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2008/08/24 French Polynesia
π 2008-08-24 00:00 in Diving, Trips
Since I had been wanting to see French Polynesia for a little while now (what people often mistakenly refer to as Tahiti, which is a single Island, and quite frankly not the most interesting one), so Jennifer and I both having a little time off work at the end of summer turned out to be the perfect opportunity to go.
Unfortunately, by then it was a little late to be able to book within pensions (low key housing managed by locals for a much more reasonable price), so we had to go with the expensive resorts. The resorts per se were fairly good, but felt pretty overpriced when food and diving were extra and cost up to $120-$150 for 3 meals and $150-250 for 2 to 4 dives per person per day. In other words, that was not cheap. But eh, that was the price for going last minute and being able to go was at least worth it.
Credit goes to Ellen Clark from Value Vacations on getting us everything booked at the last minute and allowing me to pay in Euros and not in USD which were worth near nothing at the time. Ellen had also valuable insight about the different locations in French Polynesia since it's one of her specialties.

After conferring with Ellen, our itinerary took us to Tahiti, Bora-Bora for 3 days, Rangiroa for 5 days, Fakarava for 4 days and then on board the Aquatiki for 8 days to sail to nearby atols and protected biosphere that aren't accessible via plane. Some Islands only had 10-30 people on them.


Papeete

Anyway, about 3 weeks after the trip was booked, we were on our way to Papeete in Tahiti to connect to Bora-Bora. Quite frankly, Tahiti is mostly a fly through Island, but we at least visited Papeete a little bit while we were there by going outside for dinner that evening and going to the market the next morning.
For the fun story, I should also add that we left a bit quickly, and after not having done my homework on the local currency, I went to an ATM and withdrew 5000 CFP (francs polynésiens), which I thought would be a reasonable amount of money. Turns out it was just $70, so that didn't bring us very far :) They have nice bills though.


they do look like ancient francs

Here are pictures from Papeete not shown below.


arrival in Tahiti


local dinner in downtown Papeete at les roulottes




Le truck or local schoolbus looking transport system which actually worked quite well


visit of the local market before boarding our next flight

Bora-Bora

We then got to Bora Bora, which is the prettiest Island from the sky since it has some mountains (most other ones are pretty flat). It had ok diving, and the most non diving related activities. Outside of diving, we did parasailing, a 4WD tour of the island, and jetskiing around the island while having a snack on a small Island we went to.
We stayed at the Maitai, which was a decent location with view from heights. Since it was in Bora-Bora, it was overpriced and eating all meals there would have been silly expensive, so we shopped at the nearby store and made several of our own meals the best we could.
Below are a few pictures from the Bora Bora picture library (Flight, Maitai, Parasailing, Safari Tupuna, Waverunner).




nice flight to Bora-Bora




we saw a polynesian show at the Maitai




Those things were scary fast, over 70 miles per hour (120hp)


This is what a germinated coconut looks like and you can eat that

As far as the diving goes, here is a link to the diving pictures from Bora Bora. All in all diving was pretty good (2 dives each morning), and the guys at Top Dive were good, albeit maybe a little bit rushed for getting their 2 morning dives done as quickly as possible and be back in time for lunch.
Unfortunately I lost my first camera there (Panasonic DMC TZ3) after the strap must have slightly prevented the seal in the underwater case and got the camera wet underwater when the case leaked. I got back up right away to give the camera to the boat driver, but unfortunately I didn't get out of the water to remove the camera from the case myself and assumed he would do it after I told him there was water in the case and after I rushed back down the water for the group waiting for me. While it's hard to say after the fact if the camera could have been salvaged, I'm pretty pissed that the boat driver did nothing with it and just let it sit it its sea water for the 60mn that it took us to come back, ensuring that the camera (and even the SD card) would be well dead when we came back :(
Top Dive said that they weren't responsible for cameras or doing anything to the cases and that I should have opened it myself. I suppose it's the easy way out for them, but honestly a better boat driver would have at least opened the case to drain the water when given a camera in such condition, and it's a bit lame that Top Dive wasn't even willing to compensate us with a few free dives in return, considering that we bought 50 from them at full retail price. In other words, they didn't have to do anything, and they didn't. Would have been nice if they had though.




those guys were eating and destroying all the coral in Bora


those were the biggest sharks we got to see











After a 3 nights/4 days in Bora Bora, we left for Rangiroa.

