Thursday, July 24, 2008

Raiatea & Taha’a

Latitude 16.78.22S
Longitude 151.29.20W
Baie Haamane, Ile Taha’a

On Monday, July 21, 2008, we departed from the lovely anchorage at the SW tip of Huahine Iti.  It had rained and the wind had howled for 4 days but the weather had finally passed and the little anchorage was again a millpond.  I wanted to get into the water and clean the scum line on the boat; however, the weather prediction for the week indicated that Monday would be the only day with any wind at all.  So we weighed anchor and headed off for Raiatea with hopes of being able to sail.  It took about 1 1/2 hours to motor through the lagoon back to Passe Avamoa on the NW tip of Huahine Nui and then we were off. 

Someone must have forgotten to give the weather forecast to the wind gods because the predicted 10 knots never materialized.  We ended up motorsailing the entire day, with the anemometer making circles searching for the true wind direction.  The highest wind we recorded during that passage was 6 knots, certainly too low to sail even with our lightest weight sails. 

We entered Passe Teavapiti on the NE side of Raiatea and motored over the north side of the island and down the west side to what was supposed to be an anchorage at Baie Vaoaara.  This is the last bay that can be reached from the north side of Raiatea because the navigable lagoon does not completely encircle the island.  There are bays farther south but one must go outside the reef and enter from another pass on the south side of the island.  Baie Vaoaara was not at all pretty; looked too commercial or industrial for our tastes.  Plus, it was too deep for us to anchor with any peace of mind.  We carry 100 meters of anchor chain (roughly 300 feet) and that would not allow a scope of even three to one and nowhere remotely near our preferred scope of seven to one.  For you landlubbers: the correct scope for anchoring is seven to one; meaning chain seven times the depth of the water --- measured from the deck or bow roller of your boat, not measured simply from the water surface.  One should always use a minimum scope of five to one but seven to one is preferred.  Using anything less increases the likelihood of the anchor dragging if bad weather or high winds should occur while you are anchored.   During the recent 4 days of high winds in Huahine numerous boats lost their anchor holding and dragged.  We had the correct anchor scope down and stayed securely in place.

Bill pulled out the guide books and paper chart while I drove and retraced our route back to the north side of Raiatea.  Every anchorage we checked was between 80 and 120 feet deep.   Bill finally found a spot for us to anchor in 30-50 feet depth on the island of Taha’a and if we hurried we could make it there before nightfall.  I revved the engine higher and we motored at 7 knots most of the way.  We anchored in the darkening dusk in 32 feet of water.  Now this was much more like it!  Mind you, we had managed to turn a 27 mile passage into 56.3 nautical miles; but we were finally safely anchored and enjoying our usual sunset beverages. 

Haamane Bay is by far the largest bay on the sister islands of Taha’a and Raiatea, and we are anchored way inside at the very head of the bay.  It is flat calm and the view of the mountains on all 3 sides is spectacular.  The mountainsides are blanketed by the low spreading canopies of an unusual type of tree.  Some of the trees are covered in tiny bright red flowers and the birdsong from one area is fairly loud.  There is a small village that appears very modern.   The guide book mentions that this particular bay can experience high gusts of wind due to the topography of the mountainous island, but that shouldn’t be a problem for us this week since there is no wind whatsoever.  A little wind would be nice to help cool the sunny days.  Nights in the South Pacific are cool even without wind, but the days can be hot – nothing like the heat of the Caribbean, but occasionally warmer than comfortable.

Now for our history lesson.

Raiatea is the second-largest island of French Polynesia (Tahiti is the largest).  The main town and port is Uturoa and is the administrative, business and educational center of the Iles Sous-le-Vent (“islands under the wind” or Leeward Islands).  Raiatea’s population of more than 12,000 live in 8 villages around the island.  According to our guide book, the west coast of Raiatea south of Tevaitoa (near where we first tried to anchor) is pure old Polynesia through and through.  The rest of the island is modern.  Raiatea is traditionally the ancient Havai’i or sacred isle from which all of eastern Polynesia was colonized.  The islands of Taha’a on the north and Raiatea on the south are considered sister islands because they are encircled by one very large coral reef.  There are 7 passes to Raiatea through the reef and only 3 passes to Taha’a.  The 2 islands are about 3 kilometers apart and it is easy to follow the marked routes between the 2 islands.  There are no beaches on Raiatea but there are 2 very tiny motus between the 2 islands where one can enjoy tiny spits of white sand beaches. 

