Posted by: catamarantwooceans | July 5, 2009

Tuamotus and Tahiti

This post is being written in my daughter’s home in Redwood City, California. My computer stopped working when we left Nuku Hiva in spite of the efforts of Klaus. I am working now on a Mackintosh, so the  editting of pictures is difficult. Also I cannot download the pictures from the Olympus. I will publish with what I have but will add more when I get home to my  regular PC.

P.S – O.K, pictures added. Also chart in “Charts” section. Jul 13th.

16-19.6.09 –  We left Nuku Hiva at 0525 Tahiti time (GMT – 10) planning to reach Takaroa in the Tuamotus early Friday morning. The Tuamotus are atolls, reef enclosed lagoons with one or two passes into them. The tide make strong currents in the passes so you have to plan the arrival to coincide with slack water, that is just at low or high water, when the current is at minimum or absent. With good wind, 120 degrees from the port, we made good progress. 170 miles the first day and 164 on the second. As the total leg distance was 444 miles we needed  to slow down in order to make the required ETA. Joel had his first experience of night watches and learned the number one rule:”When in doubt – call the skipper”.

We got  to the Takaroa pass at 0730 and entered the channel. At it’s end one has to turn sharply 90 degrees to port in order to clear the reef and go into the lagoon. At that point we saw ripples on the water, sign for a strong current. Just as I was turning the wheel to the left, the current pushed the bows to the right! Working the steering wheel and the engines I countered this swing and we glided into the calm water inside the lagoon.

current

current

Ahead of us a yacht was at anchor. Getting close I saw it was “Banyan” – a monohull I met in Herradura, Costa Rica. We met later and found out that they came in last evening, hit the reef at that 90 degrees turn, and damaged their propeller, their autopilot and steering!

Around us, close to the beach, were houses built on stilts in the water. The shore was covered with coconut palms.

On shore

On shore

We visited the village which was not as tidy as those in the Marquesas, though the people were as friendly as in all of French Polynesia. On the village dock the kids were having fun in and out of the water and the foreigners were an additional attraction.

local kids

local kids

20.6.09 – Saturday – We spent a quiet night anchored in this lagoon. In the morning we went to see the pearl farm. Nothing much to see as there was no visitor’s center and the real action, that of “impregnating” the oysters was probably done elsewhere. Going on along the shore we came up to the airport and a boat basin near it, in which people were engaged in the national sport of Pirogue rowing.

Pirogues

Pirogues

We struck a conversation with a young woman, Sandrine, who was happy to exercise her English. Born in Tahiti to parents who originated in Takaroa, she came back and married a local guy. They now have two kids, 3 and 1 year old. The husband worked at the pearl farm and the Copra industry. That, by the way, is subsidized by the government, making it a profitable occupation for the village people.

Sandrine

Sandrine

We gathered information regarding the best time to go out through the channel from the local fishermen and also went there with the dinghy to watch the pass. Raising the anchor from the rather deep bottom was not easy. It got stuck in coral and I had to maneuver the boat for a few minutes in order to get it released. Banyan, who succeeded in repairing their damages, followed us after having to scuba dive to release theirs.

Out of the pass with no mishap, we motored slowly, for there was no wind and we needed to cover 60 miles to the next atoll – Mahini – and arrive in daylight.

21.6.09 – Sunday –  Going through the pass of Mahini was not as turbulent as the one in Takaroa, but still we had a current of 4.5 knots and for a few minutes it seemed as if we were not moving ahead at all. We did go in and found a deep anchorage in the company of a Swiss yacht “Kopernik” and a Finnish one “Libertas”. The latter had one of her intermediate stays break and lashed in place with a rope.

Again, the shore was full of coconut palms waving in the breeze, the water were clear and inviting. As I jumped in, I was greeted by no less than 6 remora fish, those ugly sucker fish, generally following big sharks, who tried to attached themselves to “Two Oceans” and it’s master.

22.6.09 – Monday – Visiting the village we found a good store and replenished our dwindling stocks. Especially flour (I was baking bread!) and chicken. The Tuamotus are plagued with Ciguaterra so I decided not to fish in the lagoons, hence the need for more chicken. We went to look at the pass. The current at the time of our visit was still strong and we marveled at some of the locals who rowed their little pirogues in and against it.

braving the current

braving the current

In the early afternoon we left for Ahe, 18 miles away. Entering the pass was relatively easy but once inside, I had to decide wether I wanted to proceed to the village, 4 miles away or find an anchorage near the entrance. I decided on the latter, but could not find any good, protected place. The wind was blowing 20 knots plus and the water were choppy. The only sane thing to do was get out and proceed to the next atoll, Rangiroa.

During his watch, Joel sighted two lights, coming from ahead on both our port and starboard. He woke me up and I activated the radar to see where they were going. I could not get any  blips at all! As it was the end of his shift, I sent Joel to his bunk and took the watch. I opened the radar’s electrical contacts and sprayed them with cleaning fluid. This made it work and the ships appeared on the screen. The first was probably a fishing boat that came as close as 1.5 miles, sporting so much light that made it impossible to see her navigation lights. The other was a bigger ship, steering a constant course and passing well clear on our right.