Rangiroa

Rangiroa is more out of the beaten path as far Islands go. It's pretty small occupied space: a 12km strip of land with passes you can dive on each side.
There again, it was too late to stay at a moderately priced pension, so we stayed at the Novotel. The bungalows were a bit cramped and the beach bungalows were kind of a scam since there is no sandy beach (just rocks) and that people from other bungalows just put chairs in front of your ocean view door and sunbathe there. However, on the flipside, they had wireless internet in the rooms (yes, yes, I need help, I know :) )
Here is a link to the rest of the pictures from Rangiroa.


Our second bungalow in at the Novotel Lagoon Resort


there was a little surprise in our room :)


this is an old style city hall, like you may have seen in France 100 years ago :)


it didn't quite make sense to have a car for 12km and one road

Rangiroa didn't have much to do once you visited downtown (which meant 3-4 stores and that's it), but we were plenty busy with 3-4 dives per day with the great guys from the local Top Dive. The diving, quite frankly, was plain awesome. Between plenty of Manta Rays, playing with dolphins (or them playing with us :) ), and challenging dives like a high speed drift dive at 30 metres. As far as the diving goes, here is a link to the diving pictures from Rangiroa


















this looked like a scene from Hitchcock's "The Birds", they were out to get me :)








some of those dolphins were very playful, and one even could be pet




no idea what that was






Plenty of Manta Rays to be seen

And just because we got lucky, our last dive was the best one of all, we saw eight manta rays and multiple dolphins that came to play with us. We couldn't have asked for anything better. Jennifer even got to touch a dolphin finally.




they were all over during this dive




I was able to pet this guy on the belly




and Jennifer was able to pet this one too

While the weather wasn't stellar during our last days in Rangiroa, luckily the lagoon is protected from the wind so even when it rained, we were able to score some great dives. The same did not hold for Fakarava as I'll explain below.

Fakarava

By the time we flew to Fakarava, the weather was raining with low overcast and we had strong winds, currents and sea during our time there.
Fakarava is even more off the beaten path: it's more spread out land-wise but there are only 700 people across all that land. Quite frankly, there isn't much to do other than diving, which is ok since we were there just for that :) Unfortunately, we were greeted by rain and strong winds which prevented us from going diving the next day.
We stayed in the Maitai Dream there, the sole hotel (again because all pensions were full). The Maitai Dream was probably the best place we stayed at in comfort, decor, and secluded area, but unfortunately no internet, which made for a long day when we were stuck all day in the room due to torrential rains. Oh well, we had to find other things to do :)
Below are a few pictures from the pictures I took in Fakarava






despite the bad weather, we at least enjoyed some nice views


this little juicy fellow was walking around at night by the sea

Due to weather, we first lost one day of diving because the sea was too rough to go, and then for the 3 remaining days we were there, except for one great dive during the only in-current we had in the Lagoon, the rest of the time the Lagoon kept emptying all day and night, preventing us from doing the great dives in the pass, and forcing us to dive one coastline over and over again (the best dives are possible when the current is in and the lagoon is filling up from the ocean, and we only had those conditions once out of a possible 7 times :( )
This made our time in Fakarava somewhat disappointing, and shows that their site is really weather dependent when Rangi mostly isn't.
All that said, here are the diving pictures from Fakarava




this fish evolved into swimming sideways and one of is eyes migrated on the top side











Unfortunately Rangiroa is where Jennifer also lost my old canon S500 camera by having one of her hair in the underwater case. We almost rescued the camera, but after being dried, it still behaved erratically, and I ended up killing it entirely in a last ditch effort to revive it.
By then, we were down to 2 cameras (out of 4) and only one that could still go underwater (we had two panasonic TZ3s).

