Archive for July 2009

Taro & Circuses

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This is going to be an odd sort of blog because it’ll be mostly photos, on the principle that one of the latter is worth a good bit of text!

Heiva i Tahiti

The venue was the Museum of Tahiti and the Islands, on Punaauia Bay about 20 minutes’ drive west of Papeete. The occasion was the Traditional Sports and Games Competitions – a yearly event that is part of the Heiva i Tahiti, which is basically a celebration of all things traditionally Polynesian. The day was the 14th July – Bastille Day – and like any good French Colony everything was shut down, including public transport. We were lucky enough to be able to ride with friends, but people without a car or similar arrangements would have had a devil of a time getting there. The result was that the audience consisted mostly of families and friends of the competitors, who came from all over French Polynesia, and an almost completely tourist-free occasion. It’s deeply hypocritical to be delighted by this absence of one’s own species, of course.

Heiva Admin!

The events were: men’s & women’s javelin throwing, rock lifting, coconut husking, copra-preparation and coconut tree climbing.

4 seconds to climb 8 metres

Coconut trees are scaled with the aid of a twisted rope about 16″ long, with a loop for the feet at either end, and some of the competitors made their own rope from plant fibre from a species of hibiscus right before the event. It took the winner about 3 1/2 seconds to climb to the red rag at the top of the tree!

To husk a coconut one whacks it several times onto a lethally sharpened wooden stake – of the kind more commonly used to pin vampires to a crossroads in the dead of night – thus peeling the tough fibrous covering from the nut in chunks.

To prepare copra, the stake was dispensed with and the whole coconut was split with an axe, spraying coconut water and coconut chips onto the surrounding spectators. Then the meat was scooped out of the split nuts with a special tool, then put into a bag (though in reality it would have been dried in the sun for a day or so before being bagged) and the competitor would jump to his feet as a roar of triumph would be heard from his supporters.

Rock lifting was, well, lifting big rocks. These had been carefully smoothed to eliminate any possible convenient handholds. The women lifted 60 kilos and the men 150 kilos, and the idea was to hold the boulder on your shoulder for as long as possible.

Some of the men, being just that much tougher, danced around the platform a bit with their loads.

The men’s javelin-throwing went on the longest and was the most impressive competition. The javelins are home-made from wild hibiscus shoots about the thickness of a finger, carefully peeled and dried, resulting in a shaft which is light, flexible, strong and not entirely straight, which gives a spin to the javelin when it’s thrown. The points are made of the metal from tin cans and the men’s javelins are also tipped with heavy carpenter’s nails. These weapons are thrown at an unhusked coconut fastened to the top of a metal pole about 30 feet high.

The women’s coconut was a big green one and the men’s a smaller, drier brown one. The spears were thrown pretty much as people felt like it and the degree of skill manifested by the men may be judged by the fact that toward the end of each heat there had been so many hits that javelins were skidding and bouncing off the ones already embedded in the target. The winner came from a tiny atoll somewhere in the archipelago, and this was the 16th year in a row he’d won.

We ate a lunch of traditional foods – roast pig, young taro shoots and huge portions of a selection of glutinous and/or starchy vegetables that had the sort of flavour that whispered, ‘This will go straight to your hips’ even as one ate them. In fact, the Tahitians tend to be on the large side, especially the ‘Mamas’ or matriarchs, whose personalities are as impressive as their avoirdupois, whose hats would put those seen at Ascot to shame, and who can all dance beautifully!

A few days later, we went to one of the many traditional dance competitions that take place each year during Heiva i Tahiti. The event was staged in a vast, temporary open-air stadium which had been set up near Papeete’s main harbour. Dance troupes from all over Polynesia, including Hawaii, perform in various categories and prizes are awarded for the totality of each performance: skill, choreography, costumes, story-line, singing, movement, emotion.

Photos Heiva Dance

The costumes are extraordinary as well as beautiful because most of them, especially those worn by young dance troupes, are made from fresh vegetation and flowers by the performers themselves, and their friends, during the night before their performances. The performances we attended featured, among other young troupes, the group that we had heard practising nearly every night for weeks in the gym behind the yacht club.

That’s it – hope you enjoy the photos!

