Thursday, 17 July 2014

Tahiti to Les Isles sous le Vent (Leeward Islands)

I recovered from the shoulder op at the salubrious Tahiti Yacht Club, a very French place where you can enjoy a morning expresso and linger at a table under the trees , where I'm trying to write a short story which poor Colin has to listen to chapter by chapter as it emerges.
Meanwhile Hugh and Tony flew out over the atolls to Katui. They sat around at the dockside for a bit and then got a ride with the Mayor of Makemo in his personal speedboat back to the Atoll of Makemo where Bea was waiting in Heera. They even got a blessing on the dockside - mainly for the mayor , but they got a mention as his passengers. They arrived just as it went dark, spent the next day chilling out snorkelling on the Atoll and set off the next morning. They called in at the island of Fakarava and had an uncomfortable night at anchor on the wrong side of the Atoll when the wind came round in the night. Setting off for Papeete they had heavy winds astern, a period of no wind and then wind and current against them in the morning as they approached Tahiti in quite a bad sea.They were going backwards and pretty tired when Colin and I heard them on the VHF. So we came out and met them and guided them in to the Tahiti Yacht Club anchorage in the nick of time, just as dusk fell. The channel was unlit and in the tropics one minute it's light and the next darkness.
First sighting of Heera and Tony
 at 17degrees South of the equator

Our brave hero Able Seaman H. Clifford
hails us from the foredeck

After a shower they regaled us and Maarten down at the local chinese with tales of Hughie's top cuisine in a 45 degree pitching boat and the Dutch habit of making a pot of tea with just a single tea bag. (Very economical!)
Bea had coped very well with them and the responsibility of skippering for the first time. They both said that when it was rough at night and they were falling out of their bunks they wondered why they had volunteered, however with a couple of beers and a Chinese inside them they decided it had been brilliant fun.
On Sat 28 June Bea ,Maarten ,Tony , Hughie, Colin and I went into town ,where we had a farewell drink at Les Trois Brasseurs (a pub with its own brewery) and walked over the road to les roulades the mobile restaurants where you can eat at tables in the open air.  Laurel and Hardy (alias Hugh and Tony) took off later that evening on the big bird for Los Angeles and home. We will miss them.

Kikas and Heeras crew

Colin and I then had a fairly lazy week at the yacht club while my shoulder got better. The story I'm writing is about a fictional attempt to close a hospital down. Colin thinks its OK, but he's a very kind man.
We fixed the leaky dinghy by glueing a large strip of new material over the transom. It seems better, no more three minutes of bailing before we go ashore in the morning.
We also went to the James Norman Hall museum at Venus Point. Norman Hall was born in rural Iowa with poetry and a lust for travel in his soul. While finishing a walking holiday in North Wales in the summer of 1914, he ended up signing on as a private in the British Expeditionary Force. He fought at the battle of Loos as an infantryman. He went back to America and along with a number of other Americans became a pilot in the French Lafayette squadron. When America joined the war he transferred as a captain to an American squadron. He was a decorated fighter ace and eventually got shot down over German lines and escaped from his prison at the end of the war.
He ended up settling down as a writer in Tahiti, where he was much loved by the locals , who had no idea of his past. He wrote the trilogy of the Bounty mutiny and was fully engaged at the centre of Tahitian culture marrying a local girl. What a life!
Dominique Berthier ( our single handed, Ocean racing friend) left us to return to France. We had a look round her boat before she left. After her experience of being run down in the Atlantic, her new boat is built like an aluminium tank, with solid metal guard rails. She has a little observation dome for bad weather where she can look out without getting wet. Inside it's quite French -stripped out , with none of the creature comforts of a British boat. Such is the life of an ocean adventurer!
Dominique and her bomb proof boat

On Sunday 29th of July Colin cycled over to Venus point while I joined Maarten and Bea in the centre of town for the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Autonomy of French Polynesia. Everyone was dressed in tradional costume and just about every island, every section of the community, including the transsexuals and the Harley Davidson club paraded past the grandstand where the president and dignitaries sat. He was surrounded by very little security and you could go and talk to him if you wanted. The whole event had a delightful relaxed informality. The president looked a delightful old buffer smiling at everyone - however our taxi driver described him as " le grand voleur " (the big robber) and like all politicians he didn't get where he was without being a cunning old fox. In the evening we watched the fireworks which started an hour late, in true Polynesian fashion. No one seemed the least surprised or bothered.

