The island of Ra'iatea is not known around the globe like Bora Bora. However, in the 18th century this island was the center of religious beliefs for much of Polynesia and the home of the principal Marae of "Oro", the god of war. Polynesians from New Zealand, The Cook Islands and Hawaii came to pay homage at Taputapuatea where the God Oro was worshipped. Coming to French Polynesia by modern sailboat took some time and I can not say it was always fun and comfortable. So influencing people to come to this island from so far away by canoe demonstrates the great power this religious site possessed.
Before we reached the marae, we drove from the Northwest of the island around to the South side the long way. Once you leave the main town of Uturoa, there aren't that many cars going by. It was a very relaxing drive.
We saw many huts built on the shallow lagoons about 5 seconds by boat away from shore. I wonder if these are island versions of tree houses that kids can play in. There are many rivers on the island and we spotted a water fall from the side of Mt. Aahinui. Many breadfruit (when you cook breadfruit, it is like potatoe), banana, mango and papaya trees were growing along the road.
The most important marae, Taputapuatea was in about 5 acres of land right by the water. There were not just one but a several different marae of different sizes in the park. The small black coral stones were laid on the floor and bigger coral stones with flat surfaces were standing very impressively. It was hard to imagine that this was one of the most sacred place to worship the Polynesian gods. When we were there, there was only one other local couple visiting.
As we drove the islands we saw churches full of Polynesians, not marae. It was Sunday so there were many dressed up people, women with fancy hats singing, most singing inside the churches.
We decided to rent a car and go around the island since the boat yard is closed on the weekend. The rental car showed up at 8 o'clock as we requested. We were usually at the breakfast table at 7 o'clock this week but somehow we both did not want to get up that early this morning. Forcing our sleepy bodies downstairs, we received the car and we sat at our usual breakfast table. Oliver served a couple of coffee, baguettes, home made coconut jam, papaya with vanilla jam and yummy eggs.
I was ready for an island excursion but after the week of hard work, Randy's body wanted to get a rest. So instead of driving around the island, we spent the day enjoying the lovely Raiatea Lodge Hotel's scenery and people and good food.
It was another long day at the boat yard. I was having troubles getting Micron 66 locally and I had begun the unpleasant process of trying to identify a paint I would be happy with that didn't require a complete strip of the existing antifouling. The bottom had been painted only 10 or 11 months ago and it was in pretty good shape, I was loath to scrape it all off at $300 a can!
Just as I was digging through my Practical Sailors in earnest Valeria, the office manager came through with the 66 but in black. The paint on there was blue but hey, I'll take pink if it means a light sand and paint away. Better yet they could have it tomorrow! I guess Raiatea has a pretty good connection with Papeete.
In the mean time I prepped and painted the drive legs with Trilux. I used the spray can last time around but Dominic only had gallon cans of brush on. He let me borrow a little from an open can they had. The drive legs were black but of course the paint the yard had was white. The designer genes in me suggest that a blue hull with black drive legs make for the best fashion statement, but since I'm not looking to make a fashion statement and probably don't have any designer genes anyway a black hull with white drives will have to do.
I managed to get the zincs installed, the props prepped, lubed and installed, all with healthy doses of loctite.
Fred had the rudder shaft glassed back into the right side of the shell by the end of the day. The rudder project is a hurry up and wait affair. The shaft took a day to go to town, get in the press and come back. Then once the rudder shells are clean it has to be glassed in, which requires a four plus hour pause at the end for curing. Next the halves need to be glassed together, followed by curing. Then the beast needs to be faired and filled with foam. Then the foam holes are sealed and the rudder is primed, pause. Antifouling coat one, pause. Coat two pause. You get the idea. All of this with the majority being in epoxy for water protection and secondary bond strength.
I was trying to drive a Monday splash but it was looking tough. Still no bottom paint and no work on the new stickers, both big projects.
Back at the Raiatea Lodge Hideko and I enjoyed a sunset game of Patonk and another wonderful meal cooked up by Oliver. Eric and Oliver both try to teach me French at every turn. I am trying and making some progress but their English is too good to force the issue.
It was a standard day in the yard. I pulled our propane tanks and gas jugs for filling. I also pulled the props and zincs. The zincs were in pretty good shape but not good enough for me to skip the easy opportunity to replace them.
