Mid Pacific: Tahiti, Bora Bora, Rarotonga and Samoa
Our stay in Tahiti was very enjoyable and we spent our time between the inevitable repairs and servicing on the boat, touring the island and meeting fellow yachties.
The market in Papeete is a riotously colourful open sided building crammed full of fruits, vegetables and food stalls downstairs and upstairs souvenir and clothes shops. It's a great place to buy sarongs with good advice from the gloriously dressed transvestite assistants. One piece of fashion wisdom which rings in my ears was "You mustn't wear white, you are too pale." This given when I thought I had a great tan.
On our island travels we went to Teahupoo which is revered by all serious surfers. We did this journey in the company of "Mikado", Ian, Jenny and family. The rollers were huge and broke on the coral reef far out from shore. The world championships were held here a few years ago and the locals are very proud of the fact.
We had decided to head for Bora Bora in a couple of days, so although everything is very expensive here we reprovisioned, since supplies are limited in Bora Bora.
On Friday 3rd July we left Papeete, Tahiti, at 7.00am and motored to Taina Marina to refuel. Gordon has worked out that since Panama we have used 525 litres of fuel and our average usage is 1.91 litres/hour.
Our overnight passage was uneventful with 10 to 17 knots easterly winds all the way. We dropped anchor opposite the Bora Bora Yacht Club (a restaurant not a marina) at 1500hrs on Saturday 4th July.
What a lovely anchorage in a bay surrounded by high old volcanic mountains, but it was very deep, approximately 30m so we had 60m of chain out (all we have).
Being 4th July the cruising Americans were having a party at the club with flag raising ceremonies and anthem singing. The Club is very lovely, built on white sand with decking areas sitting over the water where you can watch typical reef fish while sipping your sundowner. There is a laundry and they provide water so it is easy living.
We were 20 minutes in the dinghy from the anchorage to the 'town' centre. When we got there we thought it was more of a village and were surprised to learn that a third of it consisted of temporary buildings only erected for the annual island independence festivities. The celebrations take the form of music, dancing and floral competitions, most of which were held over the week we were there. The sights and sounds were fabulous. In the small stadium we watched over 50 dancers and 30 drummers perform for well over an hour without a stop in extreme heat. They go in for hip wiggling in a big way here, and for the men knee knocking and when they were all at full pace the grass skirts were a blur. It looked a bit like a huge car wash.
The floral displays were astonishing, vehicles, which were impossible to identify, were completely festooned in the island flora. Each village presented their own float accompanied by mass choirs, poetry and ukulele playing. At the end of the evening there was a frantic rush amongst the locals to strip the flowers from the floats and spirit them home. The dancers stood around waiting for photographs to be taken by anyone interested.
It's worth expanding here on this particular part of Polynesian culture to which I have often alluded. In a family if there are not enough female children to assist in the household chores and to help raise the many babies, a very young male child is selected and simply raised as a girl. There is no indication that these boys showed traits of being naturally effeminate since they are very young when chosen, but they adopt the role seemingly without angst and are of course totally accepted by the society that created them. They do not give up the role in later life and never revert to male dress or demeanour. In Tahiti they are called "mahus", in Samoa "fa'afafines" and in Tonga "fakaleitis". All these words mean "like a woman". One of our yachtie friends, who will remain nameless, came a bit of a cropper in Tahiti, due to the convincing beauty of two mahus.
After a week here alone, our friends from "Mikado", "Hilde" and "Blues" drifted in. Another reunion party at the yacht club of course and catching up with each other's experiences. We showed Finn (Hilde) and his visiting family the Spitsbergen film which they seemed to enjoy. Being Norwegian they were able to fill in a lot of info, e.g. correct pronunciation of place names.
On Friday 10th July we were boarded by French customs, the first time this has happened on the trip. They were mostly interested in passport details, but while one officer took these down, the other four stood about looking very stern in dark glasses. Somehow though stockinged feet minimised this effect. (They had the courtesy to remove their shoes before boarding.) They came back the following morning and were very embarrassed when they realised they had already seen us. With a gruff "so nothing has changed from yesterday?" they sloped off.
We were now preparing to depart from Bora Bora, which before I got there was somehow in my mind the remotest place imaginable but now I realise "we ain't seen nothing yet".
Since our group of friends are now nearing Australia, which for many of them is home or their final destination, we had a kind of farewell party at the Yacht Club. We may catch up with them in another port but we can't be sure. It is amazing how quickly friendships are formed under these circumstances and I have a feeling many of us will meet again once this trip is over.
