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All I need is the padded cell; the straightjacket is tightening. Red tape is our new sport. I am starting to think all this is because we have turned renegade – leaving our cruising lifestyle. Delving into books of adventurous seamen living for years on small uninhabited islands helps to re-live our escapades.
“What does Captain Cook, Bligh, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and the Parrys (us) have in common?” I ask Noel. Adept at confounding me by following my esoteric thoughts, Noel replies “Tahiti.”
And he’s right, in the 18th century Cook was sent to Tahiti to study the planet Venus, Bligh has sailed to these striking shores. Robert Louis Stevenson’s father designed the lighthouse that proudly sits on Venus Point, while Mr Stevenson junior wrote the inspiring stories of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. Parry, well the Parry’s circumnavigated the island in 2005.
Reminiscing over our adventures is both good and bad. The thought of Tahiti had me staring into space, looking back at our voyage around the island.
Essence of Timing
We arrived Papeete the same day as Noel’s daughter, Mel arrived from Ayers Rock. We were nonchalant about the timing, only because we had not considered that marvellous innovation of the date line. After negotiating low flying aircraft, we chose the most popular anchorage, on the west of the island, south of French Polynesia’s Capital. Deep, clear water welcomed us in to a plethora of tightly packed boats. Supermarkets were a black-pearl throw away and the dusty, dirty city, just a twenty minute, bone-shaking bus ride. By this time in our voyage (over 35,000 nautical miles) I had become a little tired of amps, torque and bronze brushes conversations. The prospect of another woman onboard was exciting, I planned to get in depth about clothes, hair and, well anything but boats. We were both looking forward to playing host to our long awaited guest. On trawling through our emails that we read a note from Mel, “I arrive on the 21st July, not 22nd!” Four hours later, damp, dishevelled sailors and the disturbing disorder of Mariah’s innards met Mel.
Throughout our voyage we always took opportunity to wonder off the beaten track; the inland waterways of America and the French Canals, two favourites of mine. With no inland waterways in Tahiti, we decided to circumnavigate the island. “Who, in their right mind, heads east across the Pacific at this latitude?” Friends’ pitiful smiles had sent us off, confirming that Mariah II is doing ‘their thing’ again, but we were used to that. With triplicate sighs of relief we hauled anchor and watched the maelstrom of Papeete disappear over the smoggy horizon. It turned out that ‘who’s idea it was’ to circumnavigate Tahiti depended on conditions. When we hit confused, restless seas it seemed to be my decision. When we cleared the agitated, water and witnessed the exquisite, barely explored shores of the south east of the island, Noel took the kudos.
Tahiti nui and Tahiti iti
Tucked between the Nui and Iti (big part of island and little part), Port Phaeton was a peaceful sanctuary. Weaving through vibrant, intimidating coral reefs, we were thankful of the meticulous buoy system that led us safely through. Rewards of short, sharp mountains striking through clouds, excellent protection and good holding met us in the roomy bay. Even the muddy water and skin nipping critters did not tarnish the cool swim I relished each day. The charming bay housed a small marina with haul-out facilities and a safe dinghy landing at a locals’ house, who was happy for dinghies to tether in his garden. Henrique, offered us water and advice, we were just glad to have Matilda (our dinghy) safe. The compact, amiable town offered supermarkets, post office, internet and hardware stores, the extortionate prices of Papeete toned down to simply exorbitant. Silent noise stroked Mariah and caressed our ears in chorus with the pure breeze that lacked the cities pungent vapour, “good idea of mine” Noel muttered into his hard-earned sun-downer.
In good old Mariah II fashion, we left a safe, serene harbour to quell our voyaging thirst. The target, thirty-two miles to Baie De Tautira – the day was black, the sea lumpy and the wind became particularly difficult, whacking us hard on the nose. We heard moans and whimpers from below as Mel tried to cope with the arcane world of a live boat pummelled by confused seas. “Dumb idea” stated Noel, staring pointedly at me.
As the winds hugged the jagged mountains, Mariah became a perpetual weather-cock and words such as retreat, defeat and derrhhh were heard whistling across our soggy decks. As we started to discuss our flight back Mother Nature took pity and smoothed the waters, which allowed the sails to fill with a beam-reach. The entrance was wide and deep, permitting Mariah, crew and the grey cloud that joined us for the day to putter slowly in without much ado. Tautira, on the north east of Tahiti iti has a petite village with a well provisioned shop where prices shift into the expensive category, instead of exorbitant. Shy locals were easy going and accommodated our shameful attempts at French. The cleanliness transported us back to Iluka in northern NSW, where freshly painted homes, quaint boulevards and tropical flowers garnished the welcoming hamlet. Relaxing island music wafted into the shallow anchorage where we were firmly dug in, dug out canoes being the local’s main mode of transport, runabouts for fishing. Reality swam its way back into our tranquil anchorage and hunkering down in the black sand, Mel and I took advantage of running water on shore to catch up with the building laundry.
