To the Tuamotus

From the volcanic island of Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas to the coral atoll of Raroia in the Tuamotus is only about four hundred miles heading a bit west of south through the South Pacific. Between the two is nothing but deep blue ocean, flying fish and – directly in the way – the low lieing, dangerous, coral atolls of the Isles of Disappointment.

Ideally you need good trade winds from the East to sail south but light weather to enter the atoll. You definitely need to be sure you are securely anchored in a lagoon before the next period of strong south winds. Amazingly the weather looked perfect one day, with five days until the next storm would seal our way, so we drank a coffee with the neighbours from Bengt, lifted anchor and sailed south.

At sea in the Pacific

The first day there was a little too much wind so we made great progress but bounced around on the three meter swell. With the main reefed right down and the small jib, we managed 130 miles. The second day was a little less boisterous but we still achieved over 120 miles.

Our plan was to keep well away from the coral atolls especially as we had read that the charts are wrong and the islands are not where they should be. But! The sun was shining, the sea was calmer and we had a few more hours of daylight so we changed course to sail past the larger atoll of Napuka. The islands are very low and difficult to see over the waves but nearly eight miles out Heidi sighted the palm trees and the radar confirmed that the size and shape were correct. Using satellite photos and lots of eyeball, we sailed past the reef, the church and the airstrip. We saw a few people on shore but we were too far off to wave. And the charts were definitely wrong!

The chart is definitely wrong!

The next challenge was to calculate when to arrive at the tiny passage through the reef that would allow us access in to the lagoon at Raroia. The pilot books suggest that with a wind from the East you should enter just after high tide or just before low tide but that an entry against the ebb is difficult after lots of rain, days of high swell or strong winds. There are no tide tables for Raroia so you have to extrapolate between those for the atolls of Hao and Rangiroa based on their longitudes. We had two sets of tide data on board and they disagreed massively. We sent a message to our weather router and he sent us a third time! Did I mention that there are two different time zones in the islands so you have to adjust for them as well? After a few tries I was pretty certain high tide was going to be at 2000 UTC so 1000 Tuamotos time or maybe low tide was going to be at 1130 Marquesas time – depending on which tables were correct. And all assuming it didn’t rain 🙂

Fifty miles before our destination, and against all weather predictions the wind died. We managed to drift 24 miles in the right direction and “surfed” eight miles along the front of a massive squall. Using the radar to stay just outside the rain we used the squall induced wind for two hours of midnight adventure. Finally our calculations showed that we were going to miss the tide at the passage so we started the engine.

We reached the entrance through the reef just before low tide and could see an out flowing current but, as the guides warn that sometimes the current remains out flowing for days, we headed in. On full throttle we can make 5.2 knots but we averaged 0.4 through the pass. Fifty minutes of trying to stay in the narrow corridor between the steep coral walls while inching forwards against the current was “interesting”.

Finally we entered the lagoon and “only” had to navigate the seven miles to the East side. The lagoon is strewn with coral towers that you definitely do not want to hit. We had identified these using charts and satellite images and then plotted a “hopefully safe” route. Heidi still spent the two hours on the bow identifying coral ahead and one coral tower was only avoided at the last minute as Heidi commanded “Hard to port – now!” To add to the fun there is a pearl farm and they have spread ropes and buoys around like a huge spiders web. Heidi added underwater rope identification to her list of tasks.

Finally, behind the shelter of the palm covered reef, we dropped anchor. An inspection of the surroundings with snorkel mask found coral next to the anchor and a shark swimming under the boat. The shark was OK but the coral meant re-anchoring and another swim.

We set the anchor, attached floats to the chain to keep it off the coral and drank a coffee. The forecast strong winds arrived earlier than expected but found us safely hidden in the middle of nowhere.

In to the lost city

In the Vaipo valley on the island of Nuku Hiva there is a huge waterfall. The valley is only accessible by boat and cut off from the surrounding areas by huge vertical cliffs. Heidi commented that it looks like the land that time forgot.

Having anchored in the bay, we paddled the dinghy to the beach, towed it up the river at low tide and moored it to an overhanging palm tree. We took the main path through the immaculate village of Hakaui and exchanged greetings with all those we met. A fully tattooed local asked how we liked his valley and, when we gave a positive answer, presented us with a grapefruit from his garden.

