Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


 September 1:  

      Yesterday Emmett and I went surfing.  Since the Polynesians invented the sport, we figured this must be the best place to learn.  Pasquale from the surf school arrived at the marina on schedule and drove us out along the north coast, pausing from time to time to look at the waves.  At some point he found what he was looking for and parked the car.  We carried our boards down to the sandy beach and practiced going from prone to standing while still firmly on land.  Then it was time to hit the waves, dude.

      Emmett took to it right away.  Within a few minutes he was up on his feet yelling as he rode a wave into shore.  It took me a bit longer to get the balance just right, but once I got it, I was perhaps a bit more consistently able to get up on the board.  Em is still a bit small to paddle strongly enough to get out through the surf, so Pasquale was there to help pull him through.  Even with that help, we were both pretty tired after a couple of hours.  The wind started picking up, making it even more tiring to paddle out and soon Pasquale wrapped up our lesson. 

      Having experienced surfing for the first time, we were starting to like Tahiti again.  But Tahiti wasn't done with us yet.  Right around sunset the wind began to pick up.  Then it kept building and building until we had full gale force winds raging through the anchorage.  I should mention that the anchorage here is crowded with boats, some on moorings, others at anchor.  We had less than our usual amount of anchor chain out because of the crowded conditions and I kept nervously eyeing the distance to the boats behind us, worrying that our anchor might drag.  Where was this coming from?!  The weather reports mentioned 20-25 knots, but nothing like this!

     Rain began to fly sideways so fast that it hurt when I went forward to check the anchor snubber.  50 knot gusts would hit and knock us sideways just as if we were heeling over at sail.  The coffee machine and other loose items started crashing below.  The normally calm lagoon waters had 3 foot high breaking waves rolling through the anchorage. 

    Aside from having our anchor drag (or somebody else's boat drag into us), I stared out into the dark worrying about two things.  First, our Code Zero sail was still furled up on the front of the boat, and I knew from experience that this was risky in high winds.  If the wind starts to unroll the sail even a little bit, then all hell breaks loose shortly after.  The second fear was that as the waves got higher, our anchor snubber would chafe through. 

     A quick check of both showed no disasters imminent, but my fears were well founded.  A few minutes later I heard a bang, followed by a horrendous flapping noise at the front of the boat.  I knew immediately that the Code Zero was opening up.  I ran to the mast and released the Code Zero halyard.  The 1/3 unfurled sail immediately was blown flat into the water alongside Uliad where (with adrenaline pouring through our veins) Kathleen and I easily dragged it aboard and stowed it.  Then 15 minutes after checking the snubber for the third time, another bang came from the bow followed by the sound of anchor chain being pulled out of the locker with each wave.

    I lunged to turn the engine on.  As Kathleen ran to the helm to drive forward into the wind, I ran up to the bow to rig a new snubber line.  In fact I rigged two.  Once the conditions reached a certain level of scariness, the one inch thick rope and the plastic chafe protection around it were completely chewed through within 15 minutes!

The snubber line that parted in the storm

    I returned below to towel off to find Emmett hysterically crying "We're going to die!"  Kathleen started packing a waterproof bag with all our money and passports, thinking we might have to abandon ship.  So I tried my best to calm everybody down and tell Emmett that we surely are not going to die and Uliad is a VERY strong boat and Dad was going to keep a super close eye on everything and fix any problem that comes up right away just like he did the snubber and the code zero.  He looked skeptical, but at least stopped the wailing.

    But in my own head, I was not so confident.  Two out of three problems that I envisioned had already happened.  How long until these crazy winds and seas pulled our anchor loose and we were racing broadside down on those boats behind us?  I sat in the cockpit looking, looking, waiting for the final shoe to drop.  There was little else I could do.  There was no room to let out more chain, no likelihood in these conditions of safely setting a second anchor.  All I could do was wait and watch and hope I noticed in time if our anchor pulled free.  Then we'd have not choice but to try to drive foreward, pull up the anchor, and hope to God we could get it to set again in these conditions.  I felt nauseated just thinking about having to try.  Meanwhile, Kathleen sat below playing games with Em and trying her hardest to look unafraid.  In my position, I at least didn't have to pretend.

