This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of seven posts, each one about one of the islands we’re visiting in French Polynesia.

After Galapagos, we spent a few days in Quito, Ecuador, which was unexpected. (Because we thought we’d be leaving Galapagos on a sailboat bound for French Polynesia – which we did not do.) Quito is a city of over 3 million people, and is at an elevation of about 9,000 feet, both of which came as a big surprise to us. 9,000 feet – even at the equator – can get pretty chilly! Fortunately for us, it was in the 60’s during both days we were there, because we had packed for French Polynesia – short pants and t-shirts! We enjoyed Quito, in large part because we spent the first of our two days there exploring it with Beth and Pat, who faithful readers will remember from the Galapagos post. But I’m not going to write any more about it. If you want to know more about Quito, GTS! (That’s what Fran’s sister Ingrid says to her teenagers when they ask her almost anything – “GTS! Google That Sh**!”.)

Read more

From Quito, we flew to Ft. Lauderdale, FL, spent a few hours in the airport, then flew to San Francisco, spent the better part of a day, then flew the 8+ hours to Pape’ete, Tahiti, French Polynesia, and from there, we took the half-hour ferry ride to the island of Mo’orea – which is the topic of this post. I’m going to try to make a post about each of the islands we visit in French Polynesia, and each of them will be fairly short, and not very funny – sorry. I’m trying to be more timely, and it comes at the expense of humor.

Mo’orea is just west of Tahiti, in the Society Islands

Before I dive into Mo’orea, let me give a brief geography lesson. I was totally ignorant of the geography of French Polynesia, and you may be, too, so here goes. French Polynesia is a country – sort of. It’s part of France – sort of. But it refers to a bunch of islands and atolls (121, officially) in five main groups: the Society Islands archipelago, comprising the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands; the Tuamotu Archipelago; the Gambier Islands; the Marquesas Islands; and the Austral Islands. The Society Islands includes the most famous of the islands, Tahiti, which is home to the capital city, Pape’ete. It also includes the second most famous island, Bora Bora, and Mo’orea, the topic of this post. There is a group of islands between the Marquesas and the Tuamotus, called the Disappointment Islands. Not sure why they’re not listed anywhere – I’m sure that’s disappointing to the residents there. (What the Fakahina?!?!) During this trip, we will visit seven islands in three of the groups, and if I don’t run out of steam, you’ll get to learn a little about each of them over the course of the next few months. If you want to know a lot more about them, GTS!

Mo’orea, like most (all?) of the islands and atolls of French Polynesia, is what’s left from a very old volcano. The peaks in the middle are dramatic – lots of sheer cliffs, mostly completely covered in green. When the sun is just right, or the clouds are covering just the tops of them, they are quite striking. The reef completely surrounds the island, and the only road of any significance runs the entire 61 kilometer (38 mile) circumference. You can’t get lost – everything is on this road, either “ocean side” or “mountain side”. We couldn’t rent a car (none were available for rent during our stay), so we rented a scooter, and drove the entire way around the island at least four times during our week there.

There isn’t a whole lot to do on Mo’orea. There are some touristy things to do, but not many, and we tend to shy away from those things anyway. You can get in the water at the three public beaches, but only two of them had water we could snorkel in – the third had such a current ripping across the beach that we could barely keep from being swept away. And there are some hikes you can do up those gorgeous green peaks. So we did a little of each.

First, the snorkeling. Almost immediately upon getting in the water, we started seeing fish we had never seen before, except in the fish ID books. The most immediately obvious were the butterfly fish, four species of which we’re familiar with in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Well, French Polynesia doesn’t have any of those four, but it has what seems like a newly created species of butterfly fish approximately every additional 10 minutes that we’re undewater here! They are absolutely everywhere, and absolutely beautiful! Most seem to be some combination of black, white, and yellow, but the combinations seem endless, as are the shapes and sizes. Some are kind enough to allow a decent photo now and then, but some are so shy that it may take the rest of our trip before we happen to snap even a good speciment shot. This happens frequently: see a fish you want to photograph, start moving towards that fish to set up the shot, and another equally or even more beautiful fish swims in front of you, distracting you from the first fish, and now you’re about out of breath so you can’t chase the second fish. Oh, well – we love seeing them, and chasing them, and are so happy when we do manage to fire off a good shot of one.

