Thursday, August 30, 2012

Our favourites

Our favourites? Of the Marquesan group, we loved Tahuata with its sandy beach and fresh pamplemousse waiting to be picked from the trees, swimming up-close with numerous manta rays, and all of the several anchorages with new things to see and friendly locals to meet.

Graceful manta rays

Of the Tuamotu Archipelago, we loved Manihi. This is where we went pearl diving which was such a thrill and met Fernand who introduced us to other adventures, great snorkelling and visibility in many areas, and indulged in the privacy of the Blue Lagoon. (But we got our best pearl deals in Ahe.)

Varying blues of the Blue Lagoon

And of the Society Archipelago, we loved both Taha'a and Bora Bora. We did more at Taha'a - toured the island and vanilla plantation, and snorkelled the fabulous Coral Gardens. But at Bora Bora, we loved the beauty of the island and the colours of the lagoon waters, and we once again met up with a lot of sailors that we knew.

Sunset at Taha'a with Bora Bora in background

All in all, we had more fun at the Marquesas and the Tuamotus and would have loved to explore more of the Tuamotus, but there was not enough time with the limited 3 months that we are allowed to stay in French Polynesia.

We pulled anchor today for passage to our next destination of the Cook Islands (Suwarrow aka Suvarov).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mixed bag

One night, a group of about 20 sailors went to the famous Bloody Mary's Restaurant for dinner. It's been in operation since 1979 and has had many Hollywood stars dine there. As it is located quite a distance from the Bora Bora Yacht Club, the restaurant/bar offers transportation.

Each evening, plates of local catch are delightfully displayed on ice. The host explains what is available and takes your order directly to the chef. As well as different varieties of fish, other items such as steak, ribs, and lobster were available (on the evening we were there). Our appetizers, meals, and desserts were delicious in the enchanting surroundings of Bloody Mary's.

One day, Jordan skidded out on a rented bicycle and severely scraped the skin from his toe, probably right down to the bone. The local doctor wrapped it with a skin bandage that he said would promote growth of new skin as it also expelled an antiseptic. The doc was pretty rough as he applied the bandage, even as Jordan repeatedly exclaimed Ow!

We have unfortunately noticed a fair amount of garbage along the roadsides, which is quite surprising for such a touristy place of French Polynesia. But there are a lot of homes with fancy gardens filled with stunning flowers. We've noticed too that Bora Bora has many, many dogs - obviously pet lovers here.

Unusual but pretty flowering bush

The next few days were filled with sailors watching weather and getting ready for passage to the Cook Islands. We are in an area of converging weather patterns, the graveyard of the easterly trades and the colliding lows that come up from between Tasmania and New Zealand. So we may have a mixed up sail on this next passage. This would be the end of our stay in the French Polynesia group of islands.

Friday, August 24, 2012

NO diving, he says

We made the 1.5 hour, somewhat tricky inside passage around to the north side of the Island of Bora Bora where large manta rays have made their home. Tricky because you have to make a sharp 'S' turn to navigate through the shallows and coral heads. There are channel markers and they corresponded very well with our very accurate and detailed electronic charts (CMap). So even though we were motoring over very visible shallows with only 1 metre under the keel, we were confident.

Safely anchored

We anchored (S16°29.305' W151°42.197') on August 22nd between 2 large hotels as their line of cabins stretched out into the lagoon. The lagoon here was a spectacular colour. Beneath Sea Turtle and far off into the distance, we could take in the views of the beautiful turquoise light blue waters. We have never seen the light coloured waters stretch so far at any other anchorage. What a magnificent view!

It was a bit rolly here as we anchored near a well-travelled track for boats coming and going to the hotel with their workers and guests.

We snorkelled with friends off SV Lisa Kay and a few other sailors also from this same anchorage. The large manta rays were stunning and visibility was quite good. They tended to stay deep so Jordan dove a few times to get a closer look swimming alongside them.

With 3 tour boats of snorkellers in the area, 1 of the guides told Jordan and all of the other sailors there NOT to free dive as it would harm the mantas. That was ridiculous as there were scuba divers below us going closer than any of us! And none of us ever touched the mantas or got close enough to scare them - they never even noticed us most of the time. So we continued to ignore the guide as he repeated his instructions to us.

