A brain teaser

This reminds me of the sort of task we were given to solve at officer school.

You are anchored off a coral reef with no village or habitation nearby. The reef has coral, coconuts and crabs. Your diesel tank has dirt in it that is blocking the flow and leading to the engine stalling. The tank is full to the top. You have three 10 liter cans of fuel but they are also full. There is a drain plug but if you open it, all the fuel will run out and you will never get the plug back in. There is an inspection hatch but half way down the tank so you need to empty at least 70 liters of diesel to open it. The lagoon is pristine clean so you may not lose any diesel overboard. You have a few items:

  • a few buckets (one with a hole in)
  • a dinghy
  • rags and mosquito nets
  • a garden hose
  • clothes pegs
  • rubbish bags

We took Saturday off to think this through (and lounge around and read and have fun). By Sunday we had a solution that seemed possible.

  1. Empty one canister of diesel in to the broken bucket using a rubbish bag to stop the diesel escaping through the hole
  2. Disconnect the outlet to the engine (after closing the stopcock)
  3. Attach the garden hose to the outlet with a jubilee clip “borrowed” from the fresh water plumbing.
  4. Use the dinghy pump to blow air back in to the tank clearing the blockage.
  5. Run diesel in to the other bucket
  6. Filter the diesel in to the canister using a mosquito net and a rag held in place with clothes pegs
  7. Filter the diesel back in to the tank with net and rag
  8. Repeat 5 to 7 until only clean diesel flows
  9. Reconnect the engine to the tank and test.

And? It worked. There is no more dirt coming out of the tank and when we tested the engine it ran. A great Sunday!

Plan. Do. Tidy up!

A wise colleague once told me “you need a day to plan, a day to do, and a day to document and tidy up.”

The planning for our trip took three days if you count re-provisioning, re-fueling, weather maps, tide tables, pilot books and charts.

The actual trip took three days.

And now it seems the tidying up will also last as long. Yesterday we washed the salt water out of clothes, rags, ropes and towels. We also put things back away where they should be and generally tidied up.

Today we emptied, dried and cleaned the front cabin and toilet, washed sheets and clothes, aired everything and polished woodwork.

And tomorrow the saloon awaits our care. Then maybe Artemis will once again look as Artemis should look.

Did I mention that all this “working” is happening in a blue lagoon fringed by coral reefs and palm islands? Life could be worse.

Escape from Tahiti (and lockdown)

In my last post I wrote of our leaving Huahine, heading for the Tuamotus archipelago and how we stopped in Tahiti to await better weather.

Twice we thought we had a weather window but the strong wind and high waves deterred us. After a week the forecast was three meters of swell from the south and an east wind of 20 knots decreasing as we headed north. We wrote to Davo that we thought things looked good and we were leaving. He just answered “If things are looking good from your point of view, that’s good!
… Good luck! 🤞🏼”

Although we did not know it, only three hours before we left the government announced a strict anti-covid confinement/containment would start in three days across all the Society Islands. If we had not have left by then, we wouldn’t have been able to move for at least 15 days.

The three meter swell was real but it was from the side and the 20 knot wind was actually 20-30 knots. For the first day we were hard on the wind and taking the waves over the deck. Some waves we cut straight through and were doing submarine impressions. Some we rode over like a rodeo rider. The only hot meal was a soup and we felt like we were living in a washing machine.

The wind and the waves pushed us downwind and on the second day, when the waves eased a little we were further west than hoped and began working our way upwind. At least it was once again safe to use the cooker so Heidi produced pizza for lunch and fresh bread.

Fresh homemade pizza

After being beaten up by the wind only a day earlier, we now had light winds or were becalmed. After spending the second night drifting away from our target, we decided to use the engine. I never like being a motor boat and driving straight in to a heavy swell under motor is awful. I had, however, arranged a phone call for Monday morning and this seemed the only way forward.