We signed up with a sailing event . Le grand rendezvous. After a reception at the tourist office we got Kika to the start off the main harbour entrance with Maarten and Bea as additional crew. There was an informal race to Cooks bay in Moorea. It was great conditions with 15-20 knots of wind on the quarter and a lovely sunny day. Considering it wasn't handicapped and Kika was smaller and heavier than all of the other boats ,we didn't do badly , with six large boats behind us. It was interesting talking to the west coast Americans. They are not used to bad weather and try and avoid sailing in anything over 20 knots of wind. The Kiwis were quite scathing.
Off to Moorea in the race

Maarten and Bea reunited

On Saturday night there was a good party with a Polynesian dance troupe for entertainment. 
Fire dancing and fire eating
Vahines wiggling the night away

Colin gone Moorean

Local girl meets Mr Moorea

Sunday 6th June dawned with Colin and Bea from Kika teaming up with Dave and Catriona our Irish friends from Laragh as an outrigger canoe racing team. After a few words of advice from Mr Starter , a very large man, they paddled off with a local in the bow and stern. The timing of the paddling was a bit like a Mexican wave however they looked good and came 3rd out of 4 boats, sadly like the England football team they did not quite make it to the next round.

Kikas and Laraghs top racing team

Mr Starter

Result - they survived!

The gentle art of hat construction

Cracking a coconut open
lovely tasty water
going to waste

Modelled by Bea

The skipper of course , claimed to have a bad shoulder and received instruction from a lovely Moorean lady in the gentle art of making a hat out of palm leaves.

The canoe racing was followed by coconut splitting and shredding competitions at which Bea bravely took on the hard task of removing the coconut from its husk , while Colin looked on admiringly unable to shred it as time had expired.

Colin awaits his coconut

Revving it up

We then moved on to Tahitian dancing tuition and eventually got the hang of the knee trembling routine to the amusement of the dance troupe who egged us on.

The skippers of Kika and Heera lead the girls a merry dance

Two 'orrible little Mooreans
It was a great day, finished off with a session of Irish music on board Dave and Catrionas boat. Dave was semi professional and knows every tune you can think of. He's played in bands with a lot of big names.
Session on Laragh

We've taken on a lady called Sally who is from Birmingham has signed on with us for the voyage to Bora Bora and the Cook islands. Sally walked out of a secure job in Surveying Asbestos to go initially to Spain and has never looked back, crewing on boats and picking up skills to find herself in the middle of the pacific. She has no idea what will happen when we get fresh crew in the Cooks but like all adventurers is not the least bit concerned and relishes the uncertainty.
Sally an improvement to Kikas waterline

On Monday 7th July I went back to Tahiti with Maarten and Bea, hitch hiking on another Dutch boat called Argonaut sailed by Fritz and his wife Marrion. Fritz is a retired orthopaedic surgeon and had the boat built to his specifications. Argonaut is big ,over 50 ft, made from Aluminium and very fast. She won the race over to the islands. She has salt water ballast tanks that can be filled on either side to stabilise the boat on a beat, a hydraulically operated lifting keel which unfortuneately wasn't working due to corrosion of the hydraulic pipes ,which left her with a draft of 3.5 metres. The winches are huge and electrically powered,and the accommodation below is very spacious . Fritz and Marion were great hosts for the passage and the boat rattled along at a good angle to windward and 8 knots on the beat effortlessly. However the big winches and high tech gear scared me. Too much to go wrong and very difficult to fix if it does. I think she was also quite a handful for Fritz and Marrion on their own.
Hitching a lift on Argonaut

Tuesday saw me signed off by Dr Guy Paul Muller my orthopaedic surgeon who seemed pleased with progress, and said it was because I was from Pays de Galle ( he enjoys rugby).
I said farewell to Maarten and Bea who put me up on Heera on Monday night and cooked a delicious stew. They are staying in Tahiti until Maarten is given the all clear by his Medics , so they will haul the boat out and repaint the steel.
Hopefully they will complete their voyage via the Gambier Islands , Pitcairn and Easter Islands back to South America and Panama to take the boat back to Holland. They have been great company and are definitely glass half full rather than glass half empty people.
Kika at ease in Cooks Bay

Got the ferry back to Moorea on Tuesday and took a taxi back to Cooks Bay to find Colin and Sally hitch hiking back from the Belvedere view point which they had been taken to by two lovely elderly New Yorkers. They had had a great day and had a fantastic view of the two bays from the mountains. 
Cooks Bay and Oponuhu Bay from  Belvedere Point

