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

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