FRENCH POLYNESIA FAREWELL TOUR

August 5, 2020 ; 7:14 AM
17°54’S, 149°56’W – Papeete Marina, Tahiti

Total honesty: Papeete Marina wreaks of failed plans to sail around the world.

If our visa agent hadn’t specifically forbidden us from checking out of another island, we would have avoided coming back here at all cost. It’s a lot easier to move forward and get excited about new plans when I don’t continuously find myself physically in the place where my old plans failed.

But pouting never did anyone any good. Like it or not, we had almost a week of preparations and wait time in Papeete Marina before our weather window aligned with check out timing to sail west. So, with the help of our Lost ARC family, we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and made the best of our Tahitian farewell tour.

Even after all these posts, do you seriously not believe me that the Lost ARC is a family? You will now. This parody of Amazing Grace has Pankratz family get together written all over it, courtesy of Domini.

Somehow, we only find ourselves together with Domini during farewell tours and haven’t had the pleasure of much leisure sailing together around French Polynesia. No matter, reprises of The Santa Marta Blues were accompanied by parodies for each Polynesian island chain. We will miss the energy and hilarity that radiate out of that boat.

Because the future of our sail plans is so uncertain, we find ourselves saying goodbye regularly. For about the third time, we said farewell to Next Step and Aurora, some wonderful friends (and magical EU passport holders) who are flying home to rejoin their boats next year.

We visited our favorite spots (Captain Dave literally visited every hardware store on this island) and took advantage of time in a marina. I had 5 days of awesome runs through newly opened parks (reminder: Tahiti has 0 cases, except one new case that came in on a cruise ship and never set foot on land). Hopefully I earned enough miles to prepare my legs to be virtually sedentary for a couple weeks….

Les 3 Brasseurs (a Tahitian brewery) is finally open after leveraging COVID lockdown to renovate. It was nice to try something new and expand our Tahitian beer pallet beyond Hinano. Plus, this brewery is my kind of place, with half price Mondays and juicy cheeseburgers. My first IPA in 7 months hit the spot.

Speaking of firsts in 7 months, Grace from Amari and I decided to bite the bullet and spend a night in a resort. IT WAS MARVELOUS, SIMPLY MARVELOUS. For the first time in 7 months, I slept in a COMFORTABLE bed, under COVERS, and it DIDN’T MOVE. NOT EVEN ONCE. I literally can’t describe how luxurious it was, or how different my life is from a year ago. Unfortunately, it also reminded me how barely comfortable my boat bed is (womp, womp).

I took lots of long, hot showers and we spent as much time as possible in the pool. The swim up bar was an extra bonus, and the cost was worth it just for the wifi.

Most of the time, we have to spend hours at wifi cafes/restaurants/bars/etc. to download podcasts, books, music, and movies for passage. Staying a night at a hotel meant that for the first time in forever, I set all my devices to download, left to do other things, and came back with it done. THE LUXURY.

We wore masks and carefully distanced ourselves from other guests, which was easy as they were at limited capacity to help with distancing. Many of the guests were obviously French Polynesian locals who were there on holiday, and we felt comfortable knowing our risk level was low with (again, only 1 known case in French Polynesia).

A bit of pampering was just what we needed before 14 days at sea… within 45 feet of our parents.

The captain and admiral copied us and spent a night at a hotel too. It was definitely fancier than ours and complete with a French restaurant and Tahitian dancers. La tee da.

Speaking of French food, we got one last meal at L’O A La Bouche with our loudest American buddies, Amari. We may have been shushed. We definitely had an exquisite time eating even more exquisite food.

We’re elated that our fun friends on Amari, Maximillian, and Serenity First will help us create our own little fleet to sail west. Of course, the majority of our days here were dedicated to planning and preparations for Fiji. We are so excited to set sail because until we do, the planning will never stop!

FIJI CHECKLIST
(X) Submit Fiji paperwork (D PAM form, etc.) to request permission to enter
(X) Scrub the bottom of the boat so no barnacles or algae slow Gracie Girl down
(X) Hoist the captain up the mast to check rigging and fix the steaming light
(X) Provision for a 14-day passage
(X) Download books, podcasts, music, movies, etc. to keep yourself occupied during passage
(X) Clean and stow everything on board
(X) Top off fuel
(X) Raise the code zero in case of light winds
(X) Check the main sail and patch the tear
(X) Get COVID test within 72 hours of departure and receive/send negative results within 48 hours of departure
(X) Process customs and immigration paperwork within 24 hours of departure
(X) Put a seasickness patch behind your ear at least 2 hours prior to departure

Did you notice everything was checked off? WE ARE FIJI BOUND. Passage goals include seeing many pods of humpback whales, learning to play the ukulele, catching 2+ fish per week, and (as always) keeping our bodies firmly on the boat. Catch you in a couple weeks, internet.

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: WE ARE FIJI BOUND. Catch us on the sat phone or not at all over the next couple weeks as we get back in touch with the open seas.

I SPEAK WHALE

July 30, 2020 ; 4:32 PM
17°54’S, 149°56’W – Papeete Marina, Tahiti

Our last morning in Raiatea was spent on a wonderful dive. Just outside the reef, there’s a gorgeous coral shelf that is bustling with fish. It reminded me of the dive we did in the north pass of Fakarava. The big difference was that on that dive, there were walls of sharks after the drop off from the reef. On this dive, the sharks were interacting with the reef fish- just slinking around as if monitoring their constituents. They even swam within just a few feet of us. They liked checking out Captain Dave best!

Unfortunately, pictures (yet again) don’t do it justice. Everything turns out a little bit blue when I shoot from 20m underwater. But the colors were vibrant and we even saw a few fish we’ve never seen before. It felt good to get back in a dive suit and be part of the ocean.

The deeper water divers (we’re only certified to 20m) dove after us. When they surfaced, they said they heard WHALES during their dive! My ears pricked up just knowing they must be some within a couple miles of us.

So, after our dive we set sail for a whale hunt. Okay, okay, Captain Dave would say we set sail for the love of sailing and to relocate to Bora Bora. But what does he know? My eyes were peeled for whales. I was not going to miss them surfacing, even if it only happens every 45 minutes and could be anywhere in a 2 mile radius…

When we set out on our circumnavigation, we thought we would miss humpback whale season in the South Pacific. The whales migrate through here each year between late July and mid-September. Thanks to a complete change of plans due to the Pandemic, we have a chance to see them!

GOOD THING I SPEAK WHALE. Don’t believe me? Neither did the Captain or Admiral. But I called them from Amazing Grace, told them where we were going, and asked them to bless us with their presence. Not long after, THERE THEY WERE, flapping their tails on the water and spraying out of their blowholes in the Bora Bora sunset. It was an amazing ending to a practically perfect day.

