May 23, 2003
Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora…When you hear these names it is easy to imagine white beaches and palm trees. This is the part of the world that we are visiting now. French Polynesia, in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean is made up of five groups of islands: the Gambiers in the SE, the Australs in the SW, the Marquesas in the NE, the Tuamotos stretching across the middle diagonally from SE to NW and the Society Islands in the NW. The Society Islands are then made of two groups. In the Eastern part of the Societies are the islands of Tahiti and Moorea; these islands being only about 12 miles apart. The western part of the Societies contains the islands of Huahine, Raivave and Bora Bora.
Papeete, on the island of Tahiti, is the administrative center of F.P. The Inland Guide says that the population of Tahiti is 100,000 with 50,000 cars registered. You can imagine the noise and pollution that accompanies those statistics! Waking up the first morning in Papeete, we feared that it was raining when we heard the pounding noise. Jumping up to close the hatches, we realized that the sound was the morning traffic. We had not heard these sounds since leaving Ecuador in February.
Let us back up a little and tell you some of the happenings since our last message to you. We visited a total of four atolls in the Tuamotos…Makemo, Tahanea, Fakarava and Toau from May 4th through May 18th. We know that the names do not ring a bell to any of you, but we thought you might like the rhythm of the names themselves. The favorite of all was Tahanea where there were no people and no other boats. Here the water was so clear that we could take a photo of the coral 30’ beneath our boat. We did take photos of the pinks and purples in the coral ashore in waist-deep water. We could have taken some large fish by using the speargun from the deck of the boat if we had chosen to do so. Without knowing, for sure, whether the fish were safe to eat, we chose to just watch them. Some of the fish around reefs will give a person Ciguatera, a form of fish poisoning caused by algae in the system of the fish. Strangely enough, the Ciguatera may be present in a certain type of fish within one atoll system and not be present in the same type of fish in a neighboring atoll. The best source of info is the local fisherman.
We met our young friend, Laurent, several times and traveled with him for a while. Laurent picked up another young man as crew for a few days. Jirry is from the Czech Republic, has just finished his Doctoral thesis in economics and will present the thesis when he returns in June. He is a typical backpacker carrying his tent and supplies with him. Laurent carried Jirry as far as the north end of Toau where we last saw him. From there he was hoping to find a local fisherman with whom to journey on to the next atoll. It was interesting to hear of the current events of that area. Why is it that we lose touch with what is happening in a war-torn area after the war is over?
All was not magic and beauty in the atolls. The Passes became easier and easier to negotiate; however, one should never get too complacent. When it came time to leave the southern end of Toau and exit the Passe, we had had 12 hours of winds coming in through the Passe. We tried to time our exit at the end of the outgoing tide when the movement of the water was nearly slack. The opposing winds against the tidal current caused some large waves at the mouth of the Passe. We knew that we would get some rough water and had laid the hatches down. Underestimating the force of the waves, we had not cinched down the hatches - big mistake! We took more water over the bow that morning than ever before. The water came roaring back over the deck and straight through the hatches. While Sander wrestled with the steering and tried to keep the boat straight and steady, Jane went below to try to tighten the hatches. Satori handled the situation well but inside we had a terrible mess. Cushions had to be dried out, vacuumed in order to remove the salt, cleaned, dried and then vacuumed again. All the woodwork had to be cleaned and some of the cabinet doors repaired. The salt corrodes the catches and makes the doors difficult to open. Two days of work will help us remember in the future not to be lazy about securing the boat before tackling a Passe.
The last stop was on the north end of Toau where there is an extended family of fishermen living. This is not technically a Passe into the lagoon because reefs extending across the mouth of the indentation block it. There is enough room for several boats, however, and in order to allow more boats to visit, the family has installed moorings which are offered free. One of the American boats there at the time had organized a pizza party for the night of our arrival. The local family ashore was the host, cooking the pizzas, laying out the dishes and silverware and opening their home to all. Everyone who came brought toppings. Usually, these toppings consisted of whatever was left in the cabinets as all of us were short of groceries by then. We had a lovely time and were greatly impressed with the hospitality of the local family. We had had a lovely time in the Tuamotos, always being met with friendship and smiling faces wherever we went. Papeete was to be a real taste of reality, however.
There is an informal system of check-ins around F.P. but all boats are expected to check-in formally with immigration and customs in Papeete within about a month of arrival. We left Toau on Sunday, May 18th and arrived here on Tuesday, the 20th about noon. Proceeding to the check-in area downtown, we dropped the anchor and hoped to complete the affairs and move on to the anchorage that afternoon. What we had not realized was the need to pay bonds for our privilege of staying in Tahiti. A trip to the bank combined with all the other visits made the whole thing impossible that day and required a night of mooring stern-to the quay. This type of mooring is difficult for Satori with her poor maneuvering. We must first drop the bow anchor and be sure that it is set. Then we must carry a very long line ashore to the bollard. That line is set on one of the large winches on the stern. From there we winch ourselves in little by little as we let the bow anchor chain out gradually. The process takes a long time and is quite exhausting. With any difficult winds, it can be nearly impossible and requires the dinghy to help push her around and in place. Luckily, we had no stiff winds that day.
We were fortunate that our bank account had had some time to recover and grow before reaching Tahiti. The required bonds were $850/each and had to be paid at one of the local banks. The funds must be paid in French Polynesian Francs and will be reimbursed in the same currency at the end. Since we must have a large sail repair job done and take on 1,000 litres of diesel fuel, we are experiencing a fiscal dilemma. We believe that we will be able to go through the check-out procedure, get our refund and then still be able to cruise around Polynesia during the time we have left. It does make one wonder why they (the French gov’t) puts us through the whole procedure then. The citizens of the countries belonging to the EC need not pay bonds. We finished the check-in and moved on to an anchorage about ten miles from the city where we can see Moorea in the distance. We have met our old friend, John, from Trompeta again and look forward to seeing Bridget as she will visit John on June 5th.
We will wait for a mail shipment here, get our sail repaired and stock up on some groceries etc. There are lovely huge markets with the most expensive groceries in the world. After the very agreeable prices in Ecuador it is a real shock to the bank account. A few examples: Tomatoes at $4.75/kilo Lettuce at $1.89/small bag Carrots at $2.83/kilo 8 small bananas at 94c 1 cantalope at $3.30 1 Big Mac at McDonald’s for $6.50 Eggs at 25c/each
We are enjoying the French Baguettes and the good selection of cheeses. A salad with lettuce and tomato never tasted so good!
The photos attached are of Satori anchored at Makemo, the coral of Tahanea and a shot of the marine iguana from the Galapagos.
Best wishes from Jane and Sander Please use the ham address when you write: ******