After less than an hour the engine began to stutter and then stopped completely. The good news was that we were in the middle of the Pacific with nothing to hit for miles in every direction. The less good news was that we were in the middle of the Pacific far from help. We started to drift slowly west, drank a coffee and made a plan.

It seemed likely that the previous days rodeo ride had shaken all the dirt in the diesel tank up and blocked the fuel filter. With the boat bobbing around, we emptied the locker to reach the fuel line, changed the filter and bled the air out of the system. It started immediately.

Bleeding the system

A light wind was back and we were only 23 miles from Tikehau Atoll so we began a day of slow tacking upwind. Occasionally the wind, despite assurances we should have a constant 15 knots, died completely and we once again drifted backwards but on average we were “getting there”. We sailed all day and all night and reached the pass in through the coral atoll just before daybreak. The tide had turned an hour earlier and, as soon as it was light enough to see, we entered the narrow coral rimmed pass directly against the wind and the outlowing current.

With Heidi navigating, we were half way through and making only one knot when the engine stuttered again. The engine revs continuously sank and then recovered and once Heidi had to restart the stalled engine. We had a sail up but sailing back out through the pass, riding the outflow would be a nightmare.

As soon as possible we turned a little sideways to the wind to sail again and switched the motor off. We sailed through the coral strewn laggoon following the marked channel and then had to use the engine again for the last two miles to the anchorage. This time it ran perfectly.

We anchored just before a monster squall hit us. The pouring rain washed the salt off the boat and the high wind set the anchor well in to the sand.

After 67 hours, and 12 days after leaving Huahine, we were finally at anchor in the Tuamotus. Davo texted “Was always going to be a challenge given the wind direction.” The master of understatement!

Mouillage de Cook (Tahiti)

After spending ten weeks wandering between the anchorages of Huahine and Raiatea, we decided it was time to “do some serious sailing” so we set our sights on the Gambier archipeligo. This is the last archipeligo in French Polynesia that we have not visited and reports from other sailors describe it as being beautiful. It is “only” a thousand miles (1850 km) away and all of that upwind against the prevailing wind. Sounds like an adventure!

We left Huahine with the aim of reaching the raised coral atoll of Makeatea, 170 miles away. The weather forecast suggested it was going to be hard on the wind all the way but should be possible before the wind died three days later. The forecast was of course lies (as always) and we actually began by tacking the wrong way for thirty miles to get around Huahine. By day two it was obvious that we were not going to reach Makeatea so we decided to head for the east end of Tahiti and wait a night there.

The bay and village from the hills

We arrived in Mouillage de Cook (Cook’s anchorage) with the last breath of wind and anchored off the sandy beach just behind the coral reef. That was a week ago and since then we have had no wind or too much wind to continue our journey. The anchorage is idyllic and we are totally alone in the middle of the bay. Our only visitors are the outrigger canoeists, who pass in the evening and exchange a friendly “Ia Orana” (yo-rah-nah), and a school of dolphins who were in the bay yesterday. When the sun shines, there are tourists over on the beach who all take a photograph of Artemis with the backdrop of the reef and Tahiti. It is a shame we can not charge per photo.

Each night we saw two white lights above each other in the hills and wondered what they were. Today the weather was less rainy than the last few days so we rowed across to the river mouth and then walked up the neighboring hill in search of the lights. We found a cross with ten solar powered lights on it that would shine across the bay at night but, this being Tahiti, only those at the top and bottom work and none on the crosspiece. The mystery was solved and the view was stunning.

Artemis at anchor in the bay

And the “new” plan is to head north for the coral atoll of Tikehau tomorrow. But we will see what really happens.

The track of our walk is at allTrails.

An exciting afternoon!

Traditionally petrol is in red canisters and diesel in yellow. But often you have to use what you can get so, on Artemis petrol is in red 5 liter cans and diesel in black 10 liter cans EXCEPT the one red 10 liter can that also has diesel in. We know that 10 liter is diesel and 5 liter is petrol. No problem!