Love to all,





Written by mnestis

July 23, 2009 at 7:35 PM

Posted in French Polynesia, Tahiti

Tagged with ,

Alive and Working on the Boat (again) in Tahiti

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17 31.414′ S / 149 32.118′ W

Tahiti Yacht Club

Photos Tahiti

Sorry about the long hiatus. In retrospect, this blog should probably have been called ‘Fixing The Boat’! Anyway…

‘Yacht Club de Tahiti’, which is where we’re moored, sounds very posh but isn’t really. It’s a small, sleepy, rather pretty place surrounded by greenery, with only a couple of dozen moorings in addition to the berths. The members are mostly locals and it’s the venue for a children’s sailing school and the area’s teenagers’ activity centre. This means that the lagoon is often full of tiny sail boats skittering about like colourful butterflies and in the evenings the adjacent stadium is full of kids practising traditional dances to the sound of drums. Mornings and evenings the local outrigger teams practice their technique and this morning there was a race, with lots of shouting and laughter as the crews of the boats alternated after each lap; the first crew would simply jump out of one side of the canoe as the other lot, who were waiting in the water, jumped in from the outrigger side. The boats would barely stop moving during the exchange.

The evening race

This mooring is in sharp contrast to the bays on the other – more touristy – side of Papeete. There, hundreds of boats are moored and anchored very close together in bays whose shores are encrusted with large hotels, and theft from boats tied up to jetties is a problem. We like the tranquillity of this place, but many cruisers enjoy the kind of close contact that the busier marinas offer. À chacun son goût…

Tahitian sunset

The trip from Nuku Hiva was irritating beyond belief, although the first day was great: brilliant sun and about 15 knots of wind, which is ideal for the boat. In those conditions she sails at 5 ½ to 6 knots, riding high and cutting through the swell as smoothly as silk. Unfortunately, come evening the wind rose to 25 to 30 knots and because the prevailing trade winds at this time of year are south-east/east, but the prevailing swell comes from the south, the resulting ride was what The Captain cheerfully calls ‘travelling in a washing machine’.

The next day was the same, and the next. We decided we’d give Rangiroa a miss as the guidebooks are so specific about the dangers of entering the Tuamotu lagoons during anything other than calm conditions. One has to enter and leave on the slack tide anyway, as there can be currents of up to 9 knots as water is funnelled through the narrow openings in the lagoon. It turns out we did the right thing; yesterday we heard boats had been trapped in both Nuku Hiva and Rangiroa for more than a week by the unusually high winds for this time of year.

Exhausted sea bird hitches a ride en route

The next morning both engines quit within 5 minutes of each other. This meant that unless we fixed at least one of them, we’d quickly be out of power for the electronics and the autopilot. After six hours of sweaty, diesel-reeking labour on our part, all done while we were being thrown about, The Captain got the main engine started. Although initially it sounded as if there might be water in the engine the problem turned out to be the fuel tanks, which should have been properly cleaned out by the boatyard in California, but weren’t.

The tanks have rust in them. This probably happened when the previous owners refuelled from rusty steel drums. Although this stuff usually stays at the bottom of the tank, it’s stirred up when conditions are rough. The rust is very fine and clogs the fuel filters for the engine. In fact, the rust is so fine that it goes through the primary filters and clogs the secondary filters, which are a pain to change. The Captain has had to alter the entire filtering system for the small engine and increase the fineness of the filters for the big engine, because the problem can’t be solved until we reach New Zealand.

(NB: There is a special place in Hell for designers and engineers who don’t take into account the conditions in which the things they design are to be used. The cretins who dream up smoothly polished bath taps that can’t be turned with soapy hands will go there, and so will the engineers who put fuel filters and other bits that regularly need servicing into the most inaccessible areas of engines.)

Then a really nasty grinding noise began to manifest itself and we couldn’t get the engine revolutions above 1600 rpm, which is about half power. It sounded as if something metallic were rubbing against something else along the shaft, which is not the kind of sound one wants to hear. The auxiliary engine remained dead no matter what The Captain did. This meant the water maker couldn’t be used. Then in short succession the refrigerator quit and the water pump sprang a leak (poor installation of a too-short hose) and an entire tank of our precious water went into the bilge. We were left with 40 gallons. We wouldn’t have died of thirst, given we have enough Schweppes tonic water on board for a small army, but washing ourselves became a matter of dabbling.

