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Saturday, June 30, 2012

6/29/2012

6/29/2012

Bill made a comment to me today that really got me thinking. We have two different friends here who are fighting staph infections from seemingly innocent injuries. One received a spider bite while walking in the woods in Nuka Hiva, Marquesas and the other got a scratch on the back of a calf. Both wounds quickly compounded into infection. Bills comment was that if this were pre-World War II both of these friends would be dead! Amazing to think how life can take a turn and how being in the right place at the right time has as much impact as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, pre-World War II antibiotics were not used. The closest I think they came was sprinkling sulphury on wounds to combat infection.

Here in the tropics the warm moist air allows all sorts of critters to grow and thrive. Good for the Papaya, breadfruit,coral and jungle growth bad for bacteria. Everyone who sails here has heard the warnings and the stories of minor injuries turning bad in a strikingly short period of time. There are lots of preventions touted. Boat policy here is that as soon as a scrape or cut is realized you either clean it with Clorox bleach and cover with antibiotic ointment or scrub it clean and cover with antibiotic ointment and then you DO NOT Swim until the wound is sealed over and well healed. The number of sailors who end up seeing a doctor her for what at home we would never bother with is surprising. Also strangely I noticed walking down the street in Tahiti you see an unprecedented number of wrapped wounds:legs, ankles, arms, fingers and toes wrapped with gauze. I've seen dozens, enough to think about and comment on. More striking is thinking about the outer islands here and to an even larger extent the islands we will be visiting in the coming year or so. The often have little or no health care available and the available drugs the ones we take for granted are simply not there.

All of this got me thinking. First about our two friends and how in a blink they could be gone from a small cut or a bite. Second how we might be of help as we travel deeper into the Pacific. My thought now is to send out a notice telling other sailors that we are headed to Micronesia and that if they have out dated medicines they are going to throw away and replace perhaps we can take them along and offer them to the islanders. The USA has very strict dates lines for medicines meant to ensure that what we buy will be effective. What doctors everywhere understand is that their effectiveness remains well after the pull date. And, for people without health care and medicines the old medicine is way better than no medicine at all. All still in the thinking stage but will send out some feelers and see what unfolds.

Kat

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6/25/2012 Middle of the Night Micro Burst Melee

6/25/2012 Middle of the Night Micro Burst Melee.

What do you get when you mix together a pitch black night, fifty or sixty cruising boats, a smallish anchorage filled with reefs and bommies with sudden high winds and torrential rain? Bumper Boats, broken bits and a hard ending to a great day.

The day had been fabulous: the 2012 Pacific Puddle Jump Fleet gathered together to celebrate successfully crossing the great Pacific Ocean. The party had actually kicked off on Friday, then the Tahiti to Moorea Sailing Rendez-Vous on Saturday and finally the big finale on Sunday of Tahitian feast and a full day of friendly competition. We started at 9:30 in the morning and ended well after dark. There was outrigger canoe racing, a coconut husking competition, a banana stalk carrying foot race, the giant rock carrying contest and a huge team tug of war. Guitar and ukulele played throughout the day and accompanied the tradition Tahitian meal. There were pearls for sale, palm basket weaving lessons, a pareo tie-dying station and piles of coconut, pineapple and pamplamouse to nibble on. After the meal the finals of the outrigger canoe races brought out the serious competition and the fan frenzy. Then more music and a troop of costumed dancers. Bill and I finally called it a day and returned to Island Bound around six but the party rocked on for hours. Around 9:30 I headed to bed and the next thing I know I'm awake and listening to first the sounds of rain and then the engine starting. Definitely not a good sound when your know your anchor is down and set and you thought you were tucked in for the night.

