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OCC reporting from Tahiti and the other Society Islands of French Polynesia

by Pamela MacBrayne & Denis Moonan 31 Jan 18:17 UTC
Port Phaeton, Tahiti © Pamela MacBrayne & Denis Moonan

Having left Glide in TNC marina in Tahiti for a 6-week trip back to the US in June 2019, OCC Roving Rear Commodores from Maine return to S/Y Glide.

We returned in mid-July to continue our exploration of Tahiti and the other Society Islands of French Polynesia. We highly recommend TNC in Port Phaeton, Tahiti to anyone wishing to leave their vessel in a marina or on-the-hard. Port Phaeton is a very protected harbour, though a bit rainy; the TNC manager, Yvan, is very capable and helpful. You will want to use a dehumidifier or arrange to have the boat aired periodically to avoid mould. We found this to be a pleasant alternative to Papeete.

From Tahiti we headed to Moorea, anchoring in a relatively quiet bay on the east side of the island with fewer than a dozen boats. As the boats were spread relatively far apart, we checked the AIS to see if we recognized any boats in the anchorage. Although we saw no one we knew, much to our surprise, we saw Anima heading north toward us. Could it possibly be Manuel? Last we knew, upon departure from Las Perlas, Panama, he was heading to Australia in 2018. As Anima (Portugal) came into view, it was indeed Manuel, this time with his family aboard! We came to learn later that he enjoyed FP so much that he decided to spend a season there (and to the best of our knowledge, he is staying for another). Once again I was the recipient of a bottle of Manuel's special Portuguese wine of which I had fond memories from Panama. Over the next couple of days, Manuel gave us invaluable advice on the installation of our new (and first) water-maker. We're happy to report that with his guidance we have been happily and successfully making water ever since!

After a crew change, Manuel was planning to head back up to the Tuamotu archipelago which was our plan as well. With what looked like a favourable weather window, we decided to leave the next day, a few days before Anima. Unfortunately, the predicted favourable wind never materialized so after beating to the northeast into 25k wind for 24 hours and not being able to fetch any of the atolls during daylight, we decided to alter course and head west to Huahine instead. The weather forecast indicated the winds would not subside for several days, making the atoll anchorages uncomfortable if not untenable. We had a significantly more comfortable overnight sail, anchoring the following day in a secluded anchorage on the east side of the Huahine.

Next we headed to Fare, Huahine for a rendezvous with our friends Steve & Lili on Liward with whom we had spent time cruising in Guna Yala (San Blas islands of Panama) in 2008-2010. While there we met OCC members Kim and Marie on North Star (Denmark) and Dietmar and Marie on greyHound (Germany) with whom we had many enjoyable encounters throughout the Society Islands, Niue and Tonga. We also met Molly & Jeff on Chanticleer (USA) whom we recruited to join OCC. Hailing from our neighbouring state of New Hampshire, they are a wonderful addition to the Club.

We spent the next couple of weeks in Raiatea, Taha'a and Bora Bora, enjoying snorkelling, hiking, exploration of religious and cultural archaeological sites and visiting Pearl Farms where we learned about the process of growing world-famous cultured black pearls. While in French Polynesia, we had several "virtual" communications with other OCC boats. We connected via the SSB "Polynesian Magellan Net" with Ian and Clare on Eye Candy (Australia) with whom we had sailed in the Bahamas in 2013 (they were on their way to Fiji). We often heard SailMore (Switzerland) to the west of us, heading to Samoa. And, we were able to monitor the progress of Jeanne on Nereida (UK) as she completed her single-handed circumnavigation. We also connected on several occasions with Price and Bennie on PanacheX (who coordinated the passage of about 20 boats from Panama/Galapagos to the Marquesas; we first met in person in Fatu Hiva, Marquesas, FP) via email in Tonga and Fiji; they sent us an amazing amount of very useful information on French Polynesia and the passage to Tonga.

Our final days in French Polynesia were spent in the small, less frequently visited islands of Maupiti and Maupiha'a (Mopelia). Maupiha'a is a fascinating place. First, the pass into the lagoon of the atoll is the narrowest we have encountered, fewer than 30 meters wide; the crystal clear water made the 6-meter deep bottom look that much closer to the 1.8-meter keel! Only 25+/- people live on the island and all are involved in the production of copra (dried coconut from which oil is obtained). When we were there, a ship was scheduled to come in for the first time in 9 months to pick up their supply of copra and to deliver staples to the residents. The people of Maupiha'a are incredibly generous, sharing all that they have with visitors. We were invited to join one of the families for Sunday lunch, the day after we arrived. What a feast of glazed grilled fish (caught that morning), Coconut crabs, poisson cru (ceviche with coconut milk), coconut rice, pasta, vegetables, homemade beer and more! We reluctantly bid them farewell after our wonderful meal together as the following day was the start of a good weather window for our passage to Palmerston Atoll (Cook Islands), nearly 1000km to the west.

Our arrival at Palmerston was the beginning of another totally unique experience, shared by Molly & Jeff on Chanticleer (USA) who arrived there a couple of days before us. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Eddie Marsters who served as our island host, along with his family, for the duration of our stay. There is no anchorage at Palmerston due to the water depths and no pass into the atoll for large boats, requiring yachts to pick up one of the moorings provided by the islanders. As the pass is often rough and challenging, visitors do not use their own dinghies to get ashore but are "chauffeured" by their hosts to and from the boat to the island. There are 36 people currently residing on the island, 11 of whom are school children, and all are descendants of Englishman William Marsters who arrived there in 1863 with 3 Polynesian wives. Everyone on the island was incredibly friendly and hospitable.

From Palmerston, we set sail to the tiny island nation of Niue, 717km to the west. There we would enjoy the company, once again, of greyHound and North Star as well as the incredible hospitality of "the biggest little yacht club in the world", the Niue Yacht Club. Like Palmerston, Niue has no harbour but provides moorings off the middle of the western shore. Because the island is a geologic oddity, a coral reef thrust up to 300 feet above the sea by tectonic plate movement, getting ashore is a unique experience. One has to rig a 3-point bridle on the dinghy, before going ashore, where you hook onto an awaiting crane. After scrambling up the steps onto the wharf, you use the electric hoist to park your skiff until your return when the process is reversed. Niue's unusual geology offers fascinating hiking opportunities following the various "Sea Tracks" that are clearly marked along the road that circles the shore. Ranging from 5 to 45-minute hikes, these walks feature rock formations that one would ordinarily find only underwater. Caves, arches and other dramatic formations abound with some of the treks actually affording opportunities to swim. Once again, snorkelling, hiking and getting to know the wonderful people of this special place made the journey here well worth making.

Our next hop was from Niue to Tonga, about 450km. It was a pretty sloppy sail with wind aft of abeam and seas off the aft quarter. It got worse when the autopilot quit about 30 hours before we arrived in Tonga. On a positive note, we caught a 30-pound tuna a couple of hours before arriving in Vava'u so it served as a bit of distraction while Pam hand-steered and Denis reeled in and then processed the fish in a rolling boat for 3 hours. Needless-to-say, we slept well when we finally tied up to the customs dock and cleared in.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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