Bora Bora round 2 was equally wonderful to round 1. We took Celtic Star and Amari to all our favorite places, and even found a new snorkel spot.

We went by Bloody Mary’s again (but were disappointed the dancers weren’t there). Still, the atmosphere is so fun, and we loved a night out with Amari, Celtic Star, and Verbana.

Fabian wasn’t available to take the other boats on the fabulous tour of all the best snorkel spots that we enjoyed on our last visit with Influencer. No matter, we took the dinghies and showed everyone around on our own!

We went back to the aquarium (Admiral Anne’s eel nemesis is still living in the same coral head).

We checked out the sandbar where the tour boats feed the sharks and rays.

At both places, there were a couple tour boats. The opening of the island is starting to show, but it’s still sparse compared to non-pandemic times. We even ran into Fabian giving others a tour at the aquarium! We were happy to see he’s gotten more business 😊.

We had a marvelous lunch at Bora Bora Beach club, our favorite spot to kick back, drink Hinano, and eat parrot fish on the beach.

The last 2 nights we anchored off one of the Motus where we searched and searched for mantas last time we were here. Although the anchorage itself was plenty deep, the bombies around us only gave about 2 feet of clearance under our keel. Captain Dave and I spent an hour measuring and making sure he was comfortable with the spot. In the end, the beauty of the anchorage was overwhelming, and the shallow clearance was accepted.

We never saw any mantas, but we snorkeled at Manta Point and the coral gardens, which were both stunning. The highlight was a fever of 20 spotted eagle rays (yes, a fever, but I had my money on a flock). We followed them through the channel. They are incredibly graceful, soaring in a similar fashion to a manta (rather than swelling like a sting ray). Each ray has its own unique pattern of spots, and it was so cool to see them all together!

At the coral gardens, we saw the biggest and most active moray eel any of us have ever seen, and lots of colorful reef fish. The curious butterfly fish came right up to our goggles! They’re my favorite. I mean, they’re my favorite today… Tomorrow I’ll probably see something I love just as much. Have we told you how incredibly lucky we are to be LIVING THE DREAM??

A rainy day meant a euchre tournament aboard Amazing Grace, followed by a potluck dinner on Celtic Star. It was humiliating that Captain Dave and the skipper of Celtic Star won… but I guess I’ve been gone from the Midwest too long and I’m a little rusty 😉.

The potluck was tuna sushi, coconut curry, salad, and pumpkin pie. Seriously the best dinner I’ve had since Lilly’s vanilla mahi mahi in Rangiroa. I went over to Celtic Star early to sous chef on the sushi. Richards is the best amateur sushi chef I know, and I had the BEST time learning why my sushi is never quite as good and dancing around their kitchen to RAM RAM (a Celtic Reggae band led by Richard’s mate).

But all good things must come to an end. With our visa running out, we are preparing all the paperwork to sail to Fiji in just a few days. Unfortunately, the protocol has changed for checking out in French Polynesia- they are only allowing checkouts from Papeete. So, back to Tahiti we go, flanked by pods of dolphins on either side through Bora Bora’s pass.

But first we took a pit stop in Raiatea for dinner and story swapping with Island Wanderer, Kari, and Influencer. It was incredible to see those guys! All our magical EU passport carrying friends have as much time as they want to continue exploring French Polynesia. If they were to move on to Fiji, they’d be barred by the same regulations as us Americans. So, we said a bittersweet, “see ya later!” to Celtic Star, Island Wanderer, and Kari, and hope to connect again when the world calms down.

Then we set sail for Papeete. The sail was up-wind, but the wind slightly angled off our port bow, so we got to sail without the motor. It was beautiful, but the wind was gusting hard and we were heeling over a LOT, so no one got much sleep. I continued to speak to the whales, hoping for more sightings, but unfortunately the conditions weren’t good for seeing anything in the sea. I’m sure that’s the reason, and that there’s nothing wrong with my whale grammar 😉.

Now we are in Papeete with lots of boat chores, paperwork, etc. to get done before departure. We will get one last goodbye to Aurora, Next Step, and Domini. Then we are hoping to buddy boat the passage with Amari and Maximillian in a small but mighty fleet. Next time there’s a weather window we are Fiji bound!

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: Life is a funny thing. COVID ruined our circum-navigation plans but gave us a chance to really get to know and love French Polynesia and her people. PLUS, IT GAVE US WHALE SEASON! Humpbacks, I’ll keep calling you, please come visit again!

REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD

July 22, 2020 ; 8:54 PM
16°73’S, 151°48’W – Raiatea

Our Maupiti exit was a little more… dramatic than we like. Influencer and Cathryn Estelle pulled the weather again the day before our scheduled departure and decided we must leave ASAP. We like to sail with other boats (for safety and pleasure), so we prepared Gracie Girl to leave as quickly as possible. That left the bottom half scrubbed and the laundry half dry- but the crew full-excited to be sailing again.

The motor sail to Raiatea was actually extremely nice (for a motor sail). The seas were relatively calm and it was a beautiful day. We made it out through the gorgeous pass and waved goodbye to the mantasea land of Maupiti.

The other end was a little more stressful, as we came through Aputi Pass and anchored in the dark. Luckily the pass is “so wide you could drive the Titanic through it drunk” (Influencer’s words, not mine), and there was plenty of space to drop the hook.

The next couple days were busy. We fueled up, provisioned, and made our way to the marina to make some repairs. We fixed a burned out fuse, the AIS, a nav light, and a saltwater pump in just 48 hours. I was happy to be on the docks for a bit, able to go for a couple runs and take a real shower. LUXURY. I’m literally not sure when the last time was that I got to stand in a shower and leave the water running the whole time, but I think it was Panama (which means February). Of course, we shower daily on the boat and it is no big deal, but it often involves saltwater rinses before a final rinse with fresh. Hot water that isn’t being carefully conserved is rare, and those showers were glorious.

But after a couple days of work, it was time for some fun.

We met up with Maximillian and spent hours trading tales and catching up with old friends. We were reunited and it felt so good. Although we only had a short 24 hours together, that was plenty of time to take the dinghies up the river. A different view of the island included a man commuting via va’aa, kids playing on a rope swing (because some things are the same in every country), and beautiful gardens- both botanical and fruit/veggie. The trip was stunning and so different from our usual island outings.

Unfortunately, Max had to leave shortly after because Maupiti was calling their name. I said YEAH, SAME say hi to my mantas for me 😊.

The next day we rented a car and did the 3 Waterfalls Hike, which was hands down one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. It was a rainy day, so we slid through the woods as we hiked up the sides of the river.

There’s something magical about the woods on a rainy day. Like you’re in a story book, the trees and the moss come alive. Everything is just a little bit greener, and water droplets shimmer as they hang from the ends of the leaves. I just love it.

