Rangiroa is the largest atoll in the Tuamotus and one of the largest in the world. Approximately 43 NM long and 18 NM wide. The 240 islets string together in the ocean for more than 110 miles (177 km), completely encircling a deep lagoon

Several scuba diving operators will take you to dive the pass. Whales, manta rays, and sharks have been seen, as well as the resident pod of dolphins that stay here.

Picasso Fish

We took to regularly snorkelling off the motu Nuhi Nuhi by the Tiputa pass, known as the ‘aquarium’, which had an abundance of fish and colourful coral. There are also some informative markers there, under the water about the reef and fish!

Butterfly Fish

There are two main villages of Avatoru and Tiputa which offer several magasins (shops), selling pretty much everything you need for the day to day simple life are restocked twice a week when the supply ship has unloaded. There are also churches, craft centres, local restaurants(snack bars) and even a boulangerie.

The strong winds and torrential rain limited exploration for a few days. Work and boat jobs continued though, a rain canopy for the aft hatch so we can still keep it open at night and get some ventilation through our cabin was made, the wind scoop fixed, cookies cooked, software written and training courses updated!

The tour boats also come to the Blue Lagoon

With calmer weather we took a day trip to the blue lagoon. This is an area on the western side of the atoll where the shallows are a nursery for black tip reef sharks and the shallow water is gin clear.

Never far from a shark here!

With prevailing winds from the East and the Blue Lagoon on the West, you need unusual weather to make a stay there comfortable, since the chop builds and makes anchoring uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, especially at this time of year where we have frequent squalls with wind coming from many different directions. We took friends, Frank and Sophie from Anastasia for the day trip, leaving at 8 and returning by 5 to motor across the atoll in the well marked channel. A great day out and well worth the visit.

Beautiful clear shallow water

Our dinghy is our transport between the boat and the shore, or the boat and any other adventures we undertake. In most places we anchor every destination is reasonable distance away. Sometimes just a few hundred metres but often much further, sometimes a few miles. Recently the dinghy outboard motor has been playing up.

Miles of coastline to explore – but we need the dinghy

Modern fuels in most parts of the world are made with more and more ethanol content every year. Whilst there are some good environmental arguments for adding ethanol to petrol, it also has some nasty side effects, including eating fuel hoses, seals and other rubber stuff that were manufactured prior to the high ethanol content being used. Ethanol is also hygroscopic, whereas petrol is hydrophobic, or in simple terms Ethanol absorbs water and petrol repels it.

Therefore in the humid marine environments we live in, we get a lot more water in the fuel than is good for the engine. We use additives to minimise it, but after leaving the outboard for a while, invariably the water from the fuel will have caused some crud to form in the carburettor meaning the engine doesn’t want to idle and a quick stripdown and clean of the carburettor jets is needed. It is so frequent that Derek can do this now in less than 10 minutes!

Giant Clams abound the reefs

However the latest failures of the engine perplexed Derek for a good few weeks. The engine seemed to be running rich, using loads of fuel and cutting out at high revs. Even more strange was that the oil level rose and overflowed the dipstick! After sleeping on the problem, Derek identified it as a fuel pump problem. The rubber diaphragm had perished and the fuel was being pumped straight into the engine crankcase rather than the carburettor – not ideal!

That gave us a problem. We carry many many spares on board but not a fuel pump. There are virtually no chandleries or engine supplies in the atolls and an email to the Mercury dealer back in Tahiti got a quick answer stating it will be one to two months before they can obtain a new pump for us. Then we must organise it to be shipped to wherever we are somehow.

That’s a long time to wait and not go ashore or go and visit anything. Later that evening Derek proclaims:

‘Why do we need a pump anyway? We only need a pump if the petrol storage is lower than the carburettor. Gravity should do the job otherwise, that doesn’t break!’

The next morning, the pump was bypassed, the fuel can raised high and the starter chord pulled. Its not ideal, it does require a little use of the hand priming pump in the fuel line from time to time, but the engine runs, and we can at least get around until the new pump arrives. We have ordered one from the UK to be sent to Tahiti by DHL and then we will somehow hopefully get it sent on to wherever we are. Times like this make us eternally grateful to family back in the UK who can assist with shipping etc.

With the dinghy operational again, on Saturday we went ashore early, to get bread for breakfast and found a bustle of activity. There were small market stalls with clothes and fishing gear as well as dried snacks and general stores. The supply boat was also selling fresh fruit and vegetables directly on the quay. We purchased, mangoes, oranges, carrots and tomatoes but there were also cucumbers, limes, potatoes, onions and cabbage. The fridge was refilled!

