After anchoring at Anchorage F (The Flats) in Cristobal harbour we dinghied to the Panama Canal Yacht Club (PCYC) and met Roger from the Marina Office, who quickly and efficiently tended to all our checking in formalities. First call was to the Admeasurers Office to arrange the yachts to be measured for the transit. This was arranged for the 31st March and was the most important appointment (to get in the queue). No transit schedule could be given until measurement was complete, fees paid and a telephone call made to prompt action to put one in the queue. Measurement was required to establish engine capability and fees (<50ft USD600, >50ft a higher fee, or >65ft a higher fee again and full Pilot required with almost immediate transit given). With other Customs and Immigration formalities under way we raised anchor from "The Flats" and tied up stern-to Med style to the PCYC jetty in front of an expansive lawn with Coconut trees which suited Daniel just fine. We were snug with our air-conditioning keeping us cool and remote from the mosquitoes and no-see-ums and we spent a busy 11 days, meeting new and old cruising acquaintances, provisioning, hiring lines, tires (extra fenders), servicing equipment and other things available in nearby dilapidated Colon town. We were always accompanied by a taxi driver (US$10/hour or US$1-2 /trip) as guide and chaperone against mugging and theft and we wove in and out amongst colourfully decorated buses. Eating out was a challenge at times as crews (including Daniel and Joleen) came down with food poisoning from insufficiently cooked chicken, however prices were inexpensive and the locals obliging and friendly. We were first given 22nd April as transit date, then after constant daily calls we were brought slowly forward to 10th April. All yachts <65ft are required to have a Panamanian advisor (trainee Pilot) onboard and four line handlers (we have Des "Woodwind" and Bill and Jackie "Pukka Belle" to assist Joleen). The common transit method is for three yachts to be rafted together before and in the locks, with the transit currently taking two days. Departure is usually from "The Flats" at dusk, to traverse up the three locks (total 85 feet) on the Atlantic side, then moor on a buoy for the night in freshwater Gatun Lake. The transit is continued the next day (with another Advisor) through the lake (+30 miles) then down the three locks on the Pacific side where advisor and line handlers disembark and lines/tires are returned. We anchored again on the Flats on 9th April amongst 42 other yachts and motor boats at various stages of canal preparation, having left our air-conditioned haven to take on diesel fuel at the PCYC fuel jetty. The weather was wet and windless and we had an extra 280 litres in 14 jerrycans beyond normal inboard tank capacity of 350 litres as insurance against windless conditions in the Gulf of Panama enroute to Galapagos (900 miles) and Marquesas (3100 miles).
Dusk on 10th April arrived quickly after lots of "last minute" items and quick farewells to cruising buddies. Our line handlers assisted the advisor onboard from the Pilot launch only 30 minutes after the appointed time of 1700hrs (a good omen for a quick transit?). Some yachts have been delayed hours or days which plays havoc with line handler arrangements and catering. Our advisor asked us to motor slowly behind "Najelys" a French catamaran which was to be our rafting buddy through the up-locks (the other yacht scheduled was a no-show). Motoring slowly was a surprise as the Admeasurers had indicated we would have to do 8 knots which everyone admitted they could do but rarely achieved. At a large mooring buoy before the entrance to the first lock we rafted to the port side of "Najelys" and had some anxious times as wake from fast moving launches put severe strain on our cleats and taut lines. A large ship was ushered ahead of us and we nestled behind up from the dark into glaring lights as the lock gates closed and we rose in the locks. The ascending was uneventful, with lines skillfully hauled in as we rose with the swirling waters as millions of gallons of lake water filled the locks from huge portals below us. We motored a few miles to large yellow mooring buoys where our advisor departed and we rafted to "Najelys" again for the night, our extended crew enjoying the quiet conditions and an evening meal and drinks. Unfortunately the heavens opened and a very wet night meant hot conditions down below for all with hatches closed.
The next morning, our advisor for the Lake transit and down-locks arrived on time at 0700hrs and we motored off in convoy, heavily laden (our tires were all full of rain water adding to the extra weight of full fuel and water tanks for the trip to the Marquesas. The lake transit was uneventful keeping to the narrow channel weaving between tree clad islands and passing the occasional dead tree still standing "knee deep" after the Rio Chagres valley was flooded to form the lake 92 years earlier in 1913. We rafted starboard side to "Najelys" again and a US ketch "Moriah" tied to her other side as we descended down the Mia Flores Locks into the Pacific Ocean. The line handling was largely a sit and wait yawn but a bit trickier on descending as the line handlers had to coordinate letting out lines across our "raft of yachts" as water rapidly drained the locks and at times we slewed at angles to the scarred lock walls. Daniel kept a watch on issues with lots of advice. When the advisors called "full power Captains" and the raft roared through little Lake Mia Flores to catch the last two locks a "hole" was created between our bow and stern waves. This had us and the US yacht heeling alarmingly in towards the catamaran as lines creaked and groaned under the strain. The Head advisor for the raft (on the catamaran) the previous night was much more competent and aware than the nonchalant chap the second day however we survived unscathed and celebrated our arrival in the Pacific with champagne as we passed under the towering Bridge of Americas. The Canal transit was 41 miles from the Flats anchorage at Cristobal on the Caribbean Sea to Flamenco anchorage on the Pacific side (see map) where our advisor was whipped away on a Pilot launch and our trusty line handlers headed back to Cristobal by road to prepare for their respective transits.
