Posted by John

We enjoyed our stay at the new downtown marina in Papeete, but like our previous marina stays, it was over much too soon. We attempted to divide our time between boat work and fun, but there is always so much boat work.

There is one main highway that circles the island of Tahiti. This highway is also the main drag through the city of Papeete (Pape’ete—four syllables.) Our marina slip was about fifty yards from this main drag. Morning and evening traffic was heavy, and emergency vehicles with the not-unpleasant sound of European-type sirens went up and down the street all day. As a city, Papeete is very French. Between us and the street, all along the shore, was an over-water walking/bicycling/skate boarding/roller blading path. Underwater lights beneath the path gave the water a blue glow at night with the surreal sense that our boat was floating in a swimming pool.

Our first priority was to repair the jib and the jib roller furler. The problem with the furler was easy to figure out. Three screws had come loose and fallen out. It turns out that those three little screws were highly important in making the sail roll up when the furler drum was turned. Without them—as we learned after arriving from the Marquesas—the connection between the drum and the sail was lost. So, we’d just have to find some 1/4 inch x 20 stainless steel screws about a half-inch long. However, it turned out that many hardware store clerks in metric system-using, French speaking Tahiti didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Finally, I found what I was looking for (almost) in a fishing tackle shop. Seems like an odd combination, but when I found out this shop had a large selection of screws, I nearly ran to get there before they closed. About half the shop was drawers of screws, the other half plastic squid and hooks. The owner did, indeed, have some 1/4 x 20 stainless bolts, although a little long. Once I screwed them into the furler, I wrapped around it with self-fusing rescue tape. They won’t come loose again without us noticing.

It took a few days of asking around, but we ended up taking the jib on a taxi ride several miles out to Tahiti Sails. They’re located in a large barn-like building with a sleek, black, raised floor. Sewing machines are recessed down into the floor so an entire sail can be slid across the floor and through a sewing machine. The operator sits in a pit at the machine. When I mentioned this to Evan from Sweetpea, he said that was a standard setup. Well, okay, I guess the only other sail loft I’ve seen is in funky Port Townsend. Anyway, they did a great job with our jib and brought the sail back to us the day before we left, delivering it all the way to the boat.

When we had first taken the jib off the boat and folded it up, we loaded it onto a little wheeled luggage carrier we have and wheeled it down the dock. We only got as far as the boat in the next slip before the thing tipped over. The boat in the next slip was a charter catamaran and the woman working to get it ready for the next client offered to help us. First she cleaned out a dock cart that she was using, then helped put the heavy sail into the cart. Then she insisted on pushing the cart down the dock and up to the marina access from the street. Then she helped us call a taxi, and waited until it came. While we were waiting she told us the proper way to pronounce the island of Taha’a and told us not to miss stopping there. The street access to the marina is gated, so she got her brother, who she was working with, to go get his access card to open the gate for the taxi. Then she helped to lift the sail into the taxi. We’ve found a lot of this kind of helpfulness here. We found a lot of help in Mexico as well, but there everyone wanted a tip for helping. Here, the custom is to not tip for anything (although we did tip a waiter who was extra helpful). It feels weird sometimes, but it sure makes everything easier.

Besides such fun little adventures as buying a new cell phone, finding new dinghy oars and getting lost finding my way back to the medical clinic for a follow up visit (no additional charge), our water pressure pump failed. This pump is what makes the water come out of the faucet when we turn it on. Finding the marine store with water pumps, and then installing the new pump, was an unexpected project (and expense), as well as another experience of wandering the back streets of Papeete with sketchy directions drawn on a napkin. Note: Calling Papeete a very French city could also mean that street names are not always obviously visible, if there is even a sign at all; and streets are not necessarily straight, making the concept of “going around the block” sometimes interesting. But I finally found the store I was looking for—Oceans 2000—with additional directions from someone in the nearby outboard motor shop, as well as a guy looking over a fence from his back yard, calling to me when he saw me looking lost. Yes, he knew that place, after I showed him my napkin.

The highlight of our Papeete stay was the last night. A few days prior to our last night we saw more and more boats we knew come into the marina, or heard them on the radio clearing a passage past the airport runway to go to the other marina or anchorage. We also started getting visits from people asking if we were part of the Puddle Jump and if we were participating in the Moorea Rendezvous, or if we were planning to head to New Zealand for the cyclone season, or even if we were going to Raiatea and needed electrical work done once we got there. We were given brochures and business cards by all of them. In other words, there was a sense that, once again, we were getting ready for something; that we had not actually made the trip from the Marquesas to Tahiti alone (we saw no one the entire way), and that all of this was gearing up to continue on.

