Au Revoir French Polynesia!
17 August 2012 | Underway to Cook's Islands
Well, we left French Polynesia on the horizon yesterday and are currently en route to the Cook's Islands. We hope to get to a much raved about atoll called Suwarrow in the Northern Cooks that has just 2 park rangers living on it and a whole bunch of cruising boats in the harbor! Feedback from friends tells of ranger led walks, great snorkeling & diving and cruiser's potlucks. I hope the wind & seas cooperate so we can get there safely in a few days. So far things are OK. We did have a couple of things to tend to today- the spinnaker pole came tumbling down at one point (no damage) so Jon fixed that and we developed a new squeak in the area of the rudder so we re-greased the bearing today in hopes of fixing it but then the wind died & the rudder isn't having to work as hard so we can't tell if it helped. One thing about all this downwind sailing in rather large seas is it is really hard on your pilot & rudder. A broad reach is a hard point of sail to steer because the waves cause a fair amount of twisting when they hit the stern quarter.
We left Bora Bora after spending a couple days on the Eastern side of the island where the anchorage & water reminded us of the Bahamas. Sitting in 9 feet of clear water with pure sand bottom made cleaning the hull in prep for the passages ahead almost fun. Well, except for the breath holding part. It seems like the older we get, the more we don't enjoy holding our breath for the multitude of dives it takes to scrub the growth off the bottom. I find it very fatiguing and I'm usually left with a pounding headache to boot. It's not that it's physically taxing work, it's just the O2 deprivation that seems to leave us wiped out. And its another futile task since the next time you get in and take a peek at your freshly scrubbed hull, they'll definitely be new growth all over it. I mean, things are attaching right now as we sail. Everybody arrived to the Marquesas after that long passage with the worst growth up the hull ever. We plan to buy a long scuba hose w/ attached regulator to use for this purpose from now on. We don't want to use our primary scuba gear for fear it would get clogged with debris and possibly malfunction on a dive.
From Bora Bora, we headed to one last French Poly island called Maupiti. It has a hairy pass in that it needs to be calm or else waves break across the entrance. And then just the same, it needs to be calm to exit and there's only one way in & out, that faces the prevailing swell. We got in fine and found the lagoon to be many gorgeous shades of blue and the anchorage calm. We snorkeled the first day and saw an interesting eel that buried itself in the sand. When you got too close it disappeared into a collapsing sand hole. The following day we went ashore to the sleepy little town and tried to buy one last baguette with the few francs we had left but it was yet another holiday and there were no baguettes to be had. We took a 6 mile walk around the island on the paved road, then climbed up a small mountain on a pretty trail to an incredible view of the pass, anchorage and some unusual lattice looking coral formations in one part of the lagoon. If we'd felt we had more time, we'd have loved to snorkel there to see what it was like.
But the ocean swell was forecast to build and the weather is good for passage making right now so we left yesterday to take advantage of it. Another round of chest tightness, dry mouth, GI upset and generalized anxiety and we were through the pass and on our way alongside Bob & Sue on Mawari!
French Polynesia was a great experience for us. I'm still in shock that this part of the cruise is over! It has broadened my understanding of the geography of the Pacific ocean and the history & culture of the people who live here. We really enjoyed each island group and found them to have immense beauty. We never would have imagined that the hiking would be so good. The diving, with the exception of Fakarava & Tauo & the mantas in Bora Bora and Tahuata, was somewhat disappointing because of the lack of colorful, dense coral and sponges that we were used to in the Caribbean. I suspect cyclones, El Nino years & other natural phenomena more than I do human interference. The highlights were the Heiva celebration with traditional dancing and games that were not for the tourist, the international feel of the cruising community, the hiking, the scenery and the relative remoteness of the islands. Had we been fluent in French, our experiences would have been even richer.
Other things that impressed us were the genuine friendliness of the people and their clean, neat & peaceful way of living. Raking seems to be a national pastime and the plantings go a long way toward making their islands look cared for & pretty. There are flowers everywhere. The nautical charts & buoyage systems were excellent as well as the way they attempted to accommodate the needs of cruisers. The anchorages were lovely and sailing between islands was great.
Some things that gave us a chuckle were: the obsession but usual shortage of the baguette, the need to have produce markets at 4am, & the uniqueness of in yard burial sites in the Society islands only- we didn't notice this in the other island groups we visited. Also the general lack of footwear. All of the Heiva activities I saw were done barefooted. Jon was joking to me the other day while we were in the grocery store. He said "No shirt, no shoes, no- oh wait, you work here!" since one of the men stocking the shelves had no shirt or shoes on. Too funny. On the smaller islands, when we would rent a car, they didn't even get your name and you don't pay until the end of the day when you return it. If you needed a ride, you'd just stick out your thumb for a second. We met lots of interesting people this way. There was a relaxed feel to these islands and we always felt safe among them.
While the over water bungalow phenomenon has definitely invaded Bora Bora, the rest of French Polynesia feels unique & remote enough. I hope it is one of many more rich experiences to come as we work our way west- and for a while now anyway, to English speaking countries!