Migrations 11
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The Sea Surrounds

1 January - 1 May 2009
USA - Tahiti - Archipel des Tuamotu - Îles Marquises (French Polynesia)

Written May 2009
Îles Marquises, French Polynesia

Note: A new feature—Says ADR—makes its debut in this edition of Migrations. When you get tired of my ranting and raving, you'll find several Says ADR links which let you read excerpts from Alene's journal. Enjoy!

The scenes of the tropics are in themselves so delicious, that they almost equal those dearer ones at home, to which we are bound by each best feeling of the mind.

Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (1839)




"...to which we are bound by each best feeling of the mind."

And the heart, of course.


Missing our friends and family as much as we do, it is such a pleasure to be able to return to the US to spend time together. Good for the mind and heart.


What we don't miss is the hectic and crazy life: the news frenzies, the media overload, the traffic, the wastefulness of resources (please, turn off the lights!), the cluelessness of much of the population as to our effect on, and place in, the world.


Oops, ranting! That's liable to make this update too long. Sorry. I'll just say that we loved seeing our family and friends. We also love when we get to return to our home aboard Migration.





We arrived in Tahiti at the end of January and spent three solid weeks putting wonderful Migration back together. She was in good shape and we only had one surprise repair.


Get out the epoxy! Dry rot around
a scupper in the starboard cockpit.
(P.S. For those who know, those are
not the famous blue gloves...)


In the marina, we were plagued by mosquitoes
and other unusual
and sometimes beautifulinsects.


What a relief to finally drop the docklines and head out to anchor. We sailed to Papeete on the other side of Tahiti to provision.


Shopping in the giant Carrefour supermarket
isn't a whole lot different than shopping in the USA.

They have lots of cereal... though a bit more expensive:
about $6.70 for Corn Pops (which, by the way, as everyone
over 30 knows, are really
Sugar Pops).


However, the cookie aisle is even
longer than in most US stores.


Oh yeah, you can buy a 5 kilo box of

frozen lamb hearts or, as you can see

right behind the hearts, the whole lamb!


After you buy your lamb, you can
stop and shop for jewelry.


Something else you can't buy in the US:
a Chow Mein sandwich (Chow Mein shoveled
into a baguette). They're really good!


Though Papeete is full of traffic and noise, the anchorage a few miles south is actually quite beautiful. Nine miles to the west, the island of Moorea stands majestic. The hills of Tahiti are a verdant green. The water is crystal clear. This gave Alene the perfect opportunity to try out her new underwater camera.


Migration at anchor near Papeete.


Practicing underwater photography...

   VIDEO: Is it on? Learning to use the camera (0:27 - 1.1 MB)



One of our goals this year was to sail to the Marquesas. You might remember from Migrations 10 that French Polynesia is big; thousands of miles of open ocean dotted with volcanic islands and coral atolls. The Marquesas are 760 nautical miles to the northeast of Tahiti. Unfortunately, in this part of the world, that means 760 miles upwind.




Sailboats can't sail straight into the wind. High-end racing boats sail about 30 degrees to either side of the wind. 40 year-old Migration belongs to a class of trimaran that has never been known for windward capabilities. When everything is perfect, we sail about 58 degrees to either side of the wind. But when you combine strong winds, choppy seas, and current against us, upwind progress becomes excruciatingly slow. It means we must sail about twice as far as the actual distance to our goal.


How a sailboat goes upwind.




We left Tahiti in late February. It was still cyclone season so we carefully watched the weather for any signs of tropical storm formation to the west. It was good to be at sea again—the blue horizon in every direction. But the winds were contrary and we were making slow progress. Now that we had our long-stay visas, we had plenty of time and didn't need to rush (most non-EU cruisers get only 3 months). So why spend days sailing but not getting very far? I'd gotten a bad rope burn on my hand so we decided to take it easy and stop in the Tuamotus. We'd have preferred to be farther eastaway from potential cyclonesbut we would just keep a close eye on the tropical storm forecast.




February is the transition time between summer and winter. That means unsettled weather. Rain showers and squalls rolled through daily. The showers are very confined—usually not more than a mile or so wide. The squalls can be much bigger. They pass quickly but dump an enormous amount of rain in a very short time. Sometimes they are accompanied by violent winds and thunder and lightning. One night we sailed through a terrific squall as we passed close between two atolls. Thunder and lightning were everywhere and, at times, the driving rain brought visibility to almost zero. We were grateful for GPS and radar.