With the wind forecast to drop and the arrival of a large cruise ship on Sunday, we decided to sail across the lagoon to the southeast corner for a few days away from the relative bustle of the village and a potential influx of tourists (its all relative!).

The area is called Tevare, Sables Rose and is famed for its pink sand. We had a light wind of 8-12 knots and had a glorious sail most of the way, before reverting to the engine for the last hour picking a somewhat torturous route through the bommies to the beautifully calm sheltered spot where we dropped anchor. Charts are somewhat lacking, within many of the atolls so Derek had his first go at producing a satellite image chart (something we had got used to using in the San Blas), so we tested its accuracy for bommies – very useful it was too, clearly showing all the shallow bommies that we encountered.

Anchored at Le Sables Rose

We stayed here for several days exploring the environment and enjoying the peace and quiet. Nature was close by, with the small bommie behind us being a nursery for juvenile fish. The flats to the pink sand banks had numerous black tip reef sharks and we saw eels and rays whilst walking through the shallows.

Pink sands of Le Sables Rose

On another excursion we we took the dinghy as far as we could, waded through a soft bottom to get to the coral shore and followed the cairns to reach the outer Pacific shore. This gave us a very clear appreciation of the dramatic underwater coastline. We stood just metres from the reef edge in the crashing waves, and could see that less than 30 metres away the reef dropped off to depth of thousands of kilometres almost vertically.

The edge of the reef

There are a few dwellings along the shore where the inhabitants produce copra and collect shells to sell. We were told that they didn’t live there permanently, just stayed to do the work then returned to the villages. The upshot of this is that there was virtually no light pollution at night. When the skies cleared all we could see was a myriad of stars in a perfectly black sky. We saw stars and constellations that we haven’t been able to see for quite a while.

We read in one of the guides that there was a tiny Motu (Nao Nao) about halfway back towards the village anchorage that had good diving, so we took the opportunity to stop off there on the way back and enjoyed a lovely shallow dive with a great array of colourful fish. This was followed by a clean of the hull before returning to the anchorage as dusk fell and the light faded.

Snorkeling the reefs

Knowing we would be leaving soon, we planned a quick shop for fresh bread, vegetables and fruit but found the shop had delayed its opening for a special event.  They were launching the European lottery ticket sales!  Free nibbles, ice cream and local dancing. Plus we could get our shopping!

Local Polynesian girls dance to celebrate the shop’s start of selling lottery tickets!

And today we move on. Rangiroa grew on us as we stayed here. Due to its size, the anchorages can be rather exposed. If the wind picks up and has any south in it, the main village anchorage gets lumpy but then there are other places to anchor on the southern side. However its not a short hop across the atoll and does require good light.

Rangiroa does has a lot to offer the cruiser.  The local hotel we anchored off (The Kia Ora) is welcoming and when we emailed them to ask, they were happy for us to drink at the bar and watch the Polynesian entertainment. There is even some wine production here and a tasting tour at the Dominique Auroy Estate which is nestled within a coconut grove. It produces three grape varieties.  We didn’t explore this but we saw the wines for sale in the local magasin.

We have enjoyed our time here but look forward to the next atoll, which if the wind is as forecast will be the much smaller Ahe, just an overnight sail away.

Arrived in the Tuamotus

POS: 16 04.7S 142 22.327W

Yesterday afternoon we arrived in Raroia after 2 days 9 hours at sea. We entered the Atoll and crossed to the Eastern side for the most peaceful night we have enjoyed for many weeks. No ocean rollers and almost no chop. What a pleasure.

As for the scenery – simply stunning. The water is a clear blue, becoming turquoise as it shallows and the palm trees gentle sway in the trades on the islets. We can see why the guidebooks call these the ‘Islands of Paradise’. When we get some real internet we will post pictures from the Marquesas and here.

Galapagos to Marquesas – Days 16

POS: 9 23.4S 137 09.3W

The daily pattern of the wind remains the same – a slight increase after dark, then a slight moderation in the early hours.

Shortly after an increase in the wind there is typically an increase in the sea state. The seas are coming from the quarter – about 30 – 45 degrees from the back of the boat, and they overtake the boat. They pick up the stern sending us on a bit of a sleigh ride (depending on their size), then pass by and we wait for the next one. If they come from exactly behind the boat just pitches and accelerates, whereas if they come from one side, the boat also rolls – sometimes it seems quite violent, especially in the pitch black. Its not harmful, but can be a little unnerving especially for Lesley who much prefers slow and steady to fast and furious. I was greeted in the companionway by a somewhat traumatized face at about 23.30. The movement of the boat had woken Lesley and she was clearly not best pleased with the idea of watch duty in the current conditions! We were being rolled from one side to the other and the rumbling and roar of the water passing down the sides of the boat as we surfed at up to 12 kts down the faces of the waves with the sky so black you couldn’t even see the horizon was not her ideal choice of midnight past time! Of course if necessary she would have taken over, but I was enjoying it so settled in for a long night.

