Wednesday, 25 July 2007

on the move again!

It was hard to leave Tahiti. The sailing club was relaxed, friendly & felt like home. It was nice to put some roots down even if it was only 2 weeks! It was a friendly city & great island. The island itself is not as you would picture it. It is very green & mountainous; there are only a few beaches, the majority of which are black sand or rocky. The fabulous beaches & crystal clear waters are on the neighbouring islands of Moorea & Bora Bora.
As always there was work to do, trawling around the boat supply & DIY shops (Gilly, you would be in heaven!) in search of items that we never find until the 5th shop, restocking food, fuel & water supplies (first time since the Galapagos Islands! 80 gallons of fresh water in 11 weeks – pretty good going!).We made time for fun days, our first mission: a session of people watching & my much needed burger & chips (I had been dreaming of a meal out for months, cooking everyday is still driving me crazy!!). We play “guess the origin of the tourist”. Bobby believes you can tell a Brit from the shape of their heads whilst I spot the Yank a mile away with his bright white socks & trainers! ; )
As always hitch hiking is the cheapest way around town, which is how we met Gillaume & Julian. 2 fantastic French guys doing their internship in Tahiti. They took us surfing (nice sand breaks especially for me), cooked numerous outstanding meals at their amazing house on the mountain overlooking the beautiful coast. They were even kind enough to lend us a scooter for a couple of days, during which we toured the island. Slightly bum numbing after 8 hours but we made it all around Tahiti & even visited Teahupoo where they hold the world surf contests.
July 4th celebrations were held by Erin & Chris on Barefeet (a very beautiful catamaran) Believe it or not the Euros out numbered the Yanks! Fantastic BBQ with unlimited all American food, burgers, hotdogs, brownies, apple pie & pecan pie! I am still amazed at the food cruisers prepare, especially amazing with the limited food supplies & equipment onboard boats. No Brits or supplies of tea were thrown overboard during the celebrations!!
Our dingy fondly known as “the aquarium” with the amount of water it allows in & the fabulous view of the ocean now possible through the huge hole in the bow ! A painstakingly slow job to repair it & reglue the entire floor. Removing all traces of old glue, sandpapering & then finally the applying glue which had to be done in three phases! Now the waiting stage with all fingers crossed to see if it works – 3 days for the glue to dry! In the mean time we borrowed “Tippy” (she was very aptly named!) from s/v Erie. I was finally given lessons on how to use the outboard & there was no stopping me. It’s a bit like getting your driving licence & no longer being reliant on Mum! I had my freedom back; Tippy & I became great friends!

Tahiti Baby!!

It is an amazing feeling, I sailed across half an ocean to get here! A more amazing feat is we arrived in one piece, without any breakages after having had the worst passage to date (the memory of the pleasant passage to the Tuamoto’s has very much faded!!) We hit numerous squalls, Bobby insists they were squalls but in my opinion they were storms! We sailed in & out of bad weather throughout the passage. As dawn broke on my watch the daylight was quickly replaced by blackness. Best comment of the day goes to the Captain: “Let me know when the wind gets above 25 knots” I informed him that we were already at 32 knots & increasing!
We hated every second of that passage. It was the first time I had thoughts of being sick, trying to cook in the galley during bad weather will do that to you! I dream of salted crisps (chips, for you yanks reading this!) I have no idea why but I crave the salt when we are at sea & unfortunately my supply of Pringles has long since disappeared!
We made it through the pass, into the protected waters of Tahiti Sailing Club & pulled up on a mooring ball. Even Bobby, who hates to pay for moorings, when anchorages are free, was keen to make use of the clubs facilities after the rough conditions. The lure of HOT fresh water showers were too much for either of us to pass up on! My first hot shower since leaving England in January! 5 months of salt water baths & cold water showers in the cockpit with a pesticide sprayer – not such a soft southerner after all!!
I took the longest shower in history & then stood wide eyed & dazed in the aisles of the French supermarket, so many cheeses, fresh meats, fruit & veg, it was as if we have just been transported to France. I haven’t seen a supermarket like this since leaving home!
A good nights sleep (with blankets – yes its that cold here) followed by a day of looking out for our friends, sailing in a day or so behind us. We were lucky. We escaped the worst of the bad weather. They reported 50 knot winds, broken stays, shrouds & engine probs. Comradeship in cruising is similar to the relationship with colleagues in the police. We look out for each other & no one relaxes until the last man/boat is safe. The enemy is the environment & weather. Its pretty emotional watching everyone help each other, assisting the sailing boats in through the pass with directions & heading out there in dinghy’s to show the safest route. You are wrecked after a 3 day/2 night passage & in terrible conditions you don’t get any sleep, to come into the port out of the storm & see friendly faces means the world. Fellow Brits on s/v Seari couldn’t make it in before nightfall & heaved to until daylight. It was unsettling feeling not having everyone securely anchored but they arrived safely the next day.