Snowflake Moray – we’ve never seen this guy before!

Most of the above can be said about the angel fish, the surgeon fish, the trigger fish, the unicorn fish, and several more groups of fish that we see all over: there are a lot of different ones, all are beautiful or strange or worthy of shooting for one reason or another, we’ve never seen them before, and they are challenging to shoot. I’ll include some of of our better shots from Mo’orea in this post, and will provide a link to all of our pix from there. Also, if you keep up with my posts about each island as we go (assuming I keep up!), you’ll see more and more pictures, and will start to recognize the usual suspects, because I know we won’t stop shooting them!

Longnose Butteryfly Fish, or Forceps Butterfly Fish – I can’t tell them apart

We did only one touristy thing: we took a boat tour of the two big bays on the north end of the island, with some dolphin watching, snorkeling, and lunch. The dolphins here are of two different species – at least the ones we’ve seen so far. On the boat tour, we had a couple small pods of what they call locally “spinner dolphins”, because when they jump out of the water while underway, they sometimes spin in the air. We’ve had spinners swim with us in the Caribbean, and they left no doubt that they were spinners with their aerial displays. The ones we saw here didn’t spin, but they were just swimming around in a bay, looking for lunch, so I wouldn’t have expected to see them spinning. Still, they didn’t look like the same species we saw in the Caribbean, so I guess I’ll have to GTS one day.

The snorkeling we did on the boat tour was in very shallow water, after the boat was parked so they could prepare lunch. There were some fish, but the main attraction was the sharks and rays. Everywhere you looked there were white tipped reef sharks in the 3 – 5 foot size range. We were in an area where lunch is often prepared for tourists, and the sharks get the scraps, so of course they hang out. It was not at all a shark feeding type of thing, however (we think those should be abolished – bad for the sharks, and occasionally very bad for divers) – the sharks are just hanging out, hoping for a scrap of fish now and then, which makes for some fun snorkeling. The rays are doing the same thing – very similar to the rays we have in the Atlantic and Caribbean, but a different species. (Reminds me of that old Steve Martin bit, which he concludes by saying “Those French have a different word for everything!” French Polynesia seems to have a different species of everything.)

Our entertainment while lunch was prepared – lots of black tip reef sharks

Finally, it was time for lunch. I didn’t expect lunch to be the highlight of the excursion, but it most certainly was! They set up the table and chairs in the water, about knee-depth. On the table they set bowls of tuna in coconut milk, tuna carpaccio, grilled chicken, grilled fish (not tuna), pasta salad, a cabbage salad similar to coleslaw, but not quite, and fresh pineapple, dragonfruit, and ripe papaya. All of it was delicious, as freshly made as it could be, and came with the added benefit of rays and little fish tickling our ankles and feet as we ate! (Side benefit of our excursion that day – we met Francesca and Luis, a couple from Puerto Rico now living and working in, of all places, Chattanooga, Tennessee! They were great – we had dinner with them a few nights later. They’re the couple on the left in the picture.)

Lunch not “on the water”, but “IN the water!”

The last activity we did was a hike up one of the peaks. Not the tallest – that would involve some actual mountain climbing. But one in the middle that, from the top, supposedly has a panoramic view of most of the island. I say “supposedly” because, when we were no more than five minutes from the peak, we encountered a landslide that had occurred just the night before, the result of some crazy wind immediately following a really thorough drenching. We managed to clamber over the first fallen tree in our path, but after that, what was left in our path was a bit too precarious, and we didn’t want to become the most talked-about event on the island for the next week: “Stupid American Tourists Killed Trying to Traverse a Fresh Landslide on the Three Coconuts Peak.” Sub-headline: “What The Hell Were They Thinking?”