    A lull in the winds occurred a few hours later and I could see two boats crashing on the rocks a few hundred yards behind us.  A third boat had dragged backwards and was pinned against the over-the-water bungalows of the Intercontinental Hotel.  The radio cackled with other boats dragging somewhere upwind of us.  This was scary.  Emmett was finally drifting off to sleep with Kathleen in our bunk below.  I decided not to share the blow by blow of the carnage out there.  This was the kind of moment to make one wonder what in the hell are we doing out here anyway?  We could be sitting on a nice sofa watching American Idol.  Wouldn't that be nice?

    After a few more hours of anxiously watching all the boats around us, things started to calm down after midnight.  It appeared that despite our short anchor chain, our anchor held in the deep sand below us.  I finally fell asleep on the pilothouse couch around 2am, unbelievably relieved that our abandon ship bag remained untouched beside me. 

 

September 4:

    Surely there is more to Tahiti than the multitude of problems we have suffered here.  With that spirit in mind we tried once again to find the happy side of Tahiti...this time at the island's fanciest resort, the Intercontinental.  We can see its over-the-water bungalows from our anchorage.  From the dinghy we can see its manicured grounds and beautiful pool.  On Friday night they have what is reported to be one of the best Polynesian dance shows on the whole island. 

    The main restaurant at the Intercontinental is a nightly buffet dinner with seating forming an amphitheater around the pool and looking out toward the sea.  The dinner ran over $100 per plate so we opted to sit in the bar and have dessert instead.  The show didn't disappoint with professional dancers and flaming batons and such.  Emmett was so enthralled he forgot to finish his sundae.

Emmett's giant ice cream sundae at the Intercontinental Hotel, TahitiTahitian dance show

    There are two sports that Polynesians are crazy about.  One is dancing...they have dance troupes on every island who practice all year and then compete in Tahiti at the Heiva festival every July.  The winners get jobs at the Intercontinental or get signed to go on cultural tours.

 

    The other big sport is outrigger canoe races.  Today's outriggers are not quaint dugout canoes to remember the old days with.  They are superlight fiberglass shells painted with the names of sponsors.  Some have carbon fiber paddles.  And every evening or weekend on every island, you can see a few teams of guys out paddling in perfect rhythm.  On populous Tahiti, it can be downright crowded on a Saturday morning out in the lagoon.  Judging by the chiseled shoulder muscles of these guys, they obviously don't miss many workouts.  How much healthier would we all be if we Americans were into canoeing instead of watching football on TV every weekend?  The Tahitians put us to shame.

    So there, I managed to find a few good things about Tahiti, all things considered.  We did manage to get some important paperwork sent to the states, arrange to have a new mainsail made, and get some needed shopping done here also.  After a rough start, I think we're feeling a bit more ready to emerge into the real world again.  Tomorrow we're moving on to a tall, jagged island just west of here called Moorea.  The sun sets behind it every night, making it look extra pretty, so we thought we'd better take a closer look.

     

September 6:

     Tahiti was not going to let us go without a fight.  The 15 miles of ocean between Tahiti and Moorea were whipped up like a washing machine by 28 knot winds.  We didn't care.  We could put up with anything for a couple of hours.  So we bashed our way through 8 foot waves toward our destination. 

     My mainsail was another story.  With no less than 8 separate repairs on her now, I really didn't expect it to survive.  Yet we really needed the stabilizing effect of the mainsail through the rough water, so I unfurled as much as I dared and waited with resignation for the big ripping sound to come.  Miraculously it didn't and we sailed into Oponohu Bay daring to hope that it will carry us on to Raiatea.   One of my tasks to complete in Tahiti was to arrange for a new mainsail.  I'm pleased to say that we now have one on order through a sailmaker in Tahiti and it should be waiting for us when we return next spring.  If we can just make it to Raitea.