All the rain from that huge cloud is concentrated
in the single narrow column beneath it.


At sea at night, squalls can be... exciting.
Here's a picture of a squall on our radar.
It looks like a giant mouth coming to eat us.
Sometimes it felt that way.




Standing on an atoll, your feet supported by millions of years of effort of tiny coral polyps is awe-inspiring. Charles Darwin, on his return from his voyage around the world, put forth the subsidence theory regarding atoll creation. I recently finished The Voyage of the Beagle (can you tell?) and though much of it is a bit of a slog through lists of flora and fauna and dry geologizing, Darwin occasionally infuses his fine perception with beautiful poetry. He does so when he describes the wonder of these islands:



There is a simplicity in the barrier-like beach, the margin of green bushes and tall coconuts, the solid flat of dead coral-rock, strewed here and there with great loose fragments, and the line of furious breakers, all rounding away towards either hand. The ocean throwing its waters over the broad reef appears an invincible, all-powerful enemy; yet we see it resisted, and even conquered, by means which at first seem most weak and inefficient. It is not that the ocean spares the rock of coral; the great fragments scattered over the reef, and heaped on the beach, whence the tall coconut springs, plainly bespeak the unrelenting power of the waves. Nor are any periods of repose granted. The long swell caused by the gentle but steady action of the trade-wind, always blowing in one direction over a wide area, causes breakers, almost equaling in force those during a gale of wind in the temperate regions, and which never cease to rage. It is impossible to behold these waves without feeling a conviction that an island, though built of the hardest rock, let it be porphyry, granite, or quartz, would ultimately yield and be demolished by such an irresistible power. Yet these low, insignificant coral-islets stand and are victorious; for here another power, as an antagonist, takes part in the contest. The organic forces separate the atoms of carbonate of lime, one by one, from the foaming breakers, and unite them into a symmetrical structure. Let the hurricane tear up its thousand huge fragments; yet what will that tell against the accumulated labour of myriads of architects at work night and day, month after month? Thus do we see the soft and gelatinous body of a polypus through the agency of the vital laws, conquering the great mechanical power of the waves of an ocean which neither the art of man nor the inanimate works of nature could successfully resist. 

Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (1839)



As awe-inspiring as it is to stand on an atoll, what we love the most is the world below the surface of the sea. The snorkeling and diving is remarkable. Last year, Alene was in the water at least once a day and there wasn't a single day that she didn't see something new. This year she was armed with her underwater camera and several new coral reef fish identification books.




We headed for beautiful Anse Amyot on Toau; home of our friends Gaston & Valentine, whom we met last year. We had two handheld VHF radios that they had asked us to bring for them from the US.


One day, we accompanied Gaston and Philippe (Valentine's step-father) to the fish trap. This is a rebar and chicken wire maze constructed where the current flows over the reef. Fish are trapped inside and easily gathered in large chicken wire scoops.


Gaston clears out the moray eels
using a large spear.


Hundreds of fish are dumped into the

bottom of the boat.


I helped filet the fish which would be
taken by speedboat to a neighboring
atoll and then flown to Tahiti. From fish
trap to Papeete restaurant in about 2 days.

Nini, the cat, likes this part.


On Sunday we attended church at the
invitation of the entire congregation:
Gaston, Valentine and Philippe.
Valentine serves as pastor.


It's amazing how much stuff washes up
on the reef. Here's Gaston's collection of
electronic long line markers. Probably many
thousands of dollars worth of electronics, if
you knew what to do with them.


Gaston & Valentine are taking care of
a baby turtle they rescued from the dogs.



    VIDEO: "Lots of Parrot Fish!" (0:22 - 0.8 MB)
     Testing to see how well the camera records sound underwater...   



After 10 days at Toau, we decided to sail for the Marquesas again. We wanted to visit those islands before the crowds of boats arrived from Panama, the Galápagos, and Mexico in April, May and June. Unfortunately, Poseidon didn't think it was time for our voyage. After three days we still had 350 miles to go and the wind was blowing directly from the northeast... and strengthening. Our foredeck hatch was leaking (we would later discover a cracked weld in the frame). We had a ½ knot current against us and were making about 50 miles a day toward our goal. Another week of this didn't sound fun. We spun the wheelwell, the dial on the autopilotand headed back to the Tuamotus.




