The Society Islands - Tahiti/Moorea/Huahine/Raiatea/Tahaa/Bora Bora
16 38.18 S 151 29.32 W
Long time…no blog updates…hmmm??...What’s up?
The islands and the people:
Well, we have been lazing around in this last part and the most westward Islands of French Polynesian Territory (FP). 5 weeks have passed since our arrival in Papeete, Tahiti on June 15th. It has been a leisurely month or so with less than 400 nm covered by Sea Mist in that time. We are presently in the middle part of the Society Islands anchored in a bay that juts inland into the mountains about 3 miles here on the island of Tahaa. The shoreside experiences on roads, paths, trails traverse mountainside/hillside agricultural areas where you can easily reach out and touch bananas, papayas, breadfruit and coconuts at many places along the way (albeit, you probably shouldn’t be picking the fruit except if it is right beside you on the edge of the road) and it is a delight to be in this lush environment with the continued cleanliness and pristine gardens/roadsides/properties which we have found to be so universally characteristic of all of FP….a pride in their property’s appearance is an obvious priority for the Polynesian people. The people of all ages are VERY friendly and welcoming; it is usually possible to manage to communicate with a mix of broken French and English; many of the Polynesians say they can speak/undetand “a little” English but you find their humbleness greatly understates what they can manage.
Weather has changed considerably this past month with our now being in the “dead of winter”…the “dry season” in this part of the world. Winds are stronger with the east/south-east trades prevailing but frequently disturbed in strength and direction by the constant eastward flow of huge high pressure areas (called anticyclones) interspersed with lows (called depressions) hundreds of miles south of us. And with this disturbances, the sea conditions become much heavier both in terms of ocean swells of 2.5 – 4.5 meters and layered on top of the swells, another 0.5 -1 meter of wind waves or more. All in all, the weather from here to New Zealand will demand much more attention for choosing the timing of our sailing than it has so far on the Pacific; at least the passages between landfalls will be shorter but the reliability of anything other than short (24 – 48…maybe 72 hours out) weather forecasts carries no weight ….so we will need to pick our timing for a passage to match the short term weather windows….and get going quickly when the window is there.
We have welcomed the clouds/cooler/dryer weather when it comes to comfortable temperatures for sleeping, etc and for walking around towns. Daytime highs are around 30 C (80-85 F ) with average nighttime lows of 22 -25 C (70 - 75 F ). Water temp has dropped quite lot with it being as low as 27 C (80 F) some places even if 28-29 C (83-84 F) is most characteristic. But, when the sun is out and you are in its path….you still “cook” as is the case anywhere in these equatorial latitudes. Sometimes we will put a thermometer out to see what the temp actually is in the sun versus the shade and you will see a 30 to 40 degree F difference 115 – 120 F….or 12 to 15 C degrees higher taken the “felt heat” to low/mid 40’s C.
Sea Mist…how’s she doing?
All has been going well with “our home”; we have fortunately kept her off the coral reefs and coral bommies that are everywhere particularly as we have had to traverse a lot of narrow passes and shallow waters within the barrier reefs that encircle all of these aging volcanic mountainous islands. Some of our fellow travelers have not been so fortunate and are having to get repairs to hulls and underwater components after colliding with the hard bottom of these oceans. We will be doing some major maintenance over the months that we are in NZ…including having the boat hauled and stowed on shore for a brief period to once again take care of the below water maintenance including bottom paint, propeller servicing, etc, etc.
There are always “little” maintenance issues that would be easy to solve ifone was in a major center of Western Europe or North America….but….when you find yourself without a spare part in these “exotic” places where ocean cruising takes you, it is a different story. An example would be a recent failure of our immersion heating element in our hot water tank: no part available in south pacific; none available in North America….had to source in UK….and then the parts tavelled by UPS on a worldwide jaunt…..Luton/England > Cologne/Germany>Schengen/China>Singapore>New Zealand/Tahiti….and, although it comes into French Polynesian without any import duties since it is for a “yacht -in transit”, there is a bureaucratic process to get it cleared through customs by a required agent and broker….charging $165 for their piece of the action….so a $50 part ends up costing you $250 by the time you get it in your hands…..ONLY TO FIND….that the wrong part was shipped!! ….and the supplier takes no responsibility for that having happened…..all for you to swallow and start again. Luckily, we can heat our water through the operation of the main engine so we are not dependent on the electrical element……AND, BESIDES….it is “warm” (well not cold) water anyway since the boat’s water supply tank can not be colder than the ambient water……RIGHT!!...well some of the Sea Mist crew, seem to think now and then a “hot” shower would be nice.