23.6.09  –  Tuesday – Playing with reducing and putting on more sail, I adjusted our arrival to 0730, when – according to my calculations – there should be slack water. Rangiroa has two passes: Tiputa and Avatura, 5 miles to the west. We were aiming for Tipua. From afar I saw a yacht going in, seemingly with no problem. The truth be said, I was a little worried, since the wind and waves were right into the entrance and I knew that this could result in steep waves and turbulence in the pass.

As we got closer we saw a catamaran approaching the pass from the inside. We went into the pass, from opposite sides at the same time, and as we did the sea got mad. It quickly became apparent that the tide was going out in full force, making waves as high as 3 meters breaking against the strong current. Between those waves we were astounded to see dolphins jump vertically clear of the water. But this was no time for sight-seeing! I was concentrating on keeping “Two Oceans” in a straight line, fearing that a rogue wave will turn her beam to the waves. We caught one wave, surfing down it at 12.9 knots! With both motors at maximum power, we were making only 1 knot forward  and as the wind direction was favorable, I had Joel unfurl the jib to give us a little more push.

That's how it started

That’s how it started

Slowly the boat inched ahead until we got to flat water and the current subsided. We rounded the reef, turning right to the recommended anchorage.

Time to relax and look around. Two mega yachts were dwarfing the normal boats.

Toy 1

Toy 1

Toy 2

Toy 2

We found our Finnish friends on “Libertas” and anchored near them.  Rangiroa is a huge atoll. It is said that you could fit the whole of Tahiti into it. Some people whom we met there were staying for three weeks, moving from one anchorage to another. We, as usual, had no time.  Joel has to fly out on July 2nd and we still have to find a place to leave the boat for the time I’ll fly home.

24.6.09 – Wednesday – The wind became stronger during the night. Juha, on “Libertas, had the forecast: wind over 20 today and tomorrow, better on Friday getting worse on Saturday until next Wednesday.  I decided to sail to a little island, a bird rookery 8 miles away. Went out with two reefs, giving Joel his first going to windward experience. Out of the protected anchorage the chop became unpleasant, and thinking about the way back I cut the trip short and we went back.

A visit ashore brought us to a dive club, where Olivier, the chief dive-master outlined their planned dives for the morrow: first dive near the Avaturu pass to see Silver Tip sharks. The price – outrageous – about 100 euro for two dives.  I decided to make just one in the morning.

25.6.09 – Thursday –  It was an overcast morning with strong wind when I showed up at the dive-club. The other divers were all French including a family that came from Europe on a Lagoon 500. We went by car to Avaturo village where we boarded the big Zodiac from which we were going to dive. The sea was choppy, the clouds covered the sky and the sun hid behind them but as we rolled back into the water and started the dive a different, calm world unfolded. Colorful, healthy reef, many fishes and – cruising below as if waiting for us – two silver-tip sharks.

Olivier brought down a big tuna head which made the fish and the sharks come close, circling us so close one could almost touch them. After having enough of the shark show, we proceeded to fin along the reef, escorted by those sharks. At one point there was a big ball of jacks. Noticing the sharks, a few jacks joined them in close formation, bumping into them intentionally (so it seemed). I have never seen anything like that before. A few turtles showed up, completely unafraid of divers who stroked their backs.

Back at the boat I put my mask and fins on again to try a scrub the green hairy algae that covered the underwater surface of the hulls. This is really infuriating since the boat was painted with antifouling only three month ago! I wonder wether the paint used in Puntarenas was simple black paint in antifouling cans?

26.6.09 – Friday – Getting up early to start for Tahiti I saw that the wind was still strong. I sent an SMS to my friend and part time meteorologist – Itzik – who checked the forecast and came up with easterlies of 20 knots maximum. As recommended by the dive club boat driver, we exited the pass just past 0700. Calm water, no current , piece of cake! Out in the open ocean, however, we got the cake in our face and it was not funny… Wind gusts up to 30 knots plus hit us mercilessly. Having gone around the tip of Rangiroa the weather stabilized and for a long time we were sailing at high speed in the lee of the atoll. Once out of it’s protection the waves became unpleasant and the only consolation was the knowledge that we  had only a total of 190 miles to go.

During my watch at night  the port bilge pump alarm light came on. This happens quite a lot when the boat is rocking and rolling and some water trapped in the bilge fill the pump sump and activate it. I always check the bilge when this happen to verify that it is only that small amount of water. This time I saw a considerable flow of water from the front compartment, where the watermaker and the salt-water sea cock are situated. I lifted the mattress off my bed to look inside and it only took a few seconds to see that a pipe from the sweet water tank disconnected from a filter. The pump sensed demand and started operating continuously, spilling water into the bilge. This was easy to rectify but I did have a few anxious moments…

27.6.09 – Saturday – At some point during the night the wind rose again to over 30 knots. A few big waves broke into the cockpit, one of them washing the tire/drogue with it’s chain overboard, a fact we only noticed later in daylight. Since the wind and waves were on our beam it became to rough and I took the main down completely and continued with just a bit of the jib and engine. The Pacific showing us again the fluctuating, unstable conditions of wind and sea that we do not normally associate with the open ocean, took mercy on us and gave us back the 20-24 knots. Main up again, we continued towards Papeete, the capital city of Tahiti.