The best view we could get from our truncated hike

We chose not to scuba dive on Mo’orea, because it’s not known for it, and the next two islands (Rangiroa and Fakarava) are, so we decided to save our dive budget for later.

Lodging on Mo’orea was interesting. There are a few very nice places – one of them has the little bungalows over the water, which look fantastic, but they’re also $850 per night, so no, we didn’t stay there. But mostly, there are small, quite modest places mostly with the name “Fare Something-or-other”. Fare means “house” or “home” in Tahitian, but it implies “guest house”. We didn’t stay in one, though, so I don’t even know why I’m telling you that. We did stay in an airbnb that was listed as a “Private room in a home”. Shared bathroom, shared kitchen, shared everything except the bedroom. OK – we had to book on short notice, let’s give it a try. What we didn’t find out until we arrived was that we would also be sharing the mold and fungus in the bathroom, the dog hair from the five dogs, the clutter from the woman’s grandchildren, and the grease, dirt, and food waste in the kitchen. Needless to say, we spent just one night there.

The second floor sleeping quarters of our bungalow at Mark’s Place

Fortunately, we then found Mark’s Place! Mark is an American who moved to French Polynesia in 1981 when he was 28 (he’s now 70), and to Mo’orea in 2000. He bought a piece of property with nothing on it, and started building things. (He’s a carpenter / furniture maker by trade.) First, a workshop, then a very tiny place for him to live. He just keeps building things, and now has five or six bungalows of varying sizes, and one of them, big enough to sleep eight, became available unexpectedly, so when we called about needing a place right now, they said sure, come on over, and we’ll charge you only the rate for our smallest bungalow. So we had the beautiful two story bungalow that sleeps eight upstairs, and downstairs has a full kitchen and dining room, and a bathroom with two sinks, two showers, and two toilets. And it came with two kittens! Not tiny kittens, but kittens in the 5 – 7 month range, who both loved to be petted, and one of whom would sit on a lap for the duration of our morning “long coffee” sessions. Boy, did we make a move up in the world when we came to Mark’s! And Mark is a super nice guy who is a much better talker than listener, but fortunately, he had a lot more interesting things to say than we did, so it worked out just fine.

Alright, that’s all I have for Mo’orea. So much for making a short, sweet post with some pictures. Better luck next time! (That’ll be Rangiroa.)

Here’s the link to our Google Photos library for Mo’orea – enjoy!

P.S. – Although we live in a place where coconuts are common (we have 13 coconut trees in our yard), it wasn’t until we visited Mo’orea that we started to learn all the really great ways to use the coconut and the fronds. You can bet we’ll be stepping up our coconut game when we get back to Southermost Smartini!

Freshly shredded coconut, banana, and lime juice – so good!


Our transpacificus interruptus left us in the Galapagos Islands, but before Sail Fail, we had already planned to be there a while, and had booked a weeklong cruise on the Aida Maria to see the wonders of the archipelego.

Read more

The Aida Maria is a 16 passenger “cruise ship” that travels around the islands of the Galapagos, stopping at all the cool places to see all the cool things. We were amazingly fortunate that dear friends Beth and Pat were able to fly in and join us for the adventure, and a good time was had by all. In fact, this was one of those rare occasions when an event actually exceeds expectations. Lemme tell ya’ about it!

A marine iguana and a penguin – buddies, or just neighbors?

The above picture kind of summarizes the trip – animals everywhere, all the time, and they were animals we don’t ever see in Florida, or anywhere in the US, or even the Caribbean. The marine iguana lives only in the Galapagos Islands, as does the Galapagos penguin. In fact, it’s the only penguin that lives north of the equator. (Although just barely north of the equator – the farthest north part of Galapagos is not even 1 full degree north of the equator.) And as you may have heard, there are about 14,000,000 other species that live only in the Galapagos, and we got to see every single one of them! (OK, I’m lying… but it seemed that way!)

