Thursday, July 08, 2004

Tahiti, Society Islands

June 24th  – July 8th , 2004
By Chris

Our plan was to get in, re-provision in modern stores, get Internet access, a few boat supplies, and get out to other more remote islands.  The first difference is that you have to call Port Control to ask permission to enter the harbor; the second is that you are in the company of freighters, cruise ships, and huge inter-island ferries.  The ferries travel at 30+ knots and throw up a rooster tail that would completely cover the boat in a 20-foot high wall of water; and they have a schedule to meet.  They don’t care about some little sailboat trying to get in the entrance; they just blast right in front of you. As we called, Bobulona heard us and gave us some more info about the anchorage (Maeva Beach) we were heading to.  I asked him if it was crowded, “Just you and a couple hundred of your closest friends”.. ugggh!!

 The channel to the anchorage goes around the airport and you have to check in to make sure you don’t pass the runway while a jet is taking off (they COULD actually clip your mast if they used the entire runway).  We arranged clearance and motored as we watched a 747 taxi for takeoff ... “Come on Baby, don’t fail me now” I thought.  I really wanted to get a picture of it taking off behind our stern but just as I went below to check the chart, it took off, and so I didn’t get the picture I wanted.  We came around the point and tucked in to the northern end of the VERY large and crowded anchorage.  We anchored close to Bobulona and Waking Dream, as I was finalizing my anchoring Dennis asked, “What are you anchoring for a storm?”. “Always” I said; little did I realize how important it would be!!!!

We spent the first day walking around town with Waking Dream and Bobulona as they tried to figure out ways to extend their visas and get out of their bonds.  First you take “Le Truck” (literally a truck with the flat bed covered by a handmade wooden roof/sides and bench seats, cushions are optional). The roads, traffic and associated noises had become strange to us, we were used to sharing the roads with chickens, roosters, and dogs not semi’s, cars, and motor scooters.  The buildings actually had stories, more than two or three extra ones at that.  It was interesting to watch as they talked to various travel agents (more hip to what was happening than the officials) and settled on flying out of the country to extend their visas; we decided we would just pay the bond and wait to see what happened with our extension request.  We stopped and had a beer to relax; but I was having a hard time already. The energy of the city had gotten to me, I was already go go go; we didn’t get anything done that we needed to accomplished except to find our way around.

I must say I am NOT very impressed with the way the French Government communicates amongst its various organizations and locations.  No one knows what’s really going on, until you have to deal with one person and then they make the law, which is usually NOT in your favor and NOT what you were planning on.  When we first applied for our Visa we had to show proof of funds, health insurance and various other boat documentation to show that we would not be a burden or freeload off the French Government once we got here.  When we got here, they also want you to post a bond (equivalent to a one way ticket to the country on you passport), which I can understand for people just arriving without visas, but we showed them our financial records that prove we can cover ourselves.  It’s not that bad because you get it back but you pay a fee and lose $$ in the translation to and from their currency and have to coordinate the return blah blah blah. I’m sure I’m not getting any sympathy.  

The visa is the big thorn in my side.  While we were in the states getting the visa, the Consulate said we could easily extend our visa by requesting on once you arrived in French Polynesia (this was similar to what we had read in other peoples cruising journals from a couple years ago).  So like little diligent people we wrote out our request and asked for only a one-month extension (by the time we were in Nuka Hiva we heard extensions were hard to get).  We checked at the American Express address we gave them in Tahiti and there was no reply letter.  We then went to at least five different locations in town (all based on the previous officials directions) to try and find the person we could talk to.  We finally found him and they said they have been denying them since 2002 .. hmmm too bad they didn’t tell the LA office!!  The only chance for an extension was to either have medical or boat problems (no thanks; although my body had other ideas) or to leave the country and reset the clock (at a cost of five to eight hundred dollars each plus expenses).

