July 1997 French Polynesia
Our second year underway.
Our crew size has averaged about a dozen. we are paying the bills, keeping ourselves well fed and Alvei has never been in better shape. By the time we arrive in New Zealand this November we will have completed half a circumnavigation since leaving Portugal two years ago. After a slow start last year things are moving along nicely.
Back on the Farm.
After taking Alvei to Golfito, costa Rica last October I returned to California for my annual visit to the family farm. Our shore crew, Margy and Christy, were waiting to greet me with news of over a hundred inquiries about crewing on Alvei. Many of the potential crew came from the internet, with the rest coming from Crew Seekers, magazine articles, and personal referals from former crew. Margy gleaned out the 15 she thought most probable for me to contact. After 3 weeks of letters and phone calls we had a full crew, all 18 bunks! Most of them promising to be aboard within 3 weeks. While in California, I received a call from shareholder Dan Bareiss. He wanted to come to Golfito to cook us all Christmas dinner, but couldn't afford the airfare for the whole family. He did however voluntarily send a $300 check for another years maintenance fee. Thank you Dan.
Joining the crew the next few weeks included Art, a retired computer and math teacher from Wisconsin. Jerry, an actor from California. Fred, a juggler from Kansas. Ed, a student from Alabama. John, a retired juvenile probation officer from Las Vegas and his son Ian. Adam, a back to basics hippie from Vermont. Susan, an American living in Golfito volunteered her services as cook in exchange for passage. Mark decided to forgo his bicycle tour of Central America to go sailing with us. Rod arrived from the U.S. and Olly a Dr. of Naprapathy along with shareholder Henrik arrived from Sweden. Returning crew were Steve as First Mate, Marianne from Holland who joined us in Trinidad last year. Bob a semi-retired engineer from California. Two of the people who promised to meet us in Golfito never showed so our number topped at sixteen.
Golfito is a tropical cowboy town of sorts, catering to sailors off the banana boats and tourists who come for the duty-free zone. It has 23 Bars or Restaurants, 4 hardware stores, 3 Grocery stores, 2 whore houses and one gas station. For a couple of hours each morning we held classes in knots and splices, practiced setting and furling sails plus learning the lines. This was followed by work projects, painting the masts and bulwarks, slushing the wooden spars and tarring the standing rigging. We were anchored near the Samoa resaurant and yacht club which became a favorite hangout after work. Most everyone took time out to go walkabout while we were here taking ferries to towns around Golfo Dulce or buses to other parts of Costa Rica and Panama.
The Quest for a Railway Slip.
Back in Panama at least 2 people had assured me there were at least 2 yards big enough to haul us at Puntarenas, so I took the bus there to investigate. In Costa Rica all roads lead to the capitol, San Jose. This required a full day bus journey through dense tropical rain forests, with an overnight stay in San Jose and a change of buses. Although Costa Rica can boast the highest literacy rate and lowest infant mortality rate in North America they certainly don't lavish much attention on the road system. The roads, manyof them unpaved, become victims of torrential rains, landslides, falling rocks and trees and bus drivers who can't afford to buy their own flat track racing machines. They are often a muddy ribbon of water filled craterswinding along steep mountainsides. Traveling in Costa Rica is always and adventure! After arriving and looking at the slipways, it was evident none were big enough to haul us. Plan "B" was back to Panama.
After an enjoyable Christmas bar-b-que on deck with rum punch it became evident that work was progressing slowly. many of our new crew were computer literate professionals. While they were seasoned veterans in their fields, 6-8 hours a day of physical labor was new to many of them. So, we rewrote the project list paring it down to essentials in an effort to get underway by mid January.
Passage to Panama.
One afternoon Steve and I went to a pub, ordered beers, put everyone's name in a hat and sorted out the watches. The nearest boatyards with slipways big enough to haul us were back in Panama. On a calm warm morning in mid January we motored out into Golfo Dulce, swung the compass and headed south into the Pacific. It was a honeymoon cruise with light changeable winds coming from all round the compass and lots of sail setting and line handling practice. We made slow but steady progress under cloudless skies and clear starry nights. I had made this passage 4 times before and have learned to use the currents and counter currents as well as the wind, but it was still a slow passage. Sailing into the Canal Zone anchorage at night with about 50 large brightly lighted ships awaiting transit is an impressive sight.At 2 in the morning we dropped anchor under the lee of Flamingo signal station, 11 days out of Golfito.
Adventures in Panama.
