Saturday, May 29, 2010

Charmed by Tahiti.

Even with our mooring incident at the Quai des Yachts we still have been charmed by the spell of Tahiti. While coming back from the supermarket, where prices are such they should run a credit check on the customers before letting them in, we arrived at the beginning of a very exotic ceremony taking place on the waterfront near the docks where we were moored. Five pirogues of the pure Polynesian style arrived in Tahiti from all the different corners of Polynesia and as far as New Zealand. The event seemed to reproduce the voyages and probably migrations of the ancients. The Pirogues, all sails opened, entered the port of Papeete and were greeted by the call of a Tahitian woman sending her welcome through a large cone to amplify her voice. Well, I say welcome but since everything was in Tahitian she could have said “Go back home we don’t want you here!” and to our ears we wouldn’t have been able to see the difference. However, the tone of her voice, which seemed to sing, and the rhythm of the six giant drums slammed by six Polynesian men with their bare torso and the arms covered of typical Polynesian tattoos and wearing folkloric costumes gave us a clear hint that the travelers were welcomed! The pirogues’ crews went ashore and were greeted by the city officials then followed a sequence of dance shows and oratory performances by the hosts of the ceremony as well as the crews who prepared for the occasion.
In addition to the Museum of Tahiti and the islands we visited a place called the Lagunarium. It is basically a set of small basins built by the “Captain Bligh” bar and restaurant containing rays, sharks and other local fishes. The basins are separated by an underwater structure reaching the bottom in which we can see the fishes underwater through a glass. Nope we were not diving when we took the picture of the shark but behind a very thick glass!
But the highlight of our visits in Tahiti was by all means the dinner and show we paid ourselves $$$$$ at the Beachcomber Hotel Intercontinental. With a five star buffet, consisting mainly of all kink of sea food, we also had a show of dances and songs produced by Les Grand Ballets de Tahiti. Trust me when I say you’ve never seen a girl swinging her hips until you saw the Tahiti dancers. I have no idea which muscles they use to do that but they use them a lot! The men for their part didn’t swing their hips but arms and legs were everywhere. When 10 Polynesians male dancers, all tattooed and most of them with pecs of steel, dance on the feverish rhythm of the drums they move a lot of air!
After the show the dancers were available to take pictures with the crowd. The show and the dinner were maybe not cheap but the food was to die for and the show very impressive. Should you ever come to Tahiti don’t cheap out and pay yourselves this show, you won’t be disappointed.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Our arrival in Tahiti.

After our brief stop in the Tuamotu we set course to the Society Islands and for our first stopover we chose the most known of them all namely; Tahiti and more precisely the town of Papeete. The island is simply charming. The town is clean and consequently expensive. However it is worth the expense. Not knowing the place we spent the first days at the Yacht Dock (Le quai des yachts) at the center of Papeete. Besides the fact that the docks are expensive, $50 per night, they had the brilliant idea of implementing a docking system quite popular in Europe called the Med Mooring. It may be routine for a European to use that system but for us North-American it was the first time we faced that monstrosity. In a nutshell it is a long dock to which we attach the stern of the boat on cleats located on the dock while the bow is attached to a heavy chain at the bottom of the water through mooring lines also underwater. To retrieve those mooring lines they attached them to smaller guide lines that run to the dock. The distance between each guide line is about 12 feet (4m) and since our boat is 21 feet (7m) wide we had one guide line on each side and of course one guide line in the middle under the boat. Any boat owner knows that the worst thing to have close to a boat while the propellers are running is precisely a line in the water! I was at the wheel while Danielle was taking care of grabbing the lines and attaching them. Everything was going well but the fact we had a side wind. Danielle caught the first guide line and rushed forward to attach the mooring line to the boat. But the maneuver took too long and the boat started to drift aside and the damn guide line started to push on the railing threatening to bind it. I had to do something but a boat, even with two engines, it doesn’t move sideways. All I could do was to turn the boat to release the pressure on the railing. With the mooring line already attached at the bow, the front of the boat stayed there while the stern started to move sideways. This is what I wanted but now we had a guide line running in the center of the boat and of course it caught itself in the rudder. I immediately stopped the propeller on that side and I ended up with one side of the boat attached at the front and a line stuck in the rudder and likely in the propeller as well! I told Danielle, Ok that’s it we stop everything. We untied the mooring line at the front and managed to position the boat on the side along the dock and to secure it in that position. I dove to inspect the propeller and sure enough the guide line was wrapped around it. Fortunately there were no damages and 10 minutes of work later the propeller was free. We tried a second time but this time we tied the stern lines to the dock first then I put the engine forward which kept the boat steady while we attached the mooring lines at the bow. But this was not the end of our misery. Danielle pulled quickly the guide lines being very careful not to catch them in the running propellers. But she didn’t notice immediately that the damn line, invented by the devil himself, were covered with small razor sharp shells. After the mooring lines were properly attached and the boat well secured Danielle, who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown after a mooring procedure probably devised by the German experts in mental torture during WWII, stood on the deck with both hands in front of her with her blood gushing on her feet. Her fingers had been literally lacerated by the shells and were hemorrhaging. I ran inside and brought back bandages and some disinfectant. We cleaned the cuts thoroughly and stopped the bleeding. At the end the cuts were not very deep but there were many and it took a few days for Danielle to fully recover the usage of her hands. If I ever get my hand on the moron who came up with that system I think I’ll take his stupid shells covered line and wrap it around his balls!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Disapointed by Rangiroa.