On our last night in Papeete we went to the Puddle Jump event, held down the street, which began the celebration of the fact that we had all made it thousands of miles across the ocean to French Polynesia. But there was also a feeling of another beginning, with more places to go. Representatives from New Zealand and Fiji made presentations inviting us to come. We shared stories with many of the cruisers we had met along the way but hadn’t seen in a while. The Tahitian Minister of Tourism gave a speech telling us how important we were to their culture because we were the modern version of seafarers crossing the ocean just as their ancestors had done to originally settle in the islands (well, actually, they had canoes and we have GPS, but it was a nice speech). Then the gut-moving drums started and the Marquesas dancers put on a show. It was dark, the drums were loud, the lights harsh, the bodies sweaty, the costumes skimpy, the women mesmerizing, and the men downright scary. It didn’t take much imagination to see these guys as cannibals.

The next morning, with the drums still echoing in my head, we sailed out of Papeete harbor to participate in a no-pressure race to Cook’s Bay on the island of Moorea. A few boats were experienced racers and took the race seriously, but most of us just made an attempt in the light wind. We were racing our houses, after all. By the time enough wind came up to actually make some decent progress, we all started to figure out that we wouldn’t make it by dark if we didn’t rev up our engines. One by one, boats fired up and motored toward Moorea.

The party continued that evening and the following day at the Club Bali Hai hotel with more presentations, food, canoe races (Robyn joined a team), activities and events, and two more shows of Polynesian dancing, the most spectacular of which was a Saturday night fire dance. Impressive. And all with gut-rattling drums.

We’re on our own from here on, planning to continue west for a few months, then turn south. Although there are no more organized sailing rallies, we aren’t really alone. We know boatloads of people in this ocean, and they’ll be out there, all around us, somewhere.

The streets of Papeete were deserted on Sunday morning…
…but jammed during the week. There is a mix of Tahitian, French and English languages.
Waiting around for the start of the “race” to Moorea.
Fast inter-island car ferry.
Mid-race, the Canadian boat “Music” behind a swell.
This does not look real. Not part of our group, but also going to Moorea, this is a huge, obviously unique boat. I put any sailboat that requires a mast top aircraft clearance light when in the harbor into the Super Yacht category.
Entering Cook’s Bay on the island of Moorea.
They’re like human fireworks.
Early Sunday morning we all got fresh bagettes delivered to our boats.
Almost a photo finish. Robyn is second from front in middle boat.
It was not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
It really doesn’t get much better than this.

Marquesas to Tahiti

Posted by John

Most definitions of the word “Adventure” specify an element of risk and uncertain outcome. To that I’d add exhaustion. An adventure then, cannot possibly be just relaxing poolside. Something else must happen. And so it is true that we have not relaxed poolside since leaving Mexico. We certainly did not get much rest in the crowded anchorage at Hiva Oa. Even if it hadn’t been so crazy with crashing waves, gusting winds and heavy showers, the work on the wharf reconstruction, with its jack hammering and pile driving, was enough to keep us on edge all day.

We did, however, meet Evan and his dad Kevin traveling together on Sweetpea, a boat that Kevin had rescued from the mud of Morro Bay and spent a period of years restoring. They helped us get our stern anchor set (so we wouldn’t swing into them), showed us a “secret” canoe launching ramp that they had found which made dinghy landings on shore less risky, loaned us their jerry jugs and helped with getting fuel out to our boat. When Kevin and Evan learned that the only place they could fill their drinking water jugs was in town two miles away, and the only taxi on the island was already booked up for the day, they came out to our boat. After we filled their jugs from our tank, we all sat in the cockpit and talked for the rest of the day. We talked about race car construction (or how to take a $100,000 Porsche, put another $100,000 into it, and then have it end up being worth $50,000), boat restoration (similar deal, maybe), the aerospace industry, Boeing, Microsoft, Elon Musk, Space X, and huge, elaborate, one-of-a-kind 3-D printers. We forgot, for a few hours, the hazards around us, went lax on the normal evening routines, never secured the dinghy properly, and because it bashed against the boat all night, by morning we had lost a dinghy oar. That was depressing, and all my fault.

From Hiva Oa we went back to Tahuata, and the flatest, quietest bay we had found in the Marquesas. Sweetpea was already there. One day they came over in the dinghy, picked up Robyn, and took her to the village in another bay a couple of miles away. I’m sure she enjoyed getting away from us for a while, and they even bought her lunch.

Despite the fact that this was where we had hauled up the rock with the anchor, we managed to spend a few days relaxing and mentally working up to crossing the 770 miles of ocean that still lay between us and Tahiti.

Adventure does not always have to mean that bad things happen. Our first day out of Tahuata was excellent sailing. The weather report had said “MER PEU AGITEE,” or that the sea was only a little bit agitated (we think). It doesn’t really matter because it was easy going, yet speedy.

