Monday, 22 May 2017
As we closed the land it took form and colour, showing deeply ravined valleys, richly covered in vegetation. To our right the land formed a low promontory called Venus Point, where Captain Cook set up his observatory to observe the transit of Venus across the face of the sun to determine the distance between the Earth and sun.
Beyond this the surf broke heavily on the outer reef, beyond which yachts were anchored on flat water. We could see lots of buildings up the lower slopes of the mountain, and much development on the shore line with large rocks ahead. I called Port Control on VHF Ch 12 and was allowed to enter the port behind a fast cat from Moorea. They then told me off for going left towards town quay rather than right to the Marina. I tried my best Polynesian politesse with " Mauru uru!" or thankyou, and then set off round the airport runway, needing a chat with port control at each end so that we could pass safely between flights landing and taking off.
We were lucky to get a place in the marina immediately, and it was a great luxury to be able to walk on and off the boat whenever required, and to have as much electricity and water as we wanted. The row of super yachts was impressive, and when we gate crashed the super yacht crew party that night we learned that Annata had the tallest mast in the world until last year, when a newer yacht took the record. We met a nice skipper, Fabien, and some hospitable crew who plied us with punch and small eats. It seemed that none of the aches were put out to charter, and all hung endlessly in port awaiting the whim of the owner. One Maltese deckhand, Luke, said that they had waited for 9 months for orders in San Diego. The owner had only been on board for three days in 14 months. They never put up the mainsail unless the owner was on board, for fear of damaging it, and in any wind over about 25 knots would have to take sail down. Every time they sailed they broke things it seemed. It
became a 9-5 job, endlessly polishing the boat, waiting for the owner to call.
Next day we explored Papeete a bit, and found it a charming town along the harbour front with a dual carriageway boulevarde shaded with mature trees. It seemed to have every kind of shop available. One evening we returned to visit the roulottes, which are food vans, twenty of which form a well organised open air food market in the evenings, with well laid out grid of dining tables under pretty lights. The range of food was impressive with a preponderance of Chinese, but also grilled meats, traditional burgers or galettes. We settled for Chinese, and I had one of the national dishes - chow mein.
Anne and I took the dinghy out to the reef, and came across a great Saturday party where boats anchored along the calm inner dege, and people partied in waist deep water on sand. Barbecues were set up, each on a singles spike driven into the ground, music pounded from big speakers, and young and old boogied in the clear aquamarine water. Surfers were paddling Cross the lagoon to the breakers. and one hitched aloft with us and we drove him out to the edge of the break.
We hired a car for a day and drove halfway round the island on the thin strip of flatland between the sea and the impressively steep mountainsides cleft with deep vertical ravines, all clothed in mature rain forest. We stopped at Vaiapu to see the water gardens. Here a sacred waterfall roars down into a pool, and here the legend of the conversion of a spirit into man is rooted. We enjoyed the gardens through which the clear waters from the falls meander in streams and pools, overhung with massive trees, giant ferns, bamboos and palm trees. We climbed a steep trail up the mountain to a viewpoint 200 metres above the plain which gave excellent views of the lagoon, and the lower island Tahiti Iti. In flips flops the muddy path and steep slippery steps were rather a challenge, but thankfully there was a new installation of thick rope handrails which stopped us skidding off the cliff. At the bottom we washed our feet below the waterfall, slightly nervous about the four foot l
ong eel that came fearlessly to investigate as soon as we entered the water. It reminded us that when we swam in the waterfall pool in Fatu Hiva there was something that slithered disconcertingly past us in the water.
The time came to say farewell to Justin, but with the nice thought that he and Siobhan will join us in Tonga soon. Julien arrived and he and Emily spent a few days in an AirB&B nearby. Finally Mark arrived laden with much needed spares - engine mounts for the generator, cooling water hose, navigation lights, deck hatch locks, and all sorts of items that I'd emailed him to get.
Thursday, 18 May 2017
We. Also dropped in at a little art atelier, where the bearded man in nothing but colourful Hawaiian surf shorts showed us his creations of driftwood and shells. His paints glowed on the shel backlit by the sunshine with the blue of the lagoon bright through the split cane sunshades. Nearby Stephanie at Fakarava Yacht Services took in our laundry and rented us bikes for the morning. We cycled out 12km to the end of the atoll by the pass into the lagoon and had a look at the old lighthouse built like a skinny Mayan temple out of coral blocks and concrete.
