Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Last Days at Anchor in Moorea

After the storms, heavy swell, incessant chop and unfathomable current of the last two weeks, relative peace has returned in the reef anchorage of Vaiara, Moorea. We can appreciate the clear shallow water, the gorgeous view of Tahiti and the mountainous backdrop of Moorea again, without having to hold on for our dear lives. Eagle rays, sharks and “normal” stingrays pass by our boat, while dolphins occasionally stroll the drop-off area, only twenty feet away. At least once a day, we still get tossed around heavily, trying to save sliding glasses of liquid and other “top heavy” items from crashing onto the floor. Sometimes those acrobatic moves are more successful than others. Easter holiday has started in French Polynesia and boat traffic – and thus the inconsiderate wake - has increased.

One day, Mark and I finally took our dinghy to a snorkel area other cruisers had told us about. On the southern motu (motu Ahi), we found the Lagoonarium of Moorea. Here, a series of floats is connected with ropes, so snorkelers can enjoy the underwater world in safety - by holding onto the lines - when the current is too strong. A lot of coral was in great shape and the colorful fish were plentiful. We saw some rays and black tips, and even a white tip reef shark. The snorkeling here was definitely worthwhile and on shore visitors can rent a shady shed for the day or the night, or buy lunch in the little restaurant. It is a neat little place with a lot of character… and tourists.

A surprise visit to the anchorage from our friends Marie and JP on MV Domino enhanced that already fun Sunday. They invited us to stay for a healthy lunch and we caught up with each other after a month apart. The view from their motor yacht is more spectacular than from our little Irie, so we always enjoy our visits to their floating home (one could almost say “floating palace”). The following day, we made dinner and brought it over to their big cockpit for a last evening together. They will soon head west, while we are remaining in French Polynesia until Irie sells.

Va'a competition through the anchorage

Two competing va'a teams passing close to Irie

Sunrise above Tahiti; yes, I am getting up early, these days!

Massive waves breaking over the reef and causing strong surges and current underneath Irie

Taking a breather while cleaning the fore peak with bleach in the early hours - much cooler that time of the day

Spotted eagle ray near Irie

White-spotted puffer fish hanging out with our anchor chain

Irie's well-buried and trustworthy anchor - the holding is great in the reef anchorage of South Vaiare

Motu Ahi

Group of tourists snorkeling the Lagoonarium

The original establishment on motu Ahi

Mark holding on while snorkeling

Colorful and healthy coral

Big school of fish

White tip reef shark

View of Tahiti from motu Ahi

Marie under her Wirie pro with Irie in the background

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mark’s Cancer – Many Months Later

For everyone “out there” (or are we the ones “out there”? :-)) who has been wondering how things are going with Mark and me after the unexpected and eye-opening breast cancer diagnosis last year, I figured I would give a quick update of our lives in that regard. And, it gives me an opportunity to post some food pictures!

It is hard to believe that it has almost been one year to date, since Mark and I first pulled into Tahiti on Irie. After noticing a bump in his chest in January 2014 and keeping an eye on it for a couple of months, we decided to prematurely leave the Tuamotus and sail to Pape’ete, the only city of significance in French Polynesia. The day we arrived, after a two day sail, we hurried over to the main hospital of the island, the western, new and competent Taaone Hopital. What happened then can be read in my blogs during that period.

Mid-August 2014, we returned to Irie in Tahiti and we continued living our floating lifestyle, combining work and visiting new places in the Society Islands. Mark – and our lives – would never be the same again, with all the physical challenges and emotional episodes we had gone through, but we were both ready to embrace the future and the world, and convinced to keep doing what we wanted to do. This, unfortunately, did not include Irie anymore after being back for a few months. Hence, our beloved catamaran is for sale.

Mark felt relatively healthy and after the wounds of the operations healed, his discomfort and pain subsided. The radiation treatment left a few marks, but over time, these diminished. His original energy level and physical strength are still lacking a bit. In general, he feels OK, aside from some minor pains unrelated to the cancer.

The biggest change we made in our daily lives was in regards to food. We were eating pretty healthy before, but are now mainly following a “plant based diet”. We eat massive amounts of vegetables every day and Mark consumes wheatgrass and extra supplements, like green tea, fish oil, a multi-vitamin, and his favorite: flax seeds. We bought a year’s worth of supplies in the US, before coming back to the boat. We do still eat meat, but not very often. About once every two weeks, we enjoy red meat and a chicken. We try to eat more fish when it is affordable. Our intake of alcohol has also been reduced, but that is partly due to the high cost of wine and spirits here!

We do try to add some exercise to our lives, but with the incessant heat of the last months, it is impossible to go for walks, without jeopardizing work or chores, all of which have to happen between the productive hours of 6am to 9am. So, we go for a swim or snorkel instead, when it is not too choppy and the current is manageable. Some of the boat maintenance, like cleaning Irie’s bottom counts as serious exercise as well! :-)

Recently, Mark has started to take Tamoxifen - my close friends know what that means :-( - a hormone drug that is usually prescribed for five years, to diminish the chance of a reoccurrence, an event that is feared, and on every breast cancer survivor’s mind. He also had his semi-annual check-up with an oncologist in “our” hospital here in Tahiti and everything looked and felt fine. Always a relief! This summer, he will go back to Dana Farber in Boston for the next check-up.

