Friday, August 5, 2011

Moving at the Speed of Slow

We are now into Day 2 of what should be a 4 day passage from Bora Bora in French Polynesia to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands over about 550 miles. We are experiencing very light winds of about 10 knots and we are traveling at about 3.5 to 5 knots per hour. Yes, that's right, we could probably walk there faster. At this rate, it could take up to a week.

We knew when we set out that the winds would be light but we made the decision to set out anyway. The weather grib files (which we download daily to tell us wind direction and speed over our course going out a few days) showed that the wind would clock around to the north, albeit fairly light at 15 to 20 knots, instead of its usual southeast trade wind patterns. This is relevant for us as the port in Avatiu, Rarotonga, gets quite uncomfortable in north winds and on occasion when it blows strongly, private yachts are asked to leave. Our plan is to be out at sea while this norther blows in and arrive in Avatiu once it's passed. True to predictions, as of this evening, the wind is now coming from the NE.

The other reason we decided to leave was that this weather pattern is not expected to let up for another week, and we just don't have the time to loiter in French Polynesia any longer. Not that we wanted to leave. Our visas expired on July 27 and while the Gendarmes assured us that overstaying for several days was not a problem, we must be in Fiji by September 6 to receive our next set of guests (my mother and stepdad - can't wait!) and the Cook Islands, Tonga and several hundreds of miles of passages stand between now and then.

We are still digesting our time in French Polynesia. It was truly magical. In fact, I would love to return one day and spend the entire cruising season there as we feel like we missed so much - in particular I would have loved to see more of the Tuamotus. The other night with friends we took a poll as to which set of islands (Marquesas, Tuamotus or Societies) was the favorite and everyone came up with different answers for different reasons. The Marquesas were special because it was where we made landfall, it was beautiful and lush, there was great hiking, and we loved renting the car on Nuku Hiva to learn about the culture. The Tuamotus were magical for the drift snorkels through the passes, feeling as though we were floating in the universe, bonfires on the beach and swimming with manta rays. The south pass in Fakarava was the best snorkeling of anywhere - dense and diverse fish populations in shallow water that then drops off to a wall with loads of sharks. And then there were the Society Islands: Papeete and pearl shopping, perhaps the most beautiful island of Moorea where we swam with stingrays, snorkeling coral 'gardens' off of Taha'a, and doing the most strenuous hike/climb/scramble in Bora Bora. The scenery everywhere is breathtaking - the volcanic and striking mountains of the Marquesas and the Societies, and the blue-green water of the Tuamotu and Society lagoons. All spectacular.

When we were deciding whether to continue for a second year to allow us to head to the South Pacific, we were advised that one needs the entire cruising season (from April to October) and even then we'll be rushing it. Because of this, we are staying out for the second year together with another half school year. In hindsight, however, we would not have suffered the least to come across the Pacific, spend the entire time in French Polynesia, and sail home via Hawaii to be back for school in September. We know a couple of families who opted for this plan and I'd encourage any others who only have the limited time to consider this. It's a lot of time at sea getting there and getting home, but you can cover a lot of ground while here and each of the sets of islands are so different, intriguing and enriching.

On the other hand, we've been told that the best is yet to come: Tonga and Fiji. If it's better than French Poly, it'll be absolutely dreamy.

Somewhere in between French Polynesia and the Cook Islands in the middle of the great big Pacific Ocean with nothing else in sight and moving v.e.r.y...s.l.o.w.l.y...
18 degrees 12.456 minutes south
153 degrees 56.940 minutes west

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