Just after 1545 the clouds cleared and Tahiti came into view. We entered the harbour  and found a proper marina ahead. Docks with water and electricity but nobody to receive us. Some yachties helped us tie up and gave us the information we needed. The marina was practically empty – the reason was revealed when we heard the price…  About 60$ per night. We thought we had to stay there in order to do the proper procedure with customs and immigration, but the fact is that you can anchor anywhere and just come to the authorities, all in the same office in the harbour, with your papers. They do not require to see the boat.

28.6.09 – Sunday – We became friendly with the couple on “Traversay III” – Larry and Mary Ann from Canada and they took us with them to the market, which on Sunday attracts a lot of vendors and buyers. One of the most colorful markets I have ever sen, but the prices… 7$ for 6 peppers! We could not resist the abundance of fruit and vegetables and came back with loaded bags.

Papeete market

Papeete market

Visiting Mary Ann and Larry, she showed us her grand digital piano, sliding out from under their bed, and gave us a recital of Chopin music. It turned out Larry used to be a captain for Air Canada flying a 767, the same one I flew… That was funny!

Mary Ann

Mary Ann

Captain Larry

Captain Larry

29.6.09 – Monday – With ship’s papers in hand we started in the direction of the office. On our way we saw the security guard and asked him at what time the office opens. “It does not open today at all! There is a holiday, Autonomy day”.  So what do we do? Just come on Tuesday. In the meantime we motored past the airport to the anchorage area near Taina marina where I thought I could leave the boat for two months. All the moorings were occupied so we anchored to the north of the marina for the night.

30.6.09 – Tuesday – A visit to the marina office made it clear that the chances of getting a place there is nil. A berth in the marina should have cost me more than 50 euro per day and there was none available. A mooring would have cost close to 200 euro per month but none were free at the moment. Anyway, we changed position and anchored near the visitors mooring to try and grab one if and when one becomes vacated.

Another option was the marina Taravao in Port Phaeton on the istmus between Tahiti and Tahiti Iti. I called them on the phone, was directed to Ivan, their docking manager who, although on vacation, consented to arrange my reception on Thursday. Price? “Around 43000 Polynesian Francs per month” (about 350 euro). I decided I preferred the marina to a mooring with no security and made up my mind to sail there on Wednesday, anchor in the bay and go in on Thursday.

1.7.09 – Wednesday – Motoring to Port Phaeton – first no wind then too much wind on the nose – beautiful, sheltered bay with the so small marina in one of the creeks.

2.7.09 – Thursday – Clement came with a dinghy to show me the way into the marina. He said the depth in the channel was 5-6 meters but my instrument read 1.1 meter. No problem. Tied “Two Oceans” in her berth for the next two month and prepared her  for our departure. In the office Mary -France was very efficient and completed our reception quickly. Price per month turned out to be 425 euro pre month, not cheap but that’s all I could get.

Taravao marina

Taravao marina

In between showers of rain I glimpsed a couple walking on the dock. They looked familiar – could it be? – Pascal and Raymond, whom I met in shelter bay marina in Caribbean Panama! They are now in the Taina marina anchorage and rented a car to go around the island. “Can we go with you to Papeete?” “Sure!”                At 1430 we all went  towards Papeete, sopping on the way to visit a botanical garden. Pascal told me that there was a possibility of hauling out the boat in Apataki in the Tuamotus, that’s interesting! They took us right to the airport, which was exactly what we needed. Joel for his flight at 220 and myself in search of a cheap hotel to spend the night until my Air France flight at 0730.  There was nobody at the  tourist counter , but I found a flyer for Te Miti pension and called them on the phone. The price was right so Joel and I said goodbye and I went to the bus stop  to go to my shelter for the night.

Standing at the station with a lady and her son, a double cabin truck stopped  by us. A man changed his little daughter diaper, looked at us and said:” where do you need to go? I’ll take you!”  This is a thing you can do in French Polynesia. The man was glad for the opportunity to talk with somebody from abroad and took me all the way to where I needed to go. Te Miti turned out to be a low budget place. Despite the 50 euro price tag there were neither shower nor toilet in the room. Those were located further down the corridor. Oh well, it’s only for one night!

3.7.09 – Thursday –  Flew to LA and then to San Francisco.  Back to the boat in September. Thoughts about changing the plan to stay in Polynesia for the hurricane season and have more time there next year are bubbling in my mind. We’ll see! In the mean time  – ADIOS!

I promise to add a few more pictures later.

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