Adventures

I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

P.S. All material on this blog, words and photos alike, are copyrighted by me. Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. If you decide that this material is worth re-publishing, please give me credit and lots and lots of money.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ms. Misses

I know you are sick of hearing about tropical island paradise. I thought I would start this post out with all the things I miss about "regular" life that I hope you are getting to take advantage of this summer:

I miss surfing the south swells that make all the lefts in CA light up.

I miss visiting my brother and sister, aunts, uncles and cousins.

I miss going to baseball games. (Go Padres)

I miss biking down Sunset Cliffs (SD) and Westcliff (SC) and checking all my favorite spots.

I miss summer music festivals.

I miss getting intoxicated and surfing my favorite waves (No Surf and the Lane).

I miss air conditioning.

I miss In-n-Out burger. And burritos.

I miss skateboarding around San Francisco.

I miss feeling like a local.

I miss not being covered in bug bites.

I miss drinking beers with my good old friends all afternoon. And all night.

I miss having good internet access all the time (although sometimes a blessing in disguise).

I miss the redwood forest and that dank NorCal tree.

I miss you.

Yes, there are many things about my previous lifestyle that I miss. And there are things about my current lifestyle that I do not like, mainly that I am salty. Seriously. I am always salty. Sure, I can rinse off or even take a shower if I am really feeling fancy, but inevitably I will kayak into the beach or to somebody's boat, or go for a swim again, so that I am always salty. My sheets, which do not get washed very often - gross, I know, but you wouldn't do laundry either if you were hundreds of miles from civilization either - are not only crusted with salt, but with sweat, sand, dirt, bug spray and anything else. Sexy, I know. We aren't called dirty sailors for nothing. It is not a lifestyle to be embraced by the faint of heart.

However, this lifestyle lends itself to seeing and doing some really cool shit. Another laundry list:

There are these little white birds whose undersides glow green when they fly over the water of the lagoon. Cool.

The other day I was snorkeling and a huge manta ray with a 9 foot wingspan cruised by, just minding his own business, but was being watched (as was I) by a grey shark, a black tipped and a white tipped reef shark.

I have learned how to hack open coconuts with a machete.

I can wear a bathing suit 24/7 and never get cold.

I often run into huge sea turtles when I am swimming.

I have made friends with people from all over the world.

Today I was snorkeling while my friends were spear fishing. I watched Randy shoot a fish and promptly become surrounded by 20 reef sharks who were sent into a frenzy at the smell of blood. He managed to get the fish up to the boat without it being eaten by the sharks, but they followed us for a while after.

We are in a ridiculously remote place and yet there is always somebody to talk with, ice cubes for drinks, and cocktail parties every evening.

Spending an afternoon in a hammock in the shade of a coconut palm reading a book is (nearly) a daily activity.

Although we might not find any lobster on our night walk along the reef, we are guaranteed to see some cool fish and an octopus or two.

The stars are brilliant out here.

I currently live (albeit temporarily) in a freaking tropical paradise - little islands covered with palm trees, white sandy beaches, turquoise water abundant with wildlife.... Dude.

And so, as you can see, there are trade-offs to our different lifestyles. I don't want to get too mushy or preachy, but the moral of the story is that this is a beautiful life and you can make of it what you want.
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At 7/29/2011 7:48 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 13°14.85'S 163°06.47'W

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Lady of the Flies

Hermit crabs make great bait. First you smash their shell with a hammer (or rock or anything hard), put a fishing hook through the soft part of its body, drop the line in the water and wait for a bite. Catching the fish is easy but getting it into the boat is tricky - more often than not the sharks snag the fish before anybody is able to reel it in.

Such are the day to day problems of Suwarrow Atoll, an extremely remote atoll in the Northern Cook Islands, about 500 miles from any significant land. Despite the problems of sharks eating the fish we catch and being constantly sunburned, this has to be one of the coolest places I have ever been. I know I say that a lot, and I know you are sick of hearing about idyllic, paradise-like places, but this place is different.

