Eden

The Tuamotus Diaries #54, Day 112 – September 17th 2016

 

After writing yesterday’s post, I realized that visiting the surrounding motus was much more a matter of attitude than anything else, for the wind wasn’t going to subside. We then decided to get on the dinghy and face the wet ride across the bay and up to the motus. And I am glad we did so, otherwise, look what we would have missed:

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The beginning of the ride was wet indeed, going against the howling wind, which sprayed us with seawater incessantly until we had reached the lee of the motus. But once we got there, what we found were five or six very small sandy islands, peppered with palm trees and surrounded by crystalline waters that sparkled under the strong sun light. Postcard-perfect.

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Two of these motus stood out in particular. What looked at first like a mid-sized motu was in fact two smaller ones separated by a narrow inlet. Winding in between the two motus like a stream, it reaches all the way to the atoll’s edge, where the ocean rages. The purest, deep ocean water flows constantly and delicately through this stream, forever setting the two beautiful motus apart. The tall palm trees lined along the banks of the stream reduce the howling trade winds to a quiet and comfortable breeze, thus adding to the perfection of this setting. If there is such a place as Eden, it’s got to be there !

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We stayed there, soaking in the great views, vibes and utmost piece of the place, until our bellies started to remind us breakfast had been a long time back already.

Later in the afternoon, while watching the sunset on deck and looking at the strength of all that wind that kept on blowing as if the world was coming to an end, I wondered: was that place indeed so beautiful as to stand apart from everything else we had seen here in the Tuamotus so far? Or was it made “more beautiful” because it was harder to get? I mean, had the weather been fine, with just a low breeze and flat waters, and the motus easily reachable to us as we pleased, would we have been equally impressed by it?

Well, I guess we will never know.

But that this place is truly amazing, it is!

To Be and Not to Be

The Tuamotus Diaries #53, Day 111 – September 16th 2016

 

After Adriana’s arrival, exactly one week ago, we sailed back to Fakarava’s southern end, dropping anchor on the West side of the South Pass.

It is a truly lovely anchorage. A large reef to the East offers wave protection from the prevailing direction of the winds. Ahead of us, a mini archipelago of small motus (little sandy islands peppered with a few palm trees) create a jigsaw-type of image. Really scenic. We are anchored on 15 ft of water – quite a change from the typically deep anchorages here in the Tuamotus. The water is very clear, as it is always the case around the passes, and we have a lot of coral heads to explore right around us – not to mention the plethora of reefs just a short dinghy ride away. This is the perfect setting we had imagined to wrap-up our stay here in Fakarava.

It is a great place to be.

And yet, it feels like we are not here.

The thing is, since Adriana’s arrival – well, in fact, since 10 days PRIOR to her arrival – the Trade Winds have settled on a strong pattern, and it has been blowing uninterruptedly. At times it “eases down” to maybe 15 knots for a few hours, but most of the time it is a solid 20-25kt blow, with the occasional 30 kt gusts. It has been so much indeed that our anemometer chose early retirement one of these days, and spun away from the top of our mast to enjoy a different type of being somewhere else.

The pristine, ultramarine water boils all around us in small wavelets driven by the howling wind. Pesto dances merrily – a bit too much for my taste – puling on its chain on successive tacks. Now heeling to port, and now to starboard, the snubber straining to its limits and moaning on each cycle.

We go in the water every afternoon, but it is quite sporty, the wavelets slapping our faces incessantly, and Pesto sailing over us with all the grace of her 30 tons. At the end of a 30-minute swim, we often intake quite a ration of salt water. Some approach to keep our respiratory ways clean!

At times we consider taking the dinghy to explore the motus, just 200 meters away from us. But a dinghy ride in these conditions wouldn’t be too different from taking a ride on a submarine – hanging to it on the outer side.

We considered sailing back to the village. And going to our next – and last – atoll: Toau. But with these winds, the ride would be just so uncomfortable.

So we stay and wait.

Wait for the opportunity to explore the preciosity of a place we are at now.

And wait to do a proper passage to Toau, via Fakarava’s village (for a quick internet check and provisioning).

But soon we will run out of time, and wait will not be an option anymore. Then we will have to accept leaving this jewel of an anchorage behind, and doing another rolly, wet passage to Toau.

