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.