Sorry that this edition of our blog is so late but the internet in French Polynesia ranged from non existent to poor.
Monday (9th April) dawned and with the realisation that we had actually sailed half way across the worlds largest ocean to this small Island Paradise, Nuku Hiva. We had to clear in with French Polynesia customs and immigration. The process is not complicated as we are at present in the EU but we decided to utilise the services of Kevin from Nuku Hiva yacht services. We managed to complete the 5 forms and to be driven to and from the Gendamarie in 4×4 by Kevin in 30 minutes. We were now legally in French Polynesia. Our Australian friends on Orion who are non-EU citizens required a bond or an air ticket to Australia (refundable) before allowing entry.
As we came ashore in our dinghy there was a small dock with vertical ladders although the tidal range was <1m it was still a tricky and undignified clamber to reach dry land. We did have a lock and chain but never felt the need to lock up our dinghy as the inhabitants of the islands were very friendly and helpful.
Next to the key was an open-air café that had basic wifi and it was from here that we managed to communicate with home. It meant Geoff could finally send Instagram photos and I could check out emails etc. Alongside the café was a small clothes shop but this was only open for 3 days and closed for 2 hours every lunch time! Then there was Kevins, NH yacht services where we got gas refills laundry done, tours organised. If we needed answers to questions we didn’t ‘google it’ we ‘asked Kevin’. Just away from the quay was fruit and veg market. This consisted of about 10 tables with whatever fruit and veg they had left but they always had pamplemoosse, as this large sweet grapefruit grows all over the Marquesas’ and feature in their folk law. Behind the market was another small open café / snack bar and this café sold beer, the only café that we discovered that did sell beer and wine. The rest of the town consisted of 2 local stores that sold basic provisions including French bread, a random clothes shop, a bank with ATM and a post office.
Fishermen gather early morning, 6am, on the quay side to sell fish and locals arrive to buy the fish. We never made the early morning motor over to the fish market but our Friends Greg and Jane on Orion did and gave us a couple of the thickest tastiest Tuna steaks.
To reach the stores we walked along the beautiful promenade with immaculate groomed greens and gardens. Chickens run free and roosters crow all the time. The rumour is if you can catch a chicken you can eat it. But surprisingly eggs are one of the hardest commodities to buy from the stores. In fact, we never managed to buy them from the stores but did buy a dozen from the café.
The people on this island were equally as happy and friendly as the Galapagos locals but here there was hardly any tourists only yacht crew and occasional small cruise liners that would stay for a day. The passengers would unload at 8am be taken on island tours, visit arts and crafts stores or swim in the clear sea then be back on board by 4pm. This would have bought tourist money to the island. Unlike Galapagos there no backpackers.
On day 3 we decided to book an Island trip with Jane, Greg, Stella and John. The trip was organised by Kevin and Jocelyn’s tours 4×4 minibus picked us up for a day of sightseeing. With a surface area of 330 square kilometers Nuku Hiva is the largest island of the archipelago and 2nd biggest in French Polynesia. Taiohae (our anchorage) is the administrative capital of the Marquises. 3000 people live on the island and 2000 live in this ‘town’ alone. There are no indigenous animals/ creatures except the centipede and the chickens eat them. Until 20 years ago the most ordinary form of transport was via horses and there were still many horses tether at the side of the roads. Joselyn showed us around the island and took us to a couple of archaeological sites where she describes ancient life of the Marquesan people and their rituals that included human sacrifice. It was always a pure young man that was sacrifice so to secure the heritage of families the first-born son was often raised as a girl, thus making him impure and not suitable for sacrifice. To this day it is still common to see young men dressed as women. We visited some beautiful waterfall sites but as this was the end of their summer/dry season the water was non-existent. Our final stop was on the other side of Nuku Hiva Anaho bay, were we had lunch overlooking the beautiful bay.
We stayed in Nuku Hiva for 2 weeks and in this time 2 small cruise liners also visited the island. Another ship that is essential to the island is the Arinue 5 it was half cruise liner but most importantly it was half cargo ship. It was this ship that brings essential supplies to the islands. The shelves in the shops would be looking empty just before the Arinue was due in and full the day after.
