Saturday, 4 May 2019

A New Adventure

It may be hard to say goodbye to French Polynesia... We will try to remember everything, but you know -- time... 
Well, we are just moored inside the reef between Raiatea and Taha'a waiting to receive our clearance to leave French Polynesia. If you are interested in following our trip north to Hawai'i you can see our progress at:

Don't rush over there just yet because we won't have our exit clearance until after the weekend. And if the Gendarme is to be believed, perhaps not Monday either. No matter, we have a pretty nice holding area with excellent swimming and a nice cooling breeze.

About that breeze... I have just returned from BC where I made a quick trip to look after a variety of work items. Wait, you say, you don't work! Well my gig as a part time janitor does keep me pretty busy from time to time and it was great to be home to re-connect with tenants and contractors.

While I was away, Maureen was looking after the boat in Raiatea and as luck would have it she had the windiest week of weather we have had throughout the entire season. As the kids say "Mom's got skills" and I am proud to say that Maureen handled the whole situation with grace and skill. I am proud of her. Well done!

In addition to the wind, Maureen has been prepping the boat for our next wee adventure which is to sail from here to Hawai'i and from there back to BC. We are hoping to be home in time to celebrate her 60th birthday in BC. (wait, can I say 60th birthday on social media)?

Jimmy Philip and Terri-Lynne have joined us now and we are all set to depart northward. As I write this, folks are napping today and waiting quietly to see how this next leg will unfold. Fingers Crossed.

We have had a grand time here in FP. Warm and friendly, thanks to all of those locals and visitors who have made this time special!

The best fruit stand ever!

And of course Noah of Vanilla Tours -- If you ever need your Vanilla beans massaged.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

One Day...

Sometimes it weighs heavily on me that I don't get around to adding a post or two to this blog as time passes -- but obviously -- more often I just don't worry about it too much. I notice there was only 1 post in 2018, maybe I can buck the trend in 2019?

Going walkabout on Moorea.

So, we are anchored off the island of Raiatea, part of the Iles Sous-le-Vent (Leeward Islands) in French Polynesia (FP). A nice spot at the foot of a long bay. It's summer here in the southern hemisphere. I mention that because it factors into our lives in lots of different ways. Canadian readers will think of summer as a good thing -- we like summer. In FP it has a slightly different undertone because summer also equals cyclone season. Not that it's too hot. Temps are in the range with a high of 29 and a low of 28.

Cyclone season really matters -- well -- because of the cyclones.

Cyclones are fairly rare, well at least not a daily occurrence. And they rarer still in the eastern pacific where we are. They don't seem to happen at all in eastern parts of FP (Marquesas, Gambiers), but they do occur from time to time here. So we pay attention.

Cyclone avoidance strategies for cruisers are shifting with the spectacular advances in forecasting-  there is often lots of warning. As communications have improved we are able to get forecasts quickly and reliably. And, in theory at least boats have become more spritely so that it is possible to simply get out of the way. That's the theory.

So far so good. We are about 1/2 way through summer now so our risks diminish with each passing week. In theory.

But that is not what prompted me to sit down and add to this blog this morning. I was thinking to focus on a couple of observations about our experience in FP. I thought I would describe a couple of experiences from our trip into Uturora yesterday.

FP is set up for tourists. We are about 13 km from town and there really isn't any good way to get there. We asked at the tourist information the other day and they directed us to the taxi stand. (it's about $50 cab fare for the 13 km ride). Maureen asked about buses and she was told that they really wouldn't be suitable for us. She persisted and we did get some sparse information. FP is set up for tourists.

Going in to town is a big day for us. There really aren't any other cruisers around (see above) and boats that we do see are either local french boats, or one week catamaran charters. Neither of these groups are much into socializing with cruisers. Occasional readers of this blog will know that visiting is one of the things we enjoy most about life on the boat.

Anyway, off we go to Uturoa. Well the bus information was sketchy so that didn't work out. We stick out our thumbs and were able to catch a ride into town in about 3 minutes. Nice.

Our first stop in Uturoa, actually the main reason we made the trip was to visit the marina office. That went well. A friendly conversation and, we hope, a good outcome. One of those times when I am so glad that I am travelling with a professor francais...

