Sunday, June 29, 2014

Raiatea and Taha'a: an Interesting Pair of Islands

Unfortunately for Barb and Joe, we have had lousy weather. It is the first real gray and rainy stretch we have had in weeks. Without the sunshine, it is hard to see the reefs and the areas do turquoise water just aren't as brilliant in color. The sky has been cloudy, but it does yield brilliant sunsets at the end of the day.
Apparently there two weather systems in the area impacting us: one so north of Bora Bora and the other is south of Tahiti. We are in the trough between the two. There has been rain every day - several times a day - and a lot of gray clouds. The temperature is comfortable, but the winds have been the strongest we have seen since the passage to French Polynesia.

It has not stopped us, though. It was a fast sail from Moorea and it took its toll on Barb.The winds were 20-27 knots most of the way. Actually it was a great sail right on the rhumb line. It was so fast that we got to Raiatea too early and had to kill some time waiting for good light to enter the pass. That meant more bouncing around in the swells for Barb.

Once inside the Iriru Pass we anchored in Farrara Bay and took naps after the overnight passage. Like most of the bays here, it was tranquil with the exception of the strong wind whistling down the mountain. However, it was relatively calm. The sun was in and out alternating with rain showers.

We decided we were not going to melt in the rain, so we boarded to dinghy to head into the jungle via the Apoomua River. We had been told there was a lovely botanical garden there. At the rivers mouth we were greeted by a local man in a kayak. James then guided us about a mile up the river to the garden, where he then became our tour guide.

The ground was muddy and slick so our sandals were a mess, but the walk through the garden was well worth the clean up job. James told us all about the plants and how they use them for food and medicine. The jungle is overrun by philodendrons with leaves the size of a serving tray. It reminded me of the wild vines that kill our trees if they are not cut back.
The people use the flowers, leaves, fruits, bark and roots. There are many plant parts that are poisonous. It is obvious that experience has been their teacher and this information has been handed down for generations. He pick several flowers and leaves so we could smell them. The gardenia flower grows wild everywhere.

We saw the usual plants with their fruits: breadfruit, pamplemousse (grapefruit), limes, avocado, star fruit, mango, papaya, taro, coconuts, and a number of varieties of bananas. James was impressed that I was able to recognize and name all of these trees and fruits. There were a few new ones I had never seen and a tree with berries.
Of course, part of the deal is that you stop at his families fruit stand along the river bank on your way out. There they serve you fresh fruits on the plates woven from leaves and you buy some more to take with you. And you pay him for the tour. We have the program down so we went along with the hospitality even though it was pouring rain. And we had been in the rain for hours and we soak through and cold.

We learned that 27 families take care of and live off this garden. They are Mormon and we could see the temple in the distance. There were 11 children in his family and we met his mother and a sister at the fruit stand. There are three major religions on these islands: Catholic (their churches all have red roofs), Protestant and Mormon. These were the early missionaries to reach French Polynesia. There are also several others on some islands: Seventh Day Adventist and Jehovah Witness. 

After a good night's sleep, we headed south toward the Teavamoa Pass to see the sacred religious area called Marae Taputapuatea. The Marae is the "father" of all other sacred sites in Polynesia. It is composed of several lithique structures made from blocks of coral taken from the sea by means of big fires lit during low tide. Canoes brought visitors through the pass for grand ceremonies. The ceremonies included human sacrifice including the immolation of children to appease Oro, the god of War! There was great secrecy around the Marae which dates back to the 17th century.

Unfortunately, our outboard motor was malfunctioning and Dennis was concerned that we might not be able to get back to the boat against the current. There were five of us in the dinghy so it was  impossible to row effectively. So we never made it to shore. We were disappointed. Photos show the usual arrangement of rocks defining the alter and specific areas as we have sen on other islands. But this was the most special Marae of all Polynesia.

