Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The breakers around Matavau Pass at Moorea looked so bad that we had a brief discussion about whether or not we should wait another day before departing for Huahine (hooah-hee-nay). Bruce and I felt that it was not possible to judge the pass from where we were anchored, that we needed to actually line up with the pass from inside the lagoon. Sure enough, once we upped anchor and motored to the inside end of the pass we could see that the breakers were not actually breaking all the way across, that there was in fact a well-defined gap.

It was less dramatic going out Matavau Pass than it had been coming in, and the ebbing current made sure we were through and out the pass in no time.

The hydraulic autopilot on Far Fetched had failed toward the end of the passage from Mexico to the Marquesas. Bruce and his previous crewmember, Jerry Moore, had had to hand-steer for three days. Jerry had brought several pieces of it back to the States for check-out and repair and I had picked them up and carried them back to Tahiti. Bruce and I had spent quite a bit of time re-installing everything and then tediously bleeding the air out of the hydaulic lines. One thing we didn't get to do was to calibrate the new electric fluxgate compass, which was the part that had failed. Still, we thought the autopilot might steer even though it might think it was on a different course than what we were actually steering. So, upon exiting Matavau Pass, we engaged it for the first time. Yahoo, it works! And yes it does think it's steering a different course. No matter, just as long as it steers a straight course we can manually compensate for it using the GPS, which tells us the course we should be steering.

Just after lunch we spotted a small pod of two to three sperm whales, which are easy to identify because when they surface and blow their spout angles distinctly forward rather than straight up. The combined sea and swell was five feet at most with about 20 knots of wind from astern, which makes the wind feel less strong. The wind kept creeping up though, so Bruce decided to put the first reef in the mainsail, which reduces its sail area and slows us down. Still, we were doing nearly six knots with just the one sail and would probably arrive at Huahine a little early.

After dinner Bruce and Steve Smith (a friend and former co-worker of Bruce's) took what was left of the first night watch from 1800 to 2100. Sherry (temporary crew to Bora Bora) followed with the 2100 to 2400. When I went up to relieve Sherry, just before midnight, a squall was approaching, plus Sherry told me she had had to continually adjust the autopilot that it seemed to want to keep heading up (steer more into the wind). After the squall passed over and cleared away I settled down into a relatively dry corner of the cockpit and picked out a bright star directly astern that I could use to monitor our course and the autopilot's performance. I had no sooner done that when I noticed the star had started to drift off to one side and the autopilot was not correcting. Sherry had not yet gone to bed so I asked her to wake Bruce. After a brief discussion, Bruce got out the AH4000, a back-up autopilot that can steer in medium to light conditions, which fortunately was what we were experiencing at the time. However, the wind continued to increase during my watch to the point that I could calculate that we were going to arrive at the pass at Huahine much too early, plus the fact that the increased boat speed would make it harder for the AH4000 to steer. So I went to the forward cabin, woke Bruce, again, told him the situation and suggested we put in the second reef. Once again, with Sherry's help, Bruce put in the reef while I took over the helm from the autopilot so that I could head up into the wind to temporarily relieve some of the strain on the mainsail, making it easier to be lowered. Our boat speed dropped to the 5 to 5.5 knot range, making our ETA at Huahine more reasonable.

We elected to enter the first of the two large western passes through the coral reef that surrounds Huahine since it was the closest to our planned first anchorage at Avea Bay near the southern tip of the island. This pass is called Avapeihi and is well-marked. We quickly lined up the range markers, putting a big white square high on a hill, on top of a white pole located at sea-level. This told us we were in the center of the pass. There were several green markers along the right-hand edge of the reef leading into the lagoon. In the US green markers and buoys are normally on your left when entering a harbor, pass or river mouth, but almost everywhere else it is the reverse. In French Polynesia, green markers are also normally on the ocean or reef side of the lagoon and red markers on the land side, a system that is easy to remember once you've become accustomed to it.

Returning to Avea Bay was another deja vu moment for me. Kay and I had anchored here 20 years earlier. Back then we'd had my friends Don Hanset and John Sommerwerck aboard for the trip from Tahiti to Bora Bora. There had been a big blow through the bay one night and a couple of boats drug their anchors, one of which collided with another boat that hadn't drug. Now, Avea Bay looked much the same although there seemed to be at least one or two more small resorts there in addition to the one that was there back in 1991. We anchored close to that one because we could see that it now had a nice dock for tying up a dinghy.
After a quick breakfast we headed ashore for a look around. We took Bruce's mountain bike in as well so I could go for I ride. I decided to circumnavigate the south island of Huahine. Huahine is really two large islands separated by a very narrow gap. The riding was pretty much all on flat-level pavement. I saw kite-boarders at a park and since it was Sunday I was fortunate to ride by a church where the locals were singing a hymn. I had to stop and listen because there is hardly any singing more pleasant than a Polynesian hymn.
Coming around the north side of the south island I entered the gorge between the two islands. It is quite spectacular, like a tropical version of the Columbia River Gorge or Hell's Canyon. A fairly deep fjord-like bay runs up to a bridge between the two islands. It so happened that a cruise ship was anchored in the gorge, making quite a picturesque view with the bridge in the foreground. The water beneath the bridge, however, is nothing more than a small, 3 to 6-foot deep river perhaps 50 wide filled with coral heads and swift-flowing tidal currents. After a long, steep climb I passed a vanilla plantation and then was soon back at the resort with the dinghy dock.

Bruce had gone to work on the autopilot while I was gone and had discovered one of the flare fittings on the copper tubing of the hydraulic system had failed and allowed a large amount of hydraulic fluid to leak out, which explained why the steering had slowly deteriorated during Sherry's watch and then finally failed altogether on mine. Bruce had made a new flare and got the system back together. Now we needed to bleed it again. For some reason, no matter how many times or how many ways we tried, we could not seem to get all the air out. Exasperated and exhausted we finally gave up for the day and decided to give it a try on another day.