The rain sounds seemed to fill the cabin as I slid into shorts and a t-shirt and was roaring by the time I open the companionway door. The wind howled through my ears and the rain fell in sheets across the dodger and bimini top as I climbed the ladder to the cockpit then had to turn right back again to the navigation station to switch on our instruments. When I stepped into the cockpit the world was pitch black around me then broken by flashes of lightning and a background hum of chaos. At the wheel Bill answered my obvious question of "what the &%$@?" by telling me he needed me to go out on deck and strip the sun covers from our dodger windows. The wind and rain was so heavy that the moment I stepped out from the cover of the dodger it was impossible to keep my eyes open and I was instantly soaked to the skin but at least now we could see more of what was going on around us.

A microburst had transformed the anchorage into a scene of bobbing flickering lights and hints of boats rolling in the sheeting rain. Bill cautiously motored forward trying to take some of the strain off the windless while we both peered off into the storm trying to make sense of the movement around us. I finally thought to glance at our wind instrument and it was pegged at 43mph! Others reported winds in excess of 50mph further into the mooring field. The VHF jumped to life on channel 16 and a woman's' voice calmly asked for help, from anybody. She's alone aboard and the two boats ahead of her are tangled together and bearing down and the reef just behind her. Voices respond asking for her location but as calm as she sounds she gives only a vague position but voices join in saying they are on the way. Off in the dark I can see several dinghies setting off in search. Another boat sends out a call for help as I sit tracking the first responders in their search for which boat, which reef. Bill and I are forced out on deck struggling off the stern with our own dinghy trying to open the drain plug before our davit's crumple from the weight of the rainwater.

When the winds begins to relent and the rains slow we look out and see that the boats around us are now definitely off kilter from where they had been before but have we moved or have they? We're safe, our anchor held fast but the radio continues to crackle with calls and reports, check-in's and questions. Bill drops the dinghy and sets off to offer help and leaves me sitting alone dripping wet shivering and trying to follow the action around me.

The check-in's begin to tell their stories as everyone wants to know if friends are safe, if boats are settled, if they can breath again. Ahead of us there are small knots of helpers untangling chain and catching drifting boats. Behind me towards the reef is what looks to be the worst of the snarls but it is too dark to really see and too early to really know. Bill returns but it feels like hours have passed. I finally climb into bed again at 12:30. Bill stays in the cockpit, for awhile, just in case.

Behind us the three helplessly tangled boats fought through the wind and rain desperately trying to sort out who was who and where and why. They were saved from serious damage by a dinghy in the water pinched between the two most hopelessly tangled boats. A crew of their neighbors strained and struggled doing there best to divert disaster while the whole mess threatened to careen further downwind into still more boats. One boat had the bow pulpit rearranged and life lines sprung. Another had a mangled wind generator. One couple sat on friends' boat and watched as their own home drifted by, hatches open, water pouring in over bed, upholstery and instruments.

One boat drug anchor for half the mooring field until finally their anchor caught up just short of the outer reef and disaster. A Good Samaritan stepped in to help a single-hander reposition her boat and then reset her anchor safe and sound. Several boats simply drifted off into deeper water leaving owners to resettle deep in the neighboring cove. Another had a toe rail lifted, another scratches and scrapes across varnish. One man literally jumped into the water and swam to a boat in trouble and stepped in to handle the chaos. Another's Captain humbly admitted later to friends who's own sailboat had escaped damage "your boat is the only one I didn't manage to hit on my way downwind."

A microburst is fast and powerful. For those who haven't experienced one they are a very localized column of sinking air that produces damaging divergent and straight-line winds which means the winds roar straight down and then curl outward along the surface. The magnitude of energy in a microburst often leaves significant damage and destruction in it's wake. Huge amounts of energy are suddenly unleashed sending cold air slamming to the ground out of rain filled clouds. Usually aircraft and plane crashes are the first to come to mind in reference to the phenomenon but they are potentially just as devastating to anything in it's path including sailboats. In the dark the microburst came seemingly without warning. In daylight we would likely have seen at least signs of the coming weather disturbance. Mix the element of surprise with a large gathering of boats in an anchorage for the party and problems were inescapable.