Jairo, our excellent Galapagos National Park guide

The Aida Maria and its crew were excellent. Jairo was our National Park-certified guide, and he told us all about everything, every day. Angel was the steward, and he simply could not have taken any better care of us. Walter was the chef, and his stated goal was to make every one of us gain 10 pounds in our week onboard (I think he succeeded!). And the rest of the crew, mostly silently and mostly in the background, made sure we got way more than our money’s worth. If the cabins had been a bit larger, it would have been damned near perfect. As it was, it was only fantastic.

On one of our many snorkels, we swam with a manta ray, penguins, sea lions, marine iguanas, and more sea turtles than we could count. (I actually tried and failed to keep count of them.) We also saw, above the waterline, blue footed boobies, which are some of the most impressive boobies I’ve ever seen, anywhere. (Sorry about that – it’s a federal law that anything written about the Galapagos must include at least one “boobies” joke.)

Three penguins in this shot!

We saw giant Galapagos tortoises, and Galapagos terrestrial iguanas, and lava lizards, and Darwin’s finches, and Darwin’s Galapagos Lava Finches. (Not really – but about 90% of the critters we saw had one of those three modifiers in their name, so we just started calling everything “Darwin’s Galapagos Lava <fill in the blank>”.) We saw Galapagos tortoises mating. We saw flamingoes mating. We saw lava lizards mating. We saw Nazca boobies, and blue footed boobies, and great frigate birds all mating, or in the process of getting ready to mate (think of all the primping you used to do before going out on a Saturday night, and all the preening you used to do in the disco – that was everywhere around Galapagos!).

Yes, that’s exactly what you think it is

We had marine iguanas swim at us so close we thought they’d crash into us. We had sea lions biting our snorkel fins and gloves. We had penguins darting around us like kids at a carnival after two full helpings of cotton candy and a Coke. We saw albatross and boobies and frigate birds on their nests.

Fran, me, Beth, and Pat celebrating our equator crossing on Aida Maria

With one or two exceptions, every fish we saw was new to us, so we’ll have at least 30 new species to try to identify from the pictures we took. I could go on, but I won’t. I’ll just post a few photos, and then give you a link to all the pictures and videos we took on the trip. To paraphrase The Dead – what a very cool trip it was!

One of my favorite pix of the trip – Godzilla! (Photo credit: Pat Winkler)
Hey, baby – you ever see such blue feet? Let’s get it on!
Thassalotta iguanas! And a flightless cormorant just for fun.

Here’s a link to all the pictures and videos – enjoy!

Smartini Goes Sailing

You know that the boat we lived on for five years (called Smartini – what else?) was NOT a sailboat. It was a trawler, a slow, comfortable, motor boat. Neither of us had any sailing knowledge when we decided to buy a boat, so we went the easy route – buy a motor boat. But the majority of people we met and became friends with during our crusing years were on sailboats, and frankly, our conversations with them about sailing reinforced our choice of a motor vs. sails. (Here’s the gist of it: a sailboat big enough to live on comfortably has every system that a motor boat has – including a motor – and it also has all of the sailing stuff: mast, rigging, and sails, all of which need to be maintained and periodically replaced. So in our minds, the ONLY benefit of a sailboat is that, sometimes, you get to go somewhere without burning fuel. I say “sometimes” because every sailor we’ve met admits that they run the motor – either in conjunction with using the sails, or instead of using the sails – about half the time.)

Continue reading “Smartini Goes Sailing”

The Key(s) to Happiness

I’ll save the suspense: yesterday (January 2, 2022), Fran and I moved to the Florida Keys! We’re renting a place in Key Largo for all of January (thanks, Jim and Kathy!!!), and we’re scheduled to close on a house on Big Pine Key on the 28th of this month. We’re so excited!

Part of the backyard of the new house
Continue reading “The Key(s) to Happiness”

Smartini’s First Land Adventure: New York City

Loyal Readers will recall that we recently sold the boat formerly known as Smartini (renamed “Vahevala” just last Saturday) and that we’re now hoping to do a lot of extended-stay land adventures. As to the title of this post, “Smartini” has always referred to Butch and Fran (Smith and Martini = Smartini) since long before there was a boat with that name, and will continue to refer to us. One day, we may buy a house and name it Smartini, but we are Smartini, and Smartini is us. Got it?

