Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


 

April 2:

 

     April is a transition time for sailors.  Back in the northern latitudes of the US and Europe, sailors are just starting to think about the new boating season coming up.  Caribbean sailors are now starting to make plans to move on...whether it be back up the East Coast or down to South America, or off to some other hideout for the coming hurricane season.  The season is coming to a close for them.  Yachts in Panama are now transiting the canal and heading out across the long passage to the Marquesas--their crews dreaming of Polynesian paradises ahead.  It's rather interesting to give pause and think about that great fraternity of sailors which we are a part of.  Although we are all doing different things, we all do them following the same rhythms of nature.

     Like many other sailors, the crew of Uliad is in a time of transition.  For the past week we have been packing away all our belongings into boxes.  The shoes and clothes and furniture and belongings that seem so dear and necessary on land have now become superfluous nuisances.  Packing and protecting it all until they are someday needed again quickly grows tedious and I scratch my head and wonder how we ever accumulated so much.  Even when it all now fits in a corner of my brother's basement, it still seems like such a burden.

     As in previous transitions, there is a certain feeling of freedom and joy that comes with each thing I divest myself of:  the pager...the office key...the apartment key...the car keys...the cell phone... the cable box.  Although each is useful and brings a degree of happiness to life, it surprises me just how good it feels to get rid of them, too.   It's like a burden being lifted that you didn't even know you were carrying.

    Well...sort of.  I shouldn't give you the impression that we've renounced all worldly possessions or anything.  With much stuffing and shoving, we managed to condense everything we wanted to bring back to Uliad into 8 duffle bags--each carefully weighed and measured to be within airline regulations.  We left most all our clothes and equipment on Uliad last fall, mind you.  But there's a new supply of books and a restocking of spare parts and new pillows & cushions and all sorts of other things that we couldn't help but think how awesome it would be to have back on the boat. 

    So that's our transition for now...exchanging the one set of burdens for another.  But with the three of us working together and maybe renting a couple of Smarte Carts at the airport, we'll make it through. 

 

 

April 4: 

      After living in the thin, dry, Colorado air for 6 months, the first sensation stepping off the plane in Tahiti is the heaviness--the palpable thickness of the air we were walking through.  Just walking across the tarmac was like being caressed by invisible, tropical flower-scented velvet.  At some point in the customs line however, I began to sweat.  I haven't stopped for days. 

      All of our luggage thankfully arrived, albeit more than one with signs of thorough searching by the TSA.  Spare boat parts look mighty suspicious on x-ray, apparently.  After gathering up our luggage, we made our way to the Tahiti Airport Motel which, as advertised, sits right across the road from the airport here.  What they fail to mention (but we already knew) is that "right across the street" is also about 300 feet uphill from where you gather your luggage.  And while it seems utterly ridiculous to hire a taxi to take you across the street, it really is a wise thing to do when you have 8 bags, strategically packed to maximize the allowed weight.

      Knowing what taxis cost here, I foolishly thought I'd just run them up to our room two at a time while Kathleen stood guard at the bottom of the hill.  About an hour later, thoroughly drenched in sweat, the job was finished.  I vowed to hire a taxi tomorrow even if it was downhill now.

      We had some time to kill the following morning before our early afternoon flight to Raiatea, so we took the bus into downtown and wandered the big central market in Papeete.  It was great to be back wandering among the fresh fruits and fish and ladies making flower garlands and men selling pearls... Emmett and I hit up the fishing tackle store for a few needed supplies.  Kathleen and Em then stopped for her favorite Tahitian snack--the "nem"...which is sort of an egg roll but filled with cellophane noodles and pork and who knows what else.  I had to pause and enjoy a fresh, tree-ripened banana which sound silly, but as you have heard me lament before...they're just not the same up north.

       Soon it was time to catch the bus back to the Airport.  We felt like real Papeete pros now in that last time we came here, Kath got pick-pocketed and run over by a car all in the course of a couple of hours.  What a victory to escape cleanly this time! 