It's great to be able to read books that relate to the places I am in. Fakarava features in several of Jack London's gripping South Sea short stories, of which I've downloaded 138 onto the Kindle free of charge! He had a huge amount of experience in South Seas trading, the great Klondike Gild Rush, and writes very vividly of the challenges of life in those times. I first came across him in a book of biographies of sea faring authors. His best known book is The Call of The Wild. By chance I then found his name branding an antique Hawaiian surf board in a Galician sea side house where Anne and I stayed with my sister Sarah and Antony in 2016
Tuesday, 16 May 2017
Each community lives for pearl fishing or copra ( for coconut oil). Tourism had not reached the four islands we have so far visited Manihi, Ahé, Apataki, and Tao, but even this one Fakarava, being the second largest, has only a little more in terms of services: most people come here to dive. We've found a lovely waterside cafe , four bikes to hire to cycle around a good part of the atoll 25 k . Every island "capital" has at least one church : sometimes 3 ( the villages are empty during services, with a really strong delivery through the open windows of hymns and music with drums and guitars ) They are simple but beautiful, and well kept in every case. Every village has shop with a very limited range of anything , and is only is "full" a couple of hours after the boat/ freighter delivery ! There is tremendous activity as these delivery vessels come in once a week : everyone joins in .
Each atoll has one or sometimes 2 "passes" which empty the water to and from the inside lagoon according to the various states of the tide . Because of the speed of the race , it is very tricky to navigate , but after the first, Paul's got increasingly confident though it can be very hairy. The passes are where fish of all sizes congregate and sharks, all for general feeding . Emily has dived in these doing "drift dives " that take you gently through the gorges and currents of the pass. Once inside the pass it is all eyes for coral, as very few channels are marked : again amazing navigation and guts from Paul and Justin jointly to find us the most idyllic anchorages with no one else in sight just off coral reefs for snorkelling . Entering these waters is really only possible in full sunlight otherwise you can't see the changes in colour to alert you to a collision with coral .The quality of the coral has varied in each atoll , but the abundance, range, size, behaviour, and colour of fish is astonishing . In some places the coral seems almost dead , in others live and vibrant. We can only assume a dramatic change of some kind , or that the parrotfish are succeeding in their work of munching it and turning it into a film of sand over everything . You can hear them munching under water , but I guess they can't cull them . They are the loveliest rainbow fish .
Some atolls are so huge, and like a big lake you can't see the other side or the ends : our smaller ones have even so been at least 5 miles radius . As well as the passes , the sea swells in over the coral bank in places along the edge creating a ring of little islands called "Motos". Some of the shacks on the Motos look like Robinson Crusoe's makeshift shelter , others seem more substantial . This applies to the range of houses in every village : some are barely more than sheds and some are well tended buildings and plots . The government (French) supplies everyone initially with materials , but each household has to fund the construction costs and presumably the maintenance thereafter : which explains the variation.
Each main community also has a central building like a "Bastide" built strikingly and strongly on concrete stilts , where everyone shelters for the duration of storms . The last devastating cyclone hit in 1983 , but there have been numerous other storms since .
Tourism has definitely not reached the smaller reefs / islands .Few people are indifferent , most often offer a cheery hello , and sometimes long conversations will ensue . This is how we find out the most , chatting to fisherman on the jetty thus leading us to our pearl farm visit . You can do these on a "tour " in the larger Islands.
There are no harbour dues, no landing fees, but when we've moored against a wharf , eventually a good many people rock up to chat ( for hours ) ! Always a good source of local information and gossip , using the ubiquitous tricycle as a platform for conversation. These wonderful vehicles ( imported from China and universal here ) provide a seat to chill on and chat , and with baskets on the back to carry produce , a friend , children , dog or simply as a way of getting around the limited lanes and streets of their community.
Many unpushy dogs lounge around , most clearly attached to someone (sacks of dog food available in the shop) . When at Apataki there were several waiting for their owners working at the pearl fisheries just off shore . Cat's not widespread ( we've seen 3 ) and chicken which are wild and endemic everywhere in polynesia . No rats though one hears horror stories of them getting into boats via the mooring ropes . Justin found one nibbling his toe in his bunk 42 years ago on Ahé , so we were not unconcerned especially there, and I've seen the harbour banks at Gosport teaming with them !