Aquatiki

Our reason for being in Fakarava was mainly because we had opted for a liveaboard as our last leg of the trip: we had an 8 day trip on the French Aquatiki. I thought I'd give a quick review of the boat and staff:
The staff of 3 (captain/engineer, hostess/cook, and divemaster) was great. They were all very good at what they did and the divemaster was specifically knowledgeable and able to find a good balance between safety and enjoying great but sometimes difficult sites.
The boat itself has the basic amenities: you do have a shower/toilet per cabin (3 cabins of 2) but you have to pump your own seawater in the toilet and pump out the shower water in the drain (it also makes a not so nice sloshing sound all the time, which isn't great when you're already feeling queezy). We did get hot water in the shower at least (which I hear is not true of all smaller boats), and basically it was adequate but not recommended for people who require a somewhat better level of comfort, or feel a bit claustrophobic in a cramped cabin.
The boat is actually pretty slow, it uses a combination of low power engines (72HP) and sailing which give anywhere between 4 to 10 knots depending on the wind and currents. This made for some long rides in rough sea to cover distances that weren't that great, so the Aquatiki only goes to 4 places or so over the week and does multiple dives and activities at each location. This in contrast with boats in the great barrier reef that motor to 4 to 5 dive sites per day at twice the speed, or more.
It however turned out to work out since each anchor point had interesting nearby dive sites to visit. The Aquatiki does bring you to Atolls that you wouldn't be able to reach otherwise, and it mostly depends on the sea, currents and winds: they can make a different itinerary each time they go out. While some boat rides can be a bit long, the upshot is that the boat is eco friendly and doesn't dump a lot of diesel in the water, especially when it's sailing :)
The aquatiki only offers two dives a day which is either more relaxed or less than some other boats that do 4-5 per day depending on how you look at it. The main reasons for that are that they only have air (no nitrox), and some of the dives can be pretty deep (30m is almost routine, 40 to 50 metres is possible if the divers are qualified and the site warrants it). Because the Aquatiki also offers bigger 15L tanks, you end up being very tired when your body gets rid of all that nitrogen from the deep dives on air and you wouldn't want to do more than 3 dives a day anyway.
As for language, the crew is indeed French and speak basic English as needed, but a single English speaking guest might feel out of place as everyone else would be speaking french all day and during meals. It was a bit tough for Jennifer at the dinner table when everyone was chatting, but that's the price you pay for going in a foreign country.

While they are indeed the only boat available either way, we don't regret our trip at all, despite the pretty rough sailing, and all other guests were also very happy with the combination of diving and time to visit remote Islands and totally deserted Islands.


this shows the places we went to via the Aquatiki


you can see the jigsaw track to Toau due to sailing against the wind


Here are all the pictures taken from the Aquatiki.


the biggest hermit crab Jennifer found


it actually came from this shell and jumped out of it when Jennifer caught it


a 10 person pension on Marativa Island


we didn't get to taste the coconut milk fed piggies, but they looked tasty :)


une cabine téléphonique qui prennait les cartes france telecom, alimenté par paneaux solaires. Trop fort!


we didn't get to try the piggies, but we got plenty of freshly fished lobster. Yummy!


another nearly deserted spot with 12 bungalows, a dive shop and a few people








excursion to small islands with pink sand




our boat






My own charts, just to make sure we don't get lost :)

And now, a link to the Aquatiki diving pictures and a few are below:








my first deco dive






the people from Marativa took us to a spot where Manta Rays feed




Remoras tried to stick to us as if we were sharks




my deepest dive yet


stonefish






Tumakohua pass is known for a population of 400 sharks






nice eagle rays








did I mention many sharks? :)





Conclusion

While this wasn't the ideal trip money-wise due to more affordable pensions being filled up (and quite frankly the expensive resorts not being worth the money they charge), it did just fine considering the little advance notice and planning we had.

Ellen Clark did a great job finding us what was still available last minute, and getting us the whole trip designed and booked in 4 days. The mix of Islands she recommended, worked well, the only disappointing part was bad weather in Fakarava, especially in the winter where weather is supposed to be better, but there isn't much anyone can do about that.
All is all, the trip went quite well, even if it sucked to lose two cameras in the process. While it was very nice, I would however say that French Polynesia is not great value for your money: there are places that are just as nice, and much more affordable, but for me it was fun to see parts of France, how it used to be 50 to 100 years ago and I'm guessing that Tahiti can still more or less afford its current prices because it's French speaking and it's the top destination for French speakers. For English speakers, it does remain a great place to see, but there are other ones that can be seen too for less money.
In parting, here's a link to all the pictures of the trip to french polynesia, and one to all the diving pictures.
2008/08/23 Visiting LA and San Diego with my dad
π 2008-08-23 13:35 by Merlin in Trips

After spending some time in Vegas with his friends, my dad went to LA with them to visit. Jennifer and I flew down there to meet him. We spent a few days visiting LA (and got to meet my other friend Jennifer there, who nicely drove us around on sunday), and after that, we flew down to San Diego.



an evening at the Magic Castle where my dad's friends were working






La Brea Tar Pits, still outputting methane, tar, and SO2












More Pictures of LA


We landed soon before sunset and got some nice views of San Diego from Shelter Island where we ate in a nice Hawaian restaurant.







