Today we intended to leave the town quay in Papeete, Tahiti, and sail the 17 miles to Moorea. A nasty little system developing west of us near Bora Bora has altered our plans. The dilemma is do we go to the secure anchorage of Cooks bay on Moorea and potentially sit on board through rain and gusty weather or stay here on the calm dock in central Papeete. Here we are within walking distance of Cafes, shops and a pretty park. Hmm... not really much of a dilemma.
However I have run out of excuses for not updating the blog. In Papeete we have crunched our way through baguettes, enjoyed coffee and pain au chocolate, circumnavigated Tahiti-nui by car, the out board motor is fixed, pearls have been bought and the food lockers have been topped up. Now I find I have oodles of time to update the blog.
What have we been doing in the last month?
We spent a few days in Taiohae Bay on Nuka Hiva, the main Island of the Marquesas. The anchorage was a bit rolly but still comfortable. We caught up on internet, found some fresh vegetables. I think if we stopped to work out the NZ dollar value every time we wanted veges we wouldn't buy anything and soon end up with scurvy. Tinned veges are an adequate substitute but salad greens don't work out well in cans. After the big town delights of Taiohae we moved a few miles to Daniels bay which is very calm being tucked around behind a huge headland out of sight of the lumpy sea.
With Amanda from Egret we walked up the long valley to the base of a very high waterfall, in fact the 3rd tallest in the world. The walk through the shady trees, across several streams and past ancient rock constructions was lovely, on the other hand the view of the waterfall was a little underwhelming. A wall of rock obscured a lot of it from view although if we had swam through a muddy pool and squeezed around behind the rocks apparently the view is good but it didn't look too inviting to us. We sat and ate our small picnic lunch while the nonos had a banquet on my arms and legs. Our picnic was a distant memory before the last of my bites stopped itching.
There are several families living at Daniels Bay, with very steep hills between them and Taiohae civilization, anything they don't grow or catch has to come from Taiohae bay by boat. So the public phone box with a working phone in the middle of the settlement was rather surprising. We hadn't taken any money ashore so couldn't call anyone! We did have a chat with the local entrepreneurs who cook meals for visiting yachties. Not that they looked like the typical entrepreneurs, no stripped suits, high heels or laptops rather barefeet and flowers behind the ears for her and tattoos with a large bone through the ear for him. Amanda found out later the bone was a goats thigh bone, thank goodness as it did have me thinking while we walked up into the isolated valley past the ruins of his ancestors.
We returned to town and spent a few more days there analyzing the weather and along with three other boats we decided it was time to make the jump down to the Tuamotus. The weather looked ok on paper or should I say screen but we had a windy four days heavily reefed down for two reasons, the windy squalls and timing to get through the pass at the atoll of Kauehi. At this time of the year French Polynesia is visited by the ma'aramu , a wind from the south blowing 20 to 25knots, all those lows that pass below or across NZ then move east in the roaring forties push the wind and swell north over Tahiti combine the ma'aramu with the convergence zone and the weather can be unpleasant, not the idyllic Pacific of the travel brochures
The four yachts were in sight of each other for the whole trip, something we haven't experienced since sailing from Rabat to the Canaries. We enjoyed the company. One boat Shear Tenacity is the same design as Talitha the yacht we started out in from NZ in 2007. Sailing in company with Rod and Mary reminded us what good sea boats the Shearwater 39s are.
For the whole passage we had to monitor our speed to time our approach and entry into Kauehi for the slack water about 6.30am. The passes into the atolls in the Tuamotus can be treacherous if the timing is wrong, but with proper timing taking into account sea, wind and tide conditions, the passes can be a calm, "what's all the fuss about" moment. Our timing going in was slightly late, my fault on my last watch during the early hours of the morning I let our speed stay under the required 5knots. We were the last of the four boats to enter the atoll and just had a minute or two of small standing waves so not bad but not good either. On the way out we had it perfectly timed, flat water all the way.