Stella and John left to visit other Nuku Hiva bays but ourselves and Greg and Jane were quite content to stay put for a little longer. We had got into a routine of going ashore for communication purposes and the swimming around the boat in the afternoon where we were systematically removing the slime and limpet that had attached themselves to our boat during the crossing. We also cleared limpets from in front of our log that may have reduced our mileage count. We had seen small sharks but they appeared to stay away while we were in the water.
On21st April we decided to sail to another island in the group call Ua Pou as this was only 20 miles away, smaller but worth a visit. We motor sailed the whole way as the wind was on the front quarter. On arrival to this very small bay we realised a stern anchor would be required as there was already 6 other yachts at anchor. This was our first attempt at stern anchoring. Once we identified a suitable spot we dropped main anchor and a helpful gent from a MV Shoreleave took our stern anchor and dropped it in place. We intended to stay in Ua Pou for just 3 days but the weather delayed our departure and we stayed at anchor for 1 week. We were never completely at ease with our position, but we never swung into another boat, so it must have been good. The anchorage itself was much calmer than in Nuku Hiva and the supply ship Arinue 5 was in so the shops should be full.
We had learnt that a tour with the local group makes more sense than our walking around aimlessly so once again we booked a tour with Arno and his 4×4. This small island only has 2000 inhabitants of which 1500 live in the village Hakahau Bay . The road was single lane that eventually became a dirt track only accessible by 4×4. Our journey was to the east of the island and passed the airstrip before taking us to a high point where we had amazing views of the bays and the strange pointed peaks that he described as unique to Ua poa. He carried on even further off track to reach a small holding owned by a German called Manfred. He was famous all over Marquesas’ for making chocolate. He described his process of growing and harvesting the coco beans and we obviously tasted and purchased a bar or two. He also has may fruits growing there including limes and avocado and he just gave us these as he had too many to eat. He also had >50 cats and chickens and dogs. He is an eccentric. Our next stop was at a short walk to a waterfall. We had sufficient time to have a refreshing dip. Geoff decided it was not for his delicate disposition and just admired the view.
Over the week that we stayed in Ua Pou we rowed ashore each day for fresh bread and after the first couple of days we soon realised that going direct to the bakery was not a clever idea as they sold their bread to the 2 shops in the village so a quick walk direct to the shop was the best ways. The Hakahau Bay village was even smaller than Taiohae with just 2 small shops and 1 bakery that also had Wi-Fi and served lunch time food. We often sat and had cold drink and plugged into the wifi . There was 1 restaurant that we we knew of but no bar or café that sold beer or wine but it was available in the shop. French wine per bottle was approx. £32 but the cartons were £10. You can guess what we purchased!
The water was clear and warm and that allowed us the pleasure of diving in daily for a bit of exercise and importantly to cool down. While we swam there was always young people in canoe with out riggers. We had seen them in Nuku Hiva but they seem more popular here. Each day either single handed or 8 handed canoes with single paddles would circle the harbour.
28th April was our departure date and Jane and Greg on Orion thought they would need a hand lifting their heavy stern anchor. We decided to move our boat out leaving the small stern anchor on a buoy to pick up in our tender before helping Orion. Geoff rowed to the buoy and stern anchor was stuck fast. A local sailor offered to dive and look what was causing the problem but when he resurfaced he explained that he could not even see the anchor. The high winds had meant the anchor had been buried deep. We moved KS back to the shallows and had to motor the anchor out. The result was a bent anchor shaft, caused by either the strong winds but most likely during the final recovery. In the meantime, Orion lifted their stern anchor and set sail, next Stop Rangiroa. This was to take about 4 days.
