'Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness' - Mark Twain
Logbook: Tahiti & Moorea - February to April 2011
After a 4˝ month visit with family and friends in the U.S., we headed "home" to Slip Away in Tahiti. We were happy to be on our way back to the boat, even knowing that we had a fair amount of work ahead of us. After having been left alone for so long, Slip Away would need some TLC, and we also knew there was a bowsprit repair project waiting for us. It took us several weeks to do the repair and then a few more to get all systems up and running again, but we finally got it together and headed out to continue exploring the beautiful islands of French Polynesia.
Return to Tahiti (February 1-2). Our flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti was an 8-hour red-eye flight, and we boarded the plane around 11 p.m. Shortly after take-off, Jan reclined her seat and went to sleep, but Rich stayed up for the free meal that was being served. The flight was mostly uneventful, with the exception of the man behind us waking Jan up by pushing her seat forward when the meal was served, telling her she was rude to have her seat reclined while they were eating dinner. If looks could kill...
We arrived in Tahiti early in the morning, claimed our 300 lbs. of checked luggage, piled it on a cart, and smiled at the Customs agents as they waved us through with no questions asked. We needed to kill about an hour of time before picking up our rental car so we wouldn't have to get up at an ungodly hour the next morning to return it. There's a McDonald's in the Papeete Airport, and we grabbed a couple of Coke Lights and split a "Croque McDoo" (a toasted ham and cheese sandwich).
After wasting sufficient time, we rented our car, loaded up our luggage and headed back to Tahiti Nautic Center and Slip Away. The marina is about 1˝ hours by car from the airport, it was a sunny and warm day, and the drive was beautiful. Slip Away was waiting for us at the dock, and she looked to be in good shape. We left her here in the rainiest months of the rainy season (and at the rainiest area on the island), so she had some mold on her decks and mildew on the inside, but overall, it wasn't too bad. She had fared quite well in our absence.
Before we could unload our luggage, we needed to install our main and mizzen sails because they were stored inside the boat stretching from the v-berth across the middle of the salon floor. We immediately got to work and attached them to their spars, and then we hefted the luggage on board, and dragged the bags inside the boat. Next on our "to-do" list was lunch, so we hopped in the car, drove into Taravao (just a couple of kilometers down the road) and headed to a little spot we found last year - Snack Motu Hana. After lunch, we visited the grocery store to pick up some provisions, including a case of Hinano beer which was on sale for about $35 US (for twenty 16-oz returnable bottles) - by far the best price we ever found on beer here!
After an early dinner of local delicacies - baguette, brie and paté de foie, washed down with a cold Hinano - we crashed and slept like the dead. We were up at 5 the next morning, so that we could get the car back to the airport by 7:30 a.m. After dropping off the car, we took the bus into downtown Papeete and ran a few errands. First, we walked out to the Customs office on Motu Uta to file some paperwork for Slip Away and obtain the documents that would allow us to buy duty-free diesel. We then stopped by the Port Captain/Gendarmerie offices to check in with them, and then we walked to the Immigration office to complete the registration process for our six-month visas. We were done with our errands by noon, so we found a reasonably priced cafe and enjoyed a nice lunch. After lunch, we caught the bus back to Tahiti Nautic Center.
The repair project essentially involved dissembling everything attached in some way, shape or form to the bowsprit, removing the bowsprit, making the required repairs to the deck and bowsprit, and then putting it all back together again. We and the Nautisport welding manager agreed that the original bowsprit construction on Slip Away was not sufficiently robust, so after straightening it, they welded an aluminum bar along the bottom edge to reinforce it, and then they also welded a few other smaller items we requested (e.g. welding closed the existing bow pulpit fastener holes because the aluminum had oxidized over the past 30+ years and the threads were gone). We were also unpleasantly surprised to find that the staysail deck attachment point had no backing plate - it was attached with screws and small washers, and upon close inspection, it was apparent that this area had been previously repaired on Slip Away by a former owner. Yvan helped us install a backing plate, and he repaired and painted the damaged fiberglass. After the boatyard was done with the repairs to the bowsprit, Rich used epoxy filler to smooth out a few rough areas, then sanded it, and Yvan painted it. When all the repair work was done, Rich (with help from Jan as needed) reinstalled all the pieces - bedding the bowsprit to the hull, fastening the staysail attachment point to the deck through the new backing plate, reinstalling the bow pulpit, reattaching the headsail and staysail furlers, and finally reinstalling the anchor troughs and wooden bowsprit slats.