Green Clouds

The Tuamotus Diaries #52, Day 109 – September 14th 2016

 

When the weather is settled in regular Trade-Wind conditions here, white puffy clouds parade on the sky, flying low hurriedly driven by the steady and strong East winds.

As they pass over a broad patch of shallow reef, sometimes the sun reflects the green hues of the reef back onto the bottom of the clouds.

This is a subtle, short-lived effect. Difficult to be spotted, but delightful to be enjoyed. Polarized sunglasses augment the effect, making it even more enjoyable.

I snapped a few pictures, but they don’t do any justice to the beauty of it. I wish I could share the full glory of it on this page …

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Re-plugged

The Tuamotus Diaries #51, Day 99 – September 4th 2016

 

As every other specimens of her breed, Pesto’s deck came finished in Teak from factory. It gives her a classy aspect, looks lovely when wet, delivers a romantic scent just after dusk, and feels great under our feet. As everything else that is nearly perfect though, it has a few pitfalls, one of them being that it needs to be “re-plugged” from time to time. I explain.

When Pesto was built, the fiberglass deck was covered with a special adhesive, and the planks of teak laid on it. To increase bonding between the teak and the deck, small stainless steel screws were fastened along each plank of the teak, one every feet on average. Each of these screws was then covered with a teak plug, the grain of the plug matching the direction of the plank’s – it’s a large-scale wooden jewel, really.

However as the teak wears down over time, so do the plugs, and eventually they get so thin that they come off, exposing the screw.

When we were getting ready to depart Seattle two years ago, Pesto already had quite a number of screws exposed. A friend kindly taught me the art of fixing it and, as he did so, he told me that it would be a perfect “project” for when I had time to spare on a perfect tropical anchorage. I hoped to do it before we hit the tropics, but as we started sailing down south, a lot more plugs came off, the project became overwhelming, and kept being postponed.

I don’t think there is a technical reason to cover the exposed screws, but those 300-or-so shiny things were an unforgivable blemish on what is otherwise one of Pesto’s most beautiful feature. I avoided looking at them as much as I could but it utterly bothered me to not having been able to replug the deck yet. So last week I gave myself an ultimatum. We ARE in the tropics, on a paradisiac anchorage, and we were waiting for Adriana to arrive back from the US with another week or so. That was it, the deck was going to be replugged !

By the time I started, there must have been at least 300 exposed screws. Doing a large batch at once has its benefits – I gradually picked up the tricks of it and the result came better and better. In the beginning, for instance, I spent a lot of time fairing the leading edges of each plug, to make it easier to push them into the holes. I learned afterwards that the fairing is not necessary – saving me time and layers of my fingers’ skin. Another learning was on the way to drive the plugs in. I started with a plastic mallet, with the rationale that plastic might be gentler on the plug than metal. It turns out that the plugs penetrated the holes more efficiently with the use of a regular, metal hammer – go figure.

On average, I was able to do 12 plugs per hour and it took me the good part of five days to replug the whole thing. I tried to do the job in the morning, after homeschooling and before the sun got too high in the sky. As tiresome as it was, it gave me great pleasure to work with wood.

And for the time being, I am proudly walking in a deck that is fully plugged.

Well, that’s until the next plug comes off …

 

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A typical “unplugged” screw hole defacing the beauty of our glamorous deck
Glue (from a previous attempt to re-plug), dust and wood scraps were removed, exposing the screw head
Glue (from a previous attempt to re-plug), dust and wood scraps were removed, exposing the screw head
The screw is removed
The screw is removed
The hole is drilled deeper, cleaned, and readied to receive the screw again
The hole is drilled deeper, cleaned, and readied to receive the screw again
Once the screw is refastened (and sealed with a small dab of Silicone), the new plug is put in place
Once the screw is refastened (and sealed with a small dab of Silicone), the new plug is put in place
This picture shows a set of holes just after the plugs have been driven in
This picture shows a set of holes just after the plugs have been driven in
 The plug heads are then removed with a Bear Saw and faired by hand with a medium-coarse sandpaper
The plug heads are then removed with a Bear Saw and faired by hand with a medium-coarse sandpaper
The same set of holes, with the new plugs faired. From this point time and weather take over, turning the plugs into the charming pale-grey of the remaining of the deck within a month or so
The same set of holes, with the new plugs faired. From this point time and weather take over, turning the plugs into the charming pale-grey of the remaining of the deck within a month or so

About Power

The Tuamotus Diaries #50, Day 98 – September 3rd 2016

 

… electrical power, that is.