First off, Suwarrow is a marine life sanctuary and the atoll is completely uninhabited except for two park rangers from the Cook Islands. Their names are James and John. They are huge, Maori-Polynesian guys with wild hair and huge bellies, but they speak the Queen's English (with a New Zealand accent). It is great to be back in English speaking territories! James and John teach all the "Yachties", as they call us, things like how to catch coconut crabs, how to spearfish in the shallows, and how to husk a coconut and hack it open with a machete. There are snorkeling expeditions to reefs out in the lagoon almost every day, and pot-lucks every few evenings. It is like a "pick your own adventure" theme park.

Our first day here I went around to all the new boats in the anchorage to say hello. I met Lars, a single handler who lived in Ocean Beach (SD) before leaving to sail. Small world. He and I have been palling around - a few days ago we went snorkeling around Whale Motu because there is allegedly a 4 meter grouper that lives over there. We did not see it, but there is tons of live coral and thousands of different fish swimming around. The best part: they are all edible! There is no ciguatera here.

Yesterday I went with Lars and John to catch fish for the evening's pot-luck. We did not have any luck trolling, so we anchored and I snorkeled while Lars spear-fished and John dug clams out of the coral. Just after I got out of the water I saw Lars' spear sticking out of the water with a fish on it; he swimming very quickly at the boat while a few black tipped sharks followed closely behind. He managed to get the fish in the boat before the sharks got it. Apparently, if you shoot a fish and stick it out of the water on the spear the sharks won't attack it, but if there is a wounded fish in the water the sharks will be on it instantly.

When we all got back in the boat John cracked open a few clams and gave us different parts of it to eat. Most of it was salty and rubbery, but a few bites were rich and delicious. Both John and James are very good cooks, especially when it comes to preparing foods found on the atolls. Last night we had a pot-luck with all the yachties. We all brought things like pasta salad and brownies, but John cooked fish five different ways and James made deep fried coconut pancakes.

Not only was there great food at the pot-luck, but it is such a cool setting. The "Suwarrow Yacht Club" is Tom Neal's (a guy who lived here in the 1930's and wrote the book "An Island to Oneself") house. The ground floor is an open room with a cement floor surrounded by benches and chairs, and flags and mementos from all the boats that have come through decorate the ceiling. We all sat around eating, drinking and playing music late into the balmy night. Everybody here seems to get along very well. It is like we all know that this time and place is so special that talking about politics or gossip would mar the evening. That, and the fact that we all went through so much to get here (no airport), and are so far from any other civilization, makes for strong camaraderie among us.

I have tried, but there is a feeling here I can't explain. Every day slips away - I think there is a Suwarrow time warp going on here. Everything here is so pure. You want a coconut? Go pick one off the tree. Want to chat with interesting people? Pull up a chair. Want to read a book in a nice shady spot? Go get one from the little library and pick out a hammock overlooking the lagoon. Want fish for dinner? Go catch some. Just watch out for the sharks.
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At 7/23/2011 1:43 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 13°14.87'S 163°06.48'W

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Confession

I have a confession to make: I really don't like sailing. Well - this is not exactly true. I like sailing for a windy afternoon in flat seas on a nice beam reach out of the harbor and then back in, with good friends and plenty of cold beer. I dislike being out at sea for days on end, sailing under the same rather uncomfortable point of sail, constantly rocking and rolling. It is extremely tedious, and sometimes downright torturous. That being said, I think that cruising is one of the coolest ways to travel the world.

On a passage everything is harder, from sleeping to staying awake to eating or not eating. Does this make sense? I will explain: sleeping is harder because there is constant (and not uniform) motion, but it also makes one very lethargic. I sit for days on end, which inevitably makes me feel lazy. Eating is difficult because cooking is a pain in the ass when your kitchen is rocking from side to side (although Dad did manage to make banana muffins yesterday - we needed a morale boost). Sitting around makes me very hungry, as does being borderline seasick, so I end up eating crackers and chips and other junk all day. I know, its tough.

