22 August 2010
After a blustery 500 mile passage from the Marquesas, we arrived in the Tuamotus at the atoll of Kauehi. Nearly all of the Tuamotus are coral atolls- that is a ring of coral reef with intermittent low palm-covered islets (motus) surrounding a calm lagoon in the center. Kauehi, for example, was 12 miles in diameter, and composed of perhaps 50 small motus, only one of which was inhabited. To get into the lagoon, you must sail through a narrow gap in the coral ring. Most atolls we visited had two navigable passes, usually on different sides of the atoll. You have to time your entry or exit through the pass carefully, because the current can be ridiculously strong if you get there at the wrong tide. (All the water in the lagoon flows in and out of those small passes four times a day as the tides change). We arrived at Kauehi at dawn, which coincided with slack low tide, and blasted right in through the pass under sail. It was blowing 25 knots and the surrounding ocean was pretty bumpy and frothy, but once we came in through the pass, it was flat water. Still just as windy, but flat. Let me tell you, sailing on flat water in 25 knots is awesome. It's like the boat is on rails, and you gain another half knot of boatspeed. We proceeded across the lagoon at about 7 knots close hauled with double reefed main and staysail. Trimmed like that, the boat is so beautifully balanced that she will steer herself. I stood up on the helm seat and just kept my toe on the wheel to give it a little tweak every now and then. There is absolutely no wind protection at these atolls, so you must always tuck up on the leeward side of the windward motus to minimize the fetch in the anchorage. There are coral bombies and pinnacles scattered throughout the 100ft deep lagoon, many of which come right to the surface. None of the lagoons in the Tuamotus are charted accurately, so you just have to rely on good visuals to spot those coral heads before you sail into them. For this purpose we spliced some ratlines onto our port lower shrouds so we can now climb up into the rigging to just below the spreaders to get a bird's eye view. Even then, navigating through the lagoon is best done at high noon, when there is no glare on the water. We've had a couple of surprise bombies materialize out of the glare and pass by a little too close for comfort. Due to that, we've gotten pretty good at timing our lagoon transits for mid-day.
We anchored in 25 feet of white sand just off the village of Kauehi City, population 200 and immediately dinghied ashore in search of cookies, cold beverages, and the payphone, all of which we successfully tracked down. the payphone was mounted on the side of the oldest building in the village, which was from 1888, and looked like it hadn't been painted since about that same time. The one store on the island ("magasin" in french) carried lots of cookies, a couple of cans of corned beef, some freezer-burned baguettes, and an overly disproportionate selection of wine. This came to be the standard selection in the Tuamotus, where for the life of us, we couldn't find a single vegetable. Supposedly the soil there, which consists mostly of dry coral sand, is incapable of growing much of anything but coconuts. We did see the odd papaya and breadfruit trees, though. After our arrival, the next couple of days had us visiting the village quite frequently. There was a dance festival in full swing (as full swing as 200 rather subdued villagers can be), and we spent a couple of nights there, watching the different dance and music groups perform.. Like any festival on a summer night, there were a million kids running around, all armed with squirt guns and pellet guns that seemed to be the prize of choice from the 'go fish' booth. I took a direct hit to the eye, and Ken was held at gunpoint for a dollar. We gorged ourselves on (ice cream!), chow mein, and homemade desserts from the different family booths that sold treats. That night, I was just priding myself for spending a month and a half in a foreign country without coming down with any kind of stomach bug. Sure enough, the next day I was down for the count, feeding the fish every half an hour. That same day, we discovered a small noddy (little brown seabird) sitting in our cockpit, panting and looking sick or stunned. Ken made a little windblock for him, and because we didn't have any small baitfish on hand, gave him some crackers. Every time I lunged out of the hatch to yack over the side, I would pause, panting and spluttering, and the bird and I would exchange knowing looks. Being sick sucks. The next day we found him stiff and dead on the floor of the cockpit. Fortunately for me however, I mangaged to pull through. We gave the bird a little funeral and ceremoniously dropped him overboard where he drifted off across the lagoon and was immediately visited by a large gray shape....