Pesto hasn’t been connected to an external source of electrical power from the time we left Mexico, almost 6 months ago. Every electron utilized by our systems since had to be Generated and Stored in-house. So, I thought I’d drop a few words here on how things are going on this front.

We generate energy in three different ways onboard:

  • when the Main Engine is running
  • with our dedicated diesel Generator
  • with our Solar Panels

The main engine counts with a large alternator which outputs over 50amps (24v). It’s quite effective to keep the batteries full and all systems going when we are motoring, but its overall contribution for the long lapses of time we stay at anchor is negligible.

The Generator plays an important role in our generation matrix. Particularly during passages, there’s often something shadowing the solar panels – clouds, the sails or even birds – affecting their contribution substantially. Ironically, this is when we need energy the most, with lots of systems in operation (autopilot, electric winches, fridge/freezer, etc). During the Puddle Jump we had to run the generator every other day, and some instances even daily, to an average of 1 to 2 hrs per day. In the Marquesas we also ran the generator a lot, I would say probably once every three days on average. There, the tall mountains fringing the bays created shadows – either directly or by grabbing clouds – which affected the solar panels as well.

But once we got to the Tuamotus, with unobstructed skylines providing maximum exposure to the sun, the Solar Panels came on their own.

We have four 140W panels on the railings and another 275W one over the dinghy davits, on the stern. They all converge to an Outback 80A Charger which then sends the load to the house battery bank – 10 wet cell batteries with 110Ah (12V) capacity each.

Since arriving here, the panels practically took over most of the electricity generation needs on Pesto. Whenever the day is sunny, even partially cloudy, the panels will top up the batteries before sunset. We have come to a point that I am only using the generator in two instances: either when it remains fully overcast for over 2 days, or to desalinate water, which we do once a week on average.

Now that we have switched our freezer off, our battery charging status has gotten even better. This is how it’s been working

  • at wake up, just after sunrise, the batteries are at a rate of charge between 91% and 92%
  • the batteries are reaching 100% charge between 11:30 and 11:50am every day. From sunrise until then, the Charger delivers an average of 8amps per hour (24V) to recharge the batteries, on top of anything that might be drawing energy from them.
  • Once the batteries are full, we recharge all of our electronics – most notably the laptop which we use to watch movies (a nightly family tradition onboard)
  • During the peak sun hours the surcharge of electricity is such that we are even able splurge a bit: some times using the slow cooker (7 amps draw on 24V) to prepare meals, running the blender for smoothies (20amps/ 24V when on), or the Vacuum Cleaner – all without reducing the battery bank’s level from 100%
  • from 16:30-17:00 on, the panels can’t keep the batteries at 100% anymore and Demand exceeds Supply. From here on we go on “economy mode” and become judicious to what is drawing energy from the bank

 

The measurements above were taken during 5 consecutive days of typical Trade Wind conditions – sunny with cloud covers between 25% and 50%. A few other measurements that came out of this exercise and I am sharing here for whatever they may be worth:

  • our Fridge is drawing an hourly average of ~1amp (24V). The compressor is working an average of 25 minutes per hour (the Fridge is fully loaded with all the stuff we had to take off the Freezer, and I adjusted the thermostat to work at a lower temperature, between 34F and 36F)
  • our masthead LED light, which remains on all night, draws 0.15amp (24V)
  • Paulo’s fan, which also remains on all night, equally draws another 0.15amp (24V)
  • I also detected a “residual” draw of 0.9amp which is nagging me and will likely become a “project” some time in the future

 

The kids, who have acquired the habit of checking the status of our battery bank regularly, have noticed the improved performance of our system since we got to the Tuamotus, and again after we switched off the Freezer, and are celebrating the results. They really enjoy the fact that we are topping up our batteries directly from the sun on a daily basis, and question me every time I come close to the Generator’s switch.