The next day we went and checked in, at least here the offices you need to visit are all in the same building next to the visitor’s center (which provided us maps to make our way around town).  We then spent the rest of the morning trying to track down our visa extension (see above).  Lunch was interesting, you can get anything you want ON a baguette, chow main, hamburger with French fries, chicken with French fries, salads, even the occasional normal looking ham and cheese.  We settled on grilled hamburger and cheese sandwich, and finally took the load off our feet.  We followed that up with an Internet chaser, finally finding a place that has I/O ports so that we could copy email and answer them on the boat, and update the web site.  Fast access, English keyboards.. we were in heaven, sad yes!!  It has been so hard not be able to share our experiences and get updates from friends.  Most people (95%) have email access on board (via the Ham radio) I think we’ll look into it while we are in New Zealand.  Not only will we be able to keep in better contact, but also provide important weather data not available via weather fax.  They also allow people to access our last reported location automatically on the web, along with actual weather reports of boats in your general area.  The modems are about $750 and it looks like I might have to get a new radio (mine’s not fast enough) so it could be a $2000 undertaking.  Yikes!!

We also did a little city exploring of our own; we went to the two-story Billabong store, I was looking for a Billabong Tahiti shirt, KT bought a hat.  We are probably the only boat that could have our boat name on ANYTHING; clothing, key chains, wallets, backpacks, stickers, sunglasses, or playing cards.  We checked out the municipal market that sells fruits, vegetables and local crafts including black pearls.  KT had the pearl we got from the pearl farm in Fakarava mounted in white gold for a necklace, along with some other pearls that were drilled for necklaces as well.  We also went to the HUGE grocery store right by the harbor, where you could actually bring the carts back to the dingy dock.  We stocked up on some essentials for the next couple of days and stared longingly at the vast array of vegetables in the produce section.  I think a woman thought I was having a seizure, as I stood in the same spot staring in awe with my mouth wide open for at least two solid minutes.  That night we did up the town, and spent some serious time at a brewery that sold AMBER beer.  You have no idea how good it tasted, but it must have been fantastic because we paid $24 a pitcher.  After that bar closed we went to another small hole in the wall where three bar fights broke out in about fifteen minutes.  Ian, a NZ bloke here to go boat to boat to advertise marinas and services in Wangerea NZ, was our local guide trying desperately to keep us out of trouble.  We finally caught a bus back home at around three in the morning, and had to jump the marina gates to get back to our dinghies.  For some reason we ended up on Waking Dream until about 4:30.. UGGGHHH!! The next day was a VERY slow day to say the least.  We had to get up at seven AM to drop off the laundry; KT was ecstatic to have someone else do the work, it was her treat to herself.  We lazed around the rest of the night and turned in early, only to be awoken at 3:00 am by a HUGE blow.

BIG BLOW (….#1)