The Raiatea Carenage has a lot of the necessities but they didn't have Yanmar Zincs. Fortunately the Raiatea Marine shop, a whopping 5 seconds across the dirt, had Plastimo replacements for the Yanmars. They fit and they were zinc so I bought them.
The props were an interesting contrast. The port prop was brand new and installed maybe a month back in the water in Moorea. It already has some stuff on it. The starboard prop had two year old Prop-speed on it and was still clean as a whistle. If you have never used Prop-speed you might want to take a look. It is amazing stuff. The only person I have known not to be happy with it flagrantly ignored the application directions. It is a two step process with an etching primer and the paint after. You have to let the etch dry as per the instructions and you have to have the props totally clean when you start.
As I was messing about with the sail drives I noticed that the starboard drive had a spacer between the drive leg and the prop and the port didn't. At least it didn't now. Got me thinking about how we crossed the Pacific with no prop on the port shaft. Was it there when I checked into things in the Galapagos? Can't be sure. It had certainly gone missing somewhere. What are the odds of finding this little bit in French frickin' Polynesia? Not good.
I sought out the boss for this one. I told Dominic my situation and asked if he could source a part. The wheels turning in my brain: Let's see, two weeks for shipping because no one has the part, the distributor will only ship to a dealer in China who then needs to ship to Tahiti, where it will clear customs in 1to never many days, I will have to fly to Tahiti to escort the part through customs, two days to get back to Raiatea and in the end I will have paid $1,398 and worked for a month to get a $1 chunk of metal.
Dominic said let me see. Stuck his head in a tool box and said "here", as he handed me the exact part! Are you kidding me? I pinched myself the rest of the afternoon as I carefully sanded and polished the little metal ring.
We are greatly enjoying the lovely Raiatea Lodge. Oliver, Eric and their families have been wonderful hosts. They serve excellent coffee and baguettes with home made jams at 7AM everyday. Lunch is at noon and dinner is at 7PM and both are excellent French/Polynesian cuisine.
You can always stir up someone for a patonk game (popular in France and elsewhere, throw a small light ball and get close to it with bigger heavy ones). The grounds are lush Polynesian standard (watch out for falling coconuts). They have a nice pool, bikes, a great dock with boats for rent, and can set you up with all sorts of tours and excursions.
The dock has been great for us because it is much faster (and easier) to take the dingy to the boat yard than to drive. I am getting into a routine of coffee at 7, boat yard at 8 and home at 4. Hideko is enjoying the free wifi and getting caught up with her Mixi (the hip Japanese online social network). We enjoy a lovely dinner together at 7 and repeat.
Today at the yard we had the rudder shaft straightened as it was bent ever so slightly. Fred and I were impressed by the stocky build of the shaft. It will not be departing the boat without serious trauma.
I did a lot of work inside the boat today. It was hot with little breeze making it in through the escape hatches. The constant threat of rain (though in retrospect it almost never did in the yard) looming up in the highlands kept me from opening the over head hatches. On the bright side the solar panels were kicking out 20 plus amps at high sun. The rail angle actually helped produce more power! I once again find good reason to recommend our air cooled fridge and freezer, which hummed along on solar power unbothered by the fact that they are 15 feet up in the air.
The yard is all 220 so we are without shore power. I asked about a transformer but I got one of those, "I'll look into it", answers that you can interpret as "not going to happen".
Day one in the yard was fairly typical. I spent most of my time trying to make sure that everything with a lead time got started, that all of my projects that required a particular specialty had someone lined up and that everything in general got moving with an understanding that I wanted to be in the water a week earlier than I really thought possible.
Boat yards are boat yards. You are never the only client. There never seems to be a project manager looking out for your boat and its needs. Everyone tells you "no problem" and you rarely see results the same day promised. Perhaps it is because you are a captive client once you're there, I'm not sure. If you ever want to get you boat back in the water you have to figure out who the players are yourself and get after all of them in the morning and again in the afternoon of every day.
My idea of customer service comes from the financial services industry where the customer is king and the clientele are demanding if not brutal. Perhaps this is too harsh a standard, regardless we are dealing with the exact opposite end of the spectrum when discussing boat yards.