The bowsprit repair went smoothly, but as with all boat repairs, it took some time. We ended up spending six weeks in the marina before the job was complete. We were no longer enjoying the cheap labor prices of Latin America, but we felt both Nautisport and TNC charged a fair price. Having the repair done in Tahiti was likely no more expensive (and possibly less) than what it would have cost in the U.S. We were very pleased with the quality of work done by the aluminum welders and Yvan. Slip Away's bowsprit is now much stronger and more stable, and it looks good too!
Life tied to the dock. It was no problem to live aboard Slip Away while the bowsprit repairs were being done, so we settled into our home. TNC offered only basic amenities - a bathroom and hot shower - but we don't require much. There was a wifi internet signal in the marina, which cost about $5/hour, but that's the standard rate in Tahiti - no free or cheap wifi in these islands. The electricity on the dock was 220 volt, and we did not have a transformer for our 110 volt boat, but our solar panels kept up with our daily electrical needs. We could not run our freezer, but we could run the fridge, and the grocery store wasn't far away. The water on the dock was not potable, so we did not put it in our water tank, but it rained often enough that we could catch sufficient rainwater for drinking and cooking. We used the dock water for cleaning, laundry and dishes, but we didn't wash any white laundry after it had rained hard for a few days because the water was then brownish. We did all of our laundry by hand because the only laundry we found in town charged about $1 per pound.
Every few days, we would make a run into Taravao, which was about 20 minutes away if we walked from the marina, but we often took the dinghy up into the bay, where we could tie it to a tree so that the walk was only about 5 minutes. Taravao is not a tourist center, so we were a bit of an anomaly, and the locals couldn't have been friendlier to us. When we went into the ACE Hardware store, we usually had five or six of their employees wanting to help us. The employees at the grocery stores always greeted us with a smile, and they knew that we understood the system for returning the beer bottles. We frequented Snack Motu Hana for lunch and an occasional breakfast, and the proprietors Rita and Bernard, as well as their employee Delfina became friends. We were sorry to say goodbye to them when we finally left.
When 5 p.m. rolled around each day, we'd stop working and move our cockpit cushions out onto the cabintop, where we would share a couple of cold Hinano beers. Happy hour! This was about the time the mosquitoes would come out, and they were voracious. We doused ourselves with bug spray and burned a mosquito coil, and that did a good job of keeping them at bay. We used more bug spray and burned more mosquito coils in our six weeks in TNC than we have in all the nine years we have lived aboard Slip Away! A couple of hours after sunset, the mosquitoes abated and we headed to the shower to wash off the mix of of the day's sweat, sunscreen and bug spray. While walking to the shower after dark, one needed to be careful not to tread on the crabs that were scurrying about.
When we were at TNC the previous September, we enjoyed the visits of Yvan's cat "Lepto", who would hang out with us on Slip Away when Yvan was away from his boat. Unfortunately, Lepto disappeared while we were back in the U.S., but shortly after we returned to Tahiti, Yvan came home with a new kitten and named him "Lepto 2". (We have no idea what the name "Lepto" means, but all the French laugh when they hear it.) Lepto 2 was even more friendly than the original Lepto - in fact, too friendly. When he came to visit us on Slip Away, he would crawl all over us, pawing at us and begging for attention. We love cats, but Lepto 2 occasionally wore out his welcome. More than once we had to throw him (gently) on to the dock or the boat next door and send him home. However, by the end of our time at TNC, he was starting to learn to sit quietly in one of our laps or just hang out with us. Yvan told us Lepto 2 really missed us when we left.
Tsunami Warning (March 11, 2011). At 6:30 a.m. on Friday, March 11, Rich was sitting in the cockpit drinking coffee and Jan was still sleeping. Yvan knocked on our hull and told Rich that we needed to leave the marina. There had been a strong earthquake in Japan, we were under a tsunami warning, and Yvan told us he would take us to higher ground. Rich woke Jan, and we quickly grabbed a few items - our laptop, passports and money - and we jumped into Yvan's car and left Slip Away to fend for herself.
Yvan took us to the house of some friends - Fano & Inga - who live on Tahiti Iti. There ended up being a small gathering of people there - Yvan and his girlfriend Cecille, Inga's sister Tamara (who was visiting from Oxnard, California), Inga's mother Dorita, and a family of three who were Cecille's neighbors. Several of the folks spoke English, and we were warmly welcomed in their home. We drank coffee and shared some baguettes and fresh fruit. We especially enjoyed hearing the stories of Dorita, who married an American in the 1950's and lived with him in Panama and the U.S. (she loved living in Las Vegas) before returning to Tahiti. We had some very nice conversations, and had we not been watching the devastation in Japan on TV, it would have been a great way to spend a morning.
