Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Huahine -- Fishing Like the Ancients

On September 20th, with our major errands finished and our fridge kind of working, we set sail for Moorea which lies about 10 miles north of Tahiti. We anchored in our favorite spot just off the northeast entrance to Opunohu Bay on the north side of Moorea. As usual, the wind was ripping around the northeast point of Moorea and coming right along the shoreline. It’s like living in a wind tunnel but we did have lots of ventilation in the cabin.

The view south into Opunohu Bay.
Anchored just to the south of us was Eye Candy, with Andrew and Clare and their Australian guests, Patrick and Cheryl.  We all ended up renting motor scooters the next day, but we got a later start and ended up going the opposite way around the island from Eye Candy. Despite our motor scooter not being able to go up a modest hill with the two of us aboard (we got a replacement), we had a great time seeing the island. We stopped at a nice seaside resort called Les Tipaniers where we splurged on cheeseburgers and Cokes and watched the sunburned tourists frolic in the surf.  Meryl finally found a jeweler who mounted her large teardrop black pearl on a silver necklace, so everyone was happy during the excursion.

When the wind dropped down a bit on the 23rd, we dinghied east along the shoreline to see the underwater tikis and to snorkel in the large lagoon just opposite of the old Club Med. It’s amazing to see how many resorts and large hotel chains go bust down here; I guess it’s tough to compete with the cheap flights to Hawaii. When the typical “over the water bungalow” rents out from $600 to $1500 per night, it’s amazing there are as many people here as there are. 

On Sept. 24th we left Moorea in the late afternoon for the 90-mile downwind sail to Huahine. We were fortunate to have a nice 5- to 10-knot easterly and sailed through the night, interrupted only by the large sailing cruise ship S/V Windspirit that was lit up like a Christmas tree as she passed on our starboard side.

A little disconcerting to have this light show come by you in the middle of the night.
The view approaching Moto Murimahora on the east side of Huahine.
Given the generally light wind conditions we decided to follow Eye Candy to the more remote eastern side of Huahine to a secluded anchorage in the lee of Moto Murimahora.  Normally the typical strong easterly winds kick up the surf making the east-facing pass too dangerous to enter, but this day the conditions were perfect. We were delighted to see our old friends Roger and Sasha on Ednabal anchored nearby. They had planned to sail the opposite direction to the Tuamotus, but at the last minute changed their minds and came to Huahine. Our other friends, Mark and Cheryl on French Curve were also there, just north of us, so it was like old home week.

The usual cast of characters: L to R Roger and Sasha, Clare and Andrew, and Walter.
Whenever the Australian contingent (Eye Candy and Ednbal) get together you know it’s going to be interesting. We had a raucous beach bonfire with them that night and they proposed a long trip up the inside of the motu to the village of Maeva to see the fish traps the next day. 

Mark and Cheryl in the turquoise bomber.

Meryl and Cheryl from Australia.
A semi aerial view of the fish traps (from the bridge).

Cheryl communicating with the locals on the best route through the fish traps.
On the 26th our little flotilla, consisting of the crews of Eye Candy, Ednbal, and French Curve, slowly made our way north through the very shallow waters of the lagoon up to the village of Maeva, where the lagoon enlarges to the size of a small lake. Just to the south — where the lake narrows — are a series of ancient fish traps, fashioned in a V-shape to force the fish into a trap at the point of the V.  The design is remarkably effective and the traps are still in use today. Making our way around the various fish traps was a challenge, however, given the very shallow water. Locals would lean out the windows of their lagoon-side homes shouting and pointing us this way and that to avoid the shallowest areas.

Interior of the museum at Maeva Village.
A replica of the Polynesian sailing canoes that crossed thousands of miles of ocean.
Mark, Sasha, Cheryl and Meryl walking up the path to the upper village.
Map of the upper village called Mata'Ire'A.
We toured the beautiful thatched-sided museum to learn more about the fish traps and the ancient Tahitians, and explored the large marae that served as ceremonial grounds for the Chiefs and their tribe. Steve on LiWard had raved about a hike just behind the marae, and after a little futzing around we found the surprising wide trail up the side of the hill. In the olden days an extensive village extended along the ridge line (Chiefs were always wary of attacks so they kept the main housing areas up in the hills). Called Matra’Ire’a, the area was full of old stone paepae and other structures, including the Chief’s residence with a great view out across the ocean.

