August 12, 2011

Society Islands - Tahiti, Moorea, Bora-Bora and others!

We made landfall the afternoon of the June 4th and anchored in calm bay next to the town of Tautira, a small village on the mountainous NW coast of Tahiti Iti. The 4th was a Saturday and the locals had their outrigger canoes out practicing for the big island regatta coming up in a few months and the black sand beaches were full of the local kids splashing and playing in the water. It had been quite a while since we gave Downtime a good scrubbing, so Daria and I gave Downtime a good detail while we were anchored here, taking advantage of the calm weather and waters in the anchorage. By the next morning the weather was changing and storms were on the horizon, we decided to find a better anchorage on the protected side of the island. Tahiti is a island that has two main land masses connected by a low-lying narrow piece in the middle. Tahiti Nui the is larger and Tahiti Iti is the smaller part of the island. The marina we were going to was where these two meet and where they have the most rain we soon found out…
We raised the anchor and set a double reefed main sail and full jib headed south along the rugged western coast of Tahiti Iti with a brisk 20 knot wind and the outer reefs roughly a mile off shore in places just off our starboard side. The winds soon became blocked by the mountains a few miles into the trip and we found ourselves motoring around the southern end of Iti. A very large swell was coming up from south and huge waves were crashing on the reef to our right as we rounded the corner. We stowed the mainsail and continued with motors on pushing us along the coast through the big waves. At 4:00 pm we had Teputa Pass in front of us, a narrow 150 foot wide cut through the reef with ten foot waves crashing on both sides! This was one of the few times I was truly scared while driving the boat, I had one shot to get through to safety on the inside of the narrow pass. We had winds gusting to 25 knots behind us and pouring rain as we approached the pass!! With all sails stowed Downtime was still going 7 knots with giant waves coming from directly behind us, occasionally breaking just before hitting us and then roared past the boat. I pushed the throttles forward as the channel markers came into view through the driving rain, they confirmed that my electronic charts were right and were safely in the middle of the pass. We rounded the second mark making a 90 degree turn into a calm lagoon behind the reef in Port du Phaeton. By 5pm we had the anchor down as it continued to rain through the night. We woke to a muddy harbor from all the rain and decided to move to Papeete, the main city in Tahiti Nui. The seas were still huge as we exited the pass but we were able to sail to the next anchorage just off the Tahina Marina just south of Papeete on the eastern side of the island.
Papeete was the largest city we had been in for the last few months, by now we needed to make a few repairs to the boat and to restock the provision lockers. We were able to access internet through our Island Time PC WIFI booster and order parts online from the states. My sister Kelley and husband Todd and tow daughters along with my daughter Cassandra would be packing a few extra bags when they arrived on the 22nd. Other repairs on the boat included getting two of the sails repaired and other small items that wore out along the way. For the most part Downtime has been an amazing machine, with minimal breakdowns and thankfully no reoccurring problems associated from the lightning strike we had last August. But boats are boats and things do break..
The grocery store was just a 10 minute walk from the marina and was well stocked with all the things we needed for the most part, several trips and we had the lockers stocked again. You were always shocked by the prices because they were crazy high!!
I had developed a ear ache after my last kite surf in Rangiroa so the next day we went to the local clinic to have it looked at. We walked in and within 15 minute I was in the ear doctors chair with a diagnosis of having a ear infection . The bill was just over $60 and he prescribes antibiotics and no swimming for a week. In the states this would have been a all afternoon affair and cost a few hundred dollars.
We spent the week ordering parts and provisioning the boat and getting sails to the repair shop. On the weekend we motored across to Moorea a short 14 mile trip and stayed in Papetoai Bay, one of the most photographed bays in Polynesia just a mile past Cooks bay.
The lagoons here are spectacular! It is like being in a giant aquarium, swimming in crystal clear water with thousands of tropical fish. There is a special place in the lagoon where they have trained sting rays to take fish out of your hand. There are over a dozen rays swarming around you when you open you bag full of fish!! They brush right up against your body looking for the free meal! They have a mouth similar to a horse when they nibble the fish from your hand, stingrays have no teeth just grinding plates in their mouths. Thankfully they their barbs have also been clipped so it is perfectly Safe to play with them. Their soft skin is smooth rubber like and they are amazing swimmers.

     The next morning we rented a scooter and toured the island and stopped along the way at beautiful lookouts, a pineapple plantation and then had a nice lunch at the Sofitel resort. The trip around the island took us about 5 hours and was about 25 miles long on the only road on the island and left us with sore scooter butts.