The subject of slack water times and how to do the calculations had been a source of much discussion on the Net and ashore or in dinghys.. wherever two or more cruisers gathered to chat. The advance guard were questioned closely over the SSB radio and via emails as to their experiences and what method of calculation they used. Slack water is not at low or high tide necessarily, the in and out flow from the atolls can be determined on how many days the wind has been over 20 knots and the height and direction of the swell. The atolls are so low that the more water that is being pushed over the reef into the atoll can actually change the tides and the out flow can be so much that the incoming tide is stopped by the outflow causing dangerous waves in the passes and for metres out to sea. All passes are not equal, some longer, wider, shallower, coral heads to avoid, no markers etc. We decided for our time frame 2 atolls would be good. Kauehi seemed to be a nice place from all reports and the pass was an easy first experience, we then intended to go to the large atoll of Fakarava but as all cruisers know intentions often don't work out. The weather and an outbreak of dengue fever at Fakarava meant Kauehi was to be our only Tuamotu experience.
Kauehi is a smallish atoll with most of the around 350 people living in the small settlement of Kauehi City.
Pearl farming seems to be the main source of income although the rumour is that pearl income is on the downturn. The mayor owns the shop and the pearl farm so when we wanted to see pearls his wife shut the shop and took us across the road where we looked at pearls in the shade of their home courtyard. The best pearls go off to Tahiti and so the ones we saw seemed a bit rough so decided to wait a bit to get our black pearls. A few days later as the rain poured down a young man came out to the boat and we traded a small jar full of roughies and a few ok ones for a $5 bottle of whisky.
We had a couple of fine, calm days at Kauehi. We stayed our first two nights in the town anchorage and then went to the uninhabited motus in the south east corner. I should say the land was uninhabited but it was still a busy place as all the kid boats had been in residence for several days enjoying the snorkeling and beach. The kids and some brave dads had even camped a night on one of the motus. They had strung up hammocks to escape the rats and land crabs, despite those drawbacks they had all loved the adventure. We all gathered on Liward for a musical evening and lots of chat. Chris (Yindee Plus), Steve (Liward) and young Colin, 11, from Full Monty entertained with their guitars. The evening distracted us from the increasing wind and the direction it was moving to. By 6am the next morning we were all waking up to bouncy boats, we were on a lee shore and needed to move. Some people took longer to realize they needed to move than others. We decided to up anchor about 8am but then had to wait for squalls to go through so we could see our way around a few coral heads near us. The boats were all bouncing around and two yachts sustained damage to a bow roller and windlass as their chain caught on coral. They both decided to head off to Papeete as they could not re-anchor and had a bit of a windy trip to Tahiti. We motored the 10 miles back to town and stayed there for several more days while the Convergence zone sat over the top of us dumping rain and wind on us and the rest of the Tuamotus. The bonus was we filled our water tanks very quickly and caught enough water to do all the laundry on the first fine day. Another rainy day the mayor picked up people off 7 cruising boats and we all sat on the back of his truck getting wet while we had a mini tour of the island before we stopped at his sister's house for lunch and another pearl buying opportunity. The pearls weren't great but everyone went away happy including the mayor. We had all had a great day and everytime we look at those pearls we will remember the smiles, the rain and the Polynesian friendliness. I constantly heard," these people are so nice and so much more friendly than the Caribbean". My reply is," of course this is the Pacific".
After 8 days in Kauehi, 5 of rain, we saw a chink in the weather and headed for Tahiti. As we passed Fakarava we were tempted to go in. The weather had fined up a bit and the time for the pass was spot on. But we resisted as the Grib files showed more rain and wind to come in 4 days. We sailed on towards the sunshine in Papeete.
We have had a lovely time here in Tahiti , not a drop of rain while those in the Tuamotus have been dodging the squalls. I think our turn for wind and rain is about to come again. The ma'aramu is about to blow through the region again.