As things had settled and the rain drizzled to nothing boats were left resetting anchors late into the night. Some simply left for the head deeper into Oponohu Bay. Many stood anchor watch for hours. In the light of day the stories flowed, people tried to thank the ones who had taken the risk and offered help and the cleaning up and drying out began. Amazingly no boat was lost, no one hit the beach or reef and most importantly no one was seriously injured. It could have been so much worse. Once again the community that we cruisers create stepped up and took care of their own. I wouldn't have wanted to be in any other neighborhood.

Kat Russell S/v Island Bound

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

6/23/2012 Feeding the Rays in Moorea

6/23/2012 Feeding the Rays in Moorea

Early this morning we went across the lagoon in Moorea to where the rays gather. We had read about a place where they were likely to be and some friends had suggested we go early to beat the parade of resort boats that come every day. There was only one other boat when we arrived, yea! and we could see the rays right away. The creatures are used to being fed so as soon as a boat arrives they come to investigate. I slipped into about four feet of clear blue water holding on to a baggy of tuna bits and was quickly surrounded.
The sting rays (yes sting rays!) are about three feet across and have a long rat like tail. They swim by flapping their wings one side and then they other so they look a bit like birds trying to take off. Their dark tops are smooth but sandpaperish and the white bottoms are amazingly smooth, like a wet shammie under your fingers. Smooth as a babies bum.
That the rays where happy to see us and the tuna in my hand is an understatement. They swarmed me and literally crawled up onto me trying to get the food. It was an amazing and completely unique experience. It was all sort of startling and I couldn't help but shriek as I was being smothered. Something about it got me laughing so I stood there laughing hysterically and shrieking as they nibbled away at me while everyone snapped pictures and enjoyed the show. I rubbed and petted them and laughed and laughed. Once the tuna was gone they quickly lost interest and moved on to the next person holding a bag. With their focus elsewhere I calmed down and was able to just snap some pictures and then just watch and enjoy. Can't think of a better way to start my Saturday. Kat

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

6/17/2012 Papeete, Tahiti

6/14/2012 Papeete, Tahiti

We arrived in Papeete this morning after a 250 mile jaunt from Toau atoll in the Tuamotu. I say a "jaunt" because we decided at the last moment to leave Toau. After three nights at anchor near the south pass there our anchor chain had wrapped around a coral head and needed fixing. Once you're wrapped the coral becomes a growler;held fast you are caught up short and the growl of steel against corral rolls up the chain through the hull and into your boat. A very ugly sound. It took a bit of boat gymnastics to untangle but then there we were with our anchor up sitting in a nice 10 knot breeze. A quick check determine that we had a perfect tide for making the reef pass and well Tahiti here we come.

We whizzed through our usual preparations,(I whizzed while Bill drove out the pass)waved goodbye to friends and off we went. Definitely a giant shift in our comfort level and sailing talents since our first overnight passage just a few years ago. Our first overnight passage was 56 hours from the Queen Charlotte Islands in BC to the West Coast of Vancouver Islands and it required days of planing, preparing and carefully routing our path. The elation we felt at its completion was huge. Today we are essentially ready to go at a moments notice and are much more comfortable with knowing there is little in our lives we can't do without and when a change of plans happens most everything in life can wait for another day. Two years of cruising will do that for you -May 1st marked the end of our second full year.

Coming to Tahiti is the completion of a circle that took us eight years to close. Being here is sort of a pinch yourself just to make sure kind of feeling. When we flew to Tahiti on vacation in 2004 we spent just two days and an airport layover in Papeete and then more than three weeks traveling the outer islands of Huahine and Raiatea. While sitting in front of a rented beach bungalow I made a life changing statement to Bill......"so do you mean these sailboats just drop their anchors and then when they want to move on they just sail off again to the next great place?" One simple observation, a small little sentence really and our lives were turned inside out. So, being back here is big for us. The culmination of 8 years of completely shifting our lives into something new and different. It felt great to grin at each other realizing that we had actually made it, all by ourselves and made the last minute departure feel wonderful.

