Sunday, 31 July 2016

Moorea c’est Magnifique ….. July 2016

08–18 July:  Cooks Bay Sandbar to Sunken Tikis, Moorea – 17 29S 149 52W
the flying dinghy

Getting Whacked Underway

It’s just 21 miles from the Papeete Yacht Club where we were anchored in Tahiti to the anchorage area around Cooks Bay on Moorea.  Light winds were forecast and we waited until late morning for the wind to reach 6 knots.   Off we went with full main up and full headsail flying at the bow, the breeze increased enough for us to coast along in flat seas, one of those magic sails.
We were in the shadow of Tahiti for about 15 miles, then the wind went fickle and died, the current between the two islands churned the water this way and that and the magic turned to downright trickery.  P7120178As we were discussing whether all those whitecaps in front of us were really caused by the current or was it wind our question was answered, wind hit us – and lots of it!
For the next half hour it was “hang on to your hats”(and whatever else we could find) as we flew along in wind gusts up to 38 knots whilst surfing down 3 metre seas that had built from nowhere.  As our boat speed hit 12 knots we both looked longingly at the calmer water in the distance and prayed the gusts wouldn’t get any stronger.  At least at these speeds you do get there quicker and we reefed sails as soon as we found flatter water then finished our sail in somewhat more control, phew!
The waves were whipping through our intended anchorage in Cooks Bay, white water flicking off the tops as the katabatic winds funnelled through, so we stayed outside in much calmer water on the sandbar inside the reef.
All night long the stars sparkled above us but the clouds hung over the high peaks and a fine mist blew down on us until daybreak.  The Sandbar was a gorgeous spot though but oh so shallow with just half a metre under our keel, the water so clear that it actually looked like we were sitting on the sand, somewhat surreal. 

The Bay with no Cooks

The unforecast wild winds eventually eased and Cooks Bay was transformed into a pond, the majestic mountains reflecting into the glassy seas, a far more appealing anchorage.P7100112
Now the interesting fact about Cooks Bay is that it is named after Captain Cook who visited Moorea on his third voyage to French Polynesia, however he never anchored there.  They made their base in neighbouring Opunohu Bay which had a better fresh water supply, no one knows why this bay was named after him, but Cooks Bay it is!P7120176

Tourists, Tourists Everywhere

This northern coast of Moorea is one of the most touristy areas in French Polynesia, from our next anchorage at the head of Opunohu Bay we watched convoys of cycle tours or dune buggies drive by for their half day sightseeing tours.  Most headed up to the belvedere for a few snaps of the bays before re-mounting their chosen mode of transport and continuing on round the island.

We however decided to stretch our legs and took advantage of the excellent trails available and hiked up to a well P7120190restored historical marae site before continuing up to the lookout area.  We enjoyed the birds eye view then headed back into the bush on one of the marked trails, somehow we missed our first two downhill turnoffs and ended up on the longest returning option, a 7km walk through some verdant tropical bush, not unlike what we have in New Zealand.  It was shady and cool, a well worn trail but we didn’t see another soul, it’s likely it is just us exercise starved cruisers that keep these trails trodden!

We also spent a day on our bikes exploring, didn’t quite pull off the 65 km circumnavigation of the island, maybe just a little too much for our little folding bikes, not to mention our legs but we followed the coastline and clicked over 30 kms, good effort.

After a particularly blustery “anchor watch” night at the head of Opunohu Bay we decided to head back out to the shallow areas inside the reef, find the Sunken Tiki Anchorage and enjoy all the underwater tourist attractions.

Who Threw The Tikis Overboard?

On the half day water based tourist sightseeing tour there are stops made at the sunken tikis and opportunities to swim with and feed rays and black tipped sharks.  Happy holiday makers jump overboard by the boat load on these excellent excursions to view these underwater delights, but of course they are unable to chose a quiet time or stay as long as they want, that’s where we are lucky.
It’s a long while since we have been anywhere with so many tourists so had forgotten how fortunate we are to be able to chose a time between tour boats, jet ski and kayak convoys to be able to share the same experiences but without the crowds, P7150268but hey, remember we did have to endure those winds to get here!

