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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Hiking the Peaks of Tahiti
07/07/2008, Tahiti

We went to the farmers market this morning. You can find a huge selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and other meats here. We purchased some freshly ground beef, pork, corn on the cob, pamplemouse, oranges, bananas, dill, parsley, spring onions and much more.

The markets here are also fully stocked. I love French countries for many reasons but the food is certainly one of them. We have fresh milk for the first time in a while, lots of yummy cheeses, good steaks, etceteras.

After a lazy morning we finally piled in the car at around noon ready for a repeat of our search for the Belvedere. With the help of various folks on the street and a sign here and there we finally made it. The drive is incredible. You spend quite a bit of time winding along a single lane road going up at a fairly steep angle with sheer drop offs on either side. The vistas are fantastic. We had to back up once for a quarter mile to find a spot to pull over to allow another car to pass. The road was so steep that Nobu and Pablo had to get out and push to get the little Citroen going again. I was in first gear for the entire last half of the drive.

The restaurant is situated high above Papeete and provides breathtaking views of the lower areas of Tahiti and her reefs and lagoons as well as a lovely outlook on Moorea. If you get lucky and visit on a day without clouds on the horizon you would no doubt be able to easily see Huahine and Tetiaroa.

Hideko and I shared a wonderful lunch of cheese and steak fondue. The food is a little expensive as you might expect but if you order the right things it is also very tasty.

After lunch we decided to explore the mountains above the Belvedere. The Belvedere marks the base of the trails that lead to the tops of three progressively higher peaks, the last of which, I believe, is the tallest on Tahiti.

This is not a hike to take lightly! You first make your way up to a French Military training facility with lots of obstacles and physical training structures, a sight in and of itself. This leads you to the trail head and things are all dirt, rock and roots from there on. We passed a three cable bridge over a deep ravine (part of the French training setup) and, bearing right followed the trail up into the hills. Shortly thereafter you confront two hillsides with ropes hanging down to assist you in mounting the rise. This would be even more tricky to navigate if it had rained heavily recently.

We hiked on for about three hours. We weren't even close to the first peak. At point where we decided to turn back to ensure that we would have enough light to get down we were still a ways off of the first of three vistas. It was still well worth the effort. We hiked across ridges with stunning views of both the interior valleys and the waters around Tahiti. As we gained elevation we could see the bands of habitat change from hardwood to pine forest and then on to ferns and moss in the upper elevations where the clouds shroud the hills in moisture most days.

This hike would be my number one recommendation for sights to see on Tahiti. Not only is it great exercise but you will not see more of the natural beauty of the island any other way. This hike has it all, vistas of the lagoons and sea, waterfalls, sheer peaks and pinnacles as well as all of the varieties of plants and trees.

French Polynesia
The Tahiti Museum
07/06/2008, Tahiti

We rented a car today and took a ride around the island. After leaving the boat we walked into town and a kind gentleman helped us locate the Le Truck to take us to the airport. The Le Truck is a, well, truck. They have converted the back of the truck into a covered but open seating area and you pay about 150 francs by day and 200 by night to go just about anywhere. They are locals, not express, in function and stop a lot but are fun to ride and allow you to make friends with the Polynesians you may find yourself sitting next to.

At the airport we rented a little Citroen with room for five from Avis. With full insurance and fuel it was about $150 per day. Not cheap. I used my US license and did not need to produce an international driver's license as I have heard some agencies require.

We set out to circumnavigate. Our first stop was the Tahiti and her islands museum. It is a great museum and really gives you a nice overview of the Polynesian history and culture. It is all in French with a little bit of English translation on most exhibits but still a must see. A lot of surfers ride the break off of the beach at the museum and there is a nice park there.

As we drove around the island we realized just the view from the car is an attraction. The road around Tahiti is very scenic especially if you turn off often to enjoy the coastline or take a random road up into the hills to enjoy a vista. The grottoes and waterfalls right along the coast on the south side and the Marea (ancient sacred Polynesian site) up the hill near the main road are all fun to see.

We drove by Port Phaeton nestled deep in the natural bay formed between Tahiti Iti and Tahiti Nui. It is the most protected harbor in Tahiti (perhaps Polynesia). The road is no more than a foot above water in some places.

