Monday 1 May - Sunday 14 May - Tuamotus to Tahiti
Monday 1 May
We arrive at the entrance to Tiputa Pass, on Rangiroa atoll in the Tuamotus at dawn. We had set off from Ahe atoll on Sunday evening, and had been gently bobbing along at a stately 5 knots all night. We only had the headsail out, as we did not want to go any faster. The distance between the atolls is about 70 miles, an overnight sail. The passes into the atolls are not navigable by night, hence the steady overnight sail timed to arrive at dawn. ‘Escapade’ was with us all night, their lights appearing and disappearing as the odd rain squall went through from time to time.
Tiputa Pass into Rangiroa was altogether more hair raising then the pass into Ahe. There were some quite significant tidal rips, creating waves which were five feet high at one point. The outgoing tide was very strong. We waited a while for it to abate, but it did not seem to be reducing much, contrary to the best information we have on the tides in this atoll. We set off into the pass behind ‘Escapade’ and battled our way through the confused waves. At one point we had the engine gunning at full throttle giving us over 8 knots through the water, but the GPS was registering only 1 knot actual speed over the ground. Luckily the pass was wider than Ahe. After what seemed rather a long time, the speed over the ground started climbing again, and we were through. We turned right into the lagoon, and sought out an anchor spot just off the Kia Ora hotel. It was a beautiful scene. The hotel has a very small number of thatched bungalows on stilts over the water, and a lovely bar overlooking the atoll. The water in the anchorage was very clear and blue. In no time at all the awning and hammock were up, the snorkels were out, and crew moved into the well practised ‘chilling out’ manoeuvre. Rangiroa is huge, over 40 miles across, so you can’ t see the other side from where we are anchored. In the afternoon we go ashore for some beachcombing and shelling on the outer coral reef, which yields a considerable haul.
Tuesday 2 May – Friday 5 May
We spent a week in Rangiroa, in our beautiful anchorage off Tiputa. It was, quite simply, paradise, and we just did not want to leave. We went diving in the pass with the ‘Raie Manta’ dive team, and saw grey shark, barracuda and stingrays aplenty. We did some more halyard flying. We hired bikes and visited the town of Avatoru, stopping for a swim in the irresistible blue water just off the roadside on the way back. We went running (just Ed and I!) across the atoll in the cool of the evening. Every evening we met up at the bar overlooking the lagoon and enjoyed some spectacular sunsets. There was an expedition to a black pearl farm, where the girls all learned about the complicated process required to deliver the perfect pearl. This visit is written up in Caroline's ‘Birds Eye View’, and Sarah’s Diary.
On Thursday we took a day trip with one of the hotel boats out to a spot called ‘The blue lagoon’, on the other side of the atoll. This is a small lagoon within the main atoll which is an excellent picnic spot. The water is all the shades of turquoise you can imagine. We spent a happy time exploring the palm islands and splashing about in the inner lagoon. Lunch was a barbecue of grilled fish, and afterwards we were serenaded by two local guys with a guitar. The remains of the fish were then fed to the black tip sharks which cruised around the reef, much to the girls' delight.
On Friday evening the ‘Friar's Goose’ team came on board for a drink to say hello, and Dave helped us diagnose and fix the outboard, which had been playing up again.
Saturday 6 May
On Saturday morning early, we set off out of Tiputa pass, bound for Tahiti. After our experience getting in to the atoll, we had decided to speak to the local dive shop about conditions at the pass, to find out the best time to leave. They had admitted that some recent unsettled weather had made it hard to predict the way the waters would run. In theory, the tide should run in and out of the pass twice a day, with well documented tidal highs and lows. In fact, so it seems, the currents have been much more unpredictable of late. The recent weather has meant that there has been according to the Dive shop guys, a permanent outflow for over a week. They told us the tide table were not too reliable, and were often overridden by weather conditions.
