Saturday, July 27, 2013

Taha'a, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Richard checking out our approach to Taha'a.
We only spent one night in Faaroa and in the morning we lifted our anchor and headed to Baie Hurepiti, on Taha’a…where the fun began.  When we entered the bay the wind was ripping, gusting to over 20 knots.  We entered the bay and circled around looking for a shallow spot and had to settle for anchoring in about 70 feet of water.  We ended up setting the anchor several times as each time the wind picked up it seemed to pull on the chain we had laid down and swing the boat precariously close to the coral reef which was right off of our aft quarter.  With the anchor finally set, we hunkered down for a night of gusty winds and a wildly swinging boat.

Osprey sailing off of Taha'a (photo courtesy of Kyanos).
At some point during the night, the dinghy flipped with the outboard attached to the transom.  When Richard peeked outside of the cabin in the morning, he noticed the upturned dinghy and we immediately pulled the dinghy up to right it and removed the outboard, setting it on its bracket on the stern rail.  At that point, we decided to lift anchor and proceed to the next bay up the western coast of Taha’a, Baie de Tapuamu.  As we were leaving Baie Hurepiti, just at the entrance to that bay, our anemometer recorded a wind gust of 41.6 knots.  Granted, it was just a gust, but when the gust was over we were looking at consistent winds in the mid to high 20s.  We tucked into Baie de Tapuamu and were treated to a calmer bay which was a welcomed sight after the wild night we had just experienced.  We set our anchor down in about 80 feet of water right behind our friends on Compass Rosey and began the process of working on the outboard motor.  We changed the oil, replaced the sparkplug and worked the water out of the inner reaches of the outboard to no avail.  It wasn’t until Mark from Compass Rosey suggested that we look at the carburetor to see if any water had found its way in that our outboard finally turned over.  As of right now, it works but it seems like there may be some residual moisture somewhere in the inner workings of the motor that needs to evaporate or work its way out for the outboard to be completely right.

Ours was not the only dinghy to flip that night in Baie Hurepiti; Dragonsbane’s dinghy flipped as well.  As a side note, dinghy flipping seems to be a common occurrence in the cruising community.  The reason Mark knew to look at the carburetor is because his dinghy had flipped when he was in Nuku Hiva.  And just this morning we heard Nicole of Bella Star on the VHF radio saying that their dinghy flipped last night as well.  Richard and I feel as though we are in an elite group of cruisers who have a knowledge set that is now complete, or at least we know what to do if our dinghy ever flips again!  And while the outboard will eventually run smoothly (or as smoothly as that sea cow will ever run!) we will not be able to replace our dinghy oars probably until we reach New Zealand (the oars flew out of the dinghy when it flipped, never to be seen again…sad really).

So here we sit in Tapuamu on the island of Taha’a waiting for the weather to turn.  The wind is a consistent mid to high 20s and gusts in the 30s are not uncommon.  We have been swinging on our anchor for the past three days now just waiting for a break in the wind so we can go to Bora Bora.  It’s weird, Bora Bora is about 15 nautical miles away and we can’t even get there right now due to the wind.  If it were just the wind it might not be so bad but in order to get into the lagoon at Bora Bora you need to enter the single pass on the west side of the island.  With the winds the way they have been for the past week it is likely that the swells will have built to unforgiving heights.  We heard a boat the other day on the net stating that they had 25 knots of wind outside of the Bora Bora lagoon and 5 meter seas!  That’s crazy –big waves!  That said, we’ll just sit here and wait it out in Bora Bora’s backyard until the winds subside and we feel comfortable moving on.  Just another day in windy paradise…aita e pe’a pe’a (no problem!).

Today Richard and I dinghied over to the Coral Gardens which is a pass between two of the motus off the west coast of Taha’a.  The dinghy ride over was no big deal as we had the wind on our backs.  Once we got to the motu, we tied the dinghy to a coconut tree and walked across the motu to the ocean side where we were able to get into the water.  There was a small current passing between the motus which helped push along the shallow pass.  The fish and coral were quite spectacular.  The dinghy ride back to the boat was a bit dicey as we were now heading into the wind and there were wind waves impeding our progress.  We made it back to the boat and settled in for lunch.  Quite the adventure.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ra'iatea, Society Islands, French Polynesia

After a little more than a week on Huahine, we lifted our anchor and headed to Ra’iatea.  Our first stop was in Baie Hotopuu on the southeastern corner of the island.  We were able to do a little sailing on the way over, but by the time we found our way into the pass, we started the engine to ensure that we were able to navigate our way into the bay.  On our way in we passed a tiny motu (islet) that had a corrugated tin shack on it and a bucket seat from a car facing the shore.  It might have been someone’s fishing seat or just a place for someone to sit and relax with a maitai while watching the setting sun.  Incidentally, the word maitai comes from the traditional Tahitian language of Reo Mao’hi, and means “good.”