View of the oceanside from the lookout near the Chief's house.
We carefully navigated this shallow river from our anchorage way in the background.

On the way back we detoured up a bay to the village of Faie, where after a short walk up the road we came to a bridge (with lots of vendors selling things) where we saw the famous Sacred Blue Eels of Faie.  They congregated in the very shallow water of the river, presumably waiting for tourists to throw them scraps of food.  Patrick went down to the river with his underwater camera and got some great shots of the eels, and they do have piercing blue eyes. I have no idea why they are scared, except for the fact they pull a lot of tourist dollars into the small village.
Walking to see the sacred eels L to R:  Meryl, Sasha, Clare, Patrick, and Cheryl.
Patrick getting "up close and personal" with the sacred eels.
They really do have blue eyes. (Photo by Patrick)
Roger and Sasha are very good at negotiating with local landowners for great prices on mangoes and other fruits.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Steve's Birthday Party -- Polynesian Style

One of the most enjoyable aspects of cruising (or just being retired) is not having to adhere to a strict schedule. I remember when I had to account for every six minutes of my day for billable hours. Never again. Now, as cruisers say, “Our plans are written in the sand.”  

Wandering through Marina Tiana, we ran into Steve from LiWard. It was his 64th birthday and his wife LiLi had scheduled a big party for him that night on the dock. We had first met Steve and LiLi in Huahine when he was singing at the Huahine Yacht Club and knew that any party he had was going to be a wingding. 

The beautiful LiWard, a Hans Christian 48.
One of the curious things about cruising is we first meet each other wearing t-shirts and flip-flops and have no inkling about each other’s professional backgrounds (sometimes for years). Turns our Steve was a chemical engineer with Shell and LiLi was a dyed-in-the-wool rocket scientist (specializing in propulsion systems) for NASA. Steve quipped that LiLi was the only women he knew who could spell and pronounce monomethylhydrazine (a component of rocket fuel) correctly.

Steve plays professional gigs in various venues throughout French Polynesia, and for the birthday party he set up his speakers, mics, and amp on the dock near their boat. He performs everything from Jimmy Buffet to the Stones and really gets the crowd rocking. 

As the night lingered, more and more people showed up for the party.
Steve and the incredible Kemo, with his Dad holding his iPhone with the lyrics to the song.
Beauties on the dock:  Meryl, Brigette from Pitfa, and LiLi from Liward.
The party started off with three or four couples, then more and more cruisers — mostly French — started showing up. Lots of beer and pizza followed as the crowd grew. Steve had just met a 17-year-old Tahitian named Kemo earlier that day and asked him if he’d like to perform with him. Kemo showed up with his guitar and his entourage:  his father and his sister. He played several sets by himself and several with Steve and mesmerized the crowd with his melodic voice, a cross between Cat Stevens and Stevie Wonder.   He absolutely killed Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven." The crowd was spellbound. Listening to he and Steve harmonizing together was a real treat. As I said, Steve always throws a great party.

The rest of our week at Marina Tiana was a combination of taking the bus up to Papeete for shopping trips and getting boat projects completed. Meryl had gotten some nice black pearls from a lady in the Tuamotus and finally found a jeweler in Papeete to set them as earrings. She’s still looking for a silver necklace for a beautiful large teardrop black pearl she got from the same lady.

The freon goes in, the freon goes out.
We also decided to get our refrigerator looked at while we were at Marina Tiana, since that’s where all the marine techs hang out. To make a very long and complicated story short, the French refrigeration guy we’d worked with before was busy working on a super yacht, so he recommended another guy. Unfortunately, this guy spoke very little English and had never worked on our type of refrigeration. He ended up overfilling the unit with refrigeration gas which caused the thermostats to quit working (since the over pressure sensor showed too much pressure in the system).

Over the next week I slowly bled gas out of the system to try and get it back into equilibrium, but with little success. Ironically the fridge got the coldest we’d ever seen it, but with no working thermostat we had to shut it off by hand. We later had another fridge guy work on it, but this time some wires to the thermostat got loose and I’m not sure he got them back in the right order. He thinks it may be a relay so a third tech (who naturally is leaving for Canada for the next month) will pick up some relays back home and we’ll see if that was the problem.