However, there is a reason I am still on board after 7 months. Traveling by boat is awesome. Here are a few reasons why: I go to new and exotic places but sleep in my own bed at night, I go to places that are either inaccessible or very difficult to get to by other means of transportation, and perhaps best of all, I am always on the water. None of that getting caught inland business - unless I make the effort.

Granted, sailing is slow, but it is also a more sustainable and self-sufficient mode of transportation. And when traveling slow one really gets to know a place - you could compare it to the difference of going someplace by car or by walking. On a boat it is easier to become more intimate with certain aspects of a country. On the other hand, it can also be a bit isolating to live on a boat, so it definitely takes the extra effort to get out and get to know a place. But doable, of course.

When we first left San Diego and I came to realize my feelings about sailing (which I have always somewhat known), I felt guilty or wrong for being out here. The more people I made friends with and talk to about this conflict, the more people I have found that share my sentiment. For many people out here, sailing is a means to an end. Sure I live on a boat and sailing is a huge part of my life, but really it is about the lifestyle that living and traveling by boat lend itself to. It is unique and I am lucky to be out here... even though I am hot and tired and a bit seasick and hungry and bored and want to get to land... but I will soon. Tomorrow we should arrive at Suwarrow atoll, a place only accessible by boat, that very few people in the world ever go to. And so I keep reminding myself that this passage is a means to a very sweet end.
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At 7/17/2011 11:58 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 14°03.32'S 160°24.84'W

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Peace Out, French Polynesia

Yes, the Coconut Milk run is over. And how sweet it was. The sail to the Marquesas from Mexico was a breeze (albeit long), and the short hops between islands and atolls in French Polynesia were idyllic. Our 90+ days in the country were everything I hoped they would be and more - surpassing any expectations I had. Granted, in hindsight there are a few things I would do differently, and intend to on my next visit, whenever that may be. In the meantime...

I didn't think I would like Bora Bora as much as I did. I thought it was going to be overrun with goofy tourists and charter boats, the towns would be a "plastic" Polynesia and just kind of hokey. This was not the case. The towns are very low key, and while there were many tourists and tour groups zooming around the lagoon, this worked to our advantage because we followed them to the best snorkeling and dive spots. The fish are so accustomed to people that they will eat out of your hands and the sharks, while they look ferocious, are really quite tame.

Another reason why I had such a great time in Bora Bora is that many of the boats we crossed the Pacific with had the same departure date as us, so we had another rendezvous with lots of friends. For me it makes all the difference in the world to have other people to hang out with and go on adventures with.

From mid-June to mid-July is the Polynesian festival of Heiva. It is the big party month for the locals, and every other night for weeks each village sends a troop of dancers and singers to the main town to compete. Traveling around the islands I saw many groups practicing for their competitions, but we saw the real deal in Vaiape. Huge groups of well-choreographed dancers with elaborate and sexy costumes really gave it their all for their performances. These groups practice for 6 months out of the year. I wonder what they do the other 6 months... On a particularly fun night Adam (friend on Sundowner who I met in Tahiti) and I went into a show and ended up drinking way too much with the locals after the show. That was the real Bora Bora.

I can't decide what my favorite part of French Polyneisa is, and to be fair, any assessment would need to be divided into 3 sections: the Marquesas, Tuamotus, and Society Islands. However we are out at sea and it is very rolly and my brain is not working as well as it should, so I will give a laundry list:
The amazing water, the amazing things living in the water, the friendly locals, the delicious fruit (best pamplemousse in the world), the vibrant culture, the music, the laid back atmosphere (is idyllic-ness a word?) of the islands.... I could go on and on. Don't get me started about the surf (although I did not surf as much as I would have liked).

