We arrived in Papeete, Tahiti after a rigorous sail from the Tuamotu Islands. On average we had about 25 knot winds with waves of 6-8 feet on our beam (side of the boat). We were reefed (sails reduced) for most of the trip and heeled over quite a bit. We have only been on a port tack since we left the United States. We sure would like to lean the other way!
Before arriving in Tahiti, we thought it would be a tropical paradise perfect for honeymooning couples. We were quite surprised to find that the island which is the capitol of French Polynesia feels more like a big city. We took a bus tour around the island and our guide, Lydia, gave us good honest information about the state in Tahiti. Papeete is the capital of Tahiti and it is surrounded by suburbs. Almost all of the people on the island live in the capitol or in the suburbs surrounding the capital. Like most of the islands in French Polynesia, the majority of the island is uninhabited. Unfortunately, Tahiti has lost approximately 60% of its tourism volume since 2008. This drop has left the island's economy struggling. The political situation is also tense because half of the people on the island are pro French while the other half wishes for independence. Although Tahiti does get a lot of financial support from France, the island also has to follow many of the French laws and ways of functioning which may not work for Tahiti. For example, the school year is based on the French school year and the children are off during the summer. The summer is too hot in Tahiti and many locals wish the school break was during the winter when it is more conducive to vacation and spending time outdoors. The people of Tahiti have no ability to change this situation as long as they are a French territory. Because of the split in the government here, our guide Lydia told us, "Nothing is getting done." This statement should sound quite familiar to our friends and family in America. Currently 25% of the people in Tahiti live below the poverty level and an equivalent percent are unemployed. Unfortunately driving around Tahiti, the extent of the poverty is very evident. Lydia also told us that there is a wide gap between the poor and the rich with there being no real middle class. The highest paid people on the island are government workers, hospital workers, and teachers. Schooling is compulsory until the age of 16 but many families cannot afford to send their children to school beyond age 16. The healthcare is free. Locals pay to go to the doctor but the government reimburses them for almost all of the fees. It does not cost anything to be hospitalized. France did build a new hospital recently but the island is having difficulty affording the cost associated with running the hospital. France is also currently building a new prison because the current prison is filled 400% over capacity but the locals are in grave disagreement about where the prison should be built. Lydia did give us an excellent tour of the island. Her history was quite interesting. She was backpacking through Tahiti 19 years ago and fell in love and subsequently married a Tahitian man. She was originally from Great Britain and now speaks French and Tahitian. She was extremely well educated about the history of the island, local customs and the current struggles the island is facing. Unfortunately, on the day of the tour it was pouring rain so we didn't get any pictures of the beautiful waterfalls, huge blow holes, botanical gardens, museums, and an ancient marae. These are sacred Polynesian grounds which were the sight of ancient religious ceremonies.
We have now been out of the water for one week. We are staying in a hotel room in downtown Papeete. Let's just say that it isn't exactly a five star hotel. We are staying there because it's convenient - it takes about 30 minutes to walk to the boat. We have been going to the boat every day to work on our to do lists. We did take one day off to tour the island and another afternoon/evening off for a rally get together. At the event, the seven boats (out of 29) who were double handed for the 21 day trip from the Galapagos to the Marquesas were recognized. It was a great feeling to think that we made it that long at sea, just the two of us.
You would think that we would love being off the boat and in a hotel room. It actually feels like we are back to work. Every day we get up, eat breakfast, walk to the boat, work on the boat until 4:00pm, walk back to the hotel, go get some dinner and then go to bed. I think it's the routine of this that is more discouraging than anything. We were only supposed to be out of the water for three days but it has been raining so the bottom has not been able to be painted. It has rained for the past four days straight. This has been the most rain we have seen since leaving the United States. All of our food is now at the ship yard manager's friend's house because our batteries cannot be charged and our food was about to spoil. We are an American boat and the shipyard's electrical hookups are all European. So no food, no cool drinks, no ice, etc. We are tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Am I complaining too much?