Sarah, Ben, Jacques, Adam and Richard at
the outrigger canoe races in Opoa, Ra'iatea.
Together with the crews of Kyanos and Dragonsbane, we hiked into the town of Opoa one day and even though it was a Wednesday and not a known holiday to us, the whole town appeared to be at the beach that day for a day of outrigger canoe races.  We hung around and watched several of the races and had lunch (chicken sandwiches on baguettes with French fries in the sandwich!).  I always carry a bag of balloons with me in my backpack and started handing out balloons to the little kids on the beach.  Most were shy and had to be coaxed by a parent to accept the balloon but once in their hands, the kids really seemed to enjoy chasing the balloons as they bounced along the shore.

Several in our group grabbed ice-creams and we headed out on the main road for a hike that we hoped would afford us a good view of the anchorage and our boats but that was not to be.  The trees and the curve of the road prevented us from seeing our boats but we enjoyed the hike just the same (a great way to walk off the calories associated with sandwiches that contain French fries).

Dinghy tour with Dragonsbane and Kyanos on Taha'a.
After a couple nights in Hotopuu we pulled up our anchor and headed to Baie Faaroa, a mere 6 miles up the shore.  Baie Faaroa is a deep indentation on the east side of Ra’iatea in addition to having pretty deep depths throughout the bay.  The weather had started building a few days earlier and by “building” I’m specifically referring to the winds.  Over the past few days we had been seeing the winds build to around 15 knots which wasn’t too uncomfortable but definitely something to keep our eyes on in the hopes that it wouldn’t build much further than that.  The highlight of our time in Baie Faaroa was a dinghy ride up the Riviere Faaroa.  While not bursting with animals, the quietly meandering river was a welcomed calm to the windy anchorage.  We ended up landing our dinghies and taking a tour of a “plantation” where our host treated us to fresh coconut water and bananas.

Huahine, Society Islands, French Polynesia

On July 9th we left Mo’orea and headed to Huahine, our third island in the Society Islands.  Huahine has a really laid back vibe that encourages sitting back and relaxing.  We attended a hieva which is a local contest of competing teams that sing and dance.  These month-long events are like a tournament with those teams receiving the highest scores advancing and eventually moving to the championships that are held in Pape’ete.  We watched a local team sing traditional Polynesian songs and dance traditional story-telling dances all under a huge venue set up just for these performances (complete with roulettes or food trucks parked outside for your dining pleasure).  It was a great way to experience the culture and traditions of the Polynesian people in a way that was more authentic than a hula show put on by some big hotel chain.  The singers' voices were sweet and clear and the harmonies were beautiful to listen to while the dancing was full of energy and involved dozens of male and female dancers.

The "sacred eels" of Huahine.
We rented mopeds one day and toured the islands.  Huahine is actually two separate islands, Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti, enclosed by a common fringing reef.  Our moped tour took us to archeological sites as well as a visit to the famous “sacred eels.”  Now, I’m not sure what makes these eels “sacred” but that’s what the guide books call them.  The eels live in a shallow, man-made canal and when we visited, the blue-eyed eels were huddled together under an outcropping of the canal wall.  We didn’t know that you could feed these eels, otherwise we would have brought something to feed them and because of our lack of offerings the eels did not display much movement.  I think they were too busy being “sacred” to really put on a show.  They were neat to see though, even if my pictures don’t do them justice.

Safety first while riding mopeds on Huahine.
On our way back to returning the mopeds, we stopped at a hamburger shack on the beach for lunch.  The place was called “Da Best Burgers” and while they were tasty (and the fires were some of the best I’ve had since leaving the States!), and while Richard will disagree, it is here that I believe I got some of the worst food poisoning I have ever encountered in my life (and I’ve had more than a few bouts of food poisoning).  Luckily, we had picked up anchor the next day and moved to a deep bay, set our anchor on a coral shelf (that’s another story) and for the next three days, I alternated my time between the bed and the head.  I was doubled over with stomach cramps that would not quit for most of this time and instantly knew that something was truly wrong.  In the end, I guess you could call it the silver lining (as my glass is usually half full, ha!) I lost about 5 or 6 pounds…bonus!  Not that I recommend this method of weight loss, but there’s nothing like a nasty intestinal bug to shed a few pounds.