Alas, yesterday morning we left my beloved French Polynesia. We are now headed for the "Dangerous Middle", where the winds and seas tend to get a bit nastier. We are about 170 miles into a 680 mile passage from Bora Bora to Suwarrow Atoll, which is part of the Cook Islands, out in the middle of nowhere. Its rolly and a bit squally, with gusts of wind up to 30 knots accompanied by rain. Yuck. I forgot how much I really don't like passages, but it is a small price to pay for the places I have gone and the places I am going. More on this next time.
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At 7/15/2011 9:43 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 15°38.85'S 154°50.66'W

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bora Bora's Finest


Face to face with Bora Bora's finest.
(Photos by Andy McKaskle)

Bora Bora is a stunning place. We are anchored below a towering peak covered in thick, green foliage, that is often shrouded by clouds and framed by the occasional rainbow. The water is a deep blue that fades to turquoise (I know you have heard all this before, but I am trying to re-paint the picture) which fades to white on the coral beaches. However, my favorite part of Bora Bora thus far has been the huge, ferocious-looking lemon sharks that live right outside the pass.

For the past few days I have been snorkeling, free diving, and buddy diving with Mark and Yuka on the reef outside the lagoon. We take the dinghy out, tie up to one of the moorings, gear up, and jump in the water. The sharks are frequently fed by tourist dive boats, so when they hear the sound of engines they swim around. The water out there is about 35-60 feet deep, and clear enough to see the detail of the shark's fins from the surface.

The first day I snorkeled while everybody else did a dive (is the past tense of dive "dove" or "dived"?). I wore weights so I could dive down holding my breath, and got to about 35 feet. It is pretty exhilarating to dive down deep, stop to look around, and see the surface 30 feet above. However, it is not quite as exhilarating as meeting those huge lemon sharks face to face.

According to my fish identifying book, "The Lemon shark (Negaprion brevieostris) grows up to 11 feet. Large Specimens can be dangerous, and they have been implicated in attacks on humans." I would not go so far as to call these particular lemon sharks that we swam with domesticated, but they are obviously very well fed (not on humans) and used to people swimming around them. Regardless, seeing a 10 foot long, 6 foot in girth shark swimming directly at you, regardless of how "tame" it is, is pretty damn scary.

Yesterday when we went for our snorkel/dive Yuka offered to let me use her octopus (spare regulator) for a few minutes so I could dive with them. Of course I accepted. As we dove down little butterfly fish swarmed around us, expecting to be fed. We did not have any food but I was amazed at how tame and unafraid of people they were. We were not to the bottom, about 60 feet down, for more than a few seconds before the first shark emerged from over the other side of the reef.

It is a much different experience for a shark to come into view from above, as opposed to below, which is how sharks appear when snorkeling. No, we were on the bottom and this shark was a few feet above us. I saw those nasty rows of teeth sticking out every which-way, that evil little grin and those cold, reflecting eyes. As the shark swam directly at us I was telling myself, "be calm, be calm, it's okay, be calm," and sucking in huge amounts of compressed air. Of course the shark veered off as it got about 10 feet away- about the length of its body. Yuka, who is fearless, started swimming after the sharks and I, who was attached to her, kept trying to keep her back without being too obvious about it.

Andy, who is an ex-Navy SEAL, is also a professional underwater photographer. He has an awesome underwater camera (looks like something for NASA) and is also quite fearless when it comes to photographing sharks. He has no qualms about swimming up to a shark and flashing a camera in its face. Here is one:

A big ol' lemon shark with Yuka and me behind it.

After a few minutes of the huge sharks circling around us (I think there were 3) I headed back up to the surface. It was quite thrilling. When we were all finished diving and swimming, we headed back to Merkava where we drank beer and rum all afternoon. There is something about diving with sharks and then decompressing afterward on a boat below a beautiful mountain peak in warm, inviting water that goes hand in hand with drinking rum all day.

P.S. For those of you who are not Facekooks, I uploaded more photos that you can check out: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.912222297108.2410717.6716829&l=f08e8c56b2

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Adventures Right and Left

Or adventures right and wrong. Or good and bad. Whatever you want to call it, there is rarely a dull moment (I use "rarely" loosely).

We left my beloved Iriru Pass a few days ago and headed to the south end of Raiatea. Once we got around the corner of the island I noticed huge waves breaking on the outer reef. As we motored by the south passes I saw gigantic waves breaking, waves that looked surfable - if you are a "pro" or "Kamikaze" as wannasurf.com calls them. We ended up anchoring by the pass at the end of the lagoon where it becomes impassible because there are too many coral heads to get through. We anchored in about 15 feet of water and took the dinghy out to explore.