For some reason I woke up to lightening (there was no thunder), and went up on deck to install our lightening protection, at this point it was an eerie dead calm.  The electricity in the air caused our wind instruments to read 250-350 knots.. yikes.  We were getting a little close to Soweulu so I asked KT to come up and start the engine so we could move away.  All of the sudden the wind slammed out of the south at 30 knots with strong rain.  The biggest problem for us was that we were at the back of the anchorage with two hundred boats ready to drag down on us.  KT was ready to put the engine in gear in case we needed to motor into it.  I put on my rain jacket and went forward to check our chafe gear, the wind kept building, and soon it was hard to see.  I grabbed my goggles (yes I actually have a pair ready for bad weather) and went back to the bow, the rain stung like little rocks as it pelted me at 45 knots.  I watched as the boat Soweulu, drug right by us. We tried to contact him on the radio, as well as Bobulona, who he was about to hit.  They slammed together and started dragging backwards towards the bungalows of the hotel about 200 feet behind them.  Bobulona tried to power into it and started to head towards Magmell who was anchored to port.  All three boats were tangled together as we watch helplessly.  Somehow Soweulu got free and reset his anchor, but he was stuck dangerously close to a big channel marker and the reef/hotel behind him.  The three boats ended up about 100 feet from checking in to the hotel and ordering room service.  Now it was in the upper 40’s to upper 50’s and we were motoring to keep the tension off our chain.  I got a cushion, some water, and some coffee and sat in the forward chain locker with a bag of spare chafe gear.  KT and I coordinated the engine throttle by flashing my headlamp on and off.  We tried to slacken the snubbers so that they lowered into the water a little but didn’t want to take any pressure off for fear of causing increased shock loads on the anchor.  A ketch in front of us started motoring up on his anchor too hard, and was flying back and forth across the anchorage at about 6 knots directly in front of us.  He would slam into the end of his chain it would tack the boat back the other way only to continue the fiasco.  He came VERY close to the boat on his starboard on each tack, and was taking up at least five anchoring spots with his movements.  The shock loads he was ADDING to his gear were much worse than just sitting back on his anchor.  My whole entire focus was coordinating a ditch plan that got us out of the way if he dragged down towards us.  I got our second anchor ready to go but didn’t deploy it in case we had to ditch our primary anchor if someone drug into us.  The VHF was alive with chatter, as boats drug all over the place.  Waking Dream came up on deck to find their bow pointed at the shore as their anchor drug.  Ben quickly threw out his second anchor catching him 50 feet from the shore.  He later added two more anchors and had to watch as boats in front of him drug closer.  Emerald swung close to a seemingly unattended moored small steel boat and had to motor to keep out of their way.  The funny thing was, the next morning a guy pokes his head up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes like “what’s going on here”.  Island Sonata drug back past the boat behind them only to find out the next morning that their anchor drug up the other boat's anchor chain and was sitting at their bow roller holding them in place.  Stardust got the worst of it, they were at the front of the anchorage when a boat drug down on them and tripped their anchor free.  The boat ground down the side of their boat bending all the stanchions and breaking a shroud.  Their dingy was also set free, and they were drifting through the crowded anchorage at about 4 knots.  Bob fended off boats on his way down and finally got a chance to motor free after they had traveled ¾ of the way through the anchorage.  The wind and swells were too strong to power into, so he steered down the anchorage at about 7 knots.  People who saw him said he went by in a flash.  They ended up motoring on the INSIDE of a reef with exposed concrete and metal pilings through about six feet of water (they draw six feet), and final hooked onto something and swung around; they were in ten feet of water, the boat deepest into the anchorage.  Turns out they hooked a metal 55-gallon drum that held them until they got their second anchor out.  The boat that hit them ended up calling a mayday as they hit a reef further down the other side of the anchorage.  Ben from Waking Dream was the local hero, rescuing dinghies from the beach behind him and helping people set second anchors.  Stardust’s dinghy ended up on the beach; the engine had fallen off and was underwater, Ben retrieved it.  Magmel’s dinghy had a hole punched in it and flipped over with the engine still attached, but it was still tied to the boat.  We lost a kayak; the handle tore right out of the boat in the middle of the strongest winds.  The entire episode was rather scary, but I think the things we were doing kept our minds active.  We got out ditch bag out and added some $$ and other important things like a CD backup of our pictures.  When the time comes to prepare for the worse, it’s strange thinking about what’s really important; I stood there and couldn’t think of anything (other than pictures) that I could add.  After talking to Stardust we decided to add shoes for getting through the surf to land.  The winds continued for nine hours straight; high 30’s to 40’s for a hour and a half, high 40’s to high 50’s for another hour and a half and then 35 for the rest of the blow. We saw gusts to 62 knots (in the wind shadows of the other boats), others reported gusts to 75 knots; a Hurricane starts at 64 knots!!!  Luckily we had the reef to protect us from the major ocean swell but we still stuck the bow under the water a couple of times.  I think my sense of what we are capable of has changed dramatically.  I use to get “nervous” around 25 knots; now maybe 35 knots will get me thinking.  We have a good plan coordinated on what to do in various anchoring situations and it seems to work VERY well; we didn’t move an inch the entire blow.  KT was closer to the radio and not doing as much busy work, so she had a different experience.  She had to listen to the maydays and panic in people’s voices as they dragged; she did think about what would happen if we hit the hotel, “would it damage the boat?  If we lost the boat would we be able to continue on or would we have to go back to our old lives.”  Once it was over and we had a chance to let it sink in, was when I started to realize what we had gone through.