        Once again we checked in our enormous load of luggage and enjoyed our short flight to Raiatea.  Knowing that Uliad was in no condition to live aboard yet, we reserved a bungalow at the "Sunset Beach Resort".  They picked us up at the airport and since they have no restaurant, took us to town to buy a few groceries, then took us to the boat yard to drop off the bags.  Finally I could see for myself:  Despite tsunamis and hurricanes and 6 long months, our ship was safe and sound, much as we had left her.  All the work I had asked for had been done expertly.  Man was it good to be home! 

 

 

April 10:

    The first few days go by in a stuporous blur.  Living in a boat yard is always a miserable experience.  Without the cool water around the boat and the bow pointed in the wind, it gets insufferably hot down below.  Every trip off the boat involves a trip down a rickety 10 foot ladder.  Dirt and dust blows around everywhere.  It sucks.

     So the motivation is to work as hard and fast as possible to get your boat ready to go in the water again.  Working hard, in the tropical heat leaves me dehydrated and exhausted by the time I drag myself back to our little resort hut each night for a cool shower, a meal, and sleep.  By day 3 or so my shoulders are sunburned, and my legs are weak.  That was the turning point where I started to get back in the rhythm of tropical living:  work at a slower pace, never work in the sun when you can work in the shade, wear a hat and shirt even if its hot, drink lots of water...an incredible amount of water.

     After 4 days we have things unpacked enough to move aboard.  Emmett and I put three coats of bottom paint on and Kathleen unpacks those 8 big bags and cleans up mildew and yard dirt.  Every afternoon the neighborhood kids play soccer in the street just outside the yard and Emmett takes off for some much needed exercise.  And finally, one week after arrival, Uliad is lifted off her cradle and set down in the water again.  Other cruisers are amazed and envious of how quickly we were ready to float again, but all I can say is that we earned it!

Getting ready to lift Uliad back onto that beautiful water

 

April 14th:   

     I wish I could say that after plopping down in the water we sailed off into paradise, but the boatyard blues weren't over yet.  Our generator wouldn't start, which first led me to suspect the starting battery which had been sitting dead for months.  When that didn't help, I changed all the fuel filters and bleed the engine and checked the starter and so on.  When that didn't yield any success, we called in a mechanic who bled the engine again several times, checked the fuel injectors and fuel pump.  He took off the air filter and sprayed starting fluid right down our generator's throat.  All to no avail.  Finally after two days of work by me and two more by the mechanic, he brought in a second starting battery and wired it in series to dump 24 volts (instead of the normal 12) into the starter.  The engine turned and turned and raced at such a speed that it sounded like it was about to take off.  And just when I was sure that he was going to burn out my starter motor, the generator coughed and sputtered and then roared to life. 

     So as the boat yard owner and his son the mechanic are packing up their things I expressed some concern that it might not start next time I turn it on and he turns to me and says, "Don't worry, we had another boat here once with the exact same generator as yours sitting for over a year.  After getting it going with the 24 volts like this, it ran perfectly after that." 

     So I felt a bit more confident as he strode off to a well deserved rest in his air conditioned office but then I thought to myself,  "If the exact same generator had the exact same problem once before...then why wasn't the 24 volt trick the first thing he tried instead of coming up with it a day and a half later?"

 

April 17th:

     So I wish now I could say that we sailed off into paradise.  We did actually make a few miles to the island of Tahaa.  With the generator running, I got the refrigerator/freezer and the icemaker and the water maker up and running.  We were just about settling into cruising mode again when the generator suddenly quit putting out power!  I shut things down climbed down into the hellaciously hot engine room and quickly deduced the problem:  The exhaust hose had burst, which led to a spray of salt water onto some wiring which promptly shorted itself out.