We had a good sail to the Tuamotus arriving on Wed 2nd May, the journey took 4 days and we motored for just 3 hours in the beginning but as we approached Rangiroa we needed to get there in daylight with the sun as high as possible to spot the bonnies. The Tuamotus are a set of atolls that are islands that have coral reef formed around them then the volcanic island sinks leaving a massive lagoon surrounded by coral ring. It is on the coral ring that the locals live on these atolls. Rangiroa is 45 miles long and 15 miles wide, and is the largest Tuamotu, and the second largest atoll in the world with a population of approx 2000. The entrance, Tiputa pass, through the coral reef Raigiroa is quite narrow and when we entered at 13:00 we had 4kts of tide against us but it only lasted for 5 minutes and were soon inside the enormous lagoon. Orion arrive just before us and had just anchored we went in a little shallower and looked for a sandy patch to anchor in what we didn’t want to do was get the anchor and chain caught around a coral head (bonnie) and for that reason we also connected a tripping line as an extra precaution. After pumping up the tender and having a little motor we decided we had earned an arrival beer and a swim in the clearest cleanest water so far. This was to be our favourite island, so far.
The following day we went ashore and found the 2 shops and a café Chez Lilli’s, with wifi. There are also a few hotels/pensions and while exploring we found a bar where we sat and overlooked the entrance to the lagoon. We met a couple of American gents from a yacht called Miss Lilly who where also exploring the FP islands but were leaving there yacht in Tahiti and flying home, back to Santiago we think. Geoff and I snorkeled a lot and had in the past used sub aqua kit, but we had never bothered to get our Padi certificate this meant we couldn’t dive independently but we could have a introductory dive. So, we booked this trip for the following day with Arno from Rangiroa Dive Centre.
When we had walked through the town Geoff spotted a gent mending a car but he had some heavy metal kit in his garage so on following morning we cane over to the shops but brought the bent anchor. The gent didn’t speak English and Geoff doesn’t speak French but with a few grunt of communication he understood the requirement and using a cement mixer and scaffold pole for leverage they managed to pretty much straighten the danforth anchor shaft. Geoff nodded and slipped him a CPF1000 (£8) and we were on our way back to KS.
After a quick change a light lunch we went back ashore for our discovery dive with Arno. He explained the new equipment and told us we would do 3 exercises and then he would take us around the natural aquarium. We motored not far to a set of rocks and rolled in. Sure enough after completing 3 exercises he took us on a tour of the rocks/coral. The fish and sight were amazing the clearest water so far and not too deep. When we went down it was just Geoff and I and Arno when we came up there was 40-50 other people of all ages and abilities snorkeling on the surface. They had arrived on a cruise ship call the National Geographic Orion.
We had such a great time diving we told Greg and Jane we intended to go to the rocks the following morning so they too donned their swimmers and come over. This was Janes first ever experience of snorkeling with so many fish. We had lunch on Orion and they came to us for sun downers. It was also the first time we encountered the odd looking fish and they stayed with us until Bora Bora.
On 6th May we decided it was time to move to a marina a civilisation for the first time since leaving Panama on 15th Feb. It was only 215-mile journey and so expected to take 2 days. As we don’t mind sailing slower than Orion we opted to leave on Sunday evening and have 2 nights at sea. The wind was light and was on the front of KS so we opted to motor sail until we got clear of the islands. As we left we immediately had a large cargo Maris Stella, ship head directly towards us, in the dark and just to complicate things and the large 4 masted cruise liner called Windspirit, that was anchored in Rangiroa followed us along the edge of the Atoll and eventually overtook in the darkness missing us by 50m. I am sure we could see the the passengers dressed for dinner on deck. Windspirit was moving to another island call Tahaa that near to Tahiti and at least she gave KS a bright light to follow for at least 5 hours until she eventually faded into the night.
Although the wind over night had been good 15-25kts the following morning saw the wind drop and as I explained previously arriving at these coral reef islands is best attempted in daylight. So once again we motored sailed throughout the day to maintain an arrival time of 8/5/18 midday. Orion was also coming to Tahiti, but they set off the following morning and due to light winds and wind angle motored all the way.