Uliad's mainsail hanging on for dear life

    If you wonder what this bay is like, just rent the movie "The Bounty" with Mel Gibson.  Most of the Tahiti scenes were filmed here.  (and if you liked my tale of Captain Bligh and the mutiny on the Bounty the other day, the movie tells it in much greater detail).  Moorea has dramatic green cliffs and spires much like the Marquesas did, with the added bonus of a fringing coral reef giving us perfectly protected waters to anchor in.  There are a few resorts scattered around, but none of the traffic, noise, and crowds that made Tahiti so off-putting.

    Soon after arrival we met up with the crew from Gallivanter who took us to a spot where the resorts bring tourists to swim with stingrays.  To assure the stingrays will be there, they feed them regularly.  As a result, the creatures are now quite demanding of their food whenever a boat arrives.  No sooner had we tied to a buoy then we could see dark shapes in the sand swarming toward us.  The first people to jump in were met by enormous stingrays swarming up the sides of their bodies looking for their handouts.  I can't imagine that this would be a pleasant experience for the average tourist.

Stingrays swarm in on Kathleen in Moorea

    Emmett is always thrilled to have wild animals within his reach, so he was having a great time.  All the while I kept thinking about Steve Irwin--the Australian TV snake and crocodile handling guy who was killed by a stingray.   But everyone was having fun so I put the thought out of my mind and joined in with petting the rubbery critters for a while.

    As we were dancing about in the shallow, clear waters with the stingrays, a few blacktip sharks patrolled the periphery.  They, too had learned about all the free food here.  The sharks were much to wary to come near us though.  They seemed content to wait for the odd scrap that drifted away from the crowd.   I'm not a fan of feeding wild animals to let us get close to them.  I'd much rather watch them behave naturally a few feet further away.  But I had to admit that it was entertaining to have them frolicking about us for a bit.  Kathleen also seems to have made her peace with the sharks.  She calmly noted their presence and went about her business as they went about theirs.  In Moorea, it seems, everyone has agreed to a certain peace.

 

September 9:

    We awoke yesterday morning to find that Independence had arrived in the early morning hours and anchored ahead of us.  After finding few kids to play with for so long, Emmett now had three playmates.  Ben & Sam from Independence and Stuart from Gallivanter were quick to organize a play date.  Home school went quicker than it had in a long time now that Emmett had a strong motivation to finish.

     The adults were also keen to get together.  A beach potluck and bonfire were orgainzed and Kathleen set about making a giant pot of chili in the pressure cooker that afternoon.   The evening's festivities were truly international, with sailors from Germany, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and the USA represented.  It was great to sit around and share stories into the night.

     Hearing that I was a doctor, at one point someone asked what I thought of Obama's big plans for heath care.  Apparently back home, you guys are getting bombarded with debate as we try once again to fix US health care.  I had to admit a bit of ignorance about what has been going on.  But you should have seen the jaws drop among the folks from other modern countries when I talked about the occasional poster at the Wisconsin grocery store for a pancake feed that someone was organizing to help pay for some poor girl's needed surgery.   Or the thought that if you lost your job, you also lost your insurance and even if you had planned carefully, you were now one accident away from bankruptcy.  They were incredulous that such a modern, wealthy country as America would allow such a thing.

    Public health systems in Germany or Canada can certainly have their issues as well.  But everyone I spoke to felt it was better to have to wait for an elective hip replacement than to have to suffer the sort of uncertainty that Americans do.  Although publicly financed health care will undoubtedly mean lower salaries for doctors like me, I'd have a hard time disagreeing that their systems were better for all.  I'd hate to think that a potluck dinner like this would someday be organized to try to scrounge up the money for MY hospital bill. 