After this win, we sat on a bench to watch the flurry of action as there was a big cruise ship in town. The couple next to us was from Australia and we ended up hearing about their 'cruising plans.' The conversation started with them saying "we were in Fakarava the day before yesterday." That is noteworthy to our ears because it has taken us since November to travel from Fakarava. The second thing was the visual image of this fairly large cruise ship at Fakarava. It is 11 storeys tall, and Fakarava is about 3 metres above sea level. There are likely 3 or 4 times as many people on the boat as there are on the island. The conversation carried on and we heard of their cruising adventures over the course of about 3 months that would see them visiting Antarctica and the Aleutians, Seattle and the Seycelles. Amazing. We waved goodbye and carried on with our shopping.

First stop the patisserie. Well it was almost lunch time. Even I have to admit that this little shop is an equal to anything in the Metropole.(Paris)
Exquisite baking beautifully presented. I had a quiche, Maureen had a chocolate slice seven layer sparkle bedecked extravaganza.

Then to the grocery store, we didn't buy too much, we weren't really all that hungry anyway.
For some reason we don't seem to take as many photos as we used to. This one is gratuitous and arises from a demonstration of 'portrait mode' on the new iphone. Looks pretty good to me!

And then the ride home. We happened to be walking out of town when Maureen noticed the bus. Even though I said don't bother, she checked and wouldn't you know it's our bus! Cool! And the bus was fun. I got on first and a cheerful grandma grabbed my arm and showed me where to sit. Maureen got on later and eventually the bus filled up with people with their shopping, and kids, friends. It is not clear to me that anyone except us actually paid to ride the bus but for 400 XPF it was worth it. We visited with my granny (Maureen interpreting) and learned that she was actually a great great granny and that Maureen had better be careful with such a handsome looking man as me!

Halfway home the bus stopped at a different store and about 1/2 the people got out to carry on with their shopping. It was obvious that we were not getting off so one of the mom's asked Maureen if she wouldn't mind holding her 3 month old little girl. No ceremony, just here ya go, back in 10 minutes! Try that at home! A privilege, and a joy. It made both our days and I never even got to hold her.

Well, that's what a day looks like for us at the moment. Pretty simple, pretty relaxed, but full of unexpected fun. I wonder what today will bring?
One last gratuitous photo. This is NOT what it looks like outside today. This is Hueripiti Bay on Tahaa about a week ago. Today we have grey skies and slashing (though still warm) rain. We are inside today! 

Thursday, 27 September 2018

The Good Things!

Well, all is well on Sophrosyne!

The jagged skyline of Moorea. This is the landscape the James Mitchener raves about in 'Return to the South Pacific'. Much has changed, but much remains the same, after the 70 years since his time in French Polynesia.
We have been in FP for a couple of weeks now. That is long enough to get unpacked -- but not long enough for Maureen to get the 'pinch me' grin off her face. Maureen really does like the tropics -- I have lost track of the number of times she has reminded me "and I am not even cold."

We have been anchored at Moorea now for 3 or 4 days. We have a nice little spot here and the weather has been fine. We were here in May and even though everything is still new -- I feel a little bit at home here.

Today was shopping day.

It turns out that we are not the 'big provisioners' that we hear about in the south pacific, meaning that we are always on the hunt for a shop with fresh fruit and veg. We are finding that people here eat too, and by and large, we can find anything we need to keep our tummies full.

Prices, well that's a different matter.

Today our grocery shopping took us into Cook's Bay where we knew there was a pretty well stocked 'Super U.' The first trip is always an adventure because one never really knows what will be on the shelves of the Super U.

Pineapples are just coming into season here. Even though two people probably can't eat three big pineapples -- we are going to give it a try.
Today it was all about the pineapples. There have been pineapples around since we got here in May but they always seen so expensive. Today these three beautiful fruit were 800XPF. How much is that you ask? Well it is about equal to a Steak Frite at the roulette. What's that? Steak frite is the most popular street food, and the roulette is the food truck that sells them. Steak frite is a 1/2 baguette loaded with french fries and few pieces of (usually marginal) beef. If that doesn't already make your mouth water you just need to add the 'sauce tahitiene' which has the consistency of soy sauce, and the taste of maple syrup!

