314 nm NW of Gambiers
We are overdue on both the blog front and with stories about our stay in the Gambiers. We were quite busy here - working on the boat, and with exploration of some of the islands and anchorages around the lagoon.
In terms of boat projects, there were more than a few. We have fixed the gooseneck fitting which connects mast to boom, resewn/repaired the outer edge of our reacher sail (large, light air jib), sealed the leaking hole through which our propeller shaft exits, and tracked down a fresh water leak.
Replacing the gooseneck required redrilling to a larger size and retapping existing holes, as well as preparing new holes fpr the larger part. This was accomplished after removing the old bent gooseneck, a day long job onto itself. FInally, surfaces are coated to minimize reactions between different metals before screwing and bolting the new piece down and replacing the boom and vang which had to be removed in order to do the change-over. Luckiliy, we ordered all neccessary pieces and parts which were delivered from USA with the gooseneck, and all in all, it went smoothly.
The upper swivel of our furling unit is jammed, but we were able to drop our reacher headsail on deck by dropping the sail and halyard sans swivel. You need to keep an eye on weather and pick a "no wind" day for this, as the sail accordians along nearly 30 feet of side deck as it comes down. Jo already described what it looked like to have the three of us sitting around with the sail at our feet (or in our laps) as repair tape was placed and patches sewn with a borrowed sewing machine - another item we need to buy when we get to NZ.
A small amount of water accumulation in the engine room began to increase over the past month to six weeks or so. Every anticipated source (pumps, hose connections, fittings) in the engine room was reviewed, tightened, refastened, or redone as a dry engine room is a happy engine room. Over weeks, the problem became worse not better, and the source of the leak could not be found. It was frustrating but the lines to an old song kept popping in my head - something like "the diffficult is not a problem, but the impossible might take a little while". The area of interest kept being narrowed down to somewhere around the engine, and then the engine itself was deemed clear. Finally, the leak was tracked down to the (supposedly) water tight seal around the large SS tube that houses our propeller shaft. It was tightened and retightened, which was accomplished with a large amount of contortion and a small amount of bruising. A telephone call to Alan Mills of Evolution Shaft Systems, the Rockland, Maine based manufacturer, confirmed that it had a small O-ring and was to be installed with a copious amount of adhesive sealant. Alan had personally delivered and put the unit together at Morris Yachts, but did not do the final install. The difficulty was that with the boat in the water, removing the SS plate in order to reseal it risked a rather larger influx of water into the boat, and it very well might be removed only with difficulty. A two part solution was devised. Initially, to minimize water inflow, an underwater putty was placed outside the hull around the exit of the shaft tube. The next day, and with trepidation, the nuts were removed and the plate pried off. This last step was surprisingly easy, as the plate peeled right off the fiberglass bulkhead it was fastened to. It was then we noticed a complete lack of adhesive and we had been relying only on the O-ring all this time. We cannot explain why the sealant was not utilized, but this explained the past several years puddling and slow water accumulation we had experienced, always attributed to one piece of machinery or another. Water inflow did increase as the plate was prepared for resealing, but at a rate we could keep up with. A large rubber gasket was placed and sealant was slathered all about, a very messy process. We have now watched this over 10 days and initial success has been declared.
We were able to track down the fresh water leak rather quickly, and it was a "T" fitting with a small stress crack. We had been there before and knew in which places to look, but the process was quick and all in all, we were lucky to find it and fix it in 1/2 of a day. So these were our major jobs, jobs done in addition to our "normal" maintenance such as changing engines oil, maintaining refrigeration systems, cleaning interior after ocean passage, cleaning hull bottom, cleaning waterline, cleaning deck, polishing stainless steel, etc.
In the between work time, we did find time to explore a good deal of what the Gambiers has to offer. We have visually navigated through "uncharted" waters within the reef circled lagoon and found our way to some amazingly beautiful places and sights - vantages accentuated by the fact that they were located in greyed out zones marked "area non-hydrographie" on our French charts!