Dreams are made of tiny, soft sand islands, handsome palm trees and crystal water. Motunono island, ten nautical miles from Taurita, sits off shore inviting boaties to step onto her dazzling beach. Anchoring a short swim away, in deep water, I snorkelled to shore while Mel and her Dad carried lunch, water and themselves in Matilda. Even the two or three other groups of visitors did not upset the equilibrium of the slice of heaven. Sitting in idyllic shady palms we silently absorbed the breathtaking views. The mainland stands high and proud, the green velvets of jagged peaks punctuated the scudding rain clouds. Heavy cumulonimbus clung to the zeniths and sagged in the troughs, thickening and feeding the abundant plant life. Breezing cumulous tore across the serrated mountains and neighbouring valleys plunged and all but called out to us, inviting for exploration. Staring at the striking panorama I let my imagine run like a tidal stream. I studied the enchanted crests that were brushed with cloudy whispers of mystical secrets, a thousand years old. The scene was set, like the Scottish Highlands where Braveheart bounds out of the eerie mist on his bold black stallion.
Swinging the lead
Departing our magical lunch site, we travelled north for about six nautical miles, destination Pointe Tefauoa. A consistent reef circumnavigates Tahiti, much of it causing too many shallows to allow a completely protected run. From Motunono island to Pointe Tefauoa, much of the journey was protected by the glorious reef, but this had its pitfalls. Reaching our proposed anchor site at four in the afternoon, we found the tiny harbour on our charts big enough for Ken and Barbie’s boat, but not Mariah II. “Don’t worry” our illustrious leader said, “we have a few hours, plenty of time to find an alternative.” For two hours I scurried about in Matilda; ‘chucking’ the lead was more my style. Abundant anchorages of twenty-five metres were scattered along the coast, however our anchor winch had decided to have its own holiday and shallow anchorages were our arm muscles preference. Suddenly the deep blue shoaled to less than a metre with vivid coral shelves, Matilda’s bottom became a little sore and the air somewhat bluer than the water. As dusk hinted at the horizon, much to Mel’s horror, we discussed over-nighting to Venus Point. Actually, we would have arrived around eleven at night. Mel’s reluctance was backed up with mine, Matilda survived her ungainly scrapes, I was not prepared to risk the mother ship. With shortening tempers created from fear we journeyed two miles south, to reach the pass (Passe Faatautia) into the ocean. Our charts indicated a possible anchorage near the entrance, the fair weather permitting us the luxury of one last possibility of a night at anchor. As our worn dinghy and my weary body cautiously puttered in the small, inviting bay near Teruaiti my hopes were raised as I sounded 7-12 metres depth, with enough swing room before the treacherous coral. The miserable crew onboard Mariah morphed into happy bunnies.
Pre-empting cascading tourists
After a peaceful night we woke to the grandeur of verdant valleys and statuesque peaks where a cascading waterfall plunged down shiny rocks like Repunzel’s lavish hair. By shear fluke it was Sunday and we traipsed in the direction of the fresh falling water. Roaming through muddy paths, the recently cleared foliage hinted at plans. We could fathom no reason for the incomplete path, except perhaps a tourist walk in the making to create an easy (and maybe costly) stroll to the waterfall. Slightly smug at the deserted tools and a little soggy at the sucking mud we reached the gushing hum of the breath snatching, cool water. Childish splashing and giggling soaked up the morning and our cool bodies hot-footed it back to Mariah as we didn’t want to chance our luck in our unprotected anchorage.
Good point, great names
As we stood on Venus Point in the footsteps of our heroes, we tried to envision what they saw. The scattered houses and thundering roads that are mimicked around the world in every city, would not have been there. Instead, the verdant splendour that carpets the mountains would reach the shores, stopping short at the black beaches. The twenty-two nautical mile journey to Venus Point was hot and still. Mariah’s Yanmar punched her through the smooth water to the famous landmark. We heard the family fun on the raven beaches and in the transparent water before we saw. The town was busy and dirty, highlights included a tourist trip to the leper colony – we decided to pass on that one. We tested the perfect water temperature many times over our three-day stay. The soft breeze cooled the boat and Venus Point sheltered us from any fetch. The searching beams of Stevenson’s lighthouse accompanied the still, black nights, while Bligh’s and Cook’s landing went unmentioned.