We have two folding bikes onboard. One blue and one yellow. The wheels are very small, with high seat-posts and handlebars. If you're a tall person, you begin to feel like the oversized circus bear riding around the ring. Most of the time, all the kids love the bikes and want to ride them around and try them out. Christina loaned hers to an 8 year old girl on Kauehi, and didn't see her again for an hour. She turned out to be the police chief's daugher, though, so we may have had some kind of recourse if indeed it had disappeared. Christina and I rode them down a sandy road all the way to the other end of the main motu, where there was an airstrip, and got caught in a huge rainstorm on the ride back. Roadkill in the Tuamotus, we learned, is the slow Tupa crab that doesn't manage to get out of the way of one of the 5 cars on the island.
Ken and Alina were interested in buying (for gifts) some of the black pearls that they farm in the Tuamotus. Ever since the major demise of copra farming (they still do it but it is heavily subsidized), black pearl farming has taken over as the main industry. They asked the woman who ran the post office where they could find some black pearls, and she proceeded to pull a huge Tupperware out from under the counter and dump out about 500 pearls. These were the pearls of lower quality, she said, that they couldn't sell commercially. I was interested to see that many of them were shaped like teardrops or other strange shapes, and almost all of them had a pattern of concentric circles all around the outside. At $5-10 each, the lady at the post office definitely had a nice little side business going! The police chief, who also owned the pearl farm, the store, and a small transport business, seemed to be the king of the town, and we got the strange feeling that perhaps everyone in the village owed their soul to his company store. Any police chief that wears a gold rolex and necklace and drives a nice land-rover on an island with 3 miles of roads, is one that perhaps can't be trusted. Everyone we met on Kauehi was friendly to a fault, but we got the feeling that there were darker undertones to the quaint little village.
So, we moved on down the east side of the atoll and anchored for two nights off an beautiful little uninhabited island 6 miles from the village. This was a snorkeler's paradise, with giant clams, reef sharks, good healthy acropora, manta rays, etc. I made a towboard from a piece of plywood Christina found washed up on the beach, and we spent a day towing each other around behind the dinghy through the patch reefs. At night we went ashore with flashlights in search of the giant coconut crab. We succeeded in finding a couple of juveniles, but none of the giant three footers that I've seen pictures of. The juveniles are a brilliant blue with patterns of black and orange. With a flashlight, they become like deer in the headlights and are very easy to approach and take photos of. We all desperately wanted to eat one, but being that they are somewhat in decline across the Pacific, managed to refrain. These crabs live entirely on land and eat mostly fallen coconuts. I think I remember hearing that they are the world's largest terrestrial invertebrate. On the way back to the boat, we paddled so as not to break the silence of the most incredibly still night. As we ghosted along, a manta ray came up out of the depths and nosed right up to the bow of the boat. It had t brilliant silver streaks across the top of its back- a strange thing for a manta. Christina could have tapped it on the head if she'd wanted. It circled around us, doing loops under the boat for about ten minutes before losing interest and flapping away.
My primary interest in the Tuamotus was to do some freediving in the passes and outside the lagoon on the dropoff. This is where you see the really cool stuff- lots of sharks, big pelagic fish, etc. Kauehi's pass was rather rough and bathymetrically unspectacular, so we sailed over to Fakarava to check out the south pass at that atoll (among other reasons for going there). Our trip out the pass at Kauehi was made at the height of ebb tide. Because it was going in the right direction, we figured we'd just ride the current right out and voila! We didn't bet on encountering conditions like a class III whitewater river where the outgoing current met wind, waves, and external currents and made a boiling whirling whitewash tidal boor. From up in the spreaders, it looked like there were breakers all across the mouth of the pass... We blasted right on through, bucking and wallowing and yawing around in the eddies, submerging the bowsprit and soaking the foredeck. No harm no foul, but just another navigational hazard to take into account in these islands.
