Raiatea and Tahaa, French Society Islands
Peter and Margie Benziger
Tue 11 Jan 2011 01:30
Position Report – 16:43.371S 151:26.688W
Raiatea and Tahaa, French Society Islands
We spent two nights in Raiatea before sailing across a 2 mile wide channel over here to Tahaa. Raiatea is the most popular yachting base in French Polynesia. All the major charter companies (Moorings, SunSail, Dream, Tahiti Yacht Charters) have operations here, most at the Apooiti Marina at the northern tip of the island. FYI – Raiatea is shaped pretty much like a triangle with Apooiti Marina and the international airport at the top.
The principal city of Uturoa, which is the 2nd largest city in French Polynesia after Papeete, is a busy port town with a lot of activity but not much in the way of atmosphere. There aren’t any beaches on the island although we’re told that some of the surrounding motus - small islets along the reef - have great beaches and good snorkeling. There is a fresh water river on the southeast side of Raiatea which you can cruise in your dinghy. Along the way, you can visit the Botanical Gardens which are quite spectacular.
We used Raiatea basically as a provisioning stop before heading off to Tahaa and Bora Bora which, we’ve been told, don’t have major supermarkets and are quite pricey. So after two nights at the Raiatea Marina where we were comfortably situated on a mooring ball, we sailed to Tahaa (Tah-Ah- Ah)
Tahaa is called the Vanilla Island since ¾ of French Polynesian production (25 tons) come from here. You can visit vanilla plantations all over the island and see how they “marry” the vanilla which is actually a complex process of fertilizing by hand. The pods grow for 9 months and then they are cut and allowed to dry for another 4-5 months before they are ready to be exported.
Tahaa also has a growing community of pearl farmers and several shops where you can buy loose pearls or custom made jewelry. Once again, Peter determined that all of them were closed for some strange reason…..Hmmmmmmm??????
However, the focus of our visit to Tahaa was to celebrate my birthday which we did in grand style at the Taravana Yacht Club in Baie Apu on the SW coast of the island. As it happens, the Taravana Yacht Club is owned by an American named Richard (from San Francisco) who has been living in the French Society Islands for over 30 years. He was a charter boat captain on Bora Bora for most of the time and eight years ago bought the land and several bungalows plus a small restaurant and rebranded it as the TYC.
He closed the bungalows, installed about 15 mooring balls for cruisers, upgraded the restaurant with attractive island décor and an outstanding chef and instituted a Tuesday night all you can get buffet complete with a spectacular Polynesian dancing show - followed by a disco- that became an instant sensation. Wouldn’t you know it? My birthday was on a Tuesday and 16 of us had a fabulous evening dancing ‘til the wee hours!
Peregrina’s Captain Pete and the birthday girl were joined in the anchorage by the BWR crews aboard Aqualuna, Lucy Alice, Island Kia, Spirit of Nina, Briet and Aspen - plus another 20+ people from charter boats who had made reservations for the night. The other guests were mostly Americans and a couple Brits and a family from France and they soon figured out that it was a birthday party and blended right in with our celebration so it really seemed like a private party just for me!
And, what a party it was! There was a special Tahitian welcome cocktail while a band played and the singers beckoned us in with warm, friendly smiles. Dinner was a fabulous buffet including wine and we sat at tables decorated with palm fronds and fragrant flowers facing the Bay with a full moon rising and the mountains of Bora Bora in the distance. It was a beautiful night to be outdoors and as soon as we had served ourselves the show started out on the beach right in front of us. The band and singers were now joined by a troupe of young Polynesian dancers including a 12 year old boy who was the “star” of the show. You’ll see photos of me with him attached. He was so adorable I wanted to take him home with me! Of all the groups we have seen thus far, these young people seemed the most genuine and clearly enjoyed what they were doing immensely. Unlike other shows, this one also included two men and my young paramour doing a spectacular fire dance with flying torches that was absolutely incredible. (Photos attached)
After the professional part of the show, the dancers all grabbed partners from the audience and we took turns trying to “shake like a Polynesian” with varying degrees of success. Luckily, they brought out my birthday cake before I died of exhaustion and I got a beautiful red crown of flowers and an orchid lei from the principal female dancer. The lei disappeared mysteriously but I’ve been wearing the headdress for the past three days. Even though I’ve been keeping it in the refrigerator, the flowers seem to be dropping all over the boat and I may have to give it up….but I LIKE BEING AN ISLAND QUEEN!
It was a fabulous party and I was thrilled that so many of our friends joined us. I also received many calls on the SSB radio from the other boats who were on other islands sending their best wishes which was very sweet. I pointed out that, this year, all of us will celebrate our birthdays in someplace absolutely amazing. How incredibly lucky are we? I feel truly blessed….
In closing, I’ll attach a poem that Peter wrote to celebrate my birthday. It was very sweet. Put the man on a boat and he becomes all “mushy” and so loveable….
Next stop Bora Bora!
Sailing with Margie
A woman is like a sailing ship
With graceful rigging and line
But water does pass under the keel
Carrying with it Father Time
No matter how fast she surges ahead
Birthdays match her speed knot for knot
The fateful day always appears
Whether she wants it to or not
So Margie, today is your day
It was inevitable you know
For that is how the winds of life
Are destined always to blow
Yesterday, we were the same age
We could both say; “60 years old”
But today, you must be truthful
And say 61….Ohhh, how very cold!
But don’t worry a bit my dear
For your ship’s curves and beauty still shine
And I am so very thankful
Your voyage is the same as mine
So Happy Birthday my shipmate
May we raise a glass to salute your health
For we have found the real pirates’ treasure
To have our love…now that is truly wealth