Bora Bora to Rarotonga
On Sunday 12th July (Day 382) we filled up with water and set off at 11.00am for a 536 nm passage to Rarotonga. By Monday we had made good progress with the wind at 120deg to the port aft, but the waves were also coming from this direction, so it was uncomfortable. We covered 162.5 nm in the first 24 hours.
Monday 13th 1200hrs, 17deg 51.56S 154deg 05.67W, wind 8 knots engine on.
Tuesday 14th July 0410hrs engine still on. When securing mainsail to stop flapping pulled starboard cleat off. 1545hrs wind SSW 15 knots engine off. 1610hrs wind 5 knots engine on. 1930hrs wind SSW 15 knots engine off. As you can see a picture of unsettled wind, but through the night it increased dramatically and the sea state became horrible. It was very uncomfortable and movement so violent that a cupboard containing tins flew open with contents crashing onto the floor. Also the lifebelt light, which is stowed inverted, flashed on and off which means we must have had minus 1G over each big wave.
Wednesday 15th July 0812hrs, 19deg 57.34S 157deg 41.40W. I was pretty done in being ill, not sleeping and being bounced around. Gordon was fine thank goodness. We reefed in again (two reefs in the main) to try and slow down to arrive in Rarotonga in daylight on Thursday, since it's a dodgy entrance. We are also feeling very cold, we seemed to have lost 10degC over the previous 24 hours and had to go hunting for long trousers and fleeces, last seen in Portugal.
Thursday 16th July 0230hrs 20deg 48.40S 159deg 10.14W, still very rough and uncomfortable. I had stopped being ill but felt yucky. It was therefore wonderful to say once again "land ahoy". We came into Avatiu harbour at 10.30am a good 24 hours ahead of schedule. Trip 549.67 nm, average speed 5.5knots, log 20353, max wind 30.4knots, max speed 8.2 knots.
Once again while at sea I ask myself "What am I doing here?" and once again the answer comes when I see the next island looming closer.
Well they may call this a marina but "not as we know it Jim". Come in stern first, drop anchor, reverse as close to harbour wall as possible, not too close since very large swell, hope someone is there to catch lines, wait for helpers to tie lines on, and then bring in anchor until aft lines are taught. You are now 10m away from the harbour wall, there are no pontoons, and you have to use the dinghy to cross the gap between boat and land. So not quite an anchorage and not quite a marina. No outboard is required, just pull dinghy in using various peoples lines.
We found ourselves between "Blaze 2" a 62 foot catamaran owned by Americans Peter and Molly, and "Tender Spirit" a 33 foot Colin Archer design owned by Chuck and Joan from Alaska.
On our second day here we learned from "Blaze 2" of a local scout troop who were fund raising for new uniforms so we had a fantastic afternoon with them splashing around in the sea scrubbing our hull clean of very fast growing green slime. We usually have to scrub this off weekly. (I am using the Royal We here of course.) The kids were amazing and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Their leaders seemed delighted with the donations we made to the funds.
We were now awaiting the arrival of Anna and Rob from Port Edgar who had been living in some style in a beach bungalow on the other side of the island for a week. On Saturday morning we heard a wee "Yoo hoo" from the harbour wall and there they were. Great to welcome them aboard. They had had a lovely time prior to our arrival although the weather had not been great. We felt very guilty having told them, based on our experience, not to bring jackets or warm clothing and the wee souls had been a bit chilly at night.
It was like Christmas when they came aboard bringing gifts from afar. I became quite emotional at the sight of Twinnings Earl Grey tea bags, Tesco's French blend coffee and lost it completely when a bottle of Bombay Sapphire was produced. Rob also brought a very special bottle of Ardbeg 10 year old for the boat. Wow.
I will not go into detail (I'm sure they will if asked) but after welcoming them aboard, dinner at "High Tide" and drinks and dancing at "Trader Jacks", the dinghy transfer back to the boat proved too much for me. I pleaded to be left on the dinghy but they wouldn't hear of it. By the way the boat was bouncing in a huge swell! All was witnessed by Connor ("Blaze 2"), Lauren, Ann and Ian with whom we had spent the evening. So no red face there then.
We hired a wee open top Micra to tour the island. We found a beautiful spot to have lunch and snorkel where we saw some pretty impressive fish including a huge frilly stone fish which stared at us from a hole in the coral. It was very camouflaged and well done to Rob for spotting it.
