Thursday, January 22, 2015

Exciting Days during Cyclone Season

When the west winds turned the flat mooring field of Fare into an uncomfortable chop a week ago, Mark and I tried to use a wisp of air to sail Irie down the west coast of Huahine to Avea Bay.  After an hour of doing less than 2 knots into the always outgoing current, we gave up and motored the rest of the way. Motoring seems to be the usual mode of operation for sailboats in the Societies, during this period of light winds. It is summer – and cyclone season – here and that brings hot and humid weather with stagnant, thick air. Since the current is relatively strong along this coast, the boats generally lay faced into that instead of into the limited breezes, so the only way of cooling off is by jumping into the sea. Luckily, the shallow water and sandy bottom – curiously covered by thousands of sea cucumbers – allow to do just that in our solitary bay. Cyclone season also means low (pressure) season and only a few boats, most of them charters, frequent the waters of this island.

Just when Mark and I were getting used to a pleasant routine (one that I have been trying to achieve for years, but never managed to follow, because of constant distractions, movement or chores needing attention) of work until 1pm and relaxation or non-computer stuff in the afternoons, the weather turned nasty. Predictions weren’t clear as to what we should expect, so “better safe than sorry”, we moved to a more protected bay. Again. Unfortunately, we had waited just a little bit too long, resulting in Irie having to bash into the churned up lagoon and strong head winds. Again. Haapu was only 3 miles away, but it took us over an hour to arrive in the calm bay and pick up one of the three free and sturdy mooring balls!

The wind was “miraculously” gone, and so was our WiFi connection. All the protected bays in these islands are sparsely populated, meaning no WiFi pay services or 3G data connections. Luckily, we could use the 2G connections with our new Wirie pro! :-) It allowed us to check the weather and respond to emails, but surfing the web and making phone calls was impossible. In this “flatter” and lusher environment, we began Irie’s massive spring cleaning, explored the little village and one morning, we hitchhiked to Fare to pick up our long awaited package from the US and some groceries. The same day, realizing that calm conditions had returned, we went back to Avea Bay, to our beloved reef scenery and wireless internet.

A day later, we kept a close eye on the weather reports, since another low pressure system was heading our way. Apparently, wind speeds were up in Tahiti, but not here, and the direction was contradictory. It always worries us when both forecasts are totally different! But, the worst scenario still looked favorable for our anchorage (30 knots of wind from the NE, where hilly land is located), so we stayed put. After an incredibly rainy night (collecting heaps of fresh water) with some strong but short wind gusts from weird directions, we woke up to a blue, windless sky, and the sun soon fried everything, including all the laundry I did.

Another weather system had passed us and we relaxed our forecast vigilance, only to find out later that day – thanks to friends checking in with us about high winds (which winds??) – that the low turned gale had become cyclone Niko! This had happened less than 100 miles away from us, on this gorgeous day. And… we… had… no… idea! We initially blamed ourselves for our “ignorance is bliss” mentality, but then realized that none of the forecasts and weather models had mentioned anything about a cyclone. Yet another lesson that the weather “predictions” here are very inadequate! An interesting coincidence was that the same afternoon, the maritime police paid us a visit to check on boat paperwork (the first time this happened to us in the year and a half we have been in French Polynesia), and the friendly officials had mentioned nothing about this cyclone business!

So, now we have returned to our usual busy days at anchor (the business is going well, some interest is being generated about our boat - which is for sale – and things are being checked off the boat to-do list) and we are trying to get back to that preferred routine, adding an hour of weather determination to the mix, until… the next system comes around and we have to hide again!

Look who's here... One of Irie's siblings, another Fountaine Pajot Tobago in Avea Bay!

Sea cucumbers EVERYWHERE in the 6ft water!

Two FP Tobagos side by side in the late afternoon light

Hot beach walk along Avea Bay

One of the resorts in Avea Bay

Huahine is surrounded by reefs; we are currently anchored in Avea Bay (SW)

An abundance of papayas in Haapu

Protected and calm Haapu Bay

This old bus in Haapu now functions as roof support!

And then, the sun came back in Haapu - time to return to Avea

Funky storm clouds at sunset (Avea Bay)

Using the "big guns" for a stupid job: cutting away all the unusable plastic parts on the new kill cord for the outboard, after trying everything else for an hour!

Visit from the maritime police on Irie

Friday, January 16, 2015

Published in Cruising World!

I have been writing articles for a while now – a list of published work can be found under “Articles” at the top of this page – but this one deserves a special mention.

When Mark and I were in the Tuamotus in April 2014, we saw the little beach cat “Ma Louloutte” of the French/Swiss sailor Yvan Bourgnon. It drew quite some attention, what with it being so little and going around the world. A week or so later (it was Easter Sunday), while in Tahiti, I went over to Yvan to say “hi” and ask him a few informal questions about his goal. What he was trying to accomplish – sailing around the world in a small catamaran of 21ft without a cabin and setting a world record by doing so – was impressive as well as a bit crazy. I realized then that the subject would make a good story. While we were in the States over the summer, I looked at different angles and ways of telling his – and our – tale, resulting in some interesting articles for different major sailing magazines. These stories have been published since, in Belgium, the UK and the USA. But, my “best piece” was intended for Cruising World.