Now we have a fridge and freezer at essentially the same temps so Meryl is having to be creative as to where she stores her veggies so they don’t freeze.  If I ever go on an extended sailboat trip again I want to get my mechanical/electrical/structural engineering degrees ahead of time so I can fix all this stuff. At least now I know a little more about how refrigeration units work, but not enough to get it fixed correctly.

Cruising would be the absolutely perfect lifestyle if you didn’t have to spend so much time keeping the boat alive. If you are an engineer who loves fixing things, it’s nirvana. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Festival des Arts -- Polynesia

With the wind still howling on the north side of Moorea we decided to relocate to Papeete on Sunday, June 11th. It was the usual boisterous ride up wind around the corner of the island and then a reach across to Marina Tiana, about 10 miles south of Papeete. Amazingly there was only a light wind in the Marina area (sheltered around the corner from the easterly winds) and we enjoyed a celebratory drink while tied to a ball in the marina’s huge mooring field.

The next day we took a bus up into Papeete to retrieve our repaired Yamaha 15 outboard motor, a mainstay in our ability to get around in the dingy. A design flaw in an otherwise incredibly reliable motor allows salt water to splash on the upper shaft bearing. If you use the motor everyday it’s no issue, but if you store the motor that corrosive salt literally welds the bearing shut so the motor won’t turn. This is the third time it’s happened to us following storage and it’s getting old. We’ve hired a lady to watch over our boat this November and one of her jobs will be to crank the outboard a couple times a week.

While in town, Meryl bought a new pad (it was even on sale!) for our aging mattress. She’ll have a sewing project getting it cut down to shape, but it should be a good improvement. We also stopped by the Maison de la Culture to get Wednesday tickets for the upcoming Festival de Arts, Polynesia, a new dance series that runs all week featuring dance teams from all over Polynesia. We have no idea how good it will be but if past festivals are an indicator, it should be fantastic.

Steve and LiLi from LiWard.
Back at the marina we ran into old friend’s Steve and LiLi from LiWard and they mentioned they were going to the Festival tonight and asked if we’d like to join them. They had a rental car which made transportation so much easier. We left a little early since none of us had tickets and were soon in the back of a very long, and very slow moving ticket line. Steve and LiLi got the last pair of tickets together so Meryl and I had to split up. The good thing is we were both very close to the stage in what turned out to be great seats.

The Chief gives an incantation in Tahitian describing the dance.
The dance troupe was so large it filled the aisles and mezzanine.
Next came in the female dancers, dressed with flowered crowns, floral tops, and white waist length pareu’s. This is the part everyone was waiting for as 40 pairs of hips slowly rotated in synchronization as only Tahitians can dance. As the tempo and pulsating beat of the drums increased so did the hips, first in a mesmerizing rotation that had the rapt attention of everyone in the audience, then in a syncopated frenzy that is truly hard to describe. I remember someone saying you are supposed to follow their hand movements — yea, right!  Added to the dancing, the sheer tropical beauty of the Tahitian women made for a performance to be remembered by all.

Given the size of the troupe, I had male dancers leading up the side stairs (where my aisle seat was) and dancing about two feet away. When they thrust their arms out, I had to quickly duck. These guys paddle their canoes all day and dance at night and to say they are ripped (most of them) is an understatement.

The next troupe, the Hinana Kapahaka dancers from New Zealand, was a complete counterpoint to the Tahitians. A much smaller troupe of about 10 dancers, they made up for size in humor and creativity. It was a treat for us since they spoke in English and we could finally understand what was going on. They started with the requisite Haka, the Maori warrior’s “confrontation dance.” They then went through a repertoire of dances with swinging balls on strings, long sticks that were thrown to each other in syncopation, and other dances. A wry comment from the lead male performer would bring a laugh from the crowd.

I have to say it’s exhausting watching these type of dances, especially the Tahitians where your body is pulsating to the thunderous beat of the drums, your feet are tapping on the floor, and your eyes are trying to follow that rhythmic rotation of hips that are in perfect sync with the drums. But fun.

Best thing to say: It was a fantastic evening for everyone.

We also attended the next night where we had super seats in the center of the 10th row. The show started with a group representing all the Marquesan Islands (I’lle de Paques et Taki Toa). Marquesan dancing is much more male-oriented with most dances focused on preparations for warfare. The dancing is so powerful, with lots of leaping and feet crashing to the floor that it almost wears you out. It was nice when it was the women’s turn to sing a melodic supportive chorus to the male dancers.