I think here I must tell you of an event which occurred. Whilst driving we were aware of a policeman pointing a device at us. Ah you may think a simple speed trap, but no. We discovered on snorkling that Rob was wearing (I find it hard to even say.) SPEEDOs. So they were the Fashion Police holding a Speedo camera. We tried to explain to Rob the error of his ways but in spite of having two pairs of perfectly respectable, even cool, Bermuda type swimming shorts in his luggage, he could not be forced from these things. Apparently you get white thigh lines if you don't wear Speedos.
On our island tour we also had lemon grass tea at a stunning garden café surrounded by very tropical plants and flowers. We sought out a local waterfall to find a dried up trickle in a rain forest. All we got were dozens of mozzie bites!
That night we attended a dance exhibition given by a troupe who were leaving for a tour in London, Paris and Stockholm in five days. Only problem was they were still $10,000 short of funds. We met the Vice Prime Minister and entourage whose table had originally been ours. We were bumped to the front row though, so no problem.
On Tuesday we returned the car and having looked at the weather reports feel it would be prudent to miss out Niue and head straight for Samoa on Friday. Although this means a longer uninterrupted passage, the wind directions and strength show this to be the best action.
We had also planned to watch a partial eclipse of the sun which was due to happen at 17.30 but true to form it poured all day and no sun was visible.
All of us went aboard "Blaze 2" at the kind invitation of Peter and Molly and watched the Spitsbergen film on their lovely huge screen. The boat, a Sunreef 62, is beautifully appointed inside with spacious master cabin, large crew quarters and fabulous wood finish throughout.
On the next step towards their transformation, Gordon and Rob have bought man sarongs. They wore them for dinner (Rob with Speedos underneath!) and the latter cooked us a great Thai chicken.
On Thursday 23rd July we began preparing for tomorrow's departure and found the engine would not start when we tried to charge the batteries. No fluid in battery! Tried to start generator. Would not start. Bought new battery, smaller but ok. Bought new generator, same as old one. We went shopping for provisions and Anna and I cooked for the journey. I still find pre-prepared meals are the way to go, just in case no one feels up to cooking from scratch.
When we got up the next morning and discussed the weather with other people we agreed we should wait one more day. We invited all from "Blaze 2" for a whisky tasting (Rob's idea) but they insisted we went to them, so a jolly night was had by the boys. Us girls were very cautious knowing we were sailing next day.
I discovered that Ann, the skipper is what they call my "twinkle twin" i.e. we share a birthday - happens to be tomorrow!
Saturday 25th July. "Happy Birthday to me." Awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and our lovely crew had purchased croissants and pan au chocolat for a special birthday brekky. I got lovely cards, champagne, a fab necklace and earrings and an obscene lighter from Anna and Rob. Gordon gave me a pair of glass flip-flops for hanging on the wall. Ann, next door, sent me a lovely card with invitation to come and stay at her Australian home. I sent her a wine glass flip-flop (see photo to explain). These are big here as are Polynesian shirt beer can coolers. I think we have officially lost the plot.
So after a lovely morning we threw lines to Chuck and Joan, Molly and Peter and waved goodbye to all our friends from "Mikado" (Ian brought me flowers for my birthday), "Blues" and "Hilde" - yes they caught up with us again - and set off.
Rarotongaa to Samoa
Distance 817nm. Day 395. Departed at 11.15am. Heading 290deg. Waves 1.5 to 2.0 m. Wind 21-25knots gusting to 28knots E.
Some crew very quiet, perhaps due to previous evening's whisky tasting combined with big seas. I didn't know a tan could fade so fast.
Our journey for the first 48 hours was marked by very variable winds but increasing sea state. However everyone then found there "sea legs" and we settled into a routine of three hour watches, pleasant enough days and fairly calm nights.
By Wednesday 29th skipper decided it was time to fish (oh no!) and once again the rubber glove did the trick. Thankfully this time we caught a much more manageable 20 pound Wahoo, so called I believe because that's the sound you make when you see it break the surface. Rob and Gordon landed it, gutted it and then with inevitable pride passed it to me to deal with. I will remind you here of the lengths I go to not to have to do too much prep at sea. Oh well. Within 2 hours I had cleaned, portioned, stored and roasted the beast. Everyone enjoyed dinner below deck, although keeping the food on the plates was tricky. We ate Wahoo roasted in garlic, herbs with roast veg and new potatoes.
On Thursday night we fought against squall after squall and at 0035hrs, with Gordon on watch, a huge freak wave rolled the boat violently. We all got up on deck to assess the damage and found the starboard spinnaker pole had been snapped. The casting had broken off at the inboard end. We rescued the pole in torrential rain and big seas and decided to double up watches for the rest of the night. Our maximum speed overnight was 9.7 knots.
