Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Back to Usual on Irie

From the moment Mark and I arrived back to Irie in Tahiti from the United States, where we spent over three months for health reasons, we have been extremely busy. First, we had to get the boat ready to be lived and sailed on again, then we had to do massive shopping and cleaning, and get back to the daily errands. In the meantime, Mark was - and still is - working extremely hard on a new line of the Wirie products (more about that in a couple of months) and I keep up with writing articles.

Taha'a, seen from Mt. Tapioi
After a few weeks, we finally visited Moorea, which alluringly laid on the horizon for many months while we were in Tahiti. We had a fabulous (but still busy) time there, something we had been looking forward to for half a year. In the beginning of October, we prepared our boat for visitors (cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, stocking up on water and fuel …) and moved back to Tahiti, where we awaited the arrival of my cousin Griet and her husband Wim. With them, we saw a lot of sights and quite a few islands, while we sailed west all the way to Taha’a in the Leeward Society Islands.

Loading up the Maupiti Express
Unfortunately, we did not make it to Bora Bora, due to un-cooperating weather and the fact that we don’t like to motor if we don’t really have to. Plus, after hosting and entertaining two guests for two weeks, while moving the boat a lot, keeping up with the daily chores and boat errands, and dealing with work stuff, Mark and I were pretty exhausted. Which doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great and special time with my family, of course!! They are the perfect boat guests and it is always a pleasure to have them on Irie!

Our visitors on their way to Bora Bora
With the silhouette of Bora Bora visible just across 25 miles of ocean, Griet and Wim took a ferry there (Maupiti Express – 5500 xpf/person/one way) and left us on October 24th to spent the last days of their holiday on the “Pearl of the Pacific”. Mark and I stayed on the city dock of Uturoa, Raiatea, to change Irie back from “vacation mode” to “living and maintaining mode”: the tools came back out, the guest bunk filled up with stuff again, the computers appeared permanently, and Mark and I focused back on errands and work full time; this time it is Bora Bora luring on the horizon!

The wind totally dropped for almost a week. The days on the dock became intolerable with the heat and the mosquitoes. On Sunday, we woke early and finally climbed Mount Tapioi ourselves to enjoy the expansive view over the lagoon and the surrounding Leeward islands. Even on the way back down, we dripped with sweat from the sun and the humidity. 

The following day, we moved to motu Aito across the channel to anchor in 6 feet of clear water and sandy bottom. The (unmarked) entrance to this beautiful anchorage is a bit tricky, but doable with a shallow draft boat and in good light. The lagoon is super flat and the anticipated breeze is holding off for a few more days, but Mark and I are very happy to be back at anchor and to be surrounded by peace, blue skies and a tropical environment of breaking reefs, a little islands, and azure waters with black tip reef sharks, puffer fish and stingrays! 

Griet and Wim ready to leave with the shell necklaces we gave them for a "happy return to French Polynesia" in the future

Uturoa, French Polynesia's second biggest "city", with the marina and motu Aito

Motu Aito, our destination after Uturoa - a very nice anchorage!

Taha'a (with Bora Bora to its left) and the lagoon, seen from Mount Tapioi

The east side of the lagoon, Huahine under the clouds and some motus, seen from Mount Tapioi

Weekly cruise ship in Uturoa, Raiatea

VERY flat lagoon during the "no wind" days

Stingray in the shallow anchorage seen from Irie

Huahine to the east, during sunset

Romance in the anchorage

Huahine on a hot and clear day

Laundry day on Irie - in a nice setting!

Thai papaya salad; a time consuming endeavor

Rainbow over the Aito anchorage

Charterers walking on the (calm!) outer reef - a normal thing to do here, apparently...

Orangeband surgeon fish

Picasso trigger fish protecting its hole

If only all of these pretty shells were empty...

Stingray under water - no coral here, but lots of life

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Raiatea and Taha’a: First Impressions

Plans change… all the time!

Before our guests Griet and Wim disappeared into “their” hull and bunk on Saturday night, about a week ago, we told them they could sleep in, and promised them a nice Sunday brunch and relaxing afternoon. We would drop them off onshore, since Mark and I needed to do some work, and have an easy day. The weather to go west did not look very promising, but we still hoped to sail to Taha’a from Huahine the following day.

After a steamy and mosquito ridden night in Fare’s anchorage – the boats lay into the current instead of the wind here – Mark and I woke up and turned on our computers as usual.  When checking the weather forecast, things had changed again. Monday didn’t look feasible at all anymore to reach Taha’a, or even Raiatea, in the WNW winds. Our only chance to get there with Griet and Wim was to leave … right away! We turned into “action” mode, ignoring all the other work and plans at hand, and readied Irie for another 25 mile trip. “I think we are leaving,” I heard Wim call to Griet, when he emerged from downstairs. Preparations from Mark and me, a quick breakfast and then: all hands on deck! Within half an hour of reading the change in weather, we lifted Irie’s anchor and steered towards the pass to leave Huahine.