While it's difficult to see, this scene was of a Marquesan being tattooed using the traditional method of a small hammer, ink, and combs made out of mother-of-pearl.
The second dance troupe of the evening was from Easter Island, the Rapa Nui. At the Marquesan Dance Festival last year the Rapa Nui brought the house down. This group performed a different style of dancing backed by a rock-type band with an accordion. The women, taller and more European in nature since Spanish Ecuador populated the island, are always fun to watch in their white feather headdresses and white boa skirts. Amazingly some female dancers had a white “modesty dress” underneath the boa skirts while others had, well, not much. Remember, you need to watch the hand movements to learn the story they are telling. Watch the hands. OK.

The male Rapa Nui dancers were certainly favorites of the women in the audience.

The Fertility Dance was greatly toned down from the one we saw in the Marquesas.
The male Rapa Nui dancers were pure eye candy for the females in the audience. Dressed in mostly what I would describe as a frontal “cod piece” and only a thong in the back, their finely honed and oiled bodies made “Dancing with the Stars” look like a Sunday School recital. Thank God they toned down their fertility dance that we saw in the Marquesas since that would have most likely caused heart attacks in the audience.

Once again, a fantastic evening of dance and pure enjoyment of the Polynesian culture. It was fun to talk with Steve and LiLi about everyone’s impressions of the evening to share such a great event with friends.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Hike to Paradise

Most cruisers are somewhat relieved when their guest’s leave the boat; life on a small sailboat is very tightly choreographed as it is and when you add two more people it only complicates things. Not so in our case when our friends Patsy and Steve left the boat. They were the perfect guests and we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. As the cab drove off to take them to the ferry, Meryl and I both felt a little void in our life and wish they could have stayed longer (at least it would have given me a chance to beat Steve at our favorite card game, “Screw Your Buddy.”)

Now it was time to move everything on the boat back their normal, messy places (the guest berth becomes what we fondly call “the garage.” As they say, a boat is only perfect the hour before guests arrive. The next morning we did some SUPing but generally just relaxed and enjoyed the extra square feet of boat sans guests.

On Thursday Mark and Cheryl on French Curve came over for drinks and we planned to meet them the next day at the head of Opunohu Bay for a hike. Up early the next morning we took the dingy in and hitch hiked to the head of the bay. We quickly got a ride with an older Frenchman who used to be the choreographer for the nude revue shows like Lido of Paris. Amazing the people who pick you up and amazing we’re still hitch hiking at age 69.  

What a beautiful place for a hike. From L to R: Mark, Cheryl, Meryl.
We met Mark and Cheryl (who were anchored about half way down Opunohu Bay) and hiked past the shrimp farm (more about that later), through some absolutely gorgeous countryside with the towering peak of Mt. Mouputa (the iconic peak in the famous Pan Am South Pacific poster) in the background, and up to the trail head. 

The trail was very well marked with directions and descriptions of the marae's.
There were three trails to the top, marked with the efficient French system of green, yellow and red (with red the hardest). We took one of the easier trails that wound it’s way through pineapple fields and then deep forest with ancient ruins around every bend. It’s amazing when you think of how many thousands of Tahitians lived in these valleys in the old days, where they were better protected from marauding bands of warriors from other valleys or islands. 

As an architect, I'm sure Mark was fascinated by the ancient construction techniques.
You see roosters and chickens everywhere in the wilds of French Polynesia.
One fairly large marae, called Ahu O Mahine, consisted of rock walls five rows high and about 100 feet wide. Important ceremonies were conducted on these marae’s, which typically would have some grass-roofed structures atop the platform. This marae was dedicated to worship of ‘Oro, the god of fertility and war. The chief of this marae actually met Captain Cook in Opunohu Bay in 1770.