They had suggested that we leave at about 7.30 on Saturday morning, so that is when we lined up ready to go. There were clearly some big tidal rips running, but I reasoned that, since it was flowing out and the pass was quite wide, we should be OK. We were in fact shot out of the pass like a cork out of a bottle. In the middle of the rips, we almost lost steerage completely, as the currents threw the yacht around all over the place. Although this was a bit unnerving, it was quite safe in fact, as the current was pulling us faster towards the deeper and calmer water. Still, I was glad to be clear, and we had a lovely sail up the length of the atoll, before turning to pass between Rangiroa and Tikehau atoll towards Tahiti, which is about 200 miles away.
Sunday 7 May
We had an uneventful passage to Papeete, with a gentle breeze blowing from behind for most of the trip. The high peaks of Tahiti appeared out of the clouds when we were about 25 miles off, and the accompanying sunset had everyone scurrying for their cameras. The wind disappeared as we closed in on the islands. We motored past Point Venus, just West of the port of Papeete. This is where Captain Cook and Joseph Banks had observed the transit of Venus in June of the year 1869, on Cooks first voyage to the South Pacific. It is amazing to think of them sailing amongst these islands in little coaling ships, with no engine, relatively inefficient sails, and no charts, at the mercy of the weather. So intrepid.
I make contact with our friend Kiko Rutter, who is on his Hallberg Rassey 42, ‘Hygeia’ moored up at the town quay. He has kindly established a place for us on the quay which is available tomorrow, and is standing by to take our lines. He has also, sociable man that he is, managed to make contact with Tress and Mark, our next crew, who are on board enjoying a gin an tonic with him when we call up! We enter the pass into Papeete an hour after last light, guided in by the leading lights. The pass is small, and we can see the breakers on the reef either side of it. But it is well lit, so no real problem for us.
We are soon at anchor, and tied up with a long line round a palm tree ashore. It is very strange to see and hear the sights and sounds of a sizeable city again. The last time we were anywhere like this was Panama, over two months ago.
Monday 8 May – Sunday 14 May
The next morning we moved round into the space vacated by yacht ‘Cherish’, which Kiko had kindly fixed for us to have. We moor up next to a lovely Italian Gran Soleil, which turns out to have Christina, a Catalan girl who we met in Panama, on board as crew.
We revel in the glory of having shore power and running water on tap for the first time since we were in Bonaire. It means we can get the fridge really cold again. It also means that we are able to give the boat a really good fresh water scrub, not done since Hiva Oa.
In the evening we celebrate with some music, including some of the new songs which we have learned from the songbooks that Phyllis brought with her.
The next few days are spent stocking up, servicing the engine, buying boat bits, and enjoying the delights of having a metropolis at our doorstep. Tress and Mark take a two day trip to Huahine, while we attend to some work that needs sorting out on the engine.
Simon, Bob and Ed do a day trip to Moorea, and return with tales of an epic walk over one of the peaks. They head back to London at the end of the week. It is a wrench saying goodbye, as ever. This has been one of the most idyllic phases of the trip so far, and they have really made the most of it. They have also all been brilliant at mucking in and helping with the never ending stream of maintenance jobs that need to be done on a yacht that is being worked hard.
On Friday morning we set off from Papeete town quay, bound for Opunohu, in Moorea, which is about 20 miles away. At least we try to. Unfortunately we discover that our anchor is tangled up with Christina's next door. After much warping around to get the boat safe, and a rather unpleasant snorkel dive in the evil smelling harbour water, we manage to get clear.
The peaks of Moorea are clearly visible from Papeete. Everyone who has been there tells of the beauty of the mountains and the anchorages inside the fringing reef. We have quite a bouncy motor across from Papeete, with no wind and a big swell created by the currents in the channel.
