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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Taking it slow

Saturday, August 21

Nothing very exciting to report for the last week and a half, but here are some of the highlights.

From our favorite anchorage on the mostly sandy reef opposite Pt. Tenape in Uturoa, Raiatea we made a return trip to our other favorite anchorage in Baie Tapuamu on Tahaa. Only this time it took three tries before the hook finally found some sandy mud. John was trying to get us positioned a little farther away from our previous spot next to the coral reef on the north side of the bay in anticipation of some forecasted southerlies. In the end we were fine in the same old place, and we spent two nights there while we topped our water tanks from the gas station, did several loads of laundry, and filled up on both diesel and gasoline. This would be an ideal location if only the people in the store were a little friendlier and the dogs on shore a little quieter. Otherwise it's nice and peaceful and has everything we need with easy access to shore in the small boat harbor. Norbert even stopped by to sell us some more bananas and play us a song on his ukulele.

Our laundry chores have been greatly eased with the gift of a spinner machine from Quixotic. They thought theirs was broken and arranged to have a new one delivered by a friend visiting from the States. In the meantime Ed managed to fix the old one, and they insisted we give it a whirl. We still do the washing and rinsing in buckets, but the spinner really cuts down on the amount of wringing we have to do. It also does such a good job of spinning out the soapy water that we're able to reduce the amount of fresh water needed for rinsing. We're able to run it on our inverter and we use it on the side deck where it can drain right out the scupper. We were concerned about taking on "one more thing" but for now it fits nicely in our (unused) shower (along with a couple of water jugs). We are so glad Ed and Nila talked us into taking such a wonderful gift!

The weather was settled so we decided to continue a circumnavigation of Tahaa. First we explored Baie Apu where the Taravana Yacht Club is located. Although we had heard wonderful things about Richard and the YC dinners we were reluctant to spend the money for a mooring. There were a few boats anchored near the mooring field but we weren't comfortable anchoring in 90+' of water. We even nosed all the way in behind Ile Toapuhi - which would have been a long dinghy ride from the YC - but never found anything less than 90'. Several of our friends recommended the Tuesday YC buffet and show, but we'll save the $60 per person for something else.

We continued on to Ile Mahaea near Passe Toahotu to anchor in about 8' of water over a sandy shelf near a few catamarans. We had an uninteresting snorkel out near the reef. Our second day there we drift snorkeled the pass where there was mostly dead coral and no big fish, but we did see a nice variety of colorful eels. John took the dinghy back to Nakia so I could swim the rest of the way by myself over a shallow sandy bottom. I stopped to watch a pretty little nudibranch and eventually counted six of them in the general vicinity. I had passed over an old conch shell, but when I turned back to look at it again there was a tiny octopus crawling out from under it. It came most of the way out of its home, holding onto the outside of the shell with three tentacles. It's always amazing to me that there's so much to see in an otherwise barren looking area.

{GMST}16|38.380|S|151|25.670|W|Ile Mahaea|Tahaa{GEND}

On Tuesday we got an early start back down to Tautau with a brief stop in Patio for groceries. This was our third time to Patio but we were disappointed that we never saw again the lovely French bread of that first visit with Gloria Maris. On to Tautau where, instead of anchoring off the reef in front of the coral garden, we opted for the sandy shallow area to the south of the motu. We think this is the nicest spot for watching Bora Bora's impressive profile in the sunset, but it can get very choppy if the wind is up. Sidewinder and Freedom joined us for their first visit to the coral garden and they agreed that it isn't anything all that special. But when everyone else was out of the water and John and I were bringing up the rear, he motioned for me to swim back to him against the current. I was thinking "this better be worth it" because I was already cold. Well boy, when I looked where he was pointing I saw something the size of a small sea lion and realized it was about two feet of moray eel sticking out from its hidey hole. Then John told me to look carefully because the eel's mouth was wide open and a tiny cleaner fish was actually disappearing into the black void to take care of some eel dental work! I'm not sure novice snorkeling tourists would really enjoy seeing a huge eel, but our guess it that it's gotten so big from being fed by the tour guides.

{GMST}17|32.420|S|149|34.228|W|Ile Tautau South|Tahaa{GEND}

We were anxious to catch up with Quixotic again so we left the next day for Bora Bora where we are again anchored in about 8' over sand. This time John got curious about the exact difference between what our depth sounder reads and how much water is really under our keel, so he got out the metal yard stick and dove down to the bottom. We now know that we have 18" between us and the sand here. We are a bit of a novelty as most monohulls stick to deeper water, and we've even had a couple of dinghies stop by to ask us how much water we're anchored in. We don't mind shallow as long as the bottom is sand or mud, and there's nothing like the feeling of being anchored in a swimming pool. On one clear night John woke up and went out on deck to check on things, and to his amazement he watched a spotted eagle ray swim by Nakia in the moonlight.