While snorkelling, we found another of the same shell that Jordan discovered in Moorea, but bigger and better coloured!

We felt it to be too busy with all of the tourists. And the locals would not allow you on the beach as they claimed it was private. Perhaps they owned the small motus?

A lot of "private" motus...

So on the 24th, we returned back to the other side of the island and anchored by the Bora Bora Yacht Club (S16°29.479' W151°45.674').

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bora Bora

Approaching Bora Bora

We've posted photos of its impressive summits in the distance from Taha'a, another of the Society Islands. But on August 21st after motor-sailing for 5 hours, we finally set the hook (S16°30.057' W151°46.414') at this legendary island. This anchorage was just inside the pass into the lagoon and beside the small sand and palm covered islet, Motu Tapa. The lagoon around the island of Bora Bora is 3 times larger than its land mass.

Bora Bora (about 5,800 inhabitants) is 275 km (170 miles) from Tahiti. This picture perfect atoll is a quintessential paradise setting with its high verdant peaks rising out of the lagoon protected by the barrier reef. It is 9 km long and 4 km wide (5.5 x 2.5 miles).

We soon moved Sea Turtle a bit closer to the main island as we wanted to go out for a late dinner to celebrate our 8th anniversary and we had spotted a nice restaurant overlooking the lagoon. As usual, the meal was very good and very expensive (French Polynesia, after all!)

Jordan presented me with a surprise - a mother-of-pearl bracelet made from large shell pieces. Exquisite! Thanks sweetie!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Coral Gardens

After our tour of the French Polynesian island of Taha'a, we moved Sea Turtle once more away from the mosquitoes to beside a pearl farm (S16°35.258' W151°31.597') where the anchorage was a little deeper than we normally like at almost 17 metres, but it had a great view!

A magic motu (islet) with Bora Bora in background

The next morning, we dinghied over to the pearl farm that presented their product very well in their gift shop but found their prices to be exorbitant - very high retail!

We then moved to anchor by the Coral Gardens (S16°36.314' W151°33.457'). The Coral Gardens are exactly as their name suggests. It looked just like a garden that someone had planted, but with coral, and then filled with a grand selection of tropical aquatic inhabitants.

The Gardens are in a pass between 2 motus (islets) on the outer reef of the lagoon. Most people walk along the shore towards the outer reef and drift snorkel with the current back through, but we doubled our pleasure by snorkelling up and all around and then drifted back. Jordan had an 18-inch stick that he used occasionally to dig out a sea urchin and feed it to a frantic hoard of hungry tropical fish. Consequently it was funny to watch as we were then followed pied-piper-style by the aquatic mass, craving more. Each feeding brought more. Parrot fish, trigger fish, and many more. The Coral Gardens and fish were beautiful, colourful, and fascinating - another first!

Later in the evening, we moved across the bay (S16°36.958' W151°32.661') to an anchorage less windy as the wind had come up.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Vanilla

We were referred by another sailor to a tour guide, Tini. The morning was filled with his tour of the sites of his French Polynesian island Taha'a and the anticipated vanilla plantation. He stopped all along the way pointing out several types of vegetation and telling us that there is a multitude of types of bananas as he explained their growth. He chuckled when Jordan said that Canadians thought there was only one type.

We stopped at his house where he cut up a purple round fruit that he called starfruit. It was different than the starfruit that we had eaten in the Marquesas which was orange and shaped just like a star. This purple fruit had a star shape inside and the whole fruit was delicious (but do not eat the seeds). As his yard was full of fruit trees, he insisted that we go home with a big selection.

Next stop - the vanilla plantation - la Vallée de la Vanille (The Valley of the Vanilla). As soon as we arrived, we were enveloped by the heady aromatic scent of the vanilla. We were shown the vanilla plant, actually one of a thousand plus species of orchid, as it grows on a vine that looks just like green beans growing. The green vanilla pods are picked and left till they turn black.

Vanilla pods

The production process takes about 3 months, once a year. At the proper time, each pod must be massaged several times to release the vanilla scent into the pod (yes, massaged!) When it is ready, it is sold as whole pods or made into vanilla extract, powder, cooking oil, body oil, soap, etc. We bought the whole pods (soft vanilla sticks), vanilla body oil scented with the famous Tiare flower, and a bar of vanilla soap. We also got a jar of volcanic rocks that had been scented with vanilla. The smell in Sea Turtle is intoxicating!