Once out of the village, we followed the remains of a substantial track some three meters wide. This was raised above the surroundings and lined with large stones. At one point we had to ford the river but, despite stories from other sailors, nothing bit us. As we continued through the jungle we were continually passing ruins and the foundations of houses. At one point we passed an area that looked like the ceremonial areas we knew from elsewhere. The impenetrable jungle was obviously hiding a lost city. Heidi was in Indiana Jones mode, dreaming of lost diamonds and head hunters.

At one point we saw the waterfall across the valley cascading many hundreds of meters down the vertical cliff. Down by the river we lost the path and spent half an hour clambering over moss covered ruins and under huge trees before returning to the river. On our second attempt we realised that the fallen tree was actually the bridge and crossed it to find the path continued on the far side. Up close, the waterfall was less impressive as you could see less of it but the gorge was stunning in its size and steepness.

Back in the village we learned that before the missionaries arrived, “with their god and their diseases”, there had been 20 000 people living in the valley which explained all the ruins. The city had extended from the river up to the temples which was the reason for the “main highway” that we had followed. A local lady proudly explained how her ancestors had lived here before the Europeans decimated the islands.

Another exciting day and further proof that a boat gets you to unbelievable places that you would otherwise never see.

Midwinter

Today is the 21st of June so midwinters day here south of the Equator. The sun is as far north as it is going to be and the days as short as they will get this year. Sounds awful doesn’t it? But there is no need to worry about us. Even today we have a temperature of 28°C, a gentle breeze and a warm ocean to swim in.

We are anchored in the lonely and peaceful Hakatea Bay on the island of Nuku Hiva in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is hard to be at anchor and still be so far from civilization- if we define civilization as motorways, shopping malls and McDonalds. The bay is completely surrounded by hills and protected from every direction and we are floating on a calm blue pond swinging gently in the breeze.

On the beach there is a tiny village where a few people live and farm. The small river can be entered in a small boat at high tide but otherwise we can land on the beach. Yesterday we stocked up on bananas and herbs from a ladies garden and today the cockpit smells of drying basil. We were very impressed with the ladies solar system. With 12 solar panels she powers a fridge, a freezer and all her other devices. Like Heidi, she knew exactly how much power each device uses.

We have been here a few days and seen no sharks so yesterday we were enjoying the water and cleaning our hull. Today’s big project is hair washing so we will need to swim again – I know, it is a tough life – and then we plan on returning to the “big city” of Taiohae. Hopefully we can adjust to the hectic pace of a town with a road and police station.

Up in to the Andes

The last two days of our trip to Quito were where we hit the Andes and the going got tough.

We left our bird lodge after a long sleep and filling breakfast. We cycled up and down hills for the first 27 kilometers and climbed six hundred meters. Then we turned off up a dirt track and began the real days work. 1400 meters of climbing up thirty kilometers of the “old pass”.

Land slides abound

The road was stony, muddy, wet and slippy. In a few places parts had slipped away in to the valley below and in a few other places it was like cycling in a stream. Progress was slow and by two in the afternoon we were looking for food and accommodation. “No problem” a local told us. “Just go to Nono. Seven or eight kilometers.” After eight kilometers we asked the next local – “Not far. Eight kilometers maximum.” By now it was really wet and sunset was getting closer. The next local promised “30 minutes or so”.

Eventually we found Nono and knocked on the door of a closed restaurant. Marcelo came out, smiled at us and organized beautiful accommodation and amazing food. The day was a success.

On our last day we only had 29 kilometers and 700 meters of climbing and for the first time reached our destination dry. We cycled up through the cloud to the top of the pass at 3340 meters. From there the only route was down to Quito – at 2900 meters the highest capital in the world – and through the city to finish at the office of Jan – the biking dutchman.

At 3000 meters and still climbing

A GPS recording of the complete trip is at alltrails.com. Ignore the huge spike at the beginning which is not true – it is a problem with the way alltrails deal with the data. We “only did” about eight or eleven thousand meters, depending on which program you use.

Seven days, nearly 400 kilometers and maybe 10000 meters of climbing. But we did it. We cycled from the Pacific to the Andes.

Feed the machine

At the end of our last blog we were in a motel which offered no breakfast so we left at seven after a few biscuits. Our route immediately turned off down a stony track which later became a path. We descended to a river and were faced with stripping off and fording it but then we noticed a bamboo bridge which we balanced across. Later we found an even more exciting bridge with two bamboo sticks to stand on and a very bendy handrail. But we negotiated it successfully.