A few pictures of San Diego at Night


The next morning, we went to Seaworld and got the time to pet the dolphins and bat rays, and see all the shows, including the evening shows.





























that's many arms for a starfish, isn't it?




time for a nap






Many more pictures from Sea World


The next day, we drove north a bit, to Legoland. While the rides are clearly meant for children and weren't that exciting for us, some of the lego models were amazing, especially mini land with a super accurate and impressive Vegas, San Francisco, Manhattan, and others.













While the new york people can't get their shit together for building the freedom tower to replace fallen towers, legoland already has theirs :)










Their Las Vegas was truely awesome












Many more pictures from Legoland


And since we were in the area, the 3rd day we went to the nearby Wild Animal Park. While it may not have been fully complete or the best wild animal park in the world, it was still good to visit.





























More pictures from the Wildlife Animal Park .


After that, we flew back from Montgomery field in San Diego to Palo Alto, and my dad spent a few days with us in Cupertino.
One of the things we did was go to a nearby winery up skyline (Ridge) and we had a nice picnic there along with wine we had just bought.










2008/08/03 Oshkosh/EAA Airventure 2008 Report
π 2008-08-03 23:51 by Merlin in Flying, Oshkosh

First, you should likely look at my report from last year for more details on the conference as I'll only mention new things.
Just like last year, trying to see everything was of course not possible, but knowing what to expect gave me a better chance to manage my time and plan for all the talks I wanted to see. This year I was able to attend several talks from pioneers in aviation, pilots who flew the U2, the SR71, as well as talks on night flying, and thunderstorms, and legendary pilots like Bob Hoover ( see video of what he can do ), or how Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager flew Voyager, the first and only unrefueled flight around the world .







Slides from the talk on thunderstorms


Bob Hoover


Those talks were definitely worth it, and I'm quite happy to got to hear from pioneers in aviation before they're not around to tell their stories anymore.

For the rest, I went through all the expos in the hangars, spent some time with the nice folks from Seattle Avionics who've been hearing a lot from me on bug reports or feature improvements :) and I also went to check out the other moving map/flight planner/EFB solutions, and from what I saw, Voyager is still the winner (Vistanav of course has nice synthetic vision, but they were lacking on the flight planning and EFB sides last year, and didn't show up at Oshkosh this year from what I could see).
A few notable things I saw this year outside of the great airshows, and finally being able to see the F22 perform, were unexpected things like a working jetpack (with a projected flight time of 30mn) and the first prototype of the terrafugia flying car.



Frasca had a very convincing SR22 simulator


Some exhibit was using a corvette LS1 engine with a gear reduction ratio as a plane engine


Impressive little plane (the biggest cargo lifter)


How Virgin Galactic will take you to space for a mere $200,000


Trainer U2




The first terrafugia car/plane prototype (should drive and fly this year)






Yes, yes, a working jetpack from Martin (not for sale yet, still being tested)


F


2


2 :)






Nice planes brought by attendees in the warbird section
















this guy was looked like he was barely able to take off :)


Rocket Racers
















I have many more pictures, you can find them in the EAA Airventure 2008 pictures and videos ( especially the airshow )
2008/08/03 Flight to Oshkosh and Back in Turbo SR22 G3 Perspective
π 2008-08-03 22:37 by Merlin in Flying, Oshkosh

After my trip to Oshkosh last year, I wanted to go back this year, especially as I found an even better plane to fly in: a brand new Cirrus Turbo SR22 G3 perspective (i.e. with G1000 and synthetic vision).
The turbo gave us the option to fly at 25,000ft (FL250) while perspective fixed my long dislike of avidyne in what is otherwise a fairly good plane, by replacing the avionics with a nice G1000 with G700 autopilot and synthetic vision, which was the first time I got to fly the last 2.
It is pretty cool to know that I'm probably the first person to ever rent and fly a Cirrus Perspective for such a trip :)

My CFI Dave and I went to San Carlos airport to get the plane ready, and figure out how to connect our O2 masks to the plane's O2 system, adn by the time that was done, we headed out, IFR, around 11:00 and climbed to FL250.
Unfortunately, I soon found out that the plane's 12V supply did not actually work and that my fancy new EFB (samsung Q1U tablet running Seattle Avionics Voyager), was running out of batteries. Unfortunately, I had to turn it off until our first scheduled stop (KRWL) where I was able to recharge it a bit. Luckily, we got such a tailwind (20-30kts) that we easily made the fuelstop I had scheduled, so I didn't have to use my EFB to look up other options in flight.



