Sunday, September 29, 2013

Butane Bound - Keeping the Cooking Going

Mark and I have one propane bottle on Irie. It is an American-style bottle, the horizontal version (which adds to the filling difficulties), because a vertical tank didn’t fit anywhere on the boat. We also have a couple of small, green camping gas bottles as a spare, in case we run out of propane in a remote area. For years in the Caribbean, it was never a problem to only have one cooking gas bottle or to have it filled onshore. With our special adapter, everywhere we turned the bottle in, it came back full, for a reasonable price. Our 20 pound tank would last between four and five months of normal use, meaning one cooked meal a day (dinner), some bread baking and once a week or so a cheap meal ashore. Not drinking tea or coffee conserves gas, but being in nice anchorages with not much going on, led to lots of baking and producing special meals. Now that we have to be even more self-sufficient and eating ashore is unaffordable, it is safe to say that we can live at least three months off a full propane tank, or better, butane tank, since that is what is used in these areas.

In the San Blas islands, we learned firsthand about the gravity fill method for our tank. It was extremely slow and we had to come up with a way to make it work for our difficult tank, to keep the pin pushed in while the gas ran from a local tank into ours, without having enough pressure from the usual filling station. But, it worked. Every time. We made it to the Galapagos islands with our last fill from there and then in Santa Cruz, the main town of that marvelous island group in the Pacific, we had our propane tank filled up again. Before arriving in French Polynesia, we ordered our own equipment (hose, fitting for the American tank) to gravity fill the tank ourselves in the future. All we still needed was a small fitting to attach to the local French Polynesian tanks…

Once we arrived in the Gambier islands and two months into our available cooking gas, we immediately inquired about the fitting we needed, only to find out that nobody sold – or even had – anything like that in Rikitea, the only real town. They had regulators, but that would not do the trick. Hmmm…  Not yet desperate, we cooked along for another month and when an opportunity arose to split some expensive butane gas with two other cruisers, we returned to Rikitea to join the gravity fill party. With the help of our American fitting and hose and a borrowed “French” fitting, three sailboats had gas again. The whole ordeal took about three hours and our tank was only about ¾ full after we finished.

The chase for our own local fitting continued – unsuccessfully – in Fatu Hiva, the Marquesas. Luckily, we had enough butane to make it to Atuona, the “capital” of the southern Marquesas, where we expected to find what we needed. Nope! The hardware store was “out of” them, but they “could be” on the next cargo ship into town, the Aranui III, three days later - make it four to get everything stocked in the stores… That was the reason Mark and I stayed over a week in the murky waters of the inconveniently located bay around a peninsula from Atuona, struggling with two anchors and rainy weather. The Aranui arrived… without gas bottle fittings. Over two months into this ¾ (we thought) filled bottle, a solution needed to come up soon.

The (temporary) solution arrived in the form of cruising friends who were in Tahiti and asked us whether we needed anything from the big city. After seven months of leaving Panama City, provisioning and marine store “headquarters”, we could use a whole lot of things by now, but what we really needed – you guessed it - was one of those French fittings.  Surely, they would have them in Pape’ete, the country’s bustling capital! Instead, our friends sent us their self-assembled gas bottle hose, which we could borrow until they joined us in the Marquesas. Luckily for us, the package showed up after only ten days, and we managed to pick it up in Atuona shortly after. Exactly five days later, back in an uninhabited bay in Tahuata, we ran out of cooking gas. Our tank was totally empty.

One night, Ursula cooked for us and we had a wonderful dinner on SV Kril; the following night, we used one of our spare gas bottles and then it was time to move anchorages. We sailed to Hanatefau, a quiet bay close to the village of Hapatoni, where we expected to find a butane tank to fill ours. A quick chat with our neighbors revealed that there was no butane and not much of anything in Hapatoni. Darn! In the past, we had visited Vaitahu by dinghy, where we had seen racks of butane bottles in front of the two grocery stores.  This town was located between our recent and our previous anchorage, a distance doable by dinghy. We decided to go for it, rechecking a few times whether we packed all the tools and materials necessary for a gravity fill on shore and braving the ocean for 1,5 miles.

