Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tuamotus, Tahiti & Moorea, June-July 2008

The passage from Marquesas to Tuamotu in early June 2008 rates as the roughest passage we have ever done. Winds had been in excess of 20-25 knots for more than a week before we departed the Marquesas, and remained at that speed or higher for the entire passage. Our boat was heeled farther than we have ever sailed as the very large waves hit us broadside. And to make a bad passage even worse, our GPS failed half-way there. Can't tell you how strange it feels to be at least 250 miles from land and suddenly not be certain of exactly where you are or where you are going. This was a gut-twister experience that we hope never to duplicate. But we carry back-ups for everything, and it took Bill only a short time to pull out a simple handheld GPS unit and cable it to our computer and we again knew exactly where we were and verified that we were indeed still going exactly where we wanted to go.

Arrival at atoll of Manihi in the Tuamotu was "interesting" because just as we identified the narrow entry passage through the encircling reef and did a 90-degree turn to make our entry, a rain squall hit hard. We were buffeted by 30 knot winds on our beam as we made the entrance. It was fine but somewhat nerve wracking. We motored across the interior of the atoll in driving rain and miraculously managed to avoid all the pearl farms. Dropping anchor in 30-knot headwinds was difficult because I couldn't hold the boat in one position long enough for the anchor to drop down 65 feet to touch the bottom; the boat was being blown backward too fast for the anchor to set properly. But on the second attempt the anchor seemed to hold.

We stayed in the atoll of Manihi several days. I traded 3 cases of beer from Panama for 21 black pearls, which were Christmas gifts for our 2 daughters-in-law and our granddaughter. They can each make a pair of earrings and a necklace with 3 pearls centered on chain or cord. And they each have a story to tell about their special pearls. When we attempted to weigh anchor to leave we found that the anchor chain was horribly fouled around coral heads. We would never have gotten out of there without the assistance of a single-hander named Daryl on S/V LIBERTY CALL. He is an avid diver and he graciously offered to dive on our anchor and guide us around and around to free the anchor chain from the coral heads. Then Bill went over to LIBERTY CALL and assisted Daryl in getting his anchor free. Well, welcome to anchoring in the South Pacific!!!!

Next atoll we visited was Ahe. Entrance was pretty straightforward and anchoring on a calm day was uneventful. One day Bill and I walked all over the tiny atoll. We decided to try and rinse our feet and sandals before getting back into the dinghy. There was a concrete ramp and it looked like a perfect place to do this. Apparently neither of us was thinking straight because we both put one foot into the water on that ramp and immediately started sliding into the sea. Bill held out his arms and "surfed" down the ramp. I foolishly tried to grab him to stop him from going in and that caused me to fall forward and land hard on one knee. So I went down the ramp on my hands and knees. We then swam to the dinghy and climbed in. Bill was perfectly fine, but my shin was cut about 10-inches from the knee down and there was a very bad bruise on the bone. It took 10 months for this to heal and the knee to function relatively normally again. This injury meant that I was not able to snorkel for this entire year as we crossed the South Pacific.

The next and final atoll in the Tuamotus that we visited was Rangiroa. Now, this atoll I really liked. Egress was straightforward; the pass was quite narrow but well marked with navigational lights. Rangiroa is huge. It is the largest of all the atolls. The interior lagoon is about 45 miles long and 20 miles wide, and it offers everything that you might find at any atoll -- great diving, snorkeling, black pearls and native Polynesian islanders. Plus it also offers the Kia Ora Resort, an ultra-fancy resort popular with Japanese and Chinese wealthy tourists. There are free moorings in front of the resort and yachties are welcome at the bar. There is a fine dining restaurant also open to reservations by yachties. This resort is also popular as a honeymoon destination for couples worldwide. And, the very best thing in our opinions, is that WiFi was available. At a certain cost, of course. But when you haven't had WiFi is no long it is worth that cost. Besides, I couldn't get off the boat with my bum knee so what else was there to do? We were really regretting stopping at Manihi and Ahe. We should have just come to Rangiroa and spent more time here.

The sail from Rangiroa to Papeete, Tahiti was really just motoring as there was no wind. We entered the main pass at Papeete and then turned right and wound our way through the lagoon to the marina. We checked in with Polynesia Yacht Services so the agent could properly clear us in as required by French Polynesia. The agent collected our genoa and sent it out for repair to have the solar shield restitched; had the propane tanks refilled; and we were set to go whenever we were ready to move on. There is a McDonald's right next to the marina so we were able to get a fast-food fix -- at about $10 USD for a Quarter-Pounder or a kid's Happy Meal. Actually, I don't remember McDonald's selling a Quarter-Pounder at this location; instead they sold something call a Royal Burger. All we really wanted were fries and milkshakes anyway.

We found the shuttle into the city and found the large supermarket just down the road from the marina. Prices in Tahiti are absurd. Rubber flip-flop sandals sell for about $120 USD per pair. Not fancy sandals; these are regular cheap rubber flip flops. The same flip-flips were for sale in Tonga for $3 so I don't know why these were so ridiculously expensive in Tahiti. Bill had lost his sandals overboard at some point in one of our passages and needed a new pair because our brown deck gets too hot to walk on. We searched each time we visited a store and finally found a pair for about $40 USD and bought those. Another day we were in the city and Bill's sneakers started falling apart. Must be something about the heat on the boat or the salt air or the combination of the two, because 2 pairs of my sneakers did the same thing back in the Caribbean -- the glue just stop being glue and the soles fall off. We found him a new pair of cheap Addidas sneakers for only $150 USD. These would have cost about $30 at Academy back in Houston.

We were registered to participate in the Tahiti-Moorea Rendevouz but the weather did not cooperate and we both caught a respiratory virus that day. Regret that we did not get to participate in the actual sailing and festivities that Saturday, but we did enjoy the party the previous evening. Several days later when the weather was better and our sail had been returned from the repair shop we sailed over to Moorea. Cook's Bay in Moorea is the second-most beautiful bay in the South Pacific (The Bay of Virgins in Fatu Hiva rates first). We really enjoyed both being anchored inside Cook's Bay and also anchoring outside the bay behind the reef. You can take a long dinghy ride to an area where rays come to be fed several times daily by the tour guides from the nearby resorts. Bill got in the water and the rays were all over him. Sharks circled all around but were not a threat to any of the people. They just wanted to be fed too.

In Moorea we met quite a few boats that had come down from Mexico. Almost all of these people had skipped the Galapagos Islands and made a straight shot down from Mexico to French Polynesia and had been moving ahead of us until this point. On July 4th we did a dinghy raft-up with many of these people and celebrated our holiday. Even the Canadians took part and we passed around hot dogs and hamburgers and popcorn. Good fun.

After Moorea we sailed overnight up to Huahine. Then Raiatea and Taha'a. Then Bora Bora.

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