Robin’s Three Week Journey on SV Arctic Loon
Upon arriving on Rangiroa Atoll and finding Diana and Anne at the wharf, I was quickly informed the dingy electric engine was broken, so we have rowed to shore and back in all weather conditions the last three weeks. For me, that has been a pleasure given the additional adventures we have gained, although it was said many times, "if only we had an engine" as they plotted many scenarios to make trade with other unsuspecting sailors!
Rangiroa was a fun beginning, met lots of interesting cruisers, a young couple, Roger and Hannah have been cruising 5 years, Jorge and Jorge from Chile, father/son on a 49' Jeanneau DS like Arctic Loon, Jorge Sr is a Sauvignon Blanc grape grower and the son a trekking guide in Patagonia. Anne was delighted to meet them given she wants to visit Chile for her 60th birthday in 2022. We also met a beautiful German girl, Alisa a free diver crewing on a ketch with another German guy named Fabian. Alisa and Jorge helped us install new zincs on the propeller shaft. We watched a combination 1/2 cruise ship 1/2 container ship anchor and brought over a small barge with fresh fruit to buy, Pomplemousse (large grapefruit like) mangos, stock of green bananas you hang on the boat, oranges and limes, we were hoping for vegetables but no luck. So a pomplemousse smoothie has been our favorite drink everyday!
We left Rangiroa out the small Pass of the atoll into the open sea to go south 100 nm to Toau atoll. We had lovely gentle winds all afternoon. Being in the Tuomotus Archipelago was magical on our moonless nights. Seeing the brilliant Milky Way, the Southern Cross for the first time, Scorpio constellation and bright planets was heavenly.
For me, transitioning from light to dark was strange on a sailboat, like skiing in fog. Without the moon it was Dark!!!! My very first overnight watch was 9pm to midnight. Anne informed me to watch out for fish pens that we could see marked on Navionics, like I would see them in the dark :). Cruisers often avoided the Tuamotus, now with Navionics we have a little more ability to navigate especially at night. I began to wonder what I signed up for as I also learned about all the sharks here, bommies (unseen coral heads) and sailing in the dark. The winds started build from 16 knots and by midnight we had to reef at 22 knots. After my watch, I went below and read my book, never experiencing seasickness. I must say I really like night sailing now!
We arrived at the north end of Toau atoll in a stunning turquoise lagoon, nothing here but a few shacks with a family offering dinner and another family that checked their small stick fish pens daily, and a few cruising sailboats. Crystal clear cerulean blue water to snorkel in, unfortunately most of the coral is dead most places we went due to the rise in ocean temperatures, it is an El Nino year. We saw a large flying eel like fish, that skipped across the water on their tail, so bizarre! Sunset was stunning as we watched the storm clouds drift across the sky but not rain on us.
We ventured on to Fakarava Atoll entering the North Pass in big waves/current and anchored off the main Village. Chris from SV Derive greeted us with fresh veggies that he got from the Veggie delivery ship the day before. Then we navigated the long narrow channel 30 nm to the South Anchorage where we braved the night squall Anne wrote about previously. When we pulled anchored, we did get wrapped on a bommie coral head. Anne went snorkeling, Diana at the helm, me at the windlass, trying to unwrap the anchor chain. The water was crystal clear with tropical fish and an occasional shark. After 30 minutes we did it, just as a young couple (local kite surfers/divers) came over to help us. We heard it was common to get caught, but you also can't trust the few mooring balls. The other option is putting out several floats tied along the anchor chain, still risky. But that's one job here for the divers, untangling boat's anchor chains off the bommies. We exited through the south pass (very narrow trench with shallow reef on each side) at 8am with the outgoing tide close to slack. We left Gilligans Island behind us in the Tuamotus!
