Journal 29; Tahiti to Tonga
Being back in ‘civilization’, that is Papeete (the main city of Tahiti), had many benefits. It took us aback to see car traffic, loud noises and fast food joints after so many months with none of these benefits of civilization. But we adapt quickly to ice cream cones, public transportation, fresh produce markets and best of all, Carrefour (the French equivalent to Wal-Mart). After shopping in country stores it was amazing to walk around in A/C through 30 aisles of commodities. We stocked up!
June 26 - August 26, 2010
Tahiti is a nice island and despite the population, the waters are pristine. The downside to French Polynesia is their crazy prices for many goods and services. Since the locals are paying the same as us, they must print money inside their homes. One example: we saw some zucchini that we wanted and checked out of the market. When reviewing the sales receipt we realized those two large zucchini cost US$14! Oh well! This is only one small example and the list of outrageously priced items is long. But, not everything is jacked up with import duties so if something is too expensive we just lived without it. If you shoped carefully there were many items that were reasonably priced.
Around town a typical Tahitian look is a woman with a gorgeous band of fresh flowers around her head wearing a XXXL T-shirt and Spandex shorts. As often said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
After a week of internet and watching the Soccer World Cup (5 am in the morning) we were ready to move on to Bora Bora. There are many beautiful islands between Tahiti and Bora Bora but we passed by them because we had sailed those islands a few years ago.
Bora Bora was good to us with the highlight being Bastille Day celebrations (anniversary of the French revolution) now referred to the local name of Heiva. There are dance competitions that are like a play-off, the competitions are a month long to complete. We went to one competition and it was totally amazing to see the women shake their butts with such speed, rhythm and control.
The following day there was a parade which was quite a hoot! There were many local groups that marched in the parade including a group of older women. We call these the ‘Before & After Photos’ with ‘Before’ being the young dancers shaking their hips and the ‘After” being the ladies walking in the parade. The local fishing commune provided our favorite float. Their truck had the tail of a huge marlin mounted on the hood and various tuna hanging on lines with lots of tropical greenery.
We were in Bora Bora on the morning of the eclipse. Although clouds partially obstructed our view we still caught a few glimps as shown in the photograph. It was very eerie to witness darkness set in at 9 am.
We also rode bikes around the island and climbed toward the peak of Bora Bora’s mountain. The climb was exhaustive through a narrow trail that was made slick with daily rain showers. We were very proud to get as high as we did, and back down! As we walked into town we looked like two Hobbits covered in mud and filthy dirty.
After many days and nights of having fun we decided to celebrate Brian’s 55th birthday quietly onboard El Regalo. JoDon actually baked a brownie birthday cake and I spent the afternoon watching over a leg of lamb on the grill.
We departed Bora Bora on July 20th with a destination of Tonga, about 1200 nautical miles downwind, due west. On Day 1 we caught a Mahi. On Day 2 we caught another Mahi. On Day 3 we caught Hell. Unfortunately a 3/8” thick solid stainless steel plate (tang) attaching the bottom of the front sail to the boat sheered off. That left the sail and the rolling system flying around El Regalo's bow with a dangerously sharp bottom edge where it had broken off. I will not go into detail but to get it under control while in rough seas was a like trying to slay a dragon by grabbing its tail. It took us six hours of intense physical effort to get the sail under control, and down, and then temporarily attach the cable support back to the boat. It was like playing tackle football for six nonstop hours and both of us were bruised, cut and totally exhausted by the end of the day (and the next). The good news is that the mast was still standing and neither of us was seriously injured.
Without the primary head sail and with the rigging compromised, we changed direction so that the wind was not directly behind us. This put us on a course to the normally uninhabited atoll of Suwarrow, a small oasis in a desert of ocean. Suwarrow is a national park named after a Russian sea captain. It is part of the Cook Islands, which is under New Zealand’s jurisdiction. There are two rangers assigned to Suwarrow during the six month cruising season. Assigned means a police boat dropped them off with a few supplies and some fishing poles and a promise to pick them up after six months
The two rangers, James and Appie, are real characters and perfect hosts. Their official assignment is to protect the island and to collect a park fee of US$50 from each boat. Since neither activity takes up a lot of time, Appie also fills the role of lagoon tour guide. Cruisers donate gasoline for the ranger's small boat and Appie takes them for an afternoon of spear fishing, snorkeling, bird watching or cocunut crab hunting. The waters are full of sharks so many times the biggest struggle was to keep the sharks away after fish were speared. Anything caught was shared that evening in a community potluck dinner. James would cook the fish or crab and coconut pancakes and the cruisers would provide everything else, including refreshments for the rangers. It was always fun and we hardly ate anything out of our freezer during our stay.
As luck would find us, one of the cruisers in Suwarrow was a sail rigging expert. He gave us a spare part that was a close match to what we needed plus a long list of valuable advice. He also made us realize how lucky we were that this failure happened and yet the rest of our rigging was still standing. For five days we worked very hard getting El Regalo back into shape to make the remaining 2000nm to New Zealand. Then we spent the next 14 days enjoying the activities.
The pristine reef in
Not relaxing, but important, was washing our clothes. We do miss automatic washing machines! Suwarrow had several underground cisterns so we could use as much water as we wished. For cruisers, having unlimited fresh water is rare so we took advantage by washing five weeks of clothes!
One of the fun things we did while relaxing was coconut crabbing. The coconut crabs are located in palm tree burrows, under dead leaves and on tree branches. Pulling them out of the holes was quite a struggle. Their claws are huge and they dig them into the hard sand. JoDon pulled one out and it pinched her hand. Even though she was wearing thick leather gloves the crab drew blood. We only took the biggest crabs so there will be plenty for next year. Along the way we spotted many nesting birds.
We are now sailing with only the small headsail and a double reefed main sail so our days of fast sailing are over until New Zealand. We knew the 750 nautical mile trip from Suwarrow to Tonga would be slow, and it was with very light winds. But we caught two Mahi along with the two we caught before Suwarrow so our luck is still good (we did not put out a fishing line many days). We certainly missed using our spinnaker sail with the downwind conditions. We crossed the International Dateline and arrived to the village of Neiafu (nay-ah-fu), island group Vava’U (va-va-OO), Tonga (kingdom) in good shape.
We look back on the voyage from Bora Bora to Tonga as the most uncomfortable ride in our sailing experiences because sea swells continually hit the boat from two differnet directions. Some call their Pacific crossings "The Milky Way" but this part of the journey was "The Milky Shake."
We’re glad to be in cooler weather, upper 70’s at night. For those that own a globe, our position is 18°39S/173°59W. When we depart Tonga our heading to New Zealand will be almost due south, about 1200 nautical miles.
As our Aussie friends say, Cheers mates!
Brian and JoDon