The winds died to 30 knots and we tried to sleep on Sunday night, KT was still a little anxious and didn’t sleep at all.  I slept on the settee because I didn’t want to bother her while I kept checking our gear.  I also took our remote, which showed the wind speed, so every time she heard the wind increase her heart rate jumped.  The winds were still in the 30’s for all of Monday until they calmed just before sunset.  KT finally settled in for a night of sleep.  I was still fidgety, so I slept in the cockpit only to be woken up by a very strong pain in my back, at 1 am.  Oh crap another kidney stone!!!  I woke up KT and told her what I felt. She instantly turned into a nurse; she got out our medical kit, which included a urine test kit Flipper gave us. This allowed us to determine if blood was in the urine, usually a sign of a kidney stone.  Sure enough I was reading the highest blood level but no nitrates so I didn’t have an infection.  KT gave me a Vicodin for the pain and took notes while I got the boat ready to bring into a marina.  I showed KT how to undo everything we had done for the big blow, double checked everything else with her and then went back to the cockpit to practice the Lamaze breathing we both learned for the twins.  It didn’t help much and I kept begging for more painkillers, this one was definitely more painful than my last one.  Speaking of which, two stones in one year is a little much as far as I’m concerned.  I thought I was being a REALLY good boy by drinking lots of water, but I guess I didn’t drink enough.  The pain finally went away at around seven am, but we still were trying to decide if we should move into the marina in case another blow came up and we had to leave the boat to go to the hospital.  We decided to stay put, our anchor was NOT going anywhere after the winds we saw.  I drank more water and pulled the top filter out of my Baja fuel filter (everything has to have two uses on a boat) to use as a strainer to catch the stone, so that I could have it analyzed (to determine what diet changes I needed).  We finally got back to the grocery store, by sharing a dinghy with Ascension.  We were planning on doing our full provisioning so they took their time, only to find out the store was closing early for the holiday (we didn’t know about).  We settled back onto the boat and FINALLY got a good night sleep.

They next day was insane, we ran all around town trying to find boat parts and to replace our lost dinghy. The one store was way too expensive so we decided that we would wait until New Zealand to purchase one I had seen while I was there before. UGGHH!!  When we got back to the boat we just wanted to relax for the evening.  After dark, I was lurking on the VHF (listening in to someone else’s conversation) when I heard them talking about another blow, but this time from the North or North West.  The locals call it a Maramu, but I had read they are typically from the South.  He had heard it from a local and it was translated into English.  One thing we had learned was that the French get the days of the week screwed up as well as directions.  We got numerous directions where the person would say. “go down there and go left” as he pointed to the right.  He wanted to announce it that night, but I broke in and suggested that he double-check his facts early the next morning.  If it was from the North we would all have the same time to move, AND people would have had a good nights rest instead of worrying all night.  The translation was wrong, it was supposed to come from the South, South-east so everyone felt OK, still a little gun shy, knowing that their hooks were set very well for the southerly attack. Nothing came, everyone exhaled!! We had someone lurking on one of our conversations suggest that we try a local boat in the anchorage for a better deal on dinghies. We called Teva and he would import the exact same boat I wanted to get in New Zealand and would deliver it to the island down the way (Bora Bora) for $2,300, which is what we paid for our old dinghy.  We ordered one!!  Yeaaaah we wouldn’t have to depend on anyone anymore.