It all goes calm as we pass Point Faapo and get into the shelter of the high mountains on the island. We anchor in the lagoon just inside the entrance to Opunohu. The weather is unstable, and there are squalls coming over regularly, so we dig the anchor into sand, and lay out plenty of chain. Soon it clears up, and spend a lovely weekend based here. There is wreck on the reef. It was an unfortunate local coaster that was trying to negotiate the pass in a bad crosswind. It makes a wonderful snorkel trip, as it has lots of hidey holes for all the fish. In the background are the jagged peaks of Moorea, crowned by the majesty of Mount Mouaroa. This peak looks just like a pointed sharks tooth, and was made famous as ‘Bali Hai’ in the musical ‘South Pacific’
Bird’s Eye View – 10 May
At the moment it sounds and feels and smells as though we’re on the central reservation of the M4 on a bad day. No-one can hear themselves think and the water looks like the washing up after a particularly mucky meal. However the flip side is being able to wash it all off with delicious fresh water using the hose pipe which is permanently attached to the shore alongside our power cable. The freezer is chugging all hours of the day and instead of being luke warm, our drinks are now frosty cold with clinking ice in the glass. Such is civilisation in Papeete, Tahiti after two months of roughing it in the remote Pacific islands.
Although I’ve enjoyed visiting the market to stock up on lovely fresh produce, and Jonathan has indulged in some serious retail therapy in the chandlery, it hasn’t taken long for us to start looking forward to being off again to find a peaceful, blue anchorage teeming with aquatic life. Rangiroa in the Tuomotu atolls has been voted the trip highlight so far, and I think we’ll be lucky to find anywhere more beautiful. The lagoon within the ring of motus was perfectly still and calm despite the roar of wind and waves crashing only 500 yards away on the outer shore. Every morning we awoke to a show of fish and birds around the boat. It was usually a large shoal of slim garfish mixed in with a few black unicorn fish having a feeding frenzy on the cloud of tiny inch long fish that kept leaping out of the water into the waiting beaks of the birds. The water was so clear we could see our anchor at 10 metres as if it was only a metre below us, and the colour was indescribable. In the evenings we would motor ashore just before sundown to have cocktails on the Kia Ora Hotel terrace. The girls would divide their time between dismantling the fruity garnishes on their drinks and leaning over the deck to watch the stingrays, moorish idols and eagle rays swimming in the water below. The bay had the perfect mix of wild life, peace and civilised treats which we could keep at arms length.
Since arriving in the atolls I had been itching to visit a black pearl farm to see how it was done, and to scoop up a handful of pearls at a bargain price. However after visiting the pearl shop in the hotel we soon realised that a bargain was probably out of the question. Each 10mm pearl was priced at a cool US$1000, so a string of pearls was somewhere in the region of US$35,000! Something about them didn’t seem entirely right – beautifully lustrous as they were, they were improbably large and perfectly spherical and the jewellers had clearly had lots of fun dreaming up the most hideous settings in which to show them off. Jonathan had given me a lovely string of knobbly black pearls some years ago and I was disappointed not to find anything comparable.
Nevertheless we made a visit to ‘chez Corinne’ who we were told was the best person to talk to about buying loose pearls. To start with my heart sunk when she showed us her range. They were all like those we’d seen in the shop – exorbitantly expensive Christmas tree baubles – although the range of colours was spectacular. One could choose from smoky white, green, blue, dark grey and even orange or pink. She was kind enough to spend some time talking us through the process of pearl grafting, and Sarah has written an excellent ‘How to’ on black pearl farming in her log. I could hardly believe my eyes when she showed us the size of the shell nucleus which is inserted into the oyster. It was then that we discovered that of a 10mm pearl, only the outer 1mm is actual mother-of-pearl. The whole thing is a complete scam!
However, not many oysters will tolerate such an outrage. After six months each newly grafted oyster is checked to see if it has accepted the nucleus. 70% of all first-time graftees will produce what is called a ‘keschi’ instead of wrapping mother-of-pearl around the nucleus to produce a perfect pearl. A keschi is a knobbly ball of pure mother-of-pearl which is produced by the oyster in response to the irritation of a foreign body inside its shell. The nucleus is left untouched. (These uncooperative oysters are not used again while the successful 30% will go on to produce three pearls each in its life time.) Thus we discovered that what we were looking for were keschi, which to our minds were far more beautiful and valuable, being pure to the core. Corinne had a small bag for us to rummage through and we had lots of fun trying to find pairs out of the infinite variety of shapes and colours. Although not cheap, the small ones were just about within our range. I now understand why cultured pearls are so much less valuable than wild pearls!