Fakarava is about twice the size of Kauehi and has a more substantial poplulation (800). Whereas we felt like the only cruisers on earth over at Kauehi, at Fakarava we were greeted by about six other boats in the anchorage near the south pass. Not only that, there was a small pension with some bungalows, and a little beach bar built on stilts out over the water. Wow, ok, not quite what we had expected, but we'll roll with it. As soon as we dropped the anchor, we took the dinghy around to say hi to the other cruisers, some of whom we'd met in the Marquesas. After the meet and greet, we were off to do a drift dive (freedive) through the pass. If you time it on an incoming tide, you can motor your way out through the current to the end of the pass, jump in the water, tie the dingy around your waist, and drift back in through the pass. This was pretty spectacular! Awesome coral cover, healthy schools of gray reef sharks and blacktips (we saw a school of about 30 on one of our dives), giant Napoleon wrasse (a giant green fish that can grow to be 7ft long and 200 lbs), etc etc.. The current can be quite strong, and with five people in our small dingy with only a 3 horsepower outboard, there were times when we've had to bust out the paddles and do a muscle-assisted return trip to the boat. Once we ran out of gas while battling the current, and had to grab hold of a bamboo stake that was driven into the reef to avoid losing too much precious ground while we refilled the tank.
We stayed at the south pass for a couple days, diving our hearts out and eating Christina's awesome cooking. Christina got to be quite the underwater photographer, and has been really improving her breath-hold as a result. When we're writing our weekly postings for Reach the World, I'm usually stealing a bunch of her photos to put up with my material. Noah, thanks for the great little Sony with housing. It is now the workhorse for RTW! After sampling the beverages at the little beach bar, and meeting another boat full of young people (8 Swedes on a 40 ft ketch), our little crew moved on up the east side of Fakarava to an anchorage off an uninhabited motu used periodically for copra harvesting. The wind had shifted around to the south and the bottom dropped off very steeply just off the shore, so when we set our main anchor, we were lying parallel to shore with no swinging room between us and some coral heads. So, we dinghied out the second anchor and set a kedge to keep us from swinging into the reef in the middle of the night, had there been a wind shift.. Ashore, there was a little deserted shack with a rain catchment system, and cookstove, etc. We all hiked across the island (about 200 meters) to the wave and windswept windward shore and spent a whole day beachcombing and shell collecting. I don't go much for shells, but Ken and Alina are shell-collecting fools and can spend hours pawing through the high-tide line. Britton and I walked way down the beach looking for interesting items of marine debris. In addition to the usual plastic bottles, fishing floats, nets, crates, lightbulbs, and rubber slippers, we found an honest-to-god castaway style raft made out of big lengths of bamboo, lashed together with bits of line and fishing nets. We looked for it's captain, or evidence of him or her, but with no success. Wouldn't that be the pits? To build a raft to escape from a deserted island, only to wash up on another deserted island?
At that point in the trip, we needed to make our weekly Reach the World post, so we sailed the 20 miles up to the north end of the atoll to the main village, where there had purportedly been some kind of wireless internet. This wireless did not exist, so we sat in the post office (the only internet source in the village) and wrote our postings. The clerk was very tolerant of our marathon internet session, and even stayed open past closing time so we could finish. On one of our many wanderings around the village, we ran into the ex-pat proprietor of a dive company that we had seen just out of town. We decided that it would be fun to do a scuba dive for once, and since I am the only one who has my scuba gear aboard, we were in need of some assistance. We are all almost exclusively freedivers, but now and then it is nice to switch it up. The dive was cheap and came with all the gear.. we opted to go on a forereef dive along the dropoff on the north side of the atoll just outside the north pass. Here it drops straight off from the surface to 4000 feet- prime territory to see cool stuff. Ken, Alina, and Brit are all certified ( not that it really matters to them down here) and after a ridiculously fast boat ride (50+ knots) we had a nice dive. Highlights were some dogtooth tuna feeding on a school of opelu kala, Napoleon wrasses, sharks, and some strange new colonial anemone that I'd never seen before.