The Tuamoto Atolls are so interesting, you are anchored inside the large turquoise lagoons with a small strip of land no higher than 8 feet protecting you from the ocean. You can hear the waves crashing on the other side! The land is sometimes no wider than a block. It is estimated that in 100 years these Atolls could be wiped out by storm surges and rising seas, so sad. It is also unbelievable to not see live coral, I've thought about Jacque Cousteau a lot and what he would think now!
Now headed 260 nm to Moorea which was a two night crossing. The seas were calm with a light wind, and we were on a beam reach headed West. My 9pm-midnight shift was magical once again. Night sailing under the stars and planets on the open ocean, mates asleep, no other boats or planes in site, rolling waves and nice winds makes for a profoundly spiritual experience. Our second day off shore, the rain clouds appeared off and on, we didn't get wet though and had a beautiful sunset once again. Second night was a bit different, sunset is at 5:15pm and with no moon makes a dark night, the winds increased and storm clouds gathered all around. At my shift, Diana and I sat at the helm playing a live video game with the Raymarine radar and Navionics dodging squalls. One dark cloudy rain storm came and sat over us for two hours pouring warm rain on us refusing to move on. It wasn't cold or too rough, just wet and bouncy. Here on Arctic Loon, it's Pilates 24 hours a day in your bunk or on deck. Funny how Diana and I laughed and thought we could be home on a couch watching TV! By midnight the rain lightened up a bit, but through the night we were still were dodging squalls. My morning shift weather at 5:30am was still the same with 50 nm to go, but nice to see the light of dawn coming. We were called on the radio by another passing sailboat and talked about the stormy night as he headed south of us. A rainbow appeared on the horizon for two hours arched in front of us as if a halo over Tahiti. I spotted land for the first time through the clouds! Then it disappeared in the gray foggy pouring rain as we navigated under radar. As we came closer to Tahiti island, the clouds lifted and the high misty peaks and lush green appeared while we enjoyed listening to every sailing song we had downloaded. The favorite played many times this last three weeks is Southern Cross by Crosby, Stills and Nash. So appropriate for this journey if you listen lyrics. Also, Sailing by Christopher Cross, Sail Away by David Gray, I am Sailing by Sinead Sullivan, Into the Mystic by Van Morrison, etc.
It was a lovely morning sail as we arrived to anchor on the NE corner of Tahiti called Venus Point an open gentle protected bay east of Papeete with only one other sailboat with an awesome view of Moorea. We celebrated at sunset drinking champagne, watching another spectacular sunset and the Polynesian outriggers rowing by practicing for the big festival coming up later in July!
Having arrived in the Big City of Papeete, it was now time to research boat repair services. Trying to communicate in French can be a challenge without Emma along to translate. Luckily we have a cruisers handbook and online publications, etc. One important repair, the aft marine head seacock appears broken and won't allow us to empty the holding tank, even after trying many different methods to fix it, including Diana snorkeling under the boat (where she then came back in a hurry after seeing two sharks). We problem solve a lot. Our electric dinghy engine cable has failed and the freezer has stoped working 3 times but then starts working again. Then there are the maintenance items for us, such as changing the water maker filters.
The weather here in the South Pacific is hot and humid so makes everything damp, hard to dry things out, and occasionally we wash clothes in sea water, rinse in fresh. Getting wet clothes off and dry ones on is a chore because you are always wet or sweaty. Finding fresh veggies is always a challenge so getting creative with food options is a must! But hey, we are sailing in the South Pacific, who cares…. Sunglasses and reading glasses for three women in their 50's are all around the boat! Oh and the best thing on an all women's boat, is no bra!!! Too hot!
As we pulled anchor, Anne noticed the main sail outhaul line was damaged, so had to cut out damaged portion and tie a new bowline, fortunately it was near the end, so fixable! Angels on the Bow are with us! We headed off to Moorea in 16 knot winds and white caps, for our 4 hours sail. Coming into Cooks Bay, Moorea was just spectacular, it is one of the prettiest places we have ever seen! The colors of the water, the lush foliage and trees, the jagged peaks, just breathtaking! We watched the young Polynesian teenagers (girls and boys) passing our boat on their outriggers getting ready for the big competition! We realized when we went to shore, it had been a week since we've been on land in South Fakarava! Crazy! We rented a car and drove around the Moorea and went up to Belvedere to a high viewpoint and archeological site where you can see both bays and the beautiful high peaks of Moorea.