We came around the north side of the island as the sun was setting. There is some construction going on in this area and the roads require more care to navigate safely. Many surfers worked hard to get a ride on the less than optimal breaks along the coast here.

We had planned to eat dinner at the Belvedere high up in the hills above Papeete. After an hour of driving around in the heights a pleasant man informed us that we were on the wrong mountain. We still had great views of the islands. We packed it in for the day and had another yummy dinner at the Roulottes.

French Polynesia
Le Roulottes
07/05/2008, Papeete

We decided to setup the pasarelle today. The Quai is fairly high and it is tough for some of our crew to get up onto the dock. We dropped the dink into the water between the hulls and tied it to the dock. Unlike Little Star, Shooting Star can't pass under the bridge deck. Too bad because it would be fun to explore the lagoons around here.

I trimmed our main halyard after setting up our new rig in Grenada so it will no longer reach back to support the pasarelle (it being two part). We used the topping lift this time which worked great allowing us to control the ramp from the cockpit and without the unnecessary overhead of the two parts.

The ramp made getting on and off the boat a breeze. We watched with good humor as others climbed across their dinghies to get to the dock. We almost gave our boarding ramp to George in Exuma just because we didn't expect to use it much and it is big and fairly heavy. We are very glad we kept it. We don't use it often but it is so handy when we do.

We went to the Le Roulottes area just down the Quai for dinner. Roulotte means caravan and there is a park where ten or twenty of these mobile eateries show up daily to serve every kind of cuisine you could want. In particular you will find crepes, steak frites, chow mein, pizza, along with other Chinese, Polynesian and French delights. Most things in French Polynesia are expensive in comparison to US prices but the Roulottes are the most reasonable place to eat we have found.

French Polynesia
Happy Fourth
07/04/2008, Tahiti Quai des Yachts

It doesn't feel like the fourth of July here, but it does feel pretty good. We woke up this morning in Tahiti (!) the center of all life in the Southeast Pacific. You feel like you're right in it when you're on the Quai, and you are.

The Quai des Yachts is a dockage service right in the middle of town run by the harbormaster. It is reasonable as marinas go especially for a catamaran (no extra fee for the second hull). We were paying about $1.37 per foot with a flat rate for all the power 20ish a day) and all the water you want. Water was about $2 a day but we didn't use power. A one time fee of about $10 for trash is also charged.

The Quai is setup for boats to come in stern to with messenger lines tied off on the dock for you to pull up the bow moorings with (no need to drop an anchor as used to be the case). The docks are floating to handle the whopping one foot spring tide range. There are gates at the end of each dock but the one closest to the pass doesn't work so you just reach around to open it. That said I didn't have one minute of concern for the security of the boat even when everyone (except Roq of course) was ashore. To quote our friends on Free Spirit (introduced to us from Crete by Zia Later), "there's no safety and security net here because you don't need a safety and security net".

The Qaui could be in a better location. I see cruisers from Marina Taina or the anchorage there taking long dinghy rides or renting cars just to go to places we can get to in a 2 minute walk. I also looked at the pollution levels posted at the harbor masters office and while I wouldn't swim in the port (!) the water in the anchorage is not so good either. There are few places in the lagoons of Tahiti with a water purity rating in the top two categories (sad I know). Go to Moorea if you want to swim. The one down side is that there is a bit of a sewer smell in the area of the Quai sometimes. It usually doesn't reach the dock closest to the pass though.

Power here is Euro in every way except that it is 60 Hz. This is great for American boats because voltage and plugs are easy to adapt, but cycles are not. We didn't plug in while we were on the dock because we didn't have a Euro connector and didn't get around o finding a store that had the right stuff to build a pig tail. It was so sunny that we made lots of power with the solar and we were off the boat most of the time so e didn't use much. I had to run the genset for a short bit every other day (I'm writing this on 7/11 in Moorea and we're still running on the fuel from Ecuador).

We spent most of the day getting through all of our mail and West Marine goodies that Pabs and Lou brought. Pablo came through customs unscathed (no charges) carrying an 18 inch - 30 pound bronze folding prop, line holders for our coach roof, a new mother board for our Spectra water maker, emergency sail repair tape, four marine smoke detectors, three Westerbeke pressure caps, dinghy outboard lock, new stripe decals for the boat, some DVDs and a pile of other stuff. Pablo is of Columbian heritage but looks a lot like a Polynesian when you think about it. They were the last ones off of the plane but one of the gate attendants walked them straight by the x-ray machine to the front of the line at the customs office. I guess I need to work on my tan and get some tattoos.