Only one night was spent at Flamenco anchorage which had an alarming surge at times and the largest tidal range (>5 metres) we had experienced for years. We had cleared Customs and Immigration at Colon before the transit and on the morning of 12th April we motored off in windless conditions to the Las Perlas (the Pearls) Islands 38 miles away to await our buddies "Candidus" who were transiting the Canal on 12/13th April. The 2 nights / 3 days at Las Perlas Islands was a disappointment with murky water, lots of jellyfish and hoards of no-see-um sandflies (we had been spoilt in the San Blas Islands and our expectations were perhaps too high!!). We anchored first on the eastern side of Bayoneta Island in the central part of Las Perlas group and enjoyed a flat water anchorage with only ourselves as company and hoards of no-see-ums which were large enough to see buzzing around our cockpit light. Ratna had earlier put a hand-line over the side and when raised two ugly glutinous cat fish were on the line. They were hurriedly returned to the waters and when I jumped in to inspect the growth on our hull the murk revealed schools of the ugly creatures with their whiskers waiting for offerings amongst 1000's of jellyfish. Las Perlas Islands as the name indicates were once rich in pearls and occupied by Indians similar to those of the San Blas. The early Spanish conquerors however decimated the population and replaced them with slaves from the Caribbean who were forced to harvest the pearls to extinction. Only a few small motor fishing boats with their descendents were seen occasionally passing otherwise we seemingly had the Islands to ourselves. On 13th April we motored a few miles south to Don Bernardo anchorage on Pedro Gonzalez Island which the pilot book recommended as the most beautiful anchorage in the "Pearls". The hull had required cleaning and I donned a lycra suit with dive gear to clean goose barnacles and weed whose growth would hinder our progress. The anchorage on the east coast was nice enough with a palm tree clad white sandy beach but the water was still murky, full of jelly fish and a northerly swell came around the corner creating a lively night as we lay awake scratching our red welts from the no-see-um bites. The wind was picking up from the north tempting us to take advantage and head off south to the Galapagos but we waited for "Candidus" and on a radio sked on morning of 14th April they confirmed their departure from Flamenco anchorage after a successful Canal transit. The wind was too good to waste and we concurred with our cruising buddies that we should start our 900 mile leg to the Galapagos so we sailed down to San Jose Island the southwestern most of the Perlas and anchored off a large white sandy beach "Playa Grande" for a few hours until "Candidus" came abreast of the Island. The anchorage here was the most picturesque we had seen in this vicinity and the waters were surprisingly clear and free of jelly fish however the temptation to stay was outweighed by the beautiful north westerly wind which was now blowing >15knots and we raised anchor and headed to the Galapagos.
The northerly winds continued at varied strength for the first 24 hours. Firstly NW 15-23 knots which then decreased to N 10-16 knots as we enjoyed a broad reach then wing and wing with genoa and mainsail, making good progress on our way southwest. The winds eventually died and then came in lightly at 1-5 knots from the south then southwest as we motored for 24 hours in a slightly lumpy seas. We were seemingly passing through the ITCZ (intertropical convergence zone) and on the south side were to have the usual head winds and adverse currents as S or SW winds blew up the South American coast and the cold Humboldt current set northwards. This leg to the Galapagos was notorious for either windless or headwind conditions with adverse current. The wind gradually picked up to an 8knot SW which was sufficient for us to sail into, though heading hard on the wind towards Ecuador rather than the Galapagos. Rain came down in buckets most of the morning of 17th April as we crashed on, continuing hard on the wind which built to 15-18kts from the south west. The wind was fickle at times and we motored when it died down to <5kts gradually clawing our way to the southwest. It was hard work and our first reintroduction to hard windward work, the last time was 12 months earlier in the Med. Our heavy laden craft required three reefs in the main to keep her upright as 180 litres of fuel on our leeward side had us dipping our toe-rail as we banged and crashed our way southwest. Our trusty autopilot decided it was too hard and the electric motor in the drive arm failed but fortunately a backup motor was available and that was installed and re-engaged after only a short period of hand steering. The sails were also showing attrition with a tear in the genoa leach and on the mainsail where the suns UV rays had weakened the cloth. The wind swung more to the south early on the morning of 18th April only to come back to the SW again before eventually settling in the south on the 19th April allowing us to free our sheets a little for the remaining few days. We eventually crossed the equator on 20th April at 1942hours in 10knots south-easterly winds and with favourable current at last. Being Dani's and Joleen's first equator crossing the Neptune party would be scheduled at a more respectable hour once we and "Candidus" were nestled in harbour. San Cristobal Island, the eastern most of the Galapagos Islands came into view early in the morning of 21st April. We motored down the lee of the Island in windless conditions past impressive Kicker Rock with a beam of early morning sunlight showing us the way. Gratefully at 0850 hours on 21st April we dropped anchor in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno 6.5 days after departing Las Perlas Islands in Panama. The trip had been a mixed bag with a weaving track but we now had the leg behind us and looked forward to more favourable trade winds on the next leg to the Marquesas.