We already know that baguette are subsidized across the entire Metropole meaning that anywhere in French Polynesia these loaves are 53 cents. They are delivered each day -- fresh at 06:00 and again at 09:00 -- and they are available at every grocery store and gas station. But don't try to find one after lunch (after 10:00 usually) because they are almost certainly sold out.

Just so you don't think I am bragging about our miserly shopping, I must disclose that the full bill was closer to $200 CDN. "That's a lot of baguette" you say. True, but less when you factor out the beer and cheese (I mean cheese and beer).

We are back at the boat now, we have finished our lunch, and after a wee rest it will probably time for a swim.

At anchor in O'punuho Bay in Moorea.

Warm, and happy!

Last night at dinner Maureen said to me "I don't have enough fingers to count the ways that this has been a good day."

Maureen is warm and happy, life is good.

All is well on Sophrosyne.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Four Bars

Maureen catches an early lead in the race down
the mighty steps of Mt. Hobson.

We have been almost a week at Great Barrier Island now. Tomorrow we will make the move toward Kawau Island – we have had many reports that this is a great place to visit and no reason to doubt the veracity of that information.

It is late now – I had been lying awake thinking about some of the events over these past few days and thought I should try to capture some of the feeling of the place.

I suppose calling anything that has happened over the past few days an ‘event’ overstates the case a bit…

It is impressively dark night tonight. We are nearly at the new moon and there is no other light except masthead anchor lights of the 6 or 10 boats moored across the bay. It is black enough that these lights are easily confused with stars. Some folks might say that the anchor lights, and the presence of the other boats in such an otherwise secluded setting, spoils the effect? That is not our experience.

We are anchored in Kiarara Bay tucked between Great Barrier Island on one side and Kiakora Island on the other. The close harbour gives the impression of being on a lake, in the middle of the ocean. Surrounding us on all sides are the remnants of an ancient Kauri forest. To be fair -- you pretty much have to imagine the kauri as they are all gone now – at least the 1000 year old trees that were in such favour across the planet 200 years ago. Great Barrier today is a different place. Much of the island is managed by Auckland council as parkland, and considerable efforts are evident to control invasives and re-establish the Kauri forest – that takes time.

We didn’t intend to stay here quite so long but we have found each morning that there really was no good reason to leave.

Each morning my day starts in front of the computer looking after e-mail: “Doug there is a broken bottle in the parking lot”, “Doug the bathroom light on the second floor is not working”, “Doug, we have no hot water on the fourth floor”. Although we are located in the opposite hemisphere -- it is an enduring miracle of the modern world that I am able to respond to and manage affairs 12,000 km away just as if I was sitting in my office at home. At least I can do this as long as I have Internet access and one of the great joys of Great Barrier Island is looking at my phone and seeing four bars of beautiful Vodaphone cellular coverage!

Another great thing about NZ generally, and Great Barrier specifically is the tramping. We have walked all over Great Barrier and Kiakora Island in the last few days. The best of these tramps was the walk up to Mt. Hobson. From this highest point you can see Auckland in the west -- and Tahiti to the east – (on a clear day.)

So we got up early the other day and packed a lunch and headed to shore in the dinghy to the trailhead (I guess they would call it a ‘tramphead’?). As we motored in there was another dinghy heading in the same direction. We have a 9.9hp outboard and they had a 3.5hp so we handily won the first leg -- getting to the beach first. The second leg went to the Kiwi team as they flipped down their dinghy wheels and smartly pulled themselves above the high tide mark. We were a little longer removing our 235 kg. four stroke monster off the back of the dinghy and walking it up the beach separately. I know you are thinking “why don’t you have dinghy wheels”? (ask me about that later…)

The walk up to Mt Hobson is only about 5.6 km and less than half of that is vertical. But it is an impressive piece of infrastructure. It includes boardwalk sections built to protect nesting habitat and these are beautifully crafted. Long sections three or four hundred metres constructed dead level and with beautifully cut graceful curves winding through the trees. In my mind -- I was comparing it to the decrepit condition of our West Coast Trail and thinking – score another one for the kiwis.