On to Toau! Only 20 miles to the north of Fakarava is the (mostly) uninhabited atoll of Toau. We opted to stay outside the atoll instead of making our way into the lagoon as we had before. This is only possible because of a strange little anchorage on the northwest side of the atoll. Somewhat like a false pass, you can sail in from the open ocean through a gap in the reef, but then the channel dead-ends in a nice little basin where you can drop anchor. The only habitation on the whole atoll is right there at the anchorage, which is called Anse Amyot. A Poumotu woman named Valentine (the matriarch) and her husband Gaston, live there with her sister, her husband, and a couple of random uncles. They have put moorings down in the little basin in order to prevent too much damage to the coral (this is awesome, and the first I've seen) After I got over the initial hesitation to trust our very expensive floating home to a mooring that may or may not be sound, we tied up and remained happily attached for five days. It was a good place to be for those five days because a front passed over and we experienced winds of 40 knots.
There were several other boats in the anchorage that we had been seeing more or less regularly since arriving in the south pacific, and we'd always chatted with them in passing, but never made an effort to really get to know them. The vast majority of sailors out here are couples in their 50's, 60's and 70's, and we had found it slightly more difficult that we had anticipated to break into the social side of cruising, due to that age gap. It was all imaginary, though, and once we realized that both parties had just been assuming that the other one would rather be hanging out with their own age bracket, all it took was a batch of cookies and an invitation to come over, and we all became pals. Craig and Mary, two Kiwis aboard "Erasmus", Danny and Yvonne , kiwis aboard "Ocean Pearl", John and Margaret, Canadians aboard "Cahoots", and Tom and Mary Ellen, Californians aboard "Aphrodite". We all had a great time holed up at Anse Amyot, and have kept in radio contact ever since. Craig had a trumpet aboard that he had never learned how to play, so I wrote down some scales and fingerings and gave him a little lesson. From then on we could hear random trumpetings echoing across the anchorage. Yvonne baked a pizza one day and invited us over for lunch. We descended on their boat (a 53' YACHT) with five hungry stomachs and demolished the pizza... Maybe our excessive numbers and youthful appetites had kept anyone from ever inviting us over for dinner for the sheer expense of feeding us....
Despite the less than ideal weather, we did plenty of diving. As it was just a quick dinghy ride out the pass to the dropoff, we dove everyday. We did a little spearfishing and managed to draw in an oceanic whitetip shark, which was a first for me. These are one of the more aggressive sharks usually found in the open ocean. They have big unwieldly round paddle-like fins, but despite their ridiculous appearance, still move ridiculously fast. Good visibility, lots of big fish, and plenty of predator action made for great dives. One of the uncles on the island, named Francois, was a great freediver and told us lots of stories in broken english/french of all the stuff he's seen on the dropoff. It was nice because we could pick his brain about which fish had ciguatera and which fish were good to eat. He seemed pretty excited to see young people (probably just Christina and Alina) and was a very affectionate guy all around. Valentine invited us to church on Sunday, in the tiny tiny plywood church they had built for their family, and to have a potluck afterwards. Christina, myself, and a couple of the other cruisers dressed in our finest board shorts and aloha shirts and showed up to church, not knowing quite what to expect. We got a very memorable experience, the details of which I won't necessarily go into here. There was lots of singing, in both Tahitian and French, which was my main reason for going. I've always been partial to the south pacific harmonies that seem to be the same across the island groups, and can be heard echoing from every church south of the equator. Valentine preached passionately, her husband nodded solemnly, Francois sat quietly, not appearing to be entirely convinced, and old uncle Philipe went with the flow, grooving along in his booming baritone. All of us cruisers sat in the back trying to follow along with the French and Tahitian. All in all I had a fun time, and a rather eye-opening one for me, whose last experience going to church was our high-school choir field trip. After church we all gathered in their lanai, and broke out some great food. Christina had cooked up some excellent chicken stuffing which was added to the smorgasbord of coconut bread, baked uhu, goatfish, grouper, fried rice, beef, mashed potatos, and rock crabs. We also brought in a box of cheap wine to contribute to the feast, and learned shortly after that Valentine and her family are all tremendous lushes. She squirrelled away the wine and could be seen all afternoon sharing it privately with Francois.. Soon the guitars and ukuleles were busted out and Francois, Philipe, and Valentine sang and played for a couple of hours. Great Marquesan and Tuamotu songs. Christina and I got our guitars and threw them into the mix and played along with them for a while. It turns out every song they sung used the same four chords, so it was a pretty easy jam session. They could play, but couldn't for the life of them tune their instruments. the Ukulele was at least a quarter step off from the guitar, but the harmonies and the wine smoothed things over. I found a couple of big carboys of homemade coconut wine fermenting in the rafters of the lanai. Such lushes.