 

September 11:

    Moorea turned out to be the perfect conclusion to our cruising season.  The past few days have been a reminder of why we do this.  The bay here has clean, calm water.  The island people are laid back and friendly.  The beach is great for the kids; and Emmett even had plenty of kids to play with for once.  Independence pulled in early yesterday morning after sailing straight from the Marquesas to catch up with us.  They have truly become like family to us and I'm sure we'll catch up to them somewhere next season.  Nonetheless it was hard to say goodbye.  We've been having one get together after another here--as if everyone recognizes the need to live it up as the end is near.

    I was in a bit of a mood all day yesterday.  My mind is already racing ahead to all the steps required to store Uliad...all the things needing to be done when we arrive in the US...all the work of starting a new job and moving to a new place.  I had to keep reminding myself to focus on the moment--soak in all I can of this perfect little spot. 

    Finally, by sunset yesterday we peeled ourselves away from our friends and set sail to Raiatea, where there is a boat yard that we'll leave Uliad for the next few months.  The weather forecast was perfect: moderate winds and calm seas.  I expected a picture perfect overnight sail to wind down the season. 

    It didn't quite turn out that way.  The seas were mild alright, but for some reason the motion of the boat was just right so that everyone was nauseated all night long.  Perhaps it is our badly misshapen mainsail, perhaps it was all the partying we had been doing the last several days; but something just wasn't right.  Even after 12,000 miles, the sea has a way of making us feel like absolute beginners sometimes.

    When we entered the lagoon of Raitea around 11am, everyone felt better again.  Our first item of business was to top off the fuel tanks, so we pulled into the public dock in front of the main town.  (It's important to store your boat with a full diesel tank.  Otherwise the humid air of the tropics will cause a lot of water to condense in the fuel tank over a period of months.)  The fuel dock was in a busy little harbor with boats coming & going and plenty of spectators.  In other words, my wife's worst nightmare.  To make it worse, I had to reverse Uliad into the rather crowded spot at the fuel dock.  Then just as I was patting myself on the back for my perfect docking maneuver, the guy at the fuel dock came up to tell us that if we wanted duty free (i.e. half price!) fuel, we had to go to another fuel dock a mile away. 

    So we motored over to the second dock to find a narrow channel leading to a dock obviously meant for boats of 30 feet or less.  Once again, I managed to pull up, pivot the boat, and come to rest perfectly. (Maybe I'm not such a beginner after all.)  We got our duty free fuel, took a mooring near the boat yard, and suddenly the long night caught up with me--I was exhausted!  In cruising mode, this would call for a day of rest tomorrow.  But, we realized, Raiatea is no longer cruising mode.  Now we're in work mode.  Which means early tomorrow we start the daunting task of putting Uliad to rest for another season.  ...That followed by many more early mornings (gasp!! alarm clocks!!) with other daunting tasks.  It would be easy to feel bitter about it, but I'm going to try to just be thankful that we don't always have to live this way.

 

September 17:

      This past week has been crazy.  It takes a good week of nonstop work by both of us to put Uliad to bed.  The sails and deck equipment all have to come down, the dinghy stowed, the outboard, generator, and main engine all flushed and laid up for the season.  At the same time, everything below has to be cleaned, dried, and carefully stowed.  The fridge & freezer have to be emptied and wiped down; the food has to be gotten rid of, and the bags have to be packed.  In addition to all that, we have to live in that boat at the same time all this is going on.

     It makes for quite an intricate schedule.  I couldn't start bringing gear down from abovedeck until the space was cleaned & cleared in the V berth to stow it.  We couldn't clean the fridge out while we still needed to eat from it.  And so on.  To compound the stress, we had a few rainy days, making it impossible to dry out anything that had gotten damp below.  With much patience on everyone's part, we finally got it all done.