The little town at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal (see map) was a pleasant surprise. A bigger version of a quaint little village of Graciosa in the Canary Islands, the town had everything one wanted for relaxation and re-supplying for the next long leg to the Marquesas. The anchorage had about a dozen visiting yachts amongst local fishing and tourist craft and was sheltered from any SE or S swell as waves broke on the enclosing headlands. Yellow water taxi dinghies ferried us ashore for US 50c / head to save attrition on our dinghies from the seals who brazenly climbed in and out sleeping or fighting for possession. The checking in formalities were a breeze, Immigration at the Police Station (US$30) and Port Captain for Customs and Port dues (US$137 for us). Daniel when back onboard promptly located the hose pistol which he tucked into his pants and with a stern look advised that he was a policeman, mimicking the officials at the Police Station. Fuel was available at cheaper rates than Panama (US$1.25/gallon delivered), internet cafes, supermarkets, hardware stores and restaurants abounded. Civilization when we last expected it and all the locals were very obliging and friendly and this remote outpost of Ecuador had us wishing our Spanish was more up to scratch. "Candidus" arrived on the morning of 22nd April and that evening we held a Neptune party on "Star of the West" to celebrate Dani and Joleen's graduation to the "Club". Paying homage to Neptune they were suitably coated with sauce, flour rice food left-overs and after Dani's initial surprise and indignation accepted the coatings with humour. We repaired sails, re-supplied, refueled, and on 24th April did a land tour of the island visiting a giant tortoise sanctuary, volcanic crater and iguana and seal colonies capped off with a nice lunch with Fernando our Tour Operator whose Mum had an amazing number of yachts registered in her guest book of approximately 20 years. We did a snorkelling trip to nearby Lobos (Seal) Island and swam with seals and had close encounters with a variety of bird-life including frigate birds and pelicans. Joleen relaxed in her new Ecuadorian hammock and fishermen and Water taxi operators kept us well fed on fish at giveaway prices. An orange variety with large fleshy head had juicy flesh with texture and taste similar to lobster and became a frequent dish.
10 days went very quickly but with a nice southerly wind we headed westwards at sunrise on 30th April to cover the 55 miles to Santa Maria (Floreana) Island in daylight hours. A good wind and westward setting current at 1-1.5 knots had us arriving in Post Office Bay at 1400 hours where we had several tour boats come and go during the afternoon with only one sharing the anchorage overnight. The Bay was renown for its Post Office barrel dating back to whaling days when messages and letters were left and magically collected and delivered by other craft to destinations all over the world. We were anchored well out in flat water and didn't go ashore as the logistics for unshipping the dinghy and outboard motor and fuel tanks were too much and just enjoyed close encounters with the wildlife.
On 1st May, we motored and sailed in quiet conditions, past the partly submerged volcanic crater forming Isla Tortuga, 35 miles west-northwest to Villamil anchorage on Isabel Island where "Candidus" and 20+ other yachts were at anchor. The anchorage was tucked behind black lava flows with their white lichen, mangrove and cactus coatings which camouflaged populations of iguanas, penguins, seals, boobies, pelicans and a myriad of other wildlife, all a stones throw away. The little town of Villamil at the foot of Sierra Negra volcano (second largest crater in the world) only had dirt roads but had all the facilities that we had found at San Cristobal Island. We re-supplied, connected to the internet and did a few maintenance jobs (varnishing the teak rubbing strakes) in the quiet waters amongst the plop plop sounds of diving boobies who dive bombed from great heights to frighteningly close proximity of anchored yachts. We met David & Janet on "Harmonica" from Canada, friends of Glen & Judy "Candidus", who had last met in Turkey and said bye-bye to Jay and crew on UK yacht "Lista Light" who departed a few days after we arrived, we had last seen them at Colon in Panama.