We decided to motor through the lagoon to Taha'a and anchor in a bay near the Paipai Pass for an early morning exit to Bora Bora. We needed to get Barb and Joe there for their Saturday flight to Michigan. And we did not lower the dinghy to paddle ashore as there was not have time to explore Taha'a.

Taha'a is known as the Vanilla Island. The 4,500 inhabitants, mostly of authentic Maori race, are friendly. Taha'a produces about 80% of the world's vanilla! The interesting thing about vanilla -and what makes it so expensive - is that it must be hand pollinated. This is a very time consuming job. Also the beans grow on vines and can hang high in the trees. The roads are very rugged and there is no air strip here so it remains isolated.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Moorea: The Real Bali Hi

  Moorea is the real Bali Hi! It is also the most natural of the Leeward group of the Society Islands so far. Tahiti was disappointing with the development and lack of feel for the Polynesian environment. Of course, we were mostly in the Papeete area so we did not experience anchoring around the island. So Moorea feels like the real thing!

At anchor in Moorea
The anchorage was lovely with several WARC boats there with us. It was a quiet place - even with a few WARC boats there. We rented a car to drive around the island since it was Sunday and nothing was open. We seem to arrive at each destination just in time for a weekend or a holiday when everything is closed!

On our way around the island, we found several interesting sites including another of the sacred sites. These sites have been well preserved and are marked with information boards so you can get some explanation. However, most of them are not in English so we struggle to read the French!

One road took us up near the top of a mountain where you could hike to see a waterfall. We opted just to enjoy the view of the harbor below. The clouds were very low and it was misty so it felt like we were in a rain forest.
We saw this curious tradition here: couples write their names on padlocks and hang lock them onto this fence. They mark dates and other notations. Obviously it is a local custom among those in love. It was interesting to see.
There are several major hotel resorts here with lovely beaches. As usual the expensive real estate is owned by corporations. Since it was Sunday and nothing was open, lunch was at one of the hotels on the patio. Lovely setting; good food; nice presentation. But no contact with the local people or culture. 
We mostly used the days here to relax and spend family time together. It was fun to have Barb and Joe join us on their way home from Australia. They will sail with us to Bora Bora and stop at several other islands along the way.

As we frequently do, we attended the Catholic Church on Sunday. Once again it was a lovely service in French and the native language. The singing is so up lifting. The happiness of the people come through in their voices. There was the cutest little girl behind us. She was so photogenic so I asked her mother if I could photograph her.

Everywhere we have visited has been a lovely experience with the people. They are all so friendly and happy. You might think their standard of living is so low that they would be unhappy. However, their pace of life and needs are less demanding than ours. There is much to be said about a simple life style!


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Touring Tahiti

Barb and Joe relaxing on S/V Trilliium
Whenever I pictured Tahiti in the past, I saw beautiful turquoise water and white sand beaches and lovely dark-haired, bronzed-skinned beauties with flowers in their hair. Well, the beauties with flowers is right. The young women here are quite striking. And everyone wears a flower in their hair - even some of the men - because there are flowers growing everywhere! It is also a sign as to whether or one is "available." I still haven't figured out which side means what. I think if the flower is in the same side as Americans wear wedding bands, i.e. left, it means you are unavailable.
The four of us on the island tour.
Dennis' brother, Joe, and his wife Barb joined us in Pape'ete to sail for a few days. Barb wanted to see BoraBora. We had heard it was overrated and thought she would see more of what she was expecting in Mo'orea. They arrived in time to join us on the WARC tour of Tahiti. So we started their French Polynesian adventure with a trip around the island.