After a few more days of rough sailing we finally got to within 20 miles of Tahiti but could get no further, even using the main engine, which The Captain babied nervously. We had to head straight into the wind, we had no real mainsail to tack with (because it has that tear…) and the engine could only give us 1/2 power, which wasn’t enough to make more than 1-2 knots headway (i.e. any regulation-issue granny can walk faster. The Captain decided we’d heave to off Moorea, well away from Papeete harbour traffic, and get some rest. (For non-boaty people: ‘heaving to’ is when you set sails and rudder in such a way that the forces cancel each other out and you sit more or less stationary and quietly even in heavy seas and wind. It’s rather nice, actually!)

And there we sat for the night. The winds had shifted direction by the next morning and we’d noticed that during the very early morning they’d died down for a few hours. Rather than heave to for another night, we decided to make a run for our harbour by moving all the next night, so as to place ourselves advantageously when daylight arrived.

That worked, except for the entirely gratuitous couple of squalls with 35 knots of wind and pelting rain that smacked into us 2 miles off the harbour entrance. And then we couldn’t anchor because there was no holding, which the guidebooks hadn’t mentioned, and finally the windlass got overenthusiastic and got stuck in the ‘on’ position, whomping the anchor up into its cradle before I could tear back down the companionway, cursing, to cut the electricity from the main board. The Captain had to steer the boat, so couldn’t do it. A kind soul launched his dinghy and came by after seeing us go ’round and ’round for the 6th time and helped us hook up to the one free mooring buoy. Thank goodness we’ve been lucky about that, at least, because the regular owner is away and his boat is undergoing repairs, so we can stay on it for the present.

From the boat it looks as if we’re moored with no protection at all – the view is straight out to sea. In fact, although there’s no protection from the wind, within the reef the water is almost still even when it’s blowing hard. Coming in behind the reef was interesting because we hadn’t done it before. One sees nothing dramatically dangerous on entering, not even any breaking waves, when the sea is relatively calm. We followed the markers in then had to thread our way through a narrow channel between the shore and the coral reef. Coral shows brown or green under the blue water, but unless the sun is high it’s quite difficult to see, even with polarised sunglasses. It would be very easy to run into the reef without someone stationed up in the bow to keep a sharp lookout, or if the wind were high enough to push the boat about, or if the water were very choppy, or if one were inclined to cut corners and go too fast, or if one were just unlucky.

One last bit of unnecessary trouble came to light the day after we’d moored. It turns out the front toilet has come loose from its pedestal, because the chimpanzees at the boatyard didn’t tighten the bolts properly. Short of taking the wretched thing off entirely, uncoupling the hoses and reseating it, there’s nothing much we can do, so it stinks and dribbles. I’ve used rubber sealer and gaffer’s tape to ameliorate the problem and we can only keep fingers crossed and nose clothes-pegged for the next few months.

So far we’ve visited several chandlers and hardware stores in the shabby industrial/port area of Papeete. That part of the city has nothing to recommend it other than exotic ferns, of the kind ordinarily seen in very expensive flower shops, growing out of the gutters. For the rest we’ve done little else except work on the boat to restore some kind of cleanliness, normalcy and functionality.

Tahiti graffiti

Papeete itself is a pleasant enough provincial city with lots of traffic and a general air of laissez-fair decrepitude at the edges.  The prices aren’t as horrendous as we’d heard, possibly because the tourist trade has decreased to 1980’s levels in the wake of the economic downturn, and everyone we’ve met has been so overwhelmingly friendly and helpful that one can’t help comparing their attitude to what one encounters in urban environments in the U.S. and the U.K. In a couple of days we’ll check out the museums and we’ve arranged to go to one of the shows of Heiva – the traditional dance and music festival that takes place at this time of year in Polynesia.

From here, as soon as the sail has been mended, we’ll go to Moorea, which is supposed to be more of a traditional ‘tropical paradise’ than Tahiti. After that we intend to sail on to Raiatea and surrounding islands before quitting French Polynesia.

Best to all,



Written by mnestis

July 9, 2009 at 6:55 PM