Wednesday, June 8, 2016

It's Not Supposed to be Stormy in Paradise

We reluctantly departed “Paradise of Huahine” and motor sailed five hours west to the island of Raiatea. The pass entrance was easy but the approach to the town of Uturoa was a problem. The 20-knot easterly wind was blowing directly into the harbor making docking a little tricky. The dock that had been recommended had huge signs saying “3 Hours Only” so we tied to the northern end of the gas dock in front of a big charter cat. The wind was blowing sideways to the dock so we were somewhat pinned in place. 

We did a short walk around town and realized lots of tourists visit this village judged by the number of t-shirt and curio shops. There was a good Champion grocery store where we stocked up on a number of things, including a rotisserie chicken for dinner.  Just as it was getting dark a cruiser from Canada walked by mentioning to Meryl that this “city dock” was easily accessible to everyone and had high theft potential. He suggested tying to the dock we had first considered, but just getting over there and getting tied up in the wind and darkness was more hassle than it was worth since we’d simply have to come back here to get fuel in the morning. 

We ended up taking everything not nailed down off the decks, including our 10 ft. stand-up paddle board. Since some boats had even been entered at night, we had our defensive measures deployed. Luckily it was such a stormy night no one came down to the dock leaving us somewhat sleepless but greatly relieved.

It was still very windy the next morning so I had Meryl slowly motor the boat parallel to the dock while I fended off to get up to where the gas station was located.  The cruiser blogs have many mentions that the gas station owner is not very cruiser friendly, but luckily he wasn’t there and we topped off with 55 gallons of diesel at the tax free price of $2.36 a gallon, a steal in this part of the world.  With the help of a couple of big Tahitians we pushed the boat off the dock and motored around the north side of Raiatea toward the west side where the boatyard is located. 

As seems to be the case lately, the boat just ahead of us got the last mooring buoy so we searched for a suitable place to anchor, but could only come up with a 60 ft. deep patch where we let out most of our anchor chain.

Since it was Friday and the French are notorious for taking off early, we hurried into the yard to check it out as a place to leave our boat during the November to May cyclone season. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but we finally decided on storing the boat at the Raiatea Carenage (there is another yard here called CNI but it is more expensive). We will be taking a chance with cyclones but our insurance covers us here and it beats having to sail all the way to New Zealand and back. 

The highlight of our visit to yard was scoring some blue masking tape (that I use when varnishing) and two small BBQ propane bottles, all for the relatively cheap French Polynesian price of US $60 (which would be about $25 in the States).  I also found a can of the incredible V33 Marine Varnish so now we can get a couple coats on our cap rails.

Here we are anchored in a small pocket of water in between three coral shelves at Tupuamu Bay in Raiatea. We are anchored in 60 ft. of water and have all our chain -- 220 ft. -- draped along the bottom hoping it holds in the 25 to 30 knot winds.
On June 5th we motored north inside the reef to Moto Tautau, a place frequently mentioned in cruiser’s blogs for it’s great snorkeling. Just inside most of the reef system is a wide shelf of white coral/sand bottom about 5 to 10 ft. deep with numerous bommies.
These bungalows at the exclusive Le Taha'a Resort start out a about $700 a night, a little rich for our blood.
We anchored just off this large shelf in about 30 ft of water and took the dingy across the shallow part to a passage between Moto Tautau and the exclusive Le Taha’a Private Island & Spa ($700/night) with it’s 40 over-the-water bungalows. Imagine paying around $10,000 a week (airfare, room and food for two) for your dream vacation only to find high winds and torrential rain all week.

The coral heads are fairly close to the surface so when the current is running three plus knots you have to watch that your tummy doesn't rub on the coral.
When the current is running it's better to walk along the coral path on the northern moto and then float through on the tide.
The coral isn't that spectacular, but the number of friendly fish is amazing.
After the storm was over we went back with Baha and Nora from the Turkish yacht Tutkum for a great day of snorkeling.

Normally you anchor the dingy and walk along a path on the moto to the seaward end and simply drift with the current through the famous “Coral Gardens.” We elected to swim up current (only about 1.5 knots at that time) so we had more time to see the myriad of fish and get more exercise. The coral comes up just short of the surface so in places we had to suck up our tummies (me more than Meryl) just to glide over the coral. The number and variety of fish was amazing. We don’t have a Pacific fish ID book but we saw many fish we’d never seen before. Much of the coral is covered with a brownish plant, but in areas we saw bright white, azure blue, and ochre colored corals. Once we got to the seaward end (somewhat tired out from all the swimming) we turned around and slowly drifted back through the pass. We did this pass several days later (we had to walk along the path since the current was so strong) with about 3 knots of current and jetted along, having to bank our bodies to get over the shallower coral and then find a hand hold whenever we wanted to stop and look at fish. The fun thing was some fish just swam right alongside us, probably wondering who the heck we were.

