Saturday, April 26, 2014

Pape’ete, Tahiti: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Two weeks ago, Mark and I arrived in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti and French Polynesia, and attached Irie to a mooring ball off Taina Marina in an area called Punaauia. We have so much work to do, stuff to buy, boat projects to fulfill and things to accomplish after over a year of not being able to do anything efficient in regards to the boat and the internet, that we will probably be here a while. Whether we want to or not. As with all civilized and “citylized” places, being in one brings pleasure and dread, and requires a lot of effort, patience, endurance, and money.

The mooring field off Taina Marina with Tahiti in the background

The Good

Broccoli! Fresh mushrooms! Different kinds of meat, cheese and bread! The selection, the air conditioning, the space, the pure joy of shopping in a western-style, mosquito-free, well-lit grocery store (like the Carrefour) pleases many of our deprived senses. We still like chicken, carrots, onions, garlic and cabbage, and we still enjoy a fresh baguette once in a while, but it is mighty nice to have a change in diet for now. Although the abundance of tasty (fatty) foods is already showing a change in “belly looks” as well!

A western-style mall and supermarket

Other (English speaking) cruisers! Yes, we can finally communicate in earnest again and have a social calendar to prove it. The new cruising season has started and a new group of sailors has crossed (and is crossing) the extensive Pacific. We caught up with a few people we met in French Polynesia and the Galapagos last year; they are all here for the same reason: to work on their boats! And, I managed to meet and talk to Yvan Bourgnon, the famous Swiss-French sailor who is trying to set two world records.

BBQ/potluck on one of the docks at Taina Marina - Mark and Lily are getting some meat

Marine stores! There are a few “real” marine stores – although as with most of the stores here, the choices, availability and prices in Panama were much better – so we have managed to check some items off our “to buy” list. Now, we still have to find (or order) the other 95 items…
The wireless internet is not too bad. Some providers truly suck – yes, even here, Ioranet is deficient - but after a few tries and tons of money, we think we found some reliable internet, most of the time…
English (and tourism) is more common here, so communicating with the locals and the French ex-pats is much easier, especially for Mark.

Full moon over Tahiti or "Under the Tahitian moon", as Porno for Pyros sings appropriately

The view of Mo’orea across the channel and a full moon above the Tahitian hills is something honeymooners and other vacationers pay hundreds of dollars for and enjoy from their hotel balconies. All we have to do is drop anchor or pick up a mooring and look around us.

Sunset over Mo'orea, Tahiti's sister island, about 10 miles away

The Bad

The cost of everything but baguettes (and the usual subsidized items – chicken, rice, pasta, sugar, milk, the four vegetables …) is outrageous. Now that we can finally touch the items we have so long desired, we have to consider whether they are worth the high price. Of course, we splurged on some goat cheese, croissants, salami and ice cream the first couple of days, but now we are back to “the usual” food stuffs, with something extra here and there. Tomatoes cost $4 a pound, zucchini $5 (we have not eaten any of these yet), chicken breast $14 a pound (when I wrote chicken before, it meant whole chicken – frozen). Boat products cost twice the price than in the States, alcohol – other than beer ($2 a bottle) - is still unaffordable (the cheapest wine costs $8 a bottle, drinkable rum costs over $40 a bottle) and tax and import duty is high. To order something into the country (with a value of over $300 including the shipping costs, which are taxed as well!), you need to use an agent, who charges $250 and up. This would add 20% to the cost of a new jib ordered from abroad for example. On the other hand, if we would buy a new jib here, it would cost four times more.