My woods nostalgia was made even better by the beauty of the water. As we walked along, each waterfall get a little bigger. And each waterfall was complete with a swimming hole. Admiral Anne and I couldn’t pass up a single one.

We climbed ropes and rocks and crawled up the river. We weaved in and out of branches and finally peered through the leaves to a 40m waterfall. Admiral Anne and I promptly waded in. The pressure of the falls was so much that I couldn’t keep my head up for more than a few seconds. Talk about magical.

Afterwards, we drove all the way around the island. With all this extra time in French Polynesia, we’ve become accustomed to not leaving a place until we’ve seen every inch. Captain Dave’s skepticism about the drive dissipated quickly as we watched over 20 waterfalls cascade down from the hills. The perfect waterfall end to a perfect waterfall day.

And then we headed to Tahaa to reunite with more Lost ARC friends!

When we left Celtic Star and Amari in Fakarava, we thought we would see them again in just a couple short weeks. But the weather never quite cooperated and we up being separated from our Papeete family for six weeks. I can honestly say it felt much longer, and it was SO good to see them again.

If you ask Admiral Anne, the most important thing is the people- and we have met some of the most wonderful, kind, generous, and interesting people along the seanic route of sailing.
If you ask me, the most important thing is the manta rays… but the people are a close second 😉.

Like any good sailors, the very first thing we did together was drink rum. Captain Jack Sparrow would have been proud. Pari Pari was the recommended rum distillery on the island. We taste tested their (new and only sort of aged) rum, and even bought a bottle. Captain Dave and I were surprised how much we loved the 1.5-year rum- but not even a little surprised we didn’t care for the flavored rums.

And what’s a reunion without sundowners? We roared with laughter as we recounted our tales of adventure until late in the night. These are our people.

At the Tahaa coral gardens I found Nemo AGAIN. Good news, he has now reunited with his dad.

We ate lunch at a gorgeous resort and began to feel the influx of tourists. French Polynesia opened for flights on July 15th. That, of course, means we’re back to wearing masks in an area of the world that has been COVID free for months. It feels strange, and the anxiety about interaction is back, although we’ve still only seen a handful of tourists (and at a distance). We are constantly reminded how incredibly lucky we are to be in a safe area of the world. Prayers for French Polynesia as they open up. Prayers for you all back home as you continue life in a COVID-19 world.

Although Captain Dave said he would rather watch grass grow than go to a pearl farm, he let us drag him there for a free tour. It was much more interesting than any of us expected.

Did you know that the only place in the world where you can find the shell used to implant the nucleus of a pearl (black or otherwise) is in the Mississippi River?
Did you know pearls don’t happen without that nucleus implant? I guess I’ll stop searching for them in the oysters I find on the ocean floor…

After a few nights of galivanting around Tahaa, Amari and Celtic Star said they were ready to go to Bora Bora. I said no, you HAVE to hike the 3 waterfalls in Raiatea, and I’ll happily be your guide. I got to see the hike in the sunshine, and they got to swim in a 40m waterfall for the first time. Plus, I added my rock to the pile, so now I’m chief of the waterfall :).

Unfortunately, our last night in Raiatea included being woken up by the skipper anchored next to us. It was extremely windy, and our anchor had started slipping, so our boats were too close for comfort. The skipper of Flip Flop was incredibly gracious and kind. He actually APOLOGIZED for waking us up! We were, of course, horrified that our boat had slipped after holding all day in the wind, and quickly jumped up to re-anchor. It took 3 tries, but we finally got it down somewhere that it held. Nobody got much sleep that night, but nobody’s boat was harmed, either.

After one last dinner at RaiaGate (our favorite pizza joint) with Influencer and the gang, we feel like we’ve seen what there is to see on Raiatea and Tahaa. We’re ready to get back to that Bora Bora blue water! But first, we’ll need to sneak in a dive 😊.

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: ARCs are lost, plans change, and these are the things that bond us together forever.

THE SEANIC ROUTE: EDITED VERSION

July 23, 2020 ; 4:02 PM
16°44’S , 151°29’W ; Raiatea

Someone saw our story on the AP Wire and asked us to send them some video clips! We have been SO blessed during the pandemic as we continue to explore the world, and get to know French Polynesia a lot better than we thought!

Check out this video from NowThis Media:

If I had edited our footage, it would be a whole lot more “WE ARE SO LUCKY I CAN’T BELIEVE WE ARE HERE” and “I HAVE NEVER MET PEOPLE MORE GRACIOUS AND WONDERFUL THAN THOSE IN FRENCH POLYNESIA” and “I AM SO GRATEFUL FOR OUR OPPORTUNITIES AND OUR SAILING FAMILY”. But I’m no journalist, and my rants about this wonderful world are what this blog is for <3. Thanks awesome journalists and editors for making us look cool!

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR/W: We famous now.

MANTASEAS

July 12, 2020 ; 10:00 AM
16°42’S, 152°29’W – Maupiti

Maupiti: The land where all your mantaseas come true.

I LOVE IT HERE. IT IS PURE PERFECTION. MANTA RAYS ARE PURE PERFECTION. THIS PLACE IS A DREAM.

The saga of coming to Maupiti was a little more complicated than we may have liked because the weather windows shift quickly this time of year in the Pacific. The pass through the reef and into the lagoon is narrow and turbulent. Boats our size are cautioned to enter only when the swell is less than 2m. But after a couple of weather-related changes of plan, we put our sails up early one Bora Bora morning for a beautiful day of sailing in about 15 knots of wind. Unfortunately, that meant we were “stuck” here because of strong winds for a full week. BEST. NEWS. EVER. For me and my mantas 😊.

As soon as we were firmly on a mooring ball we wasted no time jumping in the dinghy to explore the manta cleaning stations. I was determined to see every manta in this lagoon. The cleaning stations naturally occur because they’re simply coral heads where certain fish live. That afternoon we only saw one, “little” manta. And by “little” I mean 8 feet wide and wonderful. I chased him around the lagoon until I couldn’t keep up, but I had enough time to request that he return the following morning at 8 AM with his parents, friends, cousins, siblings for a little fun swimming with humans.

Lucky for me, while I don’t speak whale, my manta whispering is up to par. Every morning we could we swam with the mantas, and every morning there were at least 4 (sometimes up to 9). The biggest were about 12-14 feet wide!

Watching them clean was fascinating. They hover over the coral head while little fish do all the work in this mutualistic relationship. Some of them even have remoras under them all the time, similar to many sharks. As one manta was cleaned, others would literally queue up behind and wait their turn. When they had enough for the time being, they’d around the coral head and get back in line.