Bridge with alibi hand rail

We were in the middle of nowhere and hungry so when we finally rode in to a town, we stopped at the first shop to buy fluids and bread. Then it was back in to the stunningly green countryside and extremely stony trails. By midday I was “only firing on three cylinders” and needed food. Luckily after crossing the Rio Blanco, we found a beautiful hotel facing a huge waterfall. The rest of Sunday was declared an afternoon off. Pinacolada, swimming, lieing in the sun and lazing around was ordered.

Outdoor shower

By the evening we were seriously hungry and each ate two main courses and almost took a second dessert. The body is quite happy to cycle to the Andes but it demands fuel.

On Day 5 we did it all correctly. Started the day with a big breakfast and then began the long uphill slog in to the mountains. By eleven we were soaking so hid in a coffee shop with warm mugs of milk coffee until the worst passed. At three we were at 1100 meters and had cycled 50 kilometers. The tank was once again empty but we found a restaurant to refill. More food; more drinks; and then we quickly polished off the final 20 kilometer climbing through the rain forest to spend the night in a lodge above 1700 meters.

Water maker. Katadyn 40E

A boat is freedom. Freedom to go where you want, when you want. With Artemis full of food and a fair wind, we can travel far away from civilisation and visit otherwise unreachable places. But you need water. Until now we have filled our tank where ever we have found a supply and, in the worst case, bought bottles. But the logistics detract from the enjoyment and, as we head out in to the Pacific, good drinking water will become a scarce commodity.

So we have invested in a small Katadyn 40E water maker. This magic device takes fifty liters from the surrounding sea and five ampere hours of electricity with which, through the miracle of reverse osmosis, it produces five liters of drinkable fresh water. We use about ten liters a day so in two hours we can produce all we need for that day.

This is one of the smallest devices used on boats but it has the advantage that we can power it from wind and solar power. It also fits nicely in our “bathroom” which is now the “water works”. We bought this model as every one wrote that it “just works”. Andi Blenk installed one this year and his positive feedback convinced us to invest.

Unfortunately our system didn’t “just work” as it had been incorrectly assembled in the factory. We needed many emails, lots of tests, much frustration and hundreds of extra dollars before we tasted our first fresh water but now it works and it was worth it.

We use a pre-pump to take sea water from the ocean and pass it through a sieve and two pre-filters. The standard system uses one filter but this way we can run it in silty anchorages. The filtered water enters the Katadyn and is then compressed and forced through a membrane which removes most of the salt leaving less than 200 parts per million which is far less than we can taste.

Produced and cooled with solar and wind power.

Another piece of freedom!

Panama Canal transit

At 17:09 on Saturday the 23. November, the gate of the last lock on the Panama Canal opened and Artemis of Lleyn entered the Pacific Ocean.

The previous Sunday we sailed to Colon, the port at the Atlantic end of the canal and on Monday morning we were visited by a canal official who checked the length of the boat, ensured our cleats were strong enough and asked if the toilet worked. The inspection didn’t take long, probably as there was lots of sun, no wind and baking temperatures in the boat.

On Tuesday we took a shuttle bus in to the seriously unsafe city of Colon and paid $1875 US in to the canals bank account. Hopefully we soon get the $900 deposit back so the transit will “only” have cost a thousand dollars. We also took the opportunity to do a quick shop and filled six bags with groceries. In the evening we called the Canal and agreed a transit date for Friday.

Wednesday we took a day off and went cycling to look at the canal.

Thursday we bunkered fuel, water and a bit more – only four bags – shopping. In the evening we confirmed timings and that we should be waiting at 16:00.

About Friday lunch time our line handlers arrived. Each boat needs four crew to feed the long lines in or out during the lock transits so Heidi was joined by Wim and Elisabeth, our friends from SY Bengt and Tobias from SY Maya. Bengt transitted last week so were our experts and Tobias was doing a reconnaisance for his transit next month.

Just before four we moved out to “the Flats” (the agreed location) and made fast to the french catamaran “Iroise” for coffee and cake. French, swedish dutch, german and british were all sat around waiting for the canal pilot to arrive. A pilot boat arrived about five thirty with three young pilots and within minutes we were off heading under the Atlantic Bridge to the flight of three locks at Gatun. There was already a huge ship in the the lock and two tugs behind it. We made fast to Iroise and an american boat did the same on the other side and then the three of us motored in to the lock. As we entered ropes were thrown across from the walls which we attached to our long mooring lines so that the “pack” of three vessels could be securely attached.

