the other living beings in this atoll, about 4 miles away, a signal that all is well. When one of the three fires are not lit, they are aware that something is wrong. We learned that he chooses to be in Toau and is happy to be here. It is inspiring to meet such a genuinely happy person. Each time after spear fishing, he says "Merci" repeatedly, when we are the ones thankful that he's hanging out with us. We learn to be happy and thankful.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Position 15 57.8S / 145 52.1W
Here in the Tuamotus, the local people do not measure a shark by the overall length but rather describe the girth of the shark's chest as an indicator of size. I knew the girth of this particularly large Grey Reef shark intimately as I stared directly at it advancing toward me in an aggressive and menacing manor. Just before it reached me, it veered off flashing an arched back (indicating aggression) as it swam around for another pass where it again approached me head on. "GET OUT OF THE WATER!" I yelled to Hyo as I swam rapidly towards the dinghy! That was the second time in less than 24 hours that a large Grey Reef shark (the notably more aggressive of the common local species) has forced me out of the water. The previous night I had been spear fishing near the boat where we were anchored near the Toau Pass. I had speared a large Bumphead parrot fish (Scarus perrico) and unfortunately it had gotten off my spear, and had bled profusely as it swam to a small coral head. I reloaded my spear and my lungs and had just submerged to descend the 25 feet and finish the job when the 6-foot long barrel-chested (large girth) Gray shark arrived on the scene. I aborted and called "GET OUT OF THE WATER" to Hyo and by the time I had gotten back to IO, a mere 40 feet away I saw several Black Tips and the large Grey circling the coral head.
Now this second scenario was fine and justified in my mind and fit my rationale as a biologist and fisherman. Remember that I had swam and SCUBA dove with over 200 hundred of Gray Reef sharks in the Fakarava pass. This time, I speared a fish near the pass (where most Gray Reef sharks hang out during the day) where the possibility of bringing in sharks that are conditioned to the sound of the spear gun is high. It was a large Parrot fish and the unfortunate gut-shot had incurred a lot of blood loss, so justifiably I was not surprised at the sharks arriving so quickly. Nor was I surprised at their searching behavior and disinterest of me. But, still best to get out of the water in a calm and controlled manner.
What bothers me about the first account is that we were not spear fishing or otherwise doing anything that we have not done before. We had taken the dinghy out to snorkel the pass during the incoming flood tide. We had seen another boat do the same on the previous day. In fact, they had floated it twice and told us that it was good and noted how many sharks there were. So when we got in the water and within a mere 30 seconds I was being confronted by this aggressive Gray Reef shark, I was admittedly surprised! For the record, I would NOT describe my reaction to be near or in the order of true panic, but I was fast, reactive and perhaps a bit hasty! I was back in the dinghy faster than I have ever been and my heart was racing! Upon reflection I should have stayed in the water near the dinghy and watched the sharks' behavior in a calm and perhaps more aggressive manner on my part.
This incident has made me feel a bit sheepish as I have now said to many many cruisers (now being well known as the local marine biologist!) that "the local sharks are harmless as long as you pay attention to their behavior and are not spear fishing or doing other things that might provoke them". We did move further south into the atoll and I have been spear fishing since then with no sharks being drawn in.
We had the incredible experience of meeting two local teenagers that love fishing. After working hard at their copra (dried coconut meat) farms all day, they still set out at night to go fishing and lobster hunting. Dressed for the kill in a one-piece wetsuit and with open rain barrels strapped on their backs, they carried ultra bright white-kerosene lanterns. These skilled boys taught us how to collect lobsters on the outer reef at night and introduced me to "machete fishing" which is ridiculously fun and productive. Basically, while you are looking for lobsters, many of the reef fish are sleeping in small tide pools and you get to whack them in the head with your machete as you plod along the reef in the dark. Pure fun!
Finally, I have also fulfilled another one of my life long goals in that we have hunted and now eaten (only one) a Coconut Crab (Birgus latro). It is related to a hermit crab but does not use a gastropod shell. This large (can be over 9 lbs) land crab makes its living by eating coconuts which it can open and crush with its huge and remarkably tasty claws. It also has been touted as being the fattiest of all crustaceans (hence super tasty) which is no doubt due to eating the fatty coconuts. Admittedly, the velvety ant-like abdomen is not its best feature - actually quite gross in appearance. This abdomen is supposed to contain the bulk of the oil/fat that when done properly, supplies the dipping sauce for the meat and is reported to be heavenly in taste. Unfortunately we have not learned the proper way of cooking them over a fire and our attempt at boiling the sucker resulted in beige goo-juice exploding out of its abdomen which immediately abolished our appetites.
So currently we are the only boat within sight, our life is great, even if it's a bit sharky and a little carnal.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
June 10, 2010
Despite her smaller size compared to the rest of the cruising community, Io seems to earn praises from many sailors. She is strong and performs well and I happen to be quite proud of her. Compared to other 30-footers, she provides standing head room for Mike. She is designed smartly for sailing conditions. When it comes to lounging and entertaining guests, however, she has her limits. It seems like the equivalent of owning a two-seater hatchback sports car and suggesting a car camping road trip for four people. Well, that's pretty much what we did. Yes, it would be nice to offer a separate state room for guests, but what can you do? Forego seeing friends due to space? No.
Our friends have come and gone already. During their 13 days aboard, I believe our friends sampled the highs and lows of cruising.
Starry night, starry night, we listened to Neil Young and chatted in the cockpit. It was the perfect night breeze. The same night, rain squalls came every two hours. Kevin had to move from sleeping outside to the hottest bunk inside the cabin - with windows closed. The sound of chain grinding on the coral head below kept me awake at night and made my toe nails curl up.