We ran more errands, and at my walking pace, KT would we agree we RAN. We bought some fresh tomatoes and basil at the market and had Waking Dream over for Kari’s famous basil and Brie pasta. We tried to find the Artisans festival that Chief Mark from Fata Hiva told us to meet him at.  I noticed a sign at a grocery store that said they presented the “le Heiva des Marques”.  I knew le Heiva was festival and I thought Marques was the Tahitian version of the Marquesas (I mean there were only two letters missing). As we walked through town I found the actual brochure which we took immediately to the tourist office and said “Where is this?”.  “The store?” she asked. “No the festival” I said, as she gave me this VERY strange look.  It was a sale flyer for the store, kind of like a Forth of July sale.  Dooooouugghhh.  As I walked out of the office with my tail between my legs, I reminded myself to take some French lessons.  It was almost as bad as when we were looking for flour in the grocery store in Fakarava.  We asked our friend François how you say flour, he replied fleur.  When asked the woman at the counter for some fleur and she looked at us funny.  I said “baguette”, she looked at me even funnier, she said sandwich.  It wasn’t until later that we learned we were asking for FLOWER not flour.

The next day started with Ocean Girl, Tackless II and Dances de La Mer arriving.  I gave them a couple of anchoring hints and then we headed into town to do our final provisioning.  We went a little nuts but we are set for the basics until New Zealand. $500 later (with an $18 block of Parmesan) we walked a VERY heavy full cart back to the dinghy dock and filled Stardust's dinghy. We shared the dinghy while they had their engine fixed, and our grocery load required our ENTIRE 15 horsepower engine just to move it.  I took the new boats out for a beer to celebrate Mary’s birthday, KT was exhausted so she stayed behind.  I didn’t eat anything except a piece of bread with a little mayo to get rid of the dryness ... well something didn’t sit right and I woke up with a nasty stomach flu.  My gosh, could anything ELSE happen this week.  While I slept (and xxx) the day away, KT had hamburgers on Tackless II and got to meet the others she hadn’t the night before.  They were making fun of us, “sure Chris is sick, KT was tired.. you guys have relationship problems and just don’t want to admit it”.  I offered to show them irrefutable proof that I was sick but no one took me up on my offer.  KT also tried to fix Ocean Girl's computer, for some reason people seem to think of us as the computer fixers (because we used to write software on UNIX computers). S he ran the supplied Dell diagnostics, which took ALL day and reported that everything was fine.  The next day as I disassembled Waking Dream's laptop for spare parts, KT ran fdisk which fixed the problem.. they were sooooooo happy.

July 4th came and went without incident or fanfare.  The only boat that did something special was a British flagged vessel.  He flew a big American flag from his port spreader and “dressed” his boat up the backstay to the top of the mast back down to the bow, with colorful signal flags (each letter in the alphabet has a flag to “talk” via signals at a distance).  I’m not sure whether he was celebrating for us, or being a Brit, the fact that they actually got rid of us.  Anyway July 4th isn’t the same for me, unless I’m at Shelburne Farm making fresh homemade ice cream.  On Monday we checked out of Papeete and did some last minute errands.  As we were going back to the boat we discussed the fact that other than one night of drinking we hadn’t done anything really fun here.  Mostly just running around, buying this and that, as if we would NEVER see another store again.  We decided that maybe we should spend the next day looking for the Artisans Festival, which started on June 24th (via the web).  We talked to Waking Dream and Island Sonata and they decided to join us.  The weather report sounded nasty (from the North) and I wanted to check my anchor before we went in, so we suggested we meet them in town.  We met them at the Internet cafe, helped Ben order some computer parts, and I went to get directions to the Festival.  It turns out that they changed the date until July 9th.  KT was so bummed, all she wanted was a fun day and she got a rainy day stuck in Papeete.  We recovered slightly by going to McDonalds for lunch and playing a card game on Island Sonata.