Time ticked on and Mel had one week left and we wanted to spend four days at Moorea, Tahiti’s neighbouring island. First, we needed some supplies and our winch repaired. A board meeting of captain, guest and scapegoat (me) was promptly organised with ample refreshments. As the sun tickled the horizon and offered the glorious gifts of shifting yellows and burnt orange, point one on the agenda was broached. Where to go next?: a) to original anchorage near Marina Taina, b) Moorea or c) try for an anchorage north of Papeete. We chose option c for somewhere different, walking distance to town and locale near the mechanique that had fixed the anchor winch once and should damn well do it again! Point 2 on the agenda is then tackled, red or white?
Five miles west we reached the main fishing port of Tahiti. The proud, professionally maintained fishing fleet lined up against industrial wharfs and we puttered around for an hour, indecisive at where to anchor in the deep port. Near a thinning hedge, seventeen metre depth was located. At the edge of the channel, we parked Mariah and felt rather chuffed at our pioneering discoveries. Gas refills were a short dinghy ride away (as was diesel). The mechanique was two boat lengths from reaching shore and water was easily available at the small marina. The town was a ten minute walk and if you ignored the layer of scum floating on the water and the perpetual chemical smell, the anchorage was perfect! We tackled jobs ashore, we were relieved to be ignored. Out of the way of the surprisingly sparse traffic, no one cared that we anchored in the port and we took advantage of having all things required nearby. The following day, after the winch had been repaired, we left for Moorea.
We vividly remember Tahiti’s magic, her enchanted valleys, her plethora of facilities, her superb anchor sites and her kind people. Mostly though, knowing that we graced the same shores of our heroes leaves a stimulating tingle that is shrouded with respect.
Sitting in Moruya River, NSW, still onboard Mariah, we regularly reminisce over the last eight years. Next week we start the Master 5 course; ironically learning about boats after sailing around the planet! Burearocracy is like a heavy back-pack. With registration and licences required for anything that might move and the extortionate price of being part of land life, it makes us twirl our onboard globe regularly and claw at the straightjacket living. The revolving door of indecision is heading on a backswing . . .
Checking in (2006)
Having already checked into French Polynesia at Nuku Hiva (The Marquesas Group) we were told neither of us had to pay a bond once we arrived at Tahiti, this was incorrect.
If you hold a European passport you do not need to pay a bond. Any other nationality you do. However, if one of you has a European passport and can show a marriage certificate then no bond is required (for couples). I have a European passport but they were not interested in my captain proficiency or my ownership papers, however, once they saw the marriage certificate, Noel was not required to pay any bond.
The bond is the cost of flying you back to your country of citizenship. You do receive the bond back but lose in charges. (1) you have to open a bank account and this incurs charges (2) you have to change your currency to put the correct amount of Polynesian Francs in your account, losing out on exchange rate and charges, (3) you can receive the money back in any currency of your choice, however you lose in the exchange and charges – again. Costs approximately add up to $AUS100-150.
A brief history of Tahiti
Over 30,000 years ago southeast Asians started migrating to Polynesia. They were cut off from the rest of the world until Europeans arrived in the 18th Century. Britain and France fought over the beautiful islands, France ultimately succeeding in 1842. After World War II Polynesia entered a new era of international trade. During the sixties Polynesia saw huge economic growth created by The Experimentation Centre of the Pacific, for French nuclear testing. In 1984 French Polynesia gained it’s own political status, its own government and President. 1996 saw the end of nuclear testing and the start of a financial aid plan from France, which is evident in the wealth of the locals and high cost of living of Tahiti.
170,000 people live in Tahiti, within four ethnic groups. 70% represent The Native Polynesians. 16% born from an ethnic mix of Ma’ohi, Chinese and European. 11% are Europeans (mostly from France) and 5% The Chinese.
French Polynesia sits in the middle of the South Pacific. Tahiti being the main island with 2,042 km2 and its mountains peak at over 2,220m.
The official language of Tahiti is French, however most of the Tahitians speak Reo Mao’hi among themselves. Many people speak English, if not, have a bash at French, they are much more forgiving than France!