It was Friday afternoon, almost weekend, a little bit of a risky time to do what we had set out for. The biggest supermarket was open. I asked about the butane tanks, and how much the gas cost. Mark started to set up our tank and the fittings. Then, the woman – who was smoking – yelled over… they did not have any butane anymore. All the tanks in the rack were empty. Our only other chance was the second little store in town. It was closed. It was 2pm already. It would open soon… Half an hour later, the proprietor decided to return after an elongated lunch break.  But, she was out of butane as well. As a matter of fact, there was no butane to be found in the whole village, or the whole island. That’s when we learned that the locals reserve their tanks for whenever the cargo ship – the Taporo - arrived.

We really did not want to motor back to Atuona. We had a problem… We returned to the first store (maybe the woman wasn’t sure she was out of butane bottles?) and I pleaded with her, explaining our predicament and hoping for a solution. That’s when she went into the bakery section of the store and unhooked her own butane bottle from a stove. She didn’t know how much gas was left in it, but we were welcome to transport the contents into our own bottle. Worried about any danger so close to her store, she urged a customer to drop us off at the jetty with all our tanks and equipment. On some steps in the shade, we installed the two tanks and ourselves and started the excruciatingly slow and tedious process of filling our stubborn tank. After a few tries we had the gas flowing at a gracious speed of a few drops per minute. While being eaten alive by mosquitoes and nonos, we waited and waited, hoping that the store would not close before we were done. Two and a half hours later, the local tank was empty and our tank felt about half full….

Upon returning her bottle to the store and wanting to give her money for the gas, the friendly owner refused any payment. I made sure to buy some over-priced items before joining Mark back at our dinghy. With a little sense of accomplishment – trying not to think about having to go through this whole ordeal again in less than two months – we slowly motored back to Irie, while the sun was setting at the horizon. How enjoyable it was to cook, and especially eat, a super tasty meal – using all three burners – that evening!

Tahuata's south coast at sunset

On the way back home with half a butane tank

Sunset from Hanatefau - Home before dark!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Efficiency in Atuona

We found out that Mark’s residency card for French Polynesia had arrived at the post office of Atuona, Hiva Oa, and that it was nearing its 15 day “holding period” already. We also discovered an opportunity to buy duty-free diesel. Unfortunately, it was blowing quite a bit and we knew – for sure – that the 7 mile channel between Tahuata and Hiva Oa would be a battlefield of waves, wind and current. All against us, of course. One day, we saw the white caps from our anchorage. The following day, I rose at six in the morning and glimpsed at the horizon. No white caps! Was this the moment? I woke Mark up and at 6:30am, Irie’s anchor was onboard and we were heading towards Atuona. Again.

Bashing, bouncing, jumping and sliding. Expected, but not enjoyed were a salt water shower, a serious boat shake down and seawater for breakfast. An accompanying pod of dolphins was barely visible in the watery turbulence off our bows.  Everything was soaked and encrusted with salt when we arrived in the least attractive bay of the Marquesas. We settled quickly near the main dock on one anchor (“knowing” the last big cargo ship was there two days prior), antsy to get the busy day started. Then, we found out the supply ship Taporo had been delayed because of bad weather and was on its way here. Darn… Too lazy to re-anchor, we let out all of our chain to hopefully fall behind the two yellow markers ashore and put a second anchor out, parking just outside of the “no anchor” zone and in line with the other sailboats.

At 9am, we hitched a ride to the town, where Mark immediately had the broken filling of a tooth fixed, without appointment and for free. Then, he had his painful elbow looked at and x-rayed by a doctor in the hospital. We learned that both pieces of mail we were expecting had- indeed – arrived. We picked them up at the post office, where there was no line for a change, and the employee asked “Kilty?” While we rushed from here to there, our smiles grew big. We could barely believe our luck and the helpfulness of the people. We felt like celebrities. Usually, every little thing we try to accomplish takes a whole day, or more likely, totally fails! A visit to the pharmacy and the grocery store followed and then, we hitched a ride back to the harbor… with our friendly doctor ... in an ambulance! At noon, we were home. The whole series of events had happened within 3 hours; a personal record!

