Beautiful Emptiness

[Written en route to Niue]
It is 1,000 miles from Maupiti to Niue — about a week, and we’re four days into it. The weather has been beautiful, the winds light, no rain squalls, so there’s been lots of time to contemplate…emptiness. No boats. No land. A thousand miles of ocean. Bill has been reading, and Bob has been learning everything about the boat. I’ve been doing a lot of staring at the ocean during the day, and staring at the sky at night.

The emptiness is punctuated by little events. We caught a fish the first day. That generates lots of activity: trying to slow the boat down while we reel it in; all taking our positions on the stern to gaff it and to blow a mouthful of rum into its gills to kill it; filleting it still on the back of the boat, to contain the mess; cleaning up the mess; and of course cooking and eating it!

We haven’t caught a fish since, but yesterday we had small tuna swimming with us. I’ve never seen this before — fish acting like dolphins. They would swim alongside and sometimes in front of the boat. Then disappear for a few minutes, and then they’d be back. We were trailing a lure at the time, but I was a little relieved that we didn’t get a strike. Didn’t seem right to catch a fish that was being a sociable escort.

The stars in the early night have been magnificent, and then the moon rises, and paints its own beauty across the sky. Last night I saw six satellites. One was so bright we were convinced it had to be the space station. But then ten minutes later I saw another one that was equally bright.

We celebrated Bill’s birthday. Bob had brought a two kilo bag of granola from home, as a gift from Bill’s daughter. (She made granola and sent it to Bob, but it didn’t get there in time, so Bob bought some.) Bob made a card and wrote a poem to go with it. I baked banana bread.

Receiving emails via the radio is a treat. Missives from family and from the other rally boats. Lots of time to think about family and friends (and future boats and adventures). Lots of time to enjoy emptiness.
I got interrupted at this point by a yellow fin tuna on my line. An hour later he was filleted. Then I had to finish the loaf of bread I had started preparing earlier. And then I offered to make dinner even though it wasn’t my turn in our rotation, because I found an interesting recipe for fish curry. After dinner we needed to get the spinnaker down because the wind was veering too far forward. By then it was time to look for satellites (just for fun). No satellites tonight (we might have missed prime spotting time when we were busy with the spinnaker), but two airplanes. I’m guessing we’re approaching the flight path between New Zealand and Hawaii.

So the last several hours have been busy, but now it’s back to the emptiness. Stars galore. I learned that the dark area next to the Southern Cross is actually a dust cloud that obscures the stars behind it. I have two more hours on my watch to contemplate that…




Maupiti – The Way Life Should Be

An addendum to the tales of French Polynesia:

After checking out of French Polynesia in Bora Bora, we anchored out in the lagoon and got an early start in the morning. We motored the ~25 miles to Maupiti. This island is still French Polynesia, but it doesn’t have a gendarmerie. Hence the check out from Bora Bora.

Maupiti has a challenging entrance through the reef. The reef is relatively low on the south side, so waves from the south break over the reef into the lagoon. Most of that water flows back out through the pass. Reportedly there can be a current up to 9 knots flowing out. Nine knots is faster than we can go with both motors running. In addition, the south-flowing current hits the waves coming in from the south, potentially creating dangerously steep/breaking waves. When these conditions occur we are told that even the ferry does not go to Maupiti. And if you are at the island when the conditions develop, we’re told you have to wait it out, perhaps for three days, before you can safely leave.

So apparently most yachts leave Bora Bora and sail by Maupiti without stopping. The wind has been light and the waves moderate; we decided to give it a try. The narrow pass and 2.5 knot current at “slack water” at noon, and the impressive surf close by on each side, did make for an adrenaline rush as we wondered if we would be surfing a wave in. But in fact it was not difficult to get through the pass.

And what a great place to be! We anchored in a secure spot with a good breeze, and an unbelievable view of the island’s cliffs and peaks. We went ashore and found nothing “touristic” — just wonderfully friendly people. There are a couple tiny stores (where you stand at the window and tell the proprietor what you want; you don’t go in and pick things off the shelves). There was one small shop selling local crafts — mostly shells. There was one restaurant, not open when we walked by. There is a bakery that seemed to indicate it sells croissants in the morning. There was some fruit for sale. And we stumbled upon a woman selling breaded/battered fish out of plastic bins at the side of the road, and we decided that was our dinner.

Looming over it all is the central mountain, with awesome vertical cliffs. We were constantly looking up as we walked the street. The town is the narrow flat area between the cliffs and the water.

And then the kicker is that we are the only yacht here! I realize the description of the pass puts sailors off, but I certainly didn’t expect to have this amazing island and gorgeous lagoon all to ourselves. Oh, and to top it off it is a full moon rising over the reef and shining on the cliffs. I’m thinking along the lines of the Maine state slogan, “Maupiti – the way life should be!”

Leaving Bora Bora in the morning
Leaving Bora Bora in the morning
Bob making the adjustment to the challenging life aboard
Bob making the adjustment to the challenging life aboard. Maupiti in the distance.
View from our anchorage in Maupiti
View from our anchorage in Maupiti
Next morning - note the moon about to set
Next morning – note the moon about to set, next to the cliff
Bob climbed to the summit and took this photo. We're anchored to the left; one other boat came in, further right. Between the two islands is the channel to the pass through the reef.
Bob climbed to the summit and took this photo. We’re anchored to the left; one other boat came in, further right. Between the two islands is the channel to the pass through the reef.
Heading out
Heading out
Into the chute; reef to port...
Into the chute; reef to port…
...reef to starboard. Thankfully the surf is tame today.
…reef to starboard. Thankfully the surf is tame today.
Last look back at Maupiti, and end of two splendid months in French Polynesia.
Last look back at Maupiti, and end of two splendid months in French Polynesia.

Courtesy Flags

Sailboats fly the flag of their home country on the stern. When they first arrive in a new country, they fly the “quarantine” flag (all yellow) from the starboard spreader (part way up the mast) to indicate that the boat needs to be cleared in by customs and immigration authorities. Then the quarantine flag is replaced with the flag of the current country. This is called a courtesy flag.

When we were preparing for the BPO we made a list of the countries we expected to visit, and we looked on the Web for courtesy flags. Most flag companies sold overly expensive flags (made to last longer than we need). We found one company that sold flags so inexpensive that I doubted they would last through the first squall. We decided to order the inexpensive ones, but only through French Polynesia, so we could see if they are rugged enough before we order more. The flags have been fine. But we forgot to place our order for more!

For the last several days we’ve been scrambling, trying to procure the flags we need between here and Australia. Well…one benefit of boats dropping out of the BPO is…they have flags they are willing to part with. Indeed, we procured a very inexpensive set of flags that will take us from here to Indonesia. Except…they didn’t have Niue, which is our next planned stop. Niue is one of the smallest countries in the world (population 1300), and its flag is not readily available on short notice.

So…time to make our own! The background of the Niue flag is yellow, which is the same as the international code flag for the letter Q (which is also the quarantine flag). So I started with the Q from our code flag set. The upper left quadrant of the flag is complex, in white, red, blue and yellow. I cut pieces of sail repair material, bought permanent markers, drew the design, and stapled the material on to the Q flag.

It may not last long, but it doesn’t have to (maybe 3 days). Here’s my little handiwork.

Flag improv
Flag improv
Niue, here we come!
Niue, here we come!
Proudly deployed
Proudly deployed