After tearing ourselves away from the nice achorage at Toau, we sailed with 'Ocean Pearl' across the channel to Apataki. We needed to buy some toilet paper, so we stopped at the village just inside the pass. The only brand of toilet paper to be had in the Tuamotus is called 'Extra Doux', a name I find pretty funny. The pass was beautiful and calm and for the first time we noticed a decent surf spot on the south side of the entrance.. There is a shipping wharf along one side of the pass which we were able to tie up to in leiu of any sort of tenable anchorage near the village. We were greeted by a huge mob of people, kids and adults who came to help us tie up and look at the boat. Ocean Pearl pulled up behind us and even more people turned out to say hi. We met the island's resident surf pioneer and teacher, and an old man named Papa Timi, who seemed to be related to everyone else we met, and half the villagers on Fakarava and Toau too. Just as soon as they arrived, they all disappeared and we were left to our own devices. Christina wasn't feeling too good, so offered to stay with the boat while the rest of us did a drift dive out through the pass, towing surfboards behind us. Being that the pass was right next to the village, there was tons of junk and wreckage on the bottom. The remains of too many wrecked pearl farming operations were strewn across the reef. It looked like some of the real bad marine debris areas in the NWHI. The waves were small, and breaking into extremely shallow water, but a few of them were rideable. Praise baby jesus for those reef booties you gave me, Jamie... Supposedly it would be another day before the supply ship showed up, so we kept Shannon where she was for the night. The diesel generator for the village's power was housed in a shed right on the wharf, so we had some constant white noise to deal with, but after living for 3 years right under the approach to Honoloulu intl Airport, I slept like a baby. Danny and Yvonne invited us over to their boat for a potluck and epic domino challenge. They have three refrigeration systems on board, air conditioning, and a galley the size of a small castle. So, we ate some of Yvonne's delicious chicken pasta and contributed some fried rice and cookies. We tried not to eat more than we brought, but we definitely failed.
Apataki was a very industrious atoll. The village of about 300 was always just bustling with activity. Tractors and earthmovers were constantly moving piles of sand around (for what reason I could never figure out), boats were always ripping around through the pass, people marching around with great purpose, and kids running errands. The three cars in the village were in constant motion, doing who knows what (the whole island was only a quarter mile long). We got a really good feeling from the place- a sense that the community was a little more healthy and diverse than some of the other villages (not that industriousness is really an indicator of that, however). It really got us to thinking about community dynamics, and how leadership can make or break a small isolated community. We sensed some common themes between these villages and small towns in Montana. Same problems: alchohol, domestic violence, shriking populations, but also the same potential for a uniquely supportive and self regulating living environment when under the right leadership. We never stayed long enough to find out, but we think Apataki must have had that element.
