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Date: 26 Jul 2012 07:52:00
Title: The Leeward Islands: Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa

Lat 16:34.11S
Lon 151:31.84W

As I write this I can see Bora Bora, gleaming at me across 5 miles of ocean and the reef that encloses us on Tahaa, a neighbouring island. It is hard to stop taking photos of it, with it's 2 peaks towering over the rest of the island across the water. We will sail to Bora Bora tomorrow. You might be able to tell that I am extremely excited - I have dreamt of this island since I was about 8 years old when I saw it on one of those Sunday evening holiday programmes on TV. I remember seeing an over-water bungalow for the first time, surrounded by clear turquoise water teeming with tropical fish with steep mountains spiralling up into the sky in the background. 20 years later I know it will be much more developed, and comparatively swarming with tourists compared to the places we have been so far on this trip. I am aware that I may be disappointed, but Bora Bora is the place I have held up in my mind as "Paradise" for as long as I can remember.

However, we're not there yet and I should be writing about what we've been up to for the last week since we left Moorea....

The sail to Huahine is 78 miles from Moorea, and the distance makes it practical to do it overnight. It was almost dead downwind but the swell was across us, which made for a very rolly and uncomfortable, sleepless night. Harry and David were put on their first night watch and we arrived into the southern end of Huahine early morning last Thursday. All of the society islands except Tahiti are each surrounded by an almost unbroken reef around the main island. This means that they all have a lagoon between the island and the reef, and on some islands it's possible to sail all the way around the island inside the lagoon. In others you might have to exit through a pass, travel a little bit and then enter the lagoon again through another pass higher up. We anchored in the lagoon off a Motu (palm tree clad island on the reef) on the South East side of Huahine. We hadn't planned on going into this corner as on the charts it looked a bit shallow, but there were a few other boats there so we followed suit and navigated around the coral with no problems. It was a beautiful spot, in the most turquoise water with the lagoon extending to the south. We went for a snorkel and drifted with the wind around the point back to the boat. Unfortunately we didn't see much - most of the coral in the society islands was destroyed by an El Nino event about 8 years ago. Thus the snorkelling and diving here is more about the fish rather than the coral. The next day the wind that had pushed us northwest from Moorea was still blowing and the boys went for a kite surf in the lagoon - apparently a perfect spot for learning, but I am giving it a bit of a break for now. We later moved around the north of the island to the capital, Fare. On the way there, we had the fishing line out as Harry was keen to catch our dinner. We caught the biggest Mahi Mahi we've caught so far, and used the "drag it till it's tired, then haul it up on the davits" technique that we'd learnt with Ricky Marlin. It was pretty windy and the swell was also a couple of meters so it was a bit chaotic! A luxury catamaran we've seen in a few places called Chi even dropped their sails and came over to see if we were in trouble as we were rolling around so much! We arrived in Fare too late to venture further down the west coast of the island so spent the night there. It is a really lovely town, with plenty of yachtie services, a massive supermarket cheaper than the Carrefour in Tahiti, and a few restaurants, one of which overlooked the water where we indulged in happy hour cocktails and the best fillet steak dinner I've had in a very long time!

Huahine - looking north from our first night anchorage

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Harry and David - happy holidays!

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The biggest Mahi Mahi so far!

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The next day we made the short crossing to Raiatea. This island is very mountainous and stunning to look at - similar to some of the Marquesan islands. We again chose to go through the southern pass into the lagoon rather than the one nearest the main town, and anchored just inside the pass between two patches of reef. We went for an afternoon snorkel which was a bit disappointing - not much coral or fish here either. We rose early the next day and moved up to the main town of Uteroa where there is a quay that we tied up to. After a very long skype session catching up with mummy Massey and mummy Wood-Hill as well as Eve who is home from Africa for a couple of weeks, we headed out to dive the main pass. We'd heard that it was unmissable so we thought we might finally see some fish in the water! The dive was pleasant enough on a very steep wall, but nothing compared to what we have seen in the Tuamotu's. We have definitely been spoilt - Harry and David think every dive is amazing! There is also the wreck of an old square rigger that hit the reef and sunk 100 years ago in this spot. Both masts are still intact which is quite amazing after 100 years! Harry and Archie did a quick dive down with the rest of the air in the tanks, but reported that there wasn't much to explore so we decided not to do it properly the next day. A very nice lady who was out in her dive boat with clients offered to pick up our dive tanks, fill them and return them an hour later to the yacht which was great service! Back at the dock there was just time to run up the hill overlooking the town for a view of the lagoon and surrounding reef. Arch and I paced it up there (I was desperate for some decent exercise) and left Harry and David about half way up to make it to the summit before sunset (and the rain) forced us back down the hill. The view from the top was great, and I imagine on a clear day it would have been amazing looking across the lagoon to Tahaa. Tahaa is another island just north of Raiatea but they share the same outer reef so they are kind of treated as one.