Anyway with a supreme effort Team Canada did catch the kiwis further up the trail (they were resting and sipping tea -- have I mentioned yet that they looked to be in their 70s?). We all arrived at the lookout at lunchtime and had a nice visit – everyone appreciating the natural splendor.

On the way down Team Canada wisely took a headstart and began to work our way down the 1,479 steps while the kiwis were finishing their mid-day meal. At about the ½ point we had noticed a pool on the nearly river with a nice cascade of water flowing over – too good to pass up on a hot afternoon.

It was perhaps a bit cheeky but without a change of clothes we would have to make a furtive dip as the only downside of our private swimming hole was that there is a commanding overlook from the bridge. No damage done -- we were back on the trail, fully clothed, and ready to make our final descent when the kiwis arrived. Only the briefest “so you had a swim” to betray our indiscretion.

Back at the dinghy, I was waiting for the late arrival of the other half of Team Canada, watching a family pull up to the beach with their two little girls each with life jackets and matching Benetton sun hats. I said hello and with that two word intro they responded “you must be from the Canadian boat”

How did they know that?

We visited. They have been cruising with their young family for a few years now having started in Europe. We agreed to find a time to share stories because that have just spent a season in French Polynesia (where we are headed) and we have an excellent set of waypoints for Fiji (where they are heading).

By now it was mid afternoon and we headed back to the boat. On our way by Team Kiwi called out “come over for a drink at five?” “Sure.” I tell the story this way because when we did come over for sundowners aboard Windlied, the first order of business was to exchange names. I still find it to be a wonderful feature of the cruising life that it is normal to strike up a conversation and a friendship over the course of just a few minutes without even knowing the person’s name. We had a great few hours on Windlied and learned a bit about John and Barbara’s life in NZ about their three adult children, their grandchildren, their life as market gardeners, about the outsized impacts of Chinese investment on real estate prices in NZ, about the impacts on agriculture, about books and about movies.

We must have talked about fishing too because although Windleid left early this morning we had a ‘woo-hoo’ over the side of the boat about mid day and when I jumped up to see what the ruckus was about they were ghosting by close to the boat and Barbara was holding out small bag of fresh Snapper fillets at the end of the boathook -- and just enough time to reach out and grab it. I find this kindness touching because it was so utterly unexpected. Wherever they had been fishing, it was certainly out of their way to come back into this bay here to see us. There is no expectation of a return favour, or even seeing one another again. We don’t have a surname or any real ongoing point of connection -- just that memory of them ghosting by – delivering a gift.

At almost the same moment we had a dinghy on the other side of the boat which was the family I had mentioned above. They were heading to the beach so that the girls could play and invited us to come ashore and trade cruising insights. We spent 3 hours they them this afternoon while the girls played in sand and water without a peep. It was fun.

Thinking about all of that, and all the stars in the sky tonight, I have a soft spot for those ½ dozen masthead lights and the kindness and shared experience they represent. We will leave in the morning and never know who we might have missed here if we had stayed a little longer.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

A Pretty Impressive Light Show

This afternoon Maureen had drawn my attention to the fact that it has been 14 months since we last updated this blog. She sounded a bit alarmed -- like maybe someone has been stealing our blog posts?

I guess I was thinking about that when I was awakened this evening.

We are anchored now at Great Barrier Island in NZ. It is one of those places that is both far, and not far. It is about 40 nautical miles offshore (the way we came) and sparsely inhabited. Far enough away that it takes just a bit of effort to get here but close enough that any self respecting kiwi would still get here on a paddleboard.

This, our second day at Great Barrier Island, was a good one. One of those surprisingly rare days where we didn't get off the boat, and didn't even think about getting off. We have both enjoyed puttering at boat chores, and reading, and staying dry.

Great Barrier has been shrouded in low clouds since we got here -- like Prince Rupert but warmer. The rain comes and goes and when it arrives it is impressive. It rains hard for about 5 minutes and then stops. I collected enough rain water to do the dinner dishes just by holding a bucket under the corner of our solar panels. But then  the rain stops and we can go back to whatever it is we were doing.

I had two jobs today. One was to continue to clean and patch and repair our ratty old inflatable. The other was to work through the rigging on our spinnaker pole so that it can be deployed more easily as a whisker pole for downwind sailing. This is a job that involves quite a bit of looking at the current setup -- which just doesn't make sense -- and then going to read my book. Eventually I found the breakthrough adjustment and as I was removing and adjusting mast fittings to accommodate the new setup I realized that it had never been right from the beginning of time. Sometimes progress is slow on Sophrosyne.