Billboards and fruit stands - $11 for 4 small pineapples or one watermelon

Pape’ete is a city, so… it is busy. Four to six lane roads, traffic jams, cars parked everywhere, people crowding the stores, dinghies buzzing back and forth in the anchorage and local boat traffic creating massive wakes, especially in the weekends. There is music, there are fumes, there is garbage, there is smoke from fires, grit from construction, and noise from landing planes. Parts of the mooring field consist of garbage, seaweed and scum, making showering impossible and creating massive stains on our waterline. Many people make Taina Marina their home, so the selection of moorings is very limited. A spot in the marina itself costs $60 a night for a catamaran of 35 feet (no weekly or monthly fees) in this high season. But, they are full at the moment anyway. The World ARC fleet is here…

Traffic and four lane roads in front of the marina and along the road to Carrefour

The heat and the hassle trying to locate necessary boat items are very draining. The sun, especially when there is no wind, can be relentless. The distances between useful stores are big. There is a main bus route (every trip costs $2 per person which adds up quickly) to and from the city, but most of the time, we are walking for hours to get to a store, only to discover that they don’t have anything we need – either it is not in stock, unavailable or the wrong size.

The ugly

I will just repeat here that Pape’ete is a city and that comes with the ugliness of a city: noise, smells, dirt, crime, crowds, garbage, expense, and lack of authenticity. It sometimes reminds us of a third world country, but with higher than first world prices.

Parking lot at the Carrefour grocery store

It is possible, however, to find a relatively remote mooring ball or spot to anchor and forget about it all, until you have to take that 30 minute dinghy ride to amenities and facilities again! :-)

Meeting up with Mark and Marian from SV Zenna and getting to know Emma, who took care of SV Liward during the owners' absence

Sister island Mo'orea during the day

Ma Louloute on a mooring ball in front of Marina Taina during Yvan's visit in Tahiti

Yvan Bourgnon and his wife Nadia, who joined the support boat in Fakarava

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fakarava to Tahiti – A Two Day Trip in Pictures

It took Irie 50 hours to sail from South Fakarava to Taina Marina in Papeete, Tahiti. Our experiences of that trip can be read in the posts underneath. The first 24 hours went well, then the conditions mellowed and the second night was a relatively slow one, with Tahiti waking up when we rounded the north coast. Once close to the land, where the mountains dominate, the wind disappeared slowly with us stubbornly sailing on at 2 knots, until it totally disappeared and we had to motor the last hour towards the mooring field. The sky was blue and the sea was flat. Tahiti, here we are!

Passing the resort in Tetamanu Village on our way out of Fakarava Lagoon

Fakarava south pass with the wind (15 knots) and the tide (2 knots) coming in - not too challenging!

Yvan Bourgnon passing us on the way to Tahiti in Ma Louloute, doing 14 knots!

Towards sunset on day 2, while flying the spinnaker, we caught a decent size mahi mahi (dorado)

Sailing west - into the sunset

Approaching Venus Point in Tahiti around 6am - the island is waking up

Irie still had to go a long and slow way to the east side of the island

Sunrise in our not too rippled wake

Moorea - 15 miles from Tahiti - at dawn

A whole bunch of fish before we reach the reef and the mooring field: time to throw out the fishing line one more time (in vain)

House boats inside the reef and Moorea in the background

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Last Impressions of Fakarava and the Tuamotus

Our last days in Fakarava and in the Tuamotus were quite enjoyable. For many reasons, however, it was time for us to move on to Tahiti and civilization after 15 months of cruising and staying "in the boonies"! Here are some more pictures of South Fakarava - one of our favorite places to visit by boat.

One of the first "new arrivals" this cruising season - how to NOT anchor: drop your anchor on a coral head instead of one of the many sandy patches around it, and put four floats on your short chain instead of  one or two 1/3 of the way of your sufficient length of chain, to keep it off the coral... 

In between two motus

Walking towards the outer reef

The ocean crashing on the outer reef, right at the drop-off

Pushed into the lagoon by the current

Mark's last beer on board is a Belgian beer ("Leste"), home brewed by Wim, my cousin Griet's husband. Very tasty and unique and .. he is allowed to bring some more on his next visit to Irie! :-)

Sunset in Fakarava's lagoon

Yvan Bourgnon working on his small "beach cat" - without cabin -  Ma Louloute with which he is sailing around the world to set a couple of records.