     Back to Raiatea to order a new hose to be shipped from Tahiti and call for an electrician to see if the wiring can be repaired.  The hose goes in fine, but the electrician was a failure so now it looks like I'll need to wait until Monday  to order a new part from the USA.  In addition, one of our two battery banks have gone bad, so I need to order replacements there.  And having problems with one exhaust line led me to look more suspiciously at the exhaust line on the main engine and I note that a small hole has rusted through on our exhaust elbow...which will also require us to order a replacement.  So it looks like we're stuck here another week, before we've even gotten started.  I just try to keep reminding myself how much better to find and correct these problems here where there's help. Because after we leave Raiatea, it's a long, long way until we'll find engine parts and electricians and daily flights to Los Angeles that can deliver what we need. 

 

April 23:

      There is a strong tendency to anthropomorphize boats...that is, to assign them human characteristics.  We are no different and Kathleen finally blurted out the other day how Uliad must be angry with us for abandoning her here so long.  Now she was breaking down petulantly at every opportunity.  Myself, I saw it as a case of a patient snatched from the jaws of a slowly corroding death.  Uliad has been in intensive care for the past few weeks.

      The generator issue turned out to be a burnt, shorted out terminal block which sells for $35 in the USA.  There was a Westerbeke dealer in Tahiti who took about a day to get back to me:  He could have the part shipped to him in about 7 days.  The cost:  $220.  Meanwhile, I had all weekend to sit and stew over the problem and it occurred to me as I looked at it that I could just bypass the bad terminal block with two wires, insulate them well with tape and I should be set.  Hearing the final price (and more importantly, the time) was just the motivation I needed to try my little plan and sure enough it worked!  So we had a generator again!

      Batteries of the size and type we need were also nowhere to be found in French Polynesia.  The Canadian electrician (who failed to fix the generator) was able to point me to a local garage selling much smaller AGM batteries, and with a day's labor making lots of connector cables, we were able to link 6 new  75 amp-hr batteries in parallel to do the same job as the two old 245 amp-hr ones. 

     Which left the exhaust elbow issue.  We pulled back into the slip at the boatyard where Dominique and his son Nicholas set to work grunting and huffing loose the rusted old bolts holding it in place.  By the end of the day, they had it off with a promise to weld shut the holes and be back in the morning.   The next day, Nicholas arrived with a whole new elbow that he had fabricated out of steel pipe to the exact size as the old.  Turns out the old elbow was so rusted that it pretty much shattered when they tried to take it apart.  So I guess I got as much use as possible out of it.  So he hooked it all up and we started the engine only to find two small bubbling leaks in the welds where exhaust gasses were escaping.  Nicholas patiently took it all apart again and went back to his shop to reweld those areas.  He returned late in the afternoon to reassemble everything again...only now there was a single leak in a place we hadn't noticed before.

       Now this  is the point where I suppose I would be right to be annoyed and frustrated with the guy.  But there's something about  the Polynesian manner...the way they always seem to earnestly want to please... all I could feel was, "yes, Nicholas, you go back and keep welding until you get it just right."  So we were ready this time that in the morning, the final weld would be completed and we would leave this dirty, messy boat yard forever.  Which was about the time the generator quit again.

       It just stopped running out of nowhere.  Which after all we had been through seemed so, so unbelievably unfair that I couldn't decide whether to scream or cry.  But I had been in a groove lately fixing things and rather than get upset, I just set to work with my shop manual until it became clear that the exhaust temperature sensor had failed and (thanks be to God) I had a spare.  I hooked up the new sensor and everything was good again.

      Now something happens each time you crawl down into the dark corners of the engine room.  You reacquaint yourself with how everything works...how everything should look, and smell, and sound.  Pretty soon you've taken enough things apart that you know what you can trust and where the weak spots are.  By now, I was feeling like I knew this damned generator pretty well.  I knew that all the problems had been chased down.  I knew that it would run fine even before flipping the start switch.  I can't tell you how different it felt compared to last week when nothing would work and I ran for the mechanic to save me...

      So Nicholas returned in the morning and his welds were good.  But the water hose running to the exhaust elbow had been manhandled on and off so many times that now IT sprung a leak so we spent one more day waiting for the correct size hose to be flown in from Papeete and finally this morning...three weeks after arriving in French Polynesia...Uliad is right again.

