Friday, July 6, 2012

Back in Papeete

The scenery of Papeete (pronounced Pa-pay-e-tay) was a bit of a let-down on our return, after 10 days anchored under the lovely mountains of Moorea. However, it was nice to come back to a snug mooring at the Tahiti Yacht Club.

After our sail with Menita, Ropa, and Ahei, we spent a day touring the Moorea with Vicky from 'Inspiration at Sea'. We drove completely around the island, stopping at a couple of small villages, where we bought fresh baguettes and browsed in a shop that specialized in up-scale Polynesian art. As we rounded the west side of the island, the surf began to break spectactularly on the offlying reef and we passed two surfer resorts. We later heard that the surf was unusually high this week. A friend on a catamaran had anchored inside ther pass here and had planned to go surfing. However, he was trapped in the anchorage because the waves had blocked the pass. Ironically, the waves were also too steep and violent to surf. On the south side of the island we drove up a dirt side road to the start of a hike to a waterfall. The short hike was muddy after the previous day's downpour, but despite the recent rain, the waterfall was little more than a trickle and the pool beneath barely deep enough for a swim. I guess we have been spoiled by the spectacular waterfalls of the Marquesas.

The last two days in Moorea were spent at an anchorage to the west of the bay of Opunohu. We met up here with Mike and karen on 'Chapter 2' and enjoyed catching up on our respective adventures. One morning, we dinghied to a shallow sand bar about a mile from our anchorage where tour boats bring people to swim with the stingrays. We brought along a can of Mexican sardines to feed the rays. When we arrived, we were the first boat and the rays immediately surrounded our boat. There were about 20 rays ranging from 2-3 feet in width, the older ones having impressively long barbed tails. We jumped into the water, sardines in hand, but the rays were not impressed with our offering and while they swam around us, they did not feed from our hands.

It turns out that stingrays like fresh sardines and when a tour boat arrived, the rays came to the operator and rubbed against him, even lifting their mouths out of the water to take a fresh fish. We swam over to the tour boat and were delighted to have the stringrays swim right up and rub themselves against us. When they swam along the bottom over our feet they tickled our toes. They do not mind being touched and seem to like being petted and having their noses rubbed. They also seem to recognize certain people, because both the tour operator and one of the tourists who had done this a few times were more popular than the other tourists. Just off the sand bar, about a dozen black tipped reef sharks passed back and forth, occassionally darting in to grab a sardine, and overhead terns fluttered and a frigate bird swooped after the fresh fish.

It is amazing how differently animals and fish behave when used to man. In places where we either feed or interact daily with them, such as here and at the south Fakarava pass in the Tuamotus, the animals are relaxed and either pay little attention to us or come over to see if we have something to feed them. The same species in a more wild setting are skittish and hard to see because they dart away from us on first approach. On the reefs off our anchorage at Opunohu, I saw many of the same species as at Fakarava, but I was only able to approach a few of these closely enough fof a good view.

We sailed back to Papeete the next day against headwinds and the same miserable mixed swells that had accompanied us on the way to Moorea. The trip took 9 hours, more than 3 times as long as the same passage downwind had taken. Swell, wind, chop, and an adverse currrent made this passage slow and rough. Around dusk, we turned on the motor and used it to help us beat toward the main port of Papeete. Once under the lee of the island of Tahiti, we turned into the swell and motored for an hour, entering an anchorage west of the yacht club in the dark. We had seen this anchorage on our way to Moorea and noted that it was well marked by buoys and a transit line and had a gentle shelf suitable for anchoring. Despite this, we were both tense as we navigated through the narrow channel between the coral reefs.

The next morning, I sailed our little sailing dinghy down the channel inside the reef to the main port of Papeete, with an empty propane cyclinder. Inside the pass the waves were much reduced by the coral shelf, but a 10-15 knot wind made the trip exciting. Running downwind with a one to two foot swell, the dinghy surfed and rolled and I had to squat in the center of the boat, steering with a hand behind my back, moving my weight around to prevent a broach.

One of our cruising guides mentioned a ladder on a pier just the other side of a low bridge. The mast just cleared the bridge and I spotted the ladder on a concrete pier, dead downwind. I headed straight for the concrete wall at a good clip, and was able to execute a quick turn at the last minute and tie the dinghy to the ladder. I felt conspicuous carrying a propane tank through the fenced in dockyard, out the gate, and back down the road to Tahiti Gas, but clearly people were used to cruisers doing this and either said "Bonjour" or ignored me. At Tahiti Gas, they immediately filled the tank, despite its North American fitting and charged 1800 Polynesian francs (about $20) for 9 liters. This is expensive compared with Mexico, but cheap in relation to our last fill in the Marquesas. The return trip to Ladybug was uneventful, but wet - an upwind beat past boat yards and fishing boat docks. An occasional wave splashed over the sides, but I was able to spill wind from the sails in the puffs and the dinghy was much better mannered than on the downwind run.

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