The atoll of Rangiroa is one of the many forming the Tuamotu, one of the four sectors of French Polynesia along with the Marquesas, the Society Islands and the Austral Islands. We choose to stop here since it is the largest atoll in the Tuamotu and looked promising. An atoll is a string of islands formed by the coral reefs that surrounded an island long time ago. The island eventually sinks and disappears but the growing coral stays there and eventually the coral and it’s debris create islands that the locals call motus. No doubt that the place is gorgeous with sand beaches, palm trees and water clear enough to embarrass a Bahamian. (Bahamas have one of the clearest water in the world.) Our disappointment didn’t come from the environment but from the people. We anchored near the village of Tiputa and the nearby island has probably more tourists on it than locals. For that reason the locals have become “immune” to tourists and they don’t say hello, don’t smile and in some cases don’t even answer when you try to talk to them. It was a genuinely strange feeling as for the last year and a half we were used to find very nice and warm people everywhere we go. Snorkeling was nice. Just off the boat we had coral heads with very colorful fishes but unfortunately El Nino many years ago increased the water temperature by 2 or 3 degrees and all the corals turned white. A hurricane followed a few years later to finish the job. However, we briefly anchored in front of the village of Avatoru just 7 miles west of Tiputa and I dove to see if the anchor was set correctly since all we could see was coral. The tide was going down and the lagoon in the center of the atoll was emptying itself through the pass creating a very strong current. I managed to swim up to the bow of the boat but couldn’t go further so I let the current pull me back to the stern where I grabbed the hand railing just as I was passing by. I didn’t see the anchor but saw instead a carpet of coral spreading as far as I could see. The corals were the shape of a big flower and the number of different colors was staggering. Usually corals offer a limited number of colors at one place but here it was the whole rainbow spectrum. The current being so strong we couldn’t stay very long, and surely not in the water, so we left. Danielle didn’t see this coral but I for sure will remember it for a long time.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Visit in the Marquesas

The first thing striking us when arriving in the Marquesas was the majestic beauty of the landscape of these volcanic islands. Spat out from the center of the earth the lava rose above the sea level to create islands of splendid scenery on which grows lush vegetation. Well, once we recovered from the poetic beauty of the high cliffs and the palm trees we come back down to more down to earth realities such as the name of the different places here. For example, after our Pacific crossing we stopped in the village of Atuona on the island of Hiva Oa in the French department of Marquesas in French Polynesia. The Marquesas Islands have names such as Tahuata, Fatu Hiva or my favorite; Ua Pou. Those names obviously mean something to the people here but for us, poor mortals, it is just a sequence of sounds with no apparent meaning and consequently it is very difficult to remember them. Just to show us, without rereading the text, what is the name of the island where we first stopped? You can imagine what a conversation between sailors here looks like. “Do you plan to go at Hatutu?” the other, a bit perplex, answers “Hum, Hatutu, is it the island north of here next to Kaukura? Oh wait, Kaukura it’s in the Tuamotu Archipelago not in the Marquesas…” and so forth.

