mnestis

travelling…

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 labour on our part, all done while we were being thrown about, TheCaptain 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 with the main engine, which The Captain babied nervously. The wind was coming from straight ahead of us, 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 night again, so as to place ourselves advantageously when daylight arrived.

That worked, except for the entirely gratuitous couple of squalls that smacked into us 2 miles off the harbour entrance – 35 knots of wind and pelting rain. And then we couldn’t anchor here 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 down the companionway to cut the electricity from the main board (The Captain had to steer the boat). I used a lot of bad language. 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…

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 – which grow 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. 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. 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.

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,

Eva

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Written by mnestis

July 9, 2009 at 6:55 PM

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