We saw the outline of Tahiti at 6am but it wasn’t until midday that we asked and were given permission to enter the reef from the harbour master. The channel to Taina Marina passed Faaa International Airport and we had to ask permission again from port control to sail passed both ends of the run way. We arrived and were helped to dock stern too berth by Philippe and his very helpful staff. It was great to step off the boat onto dry land again even if it was along a very dubious plank of wood. After the standard arrival beer, we walked around the large marina, it accommadates small fishing vessel <4m up to 60m super yacht. We also learnt there was a Carrefour just 5 mins away and couldn’t resist checking it out, it didn’t disappoint it was just like a French Carrefour should be with the price a bit higher. What we did notice was a ban on alcohol sell on this day. It was a national holiday and we learnt that there > 50% of inhabitants were under 30 and there is a big problem with alcohol (and drugs) so no alcohol can be bought anywhere on the Island on Sundays, Saturday pm (so we were told) and national holiday, unless eating at a restaurant. When we meandered back to KS it was to find Orion tied up alongside, this lovely Australian couple had become great friends with us and during our sails we email daily our position and situation.
As we walked to Carrefour the previous day we had spotted the sign for McDonald’s so lunch on our 2nd day in Tahiti was good old Big Mac and chips. It tasted the same but the view while eating the fast food was better than commercial road any day.
The capital city of French Polynesia is Papeete and was a 20min bus ride away. So we all dutifully stood at the bus stop but no buses came by but a taxi did stop and say that this was another national holiday and buses don’t run. But for a fee he drove us to town. He also forgot to say all shops except McDonald’s is also closed. So we went from no McDonald’s in 1 year to two in 2 day!
When back at the marina we walked around the dive and tour shops. Geoff and I had enjoyed our dive in Rangiroa so much we booked anther for Monday 13th May. It was to be a slightly different dive than Rangiroa. We were kitted out taken to the edge of the reef and guided to the bottom with flo, our French instructor. The fish were not as plentiful as previous but we did dive on a WW2 airplane wreck and 2 sunken fishing boat, a wonderful experience.
We spent 2 weeks in Tahiti, recharging both KS and our batteries and completing some essential maintenance jobs that were best done in a marina or needed supplies that we had run out of on KS.
Geoff promised me a day in Papeete looking at the famous Tahitian pearls and maybe pick up a little something for our pending new arrival. So when Greg and Jane invited us into town to pick up a fuel VAT certificate from harbour office I was quite excited. The bus only took us to the main port we had to walk for a further 45min to the harbour office where we picked up our fuel certificate. Instead of paying 130 pacific francs we paid 80 Pacific francs about 64p per litre so worth the effort when we had 120 litre, saving approx. £48.
On the way to this harbour office Geoff spotted 2 hardware store and 3 chandlers. Needless to say on our way back to the main town we had to visit each one, compare the price and availability of all the essential stuff and then walk back to the first shop and bought the goods. Four hours later I was exhausted, and we couldn’t carry any more so we walked straight back to bus stop and back to KS. Geoff was like a kid with his new toys, rope, glue, more rope sealant, fins to name just a few items.
Now we had the glue we were able to replace some strips of headliner that had come down in our bedroom. It was really hot work 32⁰ outside made it feel like 52 inside the boat but after 3 days we managed to remove prep and replace the 2 panels.
It was in Tahiti we were introduced to a couple that Jane and Greg had met when they completed the ARC Portugal 4 year previous. Their name were Hille and Torsten Knausmann on a Harberg Rassey 39. They had been cruising the FP for 2 years. They leave their yacht in Tahiti and go home for the off season. But this year they too were going to Australia via the Bundaberg Rally, also known as the Down Under rally. It is for anyone who is intending to sail down the east coast after arriving from the Pacific Islands and yes KS is signed up. Another couple of yachts that arrived in Taina marina were Blue Pearl, Mike and Rudy, they were behind the rest of the World ARC fleet due to generator repairs. Another yacht called Magic who we crossed to the Marquesas just behind also checked into marina Taina. They had had a pretty bad experience firstly they were at anchor and their dinghy was not on the back of the boat in the morning, presumed lost. An then they got caught in some strong breeze and their liferaft detached from the back of the boat and inflated. Amazingly they got it back on board but they could not get it packed until Australia, so we left them sourcing a new dinghy and liferaft in Tahiti. And Le quinta Jan and Terry are an Australian couple on route home but taking their boat to New Zealand for a season first.
