Monday, December 29, 2014

End of the Year Wishes from Irie

Mark and I wish all of our family, friends and readers of the blog happy holidays and a satisfying wrap-up of 2014. We hope you all had a pleasant time over Christmas, surrounded by family, loved ones and heaps of exciting gifts… For the New Year, we wish you nothing but good things, from positive experiences and great health to caring friends and a wee bit of adventure.

Mark and I are finishing up a tough year, what with him being diagnosed with cancer, almost losing Irie when her mooring broke in Marina Taina and putting all our time, energy and focus into The Wirie and the upcoming new products. As many of our friends have suggested: 2015 can only be better! Our beloved catamaran Irie is for sale, the business still has high priority and new adventures await. Plans, always vague in the past, are non-existent this time. Who knows where we will be and what will happen to us the coming year; very exciting! :-)

As for the final days of this year, Mark and I sat out some weather systems in a hurricane hole in Taha’a (Haamene Bay), which offered all the protection we needed. The first storm was a bit tricky with strong wind gusts and boats dragging in the bay, but the second one (briefly declared a tropical cyclone), passed far enough away from us and only brought some rain and light winds. We never deployed our second anchor, which sat on deck, ready to be launched.

Christmas was spent on Irie – which seems to become a yearly tradition. Around 4pm, our friends Patrick and Rachel from SV Namaste (who were also present last year) and Garth and Monique from SV Heartbeat joined us for a delicious feast after hours of preparation by all. Appetizers consisted of sushi, tuna cakes, brie and apple, and Deviled eggs, while the main course included roasted garlic chicken, roasted potatoes, rice salad, Greek salad, and shrimp cooked two ways (broiled with herbs and pan fried, Cajun style). For dessert, we had a choice of rum balls (thought to be “rumbles” by the non-native English speaker), Bahamian rum cake, macaroons and two kinds of “pudding” (cake in NZ) with custard. An abundance of beer and red wine accompanied the yummy dishes.

On December 27th, Mark and I cut our time in one of the nicest anchorages in French Polynesia (on the eastern reef in Taha’a) short, to use a favorable forecast and head back east to Huahine. In light NNE winds - which we knew were present this time, being anchored in the open and close to the ocean - we managed to sail all the way to Fare, Huahine’s capital. It was a beautiful day with sunny skies, great visibility, and no squalls. The conditions were so mellow that Mark could do work inside, while we sailed close hauled (upwind). At the moment, Irie is tied to one of the new (free) mooring balls, as are Namaste and Heartbeat. We will celebrate New Year’s Eve here and hope to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of Huahine over the coming weeks.

Christmas on Irie with Patrick, Garth, Mark, Monique, me and Rachel

And then, more rain arrived and we moved back inside

A plethora of delicious dishes

And, back outside to eat dinner

Leaving Taha'a and Raiatea - Will we ever be back?

Time for some pesto and vegetarian pizza with fresh spinach?

Mark works 12 hour days - even underway!

There is SV Heartbeat (and Huahine); we almost caught up with them

Irie slowly overtaking Heartbeat

The "race" to Huahine continues in 10 knots of wind

Rainbow over Fare, capital of Huahine

Raiatea and Taha'a, 21 miles west of Fare's anchorage

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Twenty Shades of Grey (and Brown)

The rainy season in the Pacific has arrived with a vengeance. Two weeks ago, Mark and I hoped to take advantage of the “perfect” weather window (N-NW winds) to sail back to Raiatea (SE) from Maupiti. Despite the favorable predictions and us waiting for them, reality turned out different again. We ended up motoring the whole way, with little wind from behind and one squall after another. A very wet ride, but at least the decks were rinsed and we reached our destination safely, after waiting out another shower before entering the NW pass of Raiatea. And, it beat beating into the wind!

Since then, the sky has turned every shade of grey and we have been able to collect a lot of rain water, while working on our computers indoors and on projects outdoors, during the random dry spell. The times to be frugal with fresh water are over, while the times to be careful with electricity have begun. Our plan was to spend a couple of weeks in Raiatea with reliable WiFi access to finish up the final work and arrangements for the launching of our new Wirie products and head to Huahine for Christmas.

Then, about a week ago, the weather models went berserk and turned very colorful, meaning something serious was up. Two gales (major storms, one with the possibility to turn into a cyclone) were predicted to come our way and we swapped our pretty and convenient reef anchorage near the town of Uturoa for a more protected, but remote bay in Taha’a. The incessant rain has since turned the water of this deep bay brown and browner and the first storm has passed without too much trouble. Irie handled the heavy, erratic wind gusts like a charm and, once again, we are so very happy with our trustworthy, over-sized Manson Supreme anchor.

Our friends on SV Heartbeat and SV Namaste are in the same anchorage, for the same reasons, so we are in good company. As always – but this time in our benefit – the weather forecasts keep changing and we are keeping a close eye on the developments. The second storm seems to have lost some of its viciousness, but is still going to hit us tonight. As of now, the nasty weather will last about 48 hours, so it will be a quiet and vigilant Christmas on Irie this year! 
  Motoring back to Raiatea  
  Time to use the foul weather jacket

  Squalls approaching Irie     
  Replacing a seal on the outboard engine

Monique and Garth in their new, home build dinghy

 More rain
Deep and protected Haamene Bay in Taha’a       

 Merry Christmas (Uturoa)
 Muddy water in the bay     

 Waiting in Haamene

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mesmerizing Maupiti (Part 2)

The longer Mark and I stayed in Maupiti, the more this little atoll in the Society Islands captured our hearts. We can’t quite point a finger at what it is that enchanted us so much, but it just did. Being there felt “right”; the vibe of the island and the people, the quiet way of life, the remoteness and lack of visitors and French cruisers, the availability of underutilized and working internet, the abundance of local tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and eggplants, the space, the peace, all of it. In my previous blog, I wrote about certain aspects of Maupiti, and in this one, I continue with that theme.