After four lovely days in beautiful Cooks Bay, we motored west to Opunohu Bay and anchored on a shallow reef at the beginning of the bay with lots of other sailboats, too many, it was crowded and we were anchored close to each other. Cooks Bay was really special, not many boats, just a few mega sailing yachts ($34 million) that were amazing.
We had met a lovely couple in their early 70's from Anchorage, Alaska who have been cruising for 16 years on a Valiant 40'. Ed and Judy told us out about a Polynesian Dinner Show at a place called Tiki Village that we should see. So we made reservations and were told we could be picked up at the beach park near our anchorage at 6pm. I imagine it looked funny seeing three women in dresses climb into the dinghy rowing to shore as the wind threatened and the skies look like it would downpour at any minute. We waited for the bus while swatting mosquitoes as it got dark and wondering if we were going to be picked up. Two Polynesian women came to find out who we were waiting for as we tried to communicate our plan. One made a call to Tiki Village to confirm just as a very full hotel tour bus picked us up. A half hour later we were at the show, it was really well done. They educated us about their culture, how dinner was roasted in a fire pit, how to tie a Sarong/Pareo, buffet dinner was served and then the main show began. It was a spectacular production with Polynesian history being told through music and dance. The Warrior Fire Dancers was captivating as they embodied their heritage and ancestors. We met some nice travelers at our dinner table who thought we came in on a cruise boat, and were stunned Arctic Loon had come from Seattle 9 months ago. After lots of questions about Anne and Diana's adventure, we got back on the crowded bus at 10:30 pm. When the bus driver stopped at the park to drop us off, he kept asking what our address was, not understanding we were on boat. He kept the lights on until we found our way in the park, we laughed wondering what the tourists on the bus thought. Walking through the park there were big holes in the grass for the land crabs, who were big as a coconuts, that come out at night. We shined a flashlight on them and they froze, people catch them and eat them. We found our dinghy and I rowed us back to the boat in the dark, all so fun. Next morning there was a black and white spotted Eagle Ray swimming under the boat in the crystal clear turquoise water.
Another cruiser warned us that strong winds might be coming so one plan was for me to ride the Ferry back to Papeete to catch my flight on Saturday night. After checking Predict Wind Offshore, we decided that these were just the typical trade winds. We left at 7am on Thursday to motor upwind back to Tahiti with 18 knot winds, 3-4' waves and gusts to 28 knots along the journey. Our reward, we were greeted by dolphins after requesting clearance to enter Papeete Harbor near the airport. There was no space for Arctic Loon at the Papeete Marina even thought SV Agatha tried to secure a slip but it went to the bigger Catamaran.
Diana discovered a cool anchorage spot in Papeete Bay where on Saturday morning on the day of my departure, the local community hosted an outrigger competition with over 100 six-seater outriggers lining up on the beach including women only teams. The committee boat had asked us to re-anchor as we were directly in the middle of the race course. How lucky were we to experience Papeete's outrigger culture and have front row viewing with two other cruising boats. Not sure how long the course actually was, they paddled past the reef onto the open ocean and East towards Venus Point before returning. It took the first Outrigger over an hour to cross the finish line, with the last outrigger of the 2nd start arriving around 2 ½ hours later. We got to watch each team cross directly in front of us as they returned to the finish line.
It is going to be so hard to leave SV Arctic Loon with the Angels on the Bow and these two amazing, talented and beautiful women, Captain Anne and Captain Diana.
Mauruuru Roa (Thank you very much) for an extraordinary three week journey, and fulfilling my lifelong dream of sailing in the South Pacific Ocean!!!! Much love and fair winds to you both!
~ Robin Charters visiting from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA