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!
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.
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!
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.
May 29, 2020 ; 7:03 AM 16°06’S, 145°62’W – Fakarava
We’re incredibly blessed to be in community with our (lost) ARC rally and other sailors we met at marinas and anchorages along the way. We are banded together to support each other in passage and anchorage planning, staying connected, and keeping ourselves sane. Thanks to a subsect of that community, Amazing Grace is now safely in Fakarava anchored just inside the north pass with Influencer, Sea Lover, Milanto, and Ariel.
Before we left, we squeezed in as much exploration of Moorea as possible. We rented a car and drove all the way around the island, stopping for lunch at a snack shack, visiting lookout points, taking a hike, and swimming on a beautiful beach white sand beach. Okay, “swimming” may be a stretch. More like rapidly floating down to the other end because the current was so strong, we couldn’t stand still. There was another mile swim to the tiki huts and reefs in front of the Hilton. There were dinghy rides to see the sharks and rays again. We had a sashimi feast on Sea Lover and a poisson cru lunch on a small island just off the mainland, complete with the best pina colada of the trip. The last morning, we took a very steep hike up to a mountain top for another view of Opunohu bay and beyond. The vistas were breathtaking.
Opunohu Bay is my favorite anchorage of the trip so far, but it was time to move on and explore the islands we skipped on the way across the Pacific (due to COVID-19 lockdowns).
Day one of our sail to the Tuamotus took us through thunderstorms back to the north end of Tahiti (Pointe Venus) for the night. This would allow us to better time our entrances to the Tuamotus. Timing is tricky and important because of strong currents and tides surrounding the atolls, as well as difficult passage against the trade winds. If we reached Fakarava in the dark or during a non-advantageous tide, there would be risk of coral damage to the boat (and to the reefs).
It was a miserable first day of sailing as we pounded through big waves, were soaked by the sea and the rain, and watched lightening all around us. And although a lightening strike to the mast could have been harmful to Gracie Girl and her crew, at least our electronics were safe after Admiral Anne put them in the microwave (insert eyeroll here). Still, the odds were in our favor since Influencer has a higher mast than us 😊.
The next two days were much better. We still had the motor on (boo), but we made good time, saw dolphins, and basked in the sunshine. Better to be motor-sailing than not sailing at all!
Night watch was a breeze and the stars were endless. I’m not telling you what I wished for, but the three shooting stars during my watch were certainly good omens for a COVID-19 vaccine.
After running the wind, wave, tide, and current reports again, we decided to stop one last time to ensure we would enter the north pass of Fakarava at the perfect time. Our little anchorage in Katuri, Toau was just what we needed. Influencer came over for sundowners, and my coconut, lime, pineapple, rum concoction hit the spot if I do say so myself (and I do).
Our last day of sailing was glorious- there were bird friends drafting off us and pods of dolphins racing us and Influencer tacking in front of us- what more could you want? Within 20 minutes of anchoring we already saw a reef shark swimming in the clear water around our boat.
Today we are headed to shore to do some exploring in the water and out! Fingers crossed for manta rays, manta rays, manta rays.
In actual news, Amazing Grace got a feature on the AP Wire that was picked up by ABC!
May 23, 2020 ; 7:46 AM 17°49’S, 149°85’W – Opunohu Bay
A note to our hometown: Before we dig into our adventures aboard Amazing Grace, we extend our deepest love and prayers for the people of Midland, MI. Yet again, many of the people we love are in crisis back home. We’re sad that we’re unable to be there to help muck out your houses and provide support in the way we wish we could. Thank you for standing by each other, we’ve heard incredible stories of selflessness from the amazing community we know you are! For anyone else wishing there was more they could do to help, here’s a way to donate from afar: https://unitedwaymidland.org/resources/flood-resources/
THE BIG NEWS ABOARD AMAZING GRACE We are free, free at last!! A few days ago, we received approval from the French Polynesian government to sail within the islands of French Polynesia. That means our exploration area increased by 107 island- and it feels oh, so good.
After saying goodbye to Papeete in fanfare, we set sail for beautiful Moorea, where we are anchored until the wind is right to sail back to the Tuamotus. Predict Wind tells us we should be able to head that way within the week. Since we sailed past the Tuamotus on our way here (due to a Covid-19 request to not pass go, not collect any coconuts, and head straight for Papeete), getting back to some of the most remote and unique islands in the world means sailing against the trade winds. We are, of course, determined to explore those islands and are lucky to be planning our passage with other (and more experienced) sailors here in Moorea (Celtic Star and Influencer).
MAURUURU, PAPEETE MARINA We were incredibly lucky to get a spot in Papeete Marina upon being redirected to Tahiti for confinement. It meant being surrounded by World ARC friends and having freedom to exercise on land, go to the grocery store, etc. at our leisure. When confinement lifted, it gave us opportunities to connect with locals like Tracey, who took us in and showed us their island in a special way. We now know a virtually tourist-free Tahiti, which is a rare and magical thing.
Still, after almost 7 weeks in the same slip with our sails furled, we are ecstatic to say THANK YOU, NEXT to Papeete Marina.
Before we left (when we were still only allowed to sail within this archipelago), we spent a couple days getting the boat ready to sail, provisioning, and saying “see you soon” to a lot of our friends in Papeete. This meant happy hours on the dock, games of bananagrams, final workout classes, and even a day out at the Belvedere to enjoy their infinity pool and view. We swam and laughed and drank pina coladas, topping off the night with good friends (Amari, Remedy, Bellevie).
Maximillian set up surfing lessons (and schooled us all) on a pretty, white sand beach on the northeast side of the island. Our guide was wonderful, and everyone at least stood on the board before the end of the day. Captain Dave and I really surfed! I mean rode the wave all the way to where I had to bail or hit the rocks surfed. Caught a wave and I was sittin’ on top of the world.
On our last night, Tracey arranged for us to visit a beautiful beach bar and eat traditional Tahitian cuisine with performances from a local dance group and her lovely daughter, Pearl. We were lucky because the dance groups aren’t performing as the resorts and large restaurants are still closed. But Tracey was brokenhearted that we weren’t greeted on the docks with lays and dancing (usual Polynesian welcome) due to the crisis. Now that I’ve experienced it, I know I would have been brokenhearted to miss it, too. It was a perfect night and the Amazing Grace captain and first mate got a little too much attention…
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS AGAIN Gracie Girl got out and stretched her sails on Wednesday, May 20 for the first time in almost 7 weeks. IT WAS GLORIOUS. We were actually planning to sail around Tahiti and see some of the remote anchorages, but a shift in wind led to a mid-sail decision (led by Celtic Star) to check out Moorea first, instead. Then a ¾-sail decision (led by Amazing Grace) meant anchoring in Opunohu Bay instead of Cook’s Bay for a better reef and different view. When you’re sailing, you have to be flexible, and our flexibility paid off because this bay is BREATHTAKING and the snorkeling is out of this world.
Our first night here we reconnected with some old ARC friends who were in the other marina in Tahiti (Milanto, Ariel, Sea Lover) at a beach happy hour. While we loved our little crew in Papeete Marina, we so enjoy hearing about the past 7 weeks on the other side of the island from people who had different experiences than us. My friend who lived aboard Gracie Girl for a week in Papeete is also here, working on a superyacht as a nanny, so she has good stories to tell as well 😊.
Influencer took us to their favorite snorkel spot, complete with rays, large fish, and reef sharks. It’s an area where the tour boats typically come and feed the fish, which means they’re friendly and many. We took the dinghy around the island to see it and had the best time. One of the rays got a little fresh with Captain Dave, swimming up his body to give him a little kiss! It was a magical morning.
We’ve also been swimming with Influencer in our own little pacific sailor swim team. Yesterday morning started with about a mile swim to the water huts of the Hilton. Just out and around those huts is the most incredible, beautiful coral with huge schools of fish to swim with. It was my favorite proper exercise swim ever. We followed a reef the whole way there and saw all kinds of things. Anteater fish, kindergarten fish, trumpet fish, maize ‘n blue fish, and parrot fish were everywhere (at least two of those are actual, official fish names). On the way back, we even spotted some spotted eagle rays! I may never be able to do laps in a pool again.
Anchorage life is a lot of swimming, sunning on the beach, reading books, grilling, and meeting up with Influencer and Celtic Star for sundowners and passage planning. We are seriously back to LIVING THE DREAM out here, now that we are free to sail and anchor where we please (within French Polynesia).
-Kristen Pankratz First mate, Amazing Grace
TLDR: We are FINALLY free (free at last) to sail around French Polynesia! Captain Dave was overheard on his dinghy yesterday saying, “I don’t know if you know this, but this has been my dream since I was about 5. Always in a swimsuit, swimming off the back of my boat, taking my dinghy to go see my friends and plan adventures…” I’ll spare you the rest of the monologue.
After a majorly phenomenal outing on our last tour with Tracey, we had to book another one (with Remedy and parts of Amari and Aurora). This time, we were less interested in an overall view of the island and more interested in specifically awesome activities, which led us to the lava tubes.
We thought we were headed on a four-wheel drive through some seriously Jurassic Park-looking jungles and up the mountain to the start of a trail, where we’d take a nice, hour-long hike to see the lava tubes and some waterfalls, followed by a local lunch and some Polynesian dancing by Tracey’s daughter.
When we got out of the truck, Hermé (our guide) handed us wetsuits complete with large scratches and holes, as well as helmets with headlamps. We knew right then that we were in for an adventure of epic proportions.
Quickly, we learned that the wet-suits were not just for the ice-cold water but for the bumps and scrapes we’d become covered in on a 5-hour hike up rocky streams and through dark lava tubes to see a series of gorgeous waterfalls. We also learned that the helmets were strictly necessary. This adrenaline junkie could not have been more delighted. Check out these pics:
Yes, that picture you looked at twice because you didn’t believe your eyes IS Admiral Anne scaling a cliff. Yes, Admiral Anne is a badass.
Most of the hiking was basically an all-fours bear crawl for balance among the slippery rocks and uneven surfaces. We swam in crystal-clear ponds along the way and even waded through eel-infested waters (the only place the first mate’s anxiety reached the same level as Admiral Anne’s). We climbed cliffs and scaled down rocks. We laughed and encouraged each other and did more squats and knee-ups than in a whole month of HIIT workouts. We explored caves and tunnels with our headlamps. In the final tube, we were rewarded by a ceiling covered in glittering gold algae that reflected our headlamps back at us. The beauty was unreal.
Admiral Anne skipped that final tube to sit on the banks of a waterfall and chat with a friend from Remedy. I think they had as much fun gabbing as we did hiking, and I know they spent their time talking about how stupid we were to wade through the eels, into a waterfall, and up cliffs into another pitch-black cave after 4 hours of climbing. I disagree 😊.
When it was time to turn back, we were promised an “easy grass trail”. We received a muddy jungle followed by a knee-high, thorn-infested field. Back at the truck, I spent 15 minutes picking thorns out of my foot. It was not my favorite part, but the rest of the day was so worth it.
And Hermé knew just what we needed to get our spirits back up. He took us to his home (accessible only by wading through a river) to eat food prepared by his family. We were greeted by Tracey’s daughter and Hermé’s granddaughters doing traditional Tahitian dances. We ate chicken fresh from their yard that morning, smoked with papaya in a bamboo chute, as well as fresh baked banana bread and banana crepes all made on an open fire. There was more fresh pineapple, coconut, and other tropical fruits than we could stuff our faces with and Tracey made sure we had some ice-cold Hinano beer. Most everything besides the beer was grown naturally in their yard, and everything was scrumptious.
The family played music on their ukuleles, danced, and told us stories of their way of life. The dances are elegant and beautiful and tell stories on their own. The families don’t need much, because they live off the land. Electricity, running water, and from what I can tell, walls, are completely optional. Hermé teaches others on the island to fish and grow food to help their families be self-sufficient as well.
Throughout the day, Hermé told us about his manna, which is his connection to the earth. He says that because he lives in the nature, he has a connection to the earth and is one with it. After watching him scamper up streams and waterfalls without skipping a beat, eating an incredible feast from his land, and seeing how much joy he has in the simplicity of his life, I agree.
Hermé’s backyard is a black sand beach where his family plays. The view is breathtaking. I can’t think of a more idealistically romantic way to live your life, except maybe on a sailboat 😉.
Speaking of, my favorite story of the day was about when Hermé built a traditional Tahitian canoe (like an outrigger with a sail, think Moana) and sailed it no compass and no navigation equipment through 2 typhoons to China. He navigated purely by the stars and it took him (and the 2 other crew) 4 months to get there, but they reached their destination. He says it was easy for them because of his manna, which grounds him even through the ocean. That boat is now in a museum in China.
It was an exhausting, exhilarating day with the perfect combination of extreme hiking and culture. The more time I spend in nature here and among Tahitians, the more I fall in love with the island.
But while that was our most exciting adventure since my last post, we’ve been busy exploring on our own as well!
We attempted to hike Fautaua Valley but were stopped short because it is literally always a French Holiday- so we settled for a refreshing swim in a clear spring.
We took the dinghies out to the reef and had a snorkel party with the other World ARC boats on Mother’s Day, after enjoying Mother’s Day brunch courtesy of chef Kristen.
We ate at another French restaurant, Le Souffle to celebrate the best lady ever, Admiral Anne. I learned that souffles are delicious, but I should stick to my carnivorous tendencies and order meat at restaurants, because I always prefer it. The atmosphere was a little less fancy and more fun/French, and we had the most amazing champagne, but we agreed that L’O A La Bouche is still our favorite.
We went on another incredible dive, with so many brightly colored fish we’d never seen before (mostly not pictured because we mostly enjoyed these dives without the camera). There were unicorn fish and Pinocchio fish and glow stick fish and big lip fish. At least one of those is an actual, official name.
I took the ferry to Moorea (now open) with some friends and spent the day visiting a friend who now works on a super yacht there. You’ve seen lots of pictures of Moorea from afar, because it’s the island our marina looks out to, but seeing it from another perspective was a blast. We explored, snorkeled, had cocktails on the beach, and even built a sandcastle. The only casualty was a bite by a triggerfish. These things have impressive, pretty markings but they’re incredibly aggressive. They were everywhere and would swim hard at your face and play chicken before backing off. I got by unscathed. My friend, however, was BLEEDING from a fish bite! I guess we can’t complain, at least it wasn’t a stonefish…
Tracey hooked us up with a black pearl wholesaler (Charles) who told us stories of dressing royalty. His wife (who makes the jewelry) had enough elegant and extravagant pieces to show us that we couldn’t doubt his stories were true. Admiral Anne and I spent hours trying everything on. We tried necklaces that were so heavy they made us slump a little, earrings that combined black pearls with polished coral, elegant strings of pearls, etc. Captain Dave even bought us our favorite (less insane) pieces as birthday and anniversary gifts. Man, you gotta love that guy <3.
And, of course, there were chores and in between time. Captain Dave worked with the rigger (who can climb the mast like a spider) and fixed some things on the boat. We cleaned, cooked, grocery shopped, and took care of bills. We read and sundowner-ed and bananagrammed and the captain and admiral got into bridge tournaments with Celtic Star. It was a very full, fantastic week.
-Kristen Pankratz First mate, Amazing Grace
TLDR: If all hikes were helmet required hikes, we’d have bums of steal.
May 7, 2020 ; 9:58 AM 17°54’S, 149°57’W – Papeete Marina
Now that we know Tahiti, we LOVE Tahiti!
The first couple days of freedom meant more walking around town, exploring and lots of snorkeling. Just as soon as we were allowed, we launched our dinghy, grabbed some friends from Influencer, Maximillian, and Aurora, and headed out to the reef. We couldn’t WAIT to dive into that pretty, blue water (now that we didn’t have to strategically fall off our boats to do so).
Our first snorkel was shallow and full of bright colored fish amongst their coral homes. We even saw live giant clams wedged into much of the coral and pulsing with green, blue, purple and brown flesh inside. And, unfortunately, some locals pulling the coral apart to take one ☹.
The only really large fish we saw was a moray eel. I try to stay away from eels because they’re spooky and I prefer pretty much every other ocean creature… but Admiral Anne was keen to dive down by the opening to his home to make him come out and chomp at her.
Our subsequent snorkels were in a little deeper water, which meant we could see the entirety of the coral structures better. The coral in those areas also happened to be healthier which meant more vibrance and variance and an altogether better snorkel. There’s so much to see in the reef just outside the marina!
Back at the boat, Captain Dave “showed off his craftsmanship” repairing the broken wire clip on the stern light. By the way he talks about it, it must have been a truly impressive feet *insert eyeroll here*. Meanwhile, I almost became part of the boat one afternoon as my book and I melted into it in over 100-degree heat. Who was more productive that day- me preventing the captain’s crew from turning into the crew of Davie Jones, or the Captain in repairing the stern light? I’ll let you decide.
After we thoroughly explored Papeete and the surrounding areas to the best of our ability, we were able to take a real tour to see what the rest of Tahiti had to offer. And it has SO MUCH. We couldn’t be happier to stretch our legs and check it out now that confinement is over. We were perfectly giddy.
If you’re ever in Tahiti, you must meet Tracey. This lady put together the perfect tour for our interests and needs and provided all sorts of recommendations for restaurants, shops, beaches, tours, etc. etc. You can find her here: www.uniquetahiti.com/ | Instagram: @uniquetahiti
Tracey drove us (along with Celtic Star and Amari) around the island all day. She took us to a modern local protestant church and talked us through how religion is a huge part of the daily lives of Polynesians, and to the temple of the old gods of Tahiti to understand how that religion has evolved over the years. It’s a told again story about tension between the natives and missionaries. When the white men came in, they told them not to worship like that or dance like that or speak like that or dress like that. There were revolts and there was violence on both sides (historic Polynesian religion included voluntary human sacrifice). But in the end, the white men had medicine, and the Polynesians died when they couldn’t use that medicine, so the white man’s God must have been more powerful, and Protestantism took off. Or at least that’s the side of the story as told by Polynesians. Missionary accounts in the history books take a different angle.
For a long time, the French worked to assimilate the Polynesians and make them French. Their native language was outlawed, their dancing and music discouraged. Then, not so long ago (1984), French Polynesia became autonomous and the ways of the old culture were revitalized. Now they’re back to creating beautiful, intricate costumes out of fresh flowers and leaves surrounding their homes to dance and sing the old legends. Storytelling has always been a huge part of culture, because until the French came to teach them a new language, their Polynesian language (which only has 13 sounds/letters) had never been written down.
Today they celebrate that past through speaking Polynesian, dancing, singing, and dressing in traditional costume. It’s not just for the enjoyment of the tourists, it’s really an important part of their identity, because ancestry and land are incredibly important to them. In fact, generations of a family live on the same land. So iti (little) Polynesians grow up among their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins until they go to France for university- then typically move back and return to live on their ancestral land again. In fact, you used to dispute a Polynesian’s right to land if they couldn’t recite their lineage all the way back to whoever originally claimed the land for their family. Families lost their homes if they were challenged and couldn’t recall that lineage.
Tracey took us past houses to show us how people live here in Tahiti- and there’s a wide range- but everyone lives in what looks like paradise because of the vegetation and/or ocean around them, regardless of the state of their homes. They don’t need much (which is evident by how often businesses are closed and their short hours even now that confinement has lifted). According to Tracey, “you eat fruit off the land and you throw a hook in the water when you’re hungry, and that’s enough”.
We learned that the long “mailboxes” outside the houses aren’t for mail at all, but instead are baguette boxes for when local bakeries used to come around and deliver baguettes to the families (we NEED one for the boat).
We went to Tracey’s friend Dominic’s home and he took us on a kayaking expedition to a small island where we got to swim and check out the natural crab habitat. He told us some legends of Maui and his fish hook, and what the demi-god is said to have done for the islands (like when he planted an eel and it sprouted a coconut tree for a little girl- can you say, Moana, anyone?) Then he took us for a rinse and a slide in a freshwater spring (more eels… yikes!) and made us a home cooked meal of poissons cru- which is our new favorite dish. Less than 48 hours later we were already making it ourselves back at the boat! It’s basically tomato, cucumber, onions, tuna, lime, and fresh coconut milk. Unfortunately, the coconuts we found were bad, so we had to use canned.
Polynesians are like Dominic. They seem to truly want to share their culture with us and teach us the way they do things. We’re excited to get to know more of them during our elongated stay here in Tahiti.
But that wasn’t all. Tracey took us to a grotto to swim in the ice-cold, fresh water under a cave. We swam in the dark all the way to touch the very back of the cave, because touching the back of the cave is said to heal all illnesses and ailments. If you look really closely, you can see my skin kind of glows now… I’m just waiting for my spidey senses to kick in 😉.
Back in the heat we went to the most GORGEOUS black sand beach. I’ve never been on a black sand beach before so I was in HEAVEN and couldn’t wait to come back and spend more time there. After lunch on the waterfront we finished the day with a short hike to a waterfall and a quick stop at the “blowhole” before heading back to the marina. It was an INCREDIBLE, very full day that we topped off with French karaoke (10/10 belting out karaoke in a language I don’t know is a new favorite hobby) and a visit to the food trucks that have started to appear outside the marina. The food trucks were started here by the Chinese, so we had Chinese food for the first time since the start of our journey. Admiral Anne and I chowed down on some chow mein as she exclaimed that it was “the best ever!”
In the following days we had time to snorkel some more- this time in a spot with similar wildlife but slightly deeper water and healthier, more vibrant coral. I’m always happy when I’m exploring a new underwater wonderland. We went to the local church hoping to see some local singing and dancing on Tracey’s recommendation, but unfortunately it was still closed, so we settled for a French sermon in the local (gorgeous) catholic cathedral. We even rented a car to go back to our favorite black sand beach for a day of sunning, swimming, and frisbee-ing. The waves were so big and powerful you could hear the click clack of the rocks they were displacing as they went back out to sea. We sat and watched the surfers for hours, but never noticed that no one without a board was in the water. Once the sun had gotten the best of us, we decided to brave the waves and cool off. Careful timing of entrance allowed all of us except Captain Dave to get in unscathed (he took a tumble). It was getting out that was the problem. It’s a lot harder to time your exit when you’re not looking into the front of the waves. I did my best but was knocked to a tumble several times before finally getting to my feet and being able to run over the rocks out of the water. As I emerged, I was laughing hysterically at my antics, but I wasn’t the only one. Looking up the hill, the locals who lined the beach were in STITCHES watching us silly Americans try to swim in those waves. The captain and admiral didn’t fair much better, but it was an experience to remember.
Then, to complete our Tahitian wave experience, we went to Teahopoo, which is said to be the most powerful (but not the tallest) wave in the world. It also happens to be where the 2024 Olympic surfing competition will be. This means even better surfers on even bigger waves, but they were very far out from shore where the waves crash on the coral, so we’re hoping to return when we can sail around the island and dinghy over to watch them closer.
After we were done with the beach there was an afternoon of chasing waterfalls, first at the water gardens but then up into the rainforest from the road as we saw them streaming down into a valley. Our little rental car got us close, but we couldn’t get all the way there. We hope to plan another expedition with a four-wheel drive for next week.
We had dinners of sushi out (for the captain and admiral) and aboard Celtic Star (for the first mate). There was an INCREDIBLE French meal all three of us enjoyedat a restaurant you cannot miss if you ever come here (L’O A La Bouche). We had crab ravioli, duck, lamb, tuna, and crème brulee. Every single dish was extraordinary.
Finally, yesterday we went scuba diving at two different dive sites. We started at both a plane and a shipwreck (purposely wrecked to create the dive site). We all explored and Captain Dave and I even swam through the plane. It was very cool and different. We even saw a stonefish, which we got WAY to close to (in my opinion) because a sting will kill you in under a minute (yikes!)
Personally, I liked the second site better. The coral cliff was vibrant and beautiful (pictures don’t do the color justice) and there were turtles EVERYWHERE. They didn’t seem bothered by my want to swim along with them, and the fish were big and bright. We saw a large gray nurse shark and a smaller reef shark, and just had the most marvelous time being a part of their world for an hour.
Last night was trivia and Amazing Grace won for the first time (largely due to my incredible rendition of “Oops, I Did It Again”- did you know blasting Brittany Spears successfully wards off Somalian Pirates? Winning meant TIM TAMS FOR US!!! Have we spoken about Tim Tams yet? The GREATEST COOKIE IN THE WORLD? Trust me, you must try some immediately if you ever have the opportunity (get the double coated ones). Tim Tams are a new obsession aboard Amazing Grace and we adore our Aussie/Kiwi friends (Influencer) for introducing us, although our waste-lines don’t.
No new news on furthering our journey, but this Tahitian paradise is one amazing place to explore while we wait, so limbo isn’t such a bad place to be 😊.
-Kristen Pankratz First mate, Amazing Grace
TLDR: Spent a week exploring Tahiti- no one got sacrificed or killed by a stonefish, and mutiny likeliness has returned to pre-COVID, pre-Pacific levels (~4%).
April 30, 2020 ; 8:58 AM 17°54’S, 149°57’W – Papeete Marina
Ia orana, Tahiti! I can’t wait to get to know you.
Did you know that while Tahitians speak French, they also have their own Polynesian language and prefer to be greeted with phrases like ia orana (hi!) than traditional French?
It has been almost 2 weeks since I wrote my last post (although not nearly as long since the internet finally cooperated to set it live- sorry). In that time, we continued to settle in to our new normal that was detailed a couple posts ago (Quarentahiti).
I won’t bore you with more of the same. But we have a few updates that make us excited for our next couple weeks in Tahiti, although we’re itching to get out on the water to sail and explore.
1. THE BIG NEWS: Yesterday (April 29th) many constrictions were lifted, but looser confinement was extended to May 13th
YAHOOOOO! Now there are a few more restaurants open and not just for take-out and a bunch of shops. Yesterday we went out and explored just as soon as we were done with our morning workout. LOOK HOW HAPPY WE ARE WITH OUR ICE COLD BEERS OUT IN PUBLIC!