Just when I was about to send this version of the article to the well-known cruising magazine – after a decent amount of rewrites – Yvan crashed his Ma Louloutte in Sri Lanka. He survived, but his boat did not. Despair on many levels. But, Yvan was not ready to give up! A new version of the story had to be written for CW, taking into account the sailor’s accomplishments up until the Indian Ocean and his plans to complete his journey in a rebuilt Ma Louloutte. I am now proud to announce that the article “He Sailed His Beach Cat Where?” about Yvan Bourgnon, his arduous feat and our meeting in French Polynesia is published in this month’s (January 2015) Cruising World! I feel like I can finally tell people that I am a “respected writer" now… :-)

Yvan sailing Ma Louloutte past Irie in Fakarava lagoon

Ma Louloutte passing Irie on the way to Tahiti

Ma Louloutte moored in Tahiti

A different view of 21ft Ma Louloutte

Yvan Bourgnon and his wife Nadia in Tahiti

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Huahine by Scooter

These last months, basically every day starts the same on Irie. Mark gets up at around 6am and starts work. I leave the bed about an hour later and commence the day with household chores, before I turn my computer on. It has been busy in regards to The Wirie business and we did launch our newest product The Wiriepro earlier this month. More about that in another blog.

Back to last week, where one of those days, after a hectic few hours, we decided to “leave it all behind” and go on a little excursion. Around 10am, we closed the lids of our laptops, shook off the stress, grabbed an umbrella (it is rainy season after all!), filled our backpack with food and water, took the dinghy ashore, walked up to a bike/scooter/car rental place in Fare and rented a scooter for the rest of the day. Mark jumped behind me on the seat and off we went.

In October, I had already biked around half of Huahine (Huahine Nui, which is the bigger island of the two) with my cousin Griet and her husband Wim. Now, we quickly revisited the sites of that day (the extensive marae, the interesting looking fish traps and the sacred blue-eyed eels), since Mark hadn’t been beyond the capital Fare. And, we purposefully took the little boat ride to Huahine’s only pearl farm in the lagoon to buy me a belated birthday gift. The scooter came in handy to – slowly - climb the biggest hill and arrive at the viewpoint overlooking the deep bay of Maroe, which, connected to Bourayne Bay in the west, cuts Huahine in half. The first rainstorm arrived and we managed to shelter on a covered bench. This was as good a time as any to eat our lunches and watch some of the many land crabs emerge from their holes.

When the downpour turned to drizzle, we continued our tour of Huahine and crossed the bridge over the division. New territory! At a slow pace, we circumnavigated Huahine Iti – hillier than we thought – checking out bays and greeting friendly people along the way. This part of the island is even quieter and more laid-back than the northern part and we eyed Avea Bay as a future anchorage, while overlooking deeper bays as possible “hurricane holes”. The second rainsquall couldn’t be avoided, so we slowed down to the point where we just didn’t fall over, in order for Mark to hold the umbrella above our heads. Quite the sight that must have been; two tourists inching along under a purple umbrella, getting soaking wet anyway! In this fashion, we limped our way back to Huahine Nui and Fare, where we found Irie violently bobbing in an unpredicted wind, chop and swell from the west. Time to move!

Biggest marae of Huahine in Maeva

V-shaped fish traps and fishermen

Explanation at the Huahine pearl farm

View of the eastern lagoon from the pearl farm

Hello big and blue-eyed sacred eel!

Land crabs "harvesting" pieces of baguette

After lunch and rain, it is time to go again

Waterfall on Huahine Iti - only visible in the rainy season

Local boy helping his daddy in the yard

Mailbox for... that's right... a baguette!

East side of Huahine Iti

A nice "little" birthday gift. Thank you, sweetie!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Start of a New Year in Huahine

Here in Huahine, French Polynesia, Mark and I, and our friends from SV Heartbeat and SV Namaste, were amongst the last ones in the world to celebrate the New Year. While most of our families and friends, from the US, to New Zealand, to Belgium woke up on or moved well into the first day of January, we were fighting to stay awake till midnight!

The six of us spent New Year’s Eve at the Yacht Club in Fare, Huahine, where we enjoyed a tasty Happy Hour (stocking up on as many drinks – at half price - as the establishment allowed us, so we would last well into the night without spending fortunes) and split portions of yummy French fries for the first hunger. We also ordered dinner here, easily feeling wide awake at 9pm. Still three hours to go! Cruiser’s midnight approached (10pm) and just like every other year, we all wondered whether we would make it to the real midnight. Quite pathetic, really, but daily routines and schedules on the boat are very different from shore life, and so is the atmosphere. Luckily, the Yacht Club has pool tables and a foosball table, turning us cruisers into fierce competitors. Good fun was had, but by the end of the evening, we were really just waiting around until cheers went up from the bar and we presumed it was midnight. As the New Year started, we all returned home to our faithful beds, in the absence of fireworks. Our dogs would have loved it!

Since then, Mark and I have been focusing on the business as always, with not too many distractions in between. The weather is surprisingly gorgeous, with sunny days and regular rain showers in the afternoon or at night. The trade winds are lacking this time of the year and the high temperatures and humidity provide a lot of sweating, even while just sitting still behind the computer… One morning, our little group went for an enjoyable and refreshing snorkel in the bay. On the beach, local families and groups of friends have been partying hard, playing music out of boom boxes or singing and playing ukulele quite beautifully. Soon, life will pick up its usual pace with stores being open again and kids returning to school after a month long summer break. Our break will have to wait a little bit longer. :-)

The "girls": Liesbet, Monique and Rachel

The "boys": Patrick, Garth and Mark

Sunset on the last day of 2014

Patrick beating Mark (for now) at foosball

Spoiling ourselves with smoked salmon, brie and goat cheese on New Year's Day

Sunset over Raiatea in 2015, a couple of days ago

Walking over coral beaches to our snorkel starting point

Spotfin lionfish

Reeftop pipefish