Seals were better mannered here than the ones at San Cristobal and swam around the anchored yachts but showed no interest in trying to climb aboard so dinghies could be used for exploration and journeys to the nearby jetty where a short US$1 taxi ride had us in the centre of Villamil. The mornings were clear and fish life abounded as they swam around wondering whose breakfast they were going to be today. Fish, seals, penguins and other birds competed for fish breakfast in an amazing display. On the 4th May, southeast trade winds were forecast to build in the area over the next few days, so preparations were made for our departure to the Marquesas, 3,043 miles to the west.
A swell joggling us in the little anchorage at Villamil announced that the trade winds were blowing from some distance and we decided to take advantage of their presence and apparent strength by departing on the big leg to the Marquesas (French Polynesia) immediately on the 4th May (see map). At 1435hrs cleared the marker buoys to the Villamil channel we sailed off westwards commencing our longest passage to date. "Candidus" had departed the day before and had reported seeing whales off the southwestern tip of Isabela Is and we were rewarded with a view (albeit at a distance) of the familiar spout of water off our starboard side as one lazily made its way eastwards opposite to our path. We were quickly refocused when our two trailing lures went taut together with a flurry of white water behind us. One almost immediately went slack however the other was quickly hauled in to reveal a disemboweled tailless tuna with large serrated teeth marks in its flesh behind the gill area. We managed to get the remnants of the tuna onboard and it became obvious later when we observed a large dorsal fin which was following the trail of discarded intestine and bones that we had been competing with a very large shark. The evening tuna meal was consumed with an eye to the surrounding waters realizing that we could easily become someone's evening meal if we strayed outside our little cocoon!
The days and the early moonless nights quickly rushed by as we settled into our passage routine. Our progress was firstly satisfying then astounding as the miles slid under our keel. We rushed off westwards with an assisting current of 1.5-2 knots and 15-25 knot southeast trade winds that ruffled up a lumpy swell but which blew us steadily onto our destination from either our port beam or just aft. We three sail reached or ran wing and wing with genoa and mainsail depending on the wind angle and had record daily runs for our second to fourth days out with 180, 190 and 181 miles recorded between noon positions! We had completed the first 1,000 miles early on the morning of 10th May only 5.5 days out from the Galapagos at an average speed displayed by the trusty GPS of 7.5 knots. Later in the day we caught sight of a white sail and shared a few days in sight of Swedish owned yacht "Milou" who confirmed on VHF radio that they were also enjoying the fast passage.
A little hiccup arrived on 11th May, with our autopilot finding it more difficult to maintain course as the mechanical section of the arm jammed when the ball bearings reached a tight spot. A number of years and countless miles had taken their toll and we started to hand steer whilst a solution was sought. On the leg from Panama to Galapagos, this Autohelm 4000 arm electrical motor section had failed and had been resurrected by scavenging the 12volt motor section from a standby arm whose mechanical section had failed a decade earlier. The standby Autohelm 2000 autopilot had on that occasion refused to hold course and the marriage of 2 good sections of ST4000 arms had saved the day. This time the ST2000 arm saved the day as it was wired into the 4000 control head and when hooked back onto the tiller held course well even though being slightly slower to react than the larger 4000 unit. We had hand steered for only 4 miles rather than the horrible prospect of 1,800 plus the legs to Tahiti before we could seek a more permanent remedy!
The passage continued rapidly, we adjusted our clocks to suit the later sunrises/sunsets and had several daily radio skeds, one with "Candidus" who we were slowly closing on, as they were a smaller yacht and larger "Harmonica" who were closing on us having left the day after us. We reached the halfway mark at 0345 hrs on 13th May ("Black Friday") and whilst the westerly setting current was getting weaker and the winds were lightening off we had covered 1,500 miles in 8.5 days at an average speed of 7.3 knots, very pleasing. The winds lightened off to 6-10 knots from the east-south-east heralding the second half of the trip and on the 14th May we raised the gennaker for the first time in the Pacific to maintain momentum. Large 55ft US catamaran "Ohana" motored past on our southern horizon later in the morning in light winds, we had been talking to them on and off on VHF since the beginning of the trip. Light winds with rain squalls continued on and off for the next week as we moved westwards. Genoa sheets chafed through where they passed through the pole, plastic ends broke off the autopilot arm and had to be re-glued and bolted, staysail pole tack fitting came loose and had to be re-riveted and a number of other minor maintenance issues kept us busy in between reefing / furling re-hoisting sails to match the variable conditions. At dusk on 17th May, we hauled in a 2.3 metre sailfish which provided much excitement and a very messy cockpit. The fridge was now full as we still had numerous Mahi-mahi filleted from earlier days catches. On the morning of 18th May we sighted the sails of US ketch "Perigrinata" who were +35 days out from Ecuador and had been having a very slow trip. On one occasion in zero winds they had resorted to diving over the side to clean the forest of goose-barnacles which were hindering their progress. Days and nights meshed together, the moon gradually became full, Joleen kept up her daily sun sight routine, mastering the sextant, bread was baked, fish dishes predominated from the galley, Radio NZ broadcasts were clearer on 6095khz in the mornings and 9885khz in the evenings and even Super 12 rugby semi-finals and finals were listened to. Finally on the afternoon of 20th May (day 16) the wind had dropped to 6knots from behind and we resorted to motoring for the first time and TV addicts watched videos or we were entertained by our budding musician. We motored on and off for 8.5 hours as the wind came and went until settling in again just before midday on 21st May with a slight northerly component in the east wind and we gybed and raised the gennaker and were on starboard tack for the first time on this leg. This didn't last long and we gybed again and headed west-south-west off our rhumb-line in squally weather. More mahi-mahi jumped on our lines and our cockpit was jumble of preventer lines, genoa sheets and fishing tackle.