The specifics of the changes are not very clear, and not just because of the language barrier. The French seem to be as unsure as we are. We figure better to not clarify and to ask for forgiveness rather than permission 0:). That means we’re actively planning snorkeling for this afternoon and have reached out to tours and dive shops to see if we can get guides to approach it in the same way! Updates to come on how that goes. In the meantime, Mom and I also spent yesterday afternoon shopping, which is neither of our favorite hobbies- but was finally something different to do. Although most of the shops are touristy, there are a few that are more unique. Our favorite shop had the most beautiful Tahitian fabrics that were being sewn into both traditional Tahitian wear as well as adapted, more modern styles. We had a blast looking through them all and I even bought a dress. We are, of course, also on the hunt for Tahitian black pearls (which, coincidentally, aren’t really Tahitian but French Polynesian from other archipelagos and aren’t always black, but are always beautiful). The jewelry we’ve seen is incredible, and I’m partial to the really imperfect, blobby pearls because they’re a little more interesting although less valuable. Although there were some restaurants open for lunch, it’s still only Bora Bora (our favorite black market beer spot) open for dinner, and there are a lot of businesses still boarded up. We’re hoping things will continue to open over the next couple weeks and have our fingers crossed for setting sail on May 13th for inter-island travel within French Polynesia.
2. Prior to the official lift in confinement, we started viewing our World ARC family as the family unit we were allowed to not be so socially distanced from
Because we were all quarantined at sea for 4 weeks before coming to Tahiti and have all been taking the virus seriously when it comes to disinfecting our groceries, etc. we had to expand our group outside our 46 foot sailboats for our own sanity. There have been no new cases of Corona Virus here in Tahiti over the last 2 weeks (except 2 that came in on military aircraft and were immediately quarantined), and the total number of cases is down to 9.
This means we had some wonderful dinners with friends on Celtic Star and Maximillian, we’ve been playing games across boats (including a Yukor tournament on Influencer), and we even started doing some stage combat lessons with a professional aboard Amari.
The best evening was probably the first real gathering on 4/20, which was celebrated not for the reason you think, but instead because it marked 35 years of marriage for Captain Dave and Admiral Anne. THAT’S RIGHT, 35 YEARS, Y’ALL. So fun to celebrate with friends, who were in especially good spirits because April 20th was also the day alcohol sales (<14%) officially opened back up. Booze and anniversaries, what could be better?
Back at the boat, I prepared a fabulous (in my totally objective opinion), fancy French feast. It was beef de tournedo and I 10/10 recommend the recipe below if you’re looking for something to fill an evening in your own confinement. It paired well with a toast of champagne and some a French Bordeaux.
3. We hosted a surprise crew member join Amazing Grace!
One of the “yellow shirts” (World ARC staffers) ended up a little homeless after crossing the Pacific on another boat while the World ARC got cancelled. We know her well as she’s a YOTA member and a delight to have around. So, we offered her our cabin which was unfortunately not occupied by my brother (insert slow tear here) after his flight to Tahiti was, of course, cancelled. She stayed about a week before heading off to start a new job as a nanny on a super yacht here in Tahiti. It was fun to have another young person around to add some dynamic to the Amazing Grace crew. Not that our completely shared experience of sitting around Papeete Marina has made us run out of things to talk about, but…. Maybe some days.
4. We went to fuel up with Kari and fell off their boat, too
WE ARE SO CLUMSY. I don’t know how we got so clumsy, so fast- but we seem to be completely unable to stay on boats when we get out of the marina. Maybe our coordination will return now that the ban on swimming has lifted 😉.
And I think that’s about it! It’s still GORGEOUS here and life is about to get a lot better for us following some restriction lifts. Unfortunately, it looks like circum-navigation this year is extremely unlikely as the rest of the world is hurting. We continue to look at options, but most likely we’ll end up about halfway around in New Zealand this year, and then pick back up next summer to do the second half. This is SUPER tentative based on what happens over the next few months. No decisions have been made as we continue in limbo, but that’s our best guess. Luckily, there are a lot of other boats in our boat (see what I did there?) so we have a fleet to sail and rendezvous with along the way.
Lots of prayers here for the US as opening decisions are being made with much higher rates of Covid-19. Stay safe, stay healthy, we love you all!
-Kristen Pankratz First mate, Amazing Grace
TLDR: We had an ICE-COLD BEER at an ACTUAL RESTAURANT yesterday and it was GLORIOUS. So take that, Covid-19!