Fortunately, we were far enough away from Japan that there was no tsunami or unusual waves/water disturbance in Tahiti. When we returned to Slip Away, she was as we had left her.
Over the next few days, we finished up a few more boat chores and ran some other errands in town. We liked the slower pace of Taravao, but we needed to go to the big city of Papeete to complete some of the other items on our "to-do" list. Before leaving, we invited Yvan and his girlfriend Cecille to dinner on Slip Away. Both are French ex-pats, but both speak English well - lucky for us since our French is so poor. Cecille is a midwife, and she had some interesting stories to tell about her work in rural Tahiti and also French Guyana, where she worked before coming to Tahiti. Yvan is a sailor, and he sailed here over a decade ago, never left, and has managed the TNC Marina and Boatyard for a number of years. Ironically, they have both lived and worked in the Taravao area for several years, but they only just met a couple of months ago through an internet dating website. We had a really nice evening with them.
Papeete, Tahiti (March 24 to April 1). From Port du Phaeton, it was a day trip to Papeete (6 hours, 33˝ nm). We had no wind for this passage, but it was good to give the engine a workout after having sat idle for so long.
For the first couple of days in Papeete, we anchored off Marina Taina, and the first thing we needed to do was find the Sin Tung Hing chandlery located nearby. Jan had discovered via www.noonsite.com that Sin Tung Hing was a dealer for Apex Inflatables. Our old dinghy was an Apex, and it had served us well, so we would be happy to replace it with that same brand. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Sin Tung Hing's price on a replacement dinghy was reasonable, and they had the one we wanted in stock - an Apex A-10 Lite, the same model as our old one. Although Tahiti has a reputation for outrageous prices, the price on our dinghy was about the same as what we would have paid for one in the U.S. We ordered it one morning, and they brought it to the marina from their warehouse the next morning (no delivery charge). The salesman even pumped it up for us - what service!
The anchorage off Marina Taina is convenient, but it's not the most pleasant of places to hang out. Much of the anchorage is very deep (40-50 feet), and there's a lot of boat traffic. We found what we thought was a good anchor spot just south of the marina docks, but we quickly learned that this is the area that the runabouts use for towing wakeboarders. After a couple days of rocking and rolling, we decided to try to another option - the Tahiti Yacht Club, about 10 miles away near the town of Arue, on the other side of Papeete. Before moving on, we pulled into Marina Taina's fuel dock and filled up on diesel and water. We had not yet started up our watermaker, and it does not rain in Papeete like it does in Taravao, so our water tank was running low. Marina Taina's water was potable - much better quality than TNC's - so we topped off our tank with it. .
We left Marina Taina and motored past the airport, calling the Port Captain for clearance before passing in front of the runways to make sure there were no planes taking off or landing. We then motored out Papeete's main shipping channel and turned toward Tahiti Yacht Club (TYC). We finally found some wind - 10-15 knots on the nose - luckily, we didn't have far to go. We spent about an hour motoring into the winds before arriving at the entrance to the Yacht Club. At TYC, we could get a mooring for about $10/night, and this also gave us access to their shore facilities, which included potable dock water, hot showers and a laundry.
Before leaving Papeete, we also needed to get a propane tank filled, and to do so, we had to take it to the propane plant on Motu Uta in the big ship port near downtown. We could do this errand via dinghy - the plant was a couple of miles away, and the channel to reach it is inside a barrier reef, so protected from the ocean swell. However, we had some concerns about the return trip which would be heading into the prevailing winds and chop. The propane plant opens early, so we got an early start and arrived at the plant around 8 a.m. They filled our tank, we paid and were out of there in less than a half hour, and we were back at Slip Away before the winds came up. Mission accomplished! We had a funny incident at the propane plant. We have our boat name written on our tanks in black marker. A couple of years ago, we learned that "slip" in French means "underwear." When the guy took the tank from us to fill it, he kind of chuckled and said to Rich "Your boat name is 'Slip'?" We tried to explain the English meaning of Slip Away, but we think he will always remember us as the "underwear" boat.
