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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tahaa, the Vanilla Island

We managed to stock up on eggs and baguettes at the little store in Baie Ereea from which I last wrote. We took the dinghy over to a ramp-like opening in the wall at the covered football (soccer) court and it was easy enough for John to land me while he waited in the dinghy. I walked to the road, took a right and the store was only a block away on the left. They apparently have two baguette deliveries so if you don't feel like getting up at 0600, you can go in at 2:30 PM for fresh bread.

After another night of >30 kt gusts we decided we'd had enough. Our anchor held without any problem, but it was nerve wracking being in such a tight, shallow area, filled with coral heads. If anything went wrong, it would have been difficult to maneuver in the middle of the night. Of course since we left, our friends have had nothing but nice calm nights.

So on Saturday we departed for Tahaa in wind and rain. By the time we were inside the lagoon again at the north end of Raiatea, and could see Quixotic anchored just north of Passe Rautoanui, John had had enough of standing out in the rain. We nosed along the edge of the sand on the reef side until we found a spot with few coral heads, and dropped anchor in 40' of water on the sandy slope. We figured the anchor couldn't drag uphill and so we didn't mind ending up on top of the sandy shelf with 9-12' under our keel. Ed and Nila invited us over for happy hour on Quixotic and we enjoyed a slide show of their six months of travel by caravan in New Zealand. It's a spectacular country and we would love to do the same thing some day.

{GMST}16|44.681|S|151|29.662|W|Opposite Pte Tenape near Baie Faafau|Raiatea{GEND}

It rained again the next morning but there was a long enough break for us to finally sail to Tahaa. We stayed inside the lagoon all the way and enjoyed the flat water and well marked channel. Our Bonnette guide book highly recommends the Vanilla Tour offered by Alain Plantier in Baie Hurepiti. This is a very deep bay with four mooring buoys at its head. We weren't certain of where the Plantier home was and we picked up a mooring in front of the clearly signed dock for "Sophie Boutique" thinking that perhaps that was the place (our guide book is over 10 years old). There were no other boats in the bay. We ate lunch and made a circuit of the shore by dinghy hoping someone would come out to greet us at one of the docks. We found the Vanilla Tour dock just next door, but didn't land the dinghy at either place in case there were dogs on guard. We verified that two of the moorings are clearly marked as being reserved for the Boutique and two are less clearly marked for the Vanilla Tour. Since no one had come out to chase us off we weren't too concerned about being on a mooring without a reservation until late in the day when three charter boats arrived one after another. The first boat took its passengers to the boutique dock and John zipped in to speak to Sophie and a charter crew member who were now on the dock. We could stay on our mooring for the night even though it had been reserved for their boat and we could wait until morning to pay a visit ashore. So it finally became clear to us that no cruising boats would have reason to stop at what is essentially a tourist place. The charter boats come in to shop for souvenirs or to take a tour, with the bonus of having an overnight mooring.

The next morning we made a brief visit to the boutique (which had a lovely variety of expensive gifts) where we found a brochure for the Vanilla Tour company. The 2009 rate sheet listed a four hour island tour at 5500 CFP per person. We walked down the road a bit and decided not to stop in at the Plantier place to inquire about 2010 prices since we felt it was already higher than we wanted to pay. On our way back through the boutique property we met Sophie who was just leaving to visit her husband in the hospital. She explained she was late and her children were also arriving from Papeete. She apologized for being so rushed and told us she would be back later. We hadn't planned to stay longer and felt that since she'd never made any mention of payment for the mooring, we were clear to depart.

It was a gorgeously landscaped home below a lightly traveled road with friendly and well-cared for dogs and cats. Until we realized how much she had going on in her life, we had planned to approach Sophie about the possibility of adopting Ziggy. We're coming to the realization that as interesting as he can be, we would far prefer a cat with a loud purr who enjoys being petted and loved. We love Ziggy very much and he seems to enjoy our company but only on his terms. He's recently bitten me twice without much provocation (once on my arm when he demanded his breakfast and I was still laying in bed, and once on the bridge of my nose when I made the mistake of trying to touch noses in friendship). We would also like to return to cruising unencumbered by the limitations imposed by having an animal aboard. So we'll be on the lookout for a new home for him along our way.

{GMST}16|38.634|S|151|30.980|W|Baie Hurepiti|Tahaa{GEND}

On Monday we checked out Ile Tautau but it was too windy to anchor there so we motored across to Baie Tapuamu instead where we anchored in 75' next to the road on the north side of the bay. This is the main port of Tahaa where the supply ships load/unload cargo. But you wouldn't know it by the sleepy little village. Behind the ship quay there is an enclosed small boat basin, a gas station, and a small store with groceries, fresh baguettes, and sundries. There is also a public phone booth but neither the store nor the gas station sold OPT phone cards. The next day we went back in to ask about filling our water jugs and were directed to a small tap on the side of gas station wall which we had missed in our search for water the day before. John went back to Nakia for a longer length of hose and we were then able to fill all our jugs without taking them out of the dinghy (which is always a good thing). We topped our tanks and started a load of laundry soaking before raising anchor and motoring all of one mile back across to the motu Tautau.

{GMST}16|36.850|S|151|32.700|W|Baie Tapuamu|Tahaa{GEND}

JW's guide to French Polynesia is the only source we have that talks in specific terms about the coral garden at this motu, most of which is a private resort complete with thatched huts out over the water. We snorkeled it twice and found it to be best at the end nearest the reef where the water is clearer and it's somewhat less trafficked. We were appalled to see tourists being led by local guides over the top of the very shallow, but very alive, coral. Everyone wore shoes - from crocs, to jellies, to flip flops - and I saw broken coral in the deeper channel through which they swim out. Oh well, it's their coral garden. Both times we snorkeled I found a crown of thorns sea star busily eating the coral. John knocked it off the coral and then got it to attach to a big piece of rock that he could hold without touching the poisonous animal. We were close enough to the rocky shore that he could take it high above the waterline to die. We found the first one melted into a slimy mass overrun by hermit crabs and flies the next day. So that was our good deed for the coral garden.

{GMST}16|36.302|S|151|33.488|W|Ile Tautau|Tahaa{GEND}

It was calm enough for us to spend a couple of nights at Tautau. During the day it was overrun by charter and tour boats, but by evening we usually had the anchorage all to ourselves. A few boats moved to the southern end for a better view of Bora Bora at sunset. Each afternoon "Norbert" came by in his skiff wearing a straw hat to offer us the limes, coconuts, papayas, and pamplemousse he had for sale. We enjoyed the settled weather there but today we returned to Tapuamu to meet up with Blue Bottle for an evening. John is going to help Joe fill his propane tanks using the drain-one-tank-into-another method with the special fitting that we have on Nakia. In the meantime John is equalizing our batteries which means running the generator most of the day, which is why I have so much time on the computer!