“We arrived safely in Tahiti and it was another world. From the rather cold and often unforgiving climate of New Zealand, we’d sailed right into the tropics and south-seas paradise. Here were palm trees, nice warm waters, swimmers on the reefs and fresh French bread. The sea was uncannily clear and we could see the sea-bed many metres below – with the sunshine shining most of the time. But the jungle wasn’t created from nothing, when it rained, it rained big time. And it was hot and most definitely humid.” Dave
Tahiti and French Polynesia, The Society Islands and the Leeward Islands
We deserved a well earned rest, and if you need a rest, then exotic French Polynesia is the place to rest. We stayed in Papeete for around two weeks or so, tied fast to a mooring buoy and just chilled out. Jill & Robert were tied up only metres away, we drank and talked then drank some more. Robert found a cheap supply of Tahitian beer and, with good French wine to boot, we well and truly relaxed – although we thought we rather deserved it. Sänna and Fat Annie were in good shape, both vessels had come through a tough ocean passage from New Zealand relatively unscathed. Fat Annie, however, needed to repair their main sail which had been torn in the gale we’d both run into. They sailed from Papeete to find a sail repairer who was rumoured to be somewhere on the island of Raiatea. Needless to say they tracked him down and managed to complete their repairs after some anxious moments.
From Papeete on the main island of Tahiti we ourselves headed east to the island of Moorea and anchored first in Cook Bay. This was most definitely a crossroads for sailing yachts. Now we encountered many vessels heading east on the ‘coconut milk run’, the downwind route from Panama across the pacific. Heading north for Hawaii, we were undoubtedly something of a novelty, we were asked many questions about locations to the west and about New Zealand in particular. In the meantime we decided to see as much of French Polynesia and the Society Islands as we could before departing on the next leg of our long voyage to British Columbia in Canada. So we sailed the one hundred miles eastwards to Bora Bora… and found a simply breathtaking paradise for sailing yachts. It really is difficult to describe to you the beautiful south-seas vision that is Bora Bora.
So we lost about two months all told in French Polynesia. A good chunk of this was solely in Boro Bora. We sat on anchor for days on end in the clearest blue water imaginable, sitting behind the shelter of the reefs which we could swim, snorkel or scuba dive at will. Again, Fat Annie was only metres away and we whiled away our time laughing and talking as good friends do. From time to time we took our dinghies ashore for supplies and to catch time with the friendly locals – the Polynesian dancing spectacles in particular were entrancing and mesmerising; it’s easy to see why many crews mutinied back in Captain Cook’s day when it was their time to leave. During the warm daytime we swam with sharks and with the turtles, mixing with other sailors of numerous nationalities making their way eastwards to the Cook Islands and places beyond. There in Bora Bora is what our long adventure is all about.
But there came a time when we too needed to think about our next northward passage… our near three thousand mile voyage across the equator to Hawaii. Both ourselves and Jill & Robert realised we somehow needed to tear ourselves away from this paradise. It would be so easy to make the same mistake we’d made many times before and stay too long. It was time for us to leave.
Tahiti to Hawaii – Another Ocean Crossing
Other than re-stocking diminishing supplies there wasn’t a great deal to attend to in preparation for our long sail north across the equator and into the North Pacific. It was now early July, we would need to keep a keen eye out for Hurricanes hurtling their way from their breeding grounds off the west coast of Central America. Bob McDavitt’s expertise didn’t cover this weather region far from New Zealand, so we engaged the services of Commanders Weather who, it turned out, were a complete waste of time. They never even mentioned nor detected Hurricane Flossy… we had to race the damn thing into Hawaii – only just making it safely with a few days margin. Leaving Tahiti, Bora Bora and French Polynesian culture was hard, we were undoubtedly saying a sad goodbye to the famous South Pacific…
As before in New Zealand, Fat Annie & Sänna departed from Bora Bora together and also, as before in New Zealand with our broken water pipe, things began rather auspiciously for ourselves. Our watermaker pump failed just a few hours out and it was lucky that it did. We were able to divert fifty miles south to the port of Uturoa on the island of Raiatea in the Leeward Islands, there we found an engineer working for Tahiti Yacht Charters (truly excellent guys) who fixed it for us…. all for the price of a case of beer. We then had a really good evening in Uturoa before departing once again the next morning for Hawaii. Fat Annie was now more than a day ahead of us and our sailing fortunes were so different. A northerly weather front had passed through whilst we were detained in Uturoa and, behind it, we had sublime sailing conditions with the constant wind over our starboard aft quarter pretty much all the way to Hawaii. Two thousand seven hundred miles of delicious trade wind sailing… warm weather and warm rain, fishing for tuna and mahi mahi; skinny dipping in the deep Pacific whenever we had a mind to cool down a little. Some days we never even bothered to dress.