The next day both Shannon and Ocean Pearl moved across the lagoon to the south side where there were reportedly some shipwrecks on the reef. After anchoring around mid-day, everybody swam in to the reef to check out the rusty hunks of metal that could be seen sticking up out of the water everywhwere. Near as I could tell, the ship we found was perhaps a turn of the century steamer, possibly with sailpower too (we found a big boiler and evidence of rigging chainplates) It was strewn across 200 meters of reef, with the rudder and propellor still fairly intact stranded on dry reef just inside the breakers. The fish were loving the wreck, with all kinds of little holes and pukas to hide in. I can only imagine the storms that have pushed all that metal over the reef over the years. After spending a couple of nights hopping our way up the east side of the atoll, stopping at uninhabited motus, having bonfires on the beach and looking for more coconut crabs, we headed for Tahiti. Christina needed to fly back to Hawaii on the 13th of the month from Papeete, so we needed to catch the plane!
It was a grim morning when we sailed across the lagoon to the uninhabited north pass of Apataki. Another front was coming through and we had high winds and white-out rain squalls the whole way across the lagoon. When you're perched in the rigging watching for coral heads, white-out conditions are not what you want to see. Often, the tides don't match the tide charts here, so we got a little optimistic about our timing for shooting the north pass, and arrived about two hours before slack. We were met with some really nasty conditons. The wind was from astern at 25+ knots and the current was coming in through the pass at five knots right into the teeth of the wind. The result was heavy breaking 10 foot seas, barely a boat's length apart, inside the protected lagoon. About a quarter mile from the pass, we aborted for fear of a broach, or something unexpected, and hove-to for about an hour and a half until the current abated somewhat. As soon as we made it out the pass, the sea was calm and placid. The ocean continues to amaze me with its varying conditions around these atolls.
The passage to Tahiti was a quick two day affair on a beam reach, with good strong 25 knot trades. We blasted along with double reefed main and parially furled headsail for the first night, averaging 8-9 knots and topping out at 11.6 knots! I think we had a knot of favorable current helping us out, though... After that, we rolled up the headsail and set the staysail to slow us down a bit and to make for more of a comfortable ride. We sighted land on the morning of the 10th, and after a sweet morning sail along the south shore of Tahiti-iti (the small lobe of the island), we sailed in through the pass to a calm but deep anchorage in the hurricane hole of Papeari, near the isthmus of the island. It was here we were to meet the Mau'u family, who we'd been put in contact with by our friend Boris back in Hawaii. The Mau'u/Terihitari family is Boris's hanai Tahitian family, and having been longtime friends with them, he wanted us to meet them. Boris had told us that if we just rowed ashore in Papeari and asked for the Mau'us that we'd probably be talking to one of them. So, we dinghied ashore and landed on the beach right beside the Paul Gaugin museum, where we asked after the Mauu's. Sure enough, the woman knew who we were talking about, and started us on our way. We walked a couple of miles down the road, and each person we asked got us a little closer. Finally, a woman, who couldn't make us understand the directions she was trying to give in french, coralled her daughter into walking us over to the Mauu compound. There, we met Marcelle, who was out working in her yard. She was surprised to see us, and immediately took us around to all the fruit trees in the family compound and picked us sacks of all different kinds. The best one we tried was called the 'bullox heart', because on the outside, it looks just like a cow heart, but when you peel away the skin, it looks and tastes just like cookie dough... Marcelle is in her 70's, but is still extremely beautiful and youthful and could pass for 50 any day. The Mauu's/Terihitaris are a mix of British and Tahitian blood, and have a long history there in Papeari. Long-dead Charlie Mau'u was once on a French postage stamp, and starred in several films back in the 1950's.
