Archive for August 2009
16 degrees 44.110′ South/151 degrees 29.176′ West
When a shoal of miniature zebra fish make the collective decision that the three-inch-long garden of bright green seaweed thickly carpeting your ladder is the ideal spot in which to hang out permanently, it’s definitely time to move the sail boat on!
We stayed in Papeete much longer than we had intended and if it hadn’t been for Marc and Laurence, the extraordinarily kind and amusing couple we met at the yacht club, we would probably have got quite twitchy having to be in the same place for almost 4 weeks. As it was, they introduced us to their friends, who introduced us to even more people, so by the time we left about a week ago, we had quite a collection of new acquaintances.
The sail that needed mending and which had been the cause of our delayed departure was finally returned thanks to the subterfuge of the yacht club’s manager, who told the sail maker that we were going to leave in a couple of days. To be fair, the material had had to be sent from the U.S. and once it had arrived we had to take a taxi all the way to the airport to pick it up – and pay about 10X the cost of the materials in paperwork fees.
We also got the loos fixed. It turns out I was able to insinuate my hand and arm up under the floorboards and between the pipe work, and while The Captain braced the loose bolts from above I used one of his special wrenches to take the bits off from underneath. The trickiest part of the exercise was not dropping the nuts and washers and stuff into the bilge once they’d come off. Then The Captain – poor man – took the porcelain halves outside and cleaned and de-grottified them, lavishly applied silicon sealant to various grooves, then screwed them together properly. Then we did the wrench thing again to attach the porcelain to the floor & hoses. It was a really nasty job, which should never have been necessary, and he had the worst of it by far. But, oh, the relief of being able to sit on the loo without having it try to squirm out from under you…!
For me, the nicest part of the last 2 weeks in Papeete was going to the Sunday morning markets with Laurence, who would pick me up in the yacht club car park. The market is considered to be an especially colourful affair and is on the tourist agenda (though there never seemed to be any tourists there, probably because by 8am it’s over). An added bonus is that on Sundays the produce is sold by the people that grow it, and so is cheaper and fresher and riper.
At 5:30am, dawn barely breaking, I would creep out and take the dinghy to shore while The Captain was still asleep. His attitude to markets is, “When you’ve seen one lot of smiley brown people selling green stuff, you’ve seen them all.” By the time we arrived – at about 6:15am – the market would have been going strong since 4am, spilling out from the ordinary weekday premises into the adjoining streets. Scents of jasmine and gardenia flowers being made into wreaths and necklaces by old ladies on one side of the market, mixed with the smells of fruit and fish and the appetising, smoky odour of pork being roasted in an open, wood fired oven nearby. The Tahitians eat the roast pork for breakfast, along with fried doughnuts and bread, and crowds of men and women lined the tables and counters which were piled high with the food.
We would return to the car laden with pineapples in bunches of 5 tied with sisal twine, hands of green bananas, bags of chilli peppers, limes, papayas, mangoes, pamplemousses, bottles of fresh coconut milk or sugar cane juice, sweet bright green oranges, some of that roast pork. No live chickens on our shopping list, though every now and then someone would walk by with a bulging string bag stuffed with a fowl or two. These would occasionally struggle in the half-hearted, resigned manner of a bird that suspects its next stop is definitely not going to be A Fun Place but knows it can do nothing about it.
One Sunday I bought a traditional sort of pudding which had been baked over a wood fire in a 3′ long thick green bamboo tube tied at the top with coconut leaf and raffia. To get at the contents one has to split the bamboo with a heavy knife whacked with a hammer. I thought it tasted delicious, rather like a cross between semolina pudding and coconut cake, but The Captain gave it a thumbs-down. On the other hand, he much appreciated the bamboo – split finely it has been most useful for fishing bits of rubbish from the bilge. Broken cable ties, pieces of plastic, stray nails and chunks of wood…this stuff keeps turning up, having thoughtfully been left there for our entertainment by the chaps at the boatyard in Richmond.
The trip to Moorea was wild. We had been warned the south-east trade winds funnel through the gap between the islands, to the extent that the phenomenon is marked on charts as a danger to commercial shipping. But we did not expect the wind to whip up to 30-35 knots within a few minutes of our leaving the lee of Tahiti’s north shore. At one point, just off the north-east coast of Moorea, it reached 38 knots. The Captain at the helm was soaked to the skin within minutes, and I had to keep ducking and clambering from one side of the cockpit to the other to escape the worst of the heavy spray.