Come 3 am the breeze had died down a little and consequently so had the waves so Lesley appeared and I got some rest and by the morning she was in fine spirits having declared that despite the conditions, she had not had to trim the Parasailor or alter the course once during the watch and it was actually quite fine – she had done some work, watched some recorded TV and read her book. Its all down to familiarity and experience – ocean sailing sometimes pushes the bounds of your comfort zone but the more you do it the more you get used to it and hopefully the less you fear it. Toasted freshly baked bread and Tea saw Lesley retire for a well deserved rest.
Considering just a few years ago even the thought of crossing the Atlantic on a fully crewed boat terrified Lesley, to now be so close to finishing the longest ocean crossing people normally do anywhere in the world just two up, meaning she is basically single handedly sailing the boat whenever I am off watch is an amazing achievement!

For the rest of the day the routing software showed a pretty much straight line to Hiva Oa, our destination, so there was little to be done regarding sailing the boat – a few tweaks to sheet angles and course and enjoy the sunshine and catch up on a bit of sleep. With flatter seas we both managed to do so.

Nothing broke and we made good speed – we took another 193 nm off the distance to go so a successful day all round.

As I write this, somewhat belatedly we have 109 nm to go so with any luck today will be our final day of this journey!

All is good on board.

Galapagos to Marquesas – Days 15

POS: 8 27.3S 134 48.6W

With a dull thud a spinnaker sheet parted. One of the benefits of Dyneema is it stretches very little so when it snaps there is virtually no recoil and very little noise. Little enough not even to wake Lesley who was about an hour and a half into her off watch period – probably the most frustrating time to be woken. So I wasn’t greeted initially by the biggest smile as I shouted down to say I needed her on deck to help replace the sheet.

The sheets came with the boat and have done a lot of miles. In 2016 when we crossed the Atlantic they took a bit of a hammering and we noticed wear on the splice where the quick release shackle is joined to the end. These are the only sheets that we have joined by metal shackles. They are very expensive shackles that can be ‘spiked’ by ramming a conical rod into a circular hole in them and they will open under full load instantly releasing the spinnaker for a quick drop. However that technique requires a fully crewed boat with a crew out on the end of the spinnaker pole. The race boats do it all the time but short handed its not an option.

For three years we have been watching the splice deteriorate. Unfortunately after several year’s use it becomes virtually impossible to re splice the working end of a rope – the fibres harden and get ingrained with salt etc.. And the rest of the sheet is fine so we keep putting off changing them. So it was of no real surprise that it snapped as the wind had increased and hence the forces. We had hoped it would last this trip but it wasn’t to be. Knowing that it was a possibility we had thought about what we would do if it broke so it was a relatively easy task to re-attach it although it did require dropping the spinnaker pole to re thread it. Such is the joy of the Parasailor though, that throughout the job it kept flying (from the fore guy) and kept driving us onward at over 7 kts. Quite a remarkable sail.

Fishing is somewhat limited when the Parasailor is up because its a bit tricky to slow the boat down to land the fish and if we hook a large one, it can strip the 1000m of line off the reel in just a few minutes if we can’t stop the boat. A little before sunrise yesterday we were going quite slowly in the light winds and the sky was bright enough to make rigging the lure easy, so I took a gamble and threw it in. Less than 2 minutes later,the reel was screaming – even before I had settled back into the cockpit and 10 minutes later a small black fin Tuna was filleted and chilling in the fridge. Lesley made Cerviche as a starter for dinner.

The wind built as the day progressed and the speed picked up, resulting in a daily run of a little over 150nm. Fair, considering that we had been dawdling at about 4 kts for significant periods in the night.

As the distance to go comes down, thoughts are turning towards sleep in periods longer than 3 hours and beds that are relatively stationary rather than rolling and pitching to every wave. We expect to arrive |Wednesday night or Thursday, all depending what the wind does over the next few days so we have a few more nights of short shifts first.

All is good on board.

Galapagos to Marquesas – Days 13 & 14

POS: 7 42S 132 12.7W

Things break on boats. It doesn’t matter if we are talking dinghies or super yachts, things regularly break on them all. The only difference is the cost to replace or fix them.