The motus

In Belgium we have the expression “Beautiful from afar, but far from beautiful!” which is often used in regards to describing a woman. It comes to mind when you look at most motus (low and flat barrier islands) in French Polynesia. From the boat or across the channel, you spot what you think are beautiful white sand beaches, framed by palm trees. Upon closer inspection, the color white resembles broken coral on which it is impossible to walk barefoot or sit, and the palm trees are growing in a thick underbrush or prickly vegetation. We were fooled by it in Maupiti, just like in many of the Tuamotus. Bora Bora seems to be the exception, but there the nice beaches on the motus “belong” to the high end resorts or are privately “claimed”, bearing “tabu” signs. Coral or no coral, these small islands look very pretty from afar. That being said, there sometimes are sandy stretches to be found and in Maupiti’s case, we particularly enjoyed hanging out for sundowners on motu Tiapaa’s northern sand spit with our friends Monique and Garth (SV Heartbeat). The other motu beaches required flip flops.

The snorkeling

On a sunny day, our friends joined us to brave the strong outgoing current near the pass and see what the underwater world had to offer. We swam on both sides of the channel and crossed it twice, finding the eastern side more interesting, because of the bigger fish population. Most of the coral was dead, but there was enough to see to keep us busy and in shape for a few hours. In the lagoon, I took some short snorkeling excursions, but unfortunately, the water was very cloudy and the visibility poor. When swimming from the boat towards shallower water, I would basically run into the sand bank before realizing I was on top of it. Once, a big fish startled me, while I scared him; neither of us had noticed that we were only two feet apart!

A few times, we set out in the dinghy to try and find the manta rays, said to frequent the lagoon, but we were never quite sure where to look and the water was too cloudy to spot them from the dinghy. On the last day of our stay, our local friend John called us and shared the location of their usual hangout. At the same time, I saw a little tourist boat hovering in that area, so we buzzed over to one of the white floats, donned our snorkel gear and jumped in. Soon, we were floating above three of these giant, gentle creatures, and enjoyed observing them in their natural habitat. It reminded us of the unique experience we had with mantas last year in Tahuata.

The people

It seems the smaller the communities, the friendlier the people. While the Marquesas still rank number 1 with a big margin, the people in Maupiti (1200) score high compared to many other Society Islands. Like in the Gambier Islands, locals greet each other and send friendly waves from cars and boats. After a week of staying near the village, our faces became recognizable and the “Ia Orana” greetings sounded more genuine. One day, I went ashore with two empty jerry cans and a small bag of garbage. A fit-looking man awaited me and suggested to take the rubbish. I preferred to toss it myself, to make sure the recyclables went in the right bin. So, he took the 6 gallon jerry cans, helped me fill them with potable water and carried them back to the dinghy for me - a very nice and welcome gesture in the heat of the day. When the produce lady found out I was looking for a frozen chicken and some juice, and had not been able to locate any, she ordered her husband to drive me around to all the different stores, until we discovered that all the chicken on the island had sold out. It would be another week before the monthly cargo ship from Tahiti would pull into Vai’ea. Then, the nice man drove me to relatives to pick up a breadfruit, so we’d have something substantial to eat, since potatoes had been unavailable for weeks, if not months. Another day, we were ready to leave motu Tiapaa by dinghy, when the long haired Polynesian man who lives on the beach called us over and gave us two green coconuts and a bunch of bananas! Yes, the people are friendly here.

One of the highlights during our stay in Maupiti, was meeting the American Johnny Coconut. In 1989 he had read an article about Maupiti (probably one of the first ones ever written about this atoll) in the sailing magazine Cruising World. He was so enthralled by what he read about this remote and then undeveloped South Pacific island, that he decided to move here part time. We became friends and he invited us over for a delicious lunch at his house one afternoon. He also told us about Maud and Louis, an interesting French-Tahitian couple, who we visited and later joined for lunch as well. Maud and Louis have been living on Maupiti, on motu Pitihahei to be precise, since 1996. They built an amazing house – round, open and airy - out of natural materials, with a coral floor. The interior design is very creative, authentic, and practical. Their “million dollar view” looks out over the pass and the reefs, with Bora Bora and Raiatea in the distance on a clear day. We had a wonderful afternoon with them.

Although Maupiti had us in its grip, the cyclone season is upon us (there is no hiding and being safe in this lagoon if a named storm hits) and Mark and I needed to get back to civilization. So, sadly, we said our goodbyes to new made friends and to a place that will evoke fond memories.

Windward side of motu Tuanai

Irie and Heartbeat at anchor near the southern motus

Picture window, looking out to the pass, in Maud and Louis' house

View from the balcony of Maud and Louis' house on the point


Part of the kitchen downstairs

Louis in his living room

Coral along the channel near the pass

View from motu Pitihahei

Motu Tiapaa

Delicious and extensive lunch at John's place

Nanu, John, Mark and Jennifer in John's yard

Full moon over Maupiti

Maud and Louis' extraordinary house

One of the new residents of the house

Louis cooked a wonderful lunch in an amazing setting

One of the guest bedrooms in a separate fare (house/hut): the bed rests on a va'a. Creativity galore on this property!

Even the "vacuum cleaner" is part of nature!

Friendly company on motu Tiapaa

Sundowners with Monique and Garth on motu Tiapaa's sand spit

Monique playing with her "poi" at sunset

Monique putting on a show for us!

Getting ready to snorkel Maupiti's pass

Some kind of sea snake

Blackspotted sole (kind of flounder)

Particular butterflyfish

Two manta rays underneath us in the lagoon

And the third one - this one is huge!