All that said, I think this is my favorite boat yard to date. We have had services performed in the USA, Turks and Caicos, (tried to with no luck in the) BVI, Saint Martin, Grenada and Trinidad. Here Dominic, the owner, is very knowledgeable and a straight shooter. He still yeses you a little and is sometimes hard to corner, but he is in the office much of every day, ultimately delivers, or at least tries, and tells you why he can't if there's a problem. In Grenada they just ignore you if they are late on a promise.
This yard also has Fred. He is the secret weapon as far as I can tell. Fred is very experienced and appears to be able to fix anything. Fred pulled our damaged rudder and had it split in two by the afternoon ready to inspect. He is the kind of guy who prides himself on his work and anything he is happy with you will be happy with.
The Tahitian guys working in the yard are also very friendly and helpful. You do need to stay on top of things if you need a better than average job done of something (like cleaning a degreasing the hull before new stripes are applied). If you spoke French this place would be almost perfect.
It is a boat yard and thus toxic fumes wafts through the air and you'd better be wearing shoes but it is better than many in these respects as it is small with only one travel lift slip and the rail adjacent to a limited amount of space on the hard.
I haven't really gotten used to the entire boat sitting on an angle yet. I have decided to save all non bottom related projects until we return to the water for this reason and the fact that oil is in the back of the pan, going up the rig is out, etceteras. I am presently hoping that in the following week we can get our rudder glassed up, painted and reinstalled, bottom prepped and painted, props removed cleaned, greased and reinstalled with fresh zincs and new Prop-speed, drive legs prepped and painted, sail drive oil changed, old (partial) stripes removed and new stripes installed as well as some canvas adjustments and other odds and ends.
Today we got the bottom pressure washed and sanded and the rudder is out and opened up. Many other items have been set in motion so we'll see how it goes.
We got up at the crack of dawn this morning hoping to make Raiatea in time for an AM haul out. We raised our anchor and motored out of the sand bank into the Povai Bay. We decided to raise the main here. The winds were predicted to be light today, around 10 knots, and from the east. This would make exiting the pass, which is on the west side of the island, pretty easy. We left the jib put away until we got a better picture of the situation in the channel.
The pass was calm and we motored out and around toward the south side of Bora Bora. Once around the southwest point we made a direct line for the main western pass of Raiatea, just south of the Raiatea Carenage. This seemed to be exactly where the wind was coming from, as usual. We motored along at about 7 knots with the main helping some here and there.
It is about 21 miles from pass to pass and it took us the expected three hours with an hour on each side for negotiating the lagoons and passes. The channel between Raiatea and Bora Bora is protected from the southeast seas by Raiatea but anything from the south or southwest comes barreling right in. Fortunately there was little swell and the apparent wind never got over 20 knots. The Raiatea pass was well marked and eventless as was the lagoon transit.
We ended up on a mooring outside of the Carenage at about 10:00 but it was too late to haul until after lunch. We probably could have made it in the AM but we weren't sure we were in the right place. The Raiatea Carenage is right next to, and looks like the same facility as, Raiatea Marine. Raiatea Marine has a big sign on the roof that says "VHF channel 72". Unfortunately the person handling radio and pone for Raiatea Carenage didn't connect the dots when we described our location and the VHF 72 bit. After receiving some fairly suspect directions, along with a call back after lunch, we decided to stay on the mooring and get the hotel accommodations sorted out first.
We had called around a bit the prior week and settled on Raiatea Lodge. After touring Raiatea I can feel good about saying that it is the nicest place to stay on the island. They have a great little dock out front and the are a very short trip south from the Carenage, so Hideko and I just took the dinghy over.
We were greeted by Oliver, one of the owners, and shown to a lovely room with free wifi, hot water and aircon (no of these a given in FP). The grounds are lush and lovely and the hotel is a quaint boutique with only 16 rooms. It would be a prefect place for our week or two stay while Swingin' on a Star got her annual tune up.
Oliver explained to us that there are only two place that haul boats on Raiatea and both are right where we were parked. This information in hand we returned to the big boat and clarified things with the Carenage. We were indeed right in front of their shop, which is situated on the northwest side of Raiatea, between the main west side pass and the airport.