Atolls & Pearls

We arrived in Kauehi, an atoll in the Tuamoto’s on 17th July after a perfect passage from the Marquesas. (An atoll, in geography terms is a volcano sunk, where the sea level touched the volcano is a ring of coral which is now the island. In simple terms the island is a ring of coral with a break in it (called a pass) which you sail through to get into the salt water lagoon in the centre of the island. It is slightly back to front being anchored in the centre of the island with land 360 degrees around you!
Many boats have sunk around this island chain. The islands are low lying & hard to spot until too late. Luckily the invention of GPS & good old British radar makes present day safer but it is still scary when palm trees look like they are growing out of the sea!
It was our first experience with atolls & passes, made hairier arriving just after slack tide. As much as I enjoyed the 3 day/night passage no one relishes another night at sea with 2 hour shifts so we attempted our first pass on a rising tide. Stressful but we made it & 2 hours later safely anchored inside Kauehi. We remained for a week in paradise. The sea was a 100 shades of turquoise, palm trees bent over the gently lapping water, it was the scene from a holiday brochure but there were no hotels, B&B’s or rooms for rent, it was tourist free (except for a few of us yachties!) This is the picture your mind conjures when you think of the South Pacific Islands.
We snorkelled the heads of coral directly beside us. Just a little disconcerting to be surrounded by them when you are on a boat as hitting one of those things can rip the bottom. A multitude of fish, coral & huge clams lived below. Determined to be able to touch the bottom of the ocean & pick up shells I attempted to crack my inability to dive under the water whilst snorkelling. After swallowing huge quantities of salty sea water I finally mastered it!
We made firm friends with the locals despite our lack of a shared language. The people live off the bounty of their land. They harvest the coconuts, tearing out the coconut flesh, drying it & then selling the copra to companies who press the dried coconut to obtain the coconut oil. The Tuamoto’s are known for the black pearls they produce. The pearl farms are on small wooden pier like structures stretching out into the sea. The pearls & their shells were used though out the village from decorating the church & houses to jewellery & ashtrays. The village priest became my firm friend as I put in orders for personally designed necklaces made from mother of pearl & watched him draw the designs onto the shell, cut them out & sand them down.
Samwell, whom Bobby fondly called “Samwell the savage” due to his wild, rough & ready appearance & huge hair, went with Bobby in search of coconut crab. I wasn’t too impressed when they bought back a HUGE crab, still alive & requested that I cook it for an hour, turning it every 10 minutes whilst they went looking for more! Samwell & his family were very friendly but spoke no English & with our lack of French evenings with them would have been very quiet had it not been for our travel games of connect 4 & jenga!
Bobby returned from a day of exploring having met the local pearl farmer, Frankie. Frankie & his family welcomed us into their home & served us some amazing meals. We ate turtle, oysters (if they produce bad pearls Frankie brings them home to his wife to cook!) & he even went diving to collect blue lipped clams, which we had seen whilst snorkelling (personally it was similar experience to chewing on your flip flop!). They showed us the process of implanting & looking after the oysters so they produce pearls. Bobby was more taken with the huge container of pearls. He was mesmerised, running them through his hands, staring at the different colours & shapes. Mum & Gil – I traded 3 old worn out bikinis for your pearls!! It was fun & definitely a better experience than going to a huge pearl farm with tours for the tourists! As a thank you we had the family on the boat for the afternoon. The kids wore us out, loved Bobby’s super soakers (huge water guns) & didn’t take long to find my hidden supply of sweets/candy! Our final night here was a sad one. It has been hard to leave such a beautiful place, we may only have seen one islands in this chain but we have specialised, met some great people & loved every minute. Next stop Tahiti!