We sighted Upola next morning and as wind dropped, furled in genoa and started engine.
It had been a very interesting crossing, not least because Rob was taking sextant readings a lot of the time and doing sun sights as part of his Ocean Master project. He did well, with an accuracy of 2nm, especially taking into account poor visibility and big seas.
Anna and I did develop a degree of cabin fever, breaking into "Dr Finlay" accents for no reason whatsoever and developing bizarre stories and poems about the wahoo. Once or twice we thought we might have been keelhauled.
I believe that when we radioed the port authority for permission to enter and they confirmed the existence of a marina, my grin, according to the crew, was wide. A RIB with three guys in it came out to guide us in to the most beautiful, calm marina, with proper pontoons and everything. We tied up at 16.05hrs, too late for customs, but with permission to leave the boat for "beer and provisioning". Good people.
Trip 829.13nm. Max speed 10.1 knots. Max wind 34.6 knots.
We showered and showered and showered and went to excellent local restaurant called "Paddles".
Day 402, Saturday 1st August. On first impressions one might think - another day - another island, but these islands seem to have preserved the Polynesian way of life much more than the others we have seen. They all, men and women, wear sarongs although here they are called lava lavas.
The police and officials wear knee length smart versions, often black, and everyone else, a brighter style. Hair flowers are less obvious, no coronets, but a single flower behind the ear. Religion is all here. Every possible Christian denomination is represented, so once they stopped eating the missionaries they obviously liked what they heard.
There is an old institution of a hotel here called "Aggie Grey's" which was opened in the 1930's to welcome American GIs during the Pacific wars. It grew to great fame when the movie stars of that time, Bogart, Robert Mitchem, Laren Bacall etc frequented it. Then our royalty discovered its charms, notably the Queen Mother and more recently Prince Andrew. So of course we had to go and see for ourselves. It's a real time piece, a warren of foliage covered corridors, open sided, leading to a large Polynesian style dining room with high grass roof and a swimming pool with a little palm treed island in the middle. It has become a home from home. I would like to come back and stay there one day. We attended a dance & music night, the music and dancing here is much less frantic, consisting of graceful hand movements and slow gliding footwork to the sound of gentle harmony, not drums. The highlight of the night was when Aggie's daughter made her way slowly down through the hall, dancing all the way, led by young male dancers, to perform on stage. All of 70+ she was stunningly graceful.
Anna and Rob made the best of their last two days before flying home, snorkelling and swimming and in Anna's case, drinking ridiculous cocktails at Aggie's. (see photo) Although we are now back to the temperatures we have endured for months (32degC) they coped well.
I have to tell you guys, since you left its gone up to 35degC below deck and unimaginable in the sun.
We hired a car to tour with Anna and Rob and visited stunning beaches on the south side of the island. They went swimming in a fresh water pool inside a cave which was apparently weird. I had to wait at the car due to a twisted ankle. (The pavements are very bad/non existent.)
We saw our two gallant friends off at the airport with heavy hearts. They have been great to have aboard. Many laughs, good memories and "interesting" sailing, thanks to you two.
A must see here is Robert Louis Stevenson's house, a huge Victorian edifice set in the hills above Apia. He spent the last 4 years of his life here fighting TB only to die on the back doorstep while making mayonnaise, not from TB, but a brain haemorrhage.
He is revered here almost as a Saint and called Tusitala which means "teller of tales". He is buried 45 minutes walk up the hill with the ashes of his Californian second wife. He had an idyllic life in Samoa, visited by many dignitaries from around the world, still writing prolifically and tended by Polynesians in tartan lava lavas.
On the wall of the library is a plan of Edinburgh Academy where his sons attended and a more recent photo of some of the boys from the school in kilts during a visit.
The guide was fascinated to know that we came from the village where he wrote "Kidnapped". In fact he invited us to his village where we enjoyed a lovely day in the company of his extended family. Wife, 6 children, one of whom is a "fa'afafines", his mother and father, his brother and his 7 children. They live in typical Samoan style. Open roundels with grass roofs for each family and a communal building for getting together. They farm all their own produce and have goats, chickens and pigs. You sleep anytime, eat whenever and sit about talking for hours. What a life. They are so happy.
We now await the arrival of Nick Janke who will arrive tomorrow morning (12th August).
It has been raining torrentially all day, but still 34degC. Hope he is ready for it!