Friends on another boat had told us about the little-visited atoll of Katiu. The pass was a bit tricky but we were able to ask a local fisherman for directions and squeezed through with just a few meters on either side.


A Google Earth image of the Katiu pass
including some of our notes.


We spent a week exploring and snorkeling near the village. I gave a presentation to 30 kids at the elementary school; Alene did a fantastic job translating into French. Getting lost one day (hard to do on an atoll that is only a few hundred meters wide), we met Calixte and Tania, and their cadre of 7 dogs. Calixte is Tahitian and Tania is Greek-Russian. They moved to Katiu many years ago to start a pearl farm. We shared several meals together including a delicious lobster and champagne brunch.


Like most pearl farmers, Calixte is crazy about it and loves explaining the entire process. We had a fantastic time scuba diving in the middle of the atoll with Calixte, helping him with his oyster lines.


Hitianau, the village of Katiu Atoll.


The church has nicely-painted
louvers: fluorescent!


Here's the Katiu Bureau de Poste. It serves
250 people and is open 9 hours a week.
Taxpayers back in France must love this.


The supply ship comes every two weeks
to make the big delivery from Tahiti and
to pick up these sacks of copra (dried coconut).
This guy's shirt says "Coney Island."


School children enthralled by my presentation?
No. This was during singing practice afterward.
But the kids were a good audience and had
some excellent questions.


After singing practice, it's time for dance practice.


   VIDEO: Song & Dance Practice (00:47 - 2.1 MB)

Champagne with Calixte and Tania.
They definitely proved true what we
had heard about Polynesian hospitality.


Unlike most people on the atolls,
Calixte and Tania love their dogs.




Cultured black pearl farming is big business in the Tuamotus. Times have been tough in recent years; the market is down and many farms have gone out of business. But there are still plenty operating—we can attest to that as we've dodged hundreds of pearl farming buoys while sailing through the atolls.


Though Calixte used to have employees, he
now prefers to run his farm alone. It's an
enormous amount of work but he has
a great outlook on life: "8 hours for work,
8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for fun."


In the middle of the lagoon, about
eight kilometers from town, Calixte
prepares a line of plastic buoys before
we start our dive.

Forty feet down, the 100 meter criss-crossing lines
vanish into the distance. Supported, mid-blue, by the
balloon-like floats, they appear like a strange Jules Verne
city-in-the-sky, the weighty clusters of oysters hanging
like giant moss strands.


Oyster larvae attach to the plastic

collectors. As the oysters grow, the
lines get heavier and begin to sink.


When a line sinks too deep, Calixte attaches
a plastic barrel, then lets the bubbles he

exhales fill it with air and lift the line toward
the surface.

One by one, he pulls the plastic floats down
and attaches them to the oyster line so it
will float at the correct depth.


    VIDEO: Calixte teaches me how
    to attach floats (0:24 - 0.8 MB)


It's hard work so Calixte taught us the proper way to rest
when floating in the middle of the lagoon.

Though Calixte cultivates pearls, a
big part of his business is growing
oysters which he sells to other
pearl farmers.

Calixte's grafting house where he processes

the oysters and pearls.



Calixte and Tania, and many other locals, had told us about the beautiful beach on the motus at the southeast end of the atoll. We raised anchor and tacked our way back and forth across the lagoondodging pearl farm buoys and karenas (large coral heads).


Since leaving Tahiti, we'd seen only one other sailboat—a charter boat that had pulled into Anse Amyot for one night. Even though hundreds and hundreds of boats sail to French Polynesia every year, it was early in the season and there were hardly any boats in the Tuamotus. That was fine with us. Though I like socializing and meeting new people, I've become quite fond of being by ourselves. And now we were.


Anchored in a strikingly beautiful spot, with no other boats or people, it's heaven. We didn't need to be anywhere for a long time. We settled in.


The view from our porch.


All alone.


    VIDEO: Katiu Paradise (0:22 - 0.7 MB)

Staying in one spot, our focus narrows. Our world is contained in that which we see. Swimming every day, we begin to recognize each coral head. And then, individual fish.


Some fish were not hard to recognize. We had 6 sharksuckersmembers of the remora family—living under our boat and always waiting for us to get in the water. We became very good friends after we fed them bits of coconut by hand.


This one takes time out from eating to pose.