We found the sunken tikis, they were lying quietly in the shallows only 100 metres from where we anchored Balvenie.  We understand they are a reasonably new addition to the neighbourhood, carved by a local sculpture and laid to rest on the busy tourist trail as another attraction, what a great idea.

Time to Feed the Rays

Last on our list of “Moorea Must Do’s” was to dinghy along to the crystal clear shallow waters near the Intercontinental Hotel and feed the resident rays and black tipped sharks.  Now this gets VERY busy so we got along there by 8.30am, the first of the tour boats arrived at 9am and it is non stop all day long.
Look carefully at the photo below, all the white part is the underbelly of a ray as it came up vertically out of the water to be fed, it was all soft and slippery underneath, the pinky part just above the water is its mouth. P7150251
There were rays everywhere, and the black tipped sharks and other fish don’t miss out on the free food either, felt like we were swimming inside an aquarium at feeding time, but watch out – they do nibble the odd unsuspecting tourist!
P7150254 P7150223P7150261
Time To Head North to Huahine – North? But That’s The Wrong Way!! 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Projects & Provisioning in Papeete …. June/July 2016

18 Jun-07 Jul:  Taina Anch, City Marina, Yacht Club Anch – 17 31S 149 31W
Sensory Overload in the City
We arrived just after dark at Point Venus on the North Coast of Tahiti.  It was a joy to awake to clear blue skies above and verdant green peaks ashore.  After the low lying atolls of the Tuamotus we could smell the land again and we also took in the splendour of the lush interior, our senses were overloaded. 

Our morning motor along the outside of the reef was rather lively, the wind had really filled in and with it a choppy sea but it was a short distance to the main pass entrance into Papeete - the vista of the neighbouring island Moorea was a dramatic backdrop. P6290020 Once through the pass we headed for the Taina Marina Mooring & Anchorage area. 
This short run inside the reef passes both ends of the airport so clearance to proceed must be obtained from Air Traffic Control so you don’t get your mast tangled in a low flying plane!!
We attached to the last available  mooring buoy and the urgent business of food shopping was addressed.  The giant French supermarket chain of Carrefour is throughout Tahiti and one hypermarket is conveniently located a short walk from the anchorage. Our overloaded senses were about to go into total meltdown.  P6290011Outside the marina area the traffic passed by at speeds we hadn’t seen since Panama, traffic lights were sighted for the first time in a year, and the aisles and aisles of goods in Carrefour, well quite frankly it was all just a little to much after 10 months in the sleepy Marquesas & Tuamotus!

Ticking Off Things on “The List

During our week in the mooring field we moved into project & provisioning mode.  We re-adjusted quickly to the buzz of city life and almost set fire to our credit cards with so much use.  Trips were made into all the chandleries to source a new battery bank, 80 metres of anchor chain and other smaller more manageable items.
Oranges & Bananas in the Parade plus Storm troopers in case the fruit get unruly!
20160625_121203The logistics of getting the old items off the boat by dinghy, disposing of them and bringing the new back and installing them kept us busy, this was heavy and tiring work. 
  • Any spare minute skipper didn't need me I made trips to Carrefour and other grocery stores.   Just to paint a picture on buying the groceries:
  • Calculate how many of everything we will need for the next 5 months and make a very big list20160625_132423
  • visit multiple supermarkets we have never been to before & have most of the labels in French
  • shop until trolley full
  • pay & pack into strong bags then wheel the trolley on very uneven surface back to marina
  • transfer goods onto dock then into dinghy
  • prepare for possible wet dinghy ride back to Balvenie then unload onto deck, move into cockpit then lastly down below
  • unpack & carefully stow in lockers – noting where it has gone 

Then do it all again in various supermarkets till all items have been crossed off list (except marmite and easyyo yogurt mix!).  After filling many grocery trolleys and contributing thousands of francs to the local economy provisioning for the next 5 months was completed, eventually space onboard was found to stow everything – we had food and drink again.