Except …

It was a sunny afternoon and light trade winds were blowing off the coral island, cooling the cockpit. Surf was up out on the reef and a strong current was flowing out of the lagoon in to the Ocean. We had the neighbors over for coffee with apple cake and the five of us were discussing what a great life we live.

We noticed that a lady had been caught by the current and was being swept out to sea. Her daughter was attempting to help but the woman could not get in to the dinghy and the daughter was (rightly) not happy to turn the propeller with legs hanging in the water. Heidi and I took our dinghy to the rescue.

Just as we left, Daniel noticed a group of children being carried out to sea, having swum out from the beach, on the other side of the boat. He took his dinghy but needed to refill with petrol. We shouted to Elizabeth and Wim that the petrol was in the red can in the locker and headed out on our rescue mission.

On our arrival at the drifting dinghy, the daughter was obviously totally relieved. The mother changed to clinging to our dinghy, which allowed the girl to set off back in to the lagoon. We heaved the (obviously drunken) woman in to the dinghy and took her back to her boat. She was bleeding from one foot where she had been cut by the propeller. I didn’t even think about the fact she had just been hanging with a bleeding foot in the shark patrolled pass. I was more worried that Heidi was going to diagnose ripped ligaments and we would be in to the whole “emergency procedure” like last year. But she was lucky and they were only minor cuts.

Daniel, in the meantime, had saved three children and was returning with them to the beach where he found a fifth child at the end of his strength. One of the boys from the original four jumped in to the sea and pushed Number Five in to the dinghy and all were returned safely to the beach. With an empty dinghy, Daniel filled his motor’s petrol tank and turned back to the yachts. He did not get far before his engine died and would not restart. So now he was drifting and working against the current with oars. We returned to our dinghy and took him in tow.

Of course Elizabeth and Wim had found the 10 liter red canister under the seat so Daniel had been running on a petrol diesel mix which is never a good idea. But adding diesel to petrol should not cause lasting damage so we all sank back in to the cockpit and decided it was time for a well earned beer.

Next time will be better.

Nest day: Heidi has now written a description of the contents on all the red canisters. Daniel’s engine works perfectly again so “no one seriously hurt and no permanent damage!” Another good day.

Raiatea Lagoon

It was Friday midday and the rigger was finished with tensioning the shrouds. He agreed to come on Monday to try and get the screw out of the Inner forestay so we had a “free weekend”. Our friends on Bengt were in a bay half way down the island and told us there was a mooring buoy available.

The bay was only 13 miles away so we set our sails and headed south east. Unfortunately the wind was coming from exactly that direction so we could only proceed by tacking between the island and the reef. To add excitement there was also an inter-island ferry heading up the middle of the channel and a “no entry zone” around the airport. Heidi was calling the tacks and by letting the ship pass behind us, we were just in time to turn before the airport. This allowed us to sneak between the reefs and then head towards town.

The trip south became a real work-out with tack after tack. Heidi had the additional exercise of popping down to look at the chart to calculate where we should do the next turn. I think she climbed 150 meters of steps! Sometimes we had longer than two minutes between turns and could quickly enjoy the stunning scenery and wonder that we were sailing between the light blue sea over a coral reef and the deep green of the jungle covered mountains. We were definitely living every sailors dream.

A little further south things should have become easier but the lagoon was speckled with pearl farms and coral boms which further reduced our maneuverability. Eventually, after 29 tacks, we realized we were not going to reach the bay by nightfall so switched on the engine for the last few miles.

Mooring buoy, reserved for us

In the bay we found the mooring buoy and attached to it was a small sign saying “reserved for Artemis of Lleyn”. We thanked the neighbors with drinks in the cockpit

A crack in the deck!

“There is a crack in the middle of the deck!” Heidi told me as she returned from doing something at the front of the boat. Not a good thing to hear at any time.