The highlights of our stay included: half the crew jumping ship, a galley crisis of gastronomic proportions, a series of frustrating delays waiting for a slip date. sails to Taboga and the Perlas islands, a Valentines day potluck party that lasted til dawn, a scuba certification course, one robbery and no murders.
Balboa Yacht Club.
We usually anchor out but after getting chased out of the only practical anchorage by the Panamanian Coast Guard we relented and picked up a mooring buoy at the yacht club. The club is located next to the entrance channel for the Panama Canal. At all hours of the day and night there is a stately procession of ships, from small yachts to Panimax ships entering and leaving the Canal. It is an entertaining sight.
Reality sets in.
It has always been an enigma to me, the difference between people's expectations and what they actually find on a sailing ship. When we dropped anchor, Fred and Adam had their gear packed and were ready to go. They decided traveling on land was more fun. Ed had to go home on family matters and Rod, fearing further delays, decided to return to the Caribbean to collect his own boat and take it to New Zealand. After a few days in a local hotel John decided he and Ian would rather go to Mexico and study Spanish. A couple of weeks later Jerry and Art succumbed to the frustration of haulout delays and decided they had better things to do. Bob was in a downtown bus station where he was surrounded by 3 youths, and relieved of his wallet.
The never ending quest.
As it turned out the shrimp boats are not allowed to fish from January through March. The slip yards were packed full of shrimpers. After several days investigating slips, there was one, operated by a fishermans cooperative, that was affordable and big enough to haul us. However, without belaboring the details, the yard at Vera Cruz kept telling us to come back next week. Frustration mounted with each delay.
Let's go Sailing.
When the disappointment factor hedges towards mutinous levels it's time to go for a sail. Isla Taboga is a charming little island off the Pacific entrance to the Canal. With the seasonal prevailing northerlies it is an easy run down wind. However on our chosen day, we had light southerlies. Embayed for most of the day, the wind went calm in the afternoon so we decided to motor.
We spent a long lazy weekend in Taboga. This was where Paul Gaugin lived when he worked on the Canal. It is a beautiful little bouquet of an island with no roads and an abundance of flowers.Trying to depart we managed to fould the anchor on a large chain. It took two days, with Henrik scuba diving, to clear the fouled anchor. When we finally returned to negotiations with the slip manager he gave us a definite slip date.
Isla Conatadora, Las Perlas.
However the day before the haulout one of their fishing boats was sinking and had to be hauled out instead of us. The frustration scaled is pushing the edge of the evelope, so, let's go sailing. I'm afraid I can't tell you much about Contadora, I never made it ashore. But we did drag anchor one afternoon while Mark and I were on board and its always fun watching the airplanes land.
Cut out Losses and Go.
We were finally given a date and time to haul out. We arrived off the yard a couple of hours before high water and anchored. I hitched a ride in with a small fishing canoe to inspect the cradle and pay the deposit. The way they were blocking the cradle they would most likely have dropped Alvei off the port side at the hump of the track! We could have modified the cradle and made it work, but it was too close to neap tides etc. It was time to forgo the haulout in favor of keeping the crew. Meanwhile 5 of the crew had arranged a low cost scuba certification course and went off to do that. We used our 3 scuba tanks to clean the hull with long handled scrapers, replaced our bolt on zincs and made plans to leave.
Ed finished his business in the states and returned, Knud, a German architect joined. Oystein, a Norwegian Viking came to Panama looking for a ship and found us. April, one of our shareholders, had been traveling in Costa Rica, decided to swing by for a look and stayed awhile. At 12 the crew was reaching comfortable proportions again.
Time to head South.
A few days before our departure an American/Mexican coupleMike and Adriana and a British couple Jonny and Ali joined the crew for the passage to Galapagos. With 16 on board we sailed past Taboga in the early eveningand shaped a course for Punta Mala at the mouth of the Gulf of Panama 80 miles to the south. From here we followed the eastern arm of the north equatorial counter current. I had gotten to know this area quite well during a long slow passage years before on an old wooden schooner name Sofia. With her newly scrubbed bottom alvei seemed to ghost along with almost no wind. During one calm day some of the crew were swimming circles around the ship.
Equator Crossing Ceremony.