Luxury – A Week in the Marina

Conditions in the mooring field had not been very comfortable with a slop coming over the reef so we decided to treat ourselves to a week in the new City Marina.  Located right downtown with new docks, excellent security & facilities and an affordable price it encouraged us to have a weeks ”city break” after our seriously hard work.

Papeete surprised us, we’d heard some negative comments about the downtown harbour area and maybe they have had a recent major clean up and redevelopment but we’d have to say the area was superb.P6300024
The waterfront promenade was palm tree lined with cycle paths and wide footpaths, large tree filled parks adjoined the marina at both ends, there were playgrounds, picnic areas, an adjacent open air arena and even a huge underground parking area.  It was an extremely well thought out and developed area, one Papeete should be very proud of, and it was certainly well used by the cities inhabitants.P7010041 

Each evening in a large area within one park “le roulette trucks” sell a huge assortment of tasty meals, there were a few tourists dining but this seems mainly frequented by the locals which was great to see.  The shopping and market area opposite were very handy, quite compact but functional, open air cafes added that French feel, all was clean & tidy and it felt very safe.

Time to Play Now

June and July are festival months and we enjoyed watching street parades, performing dancers, garland making competitions, wood carving workshops – there were even basket weaving classes. 
P6300029The Heiva Festival is an annual event throughout French Polynesia and on each Thursday, Friday and Saturday night in July there are excellent song and dance performances in the open arena near the marina.  With tickets costing less than a meal out it made an excellent evenings entertainment, and each night had different groups performing.  The winners are decided at the end of the month.P7010049

Exploring Further Afield

We shared a car hire one day with David & Betty Anne off Canadian boat Confidence and off we went to explore the island.  First we stopped at Point Venus where Captain Cook had been sent on his first voyage into the Pacific with astrologers to record the transit of Venus across Sun in 1769, a failed mission as they did not see the transit due to having the wrong timing information.  20160701_162153
Then we followed the coast road down the east coast and crossed the isthmus to smaller Tahiti Iti.  We continued up onto the plateau, a surprising open area with cows grazing in green pastures, fields planted in vegetables, all looked just like home, quite a change from all the nearby tropical vegetation.  After a picnic lunch at the belvedere (lookout) we made our way back across to Tahiti Nui and up the west coast to Papeete.

Catching Up with Old FriendsP7040090
Our remaining few days in Papeete were spent at the excellent anchorage outside the Papeete Yacht Club, tucked behind a deep drying reef on the north coast,20160705_083552 just a stones throw from Point Venus.  We had a great few days here, surrounded by Australians and New Zealanders (we just sort of took over the anchorage really).

We hooked up with our longtime friend Tony on Tactical Directions, first met in Darwin 2006 and since shared many an anchorage in Asia, The Red Sea, Turkey, the Caribbean and most recently the Bahamas in 2014.  Just great to see him, Out of the Bag & Ednbal again and to meet new friends who we have been talking to previously only via our SSB Radio net, now we can all put faces to voices and names.

Time To Follow in Captain Cook’s Wake

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Flying With the Fish at Fakarava ….. June 2016

07 – 17 June 2016:  South Pass, Fakarava, Tuamotus – 16 31S 145 28W

DSC00345-001 From Heaven at Hirifa to Fun at FakaravaP6160028

We moved 6 miles west from Hirifa to the South Pass at Fakarava.  First up we stayed in the anchorage area on the western side of the pass, a gorgeous area (ok, it was littered with bommies) the nearby tiny motus had sand sparkling in hues of pink along their tiny shorelines due to the rusty red fringing reef.  They were postage stamp sized islands, a handful of coconut palms added colour and shade, warm clear water lapped on the soft sandy shores, and the water colours in the lagoon were magnificent.  Desert islands don’t get any better than these magical motus.


