Tahiti - the Queen of Islands

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Category: Ships Log
  Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, Papeete  

July 23rd - July 30th

We made it to our final island group in French Polynesia, the Society Islands.

Tahiti has simply become the definition of paradise. High lush green mountains in the interior and a coastline with sandy beaches protected from the ocean swell by a coral reef. Most cruisers, however, focus on Papeete, the largest town in French Polynesia and the capital, to provision and to get repairs done. The latter was true for us since we approached Tahiti without a working engine and with an appointment in a boatyard. But sometimes thing turn out way different than expected.

 

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther
We are approaching Tahiti.

 

We decided to make our first stop at Point Venus which features a protected anchorage we could get in to easily. We did the same as Captain Cook who anchored here about 200 years ago and sailed through the gap in the reef to drop anchor in 15 ft (3m) of calm water. Our journey from the Tuamotus took over 3 days; mostly downwind with 2 m swells. This meant we had to hand steer a lot and thus were exhausted and fell asleep soon after the anchor hit the ground. However, an hour later a knocking noise woke us up and after peeking out of the companionway we heard a friendly “Hallo, wie geht’s?” Another Austrian boat was anchored right next to us and we got to know Sandra and Georg who are sailing on Cool Running. Their dinghy was ready to go so we hitched a ride to shore, chatted and explored the nearby village which had, to our surprise, two large grocery stores and a gas station. We felt like little kids when we entered the store. After 3 months of living with a very limited selection of goods we could again buy almost everything we know from home. Fresh lettuce, good salami, ham (and jamon), milka chocolate, good sausages, all kinds of cheese, yoghurt, etc... The only pity was that everything was slightly more expensive then in the US, especially the yoghurt which starts at about $4. For our way back we borrowed the store shopping cart to haul our groceries back to the dinghy. Doing so we had to cross a private beach property. The locals approached us and, picture this, helped us to carry our bags of groceries to the dinghy! But things were getting even better for us. After a delicious snack of fresh baguette with brie, Spanish jamon, and mango juice, Georg came over with his toolbox and a huge sledge hammer. We learned earlier that he has years of experience working on boats, in boatyards, and on diesel engines. Together we inspected  the leaking engine shaft seal and he confirmed my idea that after loosening the bolts on the transmission coupling we should be able to push the shaft back, maybe even far enough for the seal  to work again. One hour and several beers later the shaft was back in place, secured, the seal adjusted and we drove Green Panther in circles running the engine up to 2200 rpm without any leaks! Thanks to Georg we could use our engine again and cancelled the appointment at the boatyard.

 

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Cool Running
Cool Running anchored next to us at Point Venus (right). Georg and Sandra posing with Chris in front of the Trois Cascades sign (left).

 

Next day we took a local bus to the nearby site of the Trois Cascades  (three waterfalls) and reached the  first waterfall after a short hike. To get there we had to climb over a chain which was blocking a little bridge, but so did all the other tourists we met. We never figured out why the chain was there. The highlight of the hike was definitely the 3rd waterfall where we could swim in the pool at its base. The water was refreshing but not too cold and swimming right under the waterfall was lots of fun. On our way out Alena pointed out some rather large eels which were coming up the river, into the pool, perhaps to spawn there. But they stayed clear of us.

 

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, three water falls
We stopped at the first waterfall (Sandra, Georg, Alena, Chris)

 

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, three waterfalls
Swimming in the pool of the 3rd waterfall

 

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, waterfall eel
One of the large eels swimming in the creek and waterfall pool

 