Our next stop was Point Venus, which is the location where Captain Cook camped to watch the planet Venus cross the sun on June 3, 1769. There's a park on this point with a lighthouse and a couple of monuments to other explorers. From here, we drove further along the northeast coast of Tahiti Nui. As we crossed over the Papenoo River, we stopped to check out the view up into the largest valley on Tahiti. We continued on to the Arahoho Blowhole, which was quite lively that day. Shortly after the blowhole, we stopped for a hike to the three beautiful Faarumai Falls. When we reached Taravao, we took a road up to a plateau on Tahiti Iti where we had beautiful views of Tahiti Nui and the peninsula connecting the two land masses. (On our way down from the plateau, along this road, we recognized Fano and Inga's home where we spent the morning of the tsunami warning.) On Tahiti Iti, we also visited the small towns of Tautira and Teahupoo. Tautira was a sleepy small residential area, but we found a good Chinese grocery store where we bought a couple of baguette sandwiches and sodas, and we ate our lunch at a picnic table on the beach. Teahupoo has a reputation for great surfing, but the big waves are offshore, so we didn't get a good view of them, but there we took a walk through a community which probably looks much the same as it did 50 years ago.
After our walk through Teahupoo, it was late afternoon, so we headed back to Papeete, which was 1˝ hours away. Having the car gave us the option of having dinner in the city, and we were looking forward to the nightly event of food vans (called "roulottes") serving dinner on the waterfront plaza - good food and a festive atmosphere!
Final days on Tahiti (March 30-31). Early the next morning, Rich transferred the battery from the car to the boat (thank goodness we didn't forget that!), and then we drove back into Papeete. After dropping off the car, we walked by the Sin Tung Hing chandlery for a couple of small items, and then we stopped by the Port Captain/Gendarmerie offices to advise them we would be leaving Papeete and give them a general idea of our cruising plan. After that, we needed a snack, but this time Jan talked Rich out of McDonald's, and we stopped at a cafe for a cafe au lait and pastries - the brioche was fabulous! Now sated, we headed to the Papeete Market for a last bit of sightseeing and shopping.
The Papeete Market is held in a two-story building which takes up a full city block. On the ground floor, various merchants sell fruits and veggies, meats, fish and other foodstuffs. On the upper level, t-shirts, pareos, wood carvings, black pearls and other souvenirs are sold. We had fun looking at all the stuff for sale but ended up buying only a couple of t-shirts (and a couple of fruit tarts). After our shopping excursion, we caught the bus back to the Yacht Club.
By now, we were pretty much ready to move on from the island of Tahiti. We did one last load of laundry, topped off the water tank, gave away our old dinghy and ran to the grocery store a few more times, filling our fridge and freezer to capacity and topping off our supply of canned goods, dry goods and paper products.
We spent the next ten days on Moorea - exploring some of the island, while making sure Slip Away was ready to venture further afield. We started up the watermaker and it ran fine. Our scuba compressor started on the first pull, and we topped off the scuba tank we used to clean the boat bottom a couple weeks earlier. Unfortunately, our freezer wasn't doing so fine. We had turned it on and filled it with frozen meats, shrimp and veggies on our last day at TYC, and although the items were still frozen, the freezer was struggling to keep them that way. Having experienced this problem in the past, we set off in search of an ice cream stand and found Mimi's Cafe just a short walk from the anchorage. The proprietors were very friendly and gave us the name and number of their refrigeration guy - David - who came out the next day, added some freon to our freezer, and then all was well. We thanked Mimi for her help by stopping by her cafe a couple of times for some of her delicious ice cream. Mimi spoke English quite well and told us that she had traveled to the U.S., visiting Los Angeles, New York, and Dayton, Ohio (of all places!).
We did some snorkeling, which wasn't exceptional, but the water was clear, there was some good fish life, and it was nice to have our faces back in the water. We also did a great hike to the "Belvedere," a lookout with views of Opunohu and Cook's Bays. Along this route, we also stopped by and explored a small portion of the Marae Titiroa (ancient Polynesian temples) and dropped in at the Lycee Professioinel Agricole (Moorea's agricultural high school), which farms hundreds of acres planted with pineapples, vanilla, coffee, fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. We showed up too late in the day to do one of the free tours given by the agricultural school, but we sampled some of their organic jams and bought a jar of pineapple/vanilla. The scenery along this hike was gorgeous, with great views of the peaks that make Moorea such a beautiful island. Also, the flora on this island is incredible with many varieties of flowers growing wild all over the island. At the end of this page are some photos of the beautiful flowers.
After spending ten days in Moorea, our weather window arrived. On the morning of our departure, along the north coast of Moorea, we had light west-northwest winds - ideal for our eastbound passage. We prepared Slip Away for passage, bade good-bye to Steve & Heather (looking forward to our paths crossing again in the future), took a few last looks at the beautiful island of Moorea, weighed anchor, and headed out.
Here are a few of the flowers we saw growing wild on Moorea. We don't know the names of them, but we thought they were lovely..