On daybreak on 23rd May we gybed onto starboard for final course for Nuku Hiva. The gybe was a prolonged affair as genoa had to be furled, gennaker dowsed and reset on port side, mainsail gybed and preventer repositioned, and genoa poled out on opposite side to windward. During the morning we sighted the sheer cliffs of Fatu Huku Island far on the southern horizon, then on dusk passed close to the southern shore of Ua Huka Island with a large school of dolphins playing under the bow. We had chosen Nuku Hiva as our destination in the Marquesas after consulting the excellent "Guide to Navigation and Tourism in French Polynesia" by Patrick Bonnette and Emmanuel Deschamps. The Guide, in English, was very informative, drawing on the authors +20 years experience in French Polynesia, Bonnette had been harbourmaster at Port of Papeete for a number of years. They wrote, "The island of Nuku Hiva is, without doubt, the most welcoming of all the Marquesas Islands, as much by the friendliness of the inhabitants as by the security of the anchorages ..." That sounded like music to our ears and would suit our purposes nicely as we were watchful of the quick passage of time, it now being close to the end of May and we were still intent on reaching New Zealand by September.
Finally just before midnight, in the lee of Nuku Hiva, we furled the sails and motored, arriving and anchoring at 0235hrs on 24th May outside approx 20 other yachts at Taiohae Bay Nuku Hiva Marquesas. The 3043 mile leg had taken 19.5 days (see map) and we had sailed all but 12 hours of motoring having been extremely fortunate to have kept the wind which with the current assist had us average 6.5 knots for the trip.
We awoke later in the morning of 24th May with the glow of having the "BIG" passage behind us and emerged from down-below to the awesome sight of the huge natural amphitheatre-like mountain backdrop of Taiohae Bay. We shifted anchor closer to the dinghy dock and unshipped the dinghy and went ashore to complete check-in formalities and restock with fresh veges and fruit.
The Gendarmerie undertook all the clearance formalities in a friendly casual atmosphere, (their shorts a contrast to the formal uniforms of Central American Police). We were given 30 days visa free entry (Joleen unlimited because of her EU passport), however because of the convenience of the Bank, Post Office and Gendarmerie we chose to complete bond formalities at the same time and receive a three month visa. The bond was equivalent to 3 airfares out of French Polynesia to our Countries of Domicile and funds were swiftly extracted from our credit card account, followed by purchase of a 3,000 Pacific franc (USD30) stamp at the PO for each passport, then endorsement of passports back at the Gendarmerie. In hindsight it would have been better to have completed the formalities in Papeete, Tahiti, allowing less time of funds in others hands, and also the possibility of parting with no funds at all as others were able to, by presenting a typed flight itinerary to the officials. Never mind we were officially in and only requirements were to report out and in at Gendarmeries at other locations we visited in French Polynesia.
We were to spend 9 days in Nuku Hiva, the most populated and largest of the islands, which rises to 1,200 metres and occupying approx 330 square kilometres. The "Mighty" Marquesas are 12 volcanic islands whose sheer cliffs rise out of the depths and have deeply dissected valleys between peaks and spires demonstrating their volcanic plug and cone origins. The towering mountains, bright green vegetation, fresh flower aromas, friendly people were great however as there were no fringing reefs, the anchorages were exposed to distant ocean swells and only the rolly anchorages detracted from perfection.
Our visit to Taiohae Bay coincided with Mother's Day celebrations on 28th May and Joleen, Judy ("Candidus"), Ratna and Daniel went to Tahitian dancing classes as part of the build up. On the Mothers Day evening, "Candidus" and ourselves were allocated a table under the converted and decorated Market building on the waterfront amongst seemingly the entire Island population and sprinkling of other cruising yachties. We were fed an enormous meal which kept bellies full for days (you name it we ate it!!). The meal was followed by the dancing which was good, and went on for hours. Essentially all women, old and young with the exception of a couple of boys dressed up as girls, (a feature of their culture), doing a variety of dances from hula type to classical Tahitian. They were joined by a solitary male later in the proceedings who had all the hand and hip movements as his confidence grew during the evening (Yes Dan the Man!!) He enjoyed his first large gathering of kids since our trip to Wales and considered himself a visiting dignitary as he strolled around the edge of the dance floor shaking hands with all and sundry. He was really exhausted when we eventually dinghied back to the boat.