Alene communes with a friend...

...who becomes very friendly.


One day we took Plover to a karena about a mile away. We anchored and jumped in. In a few minutes there was a sharksucker swimming with us. Then two, three, and finally, six. They'd followed us all the way out and then pestered us during our entire snorkel. They reappeared under Migration a few minutes after we returned.


By far, our favorite fish in Katiu was the Amiable Leaf Damselfish (Pesca Ficus Delianus). That's our name for them. We spent hours searching through our reef fish identification books and still could not find this fish that we've seen many times and have photographs of. Amiable Leaf Damsels act like dead leaves, floating head down and undulating just as a drifting leaf would. But when we approached, they wanted nothing more than to shelter under our chins or armpits. They loved being close. In fact, Alene often made a small cave with her hands and they'd happily let her swim about while they were trapped between her palms.


This Amiable Leaf Damselfish isn't fazed
at all by the spear gun I'm holding.


It's amazing how well Alene gets along with fish.


We walked the reef beachcombing, learned how to use our spear gun, barbequed shrimp and roasted marshmallows on a fire on the beach, gathered coconuts, swam every day, did yoga at sunset, lay on deck watching the Southern Cross and searching for satellites. Life was good. The east end of Katiu was, and remains, our favorite spot in the Tuamotus.








Hunting. Unfortunately, we accidentally shot
a beautiful parrot with our spear gun.

To see the entire bird, click here.


Says ADR: Katiu Reef Adventure



Just in case you thought all we do is have fun, we did have our continual boat projects and maintenance. It's all just part of life aboard.


I finally learned how to use the sewing machine!
We finished our big awning, repaired our small
awning, and designed and built an underway awning
for the cockpits.

Can you believe she's that happy
about polishing stainless steel?


Alene works hard making sure I'm
doing a good job at the top of the mast.

Here's a project that's fun: Using my butane
soldering iron/torch to make the brulee
of crème brulee.


Says ADR: A Day at Katiu Atoll


Happy in Katiu.




Since the Marquesas were both north and east of our position, going either direction would help us when we again tried to sail there. Makemo is due east of Katiu and, having one of the larger villages in the Tuamotus and good provisioning, made a logical next stop.


The big pass at Makemo.


    VIDEO: 360° from Makemo Steeple (0:59 - 2.0 MB)

We were surprised to find two boats in the anchorage—the first we'd seen in many weeks. We bought fresh vegetables and bread and then headed to the east end of the atoll, this time accompanied by Ben and Carine of the Brittany-flagged Avel Mad.


Migration sailing in Makemo Atoll
Photo by Carine on s/v Avel Mad


Though the Makemo village anchorage has little to recommend it, both the east and west ends of the atoll are beautiful. We found excellent snorkeling and improved our spear gun techniques. We ate a lot of parrot fish.

Alene and Carine take a break.
Say "cheese...cake."


Back in the water... Alene on the prowl.


Carine and I pose while Ben gathers more firewood.
We grilled parrot fish, potatoes, and bananas.
When the fire died down, Alene introduced the
French couple to roasted marshmallows.
That's Migration in the background.

It was a rare day that we visited
the outer reef of an atoll and didn't
find some piece of trash. It is clear that
humankind has filled the ocean with plastic.
Think about that before you buy your next
bottle of water.

We'd intended to exit through the west pass and head southwest toward Motu Tunga; practically giving up on getting good winds for the Marquesas. But suddenly there was a forecasted change in the weather. We returned to the village to find new boats arriving from the Marquesas. We met s/v Zen and s/v Kaumoana and had a great time snorkeling the pass, exchanging island information, and having potlucks. After so many weeks alone, we were suddenly becoming very social. It was especially a pleasure meeting Cami and Cole (11 and 9) on Zen. We had a great time talking books, singing, doing origami, and playing the pittuba. Of course, we liked their parents as well but we think most people just put up with them so they can be around their kids.


Says ADR: Makemo





The waves thudding on a distant shore are the heartbeat of man's ancestral home. The salt solution of the sea flows in man's veins, and - is it coincidence or part of nature's master plan? - 70 percent of man's body is water, the same proportion as the surface of the earth.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau


If you spent just one day in the water with Alene, you would know that the salt solution of the sea flows strong in her veins. She's an amazing swimmer and diver. Most impressive to me is her skill in underwater observation. She notices so much that I don't see. Look at this octopus. There's a ray. Here's an eel. She continually surprises me with her ease and grace. I've always thought of myself as a water person who is pretty comfortable in the ocean. Living, and swimming, with Alene, challenges me. I float temporarily—a visitor. Alene becomes part of the environment.



