Monday, August 13, 2007


Enroute, from Bora Bora to Tonga, we had several islands, in the Cooks, where we could stop and breakup the 1300 mile trip. Suvarov, Rarotonga, Palmerston, Rose, and Niue (I had my heart set on this one), were the main ones we had in mind. However, most don’t have secure anchorages in anything other than settled weather. Also, take into account Meri’s growing dislike of cruising and sitting in shitty anchorages whilst a low pressure system threatens to throw us on a reef, or beach, during 3 or 4 days of strong winds and large swells, and the fact that we don’t have insurance (long story), we opted to continue west while the weather was good.

The first 6 days we had ideal conditions, enjoyed great sailing (this restored her optimism), and averaged 120 miles a day in comfort. We were heading SSW towards Niue and some great diving. Niue has the clearest water, in these parts due to no runoff from the island. It’s filtered through a limestone layer instead. From there to Tonga is just over 200 miles, so it seemed like a good option. Unfortunately, another low was heading our way, and as we neared Niue, the wind swung to the NW, blew hard, and was predicted to veer SW, S, SE, and blow harder. We spent the next 21/2 days in 25knt+ winds and seas mounting by the hour. We were running with a double reefed mainsail and a storm jib the whole time. Luckily, the wave period was such that Adagio rode between them nicely. Friends on a 50 footer found themselves too long to fit and had a terrible time of it. Niue was, definitely, out of the question. Bummer. They don’t have a protected anchorage, but moorings outside the reef which are only protected in E and, light, SE winds. Rarotonga (before Niue) was also out due to the gales cruising past to the south.

Some may call us whimps, for running, but we don’t give a shit. At the end of the day you have to consider many factors, boat and crew safety, stress levels in shitty anchorages, your marriage/relationship, and are you really missing a whole lot. After 5 years on the boat, dozens of tropical islands, scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking, forests, tropical fruits, etc., etc., it all looks the same. We find more pleasure, now, in trying to meet locals and just hang out somewhere comfy. Call it tropics burnout, I don’t know. Looking forward to going skiing!!!! Bring on the snow.

At the moment we are on a mooring in Neiafu (The Va’vau group), Tonga. The people are very friendly, great produce and fish markets. Smiles all around from English speakers (such a relief after French Polynesia), and soooo much to do. We have planned an ATV trip around the island, a native feast and dancing, diving, and some hiking to nearby towns. The locals are quite religious and wear their traditional costume most of the time. We even found the reincarnation of the Dhali Lama comming home from church. Think it's him??? The singing in the church is quite beatufil and very pleasant to hear on a Sunday.

In total, we are looking at 3-4 weeks here before heading to Fiji. Hopefully the weather will cooperate soon and we can venture south to the Ha’aapai group of islands. These are even more laid back, and less populated, than the Va’vau group. Hope to enjoy an “umu” (local feast) or two whilst there. Along the waterfront there are several bars and yacht service type places that will do anything to attract clients.

"Tonga Bob's" has Trivia night on wednesday's and offers several prizes for each round. The grand prize is a case of beer. We won it twice in a row!!! I didn't realise how all that useless crap in my head would come in handy one day. Thanks for the beer and prizes Matt.

Thursday night they have the local "Ladies" come in to give a performance. Cross dressing is accepted in much of the Pacific and in Tonga they are revered as special entertainers. They put on a great, fun show and collect gratueties from the crowd. It's a sign of respect to place money on their persons. We had a great time but I couldn't help notice that one of the girls looked a lot like my old Greek school teacher!!!!!!

I finally managed to convince Meri to take a ride with me in an overgrown go-cart. We toured the island for 3 hours and had an absolute blast. It's so scenic and lush. The locals were all happy to see us and kids were trying to run after us in every town. It had rained hard the previous day so some of the trails were very slippery and muddy, cool. It's not something we'd do regularly, but once is worth it.

Thom, on SV Babel Fish, ask me to go for a sail out around the islands for a day and do some whale watching. What a great boat. It's a 50 foot Najaid from Sweden, worth $1,000,000 bucks and quite something to sail. Would most definitely love on of those next time round. Thanks Thom.

Morea & Bora Bora

Beautiful Morea was our next destination and only 4 hours away. We had heard, and read, so many nice things about this island and were keen to disprove the myth. We failed!

We anchored in, breathtaking, Cook’s Bay, along with S/V Opsray, and decided to set about exploring the lush valleys and mountains. We hiked through the lush countryside, picked some fruit along the way, to “Belvedere” lookout for a spectacular view of both, Opunohu and Cook, bays far below us. The first 5 or 6 kilometers weren’t too bad, or steep. Once we made it to the Opunohu experimental farms, and agricultural school, the walk became a climb through lovely forests and great views of the valleys below. We were almost out of steam when Chris, S/V Barefeet, drove past with his in-laws and promised to come back for us. He did and we were so grateful as our legs just didn’t want to cooperate further. The view was definitely worth the pain.