The view of Opunohu Bay from the Belvedere. We are anchored just around the corner at the top right.
Certainly this must be Paradise?
Not sure what all the locks were about? Maybe a French thing?
Home of the best and most exotic ice cream we've ever had.
Once we reached the top we were greeted by a spectacular view of Opunohu Bay, albeit somewhat diminished by presence of tourists who rode 4-wheel ATV’s to the top of the road. We decided to walk down the road to save our legs for another day and were ecstatic to see a small side road to the LycĂ©e de Agricole, about one-third way down. Normally I’m not that excited about an agricultural college, but this one featured a well-known cafe that serves homemade ice cream from the college, including flavors like mango, passion fruit, guava, pineapple, papaya, etc. What a great way to end a hike with wonderful friends.

At the bottom of the road we began hitchhiking again, this time waiting only two minutes until a young French woman who was local artist picked us up and took us back to our dingy. It’s funny that more frequently than not it’s single women who pick us up; so nice that Tahiti fosters a safe environment that allows this.

Friday, September 9, 2016

On the Road to Teahupoo

On September 9th we rented  a car from Eco Car in Papeete and did a self-drive tour of the more settled and placid West Coast of Tahiti (the leeward or non-windy side) with Patsy and Steve.  We like renting from Eco Car since 1) they are half the price of their competitors, 2) they include insurance, and 3) they deliver the car right to the marina. The only disconcerting thing was the exacting inspection of the car for minor dings (like where a bug committed suicide) that puts fear of God in you to bring the car back in one piece.

Mara Marae-Ta’Ata near Pa’ea.

Our first stop was the archeology site of Mara Marae-Ta’Ata near Pa’ea about seven miles down the coast from Papeete. A very well preserved site, it consists of three large rectangular stone marae (stone platforms) that were used mainly for ceremonial purposes. The marae’s were discovered by Europeans in 1925, and at the right most Marae C, several bodies were unearthed. They were most likely priests or chiefs and when they died their bones were laid out to dry. The skulls were then secreted away by family members and hidden to preserve the spirit. 

The caves at Grotto Marraa included pools that disappeared into the darkness of the cave. 
I dislike taking posed pictures but they are both so good looking that I just had to.
Our next stop was the Grotto of Maraa, a series of hillside caves with pools of shallow water at their entrances. Ironically Meryl and I had driven by these Grotto’s many times when we had the boat hauled out at Port Phaeton but never had time to stop.

A beautiful red protea.
If anyone knows the name of this flower please let us know. One of my favorites.
Another crowd pleaser, the heliconia.
A beautiful jade vine.
A little further down the road was a similar garden, called Grotto Teanateatea, with a wide variety of lily-covered ponds and waterfalls. We enjoyed the wide variety of exotic tropical flowers, including protea, ginger, heliconia, jade vine, and the Bird of Paradise.

Just before the town of Taravao we stopped at our old boatyard at Port Phaeton and found it just as packed with boats, covered with mud, and generally as messy as we remember it. I’m always amazed at the number of project boats sitting waiting for their owners to restore them to greatness and live out their dreams.

Somewhere out there is Teahupoo (actually way around to the left).
The obligatory Teahupoo tourist photo.
Great poster for what it's like during The Billabong Tahitian Pro surfing contest.
Another huge, carbo-loaded lunch fit for a Polynesian.
We continued on to the little attached “island” of Tahiti-iti in search of the famous big waves of Teahupoo. Called “Cho-poo” by the surfers, our tour guide of the previous day, Tracey, chastised the pronunciation saying the surfers were just to lazy to use the proper name. Teahupoo (remember to pronounce every vowel) is at the end of the road and it was very difficult to see any waves without binoculars, so we opted for a quick lunch before we explored further. The food was surprisingly good, even though I warned Patsy that the chicken sandwich with fries meant the fries were inside the huge baguette. Well, I guess the surfers need all the carbs they can get.

Hard to catch the glory of this famous surf spot. 
Looking back into the bay at Teahupoo.
We later walked across the bridge and out along the side of the bay to a point where you could see the famous wave, still a ways off in the distance. Most surfers hire “taxi boats” to take them out to the wave, which today was only about seven feet tall.  During the recent Billabong Pro Tahiti surfing championship veteran 38-year-old Kelly Slater added to his series of Teahupoo wins by taking the title from the much younger Jo Jo from Hawaii. We would have loved to watch the competition but we waited too long as it was completed in about six days, compared to the 20 some days allotted to waiting for good waves.

More than anything, we just enjoyed the companionship of good friends Patsy and Steve, whom we spent most of the day laughing at inconsequential things and having a good time. 

Thanks guys.