The Cathedral in Papeete
The name Tahiti became famous because of the romantic charm of HMS Bounty and Paul Gauguin, the painter. English Protestant missionaries were the first to settle here. The Tahitian King gave his island to France in 1880 and in the 20th century, it became an Overseas Territory of France with autonomy granted to the Polynesians.
Downtown Papeete
A crafts market in a Papeete park.
The square lighthouse on
Tahiti designed by Robert
Louis Stevenson's father.
Of the 230,000 inhabitants, over half live in Papeete, which looks like any modern city. The port is very active as it supplies much of French Polynesia. Arriving here was interesting as the chart shows what appears to be a land mass to be sailed around. We could see it it all. It is only above water at low tide! Navigation is tricky.
Flowers everywhere
On the tour, we visited historical sites, blow holes, beautiful lookout points and drove along the 90 km road around the island. We saw it all! All of the WARC tours have proven to be well worth the time. Of course we saw local craft shops and were encouraged to support the local economy. Which we did! I now have my Polynesian dress and Barb has her black pearls.
Easter flowers at the market
The waterfall at the end of
a long hike - again!
Once again we hiked up a mountain to see a waterfall. It was so wonderfully cool - even cold to many. I loved it as it was the first time in a while that I felt my body temperature lower. I really don't like the heat so many of these locations are hot and sticky to me. Not to mention salty from the sea spray and sea air. While everyone was shivering, I was soaking up all of the coolness and fresh water spray.

It was amazingly cold and windy up at the waterfall.
We had a traditional French Polynesian lunch along the way. It is always interesting to taste and see what others eat daily and for special occasions. So far most of the islands have had an abundance of fruits and starchy vegetables. It has been difficult to find lettuce and other fresh vegetables to which we are accustomed.

A typical Polynesian resort
The large supermarket in Papeete carried almost anything you wanted at a price. Unfortunately, it doesn't last long due to the way it has been transported and stored. I have learned not to by too much at once and hope I get another chance to shop before leaving. Provisioning in Papeete was wonderful, although extremely expensive. In many places I spend $300 for five bags of groceries and there is very little meat or non edible items in it. Just the basics.
Another thing I discovered I. French Polynesia was a very good powdered milk called Sunshine, produced by Nestle. I am guessing we don't have it in the USA due to the American Dairy Association. It is a nice product to have in the pantry. It is nothing like the old Carnation powdered milk we had as kids!

Enjoy the photos from our tour of Tahiti:
Interesting trees and vegetation
 A view of Moorea from Tahiti

A view of Tahiti along the ring road

The coastal area with the blow holes

One of the paths we hiked to the waterfall

An ancient sacred site

Details of the sacred site

Outrigger in the museum we visited

The grotto with the large pool

Monday, June 9, 2014

Arriving in Tahiti with a Bang!

There is such beauty on the ocean!
Dennis and I have sailed alone for the last 700+ miles and I found it most enjoyable. It was nice having the boat to ourselves. The downside is that we are two ships (or should I say: shifts) passing in the night. When one of us is on watch at the helm, the other one is below either sleeping or doing our pink and blue jobs. That doesn't lend itself to much togetherness.

Our passage from Rangiroa in the Tuamotu Archipelago was uneventful for the most part.  There was little wind at times so we had to motor more than we like. And we had to plan our arrival in Tahiti during daylight. This meant two nights at sea instead of one if we had had good wind. As a result, we sailed along pleasantly at 3-4 knots and just enjoyed the ride.
Of course, the only time the wind kicked up was during my night watch! I am not particularly skilled at sail trim and get rather ruffled when we put the rail in the water. It is fine for a short thrill ride, but I would rather be more upright.

I had asked Dennis what I should do if certain situations arouse while he was sleeping. My personal challenge was to see if I could manage alone since I have not done night watches on a regular basis.  The wind increased from 8 knots to 10 knots. That was fine as we actually sail better with 12-15 knots. I enjoyed the extra speed.