There are some very good things about staying in a hotel:
1. Flushing the toilet and not having it go into a holding tank which will need to be dumped.
2. Being able to spin around in the shower without hitting a wall.
3. Air conditioning - sleeping in it and better yet getting out of the shower, getting dressed and not sweating before you leave the room.
4. Sleeping underneath a sheet, blanket and a light comforter without getting hot.
5. The best croissants I have ever eaten which Mark often brings to me in bed with a diet coke with lots of ice.
6. Having an ice machine and not having to make ice.
7. Complete silence when you go to sleep.
8. Sleeping in a bed big enough that I can roll over in the middle of the night and not accidentally hit Mark and wake him.
Some not so good things about staying in a hotel:
1. European outlets - it has been at least two months since I last used a blow dryer.
2. A television where all the stations are in French or Tahitian - it was fun to flip the channels for a while but that has worn off quickly.
3. Not having what you need - like no umbrella or rain coats to go on the island tour when it was pouring rain.
4. Eating out every meal when you are exhausted at the end of the day. We did find McDonalds last night behind our hotel and took it back to the room to eat. Yes, it tastes about the same as in the United States.
We had quite a bit of fun in both the Marquesas Islands and the Tuamotu Islands so our to do lists were getting a bit long. We also had some things needing fixing that we couldn't do. Here is an idea of what we have been doing:
Ship Yard Work:
Clean and paint the bottom of the boat. Australia is very particular about coming into the country with a clean bottom. They are very concerned about any algae, marine life, barnacles, etc. that you may bring into the country. You need a specific type of bottom paint on the boat and be able to show that the bottom has been painted in the past six months.
Fix a broken stanchion which we broke on the way into the shipyard. We had way too much current and wind coming in. Our stanchion met up with the corner of the concrete dock. Whoops!
Grease and clean the washers on the rudder post. It has been squeaking since the trip to the Marquesas.
Re-bolt the jib car which has also been squeaking.
Replace the swim platform with the new one that we received from Island Packet. The new ones have hinged openings where the water can come through the platform in case we take big waves underneath it. Nice service and innovation from Island Packet Yachts as usual!!
Fix the heads. I broke the lever on the aft head when flushing it quite a while ago. Mark took the working head apart to figure out how to fix the one that was broken. Then we got a spare part from s/v Anastasia. Mark fixed the broken one with the spare part we received, couldn't put back together the one that was working, and then with help from Lee (s/v Samsara) got them both working again and were able to return the spare parts back to Anastasia. It was a saga that lasted for days. Yes, Mark spent 2 whole days breaking and fixing the toilets!
Replace the spinnaker halyard which had become frayed. Luckily we had a spare on board. We still need to go up the mast to figure out what frayed it.
The rest of the projects seem to be exercises in frustration. Mark (often with my help) has tried to fix a bunch of other things but we seem to keep hitting stumbling blocks. Our arch light is broken and needs to be replaced but we cannot find the right part we need. Our steaming light is not turning on. We checked the connections and they seem to be fine but we need to go up the mast to replace the bulb which will hopefully resolve it. We need to tighten the stay sail (for the second time) but it's been raining or too windy to do it. We tried to fix the steering connection at the helm which has been squeaking but we took it apart as much as we could but were unable to fix it. Much frustration, little progress.
Clean the entire inside of the boat. Top to bottom. I have made quite a bit of progress but without electricity for the vacuum and without running water cleaning becomes difficult. Sometimes it feels like all I do is clean. Those who know I had Tracy clean our home in MA may not be feeling that sorry for me. It is amazing how dirty a boat gets when you live on it every day! I miss Tracy.
When we get put back into the water on Wednesday we will return to Taina Marina where we stayed for a few days before we were hauled out. It's a very nice marina. There we will finish cleaning the boat, go grocery shopping, do some laundry and then set sail for Bora Bora. We will visit a few islands between Tahiti and Bora Bora. We will leave Bora Bora for the Cook Islands on May 16, 2012.
By the way, we have a new yellow brick GPS tracker which now properly displays our location updated four times daily on the World ARC web site. To see our location just click on the link on the left side of this page "View Location of World ARC Fleet Boat in Real Time".