It's cliché, I know, but the undersea world really is a magical place. A reef is full of life; so much is happening all the time. Yes, there are sharks that can bite and rays that can sting and all kinds of other things that can kill you, but mostly there is harmless, beautiful, colorful life. And such colors! The coral, the fish, even the clams! Here's a selection of the hundreds of photographs Alene's taken this year (with a tiny 3 megapixel flash-less $49 camera!).




An eagle ray checks out our anchor.

The Crown of Thorns is a poisonous starfish that
eats coral and destroys reefs.


The benitier (giant clams) come in
dozens of colors.


Can you find the octopus?

An aptly named Picasso Triggerfish.




    VIDEO: Below the Surface (2:08 - 5.2 MB)

    VIDEO: Flounder Surprise (0:25 - 1.0 MB)



We'd been watching the weather carefully and the forecast called for a week of light winds. The Marquesas would still be upwind, but we like sailing to weather in light air. We sealed the leaking forward hatch with duct tape and set off.


It was a quiet and calm six-day sail. Occasionally frustrating as the wind often blew directly from the direction we wanted to go, or it didn't blow at all. We made a brief detour to the remote atolls of Tepoto and Napuka, but without passes and with very steep coral shelves, the anchoring was too dicey for us. These are known as the Îles Disappointment—they were for us, as well as for some of the locals who gathered on the wharf waiting for us to come ashore.


Tepoto is a raised coral atoll with no lagoon.


At Napuka we were two boat lengths away
from the breakers on the outer reef and still
in over 100 feet of water.


    VIDEO: Sailing to the Marquesas (0:37 - 2.1 MB)



We arrived at Hanavave on the island of Fatu Hiva on the 1st of May. We'd made it! Our elation was slightly dampened by the fact that there were 14 boats in the anchorage.


Land Ho! Almost there!

The stunning Baie de Vierges at Fatu Hiva.

It was May Day. I didn't dance the sun up,
but I did dance it down.

Migration at anchor; a well-deserved
rest for a great old boat.

Now we are in the Marquesas. Tall, green, verdant islands. Dramatic cliffs completely covered by vegetation. Coconut trees climb the mountainside and give way to mangoes, bananas, orange, and lime. We are awash in fruit. Pamplemousse for breakfast each day. Things have definitely changed. Most notably, we are not alone. Every anchorage contains sailboats—sometimes dozens—and more arrive each day. This is the season when the hundreds of boats crossing the Pacific make their first landfall here. Most move on quickly but they are replaced by new arrivals. We are continually reminded how lucky we are that we don't have to rush.

The biggest change, however, is our focus. It is now about land, not water. The clarity of the sea doesn't approach the atolls. We hike instead of snorkel. We visit local artists and look at sculptures, tapas, and carvings. Soon we'll visit archaeological sites. The sea still surrounds us and we dive in to clean the bottom, check the anchor, and cool off. But the land dominates—towering above the anchorage, drawing the eye to its peaks.

It is all new. We look forward to our explorations here... but I sometimes find myself looking to the West and calculating the distance to where the atolls lie...
and the sea that surrounds them.

Be good.


Photo by Carine on s/v Avel Mad

Where we've been since January 2009

1,571 nautical miles traveled this period.
17,401 nautical miles since leaving Long Beach in June 2005.

But I have too deeply enjoyed the voyage, not to recommend any naturalist, although he must not expect to be so fortunate in his companions as I have been, to take all chances, and to start, on travels by land if possible, if otherwise, on a long voyage. He may feel assured, he will meet with no difficulties or dangers, excepting in rare cases, nearly as bad as he beforehand anticipates. In a moral point of view, the effect ought to be, to teach him good-humored patience, freedom from selfishness, the habit of acting for himself, and of making the best of every occurrence. In short, he ought to partake of the characteristic qualities of most sailors. Travelling ought also to teach him distrust; but at the same time he will discover how many truly kind-hearted people there are, with whom he never before had, or ever again will have any further communication, who yet are ready to offer him the most disinterested assistance.   Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (1839)



This site was last updated 11/22/17