“You guys are so lucky you weren’t on your boat this morning,” we heard when we swung by our friends in the anchorage. “Irie almost sank!” Hmm, not the words you like to hear. Apparently, the Taporo had dropped its anchor close by and skimmed Irie on its turn into the dock. From our friends’ perspective, the massive ship missed us by a hair. Later that night, after another tasty and social evening with our friends of SV Kril and SV Amandla, we could experience the skillful maneuvering ourselves, when we almost touched the steel monster when it pulled away from the dock, passing within 30 feet of our bow. We were lying behind the “safety zone” markers. Just. With a thundering sound, the Taporo picked up its anchor, without tripping ours.

The following day, on Friday, I walked back into town with a couple of friends for a – hopefully – last run of errands. Veggies, eggs, groceries, potting dirt, money, and I even managed to swap two packs of cookies which we realized were months out of date. The glitch? I had to pay 100 CFP (about $1) extra for each new pack, because those dates were not expired. Time to go back to peaceful and pretty Tahuata, where efficiency and money are not important! It was a quick and effective two-day stop in Atuona, but we hope we don't have to repeat it any time soon.

Arrival of the Taporo IX while Mark and I were off the boat (photo by Fabio Mucchi)

Social gathering and tasty tapas on SV Amandla

Meet "the girls": Ursula, Lisa and Liesbet

 And here are "the boys": Mark, Michael and Fabio (photo by Fabio Mucchi)

Departure of the Taporo

They came pretty close, but, luckily, did not pick up our chain or anchor

Thursday, September 19, 2013

First Visit to Tahuata, Marquesas - Pictures

Entering Hanamoenoa Bay, we passed a school of small manta rays with Irie

A couple of days later, we were fortunate enough to swim/snorkel with three "big ones"

Liesbet and one of the mantas

Michael from SV Kril is filming one of the gentle giants

The beach and pretty water of Hanamoenoa Bay

Snorkeling above coral...

... and with colorful fish

Pitufa in the sunset

More pretty fish...

Cocktail party on SV Yum Yum with Fabio, Lisa, Thor and Valentine

Our harvest from shore: pamplemousses and coconuts under the table, mangoes, oranges and lemons above

Outrigger canoes in Vaitahu village

The memorial for chief Iotete, who signed a treaty with France and revolted afterwards

The interesting looking church of Vaitahu

Another canoe in Vaitahu

First sprouting experiment, with lentils

Scroll down to read the stories about our twelve day visit to Hanamoenoa Bay in Tahuata.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Food and Entertainment

The weather has cleared up a bit, here in Hanamoenoa, Tahuata, but a decent swell is still rolling into the bay, making landings with the dinghy on the beach quite challenging. The manta rays have not come back (yet) and the weather has been too crappy to go for a snorkel or a dinghy excursion. This means that our time had to be filled with other entertainment.

One evening, Valentine and Thor on SV Yum Yum, who we briefly met in the Galapagos months ago, invited everyone in the bay over for "movie night". Loaded with popcorn and drinks, we all gathered in the cockpit of their roomy catamaran. Thor had installed a massive screen and soon we were enjoying the movie "Chocolat" with superb quality, movie theater worthy! Only, we were in an uninhabited bay in the middle of the South Pacific. The only disappointing part was that, while looking at the giant representations of chocolate, candies and scrumptious food of a massive variety, we only had homemade popcorn and oven-baked cake, while we all craved more.