The little town atmosphere of Taiohae was very nice and we had telephone and internet connections with the outside world. Jocelyn, a French lady married to a local Gambier Island man ran tours of the island and together with Glen and Judy we were treated to a very knowledgeable and informative historical, panoramic, flora and fauna day tour with Jocelyn in her Landover. Glen and I sat in the back and were jostled around as we traversed peaks and valleys and stopped at numerous spots to rest derrieres and take pictures, generally with posers as first Ratna and then Joleen paraded in the traditional grass skirts obtained after the earlier dance festival. We visited some remarkable stone platforms being the remnants of old villages (Maraes) with their tikis and pits for storage of captured unfortunates before they were beheaded and cooked!! Ratna was delighted with the fauna as it was identical to her Indonesia and she often beat Jocelyn to the draw with descriptions. We arrived back at the anchorage very tired and satisfied to have been fortunate to taste the past and present of these fascinating islands. The anchorage was being joggled with a southerly swell and we took leave of Taiohae Bay and motored around the southwest corner of Nuku Hiva to Daniel's Bay (Hakatea Bay) where we spent a few restful nights in company with Australian yachts, "Libelle", "Sutemon", and Jorja". Together with "Candidus" and ourselves Antipodean flags ruled the Bay. Several crews (including Joleen) walked to the waterfall, and we gathered one evening on the beach for a few sundowners. On the afternoon before departure we visited Daniel (Bay's namesake) and his wife Antionette and found a remarkable relaxed calm elderly Marquesan couple who showered us with fruit gifts and nicknamed Dani, "Daniel Ocean". Their simple residence with its expanse of lawn and ocean frontage and mountain backdrop was postcard stuff and we were sad to leave, but had to exit before dark and the falling tide cutoff our dinghy exit from the lagoon. We were leaving the next morning for the Tuamotu's and flat anchorages as radio skeds with other yachts throughout the Marquesas reported rolly conditions in most of the other island anchorages.
From the "Mighty Marquesas", to the "tranquil Tuamotu's" only 500 miles away (see map) which seemed a hop and a step after the previous leg from the Galapagos. We departed reluctantly from Daniel's Bay on the morning of 2nd June in light 10 knot ESE winds and a moderate southerly swell. The horizon was dotted with half a dozen other sails as yachts took leave of Nuku Hiva and headed to different destinations. Estimating approximate speed over the next 4 days we had expected daytime arrival at either Ahe or Manihi atolls as our possible destination in the Tuamotu's. The atolls required daytime entry at slack or flood tides through passes in reefs to avoid strong adverse current flows (3-9 knots). The Tuamotus are also known as the "dangerous archipelago" due to pre-GPS navigation days claiming numerous craft on its reefs due to strong currents and poorly visible low lying semi-circular atolls (Motus), which rise abruptly from >1,000 metre depths.
The wind dropped out entirely on the morning of 3rd June and we motored for 6 hours until dark clouds heralded forthcoming breeze and around midday we were sailing nicely again. During the morning whilst motoring and making water from the engine driven watermaker I had forgotten I was doing a freshwater flush of the membrane and emptied 350 litres of fresh water into the ocean which raised negative emotions. However just after midday a 1.7m sailfish was landed and more positive emotions ensued and the tail was added to our collection on the backstay. At twilight on 4th June whilst attempting to reduce genoa sail area as a precautionary measure for the night the furling line had overridden on the furling drum and jammed not allowing the genoa to be furled beyond a couple of turns. The problem was slowly remedied by unwinding turn for turn at the drum until the override was reached and freed and perseverance paid off as during the night a squall with 20 knots blasted us for a while which would have been embarrassing if not dangerous. The wind had returned nicely albeit a bit squally and we rushed off southwest at a good pace with noon to noon runs of 139 and 158 miles for 4th and 5th June. Our progress had been better than expected and arrival at Ahe or Manihi atolls was going to be after dark and our French Polynesian Guidebook was re-consulted for an alternative destination. The description of Apataki atoll in the Guide "It would be regrettable if you visit Apataki and do not make a tour of the lagoon and spend 3 - 4 days in these marvellous sites" seemed to fit our needs admirably and we changed our destination to Apataki. We furled the headsails, put two reefs in the mainsail and jogged slowly through the night to the northwest pass to arrive just on daybreak on 6th June. We waited for the sun to rise sufficiently to provide good visibility of reef and shallow patches and nosed our way into Tehere Pass. The tide was ebbing and the out-flowing current was evident by smooth and ruffled water as we motored against the current at 5.5 knots. We kept to centre of the Pass and depths of +20 metres and at times our progress over the ground slowed to 1.5 - 2 knots indicating an adverse current of 3.5 - 4 knots but we persevered and with the current trying to swing us port and starboard we passed over a shallow 11 metre bank inside the pass and we were through, 4 days after departure from the Marquesas.