We have a lot of ropes and wires supporting and controlling things and inevitably from time to time they wear out. In a post a few days back we mentioned a guardwire snapped. Its made of stainless steel and subjected to cyclic loading every time the boat flexes. One second its tight, the next its just that tiny bit slacker, and stainless steel corrodes. Eventually it had had enough and parted where the flexible wire went into a solid fitting. Not a big issue but a breakage all the same.

We join ropes onto sails and other fittings in a number of different ways. Sometimes we tie them, sometimes they are spliced and sometimes we use shackles. Shackles come in many forms. Standard metal ones that need tools to tighten them and undo them, fancy metal ones with spring plungers allowing them to be fastened and released by hand and Dyneema soft shackles. Metal shackles are heavy and can damage things when they fly around on the loose corners of sails. Dyneema is an amazing material. Weight for weight its something like 9 times stronger than steel. Its like a very light strong rope (which is also very UV resistant). We attach almost all our sheets and guys to the sails with Dyneema shackles. They require no tools, are very light and super strong. They are readily available in chandleries but also easy to make so we make our own.

However like anything, eventually they wear out and snap. We swap them around from one use to another because each different task has different wear points and different loads, and although we do daily inspections of anything and everything that might wear, there are some things that are difficult to inspect under sail. We also double them up in high load, high wear areas (such as genoa sheets), so if one fails the other takes up the role.

Overnight we lost one of the spinnaker guys. The soft shackle wore through where it was attached to the clew of the Parasailor. No drama, the sail flew comfortably without it, just not quite so stable, we carry spares, so at first light we replaced it (safer and easier to do in the light and with both of us on deck). We needed to gybe anyway so we combined the two tasks.

So apart from fixing the water generator (a 5 minute job), that was pretty much the excitement for the last two days. The winds have varied, we have had a little rain, plenty of sun and we are closing in on the Marquesas, albeit frustratingly slowly at times. We hear from friends behind that they have had consistent winds all the way, whereas friends in front and ourselves have had to pick our way around the holes. That’s sailing.

We continue to eat well, we now have cup cakes again, fresh bread and we celebrated the 500 miles to go mark (slightly prematurely as it was going to occur in the small hours) last night.

The nights are starting off very dark now, as the moon is not rising until several hours after sunset, but its still very big and almost full, so we have nights of two parts: After sunset, a pitch black start, where the stars are super bright, but the horizon and approaching waves are not visible, it can be slightly spooky hearing approaching waves but not being able to see them, followed by an amazing moon rise as the yellow circle gradually appears out of the darkness brightening over the next half hour or so to give a dim light making everything around visible. This remains until the eastern sky starts showing a golden glow as the sun nears the horizon, and daylight begins. We do see nature at its best.

All is good on board.

Galapagos to Marquesas – Day 12

POS: 7 48S 125 44.5W

The sun is out, the breeze is back and we are heading in roughly the right direction. After yesterday’s moonlight gybe we have been sailing in beautiful trade wind conditions, that increased slightly overnight and decreased as the sun came out. Due to the huge deviation in course our daily run of 137 nm doesn’t really do justice to the speed we travelled since that’s the straight line distance and actually we sailed the other two sides of the triangle – probably more like 155 nm in total.

We enjoyed a delicious pressure cooked Beef Bourguignonne last night followed by home made coconut ice cream and passion fruit sorbet.

Our trusty water generator sheered another shaft coupling in the middle of the night, an unfortunate trait it seems to have at regular intervals so that’s currently out of action, but I think we have a replacement or two so it should be back online later today.

We are beginning to see more birds around – small flocks now rather than just intrepid individuals and the flying fish remain entertaining and in many cases suicidal overnight.

With just the Parasailor up for the last few days, noise levels on board have dropped significantly. Snatch blocks rattle occasionally and guy lines tap on the deck but we don’t suffer the continuous creaks and groans of the kicker, reef lines and genoa cars. Which means sleep should be easier and generally is, however not for me last night.

For some reason I never settled and although Lesley did a very long watch somehow I didn’t make the most of it. Our Parasailor is huge and small changes in wind strength give rise to huge changes in boat speed. I could feel the boat’s motion change all the time as I stirred. The gentle quiet rocking in the lulls and calm seas, followed in the gusts by first the slight surge as the transom was picked up by a following wave (its quite surprising how fast the waves build as gusts come through), then the increasing roar as the boat accelerated down the face of the wave only to be slowed again when the bottom of the trough was reached. Then a pause as the boat waited for the next wave to catch up and the cycle to be repeated.