The best thing about the cleaning station was that it meant they stayed put for hours at a time, so we really got to dive down and observe them cleaning, swimming, and even eating. When they did decide to swim away, I loved swimming underwater behind them as they soared. They are the most graceful, magnificent creatures I’ve ever seen. I was able to soar with them underwater for a while, but when they decided to take off, I couldn’t keep up- even with my fins on.

Captain Dave and Admiral Anne literally had to drag me away on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, this morning we had to say goodbye to our mantas on our last swim, but not before attempting to rescue one that was caught up in a wire and obviously hurting. I think the manta knew he needed help, because he came right up to our friend on Cathryn Estelle and allowed him to unwrap the wire a couple times. But taking off the wrap in his mouth also meant removing it from a cut. It was likely painful and the manta got scared and took off. I swam back to the boat as fast as I could to get some wire cutters, because it would make it easier to help him get untangled. Or, if nothing else, we could cut off the 15 feet of wire behind him to keep him from getting it caught on a coral head and getting further hurt. By the time I got back, the rest of the snorkelers had lost him. It was absolutely heartbreaking.

While mantas are the most magnificent and important thing here at Maupiti, I MEAN SERIOUSLY I LOVE THEM SO MUCH, we also had a blast exploring the gorgeous island.

We dinghied to the best beach and did some snorkeling on the coral drop off. We rented bikes with Inflencer and Cathryn Estelle and rode all the way around the island, leaving no road unexplored. We ate a couple lunches at Tahona, a small beach bar near one of our anchorages with excellent poisson cru and plenty of ice cold Hinano. We were basically the only tourists on the island (again), so we were surrounded by the locals. Like on Huahine, they live a simple but beautiful life. Everyone seems happy and kind. Since the island is only about 10 km around, most people travel on bikes or motor scooters. We explored the Motus as well, and came face to face with the largest, spookiest crabs I’ve ever seen. While we dinghied to the coral gardens for more snorkeling, they were unfortunately much less fishy than those in Bora Bora. That said, they were much more natural, and we saw some eagle rays, a sea snake, giant clams, and many small fish we’ve seen around the other islands as well.

The locals are excellent fishermen so there’s always fresh caught that day tuna to purchase. $10 bought us a blue fin tuna that fed all three of us on Amazing Grace for 2 meals (sushi one night, pan-seared with red wine sauce the other). Since tuna are deep water fish, we didn’t have to worry about siccoterra, which keeps us from fishing ourselves too close to the reefs.

The other big highlight (besides the mantas) was the hike to the top of the mountain. It was steep and rigorous but only a couple hours and it took us to incredible vistas and through gorgeous vegetation. The ferns, tall trees, and leaves covering the floor reminded me of traipsing through the woods in Michigan. It was certainly the first vegetation that did that in many months!

There were volcanic rock faces to conquer and trees to climb and I loved every moment of it, right up to the view at the top. We again had the whole place to ourselves and I got to spend 20 minutes up there all alone before the others caught up. Breathtaking.

On the bad weather days, we worked on Fiji paperwork (led by Admiral Anne), read, played games, and cleaned the boat. And you better believe I’m not above snorkeling with the mantas in the rain. Every day is a good day for manta swimming.

There were dinners and sundowners with Influencer and Cathryn Estelle on the boats and beaches, and even a snuggly movie night (Bohemian Rhapsody).

The anchorage by the mantas was so stunning it rivaled the San Blas, south Fakarava, and Moorea. THIS WORLD IS SO INCREDIBLE. I can’t believe how lucky we are to be out here exploring it.

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: Maupiti is the land where all your mantaseas come true <3.

BORA BORA BLISS

July 5, 2020 ; 6:00 AM
16°49’S, 151°76’W – Bora Bora

I SAW A MANTA RAY AND NOW I MUST SEE MORE.

You’d think my mantasizing would subside once I swam with one. I’d say been there, done that. BLASPHEMY. I’ve been there, done that, and now I MUST do it again.

We’ve been hunting mantas for days. We chatted with the locals and learned about their hangouts. We trolled around in our dinghy for hours, peering into the clear blue lagoon. When the sun reflected on the water, I leaned in and searched with my head underwater. We were DETERMINED, but after 4 days of no luck and a sail plan switch to no longer include Maupiti (rumored manta point), Captain Dave knew it was time to get a guide if he wanted to avoid a mutiny as dramatic as the Bounty.

On our last day in Bora Bora, we got up early and met Influencer on the dock. Our guide came and again reminded us that we were searching for a protected species in their natural habitat, so he couldn’t guarantee a sighting, and we set off. We trolled around the lagoon in his gorgeous motorboat. I was missing my waterski and the Pankratz clan knowing they were at Lake Louise on the back of the Mastercraft. We looked at three different spots. We searched from the boat and in the water. Nothing.

The guide turned to me and said, “They’re not here, we need to move on.” I slowly and sadly was kicking my way back to the boat when he started to shout! There was a manta. I sprinted over there and watched him every moment it was possible until he swam to deep. He was about 10 feet wide, enormous, deep, and glorious. We probably only had a few minutes, but I was on HIGH. I couldn’t be silenced. I was so busy ranting and raving about how wonderful manta rays are that I almost missed the guide pulling an octopus out of his hole in coral! It couldn’t be missed for long as he inked EVERYWHERE.

It was incredible. Most octopi I’ve seen are basically camouflaged glimpses in a hole the entire time. This guy turned red as soon as he was grabbed. He wrapped his tentacles around my arm and the strangest sensation happened when his suction cups gripped me. He hung around (unwillingly) for a couple minutes and then he swam back to his hole, turning not only the color of but also the pattern of the coral he sought refuge in. Talk about icing on the cake!

Then the rest of the tour fell into place. We went to an area where tour boats typically feed the sting rays and sharks and splashed around with them. They were the least timid rays or sharks we’ve ever seen, swimming right up to and circling around us. The underbelly of a sting ray is the softest thing I’ve ever touched.

Then we headed to the aquarium, a gorgeous coral garden.

At both spots, we were told there are usually 20 boats and 200 people. We were there alone.
While we feel for the people of Bora Bora as their economy suffers, we feel like the luckiest people in the world on days like this. Experiencing these incredible spots with no one else around.

We saw a stonefish (Captain Dave and Admiral Anne even saw him swim) and snorkeled past the underwater “I love Bora Bora sign”. A moray eel chased Admiral Anne for just a few feet, and her panicked flee away (complete with girlish screams) was HYSTERICAL.

We ended the day at Bloody Mary’s for one last hurrah with Sea Lover, Milanto, and Ariel before they sail to Fiji. There was music and dancing and cocktails. We felt, for just a few hours, like we were in an open Bora Bora. Like we were on a regular vacation. And we 10/10 recommend Bloody Mary’s for anyone coming after us.