That evening at dusk we were suddenly surrounded by dozens and dozens dolphins. At first they just swam along with us, diving under the boat and passing from one side to the other. Then they started doing acrobatics, including a Rockettes-type move where several leaped out of the water simultaneously, all in a row. Later, after dark, we were caught off guard and overtaken by a squall with rapidly increasing winds and torrential rain. When the wind went from ten knots to more than thirty in less than two minutes, I was a little uncertain of the outcome. After the squall passed we were treated to a moonbow—a pale rainbow created by moonlight. Certainly, this all adds up to an adventure by anyone’s definition. And it was still the first day.

Once we had threaded our way through the reefs and atolls of the Tuamotu Archipelago, we came to what we had expected to be the best sailing of the trip—a beam reach the rest of the way to Tahiti. But alas, no. A weather disturbance farther south had altered the normal flow of the trade winds into a feeble five knots from the north. We had sailed this far without using the engine, and we were determined to sail the entire way, even if it added a couple of extra days to the trip and our speed dropped to two knots, or less.

By the time that Robyn had spotted the distant lights of Papeete on the evening of our last day, we already knew that the jib sail was coming apart, the cell phone had died, and we needed to find a new set of dinghy oars, among other things. By sunrise, when we tried to furl up the jib and motor into the harbor, we learned that our jib furler was broken as well. We needed to get out on the bowsprit and drop the jib onto the deck and tie it down so it wouldn’t blow into the water. Adventures are always full of the unexpected. And by this time it was also clear that a painful hole in the back of my leg, which had not healed after more than a month, would likely need some medical attention.

Because of the narrow channel through the reef, and the commercial ship traffic, as well as low flying aircraft coming into and out of the airport, entering Papeete harbor requires contacting the Port Control and receiving permission to enter. Once that was done, we were able to get a real slip (not Med-moor) at the new “International” marina. Sadly, the marina lacks “American” 115 volt electrical shore power. Everything here is 220 volt.

Papeete is lights, traffic, sirens and people. I spent much of our first full day waiting for my name to be called at a medial clinic staffed by French doctors. I knew we had found the clinic when we noticed lots of people sitting around outside, some even with infants in bassinets. We squeezed into a tiny waiting room inside. Once my turn came, the hole—an insect bite gone bad, perhaps—was quickly cleaned out and re-bandaged. Even though a nurse did the cleaning, the doctor stayed the whole time, watching and talking to me. How often do you see that in the U.S? The doctor was concerned with the depth of the hole. I said, I was too. He then wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and special bandages, and asked me to come back in five days to make sure it was healing. The bill for the doctor visit was the equivalent of $36. So far, however, everything else here is phenomenally expensive.

Papeete is the official end of the Pacific Puddle Jump, the loosely organized sailing rally from the Americas to French Polynesia with no set starting place or schedule. There will be a party here in Papeete, then a group sail over to the island of Moorea about 15 miles away. The party will continue there, including a dinner. Once it is all over, we’ll continue out the Society Island chain until we leave French Polynesia from Bora Bora for whatever comes next. Hopefully, we’ll find some time to relax along the way.

The anchorage at Atuona on Hiva Oa.
There is a boat yard at Atuona, but no travel lift. Some kind of hydraulic lifting trailer is used to haul boats up the ramp, pulled by a tractor.
Approaching Tahiti and the city of Papeete.
Outrigger racing canoes in storage.
There is a public park all along the waterfront.
Mysticeti is starting to look beat up after 6,000 miles.

Photos from The Marquesas

Posted by John

The island of Nuku Hiva. Our first view of land after 33 days. It’s a little blurry, but so were we.
Outside Kevin’s Yacht Services. Kevin can help with anything that might be needed, from formal check-in to tattoos.
Free Wi-Fi under this awning for the price of a cold drink or, better yet, lunch.
View of the boats in the bay from the Taiohae waterfront.
Another colorful view.
One picture is worth a thousand words. The maintenance guys had all the latest required safety equipment—and a horse.
Supply ship/passenger ferry, as well as a couple boats from the Oyster Yacht World Rally. Plenty of room for supply ship and visiting boats at Nuku Hiva, not so much at Ua Pou and Hiva Oa.
This is the sailing vessel Shakedown, from Useless Bay, WA. They left from Banderas Bay, Mexico but had mechanical problems, including engine failure. Their crossing took 49 days. The small yellow flag just below the first spreader arm indicates that they have not yet formally checked-in to the country.
Once checked-in, the protocol is to fly the French flag above the French Polynesian flag. We also added the Marquesas flag just for fun.
From Nuku Hiva we crossed to Ua Pou. As we got closer, the mountains seen in the distance became rock spires.
Mysticeti at Ua Pou.
Robyn’s nice evening view of the spires.
To buy bread you usually need to be out very early. It also helps if you know where the store or bakery is. We spent a lot of time looking.
We finally found a store. It’s off the street, and has no sign. It also had no bread.
From Ua Pou we made our way to this bay on Tahuata. We got there late at night.
Julie scraping barnacles off the hull.
Diving off the boat into warm water is something we can’t do at home.