     The Raiatea Carenage where we hauled out was small and rustic compared to the boat yards we've used in the US and Trinidad.  As we approached on the morning of the haulout, I seriously questioned whether we'd fit in their yard.  The travelift operator came and asked how much our boat weighed...then he asked how full our water tanks on board were.  Now we weigh about 23 tons, but his line of questioning had me suspicious.  "How much is your lift certified for?" I asked.  "24 tons," I was told.  Now I was nervous.  I had no chance to discuss this further as the lift driver stripped to his shorts and jumped in the water to see that the lifting straps were placed just right.

     We had to remove the forestay and the inner stay to fit on the lift.  With the slings as wide as they could go, the lift could just reach the lift points.  It was close.  The travelift heaved and groaned until finally Uliad was out of the water.  It's tires looked like they could blow at any second as it started moving across the gravel.  Then the lift operator skillfully weaved his way through the crowded yard to wedge us in the back up against the fence with only a few feet to spare on all sides.  It may be rustic, but in the end, they did a very good job putting us carefully on a steel cradle for dry storage.

     I had several repair issues next to discuss with the yard manager.  I was expecting to have to bring a worn part on our mainsheet traveller car back to the US to replace, but within a few hours, the guys at the yard had it off, to the machine shop, repaired, and back on the boat.  I mentioned an issue with the hull needing welding and after one phone call I was told the welder would be here in five minutes to look at it.  This was great!  It may be rustic, but I have nothing but compliments for the service we've gotten here.

    Finally after a week of hard labor, I finally carried 200 pounds of luggage down the ladder to a waiting taxi.  And I couldn't help but give Uliad a little kiss on her deck before descending for the last time.

   Flying in to Tahiti, we went over our old anchorage in Moorea, where I could see the boats of a few of our friends still anchored in the clear, still waters below.  I tried not to imagine how they've been lounging around on the beach all week while we were slaving away.  In fact, for the next 6 months I'll probably be trying not to think about that!

 

September 27:

    Thomas Jefferson once said that "Travel makes one wiser, but perhaps less happy."  I was reminded of his quotation the other day as I bit into a banana.  In previous blogs I've raved about the amazing sweetness and richer flavor of a tree ripened banana, but now the reverse is true.  I complain about the bland, mushy flavor of a banana that was picked green and gas-ripened after a long boat trip.  Its great to know what a true banana should taste like, but disappointing to discover that you just can't get that here.

    Now there are good things we notice too.  America is undoubtedly the best place in the world to go shopping, or to go out to eat, or start a business, or to just go for a ride in a convertible on a warm autumn afternoon.  But it's surprising just how many things here remind us of better things somewhere else.  Several years of travel has shown us just how unattractive a long road of strip malls and big box stores is to look at.  It has shown us how spread out we all live compared to the rest of the world--no wonder we use most of the world's oil.  It has clarified just how fast-paced our lives are here.  It has shown us that there are alternatives.

    I've taken a temp job in Colorado at a teaching program for new family physicians, and as we get settled in here, we've been spending a lot of time lately deciding just what level of lifestyle we'll have while here.  At first my temp agency presented us with housing that they assumed a Doctor's family would want:  4000 square feet or so, landscaped yard, 50 inch plasma TV.  It sounded great for a while, but we soon realized that after living on a small boat we'd probably get lost in a mansion like that.  (and we'd have to CLEAN it)  So we opted for a small 2 bedroom condo for these few months so we could pocket the difference.  The same is true for cars...we decided that a couple of second hand models would get Kath & I around rather than expensive short term leases of new vehicles.  These are the choices that let us spend most of the year free of alarm clocks and deadlines and ringing cell phones. 

    So far, we hardly feel like we've given up a thing.  It's pleasure enough to have a big sofa to spread out on, NPR to listen to, fresh corn on the cob to eat, and unlimited hot water for long showers again.  I'd like to think we're making wise choices--ones that will maximize the fun over the long run.  Maybe Jefferson had it backwards.  Maybe wisdom lets one travel, and then perhaps be more happy.

 

 

 

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