The hurricane that hit Tahiti back in February had lifted the roof off of Marcelle's house, so she was in the process of having it rebuilt. We spent the afternoon cleaning up the house with her, scrubbing the walls and the floors in preparation for the tiling contractor who was supposed to come the next day. Her cousin Jeff soon showed up from a day of working on his farm, and offered to drive us back to the boat. The next day he said he'd pick us up at the boat in the morning, take us to see some sights, and then we'd all have dinner together back at the house later on. Jeff is a great guy who speaks Tahitian, French, and great english with an australian accent. "Dad insisted that we spoke only english at home, because he was British, and I picked up French and Tahitian from other kids at school" he told us. It was really interesting to pick his brain about all the changes he'd seen in Tahiti in the last 50 years. He said the advent of nuclear testing in French Polynesia is really what changed things. It brought in so much money that the structure of the economy changed and new jobs were created, and it was pretty much a downhill slide since then. Now the younger generation doesn't even know when to harvest their own fruit trees, he says. They buy their fruit in the store, when they have bananas rotting on the tree in their backyard. All they can talk about is "MacDo's" (McDonalds)... Jeff is a agriculturist who is very in touch with the land. Not much interested in marine things, according to his family, you'll usually find him up on the mountain, planting fruit trees or experimenting with different plants.
First, Jeff took us (in his sweet Land Rover) down to the end of the road on the south shore where the famous Teahupoo surf break is. The waves weren't huge that day, but you could see the break from shore, and people were busy hammering together little booths and stalls in preparation for an upcoming contest. Tahiti has a barrier reef surrounding the island, so all the surf breaks are at least a quarter mile from shore, sometimes more. At Teahupoo they have built a huge platform on stilts out in the water of the lagoon so the judges have a close up view of the wave without having to use binoculars. Soon after, Jeff left the main road, and we bumped our way up the mountain. He says there are only a couple of things that tourists do when they come to the island and they miss a lot of good stuff. First he drove us by his friend Bruno's pineapple plantation. Bruno is a chinese guy from Moorea who started his pineapple plantation by leasing some land from Jeff and slowly expanding his spread over the last 20 years. He grows only for the local market and doesn't distribute off the island. He and his workers were busy tying up bundles of pineapples, sitting on the ground between huge piles of fruit. Bruno filled a giant sack full of pineapples for us. so many we had to give some away to other sailors. We asked him plenty of prying questions about pineapple growing methods, and left feeling a little more enlightened about tropical agriculture.
We wound our way further up the mountain and stopped in a small clearing where about 6 guys were busy hunched over a big black pit. They're making charcoal, says Jeff. What a crappy job, man. These guys collect firewood from the forest (certain kinds of wood), cut it up into chunks and then build these massive earth-insulated bonfires 15 feet across. Then they stoke it up with a little gasoline, and let the thing turn white-hot, all the while poking it down from the sides and top. When it's burned through, they let it cool off, strip all the dirt and tin-sheeting away from the outside, and sorth through the remains by hand, bagging all the properly-sized pieces. Those guys were black from head to toe, breathing in charcoal dust all day, hunched over a fire in the hot tropical sun. Jeff said he did that job for a while when he was younger. Really bad for you, he said. After the charcoal operation, Jeff took us up to his farm where he had planted rows of teak trees, mahogany trees, coconuts, papayas, jackfruit, mangoes, and just about everything else youcan imagine. He said, "oh yeah, I won't be around by the time those teak trees are ready for harvesting, but I hope whoever inherits my land will be able to do something with them." He grows more for the hobby of it than for any commercial reason, but he knows his stuff. He knows the name of every native tree on his land and has spent lots of time clearing out the invasive guava and fern species. There was a spectacular view from his mahogany grove, looking down across the isthmus of the island from 1500 feet up, so we took a picture.
Back at her daughter's house, Marcelle had cooked us an awesome meal of lamb curry, poisson crue(raw ahi in coconut milk) salad, etc. We all sat around talking for several hours, and Jeff's brother who lives in Australia, entertained us with endless antidotes of life in the way outboack. I took a hot shower, my first in more than a month, and felt like gold.
As we had a plane to make in Papeete, we bid adieu to the hospitable Mauu's and sailed up around the other side of the island to Pepeete. "The Big Smoke" Jeff calls it.