The more time that passes, the less you think about and are consumed by thoughts about your cancer, they say. It is true that life goes on and bad events are pushed towards the back of our minds. And, in our case, we have many other projects, ideas and situations that occupy our lives. Being busy is always a good remedy and – in Mark’s case – it also lead to a break-through with our Wirie business. But, that is material for another blog.

Vegetable Thai curry

Sushi rolls with fresh tuna

Poisson cru (like ceviche with coconut milk) with fresh tuna

Vegetable noodle dish

Unhealthy fries with a lot of healthy veggies!

We have been growing our own sprouts for a long time - they are a great contribution to lunches, salads and stir-fry dishes. And they grow fast in this humid climate!

Couscous with veggie burgers and a salad

Gnocchi with vegetables in the oven

We still spoil ourselves from time to time, of course: blueberry pancakes (homemade) ...

... and American cookies with Belgian chocolate chips

Homemade coconut - mushroom soup

Homemade hot and sour soup with tofu

Making green tea with the sun

Salad with smoked salmon (on sale for $1.99!!)

Homemade black bean burgers

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cruising - It’s All about the Weather

“Sailing means freedom” is a misconception that Mark and I have realized over the years. Don’t get me wrong, you have a lot of freedom when you live on a boat and cruise the world; you just don’t have the freedom to choose when to leave, where to go, how long to stay or when to arrive. The comfort of an anchorage is also not to be taken for granted. All this is determined by the main domination in a sailor’s life: the weather.

Even when keeping a close eye on the forecasts, here in the Pacific, doesn’t necessarily mean that you “get what you ordered”, like during our trip from delightful Huahine to the metropolis of Tahiti. In between bouncing at anchor and being suffocated by poisonous smoke (which appeared to have been from an accidental fire in the recycling plant of Punaauia) in the Taina Marina area, we dealt with some errands on shore and ran from one doctor to another, and from one lab to the next, not forgetting about our initial appointment at the hospital. Without finding an answer to one of our health issues and having to decline a birthday drink invitation, both because of another unfavorable weather forecast, we crossed the channel to Moorea – under motor – to hide for the predicted 30-40 knot NW winds.

The anchorage areas on the east side of Moorea, near Vaiare, were new to us and – based on reviews of friends - we had been looking forward to spending some time on the eastern faced reef anchorages, in shallow, clear water over a sandy bottom. Facing outward, meant no mosquitoes, no smoke and a refreshing breeze. The current, however, is very strong here and from the moment we arrived, Irie didn’t stop moving about, the water rushing along the hulls as if we were underway. But, we did find a big spot for ourselves, with plenty of swinging room and none of the other boats close by, to sit out the inclement weather.

The storm from last weekend, albeit short in duration – just one night – would become the strongest one we have experienced in eight years of cruising. The wind gusts made the seawater airborne, and topped at over 50 knots. The lagoon was filled with white caps and all the anchored boats resembled hobby horses. Irie behaved splendidly, however, and was not one of the four cruising boats that dragged that dreadful night. The holding was great, we had 10:1 scope out in 7ft of water, and our Manson Supreme anchor, once again, performed perfectly.

The following afternoon, the sun stood bright in the sky as if nothing had happened. Life returned to its usual business, and taking a shower in the ocean was preceded by a snorkel with stingrays and colorful fish and coral in the clear waters of the lagoon. Another depression was looming on the weather charts. A day before it was predicted to hit us, we moved to the northern reef anchorage of Vaiare. And, good we did, since the nasty weather system arrived a day earlier than planned (always at night), having us pinned down on the boat again.

This time, the wind is supposed to keep coming out of the NNE and, as I write this, it is blowing a steady 25-30 knots, with gusts to 40 knots, and we can see the seas building in the channel between Tahiti and Moorea, on the other side of the fringing reef. The wind generator is happy, and so are our computers. Plenty of electricity and based on the forecast, plenty of rain to come as well. This, we welcome, since our fresh water tank needs filling. As long as the anchor holds – the bottom is less trustworthy here – we’ll be fine for the next four days or so… Then, more fun activities can fill our days again! If the weather cooperates. :-)

Marina Taina anchorage

Sunset over Moorea, seen from Tahiti
Mark fixing some rips in the sail bag, after the major storm

One of our geckos, surviving the salty trips and the bad weather

The "best thing" about being in Moorea: It is Tahiti on the horizon and not Moorea! :-) Tahiti at noon...

Tahiti at dusk...

Tahiti at sunset...
Tahiti at night!

Motoring past Vaiare and its marina...

... being accompanied by playful dolphins in the lagoon.

Beach near the Sofitel resort, north of Vaiare

Tahiti, on the other side of the channel

Fishing in the lagoon