That all brings me to the point of the story where I was awakened by the sound of someone smashing pots and pans above my head. Not loudly, and not persistently but just enough to get my attention. When we sleep on Sophrosyne our heads are +/-3/8" from the mast so that any sound that the mast makes is telegraphed emphatically to our attention down below. In this case, as I had run back and forth during the day to avoid the rain showers, I had not clamped the bottom end of the spinnaker pole into the bracket so that as the boat moved the bottom end of the pole swing out and then swung back in to hit the mast.

Having solved that mystery I walked back down the deck and noticed the sparkling water much like the reflection of a full moon -- except that you will recall that we are living inside of a rain cloud tonight and there is no moon or stars to be seen beneath the thick cloud cover.

As I looked more closely I could see that I was actually watching fish swim in the black night from the bio-luminescence of the water. It was impressive -- arresting. I have seen memorable displays of bio-luminescence before: a friend's black lab swimming in the water at Egmont; the wash off the back of Warrior sailing through the night at 18 or 20 knots. But this was something else again.

Magic! I got Maureen out of bed and we watched the improbable light show together.


As a final act to the Light Show, this was the view from Sophrosyne
this morning. Sometimes you just can't make this stuff up!

Walking to Cape Brett.
As is so often the case in NZ, there is an excellent trail
out to Cape Brett. More up and down
than Maureen would prefer but with outstanding
vistas all along the way.

The lighthouse at Cape Brett. Well worth the effort.

Friday, 18 December 2015

City Mouse, Country Mouse

We have had a wonderful couple of  weeks in Kauring-Gai-Chase National Park just north of Sydney. Lovely anchorages and great walks -- which is something you don't always find while cruising. Here Maureen has summited Towler's Lookout.
This is significant only because you can (almost) see our boat from here. 
We have been warned to watch for 'crocodiles' in Australia.
One our our favorite surprises was to find out how close we were to the Great North Walk. 168 kms. in total -- one can walk all the way to Newcastle from here. (We didn't do that...)
Turns out that watching the tide can be important. We are standing by our dinghy when we took this photo.
I have noticed that other cruisers have little wheels for their dinghies. I guess they don't watch the tides either?
One of our favorite little bays on Smith's Creek.
It was just like this -- until Maureen waved at the guys on the jetski -- before long we were joined by new neighbours on a rented houseboat called 'LUXURY AFLOAT'
Gotta love that Aussie sense of humour!
We got up early this morning and sailed further in to Sydney Harbour. We have found a little spot in Blackwattle Bay which is pretty much in the centre of the action. This afternoon we will head ashore and see what we can see on this great city. 

Yes. Those are 10 storey apartments in the background... Comanche out sail testing in Sydney Harbour -- before the big race.

Sometimes things just work out.
The pinnacle of our cruising success over these past few weeks has been finding these 2 litre boxes of wine at Aldi for $6. Sure -- it tastes terrible -- but look at how nicely it fits on the shelf!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Things you notice about Australia

We are tied up at Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club today and just getting ourselves prepared to head south to Pittwater in the morning. The trip is only 60 miles but we have been at NCYC for so long and we have enjoyed ourselves so much that we are wondering if we even know how to get the boat untied again. NCYC have been fantastic hosts! There are many lessons about running a successful yacht club that one can learn from these guys. They are very very good at managing their facility. It is busy, friendly, efficient and fun. But then, you notice that about Australia – they are pretty good at their ‘clubs.’

Sophrosyne is tied up at NCYC -- our home for the past month.
Great facility with good showers (important) and
 a Happy Hour every day (more important).
Tonight we are having American Thanksgiving at the Club
prepared in the finest Australian Tradition.
S.L.S.C. – That means, I think, Surfing and Life Saving Club, and there are lots of them. Maureen and I went for a walk the other day along the Memorial Walkway which is a suspended walkway connecting Newcastle’s downtown residential area with a series of beaches and ocean baths. We walked past Beach Bar SLSC, Meriweather SLSC, Newcastle SLSC and a couple of other ones besides. It was the weekend and each of these clubs had swimming lessons and shoreside activities for 100s of kids ranging from 3 to 16. The most familiar part of the experience for us was the smell of frying onions though as some parents were working the concessions while all the rest donned brightly coloured pinny’s and bathing caps and were shepherding the ‘little nippers’ back and forth across the surf. Everyone was having a grand time and the time honoured ballet unfolded seemingly without effort.