Legends tell how the 2 islands were cut apart by a mythical eel.  Another legend tells how Raiatea’s first king, Hiro, built a great canoe that he used to sail to Raratonga in what is now the Southern Cook Islands, roughly 575 miles away.   Legends also maintain that the great Polynesian voyages to Hawaii and New Zealand departed from here.  According to Polynesia mythology the god Oro was born from the eruption of Mt. Temehani on RaiateaMt. Temehani is 772 meters tall and has a continuous cloud cover dominating the northern end of the island.  The sacred white flower called tiare apetahi grows above the 400-meter level on the slopes around the summit.  This special flower exists nowhere else on earth and resists transplantation.  It is a distinctively fragrant, fragile, white one-sided blossom that represents the 5 fingers of a beautiful Polynesian girl who fell in love with the handsome son of a high chief but was unable to marry him because of her lowly birth.  The petals pop open forcefully enough at dawn to make a sound.  Sometimes the more romantic local residents will spend the night on the mountain to hear the petals popping open at dawn.  These flowers are protected and there is a minimum 50,000 CFP (roughly $670 USD) fine for picking one.

Raiatea was originally called Havai’i.  Queen Rainuiatea renamed the island in honor of her parents:  Rai, a warrior from Tahiti, and Atea, queen of Opoa.  Before European encroachment Raiatea was the religious, cultural and political center of what is now called French Polynesia.  Funny to me is that Huahine 30 miles to the east also makes this claim.  Raiatea supposedly was Captain Cook’s favorite island; he visited here 3 times.  In one of his journals he wrote that “Haamanino Harbour” was his favorite anchorage.  I assume that Haamanino Harbour is the same Haamane Baie where we are now anchored.

The islands of Taha’a and Raiatea accepted Christianity soon after the Tahitians were converted.  A Protestant missionary named John Williams arrived in 1818.  From Raiatea Williams carried his work to Raratonga in 1823 and then to Samoa in 1830, later moving on to Vanuatu.  The inhabitants of the Vanuatu Islands were not receptive to Christianity at the time and Mr. Williams met a rather ignominious end  -- he was stewed in a pot by the Big Nambas of Vanuatu.

Queen Pomare IV spent the years 1844 to 1847 in exile on Raiatea.  When France annexed the island in 1887, Chief Teraupoo launched a resistance campaign that lasted until 1897, when French troops and warships finally conquered the island.  Chief Teraupoo was captured after 6 weeks of fighting after the French troops arrived, and he was then deported to New Caledonia.  The Queen of Raiatea and 136 of her followers were exiled to the remote Eiao Island in the Marquesas.  It took the French a great many years to do it, but they finally had Polynesia.

Today the Polynesians are trying to revive their culture before it is completely lost.  The revival of tattooing in the Marquesas, after being banned by the European Christians for nearly 200 years, is an example of that.  Several of the temple platforms and marae have been restored on Raiatea.  The largest and most important temple is the Marae Taputapeatea and it has been the best maintained.  Its ahu measures 43 meters long and 7.3 meters wide and between 2 and 3 meters high from the ground.  Stone backrests in the courtyard still mark the seats of high chiefs.  In the old days guests would be received at the welcoming marae when they disembarked from their canoes.  Then they would proceed to a temple where rituals were performed.  Meals would be served in another temple platform called Hiti Tai.   Marae Taputapuatea is directly opposite Teavamoa Pass and fires on the marae once were beacons to navigators in ancient times.  Papa Ofeoro was the place of sacrifice and about 5,000 skulls were discovered during excavations at this site.  Another temple platform called Opu Teina near the shore was where visitors would say their farewells.  Departing chiefs would often take a stone from this marae to be planted in new marae being constructed elsewhere, which would then also be named Marae Taputapuatea.

In 1995 a fleet of traditional Polynesian voyaging canoes, including 3 from Hawaii and 2 each from Cook Islands and Tahiti plus a raft from Easter Island, gathered at Taputaputea to lift a 650-year-old curse and rededicate the marae.  The 7 canoes then left for the Marquesas navigating by the stars and swells.  Some carried on to Hawaii and the west coast of the United States in an amazing demonstration of this aspect of traditional culture.  In April 2000 a Tattoo Festival took place at Marae Taputapuatea.  During important events at the marae, firewalking is practiced at a site near the main temples.