Now I was still amped on my last surf sessions, so I was thinking I would be able to surf on the west side of the island, too. However, I was not feeling up to charging the 8-10 foot, top to bottom barrels that I was faced with. There were a few guys out, some getting shacked silly (barreled), and the other sitting on the shoulder looking a bit hesitant. Its funny, it would be my dream to be able to surf waves like that, but when actually faced with the reality of it I had no desire to paddle out. It just looked too gnarly.

I always feel a bit disappointed with myself when I chicken out of something like surfing gnarly waves, so I talked Mom into going for a hearty snorkel with me. We ended up swimming up current for about 30 minutes, only getting a few hundred meters from the boat because the current was so strong from so much water coming in over the reef. We didn't see too much of interest, but it was nice to check out our surroundings. Needless to say, the swim back to the boat was fast and easy.

That night I had trouble falling asleep. Just as I managed to slip into slumber I heard the beeping of the anchor dragging alarm going off at about 1:00 AM. Damn. I ignored it once I heard Dad get up, but when the engine went on and I heard the anchor chain being hauled in I jumped out of bed.

It was a pitch black night. No moon, no bright lights. Mom was at the wheel trying to keep us off the reef behind us, which according to the chart plotter, was very close. Imagine trying to re-anchor in complete darkness, surrounded by coral heads which could potentially sink your boat - your home. Not fun. Not fun at all. I was relaying between Mom and Dad, reporting depths and trying to shine the flashlight in the water to watch for coral. We finally anchored with 2 feet of water under the keel, very close to a little motu. We decided to keep an anchor watch, meaning that somebody would be up at all times just incase the anchor dragged again or we hit something (heaven forbid).

I took the watch from 5:00 AM until it was daylight, about two hours later. When it was light enough to see I saw that we were anchored very close to a big reef which we could easily have plowed right into during the night. Very lucky we didn't. Just as we were getting ready to pull up the anchor I felt a big THUNK and knew that we had hit a coral head, so as Dad pulled up the anchor I put us at full throttle to get the hell out of there.

We decided to go out the pass that I had watched the surf at the day before. It was wide enough, but definitely intimidating to sail through a narrow coral corridor with 8 foot waves breaking on either side - especially after four hours of sleep. After navigating the boat out of the pass I made myself some breakfast and then fell into a deep sleep.

I awoke in a nice, calm bay on the west side of Tahaa (ta-ha-ah), which is enclosed in the same barrier reef as Raiatea, but a separate island. My best cruising buddies, Mark and Yuka on Merkava, also joined us in the bay. We went snorkeling out by the reef in very shallow water. As we got closer to the barrier reef the current got stronger and stronger. At first I was able to swim, then I had to pull on rocks to make forward progress, and soon we were all holding on to the coral so as not to get swept away with the current.

It was actually pretty cool. I felt like I was in some action movie-hurricane scene, holding on to the rocks for dear life. Really, there was no danger except for the fact that there were urchins everywhere, some with up to 12 inch spines, that would not have taken kindly to me smashing into them. We saw some little fish and tiny shells that we would not have seen had we not been hanging on a piece of coral for ten minutes, but there were not too many bigger fish. No sharks either. Swimming back to the dinghy with the current was awesome. It was kind of like a pass dive where you can float effortlessly above the coral as the current sweeps you along, although it is much harder to notice things when going that fast.

Today is the 4th of July. We celebrated by inviting Mark (Canadian) and Yuka (Japanese) over for hot dogs (American) on baguettes (French) and cold Hinano beers (Polynesian). It has definitely been an interesting and multi cultural 4th, but good nonetheless. I must say, however, that when I woke up this morning there was a little part of me that would have liked to hang out at No Surf all day surfing and drinking cheap keg beer, or spend the weekend in Cayucos running amuck and sleeping in people's front yards.