We returned to Fare, the main town in Huahine, and spent the next few days provisioning, getting on the internet and hanging out with our cruiser friends at the local yacht club which had a surprisingly good happy hour (250 CFP for a half liter of beer; in the States that’s like less than $3 for a little more than a pint…and believe me, in French Polynesia, that’s a steal!).  I spent a lot of time at Chez Guynette which was a little pensione on the main road in Fare, right next to the dinghy dock.  Dianne and Crombie, Australians, were running the place and I spent several mornings talking to them about their fascinating adventures all over the planet.  Shout out to Dianne and Crombie (and Guynette and Minieux!) and thanks for your wonderful hospitality and “insiders” perspective on French Polynesia (not to mention a decent internet signal).

Mo’orea, Society Islands, French Polynesia

The anchorage in Mo'orea.
We are presently less than 15 nautical miles from Bora Bora and with the weather conditions we are experiencing it might as well be 1000 miles away.  For the past three to four days the wind has been blowing strong…sustained winds in the mid-20s for the most part with gusts up to 35 knots not being that infrequent.  The winds have prevented us from making any significant moves going back almost a week now; though we did move from Ra’iatea last week to Taha’a.  But before all that, we were on the islands of Mo’orea and Huahine so I guess I should backtrack and describe our time on those islands.

Approcahing Mo'orea.
We left Pape’ete on July 2nd and headed for the sister island of Mo’orea.  From our mooring ball in Pape’ete (FYI…the French word for mooring ball translates to dead body) we could see Mo’orea with the sun setting behind its mountain range each night.  The roughly 20 nautical miles from Pape’ete to Cook’s Bay on Mo’orea’s north shore was a pleasant sail with relatively calm seas.  We were able to motor sail but due to the wind pretty much coming in on our nose we weren’t able to cut the motor completely and move by sail power alone.

Cook’s Bay is the eastern bay of the two large indentations on Mo’orea’s north shore that are frequented by cruisers.  It is deep both in terms of how far it cuts into the island as well as the depths found throughout the bay.  Deep bays require more chain to be let out (called scope) so that if the winds pick up, your boat will swing in a prescribed arc, hopefully avoiding dangers such as shoals, coral shelves, and, of course, other boats.  That said, we let out loads of scope and felt comfortable with the situation.  The next morning, Joe and Liz from Set Me Free, dinghied over and asked if we wanted to rent a car with them to tour the island which we readily agreed to and while Joe took care of making the reservation, Richard and I readied the boat for our departure.  You see, the wind had started to pick up a bit and we just wanted to make sure that everything was set up for any situation that might arise related to an increase of wind funneling down the mountains and into the bay.

When we finally got into the car and started driving, we actually stopped the car on the side of the road to look at our boats and, determining that the wind wasn’t too bad and that both boats seemed to have their anchors dug in, we continued on our tour of the island.

Liz and Joe from Set Me Free.  Joe's expression reflects
the general consensus about the pineapple wine.
The entire trip around the island took less than two hours and that was with stopping along the way to see the sites and visit a juice factory.  The guide books talk about seeing this juice factory and in reality, it was just a gift shop with a little bar in the back where we were able to sample pineapple wine (gross) and banana liqueur (palatable).  We also stopped at a grocery store that was near the main town and stocked up on vegetables which isn’t always easy to do.

When we got back to the boats, the configuration of boats in the bay looked slightly different but none of us really paid too much attention to it and made plans to meet up for dinner that night at a local restaurant.  Once we were seated at our table, Joe and Liz proceeded to tell us that Calico Jack talked with them when we got back from our roadtrip and informed them that 40 know winds were ripping through the bay that afternoon and that they dragged anchor which explained the slightly different configuration of boats in the bay.  Had we known that 40+ knot winds were going to be blasting through the anchorage we would not have left the boat for the entire day.  In fact, 15 knot winds were predicted and these stronger ones took everyone by surprise, from Mo’orea where we were, all the way to Pape’ete where boats broke loose from their moorings and several dinghies had to be chased down.

Friendly stingray.
From Cook’s Bay we moved over to Baie d’Opunohu and anchored in the eastern entrance of the bay with about 20 other boats.  The anchorage was behind the fringing reef that protects Mo’orea from the swells that come rolling in from the open ocean and actually resembles a roadstead anchorage like the ones we saw in Hawai’i.  The snorkeling around the anchorage was average but the big draw was the dinghy trip we took over to the western entrance of the bay where we had the opportunity to swim with and feed sting rays and sharks (okay, we didn’t actually feed the sharks, we just swam with them).  It was a forty minute dinghy ride to the shallows where the rays and sharks hang out and when we got there we dropped our dinghy anchor, hopped out and were immediately surrounded by sting rays.  And yes, these are the kind of sting rays that can hurt you if you happen to get stung by their tail barbs; but these rays are so passive and accustomed to getting fed that they are more like puppies in the water than the dangerous sea creatures that in reality they are under different circumstances.  The rays will swim right up to you and “crawl” up your chest in hopes of getting a handout.  We had bought some tins of sardines when we were in Pape’ete and brought them with us to feed the rays.  All the while black tip reef sharks are circling.  I'll try to upload the video via YouTube in the next few days as the size was prohibitive for posting here.