We were excited to see John and Kara on Orca underway just after we came in the pass. They followed us over to drop the hook for a couple of hours to prepare for their passage to the Cook Islands. After they stowed the last of their gear and gave Orca a final scrub, John sent them off with a blast of his horn, and they sailed out of the lagoon with their drifter up in the light breeze. We hope to keep track of them (along with Gloria Maris, now at Penrhyn) by HF radio until they get out of range.

Our first night here we were invited to dinner on Quixotic to say farewell to Joe and Adrienne on Blue Bottle before they left for Tonga on Thursday. This is just one of several dinner and happy hour exchanges that we've shared with our friends from various boats recently. Most boats are heading off in one of two directions to the Cooks and Tonga, but there are a few that may be headed in our, third, more unusual direction. In the meantime we're taking life slow and enjoying the scenery and the company of interesting people.

{GMST}16|30.654|S|151|46.368|W|Ile Topua|Bora Bora{GEND}

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Wednesday, August 11

We're back in the general vicinity of Uturoa, Raiatea to fill our propane tanks before we go to Bora Bora. This time we're sharing our special transfer hose with Quixotic. The hose has one end that connects to the local tank's fitting and another end which connects to our U.S. style fitting. The idea is that you hang the local tank up high somewhere (like in your rigging) and drain the gas out of that tank into your tank which is down on deck. It usually works pretty well although sometimes you can't get all the gas out of the local tank. Then you return the (mostly empty) local tank to the store where you bought it to get your deposit back on the bottle.

Gas wasn't available at the village in Tapuamu so the guys had to dinghy up to the next bay to the village of Murifenua to get a full bottle. The Chinese people running the store there were much friendlier than the people in Tapuamu so we were happy to give them the business. Apparently as of August 1 the price of propane/butane has risen a whopping 130 CFP per 13 kilo bottle and the locals bought up all the full bottles at the old price. So until they use up the gas and return the empties, full bottles are in short supply. We managed to get the one for Blue Bottle right after a supply ship arrived, and when the guys returned the empty, all the full ones were sold out again (I guess by the people who aren't hoarding the cheaper bottles!).

The tank for Blue Bottle was slow to drain so we ended up spending an extra night at quiet little Tapuamu before heading north to meet up with Gloria Maris on Sunday. We talked about meeting them at the main town of Patio at the north end of Tahaa, but the wind had cranked up and we back-tracked a little to Baie Pueheru for much better protection.

{GMST}16|35.220|S|151|31.605|W|Baie Pueheru|Tahaa{GEND}

Kim and I went ashore in the afternoon and ended up walking to the store at Murifenua without realizing that it was the same place John had gone for propane. The Chinese woman said they had lived there for 20 years and their children also had houses in the village. It is a very nice store but their baguettes come from an in-house bakery and are probably the toughest we've had even when fresh.

On our way to the store we were walking on the lagoon side of the road which had about 10 feet of landscaping with low grass and tiare bushes (the local gardenia flower). It would be just our luck that an adorable kitten came out from under a bush at our approach, crying vehemently for help. It had blue eyes and was small enough to hold in the palm of your hand - too young to be away from its mother without human aid. We foolishly carried it to the two nearest houses thinking it might have strayed from its "owner" since it seemed to be so people oriented. But no one wanted to claim it or help us find where it belonged, so we reluctantly returned it to where we'd found it. Other than the distress at being left on its own it seemed clean (well, Kim found at least one flea) and not underweight, so we're comforting ourselves with the thought that its mother was simply off hunting for the afternoon and would return to care for it later. :-(

The next morning the four of us walked about four kilometers to Patio where there is a post office, a computer store, several small restaurants, and at least two stores. We were excited to find that the second store had nice big loaves of French bread. They were really nothing more than an overgrown baguette, but they were nice and crusty on the outside and wonderfully soft on the inside. And when you see nothing but baguettes for months on end any variation in the form is a novelty.

Gloria Maris was trying to complete their final checkout with the gendarmerie which is somewhat complicated by the fact that they had to post a bond (we took care of everything through our agent in Papeete and were exempted from the bond requirement). They had been told in Uturoa that they had to do this in Bora Bora, probably because the officials figure that everyone will leave French Polynesia from there since it's typically the last stop for cruisers. But Don and Kim visited BB last year and weren't stopping there again this year. In Patio they were told that they should be able to do it in Uturoa as long as they weren't going to BB. So back we all went to Raiatea in very gusty winds with some sailing and some motor-sailing. It was so bad we even took some salt spray over the decks. ;-)

Don and Kim were able to complete their check-out on Tuesday and got their bond returned from the bank so they're continuing west today or tomorrow. We filled Quixotic's propane tank yesterday and today it's our turn. As soon as we have more moderate weather we'll cross over to Bora Bora to see what that's all about. We've been hearing good reports about Maupiti and Mopelia which are the two atolls beyond BB, and we especially want to stop at the former to swim with manta rays which gather there to feed.

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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!