July 9, 2017
(Apologies for the extreme lag in updating this site, Internet access is pretty low speed out here. We have been updating our journal on a page we set up here: firstname.lastname@example.org where we can update via satellite email. Please follow along at the other site. When we have Internet access we'll update this page as well.)
Three months after leaving La Paz we are happily docked at the city marina in Pape'ete, Tahiti. It feels like a chapter marker in our voyage, halfway between Mexico and New Zealand. The past three months have been full of adventure, crossing the Pacific to the Marquesas, sailing from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus, exploring several of the atolls in the Tuamotus. Swimming with sharks,watching eagle rays dance like dervishes in slow motion, anchoring in places that were remote and stunning in their beauty. Overnight passages with the night sky twinkling overhead, passing small atolls fragrant with vanilla, bicycling narrow lanes in the shade of coconut plantations. Time has moved quickly, compressing the past few months into a whirl of light, moving water, saturated color. The slow pace and lightly populated areas that we have been visiting have led a crash landing of sorts here in Pape'ete. High speed ferries, a highway, sidewalks of people, cars in a hurry, grocery stores stocked with overwhelming selections. It feels weird, but good, to be here.
We left the south pass of Fakarava two weeks ago for a two night passage to Tahiti. We had decent sailing for the first couple of days, deep in the second night the winds left us and we were forced to motor the rest of the way. Pape'ete is pretty straightforward and we found a slip on the outside with a nice view down the harbor to Mo'orea, an island about ten miles away. The city marina is well run, clean and quiet out where we are. There is a little swell from the commercial traffic but we like the views and being a bit away from town. If the winds kick up from the north then this would not be a good spot. It's worth noting that from the out of date cruiser's info we had we expected to stern tie to the sea wall and to have the city's traffic roaring past our stern. The days of stern lines to an iron ring are in the past, now there is a modern marina with large slips and a generous fairway. We are on a pontoon annex away from the traffic facing the park.
The park is along the waterfront, complete with coconut trees and planted with a lush variety of local species. At mid day it is shaded and cool, making a nice respite from the concrete of the city, also makes for a covered walkway to the grocery store,15 minutes from where we are.
The plan was to stay in Pape'ete for a few days to provision, take care of a couple boat projects and sort out the next couple of legs of our trip. We need to be out of French Polynesia by July 16, when our visa expires and are planning on heading to the Cook Islands, most likely for Rarotonga, but might like to stop at another island or two in the Cooks along the way. Once we leave Tahiti we'll have a few days remaining on our visa and will check out of Bora Bora.
One of the odd realities of sailing across the Pacific is that although the pace of movement feels leisurely, or at least looks leisurely on paper, there is always a clock running in the back ground. We started in French Polynesia with a three month visa, which seemed like so much time when we dropped anchor at Nuku Hiva. Now there are a couple weeks left and it feels like we’ll be rushing to provision and try to see another island before making the jump to the Cook Islands.
Over the next few months we plan to sail through the Cook islands, visit Niue, and then on to Tonga. By October we will be getting ready to head south for New Zealand where we plan to spend their summer avoiding the hurricane season to the north. We enjoyed our time in New Zealand almost 15 years ago, it will be nice to visit with a sailboat.
We are learning a lot as we go -- this has been a pretty immersive adventure. Anchoring in the Tuomotus was a daunting challenge because of all the coral heads and shallow depths, as was getting into the atolls and timing the slack tide through their passes. But I am really glad we made the effort, the atolls of the Tuamotus are some of the most beautiful places I’ve visited and understand why people get long term visas and spend years here. Remote, pristine, beautiful, lovely swimming and diving, empty beaches, so many colorful fish. Well worth visiting, a bit more effort but I’d highly recommend seeing them. We only have a couple weeks on our visa and there is so much to see just to the west of Tahiti, but that will have to wait for the next trip. I’d highly recommend to anyone planning on visiting this area to apply for the long stay visa in advance, even if you don’t plan on staying. We’ve met many people who changed their plans and stayed here a few years or left their boat for the hurricane season and then returned year after year.
Two nights ago we went to the opening ceremonies for the start of the Heiva festival, a festival of performance, sports and pageantry to celebrate Polynesian culture that runs over three long weekends. All the islands are represented and they have competitions of dance, music, sports, etc. It being the first night we sat through a lot of introductions and warm up chit chat in Tahitian and French. I was getting worried that the whole night was going to be a snooze. But the performances got started with a strong choir at first then a small choir that wasn't mic'd well so sounded not very good, then the main show of the evening, a large hundred-person dance group backed by a 20-person percussion band. Over-the-top amazing...they went on for an hour of choreographed dancing, and costume changes with the band just killing it, a wall of sound that somehow should have been a pure cacophony but was beautiful harmony, a religious experience. Wood drums, skin drums, lengths of hollow wood, at one point they had wood trays of stones that they "played" using small metal trays over their hands, as though the sea was joining in. The dancing impressive, something out of a Berkeley Busby fantasy, towering headdresses, belts of woven grasses with flowers worked in, and the costumes, wow, headdresses with long thin branches pokin, grasses woven into bracelets at the ankle. 100 dancers moving in graceful unison. Mesmerizing.
There are a few tasks to wrap up before we set sail from Pape'ete. We are planning on leaving tomorrow morning, making for Mo'orea. After two weeks of boat projects, visiting chandleries, walking back and forth across town for groceries, etc. We are both ready for some time in the wild. First we have to stow a stack of canned courgettes, champignons and ratatouille a la Provencale, wash the decks, and lash down the dinghy. Looking forward to getting back on the open ocean.