Tahiti Pearl Regatta
22 May 2019
“The most beautiful regatta in the world.” That's the theme of the Tahiti Pearl Regatta. They sure delivered! The racing was in the beautiful waters around Raiatea, Tahaa and Huhine. These atolls have clear, blue lagoons surrounding lush mountain peaks. None of this compares to the smiles of these Polynesians, the only thing brighter than the Sun.
Jeff and Terry McClellan traveled from frigid Wisconsin to visit us for two weeks and gave up a good chunk of that for the three day regatta. We could have never done it without them. Previously we just asked our cruising friends to race with us. No problem when we return to the same anchorage every night. But TPR involved inter-island racing. Those who crewed, had to stay on board when we raced to Huahine. We were fortunate enough to pick up John and Lorella from Imagination for the last, around-island race on Tahaa.
Registration was a bit strange, we all had to submit medical certificates stating we were physically fit for yacht racing. That's a first. We also had to join the Tahiti Sailing Federation. We paid our $40 each to join but have no idea what rights and privileges we are entitled to. At least show us the handshake. After registration, we asked where we could go for a beer. Nowhere? The nearest place open was the airport. That's another first.
When we registered, we had the option of a racing class or the cruising class. Racing classes needed a measurement certificate which we didn't have. We registered for cruising which was only the longer races each day. Previous year results showed most of the boats were in the cruising class. There was mention of assigning ratings. But at registration, we learned that the cruising class races just on actual time, no handicaps! Sailboats have widely varying performance. It just isn't racing to pit boats against each other with some being twice as fast as others. But we were racing in the most beautiful regatta.....didn't matter.
It turned out that of the 52 boats registered, we had no idea who was in our class or who was in any class. Nothing was posted and there were no class flags. What's more, we learned that all 52 boats would start in one start! The line was short too. Not good! But island manners prevailed and there were no crashes.
The fleet was the most varied ever. There were 55 foot catamarans and monohulls (in our division) as well as 18 foot sport boats and outrigger canoes. The outrigger canoes had a Sunfish size sail with four crew paddling like mad the entire race. Another first! They were fast too, almost as fast as us!
First race started inside the Raiatea lagoon, sailed south two miles to the reef pass, then 22 miles to Huahine. Uproar was on the line at the start in pretty clear air, but light air. It was a close reach. Soon, the boats with code zeros and lighter sport boats started to pass us. The outriggers, paddling, kept them moving well too. The reef pass was surrounded by two motus (small islands). Wind was blanketed which caused a pile-up. We sailed clear and around the pile-up, then settled in for a long beat to Huahine. Wind was about 10 knots and just a light chop and swell on the sea. These are conditions Uproar was quite happy with and we were staying well with the racing boats, about our size.
A few tacks and a few hours later we entered the Huahine lagoon. We had no idea how we finished of course. We were pleased how well Uproar, laden with all of our liveaboard gear (about 2,500 pounds overweight) sailed with the race boats. Our anchor beer taste especially good after a fine sail to Huahine. We swam and dressed in Island dress for the evening's party.
Water taxis were employed to take racers to shore. We had left our dinghy in Raiatea and a local guy promised to take it to Tahaa where the regatta ended. He did and we actually got our dinghy back! The party was a delightful buffet with local dancing and drumming. Crews were invited to take the stage for a Tahitian dance contest. Team Uproar wisely declined.
Day two was a race from Huahine to Tahaa, just north of Raiatea. It was a spinnaker run the entire way. Wind was only about 10 knots and seas again smooth. Uproar again found a clear spot on the line when the gun went off. We stayed with the boats we targeted until the last 5 miles. Wind got light and our asymmetrical spinnaker wasn't as well suited as the symmetrical chutes on the race boats. Everyone anchored just inside the Tahaa pass where we had a good swim and anchor beer. We still had no idea how we were doing but there were a lot of boats behind us.
We opted out of the second night's party and had a relaxing evening in our beautiful anchorage. John and Lorella from Imagination were at the finish to take pictures. John took me in his dinghy to where we hoped to find Houdinky, our dingy. Sure enough, he was sitting at a dock as promised, Thanks Tama!
Day three was the most interesting race of all. The race was inside the Tahaa lagoon, around the island, about 20 miles. The lagoon between the reef and the island was quite narrow after the start which made for some close racing. Uproar again got off to a good start. We sailed high to keep our air clear from faster boats who passed us. This became a mistake as we sailed too close to the wind shadow of the island. We struggled with the spinnaker in light air and watched boats by the reef sail faster.
As we sailed north, wind picked up and became a beat. There were narrow but well marked channels we had to follow per race instructions....and to avoid the rocks! John and Jeff did a great job grinding in the genoa on the 14 tacks it took us to round the north end of Tahaa. During the tacking, we passed a new, Hanse 575 and put some distance between us. We enjoyed our personal races with the boats around us. The finish was back at the Tahaa reef anchorage where we left Houdinky and Imagination's dinghy.
The final night party was on the nearby, private motu. It was perfect Polynesian village set. We were greeted with floral leis and a show of fire dancing. Awards were presented and to our surprise, Uproar took third in the cruising division. The trophy was an intricately carved shell. Up-Roar! Videos played on a large screen of the week's racing. The buffet was local cuisine, done very well. We enjoyed meeting some of the Tahitian racers and swapping stories. Racing was a bit strange but we sure enjoyed being a part of the most beautiful regatta in the world.