The northern anchorage inside Apataki lagoon adjacent to Tehere Pass indicated in the Guide was exposed to the ESE wind and we motored east across to the northeastern corner of the lagoon keeping a watchful eye on shallow subsurface and surface coral "bommie" patches which stood out brown (helped by Polaroid sunglasses). The water was generally 20-30 metres deep and several shallow patches seemed aligned and were easily avoided and we passed several lines of buoy floats marking positions of Pearl Oyster farms before anchoring in 8 metres of crystal clear flat water adjacent to an unoccupied Pearl farm.
The "tranquil Tuamotu's", (see map), seemed to be a world away from civilization as we enjoyed the first flat calm anchorages since a night in Gatun Lake Panama in the middle of our Panama Canal transit. The lagoons are protected by a narrow strip of sand and coral forming fragile coconut tree clad islands only a few metres high and the outer fringing reefs provide little opportunity to anchor as they drop off almost vertically to ocean depths, and the sound of the seas energy could be heard thundering on the other side of our protective barrier. Whilst the area of habitable land was small inside the narrow protective barrier the lagoons are large. The largest of the 76 atolls, Rangiroa atoll is 45 miles long by 18 miles wide elongated northwest - southeast and our Apataki was 18 by 15 miles and it took several hours to motor from Tehere Pass to the northwest corner. This first anchorage was uninhabited opposite an abandoned Pearl farm and narrow white coral sand beaches were overhung by coconut palms with only the sound of the occasional fish jumping and the distant sound of the waves on the outer reef. We were joined by "Libelle" (Tim and Phillip) and "Candidus" our buddy boat since the Caribbean and enjoyed 3 lazy days re-arranging our "ship" into cruise-mode after the long passages and swimming or exploring ashore.
All 3 yachts headed south on afternoon of 9th June 15 miles inside the eastern Motus to Motu Totoro in the southeast where the Lau family ran a successful Pearl farm and graciously hosted yachties who happened by. Three other yachts "Wind River", "Northern Star" and "Belle Bris" were at anchor off the jetty and pearl processing shed and the six yachts were all spoilt by Alfred and his three workers. They showed us their pearls and the intricacies of pearl grafting, shelling and resetting. We bought some raw pearls and fed their "tame" shark at the waters edge and explored the Motu (Island). On 11th June we accompanied Alfred in his workboat, an hours ride, to Niutahi village at the southwest Pakaka Pass where he departed for Tahiti from the tiny airport and his Dad Assam arrived. Niutahi was a tidy little place of a few hundred inhabitants, lots of children and we bought a few items at the little magasin (minimarket). We accompanied Assam back to Totoro where he hosted all of us to a Pig roast dinner which Alfred had begun earlier in the morning cooking traditional Tuamotu style in a hole dug into the coral. A couple of wet days followed where we tackled onboard chores or watched videos on TV then on the morning of 14th June "Libelle" departed for Tahiti and we assisted "Candidus" untangle their anchor chain from the various "bommies" on the lagoon floor and they too were off to Tahiti. We said our goodbyes to Assam and the staff and we sailed off to Niutahi village to anchor for the night and head southeast the next day to nearby Toau atoll. After leaving the sanctuary of the anchorage at Assam's Pearl farm the Niutahi anchorage was animated and exposed to the south-easterly wind which had freshened to 15-20 knots. This also made the trip to nearby Toau and Fakarava Atolls a windward slog so our planned visit to more of the "tranquil Tuamotus" was aborted and the only sensible option was to go with the wind west to Tahiti. The current was flowing strongly out of Pakaka Pass at Niutahi and we anchored briefly in the Pass on the southern side in a weak counter current beside the motorboat entrance to the village and shipped the outboard and dinghy.