Unfortunately, much of Bora Bora is closed. Bora Bora has a small population and most of their economy is tourism. The island and surrounding motus are surrounded by huge, gorgeous resorts complete with tiki huts over the water. But they’re closed. We found a good place for pizza and loved the Bora Bora beach club and the gorgeous, sprawling, white sand beach it sits on. It was almost completely empty except a couple locals, and my nap on the beach was spectacular.

Our self-guided snorkels were full of eagle rays and fish, but the aquarium was the most impressive. I paddle boarded and kayaked and we spent a few days just working on the boat and relaxing when the weather was rough. We rented the car one day and hiked out on a gorgeous point to see some American WWII cannons. The family who owns the land charges just $5 to let you explore. Can you imagine having this view in your backyard?

Our drive around the island was gorgeous, and we hunted for more mantas. A long lunch at a resort was just what we needed.

All in all, Bora Bora was bliss. But I am DYING to go to Maupiti to spend more time with my mantas- and we just found out there’s a weather window, SO OFF WE GO!

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: I finally, finally swam with a manta!

KNOCK KNOCK. WHO’S THERE? HUAHINE.

June 27, 2020 ; 8:47 PM
16°78’S, 151°03’W – Huahine

I don’t think we had super high expectations for Huahine before we got here. Sure, we read our Charlie’s Charts and Lonely Planet Guide on the sail over and knew we’d have a blast. But it was really just another island to explore along the way to the main event of the leeward society islands (Bora Bora).

I am amazed how the beauty of God’s creation blows me away ON A DAILY BASIS. French Polynesia never gets old, it’s never the same, and I’m always in awe. I should remember that.

This island is drop dead, love at first sight, GORGEOUS. The diversity of the vegetation paired with the cliffs, the blue, blue water, and unique wildlife (spoiler alert: I FOUND NEMO) has me raving once again. The kindness and generosity of the locals fills my heart again. And the best thing? You could have a similar experience- because while tourism is down, Huahine is one of the least traveled spots in the leeward society islands of French Polynesia.

Let’s talk highlights.

POLY-WARRIOR CAPTAIN DAVE
Check out Captain Dave, living the dream in his Viper gear on a Polynesian canoe! This guy has talked of outrigger canoeing almost every day since we first tied to the dock in Pape’ete Marina. Months later we found a spot that was open! Jean-Luc, a Huahine champion, was happy to show us how it’s done. He let us switch around and try individual Va’as (Polynesian canoes- these were the most fun but also hardest to steer), an individual outrigger with foot pedals (this was the easiest to steer and most familiar), and a 3-man Va’a (where we had to synchronize as a team). After testing us across the boats, Jean-Luc told Captain Dave he’d gladly have him on his team… but none of the rest of us.

For the first mate, the most fun part MIGHT have been flipping over and having to climb back in. The experience was unlike paddling a canoe or a kayak because the balance was delicate and steering more difficult. Everyone aboard Amazing Grace and Influencer had a blast, and this $20/person activity is a can’t miss in French Polynesia in my book.

ANCIENT RUINS AND MODERN VILLAGES
This place is literally covered in Maori ruins of maraes, which are sacred meeting grounds. They were used for all sorts of things from celebrations to eating, educational, and religious spaces. Many of them come equipped with an alter for religious ceremony and animal sacrifices.

We learned from Mama Oohno (who we had the pleasure to interact with many times during our time in Huahine) about the nature of the island as an agricultural, peaceful place. Legend has it that ‘Oro, the Polynesian god of war, lead the Bora Bora warriors to Huahine to disturb their peace and take their land. But Hiro, the god of thieves and sailors, came to help the people of Huahine defeat ‘Oro and keep their gorgeous island safe, splitting it in two with his paddle to leave his mark.

We made our way through the museum Mama Oohno helped preserve. It was mostly in French, but showed some of the ancient Va’a with sails that were used in the voyager days of Polynesia. This life size replica looked just like Moana’s canoe! We also learned how the native people used everything from coconut fiber to human hair to build, hunt, fish, and live on Huahine.

Because Huahine is still home to a modest population and more limited tourism, the old culture shines through as you drive around the island. Some of these fish traps, which were built with rocks and designed to keep the fish in smaller areas as they flow toward the sea, are still in use today. Once the fish are congregated in smaller areas they can be gathered with a simple net.

There is a lot of Huahine pride for the way the cultural sites, homes, etc. look. Gorgeous hillsides are decorated with flowers and fauna and roads are kept up. But the people aren’t particularly wealthy. Many of them live largely off the land: growing, fishing, and gathering. Mama Oohno thinks this way of life is becoming even more prominent in her community while tourism is at a halt because of the pandemic.

But the feeling of community is strong. The adorable little village of Fare isn’t much, but it stole my heart that first evening stroll. There are kids flipping off docks and neighbors exchanging fruits and friends chatting in the streets. Everyone seems to know and support each other. Everyone seems to want us to learn about their island and get the best experience, and they’re willing to go out of their way to make sure that happens. Prices are more reasonable than Tahiti and Moorea, and the food and drinks are good (Chez Tara, Huahine Yacht Club, Bungalow Vaivaa). There’s even an impressive grocery store where we replaced the few provisions used since we left Tahiti.

FINDING NEMO
We snorkeled and swam through clear waters that reflected every single shade of blue in the 64-box of crayons (sharpener included). We saw gorgeous coral and plentiful fish and I FOUND NEMO! LOOK AT HIM. HE IS PERFECT. Now please, Pacific Islands, open your borders to us so we can surf the East Australian current (duuuuuuude).

The clarity of the water (and shallowness of the coral heads) made for great underwater shooting. Say hello to our fishy friends!

EEK, EEW, EELS!
Have I mentioned that I HATE EELS? Because I really, really don’t like them. They’re too sneaky. They can swim forward and backward without any difficult. They’re slimy and they chomp at me from underneath rocks while I snorkel. They’re not cute, and they creep me out. But I faced my fears thanks to a little bit of FOMO.

Huahine is famous for its population of blue-eyed eels. They essentially look like other moray eels, but their eyes are blue. We saw a couple while snorkeling (see above), but the main event was the river eels that come to be fed sardines. Unlike eels in the sea, they stick together and come right up to the surface. I climbed down to pet them while Admiral Anne and Captain Dave only watched- that’s right, who’s scared now? Check them out, they’re pretty cool- but we’re still not friends.

WATCHING WAVES
Many an evening was spent on the beach watching the sunset and the surfers. None of us have ever seen waves like this in person. I’m talking tubes of water high over the surfer’s heads, crashing in around them as they approach the reef. And the surfers are impressive! There are a lot of surfers in what I think of as the traditional sense, but there are also body borders (literally on a boogie board with fins on) and paddle boarders out in the waves. One of the paddle boarders we watched was good enough to paddle into a wave, surf the tube, emerge on the outside, and paddle back over the wave to catch the next one without ever being knocked off his feet.