A brand new 40h plane


FL250 required O2 masks


Once we were cruising at altitude, I gave my CFI control of the plane so that I was legally only a passenger, and I tried to use the nose canula for O2 instead of the mask. According to the oxymetre we were using, my O2 saturation was in the 90%+ range the entire time, and while it's not legal to be pilot in command with a canula at that altitude, it worked much better for me, especially compared to a mask where you lose O2 when you have to remove it to talk to ATC. From my research, and asking, canulas don't work as well for everyone at that altitude, which is why masks are required. That means I have to go with the less efficient solution and use the mask when I'm sole pilot in command.
Then, I tried to see what would happen if I didn't use oxygen at 25,000ft (8000 metres, or around the altitude at the top of everest), and I got intense tingling in my body first for the first minute, tried to plug my oxygen back in during the second minute, and passed out after that. My CFI who was also the pilot at the time then plugged me back in and I came back to in less than one minute. This was a good way to see how important supplemental oxygen is at that altitude, and how quickly you become incapacitated without it (I remember trying to plug my oxygen back in, but I never actually managed to do so on my own before passing out). This was the best way to see how little effective time of useful consciousness (TUC), you may have that high, and how important O2 and checking your oxymetre, are.



We got some interesting weather on the way






Nice Avionics shots


Our fuel stop also required an O2 fill




Now is a time to mention my two rants on the plane (I love just about everything else): with two 170lbs people in it, and a mere 80lbs of luggage, we were not even able to fill the tanks and had to settle for 86 gallons instead of 92 gallons. In other words, the payload is pretty poor with full fuel. While I had planned that we could actually do the whole trip with just one fuel stop, flying with 6 gallons missing made that a bit more dicy, and we had decided to cut the trip in two anyway since 10 hours of flying is a long stretch.
The second part is that it's pretty annoying how Cirrus couldn't get their doors right from the start. The old ones, you were supposed to close gently so as not to damage them, and the new ones have to be slammed shut pretty vigorously, to the point that I had just slammed mine a little after the first fuel stop, and we had to turn back after takeoff and land at KRWL again to shut my door properly because it wasn't secure.
Then, just to make things fun, as we climbed out the second time, we hit some icing on the way up, which thankfully we got out of quickly, and TKS was able to get rid of.
But the weather just got worse as we went more east, and we had to divert north and eventually land at KPIR, as the weather just wasn't good east of us.



Soon after takeoff, we hit some weather and got light icing while climbing to FL250. Thankfully we got out of it quickly and TKS took are of it




Weather got bad, we had to divert and go north. We even elected to land early at KPIR




The next morning, we finished the flight to Oshkosh, in time for half a day of show left.





Oshkosh, Finally!




Thankfully, the nice folks from Cirrus as Oshkosh were able to find someone who fixed the electrical problem on our plane, and allowed us to have 12V power on the way back home. Yeah!
For the flight home, I had initially planned to get out early Sunday morning and do a one day flight (timezones and daylight being on our side), but I figured out that by saturday noon I'd have seen what there was to see, so we were able to get out in time before they closed the runways around 14:30, and while we could have gone a bit further, our goal was to reach Rapid City and use the extra daylight to drive to the Mt Rushmore Monument.



Mississippi river


My Voyager EFB, finally working on the way back




We had a few hours to kill in Rapid City and used the time to go to Mt Rushmore


The next morning, I had a flight plan going a bit north, over Yellowstone, and flew by Jackson Hole, which my CFI recommended, and we saw portion of the national park, including Grand Téton :)







Grand Téton in Yellowstone








A nice demo of the synthetic vision showing the runway on an ILS approach


After a stop in Elko for fuel and lunch (no O2 because headwinds forced us to fly much lower, around 10,000ft which doesn't require oxygen. In return, we got a better view of what we were overflying), we finished the flight by shooting a quick approach at Stockton to check out the synthetic vision system (if you look at the picture above closely, you'll see the runway, aligned on the screen), and landed uneventfully at San Carlos.
The google maps track above shows the flight, but you can also download the GPX track of the flight .
Of course, I have plenty of other pictures. One good idea is to open the the map and you'll be able to click on the google maps links by the pictures in the library to see where they were taken, and open the picture links in a new window (right click, open link in new window). That way, by clicking on google maps link, you'll see where the picture was taken, on the SQL LVW PIR OSH flight and the OSH RAP EKO SQL flight .

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