Our goal was to reach the east coast of Taha’a – we still had to figure out what to do and where to go from there, since we didn’t have the time to check any cruising guides or charts – but from the moment we entered the unprotected waters, our plotted course was impossible to maintain. Irie sailed as close to the (light) wind as possible, in hopes of at least reaching Raiatea, the island south of Taha’a, but in the same protected lagoon. Griet and Wim didn’t feel too well on this upwind haul and I frantically read about all the possible anchorages and mooring options in Raiatea. This time, I had shaken my bottle of seasickness drops before taking some and I felt fine!

Uturoa in Raiatea

Skimming through the “Societies Compendium” cruising guide, none of the anchorages on Raiatea’s east and north coast sounded attractive or appealing, and people warned against staying at the town dock, so we hadn’t decided on our final destination yet when approaching the island. The last hour, Mark hand steered, so we could make Raiatea’s most northern pass to get into the protective lagoon. No squalls had hit us, but the sky was very grey, so a reef anchorage was out of the question. We poked Irie’s bows into the public basin of Uturoa, the capital of Raiatea, and decided to tie up on the town dock, rest for a night and regroup.

Irie rarely spends time on a dock (because of possible damage while docking, noise, safety issues, rats, lack of wind, incessant heat, and mosquitoes), but this one is not too bad, and free! It is so easy to just hop off and run errands, especially with a Champion supermarket in view… And, during a rainy period, being on the dock gives some options of things to do, like grocery and souvenir shopping, which is what we did over the coming days. Griet and Wim climbed Mount Tapioi and were rewarded by a beautiful view once the clouds cleared. We had dinner at a roulette, cooked some nice meals, and caught up on a few work-related issues. An outside shower “with a view” was located nearby, and we picked up free WiFi with our Wirie.

Taha’a coral garden

When the weather improved a bit – still no wind – we motored to the west side of Taha’a, Raiatea’s little neigbor to the north, and anchored on a sandy bank near a few motus. The water was clear; the view of palm covered motus lovely. And, the contours of Bora Bora lured in the background. Finally, we felt like we were in a South Pacific paradise – an image conjured up endlessly by the notion of this area.

After lunch, we filled the dinghy with snorkel gear and headed to the most beautiful “over the water” bungalow resort we have seen since being here. Between its grounds and the motu to the north lays an exquisite natural aquarium rarely stumbled upon… Some of the best coral and the tamest, most colorful fish live here. The area has a little channel in the middle where the current offers you a ride through, while floating. The whole experience feels like a weightless amusement park ride. All you have to do is walk a path (sand, rocks and sharp coral) to the north side of the motu, don your mask and jump in! The current swooshes you through the coral garden, and, without flippers to slow your speed, you barely stand a chance to pause and take pictures of the many healthy creatures along the way!

Another rainy day followed. Griet and Wim managed to get a ride to the coral garden again with our friend Giorgio and his guest VĂ©ronique, while we focused on other things. In the afternoon, we all set out by dinghy and tried to explore some of the other motus. The overwhelming clouds of attacking mosquitoes on shore made us change our minds, however, so we – once again – ended up in the coral garden! The choice between buzzing and stinging mosquitoes or fluttering fishes of all sizes and colors is easily made...

Irie on the dock, seen from the cruise ship terminal

Mount Tapioi with the Champion grocery store in front

Another delicious and healthy meal on Irie - all inside because of the rain!

Skyline - with Mount Tapioi - of Uturoa on a sunny morning

Sunset from western Taha'a with Bora Bora in the distance, between the motus

Pizza dinner on Irie with Giorgio, Veronique, Wim and Griet

Bora Bora in between the motus

Irie and Hoa Motu near the coral garden in Taha'a

Conclusion of a beautiful day - margaritas!

Griet did yet another fantastic job of being Irie's dishwasher - we will miss her! :-)

Beautiful resort with over-the-water-bungalows in Taha'a

After a painful, barefoot walk over pointy coral, it is time for our first visit to the coral garden!

Mask and flippers on and there we go, into the current!

Griet and abundant Pacific double-saddle butterflyfish

Gorgeous sea anemones

Schools of fish

And colorful coral and anemones

Mark spotted a big cowry shell... I wish it were empty!

Pacific double-saddle butterflyfish

Another massive and pretty sea anemone

And its mouth

Funny looking bird wrasse

Picasso triggerfish

Guineafowl puffer on healthy coral