I could sit on the beach and watch the waves forever. In fact, if our visas get extended, I just might.

LAND LUBBING
Just meters from the sandy, tropical beaches are lush jungles. Our soggy hike was limited on vistas and wildlife but included more maraes and diverse vegetation. We did see a few birds and crabs, and lots of spiders and chickens. I maybe haven’t properly accentuated how many wild chickens roam around every island in French Polynesia- but it’s enough that I wake up most mornings lately to a chorus of rooster crows.

Yes, I did try to swing from a vine. No, I did not pick well.

ALWAYS A PROJECT
On a sailing note, Captain Dave is always busy with a project. Currently? There’s water being periodically pumped out of the bilge. That means hours drying, observing, tracing hoses, and generally staring at the areas that have a leak. The good news is that we think we’ve determined it is coming from the air conditioning (which we ran for like 30 mins once in the last 2 weeks), and not from a through-hull. So Amazing Grace is not in danger of sinking. The bad news is that we haven’t fixed it yet.

The good news is that Captain Dave is always fixing things, and while he was found laying next to the bilge for a couple hours the other day, that night’s sundowners was full of exclamations about how much he loves living on his boat.

I’ve been more preoccupied with tending to the mold I found in the under-foot compartment in my cabin. Admiral Anne has been more preoccupied working on plans for where to leave the boat. All of us have been preoccupied with stuffing our faces with cheese each evening. It’s a hard life we lead 😉.

BE KIND, PLEASE REWIND
I finished my last post by letting you know we were Tahiti-bound to apply for visa extensions in person. While I was too excited about Huahine to write this post chronologically, that did happen. We spent a few days back in our old stomping grounds at Pape’ete Marina to apply for extensions, make some repairs, clean, buy a kayak, and reconnect with old friends. Highlights were a rooftop happy hour with Tri To Fly, Aurora, Influencer, and Laura IV, pizza with Influencer and Kathryn Estelle, a repeat visit to dad’s favorite lunch spot (L’Oasis du Vaima), and a trip to the pink protestant church.

We were told about excellent music at the church many times throughout our time in Pape’ete, but missed it our first time through because of COVID-19 closures. I can honestly say that for Christians and non-believers alike, checking out a Polynesian service should be on your list as a cultural event to remember.

Church attendance is high and Sunday culture is strong in Tahiti. We showed up in our loud Tahitian florals and pearls and were greeted by a congregation dressed completely in white. They welcomed us in no matter how out of place we looked. The service was in French, so we have no idea what it was about. But we felt the music in our souls. Throughout the service, song would begin from the congregation in different areas in the church. Sometimes it would start with a solo and then everyone would join. Sometimes the full song would be performed by a smaller group. They sang 8-part harmony, a capella, just sitting in their pews in the congregation. I cannot describe how wonderful it was to be surrounded by Tahitian rhythms and incredible voices in this little pink church with the breeze coming in through the windows and swaying to the music. It was a Sunday to remember.

We spent our last evening basking in the shadows of Moorea’s jagged mountains one last time at an anchorage in Cook’s Bay, before heading west for Huahine. Gazing up at those cliffs from some of the most beautiful bays in the world will always be my memory of magnificent Moorea.

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: I found Nemo!!

HANGING IN RANGI

June 15, 2020 ; 9:06 PM
14°97’S, 147°64’W – Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa

Our time in Fakarava ended with a celebration of living through the storm with the rest of the Sailors of the Lost ARC. That meant beer and poke at our favorite beach bar (complete with in-water cabana tables). We literally drank the place dry of Hinano beer. It was excellent to spend quality time with Saorsa (hadn’t seen since Galapagos) and Celtic Star (hadn’t seen since Moorea).

Unfortunately, the Sailors of the Lost Arc are split up because of different timing leaving Tahiti once the restrictions were lifted. We are about a week ahead of a larger group of boats. Our time with Celtic Star and Saorsa was limited. And we only got one sundowner with Maximillian and Next Step before leaving on our next voyage. On our way out of the North Pass, we waved to Island Wanderer, Domini, Kari, and Amari, who were just entering Fakarava. What could we do? It was time for a new atoll.

And while it was sad to miss our friends in Fakarava, it was worth it for the time we spend in Rangiroa.

GETTING THERE
The sail wasn’t the best… we had to motor-sail a lot, but it was only about a 30 hour trip.
That was about perfect timing to transit through the passes at both atolls at slack tide. That’s right- our wave to our Lost ARC friends wasn’t exactly coincidental, as both groups were timing it perfectly to hit slack tide and avoid any dangerous currents.
Trust me, this is not an unnecessary safety precaution. There is a lot of turbulence within the passes, and the current can get up to 12 knots! We chose Avatoru Pass because it is wider and easier to navigate that Tiputa Pass- but once inside the atoll we sailed back to an anchorage outside Tiputa Pass, where the best snorkeling and diving is. We were delighted to see our friends on Zan (whom we met in Moorea) already at the anchorage! We were also lucky to make friends with Pain Killer and Ja Ja PaMe during our time there.

SNORKELING
Just outside the anchorage, there’s a small motu surrounded by a reef, called “the aquarium” (although there of course aren’t any glass tanks or humans managing the wildlife). Best thing about the Tuamotus? There is so much sea life just off the back of your boat.

From black and white tipped reef sharks to enormous schools of fish and gorgeous coral, this was the place to be. We probably snorkeled it 5-7 times, and always saw something new. Highlights for me were schools of angel fish (who would adopt you if you just floated still for a minute), a camouflaged flounder, a 4-meter (sleeping) nurse shark, and an octopus. Unfortunately, I missed the octopus while he was out and swimming, but got to see him change color to blend in with his coral hole after he retreated inside. I swear, no matter how many times I snorkel it never gets old (although the kids aboard Ja Ja PaMe would disagree).

DIVING
Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass is a world-famous drift dive, so our first order of business was to visit 6 Passengers dive shop. I 10/10 recommend these guys to anyone going to the Tuamotus. So professional and friendly, plus they have the best wifi on the island.

Our first dive was on the reef just outside Tiputa Pass. It’s normal for dive shops to take groups to dive somewhere without current before doing a drift, even if you have a lot of dives under your belt. Lucky for us, the dolphins were playing out in the waves, and another bucket list item was checked off.

They call this pretty girl “Touchez Moi”, which means “Touch Me” in French. It could not be more fitting. She swam right up to Teddy (our instructor) and stuck her belly out like a dog. She just wanted a little rub right in that spot she can’t reach!