One memorable experience was taking our friends to the airport in Fakarava. About 1.8nm to NW from the town, we tied our lines at the small dock, right in front of the airport, walked 50m to the airport and said good-bye to our friends. In a way, we envied them for being able to hop on a plane, and within hours, be in a place with unlimited showers and fruits. It will take us several days to reach Tahiti. Oh well, that's how it goes!
Friday, June 4, 2010
Today I SCUBA dove the south pass entrance of Fakarava and stopped counting Gray Reef sharks when the count exceeded 200! The dive began by dropping down 30 meters to the reef shelf where it then drops off to 1000 meters. I swam over to the edge and looked over into the abyss. The only thing to be seen was a myriad of Gray Reef sharks swimming in the distance. We then let the current bring us into the channel only to confront the main school of Gray Reefs and White Tip Sharks and uncountable tropical fish.
Immediately upon exiting the water I met up with my latest spear-fishing pal (Jaime off s/v Totem) and buzzed out to a lagoon reef and speared two bumphead parrot fish and a banded grouper. The system is that one person dives down to take a shot and the other looks out for sharks. We did see two Gray Reef sharks but they kept their distance and we were cautious to not kill a fish when sharks are near.
Upon returning to IO, I filleted the parrot and hung the carcass on a string over the side. Darkness had fallen by then and the Black Tip sharks that circle the boat day and night were on the hunt. The carcass hit the water and the line began to pull through my fingers harder than I could hang on. Hyo grabbed my shorts to brace me and Al was trying to take a video clip. The shark grabbed the carcass and pulled with more force than I expected. Awesome! I can't wait until tomorrow.
Kevin and Tash are enjoying the South Pacific lifestyle of hourly swims, sleeping on deck under the stars and the incredible underwater world. The amount of marine life is astounding! Lots of pictures have been taken and memories have been made.
French is being spoken on a semi-regular basis, which is good because some of us could use some culture.
Kevin and Tash's Top Five Boat Observations
1. How can a bathroom that is so small be called a bathroom? (How does Hyo take a shower in there?)
2. Am I looking for a snack in the kitchen or playing Tetris?
3. We recommend bringing a CSA approved helmut on board because you will bump your head at least 10 times an hour!
4. Why did a company design a manual anchor winch that pulls the blasted thing up 3 inches at a time?
5. A label maker to mark all of the blink'in boat parts, we don't know a halyard from a bilge pump.
6. (yes, I know I said 5) Is that dingy really supposed to be a lifeboat? I've worn clogs that were bigger?
Still on the to-do list: drive scooters, eat more baguettes with Nutella, pineapples, and Tash wants to be the "shark whisperer".
Thursday, June 3, 2010
May 30 2010
Position, 16 30.3S 145 27.3W
We are at the southern end of Fakarava and today we swam with over 50 sharks! Three species: gray, white tip and black tip sharks were everywhere.
We started off the day with a brisk sail south (beating to windward, of course), to the south end of the atoll, dropped the hook in 45 feet of crystal clear water near our friends on Mulan and Oso Blanco. Within one hour we were all surrounded by friendly reef sharks and a myriad of other tropical reef fish having the best snorkel of our lives!
As you can see from the pictures (thanks Mark), these atolls are basically a big ring of coral reef and occasionally there is a passage-way that is deep enough that you can enter with a boat. There is a trick though, in that you can only enter at certain times due to the very strong currents that flow through these passes. When the tide rises, the water outside the atoll rises and to equilibrate the water level, water must flow in. The reverse occurs during low tide and you get a strong outflow current happening. Depending on the size of the atoll, and since the channels are narrow (some are only 30 meters wide), the currents can exceed 4-6 knots. Given these conditions, entering them can be like entering a fast flowing river complete with standing waves, current eddies and whirlpools.
These passes are biologically relevant in that they also allow nutrient-rich water from the outside to flow into the relatively nutrient-poor lagoon. Like anywhere, where the food is, the life is in abundance.
Once we arrived and IO was safely anchored, we all piled on to Oso Blanco's tender, drove to the entrance of the channel, and jumped overboard in 50 feet of water. The water clarity allowed us to see the bottom and we were instantly surrounded by a rainbow of color and the very dramatic and abundant presence of the sleek chondrichthyes (sharks). Once in the water, we just sat back and let the 3 knot inward bound current push us (rather rapidly) into the atoll lagoon. It was like a brilliant movie being played out before our eyes, so you just sat back and let it all go by! Once we had been pushed sufficiently far inside the lagoon, our boat tender picked us up and took us back to the start and we jumped in and did it all over again. It was absolutely the most brilliant snorkel I have ever done!
After that fun, we returned to IO and I started playing with the local wildlife around the boat - heaps of surgeon fish and more black-tip reef sharks. I had heard a story from a local fisherman that the sharks here have been conditioned to the sound of a spear-gun firing. This fellow used to hunt for lagoon fish with speargun and said that once you have speared a fish, you basically have 45 seconds to get the fish out of the water before the sharks show up and take it away from you. So, due to the abundance of spear fishing done, the sharks have learned to associate the sound of a speargun with a free meal. Well, that sounds like an easily testable hypothesis, so I jumped in the water and when there were no sharks within view, and fired my speargun. Now, when a speargun is fired off underwater it makes a very distinct high-pitched metallic report that can be heard a long distance off (even by humans). Within 30 seconds of firing my gun, I had a 1.5 meter (5 foot) black-tip shark less than 5 meters from me! In about a minute and a half, there were 5 sharks and all of them were clearly demonstrating searching behavior, basically looking for that free meal. Fantastic! But admittedly, they were clearly being a little more aggressive so I chose to hastily exit the water.
P.S. Thanks Dennis for the speargun = good times.