Papeete is beautiful and BIG. Very Cosmopolitan. There is traffic and noise and crosswalks, street lights and flashing signs luring you to buy, buy, buy. There are big grocery stores and hardware stores and delicious smells floating out of the little roadside stands and from every restaurant. It is a little bit of overload with all the noise and traffic and everything is fast, fast, fast. The emergency vehicles sound like they are fresh from a Hollywood sound stage. The women are beautiful and the locals are very French. Just knowing that everything I could want or need (for a price!!!) is right here within walking distance and makes me wonder about what I am going to forget and what I will surely miss when we find ourselves on some deserted atoll in the coming months. One of the first sentences I heard gushing out from another cruiser when we hit the dock was ......"at the grocery store there is a whole aisle of just chocolate." Who doesn't love that?

We grabbed a spot on the famous Papeete quay: bow in to the dock "Med style" right in the heart of downtown. Just down the quay we dinned on poison cru with coconut milk and chicken curry at one of the famous "La Trucks." They gather every night, a dozen or so panel vans that move into an empty parking lot and set up shop. Tonight's trucks offered reasonably priced Chinese food, Tahitian dishes, goat, crepes, waffles, hamburgers, tuna tartar, tuna on a stick, tuna sashimi, steak and fries, hamburgers, pizza, milk shakes and ice cream. So many choices so little time! Too bad we will only stay a couple of nights in order to finish our official paperwork and take advantage of the unlimited running water at the dock and the duty free diesel and gas then will move around the corner to an anchorage.

One whole day was spent walking too and fro trying to replace a propane tank. The bus system here is not terribly user friendly so it was foot against blacktop under a very warm sun but we managed to stumble into a Mobil station that had racks full of propane tanks and a manager who spoke English. Their tanks were all empty but they directed us to another station that had tanks that were filled. We had bought two very expensive aluminum 20# horizontal tanks that are mounted under the seat that spans the aft deck. The valve stem/handle turned into dust as Bill switched out one tank for the other so we needed to find an alternative. Additionally all the regulators and fill nozzles here are different from the US so we were faced with trying to find a way to retrofit our tanks anyway. We ended up with two new fiberglass tanks that are the type that you simply take to the gas dealer and switch out for filled tanks. We "should" be able to switch them out at any outlet across the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand -problem solved at a price at half of what we had expected.
Next up we will try and put onboard 240 litters of duty free diesel, our first since Mexico.

The language barrier continues to be a problem. We had read about the feelings of relief when cruisers finally leave French Polynesia and hit the Cook Islands but had not given it too much weight. But it seems our experience in Mexico gave us a false bravado. The difference is ...~The French~... In Mexico if you were standing on a street corner talking to someone and having trouble someone who spoke English would always stop to assist. Every time without fail. The French on the other hand treat the language barrier very differently. An example: we were sitting in a snack-snack (luncheonette type restaurant) and could barley decipher even a single item on the menu. While we sat and struggled through not only did no one try and help but the entire restaurant went silent listening to us struggle. It felt a bit like sport for them and despite the stories was entirely unexpected. The only high point in our language struggles was going to see Madagascar III at the theater in French. The simple plot and the animation (and the M&M's) rescued our day and the theater filled with kids happily shared their enthusiasm. Plus French Polynesia will be a memory in just a few short weeks. The French by the way only allow Americans a 90 day visa despite the fact that they are hurting terribly for tourist dollars. The only explanation anyone seems to have for that is that the short Visa stay is a direct result of political struggles between France and the US.

Next weekend is the Tahiti>Moorea Sailing Rendezvous, a three day event that draws each years South Pacific fleet. Most of the fleet will make this one stop at this one time making it one of the few places we have for catching up with some friends we have been out of synch with and for matching faces with the boat names we have been hearing since we left Mexico. It will also be a great opportunity to swap stories, make new friends and find out where everyone is headed from here. In the mean time we scrub and clean and spruce up the boat a bit and then try and fill our short list of boat bits and fresh groceries.....hmm, 2 buckets, jam, fruit, paper towels, a potable water hose, flour, quick potluck goodies, rice noodles, a hot pad, cereal.........Every thing else is gravy.

Kat

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