But after three weeks at sea people who crossed the Pacific need to talk to other human beings. To talk about the crossing of course but also to talk, period. In Hiva-Oa we spent a lot of time socializing and the day we arrived we were quite happy to see again our friends Dominique and Malou on board their 65 foot (20m) catamaran Cata Fjord who we first met in St-Georges, Grenada. You can see them here on the left picture. Dominique and Malou are smart and extremely friendly people. Danielle and I can spend 5 or 6 hours straight talking with them and feeling we just started the conversation! We spent a lot of time with them, over a dinner and later for breakfast, talking about boats and solving the problems of the world. Unfortunately, our itinerary being faster than their we simply don’t know when we will be able to see them again. On the center picture and the one on the right you can see Max and Peter two Australians on board the sailboat Yanada whom we met in the Galapagos. They had issues in clearing in the country and we were able to help them with this. Speaking French in French Polynesia really helps when comes the time to sort out the different options offered to us to pay the infamous bond imposed by the authorities, which forces foreigners to either have a return plane ticket or to pay a bond corresponding to the cost of a plane ticket back to your home country. The value of the bond is then returned to you once you leave the country. I give you the short version of the story here but things are much more complicated, and expensive, than it looks like when it comes to the bond. Later we had a very good time spending an evening on board Yanada and twisting our ears trying to catch the Australian accent and expressions. Let’s say it is quite a feat to follow a conversation with Peter after the wine poured for three hours! Like with Cata Fjord our route now split from Yanada’s and we may see Peter and Max again only once we get to Australia. This is the sad reality of the life on a boat. We meet many nice people then one day on the snap of the fingers we must wave them good bye and there’s only emails left to keep in touch with them.

In Hiva-Oa we took a guided tour of the island during which we mainly visited the magnificent landscape but we also had a lunch in one of the local restaurant where we enjoyed a good sample of the Polynesian gastronomy. Let’s simply say that dishes were very good and Polynesian women really know how to cook. This becomes quite obvious when we take a look at the bellies of their husbands! On the picture you can see, at the center, a plate of shrimps on spinach in coconut milk surrounded by a dish of bread fruits with sweetened bananas, of raw fish in coco milk, of solidified fruit puree and rice.

During our visit of the island we went to see a ceremonial site where Polynesians, in the old days, carved the famous tikis those stone statues representing important people or an important moment in life such as here on the right picture where we can see the statue of a woman giving birth. From her look the baby must have been quite huge maybe the warrior we see in the background of the picture on the left! By the way I am not crouching to look at the baby in question but to observe the carvings at the base of the statue!

In Hiva-Oa are buried two famous people; the author and interpret Jacques Brel and the master painter Paul Gauguin. Jacques Brel, born in Belgium, spent the last years of his life here and passed away prematurely in 1978 at the age of 49; thanks to the cigarette and the lung cancer that followed. Many of you may not know Brel who was a signer made vary famous in the French world by his very deep and poetic songs. The interpretation of his songs was profound and made with a very emotional control of the tones and tempos completely unique to him. If you haven’t heard Jacques Brel before go to the music store and buy one of his greatest hit albums, sit down and just listen. You may not understand the lyrics but just the way he sings will make you dream. One the plaque next to his grave we can read (my translation).


Man of sails
Man of starts
This troubadour
Delighted our lives
From the North Sea
To the Marquesas

The poet,
From the blue of his eternity
Thank you
For your passage

A nice poem at the image of this great artist’s songs that make us travel in the imaginary of the reality painted in Brel’s unique style. I know that saying “the imaginary of the reality” may sounds a bit weird but one needs to listen Brel’s to understand what I mean.
As for Paul Gauguin he spent most of the time he was here drinking and upsetting the local authorities. I don’t really know Gauguin’s art so I don’t have much to say about him.

While in Marquesas it is hard not see once in a while one of these pirogues inspired from the ones used by the first colons coming from Asia long time ago. Wood gave way to the lighter fiberglass in their making but the people here seem to take the pirogues competitions very seriously and train regularly in the bay. As for Danielle she seems to be attracted by some of the rower’s build! Me, far from being jealous, reminded her that pecs and biceps are nice but having worked on a computer all my life I have very well developed fingers myself!