Finally, after what seemed like a trip that would never end, we dropped anchor off Rairua, Raivavae in the Austral Islands. Definitely a trip we'll remember - but not for the right reasons - and certainly not one we want to repeat any time soon. Unfortunately the week that we spent in Raivavae was nowhere near as relaxing or enjoyable as we hoped it might be. Reputedly, along with Bora Bora in the leeward Societies to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world, we didn't see it in it's best light. The weather continued to be fairly miserable during our stay, and we had the anchor drag alarm on most nights. However it wasn't so much the gloomy weather that disappointed us, but rather the almost depressed nature of the locals. At one time the island reputedly boasted a population & culture that rivalled that of Tahiti, and they were widely admired as adventurous seafarers. However, having been almost wiped out by the arrival of the Europeans and diseases to which they had little or no immunity, the population now seems to have little affinity for the sea, and certainly none of the "Joie de Vie" that is evident in other French Polynesian Islands. It's almost as if they've given up, contenting themselves with merely cashing their French welfare checks. We did enjoy a cycle around the island's perimeter and a paddle board out to one of the numerous motus, but after giving ourselves a week's rest to recover from the long crossing decided it was more than time to head over to the neighboring island of Tubai. This was 100 miles WNW, involved an overnight passage and, we hoped hoped, would have a better feel to it. That indeed proved to be the case, but not without a very rude introduction. The weather during our passage had been stormy but, with suitably reduced sail, nothing to worry about. We arrived in the lagoon at Tubai a little after mid-day, and found a reasonable anchorage of thin sand over coral off the main town of Matura. The skies were still dark and threatening, and anticipating a bit of a blow, we let out some extra anchor chain and settled back to enjoy a cup of tea. Things went awry very quickly - first of all the island less than 200 yards away and it's two mountains rapidly began to disappear from view; then the navigation buoy lights came on, as if it was nighttime, yet it was only 2:30pm; then the navigation markers disappeared from view, followed shortly after by the lights themselves! By this time of course, the wind & driving rain had ramped up substantially, from 15 knots when we first arrived to 30, then 40, then 50 knots. By the time visibility was down to 50 yards, we were seeing wind speeds in the 70's and 80's and had both engines in gear to keep us in position and the anchor set. We spent the next 2 1/2 hours with only the instruments to guide us and using both engines to keep the boat from being blown out onto the reef..... regularly seeing wind speeds in the 90's and low 100's, and a top speed of 112 nautical miles per hour (that's nearly 130 statue miles or 207 Kilometers per hour, for anyone who doesn't want to do the math ).
By the time it was all over, despite our best efforts, we had drug over 150 yards, and come perilously close to the quay. Talking to locals the next day, none of them had ever seen anything like it before. Two local fisherman had been caught in the storm, their boat had gone over the reef and was destroyed. One of them was rescued that evening, but the second spent 18 hours in the open water and was only rescued because of the arrival of a search & rescue helicopter from Tahiti. One very tough... and lucky ... young man. We were feeling very fortunate to have survived unscathed and, as with our recent crossing from NZ, certainly an experience neither of us want to repeat.....ever! Who knew getting back to "Paradise in the South Pacific" would be such an effort? However, after that unwelcome experience, all was sunshine and smiles. Barry the barometer rose dramatically from his low of 1000hp, the sun came out, and local people were welcoming and friendly in stark contrast to their sister island. We were invited to attend their singing and dance practices for the upcoming Bastille Day celebrations, given directions for sites to see on the island, and generally made to feel most welcome. We enjoyed two delightful cycle rides and an arduous but highly rewarding hike over the center of the island to its highest peak, from which we got commanding 360 degree views of it's entirety and the surrounding reef. After an enjoyable week's stay, we decided not to push our luck in the exposed anchorage and headed north on the 350nm trip to Tahiti. We made that in excellent time, just a little over 2 days, and managed to fetch an anchorage on the SW corner of Tahiti 1/2 an hour before sunset this past Sunday. While originally intending to head to the capital of Papeete, we decided that we might as well start our exploration of the island at the south end by heading east to Port Phaeton. The 13 NM trip took most of Monday, due to tacking into headwinds the whole way, resulting in a trip of 30 NM. Since picking our way through the reef we have been safely tucked into a delightful little anchorage with good holding in mud. Along with a dozen other cruisers we have been marvelling at the verdant mountain scenery complete with numerous waterfalls. In addition we have been thoroughly enjoying the sight of numerous children taking sailing lessons in their pram dinghies ( for their instructor it seems to be an exercise similar to herding cats ) while their elders ply up and down the lagoon in their outrigger canoes. The weather has mellowed out, the sun has made an appearance, and we have just returned from a successful foraging trip to the spectacular Carrefour supermarket, where one can find pate de Canard, gorgeous cheeses, excellent meats, truffles, fresh baguettes (subsidized to less than 50c each - thanks so much Marie Antoinette), and a host of other delicacies. Presently enjoying a glass of fine French wine, soft brie cheese and aged salami! Life could hardly be more pleasant. The plan right now is to continue our anti-clockwise trip around Tahiti, spend a week in Papeete re-provisioning and taking care of the "must do's" on our never completed list, and then head NW to the Leeward Society islands. Wish some of you could join us, but if you can't....we'll soldier on. Click here to see more photos