Anyway… with us being on the boat for five years, and my son (Fran’s step-son) Bennett being in college for those same five years, we haven’t been able to spend very much time with him for far too long. So we fixed that: we spent a month in New York City, where he recently graduated from college and now lives, so that we could get some quality time with him.

Continue reading “Smartini’s First Land Adventure: New York City”

Dominica Doesn’t Disappoint!

We’ve been wanting to visit Dominica for a long time – ever since we started planning this Big Adventure severeal years ago, and looking at the islands individually. Fran, in particular, has wanted to see it. A few weeks ago, we did, and we were not disappointed! I think it’s the most beautiful island we’ve visited – it’s so green and lush, the word “jungle” is always on your mind as you travel around. But the waterfalls – WOW WOW WOW!!! We walked / hiked / swam to seven, and every one was just gorgeous – and one was, for me, maybe the most beautiful natural feature I’ve ever seen, anywhere in the world. (Eric McKinley, I know you like hiking to waterfalls – you NEED to go to Dominica!)

Trafalgar Falls – this is Papa. Look close to see the person, to give an idea of the size.
Continue reading “Dominica Doesn’t Disappoint!”

We Made it to Grenada!

When we left Florida on the Big Adventure on March 1, 2018, we were hoping to eventually make it to Grenada, which is one of the last islands in the Caribbean before South America. Yesterday, we made it!

We spent two months in St. Martin (French) / Sint Maarten (Dutch), where we hauled Smartini out of the water for 16 days and completed a lot of projects. (That will be the subject of another post.) But by the middle of September, we were getting tired of worrying about the next Tropical Wave spinning off the coast of Africa – was it going to come our way? Would it develop into a Tropical Storm, or a hurricane, and would it visit St. M? Would we be in a safe enough place to avoid damage? We decided to get while the gettin’ was good, and a forecast of calm weather for a week or more was all we needed.

Continue reading “We Made it to Grenada!”

The Virgin Islands

Once again, Faithful Readers, I find myself apologizing for such a long wait for a new post. I can only imagine how many of you must wake up each morning and think “Today’s the day – a new post on Smartini Life – I just KNOW it!”. (I imagine that the number is zero.) At any rate, my apologies.

Arrival / Reunion Drinks with Whitey and Max

Smartini arrived in Charlotte Amalie, one of the largest settlements on the island of St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, on the afternoon of March 28, just two days ahead of our first guests, Steve and Challen. Friends of ours, Max (Maxine) and Whitey, who we met in Key West after Hurricane Irma, and who run the charter sailboat Nutmeg, were anchored there, so we joined them, anchoring on the West side of Water Island. We promptly put Killer in the water, picked them up from Nutmeg, and went ashore to Tickles, the bar/restaurant at Crown Bay Marina, and proceeded to celebrate our arrival in the Virgin Islands, and our reunion, as it had been over a year since we had last seen them.

Continue reading “The Virgin Islands”

At Long Last, Culebra!

Before there was M/V Smartini, before there was M/V Turtle E. Awesome, before Fran and I even knew what a trawler was… Culebra was on our radar. We don’t remember where we even learned of its existence, but when we first hatched the idea of eventually living somewhere in the Caribbean, it was there. We made it a “Favorite” on the weather app on our phones, so when we checked the weather for Indianapolis and Satellite Beach, we also saw what is was like in Culebra. Year-round, the daily highs and nightly lows wouldn’t vary more than two or three degrees over the ten day forecast period, and the day-to-night changes were almost always less than eight degrees. “We’ve got to see Culebra!” we said to each other, many, many times.

Continue reading “At Long Last, Culebra!”

Turks and Caicos Islands / Providenciales

(Editor’s note: I wrote this article on February 25, not expecting to be leaving Turks and Caicos for some time. But a week later, we relocated Smartini to Big Sand Cay, preparing to depart for the Dominican Republic, and ended up bypassing the DR and making it all the way to Puerto Rico on March 7! I’ll post soon about that 41 hour crossing.)