About every other day, someone decided to make dinner or lunch, so the eating was still good. It's amazing how creative one can be with a small selection of vegetables and staples. At least, Mark and I still had
vegetables. Plus, we started a new "green" experiment: sprouting beans. Fruit was another story. So, one afternoon, we bit the bullet and decided to go ashore with our dinghy to find vitamins. During a lull in the swell, we revved the engine, hit the beach, quickly jumped out and pulled as hard as we could. We avoided getting swamped, and, other than a wet bum for me from pulling the boat too strongly and not backing off quick enough, falling to the ground, we remained unscathed. Together, we set out exploring inland a bit and discovered a plethora of fruit trees. We collected pamplemousses (big, sweet grapefruits), oranges, mangoes, lemons and coconuts until we couldn't carry any more. Once back on the beach, the sea had "grown" substantially, massive breakers rolling and crashing onto the yellow sand. We decided to play safe (avoid getting flipped over by the foamy waves) and walk the dinghy out, past the rollers, pushing and swimming a bit more, before climbing - or slithering - back inside the tubes. Fully loaded with unripe fruit, we arrived back at Irie in one piece.

On Tuesday, the sun was back and the ocean seemed to be a bit more agreeable. Mark and I motored the dinghy along the southern shore of Tahuata, to visit its main town Vaitahu. Hopping ashore was a bit tricky, but we had a nice little walk. The town is very small and quiet, but it has a pretty, interesting looking church and a decent store with fresh French bread. Nothing too special, really, but it was a pleasant excursion and we got rid of our garbage, while obtaining some more food. In the afternoon, Irie was the only boat left in Hanamoenoa Bay and we truly enjoyed the peace and beauty all by ourselves. That was until our "dish washing bucket" broke after filling it in the sea and carrying it back into the cockpit. Gallons of salt water flooded our four plants, which were just starting to recover after previous incidents like falling in bleach, dealing with salty air during passages and waves entering the cockpit. Our snorkeling trip was rightfully delayed, while we tried to save our garden with lots of fresh water.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sea Life in Hanamoenoa Bay, Tahuata (Marquesas)

When Mark and I first arrived in Hanamoenoa Bay in the island of Tahuata, after escaping the murky waters of Atuona, it appeared to be paradise. The anchor set easily in the sandy bottom, which we could see from 30 feet above. The water had a turquoise color, while the sandy beach ashore harbored many palm trees. According to the cruising guides, this bay was a cruisers' favorite with great snorkeling and fresh fruit and coconuts for the picking a few steps inland from the beach. It would be a great place to clean the inches of growth, collected during our week in Hiva Oa, off Irie's bottom.

After being a week in this pretty spot, we still have not been able to take the dinghy ashore and have spent most of our time indoors, on our boat or others, since it has been raining for days. Again. A relatively big swell has been rolling into the bay, making dinghy landings impossible, because of the crashing waves. The monohulls are rockin' and rollin', day and night. It became too uncomfortable for Pitufa, so they left. We are very happy to be on our cat! We barely feel the motion, can do any boat projects we prefer during the day and sleep like babies at night, especially after a social gathering.

So, what have we been doing the last week? Other than some boring projects and chores onboard, we had some amazing experiences early on. Last Sunday, when other cruisers in the bay decided to take their dinghy to a small town, 2 miles away, to attend a Marquesan church service, Mark and I and our friends from SV Kril decided to stay home. I wanted to finally sleep in. We would be glad with our choice. Mark got up around 7:30am, took a look outside and appeared back downstairs next to the bed. He grabbed his swim trunks, gave me a kiss and said "I'm going for a swim. There are manta rays near the boats." Now, how am I supposed to sleep in after hearing those words? After a quick look outside and seeing the tips of wings break the surface next to Mark and Michael from Kril, I - and Ursula - soon joined the group for a most awesome experience. For an hour, the four of us just hovered near the water surface and watched, photographed and filmed three majestic manta rays while they were feeding. Their massive mouths open and their wing spans as wide as our bodies were long, they didn't mind us as they approached, circled around, dove down and reappeared. As Ursula remarked: "We were just an obstacle in their soup." None of us needed to move, while the morning show took place. Amazing, and better than church!