We took a long hard look at the crack and decided it could only be something to do with the foot-switch next to it or that the inner foresail was trying to rip its mounting out of the deck which is definitely not something that should happen. We contacted Colin, our favourite surveyor (http://cbmarineservices.co.uk/), and he confirmed that it looked like the deck was giving under the load being applied by the inner foresail. He suggested that the plate under the deck be tied down to the hull or, if that was not possible then, a laminated beam should be added below the deck to spread the weight. Option one was impossible due to lack of space so option two it was.

We are anchored off Huahine, a beautiful tropical island with no boat maintenance firms, no marine shops and little in the way of tradesmen. If they need a house they have a kit shipped from Tahiti and it is assembled here. There is one hardware store, the owner of whom was asking how the project was going by the time we finished.

So we made a plan:

  1. design and build a beam that follows the curve of the deck
  2. epoxy the beam so that it is waterproof and paint it white so it looks good
  3. get the foresail down and packed away
  4. dismantle the inner forestay including the furling system and secure it against high winds
  5. Remove the existing steel plates from above and below deck
  6. repair the crack with resin
  7. install the new beam
  8. reinstall and seal the plates, assemble the forestay and the furling system.

Luckily we knew how to do number 2 & 3 so they should have been easy. It would have been easy if the bolt at the base of the sail wasn’t seized and the allen key hadn’t of broken off trying to remove the offending bolt.

Everything else was learning by doing. We visited the hardware store and found 9mm wood from which we made three “layers” that we then installed above each other to allow them to bend to the correct shape before being screwed together. Heidi is an epoxy and paint expert so the beam was soon waterproof and looking good.

Getting the foresail down and everything dismantled was impossible in high winds and with gusts of 30 knots. But we have time so we worked on other projects and waited a week for the wind to drop. It turned out easier than expected.

Heidi watched a video about crack repair, bought some resin and mended the crack. Unfortunately there was only see through resin on the island but the repair is perfect and will keep the moisture out. When we reach civilization we can worry about color.

We then installed our new beam and, after then waited for the wind to drop again. This morning I opened my eyes and heard “Hey! There is no wind. Come on, let’s do it.” Two hours later everything was reassembled and ready to be tested.

Adams’ Grammar School – the wasted years.

I spent five years at Adams’ Grammar School in Newport. At the time I was totally convinced that I was largely wasting my time. The school’s only obvious target was to prepare me to pass as many exams as possible. The exams were largely regurgitating data that you had “swotted up” on just prior to sitting them. The school and the teachers made almost no attempt to prepare me in any way for the “real life” that was to follow.

Pink Floyd described school perfectly

Now, with over thirty years hindsight, I realize that I was absolutely correct.

The lessons were in:

  • mathematics
  • English language
  • physics
  • English literature
  • religion (only Church of England style Christianity)
  • history (only the parts that affected the United Kingdom)
  • geography
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • music (but only music written by dead people)
  • art
  • French
  • physical education
  • craft

Mathematics and English language are the two subjects that stand out as being a hundred percent useful. Throughout my life I have needed these on an almost daily basis. Much of what we learned in Physics has proved to be irrelevant but at least we learned how to arrive at results through experimentation.

If I had never had to read Chaucer, never compare St. Mark’s version of a myth to St. Luke’s and never learned about the Corn Laws, I would have been at no disadvantage in later life.

Learning the names of every African country, differing shapes of trees leaves, the chemical formula for sulfuric acid and Mozart’s & Picasso’s dates of birth were all a useless means of filling a brain and I forgot as much as I could as fast as I could.

French could have been a huge advantage if any teacher would have tried to teach us to converse in French rather than merely the endless tables of verbs and tenses we needed to “pass the exam”.

Strangely some of the most important life skills I learned were in the two subjects that were not taken seriously by the school as they didn’t lead to “real exams”.