The next day we motorsailed (yes we can do it again J) further west and entered the lagoon through the main pass into Papeete. We called Papeete Harbor Control before entering and they told us to wait for the speed ferry to exit before we enter. I was about the say “I don’t see a ferry,” when a large catamaran style boat came blasting out of the pass and flew by us. We could not believe how fast those things move! Anyway we entered soon after. The harbor area is pretty large with lots of  freighters, ferries and industrial buildings. The popular tie ups downtown (Le Rundel) were closed and in the process of being replaced with very pricy ($50/night for 35 ft vessel) floating docks. So we decided to continue to the main anchorage on the east side of Tahiti. We motored inside the reef and had to call Harbor Control again for permission to cross the runway of the airport. The jets come in pretty close to the water and you don’t want a 767 scratching your rig J. The main anchorage near Marina Taina was huge with several hundred boats on moorings, at anchor and med-tied in the marina. We took a mooring for one night, then stayed two days in the marina to take down our faulty wind generator, and anchored out the rest of our stay. We  managed to get all our grocery store needs filled at the huge Carrefour supermarket close by and got our propane tanks refilled at the mobile gas station for $40 per tank. We were a bit shocked at the cost of propane since filling the tank in the US or Mexico is about $12, but well, we need to cook.

 

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, Papeete, Harbor
Sailing into the industrial Papeete Harbor

 

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, sunset, moorea
Sunset at anchor near marina Taina with Moorea in the background.

 

One day we also took the bus to downtown Papeete and did the tourist walking tour. The big market was nice but it was too hot to purchase fruits or veggies and to carry them around town all day. We stopped at the town hall, cathedral, Queen Pomare’s secret garden, and the pearl museum. The latter was small but well done and we learned that all the beautiful round black pearls are only produced after the oysters have been grafted. This involves inserting a small sphere, typically harvested from the Mississippi oyster, and some mantle tissue. The oyster then builds layer over layer around the sphere until the pearl can be harvested several years later. The prices of perfect round black pearls are high and ranged from a few hundred to several thousand dollars and I was glad that Alena doesn’t wear jewelry and showed no interest in them. ;-)

 

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, Papeete
The public market in Papeete

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, Papeete
Papeete townhall

Pearl Museum, Tahiti
Alena observing the grafting process in the Pearl Museum

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, Papeete, Pearl Museum
Queen Victoria definitely liked Pearls

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, Papeete
We are exploring the waterfront park in Papeete

 

Our night out was at the food stands on the waterfront (called the roulette), where we had great food for under $15 per person, a rarity among the high prices on  Tahiti. The meal was only topped by the banana cream pie, made according to a Tahitian recipe, which we found at a small stand on our way to see a dance show. We got one pie to share and soon after Alena went back to get another one. The dance show marked the final of the Heiva celebrations, a month of festivals and parties in all of French Polynesia. We saw the non-professional and professional dance groups who won second and third place in the nationwide dance competition; the winners did not perform anymore - maybe to much partying after their victory ;). Anyway the dance groups were amazing; each group had 50 or more dancers and each dance told a story. Alena liked the final group best, which told a story involving the fight to free a surgeonfish that was taken captive. And of course there was a lot of hip swinging (women) and knee waggling (men) involved, at a very, very fast pace.

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, Papeete
Dinner at Le Rundel with cruising friends

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, Papeete, Heiva
A dance at the Heiva festival featuring the hero on a sailboat looking for his friend the surgeon fish.

Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, Papeete, strret art
Street art in Papeete.

 

The day before we planned to leave Tahiti we discovered we had an anchor problem. The tidal shifts in front of Marina Taina brought us very close to a large catamaran and we noticed that our anchor was stuck when we tried to pull it up to re-anchor.  The water was over 55 ft (18m) deep so we could not free the anchor by snorkeling. Getting our anchor stuck on things seems to happen more frequently than we would like and we took this as a sign we should invest in some dive tanks. Luckily the local dive shop was selling some of their used gear and we got two 12L aluminum dive tanks for a very good price. This was something we always wanted to have on board, for some relaxing reef diving and to free our anchor whenever it gets stuck in deep water.  It was easy to dive down and free our anchor from a bunch of chain that trapped it and soon after we were re-anchored at a better spot. And after 8 days in Tahiti we finally left for the nearby island of Moorea, called the mystic island.

 

 P.S.: And in case you are really interested, here is the explanation how the three waterfalls came into existence:
Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sailing, Green Panther, Papeete, 3 waterfalls

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