Not a lot of bird life , since the trees and vegetation is limited except in bigger Motos ( mostly just coconut palms ) occasional heard beautiful song across the water , diving birds , boobies and noddies. The life here us UNDER the water !
Our pearl fisherman Oro took us to his farm which is a shack on stilts in the middle. of the lagoon . They are all like this except some big enterprises. He showed us each process from start to finish : from seeding and grafting through the four years of an oyster's life : the thrill of extracting a pearl and re seeding the oyster. The pearl culture industry developed in the 1960's , and it was like the gold rush , with some farmers making a huge profit in a very short time . Oro's father earnt 25 times what he earns now , but it is still a good living despite the market dropping out in the 80's. Some employ scores of people , he has 5 . The concession for his plot is not cheap : he has 38 hectares . He explained that the problem was that although the "industry " is regulated , it is chaotic and like any commodity vulnerable to the whims of the international market .
Emily and I have just swum off an idyllic beach : white sand and every shade of blue and Palm fringed : still mindful of the pesky "Nonos"*.We have been reading the pilot guides and advice about sailing the Australian seas: we have all unanimously decided that there can be no greater hostile environment in the world in or out of the water , compared to here where there is nothing unpleasant except for the invisible sandfly* and he is bad enough, but no death ensues.
Tomorrow we sail towards Tahiti and the capital Papeete which promises to be very different as the city capital of Polynesia, but apparently the island itself and those associated in the Society Islands are stunning with the mixture of volcanic peaks surrounded by reefs : the best of both such different worlds put together . However we are braced for the difference between our voyage of exploration in deserted places to meeting a higher density of other boats and more developed communities . This will be the first the sailors have seen since February in Panama. One of Emily's dive group said he saw Obama last week on Moorea who is there writing his memoires, so it's back to "civilisation "!
Monday, 15 May 2017
Recently we have been finding the bilges full of water almost up to the floor boards. Dipping a finger in confirmed it was salty sea water. Eventually we found the leak was in the generator. The yellow and black pipe carrying seawater to cool the engine had gone soft and had split the picture shows it squirting vigorously. Yesterday I taped it up as a temporary measure until we got to Papeete, but then the engine overheated and cut out. Today we set about fixing this and cutout the soggy bit of tube and re routed it so that it would still fit. When I cut the tube you could see that it had collapsed and almost blocked the cooling water flow. Justin did a great job in a confined space refitting the pipe and now it's working well again. B
But before all that took place we hired bikes and rode about 12km along coral trails along the thin atoll to the pass where we sailed through. On the way we passed the airport with its runway sandwiched between the sea and the lagoon. An old lighthouse but of coral blocks has been replaced by a red and white tower with solar powered lights.
This evening Justin treated us to a lovely fish supper at a little place with a terrace over the lagoon. We were the only guests served by a family team including a RéRé, a large man dressed S a woman.
Beneath us reef sharks, 4-5feetling swirled like extra in a Bond movie, but were then chased away by a dog which leapt into the water.
Saturday, 13 May 2017
Friday, 12 May 2017
Today, Friday 12th May dawned calm and after a six o'clock breakfast we set sail out through the pass, narrowly escaping contact with coral thanks to the pearl fishermen who yelled at us just before I went out a dangerous way between coral heads. We motor sailed into a light headwind for 40 miles to reach the atoll of Toau, where we anchored in mirror calm conditions off white coral and coconuts. Looking across the lagoon was like a vast infinity pool on the edge of the world, glassy surface for miles, with one or two tiny islands at the far side, but most impressive was the view of the six foot swell rearing up and curling in great white breakers to crash on the coral, yet with impossibly still water right up to the inner edge.
Mysteries abound and today's surprises were the failure of our depth metre and the speed and distance log. Dismantled again, but no apparent problems I could fix. Then wondering if they had got submerged in the bilges I lifted a floor board to find water almost up to the top!. Where is it coming from? Are we sinking? Last time I looked was 8 days ago, so we will have to check daily. Once the water had been pumped out the depth meter started working again, but the log/ speed is a mystery!
The second surprise was when we refilled the diesel tanks from our deck-borne fuel cans. For over 50 hours of motoring and 50 hours of motoring at high speed we only needed 280 litres, so that our fuel consumption seems like only 60% of the published figures, giving 3.1 instead of 5 litres per hour for the engine and just 1 litre per hour for the genset instead of 1.9 published.