As we neared The Line, talk of this age old ritual increased. Only trouble was there was only one veteran Shellback and 15 unitiated Polliwogs. Who would make up the royal court? steve and Henrik appointed themselves honorary representatives of Davy Jones and composed formal charges against the Polliwog crew. The morning of the crossing we towed an inflatable whale from the yardarm swing while several crew crossed the line on it's back. That afternoon a transformation occured among the crew. I sprouted a flowing mane of oakum and with trident in hand became King Neptune. Ali, with clamshell pasties became Queen Nefertiti, Jonny swaddled in a diaper, became the Royal Baby. Steve and Henrik waving pikes and cutlasses became the Royal Police. Now it was time for the Polliwogs to entertain the Royal Court with jokes and stories. If they can make the Royal Baby laugh, they will be admitted into the realm of King Neptune. If the Royal Baby cries, its the Plank! Of course the Royal Baby cried and drooled through the event causing the Polliwogs to be baptized with roayl sauce from the galley slop bucket and the stronger swimmers were made to walk the plank.By sunset there were 15 new shellback members in King Neptunes realm with sea water showers on deck and a ration of grog for all hands.
Landfall at Isla Santa Cruz.
As we neared the Galapagos Islands several red footed boobies decided to perch onthe mixxen spring stay and poop all over the poop deck. One bombardment hit Olly square in the lap! A white tropic bird landed onthe main deck, watched the crew a while before taking flight again, A large pelican squatted onthe davits, posed for photos and watched the helmsman with some interest. Fourteen days out of Panama we sailed into Academy Bay on the south coast of Isla Santa Cruz. During a previous visit to these islands years ago I was arrested for not having the proper paper work. This time was a pleasant contrast with friendly, helpful officials. Park and harbor fees were reduced and we were told we could stay up to 10 days if we wished.
Lava Tubes, Sea Lions, & Babes on the Beach.
The local Darwin institute has a welth of information for visitors along with conducting ecological studies. One of the points of interest are ancient sub-surface lava rivers, now cooled for form long caves. Also to found at the institute are a number of young female research assistants, an attractive diversion to our mostly male crew. But the highlight was a visit to a nearby colony of sea lions. Our guides took us near shore and rapped on the side of the boat rousing the sleeping sea lions who immediately lumbered into the water to play with the snorkelers. These sleek friendly crittersseemed to be having equally as much fun swimming circles around us as sharing a dead fish they happened to be playing with.
Bound for the Marquesas.
After a week both late joining couples and April departed by air. We set sail for Hiva Oa, 3000 miles away with a crew of eleven. It was a slow start with 2 weeks of 50 mile days. Everyone settled comfortably into the watch routine of 4 on and 8 off with a dog watch rotation every 2 weeks to rotate the watches. The middle two weeks we found some wind with a best days run of 137 miles. Then the wind died away and we finished the passage with another string of 50 mile days to arrive at Hiva Oa 36 days out of Galapagos. This was the most relaxed and easygoing crew I have ever had the pleasure of crossing an ocean with.
An island of surf breaking against rocky shores, lush valleys and cloud hidden peaks. The last bastion of cannibalism before Christian missionaries discouraged the practice. Here we were met by former volunteer Stina and her friend Jerry, both from Sweden. Even now there are few tourists, but an increasing number of yacht visitors. Agter a couple of days rolling outside the breakwater we moved inside, dropped anchor and warped stern to the dock. We contacted our shore crew in California and learned from Christy that Olly had to catch a plane in Nuku Hiva in 3 days. So we cut short the visit, picked up stranded yachtie Graham and sailed for Taiohai Bay.
Return to Paradise.
Sailing into Taiohai Bay, Nuku Hiva I realized it was 25 years ago to the week when I made my first tropical landfall here on the barquentine Regina Maris back in 1972. In those days there were 10 or 15 boats in the anchorage, now there are 50. The old style shcaks are being replaced by cinder block houses with sliding glass doors. But the islands are just as beautiful and the people just as warm and friendly as ever. And there is still a cold bottle of Hinano beer waiting at Maurices's and the same smell of flowers and fruit lingering in the warm breeze. We had a going away party and potluck social for Olly which attracted about 70 sailors and their kids.
The crew decided a 4 day per island schedule was good for getting the most sights into our one month time limit before arriving in Tahiti. So we sailed for Bai Tai Oa 5 miles down the coast. One side of this small sheltered bay has 1000 foot cliffs plunging straight down into the sea or valley floor. In the old days this is where the royalty lived. There is still a raised stone causeway and several stone altars to be seen in the shaded twilight along the valley on the way to the waterfall. The first afternoon there Henrik and Oystein were diving along the shore near Alvei, Oystein cut himself on some coral, after that the guys were escorted back to the ship by some hammerhead sharks! Stina caught a couple of small sharks, enough to feed us one evening. After that no one went swimming around the boat. Daniel, the bay's main resident, graciously offered to guide the crew to the waterfall, then took a couple of the guys goat hunting. Our last night was a barbeque on deck with more meat than we'd had in months.