The one nice thing about the trip was that the unsettling rhythmic metal-on-metal noise we had heard on the way down, and which had caused us such anxiety, had vanished. One nice day at the yacht club, on the off-chance, I had got out my snorkelling gear and scraped the coating of small barnacles from the prop. The Captain said, after a bit of research, that sometimes this causes cavitation, which can set up odd noises. This seems to have been the case.
Once we got into Opunohu Bay the wind died down to almost nothing and we moored just within the reef on the eastern side of the entrance. It was very different from where we had been moored in Tahiti: the water was very clear – so clear that we could see our anchor lying in the white coral sand 30 feet below – and our view of the shore consisted of white beaches and obligingly attractive coconut palms leaning over the sand.
We spent 3 days there, simply motoring slowly around in the dinghy and enjoying the new views. One morning we slalomed through a narrow passage between reefs to get to Cook Bay, where we took a walk and had a lavish Italian lunch.
I also did a bit of snorkelling, but was disappointed because the coral had been much damaged and was partially dead. There were many of beautiful fish though, and sea cucumbers of enormous size and a hideous surgical-appliance greyish-pink, covered in cone-shaped protuberances at either end. Definitely one of Nature’s lapses of taste.
Then we left for Raiatea, and had a peculiarly unpleasant overnight crossing. I say peculiar, because although it was raining neither sea nor wind were unreasonably high. But yesterday we had dinner with a German fellow who sails a traditional Tahitian double-hulled boat, and who had done the same trip during the same 24 hours. He also said it had been the worst of all his Polynesian crossings – and this is a man who has been sailing since he was 8 years old, all over the world. However, here we now are, after coming into the reef the day before yesterday through Passe Teavapiti (the entrance furthest to the north-east) with an escort of leaping dolphins. It is very much the world of transparent turquoise waters and palm fringed islets we’d imagined, even more so than Moorea.
Our stay started with a hiccup, because the first night we dropped our anchor in about 80 feet at the edge of the main channel near the town of Uturoa, where all the marine charts say anchoring is encouraged. But the next morning we got a visit from the Port Authority, who said we had to move on. We believe everyone is nervous because about one night about 2 weeks ago, in Bora Bora, some drunken idiot with more fingers than brain cells rammed his motorboat into a moored cruising sail boat at speed, damaging 2 boats, injuring 2 sailors badly, and severing his own arm. Nasty – and this is why we always have our anchor lights and sometimes even our cockpit lights on at night.
Anyway, we couldn’t leave immediately because we couldn’t raise the anchor. I’ve mentioned that the windlass had got stuck in the ‘on’ position when we first moored at the Tahiti Yacht Club. The Captain had opened the switch and fixed the problem – we thought. I’d been a bit uneasy though, because in Moorea it began acting up again: I could raise the anchor only by placing my foot on the windlass deck-switch ‘just so’ and pushing in exactly the right way. Being an impatient old moo, my theory is that if any mechanical object gets temperamental that way, it’s officially busted.
Well, the wretched thing had given up the ghost right after we’d finished anchoring the afternoon before. The Captain opened the whole thing up immediately and discovered to his horror that the whole switch was green with corrosion on the inside. He said it was a miracle it had worked at all. It hadn’t been serviced as it should have been. He fixed it the next day, of course, but had to plead for more time with the official.
Now we’re moored on the western side of the island just around the northern point. We’re at a tiny shipyard – Chantier Naval des Iles – where we got someone to check on the skeg and propeller, just to make sure everything is in place and firmly attached. This was done yesterday, by a brilliant French mechanic, born in Martinique, who stripped to his kecks to dive under the boat after doing all the investigations he could from the inside. Can’t see a London or Californian mechanic doing that….!
I took a walk today to get some groceries (well, beer mostly…) and the vegetation on either side of the road was lush and beautiful. While admiring the ferns and banana trees and bird-of-paradise flowers, I noticed that the ground beneath is densely pockmarked with holes ranging from thimble-sized to ones larger than a man’s fist. When we first arrived in Tahiti, I’d taken it for granted these belonged to some kind of gopher or other rodent, but was told later that land crabs dig them. Here, in a less urban area, there are many more of the holes and the inhabitants are obviously less timid, because they sit at the entrance to their burrows with big front claws bent in, so they look like they’re sitting with arms crossed. On my approach they quickly retreated sideways and underground, sometimes furtively clutching a bit of detritus they’ve scavenged. The ground surrounding their burrows is quite bare and swept free of rubbish.
Tomorrow morning we leave for Raiatea’s twin island Taha’a, which lies within the same barrier reef. We shall probably spend about a week there and I hope to do some good snorkelling. We hope that, for a change, there will be NO work to do on the boat!
More later and love to all from us both,