Every late afternoon, we notice frigate birds hovering over the water and realize the tunas are back! We see groups of little fish "run" on the water surface with their tail, being attacked from above by a frigate bird - which is very successful in scooping a fish up with every dive without ever touching water - and from beneath by a much bigger predator. Then, a massive tuna surfaces, splashes on top of the water or - very spectacular! - leaps out in a perfect arc, pretending to be a dolphin, with a fish in its mouth! If only they did that close to Irie and we had a fishing net ready! One time, Mark jumped in the dinghy and trailed a line behind in the hopes of catching one of the chasers, but it was not to be.

We also snorkeled along the rocks a couple of times to see big amounts of colorful fish, and we swam ashore to be greeted by the infamous nonos, accompanied by mosquitoes. Nonos are tiny biting flies, renowned for hanging out on Marquesan beaches and keeping the tourists away, discouraging beach
vacations and beach parties. Next time we go hunting for fresh fruit, we will have to wait for the swell to settle down, put on long clothes and spray ourselves with bug repellent. Or, we can borrow Kril's full wetsuits, booties and hoods, in which they successfully scoured the beach and the woods yesterday!

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Stop in “the City” – Atuona in Hiva Oa, Marquesas

The summer vacation in Belgium and the US recently came to an end and so did our month long “holiday” in Fatu Hiva. But instead of running to the store to buy fresh food and alcohol for BBQs and parties, like our friends back home, we made due with canned meals and started “brewing” our own drinks. The results were some kind of liquid resembling lemonade – with the same taste and alcohol content! – and the need to move to Hiva Oa, where supermarkets were to be found!

Once safely and comfortably anchored near Atuona after a fast and fun day sail, we walked an hour into town to check out the stores. Sure, they have much more stuff here than anywhere else we’d been the last six months, but the choices are a bit disappointing (a lot of different goods, but no choices or off brands within the goods) and the prices even more so. While we expected groceries to be cheaper than in the Gambier or Fatu Hiva, they mostly are not. So, instead of spoiling on brie cheese, salami and snacks, we – once again - stuck to the subsidized goods and filled our baskets with crackers, pasta, rice, flour and corn kernels to make popcorn (I will miss chips and nuts the coming year!.$7 for a medium bag of Lays chips or a decent size can of peanuts is just too much!), some expensive frozen meat and a stray can of pâté. Luckily, the baguettes only cost about 70 cents US, so we are expanding our bellies with fresh French bread again, one a day each!

The first five days, it was sunny weather and while Irie’s bottom became dirtier and dirtier in the brown, murky water of the harbor, Mark and I stuck to a schedule: heading into town to do some shopping in the morning (most of the time securing a lift with a friendly local), and catching up on emails and internet research during the afternoon. The evenings were spent with new made friends or in bed watching an old TV show. Laundry was done ashore, where unlimited water and a cold shower are available. Earlier this week, we walked to the town’s cemetery up a hill, to visit the graves of the Belgian singer/songwriter Jacques Brel and the controversial French painter Paul Gauguin. Their museums are also in town, but a bit too pricey for our budget.

After a full day of rain, we risked a walk in search of the “Smiling Tiki”, on the road to the airport. The idea was to walk there – wherever there was - and hitch a ride back to the harbor. As soon as we turned off the main stretch of pavement, the road climbed and climbed, while sweat gushed off our faces and bodies. With the altitude, the humidity kept rising. I wondered out loud why we wouldn’t hitch there and walk back, downhill. Mark didn’t want to have anything to do with that, reasoning that I wanted to go for a walk, right? And, it was a nice walk with some good views. I snuck a few pointed thumbs in the direction of passing cars, but none of them slowed down. After about an hour and a half of following the airport road, a small jeep stopped to ask where we were headed. Both of us could use a little break at that point and the friendly Marquesan driver dropped us off at a dirt track. We followed his good directions and a muddy path and trail until we found a small rock, depicting… a smiling tiki with glasses. Quite unique and worth the hike there… until it started to rain and rain.