Relaxing back on Downtime we were visited by two guys on jet skis, they were just looking at all the sail boats when I asked them if they would like to come aboard for a beer? The countered and asked if we would like to come aboard for sundowner? I accepted having no idea which boat they were even on at the time? They said “we are on the big blue one at the head of the bay right over there” Ohh the 200 foot expedition boat with three decks? Ya that’s the one!! We were greeted by his crew as we arrived and were served drinks on the aft deck. I should have written down all the names because I have no memory of any of them, not even the boats name, names are so hard to remember when you meet 20 people a day…But I do remember the boat, It was an amazing machine!! One of their generators was bigger than both of my main engines! And this thing held enough fuel to go 10000 miles I can only imagine how much that is. The staterooms were beautiful with rich wood work and it continued throughout the boat. Granite counters and full size everything from refrigerators to two sets of laundry equipment aboard. This was not a boat but a floating palace!! Time flew by as stories were swapped and soon we were asked if we would like to stay for diner? Silly question…heck ya we will have dinner aboard your mega yacht!! Up to the third deck we went to a elegant table set for 8 and meals were served. The chef aboard served a wonderful fish dinner with a nice desert following. Thanks for the amazing night you lucky people on the “Big Blue Boat”!!

  The next week we went back to Tahiti to get the final provisions prior to my family arriving. We set the anchor and in a few hours our friends Jason and Karen anchored next to us with their catamaran YOLO (You Only Live Once). We first met them 5000 miles back in Isla Providencia, Columbia on the Pacific side. Funny how we run into the same few boats all the time….this was the 4th time with YOLO
My family flew in on June 23rd and we had just a week to spend seeing the sites. The first thing we did was to go snorkeling at a little preserve just a mile from the boat.
This was the first time my sisters girls, Cheyenne 7 and Shanoa 10 had ever been in the ocean and they were surprised how salty it was. It took them a while to get used to all the fish, especially when Uncle Pete was throwing pieces of bread in the water and swarms of fish would surround them.
Next we sailed across to Moorea and swam with the rays!! The sail across was a little rough and we had some green faces aboard Downtime when we arrived… Luckily it was just a two hour sail and soon all was well again.
The next morning the gang took a hike up to the lookout where Daria and I had taken scooters the week before. It was much easier riding up the mountain on a scooter as Daria would find out, I stayed back on the boat repairing a few things.

Later we all jumped in SD and went to town for some shopping and ice-cream. When we got back from shopping we drove Downtime to the other side of the island to the Sofitel Resort to see a Polynesian dance show and eat an amazing dinner.


We woke to a beautiful morning and snorkeled again in crystal clear waters with lots of reef fish.             

Daria and I had heard that Brando Is was a cool place to go so the next day we sailed 30miles out to go see. The sail out was again rough, but this time I gave my sister the scopamine patch and we tried to get the kids to take dramamine by grinding it up and putting it on French toast, it did not work but thankfully they slept the whole trip. The winds were blowing 20 to 25 and Downtime was really moving so at least they were able to get some good sailing in. We trolled lines every where we went but had no luck in catching a fish, sorry guys… The week flew by and Brando Island was hard to access by boat, but we saw some amazing sites.

Back in tahiti we rented a van and drove around the island and visited some beautiful sites that included mountain lookouts and waterfalls. A narrow winding one lane road took us up the mountain to the belveder (french for lookout) and we had a nice lunch with an amazing view. The water falls turned into a quick stop with lots of hungry mosquitoes moving us along. The next morning Todd and I put on the dive gear and dove on a sunken ship and plane wreck while the girls went shopping. One last dinner ashore and it was back to the boat to pack. It was all over way too fast and I wish we had another week to spend together, maybe next time?

It was so nice spending a week with my little girl, well not so little any more at 21. I really miss my kids and that is the hardest part of the trip, being so far away from them. Thank goodness for internet!!

We dropped off the family at the airport and did some last minute shopping. Later that afternoon we bought tickets to a dance exhibition downtown. The show was part of a month long dance competition that all the schools participated in. The main theme this night was fire dancing and man was there allot of fire!! Kids of all ages spinning fiery batons with tradition costumes made the show a real highlight to our stay in Tahiti.
With 30 crazy days in Tahiti behind us we set sail the following day for Huahine 90 miles NW of Tahiti. The weather was not cooperating and we had squalls off and on our whole way there. We anchored on the SW side of the island as the weather continued to deteriorate. Daria said “why is it so F@#$#! windy!!” We spent two days waiting the storm out afraid to leave the boat for fear the anchor might drag in the gusty winds.
When the weather cleared we set sail for Raiatea just 20 miles to the west. Raiatea is located just south of Tahaa and both islands are surrounded by one continuous reef that has 8 passes in which you can enter. We entered through Teavapiti Pass and motored to an anchorage in the NW part of the island. We had our first calm night in 3 days and got some much needed rest. The following morning the weather cleared and we took SD on an adventure around the island. Raiatea is the only island in French Polynesia with a navigable river and we headed that way. We too SD all the way around the island to get to the inlet and slowly progressed up the narrow winding river. The river was similar to Monkey River in Belize, zigzagging through the jungle. Along the shore there were beautiful flowers and we picked enough to make a nice arrangement. We met a local in paddling a canoe and he was really nice letting us know we could get bananas and papaya from his brother up the river. We continued another mile through botanical gardens and met his brother who gave us a bunch of bananas and papayas he would have gave them to us for free, but we offered to pay and we gave him an Ice cold beer for which he was most thankful. We made our way back to Downtime with 70 something more miles on SD and another adventure behind us. Oh, and a new friend a gecko that climbed aboard with the flowers!!