It's all good, though. Every day is a different adventure. Some are more fondly remembered than others, but all prove to be a learning experience, and no day is ever boring. And who knows where I will be next 4th of July. Perhaps I will be with you!

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At 7/5/2011 12:42 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°36.97'S 151°32.71'W

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Dude.

Duuude. Duuuuuuude. You know the surf flicks? Yeah, its kind of like that. This wave is a fast, hollow, powerful, glassy, perfectly peeling left. Or at least it has been the past two days. The water is so clear that even in five feet of water I feel like I am going to scrape my knees on the reef when I duck dive. The wave breaks in such shallow water that as I ride down the face I can see the detail of the brain coral under me. It is the stuff dreams are made of.

Yesterday after we anchored behind a motu at the head of the pass in perfectly calm, clear water. I could see my new favorite wave breaking in the distance through the palm trees, and decided to go check it out before friends on other boats showed up to surf it... I couldn't wait. After checking it from the dinghy I decided it looked good, but suuper shallow so I decided to wear my 5 millimeter surf booties (for the cold waters of Santa Cruz) for foot protection.

After anchoring the dinghy right outside the surf I jumped in the water and paddled out. I caught a few waves that catapulted me down the line, popping out into the shallows, but where I could still paddle back out. Then the wave came that I decided I couldn't make, as I was dropping in, so I bailed and fell flat on my back in the water. Of course, the wave was not done with me so it dragged me across the reef, bumping me into all sorts of coral and rocks. I tried to break myself with my feet, feeling the rubber on the soles of my booties shredding on the sharp coral. When the wave let me go, I found myself in six inches of water, surrounded by coral. Miraculously, I only got a few coral kisses on my shin. I could be covered in reef rash right now (and so thankful I am not) - a huge thanks to my booties. After that I was more careful with my wave selection.

In the afternoon, our buddy boat Songline showed up, and Fred, who just bought a surfboard, wanted to surf. I made it very clear that this is NOT a beginner break, but he was still game to go out. We paddled out again and the waves were nice; he got washed up on the reef a few times but made it out relatively unscathed. Last night I fell asleep thinking about the waves I caught - the thrill of looking down from the peak at the coral reef below and the brilliant blue of the face of the wave down the line as I dropped in.

It didn't take long for me to get back in the water this morning. This time I had two friends with me - Fred and Fleur, both of whom have surfed maybe 5 times in their lives. I was a bit hesitant to take them out, but I have not had any surf buddies to surf with in so long, and there was nobody else out. They were also excited to go, so I just told them to be careful, avoid the reef. Haha.

The waves were beautiful, again. I won't rant about them anymore, but... the waves were as close to any in surf films that I have ever surfed myself. As were the surroundings. At one point, we saw a shark cruising around in the water, so Fleur, naturally paddled right over to it, I kept surfing, and Fred paddled the opposite direction. Just a harmless reef shark.

Moving on from surfing, this afternoon we took the dinghies up a river at the end of one of the bays. The banks of the river were covered with giant stalks of bananas, wild ginger, papaya trees, coconut palms, and lots of other green stuff. At the end of the river we met James, a local who volunteered to give us a tour of his plantation. He showed us many different edible plants and flowers, saying, "this not good for me this good for you in the morning of the polynesia it very smart in the morning. Is it good for you?" Oh yes, it was very good for us, although he was a bit hard to understand.

James climbed coconut palms and threw down the nuts - we drank from young coconuts and feasted on coconut meat. He cut us a huge stalk of bananas. This stalk must have 200 bananas on it. Hard to believe, I know, but I will try to post a picture. I'm not exaggerating. He showed us many more places and plants, and just as he was going to show us his marijuana plantation we had to get back to the boat because it was getting dark. Maybe next time.

We have T-9 (legal) days left in French Polynesia and I feel like we have only scratched the surface of the potential of this place in three months. So many more waves to be surfed, people to meet, passes to snorkel and plantations to visit!
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At 7/1/2011 10:13 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°47.79'S 151°22.95'W

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