Richard and me at the Belvedere lookout.
While in Baie d’Opunohu, we hiked to the Belvedere, a lookout point that gives you a fantastic view of both Cook’s and d’Opunohu bays.  The bonus to this hike, which is actually all on a paved road, is that half way to the top there is an ice-cream stand so of course we had to stop on the way down (I tried the soursop and guava ice-creams and they were incredible!).  On one of our last nights in d’Opunohu, we had a potluck dinner on Lazy Bones with Mark and Megan, and also the crew of Chili Cat.  It was at this potluck that I was introduced to Tim Tams, an Australian, chocolate covered cookie, and now I am hooked!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tahiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Nothing like some beer to help ease into land life.
After 12 days in Tahiti, we decided to shove off of the mooring ball we were attached to and venture to Mo’orea which is just under twenty miles northwest of Pape’ete.  Our time in Tahiti was well spent hanging out with old friends and making new ones; not to mention numerous runs to the incredibly huge Carrefour grocery/department store for supplies.  As usual, Kyanos arrived ahead of us despite leaving Fakarava after us.  Their boat is just so much faster than ours but hey, if there is something that I do have, it’s time so no worries.

As we were entering the pass just outside of Marina Taina, we got a call on the radio from our friends aboard Bella Star.  We haven’t seen Aaron and Nicole since their going away party in Ballard, Washington way back in April of 2011.  We were actually quite surprised to meet up with them as we had been following their progress from the Galapagos and thought for sure that they would end up arriving in French Polynesia well ahead of us and therefore end up being at least one island group ahead of us for our entire time here.  But luck would have it and the next thing we know we are approaching a mooring ball with Aaron and Nicole holding the line for us.  What a welcome!  We chatted for a bit and then they shoved off and Richard and I got the boat in “shore mode” which meant taking down the lee cloths, putting the overnight stuff away and then settling in to relax before going ashore to explore.

Richard, Mark, and me.
Once settled in, we heard from Ben and Sarah and also Mark (who is now skippering Compass Rosey on its way to Australia).  Mark agreed to check out the local bar which we heard had a happy hour and report back on the specifics (times, etc).  Come to find out, La Casa Bianca has a happy hour 7 days a week from 5 to 6 PM with two for one beers.  No need to twist my arm, especially considering how expensive French Polynesia is turning out to be.  So now we had a plan and we invited all the boats we knew which included Kyanos, Bella Star, Bella Vita, and Compass Rosey.  We all showed up and had a great time catching up with old friends (we had met Brett and Stacey of Bella Vita in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico) and our Seattle friends, Aaron and Nicole.

Me and Nicole (with Aaron in the background)
Bella Star.
Needless to say, we spent many a nights at happy hour with various people we met while in Pape’ete.  We also rented a car for three days which came in handy when we were transporting our transmission to the marine store to be checked out.  We also used it to go grocery shopping which was a huge convenience.  On the second day that we had the car, Ben and Sarah joined us and we toured the island of Tahiti; we actually circumnavigated Tahiti Nui and most of Tahiti Iti, stopping along the way to see the sights.  We visited caves, archeological sites, waterfalls, and a shoreline blowhole (check out the video below).  As our route took us through Pape’ete on our way back to the marina, we stopped at the waterfront and tried the roulettes (food trucks) for dinner.  We split two plates (poisson cru and a mixed chow mein) between the four of us as well as a side of rice and plate of green beans and walked away stuffed!  The food was really tasty; by the way, this is the second time we’ve eaten at the roulettes and we have yet to be disappointed.

Sarah and Ben of Kyanos, Stacey and Brett of Bella Vita,
and Richard at Happy Hour.
But before you start thinking that life is nothing but frou-frou drinks with umbrellas on white sand beaches and stunning sunsets, rest assured that we did some minor boat projects…just to offset the relaxing time that we had on Tahiti.  I even did laundry (something I have not done in machines since Mexico) which ended up taking about three hours late at night and with mixed results (some of the machines didn’t completely work).