But The Real Attraction Is Under Water!P6150097

The drawcard for the small tourist industry here is the South Pass, diving here is rated amongst the Top 5 pass dives world wide, as we don’t dive we can’t give our opinion on that but the snorkelling was awesome.  We can report though that neighbours dove one day and saw 3 schools of over 150 sharks in each, eek that a serious amount of sharks!

We snorkelled the pass 5 days and got very good at timing the current to provide us with the most entertainment possible.  The trick is to get to the outside of the pass just before slack water low tide and do the first snorkel at a leisurely pace, stopping to explore nooks and crannies, discover species not before seen, look closely at the pass bottom to watch sleeping sharks and take plenty of photos.


It’s quite a long pass with two exits so if you dawdle this can easily take an hour or more.  Then you zoom back in the dinghy (which skipper has been towing) outside the pass to the beginning and come through again.

P6140131Flying Through With the Fish

Now this is the fun part – if the tide is a little slow in turning then it can be another leisurely trip through, but if the flood is in full swing then you are off like a torpedo, flying with the fish. 

It is an amazing feeling, you remain motionless, no work required, and the underwater world just flies by underneath as the current and flooding tide transports you on its magic carpet -  a truly incredible and addictive sensation.


Same Place – Different View P6140039

We had a change of scenery and moved from the anchorage area on the west of the pass to the mooring field on the eastern side.  Not only did this provide a different view ashore, crystal clear water so we could watch the sharks from the boat, but it also put us within an easy dinghy ride of a small resort that specialized in wood fired pizzas. With our dwindling food supplies how could we resist?  An excellent seafood pizza, crispy green salad and fresh fruit salad was enjoyed at Chez Manihi’s.


The Gropers Are Grouping 

The timing of our visit coincided with the annual groper spawn which happens around full moon every June.  Not sure how the groper know underwater when the full moon is, but they do know and they gather here in their hundreds for this yearly event.

Camera crew from various countries were also around, ready to film this underwater display for upcoming documentaries.  We didn’t stay for the full moon spawning, it all happens at night so as snorkelers we would have not seen much but we saw more species of gropers than we knew existed, here’s a few of them – not the most photogenic of fish in their camouflage gear.2016 Tuamotus-002

Times Up in the TuamotusP6140032

Our stay in the Tuamotus had been terrific, we had sat out some inclement weather but we had also had some long spells of stunning conditions.  There are so many more atolls to explore in the Tuamotus but time is marching on and our provisions are at rationing levels!

The anchorages had been top class, we had forgotten what a privilege it was to have flat water most nights after the often rolly anchorages in the Marquesas.  Timing of the passes had initially seemed daunting but after “cutting our teeth” on the pass at Raroia we managed the others without any incident.  We even exited Fakarava via the 2.7metre shallow South Pass, after snorkelling over it regularly we were confident the coral hadn’t grown any higher and we would just scrape through.  As we looked over the side of Balvenie the coral seabed looked very close, that's because it was!  All went well but we were pleased to get into deeper water!


P6160037Moving On West

5 of us left the pass at low tide slack water around 8am, all Papeete bound on French Polynesia’s most well known island Tahiti.  It wasn’t really a race (was it?) as its nearly 250 miles, but 5 boats going the same way and leaving at the same time, well!  The first day was rather more boisterous than expected and we flew along under double reefed main and well reefed gib.  Conditions settled overnight and the skies glowed with an almost full moon, the Southern Cross continued to guide us ever closer to home.  P6160035

Day 2 offered perfect sailing conditions, Tahiti loomed in front of us all afternoon, bursting abruptly out of the deep blue Pacific as a mass of mountainous green.  Balvenie kept her nose in front of the other monohulls, and conceded line honours to the only catamaran in our fleet, a 50 footer who beat us by 3 hours, a respectable result for a non race.

We dropped anchor just after dark at Point Venus just a few hundred metres from where Captain Cook had anchored in Matavai Bay, his “favourite anchorage of the Pacific”.  After 12 years and 1 month of cruising we had arrived in Tahiti, the land of legends.  DSC00335-001

Time To Top Up Supplies in Tahiti