Tahiti, August 2-11, 2007
10 September 2007
TAHITI - August 2-11, in which we spend lots of money, hitch-hike for the first time in many years, get various things fixed, and generally enjoy Tahiti
After a 2-1/2 day fairly easy passage from Fakarava (the highlight of which was catching a big mahi mahi which we're still enjoying over a month later), we arrived at Tahiti on the morning of August 2. Approaching in the early dawn, the island is truly beautiful - high majestic peaks surrounded by a fringing reef enclosing many exquisite shades of blue water. We rounded the northeastern corner and entered Papeete harbor about 11 a.m. after obtaining permission over the radio from Port Control. Papeete is definitely the biggest town we've seen since Panama, with lots of boat traffic and hence the need for traffic control. Once inside the breakwater we were warmly greeted by a large school of dolphins who guided us in to the first buoy marking the passage through the inside reefs to the Taina Marina on the northwest corner of the island. We had to pass both ends of the airport runway en route, requiring further radio permission to pass each end to avoid being clipped by a plane.
We did not take a berth in the marina, but anchored nearby in about 50' of water with many dozens of other boats from all over the world. We chose this anchorage over tying up to the quay downtown (the traditional first stop for arriving yachts for many years) for several reasons - the quay has a very bad reputation for security problems, it costs a lot, and you're tied up along side a very busy 4 lane road with lots of noisy traffic. When we later went into town on "Le Truk" (the "buses" built on the backs of trucks) to clear in with Customs and Immigration, we found only 2 boats tied to the quay, one a local excursion boat, the other Bravo Charlie which we'd met in Fakarava. There seemed to be no security problems (perhaps Captain Fatty's ugly warnings about the security here brought about some improvements?) and it actually looked like it would have been a pleasant place to stay for a day or two.
We were very comfortable by the marina, where we had a safe place to tie up the dinghy, a nearby big grocery store which allowed carts to be taken back to the marina, and the services of Polynesian Yacht Services where we'd had our mail sent, and who helped us make our rigging repair and obtain various other needed bits and pieces and services. It seemed ironic that here where there were so many boats, there was no real hangout for the cruisers, and we actually did far less socializing than when in remote anchorages with far fewer boats. Although there were several boats here that we knew, most left in a day or two. Gannet was here for awhile, but Ian was busy sorting out old and new crew, and somehow we never got together.
We had heard many people complain that Tahiti was dirty, noisy, crowded and unfriendly, a necessary place to stop to get work done or parts sent in, but one that one left as soon as possible. We, however, found it to be quite a delightful stop, certainly more crowded and noisy than the islands we'd been passing through the past few months, but fairly clean, very friendly, and with many enticements. One of our favorite activities here was strolling through the huge public market downtown, full of gorgeous fruits, vegetables, fish, pastries, handicrafts, pearl and other jewelry, flowers and a delightful assortment of people. Another was hitchhiking to the Paul Gaugin Museum on the southern coast - both the hitching and the museum were treasured experiences. Our drivers went out of there way to get us to our destination, and offered interesting glimpses into life in Tahiti. The museum itself was quite lovely, with much information in English about Gaugin's life and his stays in Polynesia.
We had two new lower forward diagonal shrouds made, even though only one had broken; they insisted both should be replaced. We had a mechanic check out our strangely behaving transmission, which we feared might be a major fix - it very often would not go into forward until pushed to 1500 or 2000 rpm, and once didn't go at all. Fortunately it turned out to be a small plastic part in the shifter assembly that needed to be replaced. We installed a new jib halyard and topping lift for our woeful pole. We topped up with propane (very expensive, especially when the transport fee was added), did a lot of laundry (also very expensive), and a lot of provisioning (expensive, but not as bad as we'd feared, certainly better than in the outer islands). We had hoped that, like in the French Caribbean islands, good wine could be had reasonably, but this was not the case at all. We cringed at paying $7 for liter boxes of crappy wine that only cost us $1-2 in Panama, and could only bring ourselves to buy a few bottles of slightly nicer wine for $10 and up. There were some bargains - all through French Polynesia the stores have items marked with red price tags which are subsidized by the government - but these only included some very basic items - boxed and powdered milk, baked beans, baguettes, and a few other staples were about all we bought of these. Everything else was quite high, although in retrospect, comparable with what we were used to paying in the Virgins, except for the very expensive liquor here. It was just that after Panama and Venezuela, the prices seemed totally outrageous.
There are a few marine chandleries here, but they seemed very poorly stocked for the number of boats that pass through and live here. We found a few of the things we needed, but several items remained on our list.
One nice bargain for eating out was the "roulottes" - or "caravans" - mobile food trucks found all over the island, but best known where several congregate every night in a park along the quay downtown. We spent an evening in there, finding it hard to choose between the 10 or more vans offering Chinese, Polynesian, Mediteranean, and French selections, and even pizza! We arrived in the area we thought they would be about 5:15 p.m. and were surprised to find none there, but over the next 45 minutes they started pulling in, setting up tables (many with table clothes even!), stools, grills, and then we were surprised to find that it was far more like being in a restaurant than what we expected as there were even menus and waiter service. For around $10 each we had nice plates of Chinese food, then spent another $10 sharing a delightful desert crepe with ice cream and whipped cream at another van.
We did realize that we probably should have waited until we got here to get our duty-free fuel certificate. We had paid an agent in Nuku Hiva about $80 to get it, not realizing that it would be freely given us once we got here. As the certificates are only issued in Papeete, to get one anywhere else you need to use an agent. The certificate entitles one to buy diesel duty free anywhere in French Polynesia, so we thought we should get it before our first fuel purchase in Nuku Hiva, but the savings on fuel in Nuku Hiva probably didn't equal the agent's fee.
We spent a fortune on satellite phone time trying to sort out a problem with our Citicard Master Card. When Bryan went on-line to pay the bill, there was a notification that the account was blocked because it had been compromised, and that we should telephone to sort it out. After numerous calls with clerks who were almost useless, we found out that someone stole credit card data from TJMaxx, at which we had once charged something, so they were sending us new cards with a changed account number - to the Virgin Islands of course - from which we were not expecting to have mail sent for quite some time. In the meantime, until we got the new cards, we could not even find out what our outstanding balance was or pay it on-line as we usually do. Very frustrating.
Finally, after 10 days and heaven only knows how much cash out, we left Tahiti for Moorea on August. 11.