Growing and processing the vanilla is labour intensive and very time consuming which explains the high price of it. The other cottage industry that we saw here and which we have seen throughout French Polynesia is copra production - breaking down and drying out coconuts which are then sent to Tahiti for the final processing into products such as coconut oil.

Judy and Jordan next to coconuts drying out

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Taha'a

Jordan went for a hike to the top of Mount Tapiou of the Society Islands (294 metres, over 1,000 feet high), while I updated the blog. He returned with several outstanding photos.

Mountain top photo: Raiatea looking north to Taha'a

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the north of Raiatea towards another island called Taha'a - the 2 islands share the same lagoon formed by the same reefs that ring both. Taha'a is known as the Vanilla Island where we set the hook at 12:20 (S16°38.133' W151°29.206'). We dinghied ashore to collect information on going for a tour of a vanilla plantation.

After booking an appointment for tomorrow, we decided to move Sea Turtle to a different anchorage out by the reef and free of mosquitoes (S16°38.617' W151°26.763'). As we snorkelled around the reef, we once more accumulated several shells.

Sunday on a motu

Friday, August 17, 2012

Raiatea

We left Moorea, one of the Society Islands, to head for Raiatea on an overnighter at 10:00 on August 15th, arriving and setting anchor at 07:15 on August 16th (S16°49.158' W151°24.956') by the Faaroa River entrance.

We dinghied up the small snaking river past very lush vegetation, quite marrow in places. As we got further up, we had to dodge snags and shallows and eventually had to turn back when several large boulders prevented us from going further. On our way back, we stopped to talk with the local jungle farmers and obtain some of their fresh fruits.

An approaching panga along the Faaroa River

Judy in dinghy with fruits and flowers

In the afternoon, we moved Sea Turtle around to anchor by the town (S16°43.728' W151°26.611') where we wanted to have dinner at a restaurant. But lo and behold, none were to be had! From a street snack shop, we ordered atun frites (thinking we would get fried tuna) and also some chow mein. We received tuna salad along with French fries in a bun and chow mein in another bun! First time for French fries in a bun and chow mein in a bun!

We noticed a poster for Polynesian dancing at a hotel. The performance included live Polynesian music and the dancers were of all ages. We weren't expecting much as, after all, how good could young kids be? Upon arriving, we were asked if we had a reservation, which we did not. The place was packed. Overflowing. We were told we could not have supper but if we bought a drink we could see the performance. We sat on the concrete by the pool and watched a fabulous show.

The kids were absolutely adorable and were surprisingly quite good with their dancing skills! The numerous costumes, much of which were bedecked with real flowers and palm fronds, were beautiful and the skills of the older men and women as they danced to the live music were amazing.

We didn't know they made coconut shells so small!

Notice the hip movement of the little cutie above!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Touring Moorea

We rented a motor scooter on August 11th for 24 hours and drove around Moorea Island which only took a couple of hours to cover the 60 km (37 miles). We had considered staying till later in the evening for festivities at Tiki Village but were disappointed with the rundown appearance of the place so we continued going around the Island. We took a few photos of the views from high up:

Viewpoint of bay below

Sea Turtle at anchorage

Luxury Hilton Hotel - note the protective reef

In some respects, Moorea was a bit of a letdown. While the scenery of jagged lush green peaks is postcard worthy and the clear water snorkelling good, there wasn't much else to captivate one. We were both expecting many sandy beaches but very few nice ones were to be found, in fact that has pretty much been our experience with French Polynesia so far.

We moved to Opunohu Bay (S17°29.447' W149°51.089') on August 13th, where we are told Captain Cook actually landed in 1777 (not in Cook's Bay, his namesake). This was the best bay for postcard-type photos.

Sea Turtle at Opunohu Bay

The snorkelling had been much better at Cook's Bay but Jordan did find a very nice oyster shell - unfortunately no pearl inside! And we later noticed a stingray swimming past Sea Turtle. There is a small section of beach here where we had a picnic lunch and filled a water jug from a most unusual tap.