It was immediately obvious that Teddy was best friends with this gorgeous, wild dolphin. She wanted to be anywhere he was, and her attention was rewarded with pets and play. As Teddy’s companions, we drafted off his friendship. We got to pet her all the way from her snout to her tail. We swam with her. We surface for a big breath so she could come back to spend more time with us. When I went upside down, so did she. IT WAS SO COOL. Don’t believe me? Check out some pics.

The rest of the dive was fun as well. Pretty coral, some barracudas, schools of fish, and a few more (farther) dolphin sightings. But the half hour we spent with Touchez Moi was magical, and we will never forget it.

The next morning, we timed our drift dive for incoming tide. We saw the dolphins from the dive boat, but missed them underwater. Instead, we observed schools of barracuda and a wall of sharks. We swam around the corner and into the pass, where the current swept us into the pass and kicking was no longer required. Halfway through the pass, we ducked into a cavern that runs perpendicular to the channel. As the current rushed overhead, we waited. A huge school of grey approached as we peered over the edge to watch them rule the ocean from below. It was surprisingly different, spooky, and wonderful to see them from a new angle. Unfortunately, the cavern was too deep for my underwater camera to capture them ☹.

As we exited the cavern, the current swept us shallower on the reef for our safety stop. We met a surgeon fish who bit our hands with his tiny mouth when we acted like we were going to touch his rock. There were more sharks, angel fish, and parrot fish, but eventually we had to return to the dive boat.

Talk about two completely unforgettable and totally different dive experiences right around the same pass. (But don’t think I’ve forgotten about my manta ray quest).

THE BLUE LAGOON
Unfortunately, the Blue Lagoon doesn’t have any sheltered anchorages, and we still have some PTSD from our storm experience on a lee shore. So, we paired up with Haiatua Excursions for a practically perfect day.

It began with a quick snorkel at the aquarium, complete with a live ukulele soundtrack. Then an hour boat ride to the Blue Lagoon was gorgeous (and so much faster than Gracie Girl could have done it- don’t tell her I said that). Unfortunately, we skipped the manta cleaning station (where they come to naturally be cleaned by fish), because there weren’t any mantas there that morning (I AM DYING TO SEE A MANTA). But the rest of the afternoon was filled with sunning on pink sand beaches, snorkeling coral heads (and Avatoru Pass), hiking an uninhabited island, and palm bag weaving.

And as if that wasn’t enough, we FEASTED. A snack of coconut held us over through the snorkeling. I learned that coconut goes through 3 delicious phases- starting with soft coconut meat (green coconut), then moving to hard coconut meat (we’ve found our brown coconuts particularly difficult to harvest on the boat without a machete), and finally coconut mallows (from a coconut that started to sprout a new tree). Or at least that’s what I call them, because they’re the consistency of the marshmallows in lucky charms, and magically delicious! All three have completely different tastes and textures. AND I LOVE THEM ALL.

Later, lunch was coconut bread, fish, chicken, Polynesian fried rice, and (my personal favorite) poisson cru. There was beer and juice and dancing and exploring and shark watching and treasure digging and hermit crab bothering and I loved every moment of it.

Want to join my pirate crew? No common language is required, only a love for dancing, giggling, and digging for buried treasure (ARRRRRRRRGH)! Spent the entire day playing with these girls, who stole my heart. Missing my niece and nephews big time!

FOOD
As if the feast in the Blue Lagoon wasn’t enough, we also found our new favorite gourmet spot at Lili’s (located at Tiputa Pass). Lili is a wonderful chef from Madagascar. She went to Paris for cooking school where she met her husband, a Rangiroa native. They married and moved to Rangiroa where she has run her restaurant ever since. AND SHE MAKES THE MOST AMAZING FOOD. Seriously, we raved about every single dish we had here, and that was a LOT of dishes since she’s basically the only game on the island.

Ja Ja PaMe was in Rangiroa through the pandemic, so they’re besties with Lili and new exactly what we should order. VANILLA MAHI MAHI FOR THE WIN. Don’t let the captain or admiral tell you any different. The sauce? TO DIE FOR. Seriously.

We also ate an incredible number of ham paninis at Josephine’s during the week we were in Rangiroa. She was selling at local prices and has a breathtaking view of Tiputa Pass. Supposedly, spinner dolphins jump the waves in the pass daily- but we never saw them. Josephine probably thought we were going to move in with the number of times we showed up for some internet access. She even rented us some old, rusty bikes to explore the island one day! Fun to see the local culture through the schools, houses, hang outs, etc. But honestly Rangiroa is all about the water, so there isn’t a whole lot to see on land.

HANGING IN RANGI
Of course, there were nights of eating on the boat, brunch on Influencer, sundowners with our newfound friends, swims, walks, etc. mixed in with the more exciting sight-seeing. There were chores and even a couple rainy days that meant mostly reading on the boat. After about a week, we’ve seen what we wanted to see and it is time to move on.

TAHITI BOUND
And apparently, we just can’t stay away from Pape’ete. We are headed back to Tahiti to re-request our visa extensions in person (long story about Lost ARC paperwork issues). Influencer has some repairs lined up from the Fakarava storm and we could use a couple days to provision, clean, etc. Hopefully it will really be only a couple days and then we’ll be off to the Society Islands! WHERE I WILL SEE A MANTA RAY!

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: My new best friend is a dolphin, and my old best friends are just going to have to deal with it. WAIT! Galapagos sea lions!– I didn’t mean it! LOVE ME!

WATER YOU DRINKING?

Filmed May 25, 2020 ; 9:29 AM
17°49’S, 149°85’W – Opunohu Bay, Moorea

Trying something a little different on The Seanic Route today. Check out this video where Captain Dave shares how we make freshwater out of sea water on Amazing Grace!

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDW: Our magic blue pox makes freshwater out of sea water.

WE ARE FRIENDS, NOT FOOD

June 4, 2020 ; 9:29 AM
16°06’S, 145°62’W – Fakarava

I WAS CHASED BY A SHARK. FOR REAL. SWAM THE FASTEST 150M OF MY LIFE, THOUGHT I WAS A GONER, PRAYED FOR MERCY- CHASED BY A SHARK.

After a few days just inside the north pass of Fakarava, we were ready to explore the south pass, which is more remote and has one of the most famous drift snorkels in the world. It was an easy, beautiful sail down the atoll. And WOW did it feel great to be back sailing the seas for a few hours without that pesky motor on.

But it was a HOT day, so as soon as we had an anchor hold, I splashed in. Someone had to swim through that beautiful, blue water to check the anchor, right? I floated out there in bliss, looking around for fish and coral. It was SO CLEAR I could see perfectly 50ft to the bottom. As I reached the anchor itself, I saw what looked like a little 3-4 foot sharkie swimming down there. I stopped and watched him for a bit as he puttered around. Then he took a sudden change of direction upward, and in just a few seconds it was clear that he was NOT a little guy. A 7-8 foot black tipped reef shark was DARTING AT ME. I turned sideways to show him how big I am and swam for my life. He followed me all the way back to the boat, darting quickly in my direction and then slowing and swimming a few meters away, repeatedly. I, Kristen Pankratz, who have calmly swam with hundreds of sharks in my lifetime and on this trip, was completely and utterly terrified for my life.