Then a small squall appeared in the distance and I knew I would get some more wind. Suddenly we were at 15 knots, then 18 knots. Trillium was so happy to have the wind and took off on a fine run. I was fine, too. Then we hit 22 knots and the rail was in the water!
Land Ho! Tahiti is looking good after two night sails.
This was a real test for my comfort level! I debated about awakening Dennis, but kept my cool and resisted. It became a personal test to see if and how long I would manage on my own. The longer the wind blew at 22 knots, the comfortable I became. In fact, I found it exciting and was pleased that I had not caved in and called him up. The fact is that the wind will drop after the squall passes - and it did. So I chalked up one more accomplishment and relinquished another concern to the wind!
Arriving in Pape'ete, Tahiti harbor is somewhat daunting. It is not so much a harbor as it is a channel between land and a major reef that surrounds the island. The charts made it look like there should be land on the ocean side of the channel, but it is really a reef.  We kept looking for an island to go around in the channel, but it was really an area of reef two feet deep!
Our daily view of Moorea in the west with a sunrise glow.
Once we figured it out, we wound our way for several miles through a maze of channel markers with red on the port side. International markers are NOT red right return! And to confuse you even more, the markers inside the lagoons are different. Once through a pass and inside, the red markers are between the channel and land and the green markers are between the channel and the reef. The direction of the markers flow counter-clockwise around the island within the lagoon. So there is a lot to recalculate quickly once you reach one of these islands.

Upon calling the Marina Tiana for a slip assignment, we found the French accent challenging and could not figure out where they wanted us. We heard fuel dock so I headed in that direction. Then we were told to go across from the fuel dock to get instructions, so I made a course adjustment. In the meantime, the wind was increasing and just forward of the beam.

This was home for a week. I liked being on the end
instead of Med mooring stern-to and climbing off on a plank!
As we were pulling up to the end of the dock for instructions, the wind grabbed the bow and started moving toward the concrete dock. Dennis was yelling "bow thruster, bow thruster" and I was stepping on it.  But nothing happened. It did not come on. The dock is getting closer - as if it were moving toward me, right! The next thing I knew, I had the switch for the bow thruster in my hand - not attached to anything!!! Obviously, it was not going to turn on.

Sunset over Moorea as seen from Tahi
Then it happened: the Big Bang! Concrete wrapped in metal with a sharp corner is no match for a Fiberglas and bronze rub rail. Soooo.  We are waiting for the repair man. I felt terrible as this was my first major docking disaster. I know it wasn't my fault, but you know the feeling of when your new bike got its first scratch or your new car got a dent. Yuck. It is repairable, but a hassle. 

So we are here in the Marina Tiana for a week as we had planned to receive our new sail and have several repairs done. Dennis brother, Joe, and his wife, Barb, will be joining us on their way home to Michigan from Australia. It will be nice to have another little dose of family time. They will sail with us to Bora Bora before catching their flight home.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rangiroa: the Image of French Polynesia

These atolls are so low you can hardly see them. That is
why there are shipwrecks in this area of the Pacific Ocean.
White sand beaches - finally!
One of our most favorite places so far has been Rangiroa in the Tuamotu island group. It rhymes with "kangaroo." Actually the Tuamotus are atolls. These are very low islands and difficult to see as you are approaching. What exists today is really the rim of very old volcanos that have sunk back into the ocean. Coral has grown along the sides of the rim and into the sea to form the coral reefs. They are almost completely surrounded by coral reefs with limited and tricky passages into the lagoons.

The mountain rim is so low that the oceans swells actually move across the large inner lagoons and out the other side. It is not the place to be in a tsunami! Here we saw white sandy beaches with the palm trees and the thatched huts in the water for the first time. This is what we were expecting to see in French Polynesia.
This lagoon is about 45 miles long from east to west and. 18 miles across. The entire island of Tahiti could fit inside the lagoon. The
Our guides called me "Mother" so I renamed them Nick,
Jon and Ben! They were a lot of fun and very helpful.
central lagoon is surrounded by smaller islands known as "motus" and many of them belong to specific families. Instead of going "up north" to the cottage, they just travel across the lagoon to their motu. Usually there is a little hut for storing their personal items and that is about all. We have our cottages; the Aussies have their walk-abouts. And the Polynesians have their motus!