Jordan getting fresh water for boat wash

(Unfortunately, after leaving here, we discovered from friends that we had missed the great opportunity of swimming with sting rays. It was just up the shore northwest of our anchorage at Opunohu Bay. Standing in waist-deep, crystal clear water, people hand-feed them as they glide by and even rub up against them. They have become so tame that they are not threatened and do not pose a threat to humans. The following photo is courtesy of SV Lisa Kay.)

Young Benjamin of SV Lisa Kay surrounded by sting rays

At this juncture, we started to consider our remaining time allowed. Most of the time, especially away from the busy centers, we didn't pay much attention to time, schedules, or dates. That is the whimsical patternless life of cruising. Generally, the only clock for us is the circadian revolution of the earth. Lost in a time vacuum, we seldom know what day of the week or date of month it is, or seldom consider the time of day. We know not (or care much) what the rest of the world is busy doing as it has no effect on us (ie. politics, wars, etc.). But now we must reluctantly dig out the calendar for our departure from the French Polynesia in 2 or 3 weeks.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Moorea

Approaching Moorea

It was a leisurely 4-hour downwind sail to Cook's Bay on the NW side of the verdant multi-peaked island of Moorea (French Polynesia). As we started out on August 10th, Jordan said that it is the time of year that whales are present in the area. None had been seen so far. Well that was till later in the day, just before entering the bay, outside along the reef we saw 2 whales lazing away in about 50 feet of water.

The pass in through the ringed reef was well marked with channel markers and range markers (2 poles on shore in line with the safe track in). Just inside, we swung left and took a safe anchorage (S17°28.911' W149°48.996'), the hook in 45 feet, but as Sea Turtle swung to an offshore breeze, she lay over a sandy shelf with only 5 feet under her keel. The water was so clear we could see the anchor, shells, and fish below us.

Our first anchorage behind the reef

Cook's Bay

Snorkelling was great. As soon as we were in the water next to Sea Turtle, Jordan spotted large shells and selected a beauty from the white sandy bottom.


This and subsequent snorkels along the reef yielded some nice shells as well as octopus, rays, and the usual myriads of reef fish. One new species was a 2-foot vivid yellow needlefish that swam along beside us undeterred. Another never spotted before was what we think was a Sea Robin according to our fish identification book. This is a very unusual fish with its large wings and bottom trolling feet. Check it out on the internet as we broke our underwater camera.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Toiling and relaxing

The next few days were filled with various activities at the island of Tahiti and onboard Sea Turtle. Cruising life, you may think, is all fun. But there is also a lot of work in maintaining a boat, keeping up with all the necessary repairs, and just daily living jobs. No luxuries aboard Sea Turtle such as a washing machine, dishwasher, microwave, car in the garage, etc.

Boat jobs here included repairing the parted mainsail that blew out a while ago. It is getting old and frail but we want to make it last to New Zealand where sailmakers are readily available and very reasonable. Jordan used spare sail material for patching and spray glue instead of stitching. Doesn't look the best but will do the trick.

The other boat job involved re-plumbing a rather disjointed raw water intake line that had sprung an annoying slow leak. Jordan re-routed the original plumbing and simplified it eliminating 4 connections and hose clamps. The other overdue job was hand-washing all the salon and cockpit cushions to rid them of the accumulated salts for passages gone by.

We enjoyed Papeete's unique evening food fair experience where at 18:00, 15 to 20 mini kitchen vans pull up to the downtown waterfront, set up tables, chairs, and menu boards and offer their culinary selection that ranges from Chinese to pizza to crepes, etc. and with reasonable prices rarely found in French Polynesia. This happens every night of the week and is packed with patrons.

Vans everywhere behind bush

We went to the bountiful market where on its big day, Sunday starting at 04:00 (we slept in and arrived later at 05:00), and stocked up on all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables. Long time since we have been up that early for produce! The market is spread over 7,000 square metres and includes craft booths and fragrant flower arrangements, one of which we bought for Sea Turtle.

Everyday municipal market

Bruce and Jeannie (SV Jabula) joined us one day for a rental car tour of the Island that left us a little disappointed, but we appreciated the Three Faarumai Waterfalls where it was only a 5-minute walk to the first one. If you look close, you can see Bruce and Jeannie in front of 1 of the 3 waterfalls.