Pretty reef and pretty fish near the resort in the South Fakarava pass

And... more sharks to snorkel with

One of the many black-tip reef sharks in South Fakarava

This one lost the top part of his dorsal fin

Swimming with sharks

Hello, big one!

We couldn't get enough of our grey companions

Swiss-Frenchman Yvan Bourgnon taking his little cat for a spin in the lagoon, in front of Irie

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tuamotus - Societies: Day 2: Uneventful

Not sure what happened to the weather, but are we ever, here in the Pacific? The stationary front NOAA has been predicting for days either did not exist, or we sailed right  through it without noticing... Instead of the 20-25 knots from the east which we were anticipating, it has been blowing about 10 from the east-southeast, varying about 30° to keep us on edge. The drop in wind started last night - with some annoying boom banging and sail flogging - and is still present. We flew the spinnaker during the day, which pushed Irie forward at 4-5 knots. At the same speed we are now slowly closing in on Tahiti. No need to purposefully slow us down anymore; we plan to reach the coast at daybreak before moving on to Taina Marina. And, no need to complain in these mellow and comfortable conditions!

Other than some sail changes, mealtimes and naps, there is not much going on at sea. Oh yeah, we did catch a decent size mahi mahi (dorado) close to sunset, the cleaning up of which took some time. While the moon is getting fuller and the sky is as bright as ever, I can see the first lights of Tahiti. The hustle and bustle of Papeete, French Polynesia's capital, will soon engulf us. Mark and I plan to go crazy in the Carrefour Hypermarket (We haven't seen a big - and affordable - grocery store in 15 months), are looking forward to eating out (which we have done only once this year, right before we left Taiohae in Nuku Hiva) and plan to accomplish a few important and outstanding boat projects. We can't wait! :-)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tuamotus - Societies: Day 1 - Speedy and Salty Start

Time: 1730UTC, COG 260T, SOG 5.0kts, Distance Remaining: 123nm

It was 6am and Mark and I were up and ready to go to Tahiti in the Society Islands. But first, we had to wait and debate for two hours... Wait for the sun to get higher, so we could see enough to safely leave the coral strewn anchorage; debate whether we should go or wait yet another day for better
conditions. The weather predictions - I should really start calling them weather contradictions - were less than ideal for our 260 mile trip to Tahiti. After some contemplation and the realization that the forecast is never spot on (Hey, things might actually turn out better than we are led to believe - the front between us and our destination might dissipate or move instead of being stubbornly stationary...), we decided to lift anchor. We are out of food and have things to do in the big city!

The pass in South Fakarava can be a tricky one, especially when it has been blowing 15-20 knots out of the SE, the way the cut is faced. An outgoing current would oppose the wind and means standing waves and dangerous conditions. We knew the tide was coming in when we left and we had about 2 knots of current against us. Not a problem. Back in the ocean, the seas were big and lumpy around Fakarava. The first thing I did was have a wave crash over me while we sailed around the south part of the island. A salty start of the journey. The second thing I did, once on course, was puke over the
side of the boat. I guess I have gotten used to those slow, mellow conditions during previous passages. Back to bed I went.

We received a call on the VHF and saw some sails approach behind us. It was the Swiss born Frenchman on Ma Louloute, who we had seen the morning before in the lagoon of Fakarava and who was practicing and testing some things on his small Hobie Cat-like boat near us in the afternoon. We chatted with him on the radio a bit and hope to meet up again in Papeete, Tahiti's capital. He is on his way around the world in an open 20 foot catamaran, trying to set the record as "smallest boat to sail around the world" and "first sailboat to do so without a cabin". I'm sure if you google this boat, you
will come up with some interesting facts. I forgot his name, though. He passed Irie at 12-14 knots, twice the speed we were doing!

After that entertaining talk, I stared at the horizon for the rest of the day. The wind blew 15-20 knots from the ESE (behind us), the waves were about 7-10 feet and Irie sped along at 6-7 knots, pretty much on course. She was doing OK, despite getting hit by a shark the evening prior. One of our
grey pets bumped against a rudder when fighting for a piece of chicken skin that ended overboard. Ouch!