      Just as in the intensive care unit, when a doctor looks at the lab results and the vital signs and realizes that everything is going to turn out OK, I knew that Uliad was going to be that true friend whom I could trust my life with...my family's life with.  Because I had checked everything by now and everything was going to be OK.  That's a good feeling to have when you're about to sail hundreds of miles away from land.  That's a feeling worth waiting for. 

 

April 26:

     A few days pass and we feel like cruisers again.  After motoring away from the boat yard for the last time, we stocked up on fresh produce and French delicacies one last time in the main village.  Then we spent most of the afternoon being blown against the dock by strong mid-day winds.  I mentioned a good price on a new trolling rod that I saw in town and Kathleen offered to buy it for me as an early birthday present.  Em and I set off to pick out our new weapon.  The rest of the time, we watched charter boats come and go...struggling to get away from the wall as the wind blew them back on.  More than once we stood by with fenders, ready to prevent damage to Uliad if they blew down on us, but fortunately they just scraped up their own hulls fighting the wind.

     Having lived in the islands long enough, we knew that there would be a pause in the wind after a rain squall.  Or barring that, the wind would usually quit at night, or even reverse itself as the cool mountain air dropped down to shore.  So the easiest plan was to be ready, and then wait.  We were patiently following nature's pattern again.  Of course that's not how things are done back in civilization with schedules to keep and all, so I could forgive the charter boats for their need to do it the hard way.

     Around 3pm the winds dropped after a raincloud passed, and we gently cast off and made our way across the lagoon to the island of Tahaa.  We take a mooring at the Tara Vana Yacht Club and chat with some other yachties over dinner.  We compare stories and talk of places we've been... just like old times.

    Then in the morning, we motored around to the west side of the island and anchored off the reef near one of those idyllic fancy resorts with little bungalows on stilts dangling over turquoise waters.  We snorkel, we nap, we lounge around and make a tasty dinner to eat under the starlight.  This was what we had been working so hard for the past three weeks toward.  This was the good life.

    Sitting in the boat yard with dozens of chores to do, I would sometimes look out across Uliad's bow at the blue blue waters in the lagoon and the dark peaks of Bora Bora on the horizon and think to myself, "So close...and yet so far."  And now, cold drink in hand, I could finally look back at the cluster of masts on Raitea that marked that same boat yard and think the same thing.  Even a boat yard can look pretty from a distance. 

 

 

 

April 29:

     We finally left Raiatea in flat calm seas to motor the 4 hour trip to Bora Bora.  From a distance, Bora Bora carves a striking silhoutette, with her ancient volcano-cone peaks rising up from the sea.  Closer in, we could see smatterings of ritzy hotels all over the place.  More of those over-the-water bungalows on stilts graced each point of land.

     We entered the pass through the reef around noon and pulled up to the mooring field in front of the Bora Bora Yacht Club.  It sounds fancier than it is...having been recently pounded by a hurricane, the owners are busier with making repairs than serving guests, but we did manage a few beers from them and enjoyed some conversation with other yachties.  Enjoying a cold one while enjoying the sunset from the deck of the Bora Bora yacht club...with pretty little Uliad floating in the distance...now that is just about making all those weeks of hard work worth it.

     Our plan is to chill out here for a few days, fill up with fuel, maybe a few last groceries and then make a 600 mile passage to the Cook Islands.  Taking such a long passage so soon after getting back to the boat is not how I'd prefer it.  I'd really like to take more time to get our sea legs and make sure no new boat problems pop up.  But unfortunately, there's really no place downwind that's any closer to go to after Bora Bora.  And our visas are due to expire here next week.  So despite this beautiful island (which appears rather un-touristy given how many tourists it gets) in front of us, my thoughts are already drifting toward leaving.  What a shame. 

Approaching Bora Bora

 

                                                                                                                                   

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