Snorkeling was great in the crystal clear water!
One of the highlights of our stay here was the daylong snorkeling tour. We took a 45 minute boat ride to our guide Ivan familys motu. On the way out, we motored through the passage in where the current is swift and about 80 dolphins live and play in the current. Then we continued across the lagoon to what looked like paradise!
Traversing a lagoon with Sandra and Tom from
S/V Sweet Pearl. At times the current was very swift.

After we all climbed out of the boat to walk into shore with one of the guides, we snorkeled in a beautiful lagoon and saw many different kinds of fish and healthy coral. Our guide, Mario, climbed a coconut palm to gather a branch of leaves and coconuts. He then wove a plate on which he served fresh coconut as a mid-morning snack.

The coral wall holding back the swells.
He had us gather up our belongings and walk across the lagoon through the water. It got to be about 4.5 feet deep with a swift current. Keeping our balance while carrying things above our heads was challenging. The hike along the coral shore led us to an area of dead coral that has formed a high wall against the ocean swells. This a natural formation of coral that died long ago.

The flat atoll with the lagoon in the background.

Dennis as grill master!
Lovely palm hat!
After climbing up and jumping off the coral mounds into the pool below, we then waded across a larger lagoon to the family's hut where lunch was served. The other two guides were preparing a lunch of coconut bread, fish and chicken cooked on an open fire. They also served a rice and vegetable dish and fresh fruit followed by coconut cake. It was all delicious! The best part was the coconut bread cooked on the grill -heavy, but heavenly tasty!

My woven basket.
Then it was craft time! This was funny because they taught the gals how to weave a basket from palm leaves. I did not let on that I have been weaving things and baskets for 30 years. I was told that I caught on very fast! They actually made beautiful hats from the same leaves. I know I would not have looked so good on that one. Ivan had learned it from his grandmother. The tour operation has been the family business for years. I can see why one would like to make a daily trip to the motu just to soak up the beauty!
Imagine yourself relaxing on this little motu!
The Black Tip Sharks seem to know when it is lunch
at Ivan's motu as he feeds them leftovers everyday!
After lunch they feed the Black Tip Sharks some of the left overs. You should have seen them attack that food! They were right on shore in about one foot of water.
On the way back, we stopped at an area called the Aquarium. It is an area off the motu at the Avatoru Pass into the lagoon. Here they tossed in more of the leftovers from lunch to bring the fish to the surface. The water was almost solid with fish. This is when we jumped in to swim with them. No sharks here. There were hundreds of fish there!
These were the fish at the Aquarium when the food
was tossed into the water. There were hundreds of them!

We actually jumped into the mass of fish and swam with them. As we swam away from the feeding frenzy, we saw many other types of fish heading in for their share of the late afternoon snack. I think all of the tour boats come here and share the lunch remains with the fish. It was the best tour day we have had so far!
This was the first time we had seen the hotel resorts with the huts over the water. The Kia Ora hotel was just ashore of our anchorage. Although very beautiful, it was extremely expensive ($600 per person per night for a regular room). One of the boats booked a dinner reservation for four for a dinner that would run about $100 each plus libations! When they arrived in their sailing clothes and asked to use the internet, they were told they would not be served and were ask to leave! Note: we saw no other hotel guests the whole time we were there. One would think they would welcome our money. No one else from the WARC fleet bothered to book in there! Obviously, they didnt think our money was good enough!
The melt in your mouth quiche!
One thing I have learned over the years is that many people with a lot of money don't always dress to the nines! The fact is there are millions of dollars invested in these yachts and none of us are traveling with black tie attire! It is the old "don't judge a book by its cover" theory.
We had several really great meals on Rangiroa. The quiche I had was the best ever. The French really go heavy on the butter and cream. And, of course, the French bread and cheeses can't be beat! And the deck over the water at the passage made for interesting views: dolphins, tour boats and yachts fighting the current! It is a nice place to have a cocktail and relax as the sun sets.