With the lock gate shut behind us, the water began to rise and the line handlers earned their “Artemis pizza” as they pulled them in to keep everything tight. The lead pilot – on Iroise – was having a bad day and managed to get every one spooked but our pilot Miguel was totally cool and got us through all three chambers safely. It is a bit “worrying” trapped in a concrete box with a huge ship and lots of water flowing around but our line handlers worked perfectly, the workers do this every day and it all has a system

After the Gatun locks, we entered the lake and motored through the darkness until we reached a huge buoy where we made fast for the night and celebrated our success. Luckily there was no rain during the night which was good because, with the boat full of guests, we had to sleep outside in the cockpit.

Saturday morning, after breakfast, the pilot boat brought David, our canal pilot for this day. We motored about 25 miles across the Panama Isthmus meeting a constant stream of ships coming the other way. Occasionally we were instructed to stop when a gas carrier came as they have absolute right of way. Unsurprisingly, every one wants to get these mobile bombs out of the canal as soon as possible. Heidi once again proved that Artemis is a top restaurant with delicious Lasagna served in the cockpit. We crossed the Gatun Lake and a long cutting which led to the first lock of the day – Pedro Miguel. In daylight you can see far more and appreciate how truly monstrous the container ship is that followed us in. Locking down was stress free with three happy pilots directing proceedings.

A short motor took us to the last lock – Miraflores – which dropped us all the way down to the Pacific and back in to salt water. By now every one knew the drill and Heidi commented “This is fun. We could go up and down all day.” We dropped the pilot off once we were out of the channel and Wim took over the navigation and brought us safely through the dark anchorage and to anchor next to Bengt with the Panama City skyline as a backdrop.

About twenty four hours after starting, we were in the Pacific and set for our next adventure.

Panama Menu
Line handlers lunch:
Avocado Pesto with walnuts and ham.
Fruit salad with fresh farm fruit
Coffee with home made irish cream

Gatun Lock dinner
Pizza Artemis
Chocolate on the go

Lake Breakfast
Toast, cheese, ham, assorted Condiments with coffee or a selection of teas.

Canal Lunch
Lasagna with corned beef and cheeses.
Fruit
Irish cream coffee

Anchor supper
Pina Colada & wine
Snacks

Curacao mit den Einheimischen

Ich weiß überhaupt nicht womit wir das verdient haben; wir genießen seit einer Woche das Privileg mit “Einheimischen” in Curacao unterwegs zu sein. Eigentlich ist Jill ja Engländerin – das ist auch wieder falsch ich meinte ja Britin und Joop ist Holländer. Glück oder Carma keine Ahnung wie man es nennen soll, dass wir die Zwei kennen lernen durften und sie uns Curacao von einer Seite zeigen, wo andere Touristen oder Cruser nur davon träumen können . Joop war mit uns Radeln an der Küste, im Kaktuswald und in der Wüste und dass in einer Tour und hinterher wurden wir sagenhaft kulinarisch von Jill verwöhnt – ich glaub hier bleiben wir.

Heute waren wir zu viert beim Schnorcheln in Westpund und mit den Meeresschildkröten schwimmen – mega cool; wir haben in der Karibik immer wieder vereinzelt Schildkröten gesehen aber so viele auf einem Haufen bzw. an einem Strand waren uns bisher nicht vergönnt. Jill’s Catering war genial und wir wurden – wen wundert es – wieder mit selbstgemachten Wraps und kühlen Getränken versorgt.

Danke den Beiden für einen wunderschönen Tag.

Bonair, Curacao und wieder zurück

Unser Ziel ist Curacao, denn Jon und Gertrud kommen uns am 1.6. in Curacao besuchen und wir freuen uns wie verrückt, die Beiden nach sooo langer Zeit wieder zu sehen und Ihnen etwas von unserer “Segler Welt” zu zeigen. Wir verlassen am 21.5. St. Martin um ganz gemütlich unser Ziel zu erreichen; der Wind ist stabil und wir kommen so gut vorwärts, dass wir uns am 24.5. überlegen, einfach noch einen kurzen Abstecher nach Bonair zu machen. Und ich sage nur Gott sei Dank, denn Bonair ist eine zauberhaft schöne Insel mit Glas klarem Wasser und für Taucher ein Highlight. Ankern ist auf der ganzen Insel verboten, aber es gibt genügend Mooring Bojen, die gegen eine Gebühr von 10 US Dollar gemietet werden können, ebenso muss jeder, der ins Wasser geht eine Genehmigung haben, die ebenfalls zwischen 25 und 45 US Dollar kostet. Doch dieses Geld wird für die Pflege der Riefs und des Nationalparks verwendet. Nach fünf traumhaft schönen Tagen mit Schnorcheln und – natürlich wieder – verschiedenen Verbesserungsarbeiten am Boot, machten wir uns am 30.5. auf den Weg, die Frenchies abzuholen und wenn sie wollen, auch Bonair zu zeigen.

