May 15, 2011
are greatly exaggerated! It finally came to my attention that I have been neglecting to keep everyone informed on our adventures. When our friends, Mark & Dot on Pua’ena, showed me an email asking if Reflections was lost at sea, I thought it might be time to tear myself away from the majestic beauty of French Polynesia and write a few lines detailing some of our adventures!
It’s hard to believe we have already been here for more than 6 weeks. We made landfall in Manihi in the Tuamotos. Manihi is a beautiful little atoll in the northern section of the Tuamotus and we spent a couple of weeks there decompressing and remembering what the cruising life is all about. This was a great place to make landfall. Not only did one of the local residents deliver baguettes to the boats every morning, but the local stores even had fresh produce like lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh fruit. When we were in the Tuamotus nine years ago, it was essentially impossible to find anything other than fish that was fresh. We expected things would change since we were here last and being able to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables was a very positive improvement.
We also spent a good deal of time identifying and fixing a variety of little leaks that made our passage south a wet and wild adventure. In all, we identified and fixed seven leaks. At least we think we fixed them! The leaks were more of an ongoing annoyance than a crisis. Only one piece of boat gear suffered damage due to the water and that was the monitor we have mounted on the wall for watching movies. Monitors don’t seem to like salt water very much. In fact, they don’t like it at all! It only took a few drops of water and then this big black hole appeared on in the upper right hand corner of the screen. That was followed a few days later by three other spheres rising from the lower portion of the screen. It hasn’t made watching a movie impossible, but we will need to replace this somewhere down the road. And to think that some people complain if their monitor has a few dead pixels?
We then moved on to another little atoll named Toau. There is a very small bay on the northeast corner of the atoll that forms a protected area where you can anchor, or even better, pick up a mooring ball. And pick up a mooring we did! There are only four people who live in this little area and they installed about twelve mooring balls for use by cruisers. The moorings are free provided you come ashore and have a dinner prepared by Valentine and Gaston. They are great hosts and they make a few dollars from cruisers by putting on these dinners. We enjoyed a really great meal of fresh lobsters, pig and raw fish in coconut milk. Earlier that morning I received my first course on how to butcher a small pig. Sheri decided she really didn’t want to see that but since I’d never seen it done before, I had to go and watch. I’ll need a few more courses before I’m ready to try that one on my own! While we were here we also finally had the opportunity to see our first Coconut Crab. These big strong land dwelling crabs have claws that can open coconuts! Watch where you stick your fingers or you might lose them. Now that we’ve seen one, our next move is to have one for dinner. They are supposed to be delicious! But, we’ll leave catching them to those with more experience.
Since we were on a mooring ball, it was a perfect opportunity to figure out what went wrong with another piece of new boat gear. One of our favorite new pieces of gear added during our seven year long refit in Hawaii was a new anchor windless. We also added a control panel in the cockpit to raise and lower the anchor. It included a chain counter showing how much chain had been deployed. Unfortunately, when we went to drop the anchor in Manihi, the windlass worked fine, but the chain counter didn’t. Since we had this fancy new device, we hadn’t bothered to mark the chain any other way and had no idea how much chain we had deployed. We erred on the side of too much rather than too little. After a little diagnosis, I discovered that the idiot who did the soldering of the sensor wire hadn’t done a very good job. A little re-soldering and all was well again. I punished myself for the poor solder job by cutting my daily wine ration in half for a day. I barely survived!
We spent nearly two weeks in Toau and then moved on to Tahiti. It was a two night sail from Toau and we found ourselves trying to slow the boat down so we didn’t arrive in the middle of the night. As it turned out, we arrived at the crack of dawn and entered the pass at first light. We really enjoyed Tahiti on our first visit and were anxious to see what changes had occurred over the past nine years. Immediately on entering the pass, we recognized a new development at the head of the bay. We later found out it was a Hilton hotel that opened a year or so after our first visit and was closed down last year. Yep, the economic crisis even reached Tahiti! On our first visit to Papeete, you were allowed to anchor near the main quay right in the downtown area. Unfortunately, they have built a few new docks and you are no longer allowed to anchor anywhere in the Papeete area. Being the cheapskates that we are, we won’t pay $45 a night to park Reflections in a slip when there is a possibility of anchoring for free somewhere else so we moved around the corner to another area where we had spent a good deal of time.
What we knew as the Maeva Beach area, is now known as the Marina Tiana area. Same place, different name. The marina was there nine years ago, but has been greatly expanded and now accommodates some of the mega yachts so common here. There were at least five sailing yachts there, most of which were at least a hundred feet in length. In my opinion, any sailboat that has a mast so tall that they are required to have a red light at the top of the mast to warn airplanes, is a mega yacht! All of these fine sailing vessels have the requisite red light at the top of the mast. Ahhh… How the other one percent live their lives!!!
Back in civilization again, we were ready for a trip to the super, supermarket Carrefour. We have fond memories of this mega store and all the fresh produce, cheese, meats and other consumables they have in stock. Surprisingly, we weren’t as shocked by the prices as we were on our first trip here. I suspect that has more to do with the fact that we arrived from this time from Hawaii rather than Panama and the Galapagos. After Hawaii, the prices here don’t seem all that high! And fortunately, for carnivores like us, meat prices must still be subsidized by the French government. Although the cuts of beef are slightly different from the US, the prices are very reasonable. We were able to buy whole strips of rib eyes, and these are only the very inner eye of the rib, for about $6.50 a pound. Most of the produce still costs more per pound than beef but they have everything here.
We did something on this trip we had never done in the past. We used the assistance of an agent to clear into French Polynesia. Since we were formally a part of Latitude 38’s Puddle Jump Group, they arranged a special deal with one of the agents for all the boats in the fleet. For a little less than $200, the agent takes care of everything. French Polynesia has some check in procedures that are somewhat burdensome. The biggest being the paying of a bond, equal to the cost of a plane ticket back to your country of residence, for each person aboard the boat. You get the money back when you leave, minus a few fees, but if we could avoid paying the $2500 we certainly would and using an agent allows you to bypass this requirement. As it turned out, using an agent here had more benefits that just bypassing the bond. Since we arrived in the Tuamotus on an atoll that had no police station, we didn’t have to officially check in until we reached Papeete. The agent met us at the Marina, took our passports and did the complete check in procedure for us. We were not required to go anywhere or do anything. She returned the next morning with stamped passports and the form allowing us to purchase fuel duty free. We haven’t taken on fuel yet, but the duty free price is less than $3.90 a gallon. If I remember correctly, we paid $4.50/gal in Hawaii! Checking out is supposed to be just as easy. The agent will come to meet us wherever we are in Tahiti, take the passports, get them stamped, visit all the offices that would normally be required and return our passports the following day. This time, we’ll receive our form for duty free liquor! Since a fifth of Jose Cuervo Tequila costs about $75 here, that form is nearly priceless!
We sailed over to Moorea, well actually we motored since there was no wind, as part of the festivities put on for the Puddle Jump group. I’ve written enough already so; I’ll save Moorea for the next time. We were really worried about coming back to French Polynesia for fear that the wonderful memories we had of this magical place might be diluted by the changes that have occurred in the past nine years. Those fears were completely unfounded. We are finding these islands even more magical than they were on our first time through. From the majestic beauty of the lush green islands to the clarity of the gin clear warm tropical water, we are loving French Polynesia even more than we did the first time. I sometimes sit in the cockpit in the morning and have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming!
I’ll try and write more often, but if you don’t hear from us for a few weeks, don’t be concerned. We’re probably just out snorkeling, diving, hiking or watching a beautiful sunset!
Baie d’Opunoho, Moorea, French Polynesia