The following day we went to fuel up Downtime. We had are dock lines and fenders ready patiently waiting our turn behind a water taxi. The taxi finished fueling and pulled away from the dock and we slowly approached the dock in a cross wind, just as we were 50 feet away a local fishing boat comes racing up and cut us off!! F#!$@!!! French @%@$$ards!! This guy was so rude!! He would not even make eye contact and took his sweet time unloading his catch and gear while fueling his boat. This is one time I wish I had a crappy old boat I would have rammed him right off the dock!! Instead I patiently waited again and did the right thing. No hurry afterall we are on a sail boat!!
After filling the tanks we motored to Tahaa just to the north 10 miles and moored in the Bay Huripiti with the intention on going for a tour the next morning to the vanilla plantation.
The tour was canceled so we rented bicycles, which is not such a good idea on an island with steep mountains….

I had to use the Fred Flintstone breaks a few times going down the steep hills!! We made it over the mountains and found the vanilla plantation and were given a personal tour by the owner. Vanilla grows like any other bean, on a vine. The flowers have to be hand pollinated and it takes the bean 9 months for the beans to mature. After they mature they are harvested and dried in the sun and then massaged and fermented in big crates for several months. It is a labor intense process which reflects in the price they charge for vanilla, about $2 US per 8 inch long bean pod.
Crossing back over the mountain we peddled to the east side and had lunch at the turtle farm, For $100 Euro you can release one farm raised turtle back into the wild.. Or heck you can eat it if you like!! They let you take them back to your boat after all!! After lunch which was chicken by the way… Daria decided to continue around the island which turned out to be like 20 miles!! And I went directly back over the mountain having my fill of peddling.

Next it was off to Bora Bora which is said to be the most beautiful island in the world, and we think they are right!!

The Lagoon is amazing with nice white beaches and turquoise blue waters. The reefs in the lagoon are still full of lots of tropical fish and protected from the locals. One of the few places they do not let locals fish on the reefs.
All the hotels are built with the same appeal, bungalows built out over the water with thatched roofs. Most are located on the outer reef with access only by water taxi witch has it advantages if you want to get away from it all.

I was finally able to kite again with my ear feeling fine and 20 knots of wind blowing , I was having a great time until my inflator valve popped out and my kite fell limp in the water. A local came to my rescue and soon I had the kite pumped back up and was of surfing again skimming across the lagoon in clear waters.

The main island in Bora Bora has a few small town and during WW2 it had 5000 soldiers based in them. There are still a few huge guns pointing out to sea that remind us of those darker times….
We officially cleared out of Polynesia and were in the country just over the 90 days they let you visit. After all we had learned about the clearing process, we would have done a few things differently. First of all instead of buying a bond for Daria we would have just purchased a refundable airline ticket, much simpler. Second we would have waited to clear in until we reached Tahiti since nobody asked for any papers along the way, this would give us much more time here. Next we would have cleared out of Tahiti instead of waiting until Bora Bora which only added to our time chasing paperwork. Some people used an agent for a few hundred dollars, but we found it not to be necessary.
I spent the next day scrubbing the bottom of Downtime and getting her ready to make some serious miles to our next islands. We set sail in squally weather and made a short hop just 27 miles to Maupiti one of the last Polynesian atolls we would visit. The pass was really narrow with waves breaking on both sides.

We anchored just inside the pass along the channel in 30 feet of water. The next two days the wind blew and I had the kite in the air with the lagoon all to myself. At one point more squalls came through and I was kiting in the rain with 30 knots gusts, I was ready to let the kite go and just barely staying in control!! I was luckily able to safely get back to shore and lower the kite down behind a grove of palm trees, but for a moment I had my doubts about ever seeing that kite again!!
 After getting my fill of kiting we set sail for our next Island the following day. We set our course for the Northern Cook Islands with the destination of Suwarrow (Suvorov) Island some 640 miles to the north west. This passage would be the longest Daria and I have ever taken alone and thankfully we experienced good weather and calm seas for the most of the passage.
Thanks for all the memories and beautiful Islands French Polynesia!!

Our next adventure will take us to the Cook Islands and on to American Samoa!!
Until then,
Captain Pedro and Daria