I had never done a rail system before so I was looking forward to the experience with a touch of trepidation. After our dinghy ride I noticed two hazards in the area. First, like many of the society island lagoons, the anchorages her are deep and many use moorings. There are moorings (most with boats) all around the area, and some don't necessarily clear the surface. Second there is a very shallow, as in above water at low tide, reef covering the entire south side of the Carenage ramp. In fact if you are south of track on the line into the ramp you will hit the rocks in anything but a dinghy.
I was on the radio with Dominic, who is the owner of the Carenage, and he talked me in. We approached north of the transit leading into the ramp. As we got over the rails I slowed the boat. I had to keep her moving a bit though because the wind was up a bit and we were pushing to the south. There were about four or five guys in the water and once close enough we quickly secured lines to the port bow and stern to keep the boat off of the reef. This involved a bit of hustling and some confusion as the guys working in the yard speak Tahitian and French.
Once the port lines were on we secured cross ties forward and aft, springs, and starboard lines. At this point I realized that there was no one in sight who could speak English. I continue to scold myself for not coming up to speed on other languages faster. I should really have conversational French down by now, but I don't. Nor Spanish. Nor Japanese, Nor Tahitian. Though bits of each are running through my head making things even more interesting.
Once secured to the car below the winch operator on shore begins to haul the car up the tracks. I noted that before things got moving my sounder read 2 feet. This really means a bit over three feet but I had still never seen the number 2 there before.
As the car moves forward it tows the boat through the water on the lines attached to it until the leading edge of the keel makes contact with the boards lashed to the car. At this point things stop and final adjustments are made to the boats position over the car through the lines. Once set they begin to actually haul the boat when the car advances. The winch is connected to the car via heavily greased cables on a 7:1 purchase, so things go nice and slow.
At some point in the process the keels go flat on the car. It you are lucky your boat will sit perfectly going up the grade this way. I doubt many have this luck. It is nice to have a balanced boat. For upwind sailing this means center of gravity in the middle of the boat, for downwind a lift aft of the middle. Regardless, most cats are going to be a little aft heavy. Even if they weren't lifting them at an angle would make them so. Point being most will pop a wheelie given the chance. We did.
The guys were swimming under the boat yelling at each other and I just have a vision of the trailing edges of the keels crunching down into the knotty wood of the slats mounted on the rusty metal of the rail car. I tried to discuss matters with one of the guys who spoke a tiny bit of English. He was not the senior guy and given the level of our discussion I was as likely to be misunderstood or misunderstand as to communicate. There was noting for it, so I put on a mask and jumped into the water.
The boat was definitely not sitting level on her keels. After a bit of discussion they blocked the starboard stern and continued hauling. I didn't like the look of things and almost had to start throwing things to get the winch operator to stop. "Stop" is apparently not the first English word in the course. After failing to communicate the need for blocks on the port and also failing to find Dominic, or any one else who spoke English, I decided to let them proceed as I watched the port side carefully. It was rocked way back on the keel bit not picking up at all like before. Two of the guys were actually hanging on the bow lines. I not sure what they thought this accomplished but I am very sure I didn't like it.
In the end she made it up to the top of the track without a problem. That said if I were to do it again I would require the following: 1) Someone who speaks English must be on station at all times during the haul out to communicate with the captain. 2) The port and starboard stern must be blocked in the water as soon as the keels are level on the car.
Careful? Definitely. Paranoid? Perhaps. Regardless, no one will be crying but you if a yard damages your boat. They also have to block the stern of your boat once it is at rest so why not just do it when it is most important, while the boat is moving up the track? After a rough opener I have come to have a strong respect for this yard, but more on that later.
It was late in the day by the time the car was locked in place at the top of the tracks and the boat was properly blocked. The railway setup here allows only one boat to be in port at a time. The rail can handle just about any 50 foot catamaran but I do know that they had to turn away a 60 footer. The rail could take her but there is a 100 foot steel power cat sitting in the yard right next to the rail that interferes with very wide (over 9 meter) boats. The power cat was a Maupiti shuttle that took a bit too much of a short cut one day and ended up on the reef.
Once everything was situated I grabbed an overnight bag and joined Hideko in the dink. It was a short 5 minute dinghy ride to Raiatea Lodge and a good nights sleep.