Approaching Hawaii, still some two hundred miles out, we picked up a weather warning over the radio for Hurricane Flossy which was now heading our way. Of course, we were alarmed but it never really threatened us. We heard nothing from Commanders Weather and we never bothered with their recommended weather route either because it just didn’t make any sense. We’d never use routers again, much preferring our own weather experience instead… although Bob McDavitt had proved himself well. And so we decided to make for Hilo on the big island of Hawaii itself and, like before, Fat Annie arrived there ahead of us. Of course, we were now entering the territory of the world’s dominating western superpower – the ubiquitous United States of America.
It’s easy to get excited about the Hawaiian Islands. First off, we had to encounter US Homeland Security & Customs. We’d applied for and received ten year US Visas back in Auckland, New Zealand because we needed visas if arriving by private sailing vessel. We were then surprised by two things…. the immigration official in Hilo was incredibly friendly and extremely helpful… and we had to sign a declaration document stating that we accepted any US military naval vessel could open fire upon us if we approached within five hundred yards!
But the really big news was that Henry was re-joining us in Hawaii. Having spent the last few weeks with his father in England he was anxious to get back onboard Sänna, we would be a full crew again. Because of his integration into the normal secondary school education it was inconceivable for him to make these long ocean passages. So we sailed around the big island to Honokahau and Henry joined us there. However, we had another big problem which we were going to have to deal with before moving on west. Whilst on passage to Hawaii, our long range SSB radio had once again caused interference problems with our Raymarine electronic instruments, the instruments we use for navigation, radar, wind speed, boat speed, GPS etc. This had been a problem ever since we’d installed the damn things… with Icom and Raymarine each blaming each other as usual. But our ‘now’ problem was that our autopilot and wind instruments had ceased to function, this had happened suddenly when using our long range radio to call Fat Annie.
Unfortunately, we were now delayed three weeks in Honokahau waiting for new Raymarine instruments. It wasn’t a very friendly harbour; sports fishing is the big thing in Hawaii and the skippers of these boats saw us somewhat as itinerants, almost an unexplainable inconvenience. We also suffered the tiresome attitude of ‘Bob Goddammit’, the only electronics engineer on the big island able to investigate our problem and supply new Raymarine instruments. You may have read our humorous blog about this episode, entitled ‘Bob Goddamitt’…. apparently he was quite upset about it which is fine by us. But we have to say he did a fine job. Excellent in fact.
Rather than hang around waiting for Goddammit, Fat Annie left Honokahau heading westwards to sail through the Hawaiian islands, we would meet up with them somewhere along the way. But, do you know? Henry joined us whilst in Honokahau and we had a really good time! Once again we were a full crew, in no time at all we’d gelled together to have a fine time. We explored the ‘Big Island’ in a hired car, finding enormous active volcanoes, big telestial telescopes, coffee plantations and, when we delved deep, the fascinating history of Captain Cook’s discovery of Hawaii with a somewhat inaccessible monument to Cook’s death at the hands of Hawaiian warriors. Indigenous Hawaiians certainly like to hide the fact they killed and devoured one of history’s greatest seagoing explorers. Ask them questions about their infamous dealings with Cook and they rarely look you straight in the eye…
With our new autopilot and wind instrument we left Honokahau after three weeks hanging around with no new friends. We made for Lahaina on Maui island, tying up to a Lahaina Yacht Club buoy and yet another unfriendly welcome. What is it with these monied Americans? But we were able to hire a car to explore this beautiful island… including a three a.m. drive up to the peak of the ten thousand feet Haleakalā volcano, to watch the famed spectacular sunrise… along with thousands of others with the same idea – the resulting early morning twilight traffic jam was truly disheartening! Tourism is thriving well in Hawaii. But it would be wrong for us to complain, aside from having to report our movements to Homeland Security whenever we changed locations, the complete lack of sheltered anchorages and small boat harbours that are invariably full, Hawaii is nice. The harbourmasters tried their absolute best to accommodate Sänna whenever we turned up but, sometimes, the attitude of local skippers towards us was arrogant and disgusting.