The northern island of Taha’a is smaller and shaped like a hibiscus flower.  Four long fjord-like bays cut into its rugged south side, the largest of which by far is the one where we are anchored.  Mt. Ohiri is the highest point on the island at 590 meters.  Legends maintain that the mountain is named for Hiro, god of thieves, who was born here.  Taha’a is known as the vanilla island for its plantations that produce 70 percent of Polynesia’s “black gold.”  Vanilla is a vine belonging to the orchid family and is locally grown on small family plantations.  Vanilla was brought to Tahiti from Manila in 1848 and later mutated to the current Tahitensis type.  These plants must be hand-pollinated.  They are harvested between April and June, so we have missed that season.  After harvesting, the pods are put out to dry for a couple of months.  Between 1915 and 1933 vanilla production was 50 to 150 tons per year.  This peaked in 1949 at 200 tons, but production continued to remain high until 1966, when a steady decline began because the producers began leaving for higher paid employment in Papeete, Tahiti, related to the French nuclear testing.  By 1990 the vanilla production had fallen to only 39 metric tons, but production has been slowly picking up since then.  It is possible to take vanilla tours but we will skip that since we have missed the growing and harvesting season.  Don’t think looking at a bunch of drying pods would be too interesting.

Each October a festival includes stone fishing – a line of people in canoes herd the fish into a cove by beating stones on the surface of the lagoon.  There is no public transportation on either Raiatea or Taha’a.  Cars are often seen on the larger island of Raiatea but are not so common on Taha’a.  The 4,500 residents on Taha’a use small high-speed motorboats to get to their gardens on the outer reef motus or to go shopping on Raiatea, otherwise they walk.  The entire island comprises only 90-square-kilometers so it is not that difficult to get around and cars are really not necessary.  There are many restaurants and many of them along the shores have mooring balls where a boat can secure overnight if one eats a meal at that restaurant.  With the high price of food in French Polynesia, this probably means that we would easily spend $100 to $200 just to spend a night on a mooring ball and eat a meal that we don’t want.

There are numerous small pearl farms around both Raiatea and Taha’a.  These appear to be much smaller operations that we saw in the Tuamotus.  It is possible to take a full-day outrigger canoe trip and visit a pearl farm and a vanilla plantation, including lunch and snorkeling.  It would cost $400 USD for the 2 of us.  That seems a bit pricey to us; but we couldn’t do it even if we were willing to spend the bucks because the tour can only be arranged by telephone and we don’t have a local cell phone.  Or, for $275 USD we could have a drive across the island in a 4WD and have a canoe ride and picnic lunch.  Thinking we will pass on these excursions.

One interesting tidbit is that the inhabitants of Taha’a are authentic Maori.  This is the only island in French Polynesia to claim this distinction.  The warrior Maori of New Zealand are more well-known.  The Maori in New Zealand are thought to have emigrated from this area.

July 24, 2008 Thursday
Lattitude 16.40.92S
Longitude 151.29.13W
Baie Apu, Ile Taha’a

Last night the wind changed direction and is now blowing steadily from the WEST.  This is the second time since left Moorea that the wind has switched from the normal trades from the E or SE and blown from the completely opposite direction.  This abnormal wind direction is supposed to last a few days.  We very obviously will not be sailing westward to Bora Bora until the winds change back to normal.

Since we were anchored in a long bay that is known for violent wind gusts when the wind comes from the west, we decided to move before those gusts started.  So first thing this morning we motored round the lagoon to the SW side of Taha’a to what is affectionately called The Yacht Club.  I think the real name of this place is Marina Iti, although there is no marina here.  But there are a dozen or so mooring balls set in water that is 105 to 140 feet deep.  The Yacht Club is closed today and will reopen tomorrow.  They will expect us to at least go to the bar and buy drinks tomorrow night in exchange for the privilege of staying on this mooring ball overnight.  Ioranet WiFi is also available in this mooring field.  We have less than 100 minutes left of prepaid WiFi from our original 30 hours of Ioranet time, so we won’t be browsing the net; but at least we should be able to update the website once before we leave for Bora Bora.

The wind coming from the west and southwest is cold.  You must realize, of course, that anything less than 80F degrees is now considered by us to be cold.  It is now noon and is 80.2F inside the boat and feels very comfortable.  Sitting in the cockpit in the wind feels cold.  We are loving this South Pacific weather.

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