The rumor started about another big blow that was due to hit that night, another Maramu from the south.  We settled into the boat for the night and tried to get as much sleep as possible.  The wind picked up around 7 am and blew all day long, spending most of the day in the mid to upper 30’s with gusts to 45.  This time only one unattended steel boat drug, I watched helplessly as his bow turned downwind and he slowly headed right for the wall.  I tried to get some help via the VHF, but couldn’t do much without a dingy.  He ended up stuck in the mud right behind us and luckily wasn’t banging against the concrete wall that was five feet away.  In fact, he looked more comfortable than most of the other boats in the anchorage.  Later, after the owner returned, I coordinated some spare anchors with other boats and found Whistler who was willing to donate a spare anchor.  He introduced himself as Chris with his wife Katie, I laughed and introduced ourselves.  We planed on getting together after the blow.  I helped Freya drop a line to the boat so that a bigger powerboat could drag them off.  It was kind of a fiasco because the powerboat kept going after they floated free and ran over the anchor the sailboat had put out to kedge them off.  I couldn’t help except by pointing and waving because none of the other boats understood English.  I met the owner of Freya, a beautiful 80-90 foot sailboat.  As we helped I asked him about his trip, he has been out 12 years. He had Freya built in New Zealand a couple of years ago and is about to complete a circumnavigation on her.  His previous boat went around twice.  I asked him about where his favorite place was, and he said “on my boat”.  We’ll have to get together for a beer when this is all over.

We didn’t have any tacking boats in front of us but our scary moment of the day was a huge barge moving up the channel full of sand and concrete.  I tried to wave him back but he thought I was waving AT him, and he waved back.  He entered the anchorage and was barely making headway against the 40-knot winds.  Of course my mind went into planning mode and we started the engine just in case we had to get out of the way. The channel that usually existed was filled with boats anchored with extended scope.  A huge 70 footer, Concerto, was sailing at anchor right in the middle of the channel.  I don’t think the tug driver understood that boats move a little at anchor (although he had plenty of time to watch).  As Concerto was out on the left side, the barge tried to pass on the right.  As the tug got beside Concerto, Concerto tacked right in front of the barge.  He had to put it in full reverse to avoid T-boning him which caused his barge to hit him and then turn the whole mess sideways into the 40 knot winds.  They were now drifting sideways directly upwind from us (3 boats away).  I’m not sure how he recovered but he did and we could finally breathe again.  I couldn’t believe the faith the tugboat had in their machinery, if anything had happened to their transmission or the engine overheated they would have wiped out the entire anchorage.  The only other excitement was when I tried to tie up our wind generator while it was blowing 40 knots.  I have to grab the top of the arch with one arm and put my feet on the stern railing besides our entryway to the swim step while leaning back out over the water.  It looks a lot like a self-inflicted game of twister.  While one arm is wrapped around the support pole I then have to grab a line tied to the back of the wind generator, which sounds very similar to a troop transport helicopter when your head is one foot away, and turn the whole thing into the wind. THEN, I have to stop the blades and tie them to the pole to keep them from spinning, all with one arm.  I tried Velcro but that kept slipping down the blade.  After only 15 times, I finally settled on rope with three blades tied to the center post.  KT was not enjoying my acrobatics one bit.  She had visions of me falling, smacking my head, getting knocked unconscious.  OK she’d have to jump in rescue me and bring me back to the boat.  Could she get me on?  Maybe she’d have to swim to Ocean Girl with me.  Would they hear her scream?  Yikes, We’ll have to work on this planning stuff so that it DECREASES stress for her instead of increasing it.  At nightfall the wind started to die and stayed in the low 20’s until it died completely before bedtime. The wind stayed calm all night and I gave it the nickname the “Polite Storm”, because it seemed to revolve around our sleep patterns. The next day we awoke to calm and before long the wind was back up to the mid to upper 20’s with gusts to 35. Luckily we got in a couple of games of cards on Island Sonata before it started, and now we are working on journal pieces and photo albums. UGGHHH!!  I can’t wait until this is over and we can ENJOY these islands.  The wind died like clockwork for our evening sleep but they expect similar winds as yesterday for today and tomorrow

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