Next stop the island of Ua Pou, 20 miles to the west. There are not many good anchorages on this island but the landscape with it's tall rock spires is an enchanting sight.
Passage to Rangiroa.
I had made this passage 5 times before and it always took 5 days. This time with calms and headwinds took 9 days. The five days we planned to spend in the lagoon painting the hull and tarring the rig became a 48 hour stay, most of which was spent diving. We anchored near the brigantine "Eye of the Wind" which automatically precipitated a party that lasted most of the night.
Bound for Tahiti.
With three days of our month left we set sail for Papeete, hard on the wind into a fresh sou'easterly. Made it in 50 hours, dropped the hook near the green roofed church in Papeete harbor and warped stern to the beach. The plan was to buy food stores, have a quick look around and get underway in 10 days. All went by the schedule until I learned there was space available on the railway slip and the price was affordable. After a 14 month series of delays we finally had enough crew, money and a slip all in the same place at the same time.
A month in Papeete.
The 10 day wait for the slip was a good chance to get caught up on some overdue maintenance. For a while the anchorage was a clatter with the sound of chipping hammers as hull and bulwarks were prepared for painting. The ivory color on the hull was slightly cooler in the tropics, but requires constant upkeep. So we switched back to the "Oxy de Ferro" red from Portugal days. With the changing of the crew and reunions with sailor friends on other boats there was always an excuse for a party. I think we averaged about 2 a week.
Not long after we arrived in Tahiti, Ed, Oystein, Mark, Bob, Jerry and Susan returned home. Also departing was Steve who had been aboard as first mate since joining in Bequia 15 months earlier. Joining us here was: Christian, Martin, John, Frederik, Mike and our shore crew Margy and Christy.
High and Dry.
It was a well run yard. They had us out of the water in 20 minutes. Using a rented water blaster, the hull was clean in 8 hours. We pulled the through hull fittings, replaced the zince anodes and applied 3 coats of paint. Five days later Alvei was back in the water and looking better than ever.
Cruising the Society Islands.
We launched in the middle of Bastille Day celebrations. It took a couple more days to buy food stores and load duty free fuel. From Papeete we spent about 5 days each at Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Bora Bora. Activities included hitch-hiking around the islands, hiking, diving snorkeling and generally seeing the sights above and below the water. Mike liked the day sails and being given a sail repair job to do his first week on board. Christy said Moorea was the most beautiful island and walking around Raiatea was a memorable event.Stina enjoyed hitchhiking around Bora Bora in the back of a pickup truck and climbing the highest peak to a 360 degree view of the island. Henrik and Fredrik particularly enjoyed their spear fishing expedition with local guys also at Bora Bora.
From the societies we will visit the Cook Islands and then to American Samoa for provisioning food stores. From there we visit western Samoaand Tonga starting with Vavau group in the north and finishing with Tonga Tapu in the south. By mid-October we will begin the 1200 mile passage to the Bay of Islands in New Zealand.It could take 2 to 4 weeks depending on the winds. Without a specific timetable we will spend November and December visiting ports on the North Island, then sail to the South Island. Nelson is a good place to take a break from cruising and do some larger work projects. There are several work projects around the ship that need more time and materials than is possible while island hopping. I am anticipating at least a 6 month stay in New Zealand.
Meanwhile back in California.
During the first 6 months of this year there were over 400 enquiries to our web page. Margy and Christy have been swamped with work trying to keep up with the requests for information. Most appear to be just surfing the net. After the initial inquiry there was no further response. While the website has been useful for informing people already involved of our current whereabouts, so far this year only one person from the web page has joined Alvei. More effective methods of finding new crew has been word of mouth through friends, notices put up where sailors and travelers can see them, and people who happen to find us in port. Therefore I would like to encourage people to put up notices where sailors might see them, such as marinas and chandleries, and have them get in touch with our shore crew. We particularly need a European contact.
Staying in Contact. (Click here for the latest contact information) The above is only a brief outline of the events during the previous 8 months. There are many stories untold and many more yet to happen. Come join in the fun.
Respectfully submitted by Evan Logan, Master, Schooner ALVEI.