Monday, July 6, 2015

Land Ho!, Tahiti

With the 30-knot wind still roaring through the rigging on July 6th, we knew our decision to wait out the “mamaru” was the right one.  We’ve talked with other sailors about the decision-making process aboard a boat. The worse reason for making a decision to depart in inclement weather is because you have to be somewhere by a certain time. This is the kiss of death to a cruising sailor. 

In our case, we “had” to be in Tahiti because we had scheduled a haul out. On top of all that, we weren’t certain the yard could handle a boat our size so we needed time to get to an alternative yard if that proved true. To add icing to the cake, we (for the 2nd time in our life) had actually purchased a non-refundable ticket from Tahiti to Boise, Id. 

It would have been easy to say “Hey, we’ve sailed in 20- to 30-knot winds before, how bad can it be? The difference here is we have no local knowledge. I’d read about the ferocious Polynesian mamaru’s, strong winds and waves that build from the southeast to southwest and blow for up to three days on end. We made the prudent choice of asking a French boat anchored nearby what he thought, he said “stay put.” Decision made, but we’d have to hustle now to make our haul out time since our time buffer was now gone.
The fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
Ironically by Day 3 (July 6th) the predicted 23-knot winds were down to a whimpering 12 knots, making the decision to depart a no-brainer.  Although we were sailing slowly, it was a pleasant overnight sail with the winds decreasing as we approached the south end of Tahiti in the early morning. 
You are kind of stuck taking "selfies" when you are in the middle of the ocean.
For most sailors, shouting “land-ho” with Tahiti in the distance is a life defining moment. For us it was a home coming to the place we had celebrated our honeymoon nearly 43 years ago (a well remembered event for me since I spent our honeymoon night lying face up in the bed with third-degree sunburns all over my body. Historic note to self: Don’t ride all the way around the island on a motor scooter with no sun protection.) Also, Meryl had flown 5-day trips to Tahiti when she was a Pan Am flight attendant in the 1970s, so she was familiar with the island.

As we rounded the southern point of Tahiti, I saw a disturbing sight and asked Meryl for our powerful Fujion Image Stabilized binoculars. Toward the reef strewn shore at Vaiau Pass I saw a sailboat high up on the reef. Most wrecks look like wrecks. This one didn’t. The sails were still up and flagging in the breeze. We dared not get any closer but kept a close watch on the boat for any signs of life. More about this later.

We paralleled the long reef for about 10 miles, debating which pass to enter into the lagoon at Port Phaeton. We don’t have good cruising guides or information about Tahiti so it’s a little more tenuous for us sailing in unfamiliar waters. We passed the world famous Tea’hupu Reef, one of the most famous surf breaks in the world and host to the upcoming Billabong World Surfing Championships. We continued north and opted for Teputo Pass, which turned out to be very calm and well marked. By following the widely spaced buoys we motored right up to Port Phaeton, a famous hurricane hole located between the big island of Tahiti (Tahiti Nui) and the little island, Tahiti Iti.

We anchored quickly and launched the dingy to go see the yard manager, Yvan, about our haul out. A young, smart Frenchman from Breton, Yvan, showed us the new trailer/lift they had just purchased. According to the marking on the lift it had ample capacity for a boat of our weight. I asked Yvan how many boats they had hauled out with the new lift, “Oh,” he said hopefully, “you will be number two!”

"We're pretty sure it will fit on the trailer."

"We're a little less than pretty sure it will fit on the trailer."
We had arrived on Wednesday and the haul out was scheduled for Friday, but Yvan had us come into the carenage the next day to see if the lift would fit our boat. It didn’t, but he assured us they could make some changes to the configuration and sure enough, by Friday afternoon Flying Cloud was happily sitting supported by eight metal braces with our keel on the a huge plank on the ground. Yvan mentioned they were still getting the kinks out of the new lift. The French are good at that.

Our new home for two weeks after we return from the States.
We slept well that night, with a huge sigh of relief that we’d pulled another rabbit out of the hat.

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