Jordan and Judy with Jeannie and Bruce

We could have circumnavigated the island which consists of Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti in about 2 hours without making any stops.

The inner harbour here is never without at least a few mega yachts from all over the world bedecked with ultra expensive tenders and their own helicopter, in many cases. They are worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars and owned by untraceable corporations in tax free ports like Georgetown. Makes you wonder...

Arctic - 1 of many private yachts

Our last activity was taking advantage of the modern supermarket for provisioning where we got pretty much anything we wanted and at a reasonable price. It will be awhile before we see that again. It would also be awhile before we see our good friends Bruce and Jeannie again. We left them behind as they flew home for a few weeks.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Capricious customs

Our first concern upon arriving in Papeete Tahiti was checking in with our Agent. Next was to retrieve a package waiting for us. After a short bus ride and walk, she gave us instructions and directions on where to retrieve the package at the Customs Postal Depot. She had tried several times to pick it up for us but Customs would not release it to her. They stated that personal medical supplies or equipment (which this was) were not allowed to be sent to Tahiti.

The next day in a windless calm we motored out and around to the inner harbour where it would be much closer for us to retrieve our package. At the approach, we had to radio in to get clearance to pass under the airport runway approach off to our right. We took a berth at the City wharf (S17°32.395' W149°34.209') by Med-mooring - stern tying with the bow held off with an anchor line. We took advantage of the water faucet and cleansed Sea Turtle of salt.

Across the bay in the busy commercial sector of container ships and boat yards was our waiting package. So we launched the dinghy, and in only a short jaunt, tied up to a spot across the street from the Customs holding depot.

We approached with trepidation borne from past experiences of dealing with nightmarish experiences with Customs, but also because our Agent had been refused retrieval.

We walked in and handed them the same papers that our Agent had presented to them. The lady walked back into the compound, quickly returned with a box, called over another man who said Sign here, gave us the box, and we blurted Merci (Thank you). We glanced at each other and read in our faces Let's quickly get out of here before they change their mind. So go figure!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

SOCIETY ILES - Tahiti

As we left the Tuamotus, it was a 1-day, 2-night passage to Tahiti in the Society Archipelago. We started out with a nice breeze on a port tack broad reaching doing 6 knots over ground. We reduced sail to slow down the first night. Then about half way, things changed. The winds backed all the way around to SSW and piped up to a stiff breeze making the last 12 hours unpleasant. With the wind on our nose, we did what all sailors hate to do - motored into them - bashing away and barely making 4 knots.

Bruce and Jeannie (SV Jabula) who were within sight of us most of the way, in the end motor sailed by falling off the rhumb line to fill the head sail. This put them in the lee of the big island of Tahiti where the wind change around the island made for a quick sail at the very end, beating us by about 3 hours.

An earlier jesting discussion amongst us needled the gals for never being able to spot land before the guys. So on this passage, the challenge was on. Bruce did everything possible to draw Jeannie's attention to the hazy outline of the peaks of Tahiti by saying things like Is that a boat I see up ahead? but Jeannie never cheered Land Ho! On our boat, it was again the Captain who made the proclamation. I'm sure the challenge will continue.

On this passage, we were treated with the most unusual fish activity. Jordan noticed out of the corner of his eye what at first he thought were dolphins but he didn't see the obvious porpoising. Then we saw churning patches of water of frantic bait fish trying to escape their pelagic predators from below and now trapped between them and the avian predators above. We were going through a huge school of large tuna! They were all around Sea Turtle, and from the bowsprit we could actually see them plain as day speeding past. This rare spectacle kept us enthralled for about half an hour.

Just after noon, we arrived, pulling in behind the reef about 5 miles east of downtown Papeete Tahiti in front of the Yacht Club and dropped the hook in the protected calm (S17°31.340' W149°32.063').

The islands here are ringed with coral reefs offshore providing calm anchorages on the inside. On approach, you can see the obvious change in water colour to a light turquoise. There are various safe breaks or passes through to the inside channel. These channels vary in width from next to nothing to maybe 500 metres (~1,650 feet).