As we wait for a nice weather window for our next major relocation (Puerto Rico for a bit, then the Virgin Islands), it occurs to me that I’m long past due to write about our home for the last 3 1/2 months. We arrived here on October 29 after spending the first eight months of this Big Adventure all around the Bahamas. We planned to stay three months here, partly because we had friends and family who wanted to visit and we needed to commit to a location for that. But it was also because we (I, in particular) were ready for a little bit less of a vagabond lifestyle for awhile.

Continue reading “Turks and Caicos Islands / Providenciales”

Long Island, Conception, Cat Island and Eleuthera

In the middle of June, we had a two week stretch between guests to get from George Town on Great Exuma to Governor’s Harbour on Eleuthera. The weather was mostly favorable for travel, so we were able to spend all the time we wanted at each of those places. This post tells just a little bit about those two weeks, with a whole lotta pictures at the end of it.

Looking over Calabash Bay, Long Island

The North end of Long Island is about 53 nm from George Town, and that was our first stop. We had heard that Calabash Bay is very nice, with one of the most beautiful beaches in all of the Bahamas. We made it there easily in one day, and found (surprise!) a beautiful bay and beach, and a nice calm anchorage. Long Island is long (duh!) – about 80 miles – so one of the days we rented a car and drove about 2/3 of the way down it to Clarence Town. There, there are two churches that were designed and built by a man called Father Jerome – one church is Catholic, the other Protestant (Church of England). He was an interesting guy, but I won’t spend much Smartini Life time on him – if you’re interested, his real name was John Hawes. Near the end of his life, he built “The Hermitage” on Cat Island, of which there are a lot of pictures in the photo gallery at the end of this post.

Continue reading “Long Island, Conception, Cat Island and Eleuthera”

Northern Exumas

I originally wrote this post on April 28, and then promptly forgot about it, and never posted it – oops! It’s about our first foray into the Exumas, the chain of islands that’s kind of in the middle of the Bahamas. It runs about 100 miles north to south, and is no more than 1/2 mile wide for much of that. It consists of over 365 mostly-small islands (“cays” – pronounced “keys”, not “cays”), with lots of cuts between them that connect the “big water” (the Exuma Sound) on the east side to the shallow bank on the west side. In the middle is Staniel Cay, near the famous Bahamas Swimming Pigs. Great Exuma is the southernmost island, and that’s where George Town and Elizabeth Harbour are. Literally hundreds of cruisers spend their winters there.

What follows is from our first visit to any of the Exumas – the northern part, most easily reached from Nassau. If you want only the pictures, scroll to the end.

Continue reading “Northern Exumas”

Crew of Smartini Goes to Italy!

In case you’ve been wondering what the crew of Smartini (Fran and me, but not May the Cat) has been up to lately – we went to Italy! For two weeks with Bennett (my son, Fran’s step-son), and Bennett’s mom, Terri Henderson (yes, that’s my ex-wife – we get along great these days), then just Fran and me for another week.

I’d love to give you all the details, but in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, “No, it’s too much – lemme sum up.” We left the USA on May 12 (Terri and Bennett from NYC, Fran and me from Miami) and flew to Rome. A few days there, then a few days in Venice, then a few days in Florence, then some more days in the countryside of Tuscany, a few miles from Siena. Terri and Bennet had to go home at that point, but Fran and I stayed for almost another week, driving a few days to Rome, and then flying to the island of Sicily for four days.

Continue reading “Crew of Smartini Goes to Italy!”

Visit Report – Robin and Cathy, March 2018

Robin and Cathy on the deck at Sandy Toes (Rose Island)

Fran and I have known Robin since 2009 or 2010. Like most of our Florida friends, we met her through Crossfit. She’s been a dear friend almost since the beginning. She’s been to Indianapolis for Winterfest, so she’s met a bunch of our Indy friends, too. She met Cathy a year ago (they celebrated that anniversary while onboard, in fact), and Fran and I have been able to spend some time with Cathy during that time, so we figured she would probably make a good guest.

Continue reading “Visit Report – Robin and Cathy, March 2018”