A fairly substantial Mamaru (big southeastern storms in FP) was predicted to come through the next several days so we upped anchor (which was wrapped around a bommie and took some time to unwrap) and headed into nearby Tapuamu Bay. Again, the boat right ahead of us got the last buoy (huge bummer since this bay is very deep) so we spent the next hour motoring around trying to find a shallow enough spot to anchor. We found a spot surrounded on three sides by shallow coral, but the depth meters readings were all over the place so we weren’t positive how deep we finally dropped the anchor. When we pulled back on the anchor to set it I could feel it “skipping” on coral on the bottom and then finally holding, but I wasn’t sure if it was up against some coral or in the sand. It was too deep to dive so we essentially just worried about it for the next four nights. As predicted, the winds piped up to a steady 23 knots and gusting to over 30+ knots, which held true for next six days. We were not happy campers with the uncertainty of our anchor set, but it did hold us securely.

We have two other friends on mooring balls nearby, Wavelength and Ednbal, so that gave us some comfort if everything went loosey goosey, we had help nearby.  We had a potluck dinner on Wavelength (thanks Eileen) one night and sundowners on Flying Cloud another, but essentially everyone was just hunkered down for the storm working on boat projects or Internet for the duration.

In between breaks in the storm we walked along the shoreside road down to a small vanilla plantation and store.
While we look safely anchored, we are surrounded on three sides by a very shallow coral shelf, not a good thing when the wind is gusting to 30+ knots.
There is a great small inner harbor here with a gas station and grocery store with fresh baguettes, plus an easy tie up for the dinghies. We went for several walks along the shore road, including one lovely 3-mile loop through a vanilla growing area. We found a small curio shop just past the gas station run by one of the most outgoing Tahitian women I’ve ever met. She had several toere’s (pronounced “toe-eddie”) and I had been looking for one for sometime. It’s a special Tahitian drumming instrument made out of Pacific rosewood — essentially a hollowed out box with a central slit along one long side.  You hit it with a ironwood stick to produce that high pitched “tick tick tick” sound you hear with fast Tahitian dancing. 

These netted covers protect the fragile vanilla plants from the searing tropical sun.
The owner of the Pari Pari facility shows us and the crew of Ednabal how a cold press extracts the oil from the coconut meat. They try to feed the curlycue remains to the goats, but even they find it too bitter. 
Producing the vanilla beans is a very time consuming process, which explains the high price of vanilla ($55 for the small packs shown here).
Pari Pari also makes it own "rhum agricole" from cane sugar. This bottle of 80 proof (40% alcohol content) sells for about $35, a pretty good deal in these parts.
Further down the road we saw some netted agricultural areas and discovered they contained vanilla plants. Taha’a is well known for its vanilla farms and we stopped at a new business called Pari Pari that made rum agricole (from cane sugar, not molasses like most rums) and extracted oils from vanilla and some local nuts. The owner and his wife, both from Paris, gave us the grand tour and explained how laborious the vanilla pollination, harvesting, and drying process is, which accounts for the very high prices of vanilla ($ 50 for a small pack of about 10 beans). There are no bees in French Polynesia that can pollinate plants, so, as the owner explained in that French way, "we have to have humans help in the marriage process." It takes several months after the beans are pollinated, then a then a four-month drying period where the beans need to be kept out of the direct sunlight.

In between breaks in the storm we visit other boats. Here is Florida-based North Star with the peaks of famed Bora Bora in the background.
The storm looks like it’s winding down after six days, but it’s still very windy. One boat left their buoy so we hurriedly upped anchor (all 220 ft of it) and motored over to the buoy only to find the loop in the three-strand line worn through to only one strand. I got into the dingy, Meryl handed me my iPad with the Ashley Knots app, and I proceeded to tie a very secure Icicle Hitch on the body of the line and double cow-hitched an eye spliced mooring line through the worn buoy eye splice so the edges of the line took more of the load than just the apex of the loop. Seems to be holding fine in the gusts, but is certainly one of the stranger tie-ups we’ve done while  cruising. 

We will hang out until about Tuesday then slowly make our way back to Moorea and on to Papeete for the big Pacific Puddlejump Rendezvous party on June 23rd to June 25th. We missed it last year so will see a number of boats that crossed last year and this year as well.  Should be quite a party.

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