Raiatea - stunning mountain backdrop as we entered the lagoon

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The view from the top of the hill in Uteroa, Raiatea

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In the morning we found a nice lady called Regine to repair our spinnaker (yippee!) who said she could do it same day - so much nicer than the rude, arrogant French man we'd found in Tahiti at Api yachting. We also filled up our empty gas tank and got a few chores done before heading across the central lagoon to Tahaa. Tahaa is even less touristy than Raiatea, but does have a busy charter yacht business as it is possible to sail right around Tahaa inside the lagoon and the cruising is very easy around this picturesque island. All the waters are very deep though, so anchoring is tricky everywhere, and in many places you either have to pay for a mooring ball or anchor on a shallow shelf and then reverse into deeper water - a bit sketchy! The boys hadn't kited for a few days so were getting itchy feet and it was blowing 25 knots. So an afternoon session was arranged by the pass on the eastern side of Tahaa, before anchoring at the bottom of Haamene Bay which runs all the way into the centre of the island and is a so called "Hurricane Hole" (meaning safe place to anchor in strong winds). Well, clearly the people who wrote the guidebook weren't actually here in strong winds as the wind blew all the way down the valley and we got little sleep with 35 knot gusts coming down on us. Before sunset we walked up the hill in the bay for a view which was very pretty, and we found some unmanned water towers which made the view even better! Luckily our anchor held in the thick mud of the bay and when the sun came up the wind had also eased a little and even the sun had come out! We went back to the pass for a dive and more kiting, after stopping briefly at the Hibiscus hotel which the guidebook said had a turtle sanctuary, which turned out just to be a few turtles locked up in a netted area of the shallows! It seemed a bit of a cheap trick to keep these seemingly healthy turtles locked up under the pretence of 'conservation' just to get the tourists into the hotel. Harry had a great kiting session and can now stay upwind, and Archie was out for a few hours and kited down to the next anchorage while David and I moved the yacht.

Raiatea from across the lagoon - Tahaa side

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At the turtle "sanctuary" in Haamene Bay on Tahaa

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Archie gets some air on his downwinder up the east coast of Tahaa

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We arrived in Patio, the main town on Tahaa at the northern end, just before dusk, and watched the sun dip behind Bora Bora over a beer. It looked like there was something going on in the town as there seemed to be a marquee up and floodlights, so we headed in to see what was happening. It turned out that as part of the Heiva celebrations that continue throughout July in all of French Polynesia, there was a festival of the Leeward Islands, where dancing groups and choirs from each island came to Tahaa to put on a show. There must have been about a thousand people watching which is a lot for such a small, relatively unpopulated place, and it was a fantastic spectacle - not that different to the show we saw in Papeete except that it was free, we sat on the floor eating very bad Chinese takeaway, and the "stage" was a central square of sand with spectators all around the edge. The drumming was again awesome, and the dancers were a little less professional than those in Tahiti but the costumes were great and everyone seemed to be having a very jolly time with plenty of laughing and clapping! We got talking to a lovely lady called Noemi, who (clearly wanting to practise her English) told us all about the festival, the island and her family. Her granny is turning 100 this weekend and the whole village is having a party to which she invited us, but we had to politely decline as we will be in Bora Bora. The locals don't seem to understand why we have to keep moving and can't just stay a few more days.

Dancers at the show in Patio on Tahaa for the Leeward Island Festival

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More grass skirt action!

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More kiting and more snorkelling today brings you up to date! We are tonight staying in Bay Apu on the south side of Tahaa, and tomorrow we will pick up our spinnaker from Marina Apooiti over on Raiatea before setting sail for the 4 hour crossing to Bora Bora. It's only 5 miles as the crow flies but the position of the passes makes it a longer trip. We are planning to be at Bora Bora Yacht Club in time for lunch!

The peaks of Bora Bora tower behind the reef at the north of Tahaa

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Paradise is that way!

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