Us and Jane and Greg arranged a half day tour with Dave VIP tours, he was an american speaking gent and he took us on a 5 hour tour around the island, we saw a Tiki Village 2 beautiful waterfall sites, impressive blowhole and the famous Point Venus, where captain Cook sited Venus and Robert Louis Stevenson sat holding his mothers hand after seeing the lighthouse his father designed. It was a very informative tour and well worth the effort.
The pontoon we were put on faced the reef and the yachts behind us were super yachts some privately owned others chartered but all of them has crews that spent hours polishing shackles, Geoff’s favorite job. Interesting were the dogs that run freely not only on all the island but around the marina pontoons too. They were friendly and well fed and never tried to get on board the boats. The dogs are just accepted as part of French Polynesian life. As is the lack of 4G internet. The pontoons did not have internet so once again we had to loiter in bars and outside the marina office to manage to communicate with the world. At least Tahiti has 3G. During our time in Marina we ate at 2 restaurant, the Pink coconut and an Italian with Orion and Le Quinta.
After 2 weeks on Wednesday 23rd May we were ready to leave Tahiti and after a few hours securing the boat we set sail for another Society island in FP called Raiatea. It was 124 mile so just one overnight sail required. Orion was to follow later that day after they picked up their refilled gas bottle. By the way, we manage to go back to town and I am now the proud owner of certified pearls that should go beautifully with my wedding outfit for Matt and Alices wedding, that is now only 2 months away.
The journey to the next island Raiatea was frustrating we had the main up and down 3 times in 24 hours but by 8am had a steady breeze but it then rained. We finally went through the passage in the coral reef that protects Raiatea and Taha and picked up a mooring buoy outside Utaura marina as it was too deep to anchor >35m. We understood they are for visiting yachts and provided by the council although the buoy did have Island yacht charters written on it. We quickly rowed ashore and asked for marina office. It was 3pm and shut but an official said we could stay on the buoy and to come back to office the following day. We rowed back to KS for arrival beer early dinner and bed as the previous night sleeps was very broken and a spectacular sunset. We had received an email from Orion saying their gas bottle was not ready and they hope to leave Tahiti the following day. We sent them our co-ordinates and decided to row ashore, paid a visit to the harbour office and walk into the small village. Once again there was no one in the marina office so we decided to report our arrival to the local Gendamarie. We walked through this small busy town and got directions from the tourist information center. The Gendamarie were very nice but did not need any paperwork as we intended to check out of French Polynesia from Bora Bora.
We were surprised at the availability of normal fresh produce. 2 or 3 coop size super markets with the pricing very marginally higher than Tahiti which is understandable considering it has to import 99% of food. Raiatea has a total population of 12000 and the small community of Uturoa is the main village. After lunch out, we went back to KS to find Orion tied up to another buoy.
Sat 26th May we did a few family calls and decided to set sail for the other island inside this coral reef called Tahaa. It was only 9 miles away and once again due to the depth, of 30-40m, we hoped to pick up a mooring buoy in De Tapuamu bay and go for a swim in the famous coral garden. We were in luck as only 1 of the 3 mooring buoys were taken so we tied up jumped in the tender and spent a couple of hours snorkeling around this brightly coloured reef. The anchorage was peaceful and calm with an amazing sunset that over looked the exclusive Tahaa private Island and spa but more impressive was the distant outline of Bora Bora, our last stop in French Polynesia.
Early the following day we heard that Jane and Greg were on their way. we had identified a couple of boat job that we could do at anchor so got on with them. Orion arrived about 11am but all the buoys were taken. As the weather was expected to be calm and light they tied along side KS for the afternoon and evening. We enjoyed a snorkel ashore where it was so clear the sheer drop of the coral island was evident and fascinating. We did motor around the bay but it was Sunday and there was no obvious village just a refueling dock and a few locals playing football. Same Sunday as many young people around the globe.