At night the conditions mellowed down a bit and our progress slowed to around 5 knots. We expect the trip to take about 48 hours, but we might have to slow down once we approach Tahiti as to avoid going through the surrounding reefs at night. By the time we arrive in the Taina Marina area, Ma Louloute will have beaten us by 24 hours!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

South Fakarava - A Highlight in the Tuamotus?

People told us that in the month of April, the weather in the Tuamotus would improve. People also told us that the south part of Fakarava is very nice and a must-see in this archipelago. People were right on both accounts! The weather has been perfect the last week and a bit: sunny skies, and a constant breeze of about 15 knots out of the east. And south Fakarava? It is a wonderful and beautiful place to be and every morning I wake up and I look outside, a smile as bright as the sunlight appears and I am eager to start the day… Let us be reminded how great it can be to live on a sailboat in the South Pacific!

Some of the motus on our horizon

We left the remote eastern anchorage of the atoll a few days ago and had a fun and fast sail over to the south part. Irie flew on a beam reach in the flat lagoon water and arrived on the southern end around noon, a perfect time to see all the coral heads scattered around the anchorage SW of the pass. With some concentrated conning, we found a place amongst the dark spots, two connected floats keeping the chain above the coral head closest to Irie, our anchor set well in white sand 16 feet underneath. The water is crystal clear, seven black tip reef sharks constantly circle the boat and the view to shore consists of a string of palm fringed motus with sandy beaches – the first ones we have seen in the Tuamotus. Exploring the waters around them by dinghy makes for fun excursions. Jumping in the water for a shower is always an exciting event.

Part of our resident family of sharks

The main reason people visit this part of Fakarava is to dive or snorkel the pass, where hundreds of sharks reside: white tips, black tips and greys. The visibility is reported to reach 100 feet at times and when we floated by, the abyss and groups of divers were spotted at least 70 feet underneath. It is an eerie and thrilling feeling to see the coral wall go down so deep, where fish turn into little specks and where “tiny” sharks rest on the bottom with their fins spread wide. Everything at those depths looks dull and dark from above and the amount and distance of the sharks we encountered was not exciting enough for me, except, when one approached Mark from behind while he was towing the dinghy. His reaction when I pointed out the grey animal near his feet was classic!

Keep a close eye out!

When we approached the shallower area near shore (where a dive shop and resort are located), it became very interesting. The fish were colorful and abundant, the reefs vibrant and the increased shark population moved about at eye level! Mark stayed at a respectable distance, but how cool it is to snorkel alongside these mellow but vicious looking creatures! For the sake of a picture and a movie, or even without those excuses, it is worth the thrill to swim amongst their midst and I didn’t know where to look first. A place to come back again and again. Even when you wade around in the sandy shallows, the sharks keep you company as if you were their best friend. Families with kids – locals and tourists – don their masks and fins and observe these sharks in their beautiful and natural surroundings.  How many North American parents reading this are raising their eyebrows at this very moment? J

Sharks of the deep blue

And of the not so deep blue

Now, we’re talking!

Don’t wiggle your toes, Mark…

Mark and I are very happy to have come to this place and to finally enjoy ourselves a bit. The location and the atmosphere are inducing to do boat projects and the schedule “work in the morning and play in the afternoon” suits us well. To us, cruising really is “living and working on your boat in exotic places” and for now, while being in a comfortable place, we don’t mind it at all!

Church of the small village of Tetamanu

Abandoned house from the time Tetamanu was the capital of the Tuamotus

Idyllic setting for a resort

Bridge to part of the resort

Turtle in Fakarava’s South pass – at least 50 feet down

Back to our area – motu land!

Clearer water than in the San Blas

Paradise found?

Visiting the motus and their sand banks

Time for our honeymoon… Can we pretend to be rich and stay here?

White tip reef shark

Snorkeling in south Fakarava is gorgeous

Another shark encounter…

(Our excuses for the granular pictures. Blogs are posted via email over crappy 2G connections)