Fortunately, the three of us together again made up for everything and it was wonderful. The dynamics are difficult to describe and Henry thoroughly relished his time, describing it as the best of his ‘boat time’ which surprised us really – we were not so enamoured with the Hawaiian Islands due to massive tourism and the general unfriendly attitude of American locals. Hardly any native Hawaiians here and ‘culture’ is almost non existent, most of it is manufactured ‘Disney’ style in true American fashion. But the weather is simply superb.
Leaving Maui after around a week there, we made for the main metropolis city of Honolulu on the island of Oahu to a big surprise – we enjoyed it. It’s a busy island, no doubt about that, but the surfing ideology and beach fraternity spirit is alive and well on the crowded island of Oahu. It’s marvellous. We berthed Sänna in the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbour right next to Waikiki Beach for only eleven bucks a night and found Fat Annie there too. This was also a good location to explore Pearl Harbour – we had a nice day there… along with thousands of others herded around in buses and boat launches to the US Arizona wreck monument, with large numbers of Japanese tourists straining to see oil slicks from the battleship they had the incredible audacity to sink back in 1942.
At this point we also had a fundamental discussion with Jill & Robert. Our original joint plan was to leave Hawaii for Canada, yet another long ocean passage which would be our third of the year. But we’d both delayed too long in French Polynesia and Hawaii, it was now late in the season. Of course, it was still perfectly possible but the North Pacific is not to be trifled with. We’d have to traverse the infamously difficult seas to the north of the Pacific High weather system; the notorious storms south of the Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska. And now, of course, we’d be sailing these seas during the onset of the northern winter. Furthermore, Jill & Robert had decided to make a trip back to England to see their son and daughter, who they desperately missed and longed to see.
We discussed our options with the Ala Wai harbourmaster, he informed us that both Sänna and Fat Annie would be allowed to stay in Alai Wai until the end of December in line with their one hundred and twenty day limit, then we’d be allowed another one hundred and twenty days for the next year 2014. This would take us right up to the end of April next year and would only cost the ridiculous amount of around eleven bucks a night – right in the centre of Honolulu. It’s all Government owned you see, they’re restricted to how much they can charge by federal law. Both Sänna and Fat Annie had been issued with twelve month customs permits by US immigration so, we reasoned, why not sail to British Columbia next May, when the summer winds begin to prevail? The only ridiculous proviso which was set – for us to stay in Ala Wai both Sänna and Fat Annie would have to undergo an inspection by the harbour authorities to ensure each vessel was a worthy seagoing vessel capable of going to sea once the permitted time period had expired. WHAT?
In the end, Robert & Jill returned from the UK in October, they made a firm decision to sail Fat Annie towards the Mediterranean closer to home as quickly as possible. Their son Richard had decided to get married, they suspected their first grandson might soon follow. Consequently, they’d made their decision to sail for San Diego and Mexico as soon as possible, rather than for British Columbia. They could then make for the Panama Canal early next year. They left as quickly as possible on a direct voyage from Hawaii to San Diego that all the experts in Honolulu Yacht Club described as difficult, if not almost impossible against the prevailing winds. Needless to say Fat Annie accomplished it relatively easily, a two thousand mile voyage that few have made before. English sailors prevail once again eh?
We ourselves have decided we’ll stay the eight months in Honolulu then make for British Columbia next year. It’s warm, nice and very friendly here. We’ve got to know our very nice Italian neighbour on the pontoon we share extremely well… and he owns a wonderful Italian restaurant in downtown Honolulu. Turns out he’s a real gem.
We also met Eric & Claudia onboard Sulahali, they were to become our lifelong friends…
Dave & Marie
Honolulu – November 2013
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