Cooks Bay never fails to provide a wonderful panorama with the light at different times showing up different rock features including a hole in the top of of Mou'a pu (the pierced mountain) . It happened when a great warrior Pa'i , brought up by the gods and given supernatural  powers threw his spear through the mountain causing it to shake and thoroughly scaring off Hiro another chief from the next island who was trying to take Moorea. Who needs artillery!
You can just see the hole at the
top of the mountain

The anchorage at Cooks bay

We left Moorea on Wednesday afternoon for an overnight passage to Huahine the first of the Leeward Islands,  or Les Isles sous le Vent as the French call them. The wind strengthened and came round to the North in the night . Kika rattled along on a beam reach at nearly 7 knots . We found the pass through the reef on which huge waves were breaking took down the mainsail and ghosted down in the 7 mile passage between the outer reef and the land under foresail. It was spectacular watching an island scenery of tropical forest and coconut trees glide past. We anchored up for lunch in a big lake inlet and finally anchored in a lovely protected bay at the south end of the island. We sneaked into the nearby hotel, and went snorkelling off the hotel beach which was right on the coral reef. The colour and variety of fish swimming around ,the garden of sea anemones ,sponges and waving algae was truly spectacular. The smaller fish go and hide in the anemones , but the bigger ones just look at you .There's even a surgeon fish, presumably the reincarnation of dodgy surgeons who paid in the next life for their mistakes!
abundant life, glorious colour in crystal waters

On 12 July we hired a car to look round the beautiful island of Huahine. It is completely undeveloped with most of the population working quite hard on the land. There were no plantations here , so there is no stigma attached to agricultural work. The island is largely protestant , thanks to the efforts of the London Missionary Society whose Missionaries eventually got kicked off by the French and ended up stewed in a pot by the islanders of Vanu atu, who didn't see religious conversion in quite the same light.
First stop was a vanilla farm where Francois an enthusiast showed us the life cycle of the vanilla plant. The Leeward islands are the top place for vanilla in the world! It's grown for three years in a nursery, then transferred to a bigger house. It will only produce a vanilla pod if it flowers after a further nine months, and then the pod six months afterwards. One flower one pod. Francois explained that the cycle is much faster in Madagascar where the plants are forced arificially in brighter sunlight and fertilizer however the vanilla pod ends up being very dry and brittle. Those little pods are quite valuable - we never realised ,so we have bought some to put in the rum and mix it with coconut water for a sundowner.

With our host Francois

We crossed a bridge between the two halves of the island, Pont de Maroe, where some young lads were jumping off the bridge. Colin stripped off and joined them, and after a few technical tips from a six year old made a superb descent off the 40 ft parapet.
Life on board Kika is just too much! - no 1 takes a leap into oblivion

The main town Farae was in the middle of Haeva celebrations with a 3 hour endurance outrigger canoe race between the villages . Each village with a distinctive flag, cheered on by enthusiastic supporters. The lads had been training for weeks and had enormous upper body strength, with their muscles glistening in the salt spray and sunlight. In the superbly crafted light weight canoes there was a water jug with pipes going to every canoeist so they could keep hydrated. Occasionally on the turns a canoe would overturn and add to the exitement. Eat your heart out Oxford and Cambridge!
On the remote half of the island , we visited a small stream containing sacred blue eyed eels, sacred because they contain the spirits of the islanders ancestors. These enormous eels are fed daily and travel over 1000 miles to breed. The stream they live in was no bigger than a farm brook in which you would normally find minnows.
Ancient fish traps

Sacred blue eyed eels

On 13 July , we made the short 25 mile passage in calm conditions to Raiatea, steaming through the Iruru pass and into  beautiful Faraa bay ;surrounded on both sides by tropical forest we dropped the hook just as dusk fell. We took the dinghy the next day, up the winding Faroa river up to a loosely termed botanical gardens, which was really a farm growing loads of different trees. It was run by a young man called James who showed us round. There was mint, basil , tapioca (uugh, remember that at school) and sweet potatoes growing wild. The flowers were very colourful and included bird of paradise, and a fire flower that made red ginger. Papaya, no no medicine trees, banana, orange, pineapple, jackfruit, and coconut were everywhere. The main labour involved was strimming the grass so it didn't revert to jungle. There was a Mormon church next door, but James had rejected it in favour of the protestant church on the grounds that he liked to drink alcohol and have coffee and only needed one wife,  an eminently practical approach. We left loaded up with Papaya,bananas and coconuts. Kika looks like a fruit market!
And so its time... move on!