Raiatea and Tahaa

Posted by John

It seems like a long time since our last post from Huahine. Maybe that’s just because it feels like we’ve done a lot since then. And maybe it feels like we’ve done a lot because we’ve actually done so little. And maybe we’ve done so little because these last few islands, protected by their fringing reefs, are such a perfect place to do nothing.

The weather varies from hot and humid with no wind (swim to keep cool), to hot and humid with light wind (perfect), to hot and humid with a twenty knot wind (stay out of the wind until too hot, then stand in the wind until cool). Both our cabin humidity and temperature gauges read a constant 85. Maybe they’re both stuck.

The sky is never completely clear of clouds. Most of the time it is probably more than half covered with fluffy cotton balls, and at some point during nearly every day or night there will be at least a few minutes of torrential rain.

So with the days passing easily, we jumped off the boat into crystal clear water to swim and snorkel, we read books, we gazed at the stars and, when absolutely necessary, we ventured to shore to stock up on baguettes and cheese.


Posted by John

On nautical charts the proper name of Cook’s Bay on Moorea is Baie de Cook, which I think should translate to Cook Bay, but Cook’s seems to be the popular name. I don’t know if this is similar to how people use Sea of Cortez instead of Gulf of California, or if it is more akin to Hood Canal (where we live) versus saying Hood’s Canal, which is just plain wrong and sounds to me like fingernails scraping on a blackboard. So for now, without further guidance, I’ll take a chance at being wrong and call it Cook’s Bay like everyone else. It’s named after the explorer Captain Cook, of course.

As nice as Cook’s Bay was, we had reasons to leave. One reason was that the weather was changing. The wind had come up. We were mostly protected in the bay, but we could see the much faster speed of the clouds blowing past the mountains. Every once in a while a strong gust, from no particular direction, would hit the bay, sometimes going from dead calm to as high as thirty knots in a matter of seconds. Then it would die just as quickly. The gusts seemed to increase in frequency and duration, and eventually anchors started to break free, including ours. The solution for a more secure anchor is to put down more rode (chain or rope). Cook’s Bay is deeper than we like to anchor. We only have 190 feet of anchor chain before it transitions to a rope rode. The transition does not happen smoothly, and we never marked the rope for length. At some point we plan on taking the chain off our stern anchor and adding it to the bow anchor, giving us much more chain up front and making the stern anchor all rope. But that is a project for another day, preferably when the boat is in a yard somewhere. Going to a shallower anchorage was one reason to leave Cook’s. The other, more important reason, was to get Robyn to her scuba diving lessons on Huahine, about 90 miles away. The opportunity had just fallen into place, and we wanted to try hard to make it happen.

French Polynesia includes three types of islands. The Marquesas are volcanic rocks surrounded by open ocean. The shorelines are mostly rugged and pounded by surf. Dinghy landings are a little rough, even at dinghy “docks.” Bays open directly to the sea, and the calmer ones are on the opposite side of the islands than the prevailing swell direction. This was so true when comparing our nights on Tahuata to those on Hiva Oa, or even Nuku Hiva.

By contrast, the Tuamotus are coral atolls, with a ring of coral reef surrounding an inner lagoon. Atolls are low, just barely breaking the surface by a few feet. Water that finds its way over the reef and into the lagoon eventually flows back out through passes in the reef (there is minimal tide in this part of the world). If these passes are deep and wide enough, they can be navigated by boats. The lagoon can be like a lake in the middle of the ocean, with the surf breaking on the reef, and the lagoon inside flat and calm. We had originally planned to spend some time in the Tuamotus, but ended up not stopping in order to maximize our time in Papeete.

The third type of island is a combination of the other two. The Society Island chain is mostly made up of volcanic islands surrounded by a fringing coral reef. The surf breaks on the outer reef, and the inner, island fringing lagoon is generally flat and calm in comparison. The larger islands are Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a and Bora Bora.

We left Cook’s Bay late in the afternoon to get out through the pass before dark, then sailed all night to enter the pass at Huahine after daylight. Sure, we had some higher wind than we generally like, and some swells knocking things around, but the trip was uneventful. The wind pretty much completely died before we got there, forcing us to start the engine. There were no new failures or breakages on the crossing. The fixes we had made in Papeete stayed fixed. Our planned anchorage for the first night turned out to be deeper and more crowded than we expected so we motored slowly through the lagoon to the south end of the island, arriving at the bay where the scuba class was to be held. It was shallow enough, and calm enough, with no swell. There were few other boats there. It kind of felt like a lake, and was so quiet we could hear people talking on shore.

Kristy, from the catamaran Te Poerava was the dive instructor. She and Dan had come down from California with the Puddle Jump. When not sailing, she runs a dive travel business that had been started by her father. Robyn’s classmates included crew from the boats Slow Flight, Me Too and Fandango. All were also Puddle Jumpers. We all met up in Avea Bay at the south end of Huahine Iti.

Basic scuba skills, which normally might be taught in a swimming pool, were instead taught in shallow water on the reef. Classroom sessions were conducted on Te Poerava and Slow Flight. Open water dives were held right off the stern of Kristy’s boat. Between all of our boats we scrounged up almost enough dive gear that all the students could be in the water at the same time, with Kristy instructing and Dan assisting. What gear we couldn’t scrounge up, we were able to rent from a dive shop in Fare, at the north end of Huahine Nui after an early morning rental of a little stick shift Fiat to get us there. Huahine Nui and Hauhine Iti are two separate islands inside the reef, connected by a bridge.

All of us had a fun time for the duration of the lessons, including a 4th of July barbeque on Slow Flight. And in the end, Robyn got her certified scuba diver card, which was a goal of hers for this trip.

To wrap up our stay on Huahine we rented the little stick shift again, returned the rented dive gear, did some shopping in town, and drove around the islands to take in the sights.

And so it was on Huahine where we finally found the perfect combination of air and water temperature, gentle breeze (most of the time), clear water, a secure anchorage and the relaxing fun that we had hoped to find in French Polynesia.

This is as good as it gets. Except, of course, for reliable internet access, which made loading photos an exercise in more frustration than I was willing to accept.

Photo by Robyn