The noise level of the water flowing past the hull is very different at 5 or 6kts in flat seas compared to 10 or 11 kts scooting down aerated waves. You can often judge the boat speed from in the cabin just from the noise of the water – your head is quite close to the hull from the saloon bunk that we use on passage.

We now have 793 nm to go and the routing software suggests winds will drop a little again for a while so our arrival date may slip to Thursday. Not an issue – we will arrive whenever we do!

All is good onboard.

Galapagos to Marquesas – Day 11

POS: 7 29S 122 38.8W

There is something frustrating about sailing on a course that takes you nowhere near your destination. Even more frustrating is doing so slowly! That has been the theme for the day. The weather is constantly changing and over the sort of distances we are sailing it would be very unusual to find that a straight line from start to destination would be the fastest route. Wind strength, wind direction, ocean currents and other factors all come into the equation when determining what is the best route to follow. However we are lucky compared to sailors of even a generation ago. They relied on looking at the skies and plotting the change in air pressure etc. trying to figure out what was going to happen and the best route to follow.

We are fortunate enough to have satellite communications and weather routing software. So on a regular basis (at least once a day and often more frequently) we tell the software our current position and where we are wanting to go, press a few buttons and a little while later we get a load of data back suggesting our optimum route. The software knows how fast we travel in different directions based on the wind strength so looks at the predicted wind and determines the route accordingly. However its all based around predictions of what the weather is going to do over the period of our trip. Our software uses four different weather models so we get four different routes normally! Different models are more or less accurate in different parts of the world so we have to take decisions based on which we think is going to be the most accurate (often a good starting point is to ask ‘which of the models is suggesting that at the current time the forecast conditions match what we actually have?). On the rare occasion that the models agree on a route that’s great because there is a fair chance that they will be accurate, if not its a question of judgement and experience (or rolling a dice if you are more sceptical).

Yesterday all the models vaguely agreed we needed to get north to avoid a big wind hole. How far and on what course was different on each but the theme was the same and the wind was progressively getting lighter.

So we gybed the Parasailor and started heading north west. It was slow. It was forecast to be slow but we managed to keep moving without the use of the engine. Normally light winds mean flattish seas and yesterday was no exception. Washing was done, salt was cleaned off stainless, work was attended to and rest was achieved – we even managed some board games without the pieces sliding around. But the chart plotter showed us heading nowhere near our destination – Hawaii was probably on the cards!

We had expected to pass the 1000 mile to go mark early evening but that didn’t happen. But slowly and surely as the day progressed and we go further north the wind increased from a light zephyr to a steady breeze and the boat picked up a little speed. Nothing ground breaking but a more positive pace, albeit towards Hawaii.

The daily run was just 131 nm, however if you straightened out the track it would have been more like 140 nm we actually sailed.

We did celebrate the 1000 mile to go a little prematurely since it was going to pass in the middle of the night and we counted down the time until we could gybe back and head towards the Marquesas again.

That time came an hour or so before sunrise and we performed a textbook gybe in the light of the moon and the deck lights. So now we are heading in the right direction. The wind is still quite light but is forecast to increase as the day progresses. The sun is out, the seas are pretty calm and the boat is doing its stuff nicely. The routing software suggests we have several days like this to come. Distance to go 978 nm. Happy Easter everyone!

All is well on board.

Galapagos to Marquesas – Day 10

POS: 8 21S 119 44.9W

A quiet day today with light winds over the quarter. At first light the Parasailor went up and that has given us a lovely stable platform.

Out track today shows us heading in many different directions as we try to keep the boat moving, but also try to get a little north into the better breeze. The 24 hr run shows 151 nm, well down on previous days but could be worse and might still be tomorrow unless we find the wind to the north.

Chocolate cakes have run out but we did have a lovely chicken satay for dinner and a packet of chip cookies did fall out of the cupboard into my hand this afternoon.

1145 nm to go so if we find the breeze, we might be into three figures tomorrow night – I sense another small celebration coming!

All is good on board.

Galapagos to Marquesas – Day 9

POS: 8 33S 118 18.9W

A relatively quiet 24 hours here in mid ocean. The seas continue to suprise us, even more so as the wind drops. It can be quite flat for an hour then out of nowhere it becomes a bit lumpy for a while, then goes back to being flat again. In general its far more comfortable than it has been so getting some good rest has been easier.

We have seen no boats or wildlife except the occasional bird and many flying fish for days now.

The wind is very broad now and has dropped so speed has dropped off too. The 24 hour run was 171 nm which will probably be about the average for the rest of the trip – it may even drop off below that looking at the forecast, however we do have our Parasailor out of the bag now which should help.

All is well onboard.