At 1400hrs on 14th June we were spat out of Pakaka Pass with the ebb current into the Pacific ocean again after 8 magnificent days in blissful flat waters. A group of surfers were taking advantage of a distant southerly swell forming breakers on the southern entrance of the pass which hinted of the seas we were to encounter once outside the shelter of the atolls. We sailed directly westwards to clear the northern edge of Kaukura atoll before changing course to the southwest for Tahiti in the Society Island group of French Polynesia. This was a +200 mile trip and as we cleared the northern edge of Kaukura atoll just on dusk we coiled up our trailing lures to find that our large successful one that caught the two sailfish was gone, probably in the mouth of some monster that would have been difficult to land. Our shelter from the ocean swells was lost and we encountered a miserable cross swell that was to be with us for most of the journey to Tahiti. Most of 15th June we crashed and bashed southwest in a 15-20 knot SSE wind and cantankerous seas that firstly broke the vang on the main boom then a 10x50mm stainless steel backstay tang, as the rig was stressed with the varied loads. Fortunately with two backstays, no major damage was sustained and shackles were coupled to bypass the broken tang and we were reasonably shipshape again. At 1600 hrs the barometer had dropped 5 millibars since 1200hrs and we expected worse conditions and furled the genoa and put a reef in the mainsail as the wind picked up to 20-25 knots and swung to the northeast. The wind however moderated though the sea conditions remained confused as we rolled our way southwest. Radio skeds during the day revealed fellow Antipodeans who we had spent time with in the West Indies in January and February were on passage between Galapagos and Marquesas and we were thankful we had the long passages behind us for the time being. The loom of lights from Papeete were visible from 2200 hrs and at 0500 hrs on 16th June we hove to off Passť Papeete to wait daybreak and entry into the lagoon.
Papeete was our first big town since Colon and Panama City in Panama and we made the obligatory call to Port Control on VHF channel 12 to announce our arrival at Passť Papeete and seek permission to enter and also proceed inside the fringing reef to Maeva Beach anchorage on the southern side of the airport. This was authorized and we called up as instructed before proceeding past first the eastern then western ends of the runway for permission should there be aircraft traffic at the time. We found a vacant mooring buoy in 3.8 metres of water adjacent to the deeper channel off Marina Taina at Maeva Beach and enjoyed swimming in the flat crystal clear water amongst a myriad of other cruising yachts with the vista of the mountains of Tahiti and the sprawl of suburban Papeete. The Society Islands of French Polynesia promised a combination of mountainous islands like the "Mighty Marquesas" with the security of flat anchorages inside the fringing reefs as offered by the "Tranquil Tuamotu's".
We were required once again, to complete the entry formalities with Immigration, Customs and Port Captain and this was quickly and efficiently done at a combined centre next to the town jetty in central Papeete after a novelty ride in a "Le Truk" bus. We enjoyed these rides to and from town, had shopping sprees at the big Carrefour supermarket adjacent to the anchorage and generally chilled out in our longest stopover since Colon in Panama. Maintenance jobs were done to keep our floating home shipshape for the remaining 2,700 miles to New Zealand. Our inner-forestay had to be re-enforced with clamps and additional wire as it had nearly parted near the upper swage even though it was only 15months old. Haircuts were had, (town for the girls, no4's on-board for the boys) to try and reduce obvious ageing and negate the wear and tear from the miles covered that our bods were showing in sympathy with "Star of the West". We shared a minibus with "Libelle" and "Candidus" on 19th June and circumnavigated Tahiti island with John of Kaku Transport tours. John enthusiastically kept us informed of relevant sites which included Pointe Venus where Capt Cook observed the transit of Venus in the 1700's, historical buildings, a waterfall, Paul Gauguin museum and botanical gardens, stone platforms of an ancient Marae, limestone caves and a number of other places in this most picturesque place. Papeete surprisingly didn't have a lot of conspicuous hotels due to wise building height restrictions. Whilst the airport was busy with international flights to the America's and other Pacific destinations tourists are not particularly evident and we intermingled largely with colourful locals in the streets, markets and shopping malls.
Prices are generally high throughout French Polynesia compared to recently visited Central American countries and New Zealand and Asian costs which we are more familiar with. There is a large volume of New Zealand goods sold in the shops and a pleasant surprise is the relatively inexpensive NZ lamb and beef compared with prices we remember in NZ. After our long period of fish dishes we have been enjoying steak and lamb meals on our long neglected and unused barbeque. Daniel, with his lifejacket for buoyancy, has been enjoying big swims around the boat in the flat water and has taken to launching himself unafraid off the top of the boarding ladder into the water. Commentaries of the Lions rugby tour of NZ have been followed on the radio and Joleen accompanied an Air NZ flight crew, to watch TV in their hotel and see her team and hero (Brian O'Driscoll) get bashed by the All Blacks 21-3 in blizzard like conditions in the first test in Christchurch. Two of the pilots on stop-over in Papeete paddled by in a canoe on the morning of the game and when seeing our NZ flag struck up conversation and kindly offered their TV lounge.
Friends Val & Tony "Mulloka II" arrived from the Tuamotu's and we caught up with news, views and experiences, since seeing them last in Colon Panama. On 30th June we completed clearance formalities, restocked with supplies to head through the remainder of the Society Islands before heading west again to the Cook Islands. Weather reports from NZ indicate mid-Winter conditions are in full swing which we hope will moderate before we head south from Tonga in August.