Thought I would just include this little “reality” tale to keep perspective on the ongoing upkeep hurdles with an Ocean Sailing life…..many more tales could be told, let me assure you.
· We have not been scuba diving since we left the Tuamotus and those fantastic experiences enjoyed there. We have had a few enjoyable snorkeling experiences that were very different from the Tuamotus….no large numbers of sharks for example. The best of these experiences in the Society Islands was off the west coast of Moorea where we swam in shallow water with VERY FRIENDLY sting rays….watch for some photos that will be posted shortly of this underwater outing.
· Our arrival coincided with the Pacific Puddlejump Tahiti Rendezvous and this was a great mix of fun for about 200 of us from the cruising community…. with 1) professional Polynesian dance groups over each of the 3 days; 2) a fast/windy/competitive, interisland race amongst the 60 or so participating sailboats; 3) beach games for all ages….including 6 man outrigger canoe races (oops…the one I was in suddenly capsized just as we were within seconds of the finish line and in first place…boo hoo!); fruit (bananas) carrying foot race (oops again….my stalk of bananas got out of sync with my fleeting legs…and I crashed…but then so did 2 others of my fellow sailors in the following heat on the same turn); tug of war, etc 4) terrific venues and some excellent food (except for the last day’s traditional Polynesian lunch where our tastes and tradition did not quite meet…..a small miss when the whole 3 day event is reflected upon.
· Some remarkable hiking trails….the finest that one could find anywhere was a real treat on the south end of Tahiti near the Paul Guaguin Museum.
· Excellent times with new found cruising friends as we all converged in these society islands….including the discovery of a shared 40th anniversary date with another couple; a good celebration for all with dinner on-board Sea Mist….and an ongoing connection through many shared anchorages and activities over these past weeks.
· Independence Celebrations: although July 14 is French Indepence/Jean Baptiste day…the Polynesians make it more than a month of celebrating from last week in June til end of July. We have enjoyed exciting 1 man to 12 man outrigger canoe races, Polynesian traditional dance performances/ competitions, mobile eating vans that set up tables and great meals in all the little villages in the evenings, and far too much by way of a broad range of events to try to mention here.
· And, not to be understated, the opportunity to get back to “real shopping” and a city atmosphere (Papeete)….first time to have those luxuries since Panama City last February.
Over the coming days, we intend to take in some of the snorkeling sites here in Raiatea and Tahaa and also visit the most important of the ancient maraes (Marae Teripunui)…..a structure/set of structures that were central element(s) in the traditional Polynesian culture for centuries; this one here on Raiatea being the base from which all other structures thoughout French Polynesia were linked. We will be moving further west to Bora Bora in the next week or so and expect that island will be a major highlight to finish off our FP cruising.
From FP, we have several options for our westward track: the current thinking is that we will use this route through the next part of the Pacific –a New Zealand supported/controlled territory:
· Bora Bora to Aitutaki (480 nm passage)
· Aitutaki to Palmerston Atoll ( 200 nm)
· Palmerston Atoll to Niue (580 nm)
· Niue to Tonga (Vavu U) ( 230 nm)
· Several weeks crusing within Tonga: Vavu U Group > Ha’Apai Group > Tongatapa Group (Approximately 200 miles of territiory North to South in the Tonga Archipelago)
· Tonga (Nuka Alofa/Tongatapu)to North Island, New Zealand (1000 nm)
· New Zealand – Mid-Nov to Mid-April : marina-based in the initial months while exploring the country by car and then some sailing NZ’s famous cruising grounds in the midst of their summer
Ø …and longer term outlook calls for us to go from New Zealand to Fiji departing late April 2011 (1100 nm) ….and onward to Vanuatu >Northern Australian > Indonesia > Thailand (Phuket by end of November, 2011 where we expect to base ourselves for 14 months to explore south-east Asia through end of January 2013).
That’s all folks….hope this catches you up on any curiosities you may have of this boring sailing life in the south pacific; we trust all is going well with your enjoyment of summer in the Northern Hemisphere if that is where you are passing your time.
BE WELL!!.....and please don’t hesitate to drop us an email….we love to find something in our inbox when we check daily via our satellite phone connection.