In physical education I learned that if there is something awful to do – dive in to an icy swimming pool – then it is better to do it straight away. I also learned to do the hardest task first while you are still fit. Both of these have turned out to be amazing life skills. In craft I learned one of life’s most important rules. “Measure twice and cut once!” Truly the ultimate lesson for a successful life.

School could teach you so many life skills and prepare you for the reality that will be your life. In my case it was Scouting that did that for me. School was mostly just something that interfered with the real learning.

Alcohol

Of course you don’t need alcohol. Here in French Polynesia we meet many Mormons who survive without alcohol or coffee. You can be one hundred percent sure that we will not be converting to Mormonism. Coffee is the fuel that keeps us going and alcohol is the reward for a job well done.

When we started in Scotland we introduced the rite of the Anchor Coffee at the end of a successful trip. Back then it was known as a Tinkers Coffee as Heidi began diluting the coffee with Baileys in the anchorage of Tinkers Hole.

As we moved South the Baileys became more expensive and was replaced with Supermarket Own Brand Irish Cream. Much more economical and the coffee tasted no worse for the lack of a brand name.

By the time we reached the Caribbean, economic necessity had converted us to wine drinkers. Martinique, Guadalupe und St. Martin are all French so the wine was as cheap as the daily baguette, cheese and garlic. This wonderful state of affairs lasted until we arrived in French Polynesia.

In Polynesia alcohol is incredibly expensive. We had been paying three Euros a liter for wine and suddenly it was twenty. Once again we followed local custom and converted to Rum. It is also not cheap but, buy buying in bulk – 10 liter plastic canisters – at least affordable. The neighbouring sailors now talk of Heidi Coffee which is with a splash of rum.

Thank you Annie & Dirk!

A few weeks ago an Australian boat messaged us that they were heading home so needed to lighten their load before Australian customs searched their vessel. They offered to sell us their complete stock of wine at Panama prices. We immediately answered “YES!” and set sail the next day for the island of Raiatea where we helped to cross load to Artemis.

So at the moment we are in the enjoyable position of having rum and wine on board. The envy of all our neighbours.

Huahine Island

We had visited nearly all the islands in the Societies archipelago and cycled on most of them. (The exception was Maupiti which was just too small to justify assembling the bikes.)

Altar on the sea shore

The only island we were missing was Huahine so after a false start – due to the toilet being blocked – we sailed overnight from Moorea and reached the pass through the reef just after dawn. Australian friends were at anchor so we sailed towards them. Their warning that it was “very shallow” came a few seconds late so we unfortunately scraped a little anti fouling on to the coral. The anchorage was strewn with coral heads so we moved across the bay and anchored next to another friend on his boat “Elin”.

Our first trip in to “the big city” (the whole island has a population of six thousand people) made a very positive impression. A nice floating dock for the dinghy, a yacht club with half price happy hour, a huge supermarket and cheap SIM cards. We may be in the middle of nowhere but it is a very civilized middle of nowhere.

With the bikes we set off anti-clockwise to explore the islands. There are two, Big Huahine and Little Huahine joined by a bridge. The road is almost empty and the vegetation rampant. The reef is ever present out to sea and the mountains in the middle of the island can be glimpsed up the valleys. Whoever dreamed up the Garden of Eden could have just cycled around Huahine.

We visited the largest temple ruins we have yet seen in Polynesia, admired centuries old stone fish traps in the lagoon and feasted at a road side food stall. Mostly it was a gentle rolling ride but there was one hill that looked suspiciously steep. The sign at the bottom claimed it was 15% so Heidi decided she could “easily do that”. After she had cycled to the top with Neill pushing next to her, we came to a more honest sign which proclaimed 30%. She is crazy!

A few days later we sailed to the far end of the island. There was little wind but we were inside the reef so also no waves and we could gently ghost along enjoying the peace and scenery. That trip really summarized Huahine. Extremely beautiful and exceptionally laid back. A wonderful place to while away a few weeks.