Mystic joined us at Avea Bay and the next evening Randy and Jenny came over for sundowners. Bruce may not be seeing them for awhile as they plan to spend several more days exploring Huahine while our schedule dictates that we continue on towards Tahaa and Bora Bora.

Early the next morning we motored up to the north end of Huahine and anchored off the main town of Fare (fah-ray). Fare has a good supermarket so we did another provisioning run and dropped of our laundry. Once we got the provisions on board and stowed Bruce, Steve and I all circumnavigated the north island, taking turns on Bruce's bike. Sherry rented one and also rode part of the way around. There was one very steep, long climb with a 15% grade. I saw some interesting stone fish traps arranged in a narrow pass between a “lake” and a lagoon that led out to sea. The stone walls built in the water lead the fish into a maze they can't find their way out of. Then the tide goes out and traps them. Some of these traps are probably hundreds of years old.

The next morning Bruce asked me to read the instructions for bleeding the autopilot's hydraulic system while he went ashore to try to call the manufacturer for advice. In the afternoon we spent four hours on it, but every time it seemed like we were close and we'd stop to test it, we'd find there was still too much play in it. If we couldn't fix it ourselves the options were less than appealing: go to the boatyard on Raitea, or—ugh—sail to windward back to Tahiti.

I got those steadily depressin'
Low-down, mind-messin'
My-autopilot-won't-steer blues

(My apologies to Jim Croce and his fans)

Since we'd spent an extra day at Fare trying to fix the autopilot, Mystic caught up with us. Randy is an experienced refrigeration repair technician and used to dealing with pressurized copper tubing systems so we asked him to come by and see if he could find anything amiss. But before he came over Bruce accidentally grabbed the steering wheel and noticed there was now little or no play in it. Somehow, whatever had caused the excess play in it from the day before was now gone. Good gremlins had come aboard during the night and fixed it! So, we waved-off Randy, got everyone back aboard (Steve S & Sherry had gone ashore for an internet fix), and departed Huahine for the short sail across to Raitea and Tahaa. For a while there it was beginning to look like I wasn't going to make to any of the four special places that had motivated me to make this trip. Now we were on the road again.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Moorea The Hard Way


After a quick whirlwind tour of Tahiti by rental car, it was time to get Far Fetched, a Beneteau 390 Oceanis, back out on the ocean where she belongs. Our initial plan was to head for Opunuho Bay on the west side of Moorea, only 20 or so miles away. We were chasing Captain Bruce's buddy-boat friends Randy and Jenny on Mystic, who had left a few hours ahead of us. The the winds were light and the seas relatively calm so the sailing was slow. Mystic called on VHF radio to say that they were considering pulling in at a closer pass on the southwest side of Moorea called Matavau off the village of Haapiti. Randy likes to avoid using his engine whenever possible and it was clear he wasn't going to make it around to Opunuho before sunset. So, we said, why not.

Matavau Pass turned out to be a real attention grabber. It was deep, but very narrow with huge breaking waves on either side of it, probably 12-footers. We got lined up, with Bruce steering and me crouching in the bow pulpit to keep an eye of the reefs and the surf. Then we gave it full throttle to counter the current, maintain our steerage, and get us in as quickly as possible, The water in the pass was very disturbed with eddies, rips and waves from all directions. I had to keep low and hold firmly on to the bow pulpit to keep from getting tossed overboard. The excitement was intense, but brief. We were soon inside the calmer waters of the pass heading to the right for a suggested anchorage marked on the GPS chart. We felt that spot was too close to the pass and therefore a bit rolly so we kept going further in to the right to get more into the shelter of the reef.

We were in about 80 feet of water according to the chart but out depthsounder was not giving us anything near that, in fact it was stuck on one number and flashing. We began a slow turn to avoid a marked reef to our left when the depthsounder suddenly started working. I was at the helm now, having traded jobs with Bruce. No sooner had the depthsounder started working than it began displaying rapidly decreasing depths: 30, 24, 16, 10, 8! About that time our other crew, Steve and Sherry, began reporting they could see the bottom at the bow. No kidding! We could see it at the stern as well and so I spun the wheel around and headed us back into deeper water. That was a close one. Try as we might to find something in the 30 to 35 foot range, it seemed that we were either in 80 feet or we were awfully close to very shallow water. We ultimately gave in and anchored in about 75 feet and put out lots of chain, about 220 feet to give us enough scope to have a good set on the anchor, but not so much that we could swing into danger. We were essentially anchored in a deep, narrow trench.

It was less than an hour till sunset when Mystic came through the pass (we caught and passed them a couple miles from the pass). They opted to anchor close to the pass. We saw them hobby-horsing and rolling quite a bit while we were nice and calm where we were, a fair compensation for having to anchor in deep water.

We were the only two boats anchored off Haapiti as opposed to Opunohu and Cook's Bays, where large numbers cruising boats anchor. That was our reward for having braved Matavau Pass.

The following day, Bruce loaned me his Trek mountain bike and I rode 40 miles on Moorea, including a very steep climb up to the lookout at Belvedere with its spectacular views of Opunohu and Cook's Bays. Kay and I had ridden up here on our little folding bikes twenty years ago. How we made it is beyond me. We must have walked them. But it was a great ride and wonderful to see the beautiful island of Moorea once again with its Le Dent de Requin (The Tooth of the Shark), the jagged peak made familiar if not famous in the movie version of South Pacific. It's a fair debate as to whether Moorea or Bora Bora holds the title of most beautiful island in French Polynesia.

Next it's on to Huahine and the rest of the Iles Sous Les Vent (Leeward Islands).