I had to run around a bit during the day to knock off some high priority tasks. I checked us into the Marina and country at the customs/immigration/port captain/marina office located just down the Quai past the tourism office. The French officials are courteous but still very "official", inquiring as to who the person standing next to you is and that sort of thing. The Polynesian officials are just wonderful, friendly, helpful and a pleasure to deal with. They collect the fees just the same but they make you feel welcome rather than anxious to get out of the building. Luck determines which you get I suppose.

Hideko, Nobu and I cleared in for the standard 30 days. Hideko and I needed to extend however. This required a tip to the post office to buy two 3,000 xfp stamps. Return these stamps with you passport to the immigration lady and an additional 60 days is a guarantee. How to stay longer we have not yet ascertained.

Next I picked up tickets for the Heiva Tahiti. Heiva means having fun and this is exactly what the Polynesians do during this annual dance, music and culture festival. Unfortunately the government didn't fund the country wide festival that was supposed to go on this year so it was just the Tahiti performers. Typically, every four years all of the archipelagos come together in Tahiti to compete. On the off years the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Australs have their own Heiva as do the individual islands of the Societies. Many locals I talked with were unhappy that the country wide festival was not taking place so I imagine it will be reinstated.

The Heiva tickets were sold at a book and office supply store called Odyssey in the middle of town near the large red steepled church. This is a great store with tons of books. Almost everything is in French but you can find a few things in English or take the opportunity to improve your French!

I spent a lot of time talking boats with Dave on O'Vive. It was great to share tips and see how another owner of the exact same boat has done things. Dave has done a great job with O'Vive and she has a lot of great custom systems which Dave has installed. Dave also hooked me up with the best Wifi Internet carrier which allowed me to check Gmail for the first time in a month or so. Ug.

It was a good day of running errands and catching up with civilization. Everyone went different directions today but we are all looking forward to the Heiva tomorrow!

French Polynesia
07/03/2008, Papeete

We pulled in to Papeete at noon today! It feels like we have finally reach the end of a big leg.

Last night we put the jib up when the wind came around to 50 off the port bow and started running consistently at 10 knots. We were doing high 8s with the starboard engine at 2,000 RPM. We had the tanks combined to equalize port and starboard diesel supplies. We usually keep them separate and only fuel one at a time so that if one is contaminated the other is ok. We have been running both tanks independently long enough to trust the diesel in each though. Only having a prop to starboard was enough motivation here.

Tahiti is easy to see from pretty far off. We were used to the Tuamotus which are almost invisible until you are on top of them. On the approach we called the harbor master on 12 and they had us wait for a freighter to enter the pass.

I was predicting a 2 knot current but the harbor master suggested more. It was a little squirrelly coming in but we had plenty of power with just the one prop.

We had planned to tie up on the Quai right in town. Noisy but so close to everything I wouldn't stay anywhere else until we were done with Papeete. We had coordinated with Dave on O'Vive who was going to help us get on the dock with just the one prop.

You'd think that one prop would not put you at much of a disadvantage. I would suggest you try docking a cat with one prop to see. It is ok if you only want to turn to port.

Dave took a line to our port quarter that Nobu deftly threw as we idled by O'Vive. Dave belayed it and we swung into line. I gave little blasts from the starboard engine to bring her slowly around. The wind was gently blowing us off the dock so Dave brought in the line as I pulled back on the starboard. In no time we were perfectly tied up with two lines to moorings off the bow and 4 lines, two off the quarter and cross ties, to the dock.

It was great to meet Dave and Nathalie in person and catch up. We immediately started talking boats and probably have another 10 hours worth to go. Dave and Nathalie have also gotten us plugged into the town on the fast track. They are just wonderful people.

We picked our friends Pabs and Lou up at the airport at 6:30 PM. It was so fun to see them again and give them flower lays (the airport has an awesome flower shop). We dropped their bags off at the boat and then went to the Le Roulotte (sp?) for dinner. This is an area on the waterfront where lots of vans cook foods of all kinds. We had steak frites and various other tasty things.