Shannon is a good girl. Just like a race horse hanging on through the last minutes of a grueling derby for the sake of its jockey, Shannon held out admirably until we crossed the finish line (aka arrived in the bustling civilization of Papeete),before immediately breathing a huge sigh of relief, and letting go her metaphorical bowels. We've been three and a half months at sea, with 4,000 miles on the odometer, and so far have had very few mechanical problems. The old girl (and I can call her that because she's five years older than me) must have known that we were in some very remote places where parts and materials are totally unavailable, because she held things together when it really mattered. Upon arriving in Tahiti, all the things that should have gone wrong long ago, happened. All at once. Within walking distance of 18 different marine chandleries, hardware stores, sailmakers, paint shops, and engine parts dealers. Shannon, your timing is impeccable! The shaft seal on our main engine coolant pump went out and proceeded to mysteriously fill up the bilge with seawater every day. It wasn't until we stopped looking in all the logical places did we figure out the problem. Right along about that time, our primary electric bilge pump decided to stop working (usually not good when your bilges are full). Additionally, the plywood divider in the cockpit locker split down the middle, spilling the contents of the locker into the engine compartment. Prior to that, the clew (corner) of our workhorse jib (sail) completely blew out, leaving us with a wildly flapping sail and a disembodied bronze grommet. Two days ago, our main power inverter ruptured a blood vessel when I plugged the shop vac into it, and it hasn't worked since. And to top it off, just yesterday, we discovered a broken weld on our self-steering windvane. But, with so many great resources at our disposal, and of course our combined mastery(!) of all marine repair skills, we quickly took care of the problems. By quickly, I mean about a week of sweaty, greasy, mucking about (both in the bilges and in the grungy streets of Papeete). Papeete is a city of about 100,000, and a shipping hub for all of French Polynesia. When we arrived, we moored Shannon up to the quay in the heart of downtown, right next to the bustling rue pricipal. It was a very convenient place to be for running around town, buying boat parts and spending way too much money on chow mein sandwiches and hache frites (incredible sandwiches made on a long baguette that contain hamburger, bbq sauce, and french fries) That's what they call French polynesian fusion dining, I think. But, at $20 per night, we could only afford a couple nights there at the quay before we had to move down the coast to an anchorage south of the airport. Christina got off on the plane ok, but the $30 for a four mile taxi ride to the airport was more than shocking. I opted to walk back to the boat instead of incurring another hit to the wallet like that, and along the way got the pleasure of seeing a seedier cross-section of modern Tahiti... C is now back in the states to attend some weddings, so will be meeting us down in New Zealand in early November. We miss her already!
Right now we're riding at anchor just north of Marina Taina, where we've rafted up with our friends aboard "Aura" a 49 ft aluminum sloop. They are two young guys our age aboard, one from Belgium and the other from France. We've been spending lots of time with those guys, probably waking up the other boats in the anchorage with music and merry-making at all hours of the day and night. They are sailing around the world from west to east, which is considered usually the wrong direction. To do it this way, you have to spend most of your time in the low 40 degree latitudes where landfalls are sparse, storms are frequent, and the water is cold. Yesterday they showed us pictures from the leg of the trip where they sailed to Antarctica from Cape Horn...
The marina here is nice, and the anchorage is very calm (and free!). Like most savvy budget-minded sailors, you figure out how to get away with using the marina facilities without paying through the nose for it- Sneaking in to the marina restaurant bathrooms, snatching a couple gallons of fresh water from the hose in a vacant slip, using the coin operated laundry, and plundering the book exchange (we left hats and shirts instead of books...) heh heh.
We've been in Tahiti for 12 days now, and we're feeling the urge to move on. Just a couple more hours and the cordless drill battery will be charged enough for me to tackle drilling a bolt hole in the windvane.... then we're off to Rarotonga.
Photos coming soon! This internet connection grinds to a screeching hault when I try to upload.. Perhaps Rarotonga will have a better connection...