Nach der 1. Nacht im Hilton Hotel nahmen wir unsere neue Crew am Pontoon des Hiltons an Bord, segelten in eine kleine Anker stelle dahinter und besprachen mit Ihnen unseren Plan, nach Bonair zu segeln. Die Sache hat nur einen Haken; die ca. 45 Nautikel Milen sind gegen den Wind, was bedeutet, dass wir mindestens zweimal so viel segeln müssen und es einfach “ein bisschen rauher” ist. Doch die zwei sind ja keine Weicheier und meinten, dass wird schon gehen und somit machten wir uns am 2.6. auf den Weg. Vorher mussten wir aber noch nach Willemstad um die beiden unserem Boot als Crew hinzuzufügen und dann noch zur Ausreisebehörde, um dann gemeinsam das Land verlassen zu können. Normalerweise oder öfters sind Customs und Immigration im selben Gebäude, aber in Willemstad bedeutet das, einen Fußmarsch über eine riesige Brücke oder falls gerade ein großes Schiff den Hafen verlässt, eine Fähre nehmen, alles in allem waren wir den 3/4 Tag beschäftigt.

Um euch nicht zu lange auf die Folter zu spannen, es waren für den ein oder anderen glaub ich die längsten zwei Tage,😫😫 doch als wir die geniale Idee hatten, über Nacht zu segeln, waren wir fast schon da und wenn ich Gertrud zitieren darf: “eigentlich ist das eine geile Sache” waren die Unpässlichkeiten fast vergessen.

Auf Bonair waren wir gemeinsam schnorcheln und haben den Nationalpark mit einem Allradauto genauestens erkundet; Flamingos und Papageien zum Sonnenuntergang und Leguane und kleine Eidechsen überall und auf jedem Parkplatz. Gertrud und Jon als passionierte Taucher haben sich auch die Unterwasserwelt nicht entgehen lassen und nach all den wunderschönen Erlebnissen, mussten wir am 10.6. Bonair wieder verlassen, damit die Allgäuer am 12.6. wieder ihren Heimflug antreten konnten. Aber genau – vorher wieder nach Willemstad und das ganze Procedere nochmal über sich ergehen lassen.

Wir hatten soooo viel Spaß mit den Beiden, dass wir sie nur schweren Herzens wieder gehen lassen.

Danke für alles, den Kurierdienst, den Windfänger, den Fahrradservice, die Reinigung des Bootrumpfes, kochen und vieles vieles mehr.🍹🍹🏊🏊⛵⛵☀️☀️🏖️

At sea in the Caribbean

We were two days out of Marigot on St. Martins, about two hundred miles from anywhere in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. It had been a good day with lots of sun and little wind. In the morning we had changed to our Parasailor and thus maintained our momentum despite the missing wind.

We had also modified our prototype deck cover to give us more headroom and more shelter – another project that is progressing well through fast prototyping with pegs, ropes and a bed sheet.

We now have a data logger keeping track of both system voltage and fridge temperature so another ongoing project is optimising the one without sacrificing the other. Who would have believed a tenth of a volt plus or minus ciuld be so interesting or that tracking the sun with the solar panels so rewarding.

Artemis at sea in the Caribbean

In the evening we cooked dinner which we ate in the cockpit direct from the saucepan. The only other sign of life was a huge ship just visible over the horizon. Perfect timing allowed us to follow our meal with a glass of chilled wine as the sun set. As we ghosted along in the breeze a pod of dolphins joined us to play at the bow. With the wine finished, thoughts turned to Neill getting some sleep.

And then …

The wind came back. Suddenly the boat was healing and being dragged upwind by a fifteen knot wind in the Parasailor. Luckily we are an experienced team so lifejackets on, boat turned downwind and Parasailor snuffed. At which point the AIS alarm started trilling to let us know the huge bulk carrier was no longer over the horizon but heading our way. Ships seem to be magnetically drawn to us. They have millions of square miles of ocean but always seem to want to pass close by to look at the “little boat”. Or maybe we are just paranoid.

With the Parasailor stowed, the “normal sails” set and after ducking behind the ship we were off again at over five knots. After half an hour of tidying up ropes and dish washing, it was time for a second try at an evening drink – this time a shared can of beer.

And then it was time to switch on the navigation lights and see what the night watches had waiting.