On Monday 28th May, we reluctantly set sail for the iconic island of Bora Bora, where the rich and famous holiday alongside scruffy yachties. We had a pleasant 4 hour sail and entered Bora Bora via its only clear pass in it coral reef. As we arrive we had a VHF call from Orion who had found a mooring buoy outside the Bora Bora yacht club but had lost their boat hook in the process. They manage to secure themselves and settled back for an evening on the boat. We on the other hand were keen to discover what lies ashore. We were getting conscious of our limited time in these lovely islands that we may never visit again, so wanted to get as much in as possible. Bora Bora YC is a very nice bar and restaurant but is a 30min walk from town. It does have wifi but cost CPF2000 (£16) a day and as the day was nearly over it seemed unnecessary but we did stop for a refreshing glass of beer and wine overlooking the yachts at anchor and the waves breaking on the outer reef. It was then that we spotted Infinity, a 39ft H Rassy sailed by the German couple we had met with Orion in Tahiti, was also at the mooring buoys but it was mast less
The following morning we walked to the town in the midday sun (made dogs!) and picked up the exit paperwork from the Gendamerie. We also checked out the “MaiKai marina” buoys that were closer to town.It also had a bar and restaurant. We eventually walked back to the YC had a quick swim and then buzzed ashore for dinner and drinks with Orion and Infinity, we were desperate to discover the cause of their lost rig. The food was very tasty and Hille and Torsten shared their story. 110nm from Tahiti in calm weather and just at the beginning of day the mast gave way. An area of weakness had been created when the yacht had a retrofit of in-mast furling system by the previous owners. To fit the in-mast motor a large section of mast had been cut out not reinforced in any way. They were lucky it did not occur at night in severe weather. They were very shaken at the time but now just happy to be unharmed and in the beautiful island of Bora Bora. They will have to motor the yacht back to Tahiti for the new mast. One item they did use that is worth mentioning is an explosive cartridge rig cutter.
Early the next morning ( 30th May) we moved around to Maikai marina moorings, we paid $20 USD a night for the mooring, Wifi and use of their pool. It also had a happy hour with 2:1 drinks. We settled in and were soon joined by Orion and La Quinta our Australian friends. We delivered our exit paperwork to the gendamerie and spotted a beach buggy that we could hire for $100US. We wanted to see the island and this seemed as good a method as any. I jumped in the tender and motored back to marina and Geoff jumped in the buggy a sped off to meet me. Once the buggy was safe for the evening we met up with Jane Greg, Terry and Jan in the bar downloaded data and enjoyed a beautiful happy hour on Bora Bora.
The next day we set up packed lunch, swimming gear and set off to tour the island. After a shaky start, stalling the buggy in the middle of the road , blocking both directions we set out with a map in hand. The views were stunning and the roads better than other FP islands. Within 50 mins with had driven around the entire island! We then reviewed our map and went anticlockwise and found a famous lookout where American military had place cannons to defend the island from the Japanese in WW2.
We found the beautiful sandy beach of Otoamana and after a refreshing swim decided that although we had made lunch we a swim deserved a more filling lunch so stopped at a beach cafe . We had a lovely day the island has beautiful beaches and very exclusive hotel that a huts extending into the sea. We stopped at the famous Bloody Marys bar where all the rich and famous frequent when they stay on the island.
We returned the buggy after 3 times round the island and enjoyed another cooling swim off the back of KS as it was hot and very humid.
We had decided the leave on 2nd June to head to Niue so spent the next day preparing KS for the 8-10 day sail. Washing, cleaning, cooking. After picking up the clearance documents we were free to leave French Polynesia. We had a final night drinks with Orion and La Quinta and back to KS.
We left FP at 09:45 after speaking with Jo and Mum (couldn’t reach Matt). We had spent the last 2 months on the beautiful French Polynesian islands and now understand why John and Stella from Exocet strike have decided to revisit them again. The people are so friendly and helpful and the islands each have their own individual charm. We would remember each of them for diffident reasons and features.