We first went north to an island at the northern rim of the atoll named Puaumu. We visited this secluded spot with several other boats including Soggy Paws, Infiny, and Pascal on the French catamaran Steel Band. Pascal is a hunter gatherer who spear fishes daily, forages for coconuts, fruits, etc. He speared a ray swimming by his boat, and taught us how to dress it and prepare it. It is quite tasty! We did some snorkeling and beach combing on isolated beaches along the rim of the atoll. It was enchanting.
We left there to return to Rikatea and stopped for a lunch and snorkel at the false pass just south of Tottogeggie (flat island with small airport). The water was clear with coral and the fish were innumerable - one of the nicer snorkels we have done this trip. While back in Rikitea we visited the Pearl farm of Benoit. Learning about black lipped oysters and observing the process of pearling was interesting.. In the village, we also we ordered baguettes and croissants (but the croissants are only avaialble weekends), and found some cucumbers. As for fruit, on the two mile walk to and from the pearl farm, locals would offer us pomplemousse from their front yards.
Later we went south and were anchored off the island of Taravai. We did not go to the "main" anchorage in front of the old village, but we anchored to the south of the island, once again in one of those a greyed out and "uncharted" zones. We do not navigate these waters indiscriminately, but will carefully explore after speaking with boats (such as Steel Band) that have already been this way. Note - you will find little about any of these areas in cruising guides; even detailed S Pacific cruising guidebooks tend only to have a page or two at most on this entire archipeligo. Navigation is done by reading the color of the water, and your travel between islands is limited to 10 AM to 3 PM or so, moving with the sun behind your back in order for you to properly "read" the bottom. Dark blue is friendly and light blue is fine. Tourquise can be tricky as depth depends on water clarity. The water is getting thin as tourquise turns green and then to tan/yellow in sand, or brown over a reef. You don't go there!
Taravai is a beautiful island. There are high hills that have serial ridges streaming down to the water. Each ridge is capped with a rocky pyramid and there are groupings of vertically oriented evergreens and areas of low flat horizontally oriented tree tops dispersed throughout.. These are differing shades of blue/green, and when you add a carpet of yellow grass and palm trees along the shoreline - well, too hard to describe. We'll post some pictures.
A lovely couple named Eduard and Denise live at the head of the bay, and Denise told us that we were the first American boat to anchor and land in their harbor. We suppose that this was possible, as it seemed that inside knowledge about safe to navigate areas in the uncharted regions tended to be passed along from French boat to boat. We had befriended Pascal and his wife Martine when I assisted Martine with an ankle problem and later Pascal showed us several places where it was safe to travel. This south bay of Taravai was on his list, and we spent several days there. On Taravai we were able to find potatoes, cucumbers (more taste and less seeds than those in USA), a bit of greens and avocados. Pascal also came to join us on Saturday and brought us the croissants we ordered- just like Pizza Hut!. Aside from visiting the centuries old church by the main village and meeting more locals, the highlight of our stay was surely a shoreside Sunday brunch at the home of Eduard and Denise. Denise prepared a wonderful potted duck as well as "poisson cru", a famous French Polynesian dish prepared with raw fish, coconut milk, lime, onions, and chopped vegetables. It was sublime, and I won't even begin to describe the duck.
We ended our stay on Taravai with a group fishing expedition, but came up empty handed. We then spent 2 nights on Rikitea getting the boat ready to head towards the Tuomotus, and Jo and Gram even squeezed in 1 more dive. We left Rikitea noon on the 21st, but just as we exited the pass out of the lagoon, we first went north to the best fishing area along the surrounding reef.This time our luck was better, and we landed a 3 foot 30 pound yellow fin tuna before heading NW to the Tuomotu atoll named Hao. We have been underway nearly 48 hours, and should arrive Hao early Saturday morning. Sailing has been pleasant, and a three night passage seems short!
We will let you know as soon as we arrive. 138 nm to go.