What’s WAY worse is that there are blacks in America who are terrified for their lives every day.
Although we are distanced physically, we are reading, watching, listening, learning, discussing, praying, and donating.
I vow to be a part of positive change, although it will start from afar.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.

My shark story ends with me gasping for breath on the swim platform of Amazing Grace, dramatically telling my tale to an eyerolling captain and admiral, and then anyone who would listen. In the following days, the admiral would avoid jumping in off Gracie Girl and the captain would only do so while hanging on to the latter, but they xontinue to CLAIM I’m making it up.

Now, I’m not delusional enough to think I out-swam a shark. I know if he was hungry and thought I was a seal or a fish, I would have been dinner. I’m sure he was just curious and misunderstood. But in the moment, panic set in. I was sure I was shark bait.

That evening I was at a dock watching more sharks swim underneath my feet. Then the next day I made myself get back in the ocean to swim alongside them.
I couldn’t be happier I did because I saw the most jaw-dropping things.

Fakarava’s south pass is STUNNING and full of sea life (including colorful, healthy coral). We were there for just two days full of snorkeling and exploring.

The big highlight was the drift snorkel (which we did 3x in 2 days). Current comes in and out of the atoll through the pass, which is lined with coral on either side and has a channel in the middle. Because of the current, the best way to snorkel is to drive your dinghy to the up current side of the pass, put on your snorkel gear, turn off the motor, and get in. Then you just hang on to your dinghy and drift through the pass, no kicking required.

On some of the drifts, the current was strong enough that we wished it would slow down. There was too much to see! On others, the current was softer and we kicked to position ourselves where we wanted to be in the channel.

On our last snorkel, we must have timed it just right. As we got to the inside of the channel, there was a highway of sharks swimming down the sandy lane in the middle. Although the water was 20m deep, we could see them clearly. After drifting along the highway for 50m, we came to a tornado of 40-50 grey sharks circling and feeding on a school of fish. It was the most remarkable thing I’ve witnessed in the underwater world. I seriously can’t stop thinking about it.

The rest of the snorkel was full of schools of colorful fish, 4-foot trumpet fish (green and yellow), spotted eagle rays, and black tipped reef sharks like my menacing friend from my anchor check. I unfortunately was not in the mood to take photos, but our friends on Influencer got some great underwater shots (@TravellingTheWildSide).

Back by the boats, the landscape changed to be mostly sand with large coral heads every 4-6m. We enjoyed our (quite different) snorkel there as well.

The other highlight of the south pass was the peach beach. According to TripAdvisor, the top thing to do in Fakarava is to explore the pink sand beach. We packed up our dinghy, rounded up Influencer, and went on a pink sand beach expedition. After navigating through the coral heads and making it to the specified point, there was still only white sand to speak of. So, Influencer launched their drone in search of pink sand. What we found was a little peach, maybe pink if you squinted at it right, but was also a stunning, remote, virtually untouched lagoon surrounded by healthy, varying heights of palm trees and protected from the surf. Apparently, the pink-ness of pink sand beaches varies by the season.

We relaunched the dinghies and headed over to relax and swim. Oh, and Influencer taught us how to make sea cucumbers pee. We find that there is never a shortage of laughter around sailors.

The only thing I would not recommend in south Fakarava is eating at the restaurant (sorry). It was an EXCELLENT place for drinks, the people could not have been nicer, and the sharks that surround it (I assume because they’re eating fish scraps) should not be missed. We enjoyed an evening of good company among Influencer, Sea Lover, Milanto, and Ariel. But the food? You’re better off with some cheese and crackers on the boat.

Then yesterday we headed back to the north pass where more Lost ARC friends had come to anchor. We’re in need of fuel and some provisions, plus this will be the best place to begin our voyage to Rangiroa.

Our first couple days in the north pass were delightful, although there isn’t as much to snorkel and explore without a guide. We did dive the reef outside the north pass and saw some great walls of sharks and an incredible amount of fish. In fact, it was the fishiest dive we’ve had. We swam through a bustling metropolis of reef fish, not sticking to their homes while you pass them like in many snorkel spots, but hurrying from spot to spot and going about their lives. Think Finding Nemo. It’s amazing how different the ocean is in just a matter of miles.

While on the north end we also walked around, visited the bakery and the grocery stores, swam, and ate at some local restaurants (which, to our delight, were less expensive than Tahiti and Moorea). Favorite spots are Rotoava Grill and a café at the resort (which has only 5, French Polynesian, tourists in it). The café had cabanas and tables in the water and reef sharks swim by at a regular interval. We are excited to be back here for just a couple days as we wait for a weather window and catch up with our Lost ARC friends (including Saorsa and Sapphire II who we haven’t seen since the Galapagos)!

But the motor up and first night were not our favorites. The motor had about 30 (gusting to 39) knots of wind against us, so we were crashing through waves the whole way and unable to sail. That’s 3-4X the wind that was on our forecasts. Thunderstorms meant Admiral Anne put her electronics in the microwave. The rain soaked us, but seas calmed for the last hour or so and we shivered through to anchor just before dark.

We connected with friends over the radio and made plans to rendezvous for dinner, but as soon as the dinghy was in the water the wind picked up again. 40 knot winds from the direction of the water while at anchorage is extremely uncomfortable. The anchor chain swings around violently, there’s a LOT of turbulence. We were seasick, cold, and wet. There were waves coming OVER THE BOW. Captain Dave and Admiral Anne were on high alert to make sure the anchor didn’t slip. Luckily, the first mate did such an excellent job dropping it, we held through the night.

Saorsa, who was anchored next to us, lost their anchor at the bitter end and had to leave the anchorage in emergency. We flipped on all our lights and were happy such qualified sailors were at the helm for both their safety and ours.

Eventually, the seas calmed down and we were able to get some sleep. On Amazing Grace, we’re just a few bumps and bruises worse for the wear. But this morning, damage was assessed on the radio. There was a collision and a couple boats are on the reef due to anchor hold problems. We’ve already heard stories of those out at sea who were turning in circles and making mayday calls. It was a big, scary storm and we’re happy to have blue skies this morning as we start to dry out and clean up. We seam to have fared better than everyone else we know, as boats are headed back to Tahiti for repairs.

Thankful for clear skies and calm seas today, and praying for the same looking forward.

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: Sharks and I have reconciled after a near-death misunderstanding.