Back at the boat we had some French pastries for Lousie's birthday (she's 29 today) and a great time catching up in the heart of Tahiti.

French Polynesia
07/12/2008 | Tni & David
Hello our long lost friends!! I have been catching up on your blog and your adventure sounds as amazing as ever. Congratulations on making it to Tahiti! We are thinking of you and send big hugs and hellos from across the many many miles in San Francisco. Tni & David
07/20/2008 | Randy Abernethy
Hey you guys! Great to hear from you. We'll drop you an email to catch up.
Underway to Tahiti
07/02/2008, French Polynesia

We left Toau at about 6AM this morning. We waived goodbye to our new friends on Szel and wished we were staying another few days as well. Would have been better for sailing as well because today is a no wind day. It doesn't matter though because we are very excited to see our friends tomorrow at the air port!

We have also been keeping track of some internet friends on our sister ship O'Vive. Dave has been very helpful with info from the road ahead as we have progressed through the San Blas, the canal and the Pacific. O'Vive is tied up in front of Papeete on the main quay in the middle of town. When I talked to Dave on the SSB two days ago he mentioned that we may be able to get a spot there as well. That would be a dream.

The sun has set and we are settled in for night watch. Hideko is making a yummy pasta dinner and all is flat and calm. We are motor sailing with the main and jib in 7 knots apparent doing about 8 SOG. Should get us into Papeete around noon tomorrow in time to hang out with O'Vive a bit and pick up Pablo and Louise at the airport. Almost as if by design?!

143 miles to Papeete!

Nobu says: "I am excited to see Tahiti! I'm going to get a tatoo to memorialize the wonderful journey."

Hideko says: "I wasn't ready to leave the Tuamotus, they exceeded my expectations for beauty. I am ready to see a "big city" again though." (I think that means shop... -Randy) "We are hoping to catch the annual Polynesian dancing competition!"

French Polynesia
07/01/2008, The Tuamotu Atolls

We set out from Takapoto at 3AM to ensure that we would reach Toau in good light even if the wind was not up. It was a very dark night with no moon. The crew did a great job of raising the main in difficult conditions. We were in the lee of Takapoto but the wind was around 15 to 20 knots and with one engine it was impossible to keep the bow up for long before the wind blew it off to port. Driving to windward to keep steerage way was not an option with the reefy island there. We made three trips around in circles before the huge main was up.

We made pretty good time but the seas were again pretty lumpy once we were out of the lee of the island. It is an 80 mile trek to Toau from Takapoto and Swingin' on a Star was making 9 knots or more. The wind lightened up halfway through the sail and the seas came down for it, also because we were behind Aratika atoll, though it was 20 miles out.

Toau, unlike Takaroa and Takapoto, is not surrounded by motus. It is more a circular reef with a motu here and there. It is a beautiful atoll as well though. We dropped the sails as we approached the false pass that forms the anchorage and fired up the one engine. I had a little trepidation here because strong currents in passes are standard fair. Once cruising guide said there were strong currents here and one said no current at all. If there was strong current, skating around with one engine would not be optimal.

The closest tide station is Manihi, not forever away but not next door either. The atolls vary a fair amount in their flow times due to conditions. We didn't have any luck radioing for local advise so we crept up looking carefully for tidal rips or standing waves. The pass was well marked and flat. We entered and found no current at all. It was perfect.

Inside there are moorings which are preferred. The first one we approached had no pendant we could see so we anchored. We wanted to get out of the way because Szel, a Sun Deer 64, was coming in behind us and we didn't want to be a hazard. The bottom is 50 or 60 feet in the north part and the trades set you back nicely.

Twelve people live on the adjacent motu. Some of them came out to say hello. They were so kind and friendly. There is a restaurant here but it was closed tonight because the main lady was out doing some work with black pearls they are growing in the lagoon.

We all took a little snorkel and checked our anchor as well as Szel's mooring. All was well and we invited Karnen and Guy over for drinks. It was another lovely evening in paradise. We were sad to have to leave for Papeete tomorrow and promised ourselves to come back.

230 miles to Papeete!

Nobu says: "This anchorage is so calm and the temperature is perfect. I slept outside until 3:30AM. The people are so nice as well"

Hideko says: "The list of perfect anchorages is getting longer..."

French Polynesia

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