For the return trip we opted to stop at the farm store and have some home made ice cream, yummy, and then continue over to Opunohu bay and follow the coastal road to Cook bay. Big mistake. It was much further than anticipated, although the majority was on level ground, and we just couldn’t make it before dark. We decided to hitchhike and were finally picked up by a nice lady who was a bit of a historian as well. One interesting point she made was, 50 years ago the Moreans were, about, 90% independent of imports and lived an agrarian lifestyle. Housing was constructed from natural materials with walls woven from palms. Nowadays, they are 90% dependant on imports. It’s sad, but seems to be a common theme amongst the islands we’ve visited so far. I’m not saying these people shouldn’t modernize, it’s inevitable, just that it’s a shame they’re heading towards the same stressful, disjointed, selfish, lifestyles, we, the developed world, have adopted. I find it ironic that so many, westerners, seek simplicity whilst islanders are heading the opposite direction. If only they knew!

After the real hustle of Tahiti it was nice to be in a slightly more relaxing Morea. We just took regular walks and explored.

Upon leaving Morea we had a few islands to explore before Bora Bora, but decide to go straight to B&B to collect our security deposit and continue west. The decision was also influenced by the two large tears in our ancient headsail and a new, worrying, oil leak that developed at the front of our motor. After the squall which tore the sail we had a dead calm and sloppy seas, so we motored until I noticed the low oil pressure and shut down stinky (our engine). If it’s not one thing it’s another hey! Anyway, in Bora Bora we had time to address these problems – a huge thanks to Geoff and Meryl on Sifar for their help with the sail – and explore before heading west.

Meri fell in love with the Bora Bora Yacht club building and wants one just like it in OZ. She took numerous pictures and made sure I sussed out the building technique. It’s sooo us. Now we just need to find a bit of land at home and build it.

The scariest thing in B&B was the anchorage depths!! We dropped our hook in 22meters off the club and wondered how to retrieve 80 meters of chain with our little manual windlass and an uncooperative anchor locker. The first half of the chain has to be piled forward, behind a dam, before retrieving the rest. Not fun in any kind of wind with only the two of us. Lesson to cruisers, DEEP anchor well that can take all your chain easily, and, hate to say it, but a good electric windlass with manual option also. I was so tired after that episode. 22 meters of our chain, plus the anchor, weighs over 35 kilos. Dead weight hanging straight down!!

Well, goodbye to Polynesia and time for the Cook islands.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tahiti (Polynesia)

After a pretty lumpy sail to Tahiti we arrived at 1:30 am, in the lee of the island, and entered Papeete harbour with no dramas. I must hand it to the French in Polynesia, all the channels, passes, and harbours are well marked and lit. Every major harbour, or port, we’ve entered had range lights which you could follow even at night. We tied up to the quay for the night, did our official check-in in the morning, then proceeded down to the large anchorage past the airport. We didn’t expect the 100 or so boats scattered around the marina. Once again, a deep anchorage but, with a lot more boats than we are used to. Oh well, ce la vie as the French would say.

The nice thing is got to catch up with many boaters that we hadn’t got to know well in the past and also those we knew or hadn’t seen for a while. Our first night we went to see a group from the Austral islands performing in the “Haiva” festival. This was part of the inter-island dance competition that goes on for a couple of weeks. The festival brings islanders together from every corner of French Polynesia to compete in song and dance, display craft and art, compete in traditional sports and some new ones. It’s main purpose is to revive and promote traditional Polynesian culture, lifestyle, and pride. Between the whalers, traders, occupiers, and especially the missionaries, the Polynesians were almost wiped out . Only through the paintings and diaries of people such as Paul Gaugain (the painter), and Captain Cook, can we begin to understand how idealic their life used to be. Paradise lost seems to come to mind.

The dancing and singing that night transported us back in time – if just for a few hours it was worth it – to a place and peoples who just enjoyed life in a land of plenty. We were absolutely mesmerized by the colourful costumes, the tribal beats, and truly beautiful people. Our photographs jus don’t do them any justice but, it’s all we have to share with you. Two nights later we went to see another troupe with a modern take on a traditional theme. The most spectacular dancer was the transvestite, in the hot red outfit, who did an incredibly sexy solo number. Transvestites are common and completely accepted in Polynesia. Just like the Kunas, in the San Blas, some families will raise a son as a daughter should they have only boys. We have seen quite a few so far.

Apart from the dancing we cruised the artisans stalls where the best craftwork in the nation was on display. In the past, all craft had to made with 100% local products or it wasn’t admitted into the craft show. Nowadays some imported materials are allowed, in combination, whether this is a good idea I’m not sure. The main categories were, carving (bones, shells, wood, stone), jewelry (black pearls, mother of pearl, shells), weaving (bags, hats, mats, chests, screens, and even walls for huts), and patchwork quilts. It’s amazing what these people can make from local materials. Unfortunately many items are out of our price range, e.g. A $3000 necklace at a craft fair!! We wanted to buy many things but, had to restrain ourselves to more affordable items.

The sports competitions were also a big crowd draw and we watched several outrigger canoe races and a local mini Olympics. Sports included running with fruit on each end of a pole slung on your shoulder, spear throwing, rock lifting, etc. June/July is a good time to be in Tahiti for sure.

The Gaugain museum and attached botanical gardens are also worth a visit. Gaugain was upset at the changes occurring throughout Polynesia and decided to record as much of the local culture as possible. He did it quite eloquently and preserved a peoples for time immemorial. The gardens were an absolute joy to wander through, in the heat of the day , and enjoy the coolness of many species of tropical trees and flowering shrubs. Would make a hell of a backyard.

We’ve had a great time here and would recommend it to all. Just be sure to bring lots of money as Polynesia is definitely not cheap. Prices here are on par with Europe.