Our flipflops became useless in the muck. We heard a car in the distance, revving his engine, and decided to check it out, trotting barefoot through the thick mud and climbing up a ditch to another watery track. A jeep was stuck in the mud. Mark and I tried to help, flattening some areas and gesturing directions, but it was not to be. While the rain fell down in buckets, the driver decided to leave the car and get help. We made our way back to the main road, hoping to catch a ride, but seriously doubting it, considering our drenched mud splattered bodies. After a while, Vincent, a friendly French guy our age, who has been living here for ten years, took pity on us. Despite our wet clothes and muddy legs and feet, he picked us up and dropped us off by our dinghy! We made it home with a fresh baguette, right in time to shelter for the next downpour.

The shady grave of Jacques Brel in a tropical setting

The last resting place of painter Paul Gauguin

New try to distill alcohol, with a homemade contraption, this time. Hopefully it does have more alcohol than lemonade when the "bubbling" has finished!

4am arrival of the cargo ship Aranui - no more sleep with the "real" harbor sounds that followed.

The smiling tiki, which is off the beaten track and hard to find

Stuck in the mud. Unfortunately, Mark and I couldn't help, but sloshed through the mud anyway...

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Around Fatu Hiva, Marquesas

Towards the end of our stay in Hanavave Bay in Fatu Hiva, our Italian friend Giorgio decided to “sail” around the island and invited a few of us to join him. We had barely left the bay on his awesome sailboat Hoa Motu (which means “friend of the islands”), when he and Mark let out two fishing lines. We had been craving some fresh fish for ages and were not going to pass up any occasion to try our luck. While the steep cliffs and mountains were blocking any kind of wind, the engine was propelling us forward. Pretty quickly, two fish simultaneously caught the lures we were trawling.  Mark pulled in the hand line, to find a medium-sized barracuda – no good eating here. Giorgio struggled for a long time with a massive creature on the reel. Our anticipation was growing and growing… Maybe it was a big tuna or a mackerel? It didn’t seem to be a mahi mahi (dorado), since no jumping out of the water was going on. Finally, a big shape appeared near the water surface and we all cramped around Giorgio to have a better look, cameras ready. It was a huge “great barracuda”, another fish prone to having ciguatera, a disease that is harmful for people.

The wind was light and we tried to make some northern progress along the west coast, before tacking up the north side. It wasn’t working too well, but we had a very yummy and comfortable lunch, without heeling. Mark and I barely believed we were on a monohull! The rest of the trip we were forced to motor, if we wanted to circumnavigate the same day. We followed the impressive and craggy shoreline and rounded another corner. Although we did not have to do much in regards of sail trim, we were entertained nonetheless, by the impressive scenery, our friendly host and … the arrival of a pod of small dolphins, playing with Hoa Motu’s bow for half an hour. We stuck our nose into Ouia bay, which Mark and I had spotted from the mountain trail a few weeks earlier. Once “outside” again, we kept moving over relatively flat seas. Another pod of much bigger and rounder dolphins joined us this time and I had a blast, just watching them on the bow, encouraging them to stay and jump, and taking movies.

When the dolphins had left us, it was time for another big catch - a decent size wahoo. Score! Mark hauled the slim fish with obvious markings in and gaffed him into the cockpit, where Giorgio killed him in a fast manner. Dinner for five, and then some! Rounding the last “corner” on the approach to Fatu Hiva’s biggest town, Omoa, another fish decided to swallow one of the lures. It was a skipjack, closely related to the tuna; tasty dark meat. The sun was beating down on us and we were having a great time, enjoying the final stretch of our spontaneous excursion. Unfortunately, Mark and I lost our last lure, without even noticing it. Another giant must have just bit through it, without letting us know. No more fishing for us for a while! It made us truly enjoy the ceviche, Birgit assembled that evening, and the sushi and fish BBQ the following night. With full bellies and a bit “socialized out”, Mark and I were finally, kind of, ready to leave Fatu Hiva and sail to the “big city” of Atuona in Hiva Oa.  

Giorgio at the helm of his boat Hoa Motu, leaving Hanavave Bay

Great barracuda with a grand head

 Decent size wahoo - and tasty!

Pod of small dolphins playing with the bow of the boat

Rugged coastline near Omoa

Giorgio and Mark dealing with the skipjack

Back in Hanavave Bay near sunset