We were thinking of the ‘little nippers’ yesterday when we went for a swim. It was 42 deg. C and the wind was humming so we hopped into our rented car (because it had air conditioning) and drove to the beach. At 42 deg. C even Maureen goes for a swim -- but it is not really straightforward. We know enough to swim between the flags (we had been told they are pretty good at spotting the riptide). But there are still waves, and they were pretty big. Maureen was walking out slowly getting used to the still pretty cold water – until the first wave came through -- and then that was pretty much it. Once I found her again she was ready to head out into the deeper water past the biggest breaking waves. It was fun.

Later in the day Maureen was chuckling when she bent over noticing that the ocean was running out through her nose. At least she said it was water.

I was thinking to myself that even girls think snot is funny.

Later in the day we went to join in with some of the other rally members for Sundowners and then out to the most amazing Jazz club I have even seen! We had been told about Jack McLaughin’s jazz band, but just like you are thinking right now, I said to myself. ‘Whatever’.

Well, Jack had his 81st birthday last night and he celebrated playing at the Carrington with his son-in-law who also had his 41st birthday. They were serenaded by the lead singer who was a gal who looked like she had just finished up at the library, except that when she sang it made Norah Jones look like an amateur. There were only about 30 or 40 of us at the bar so we all pretty much had front row seats. I visited with the bass player during their break just to say how much we were enjoying the music. He told me that he was 66 and had been playing with Jack for 42 years. And I haven’t even mentioned the drummer!

I know it sounds like all we do is visit the beach and have fun, but we have been to a couple of wine tastings in the Hunter Valley too!

It has been a fun couple of weeks. Fun for us because Australia is the first point on this trip where we have been able to source boat parts without needing to arrange complex shipping. Don’t get me started on “the pallet”.

Maureen models our new salad tongs. Purchased from
K-Mart for $2 they fill a significant deficiency aboard Sophrosyne.
Hopefully now we can keep the salad in the bowl and not on the floor?
What does that mean? Well it means we have a new toilet! We went in to the shop to get a gasket kit for the old toilet but since the whole toilet was on sale we got rid of the old scratched seat at the same time. Maureen was happy!

For my part I found I could finally get good quality stainless hose clamps – I was happy. I mean, it is not such a pleasant job that I am keen to do it again real soon so I just bought the good hose clamps.
That is just the beginning of the bathroom renovation. We have also replaced our broken plexiglass shower enclosure. We found some beautiful frameless mirrors that were big enough to cover the holes from the PFO. And on a boat that is pretty much a complete renovation – there really isn’t anything else in there. It looks good!

With that success under our belt you can imagine that the kitchen was next. New custom carpets (from Bunnings) and a fire blanket to hang next to the stove. Not having a fire blanket has been bugging me ever since Yacht Kate asked us back in Fiji “do you guys have a fire blanket?”
Allan, from A&R Mobile Sharpening came to the club parking lot
and sharpened all of our knives and scissors.
That is good service! 

And more besides. We now have a nice small pair of salad tongs so that when you set them down on the bowl they don’t tip the salad bowl onto the floor. And the high point -- for Gord, and Brent, but everyone else besides -- we have sharp kitchen knives. It takes a larger population to have a mobile sharpening truck that will come to the Yacht Club parking lot to sharpen knives and scissors. And I really do think it takes Australia to have that truck kitted out with a 1000 watt Yamaha gas generator (inside the truck) to provide the electricity to run the sharpening tools.

You won’t believe me, but space allows me to report on only the most significant boat improvements made in Newcastle. There were many more besides!

Well tomorrow we will sail down to Pittwater. We have been told that this is a pretty special part of Australia so we are looking forward to the visit. After that we will sneak around the corner and spend a couple of weeks in Sydney Harbour. Should be fun.