Our Diary Society Islands

The rolly anchorage of Taiohae Bay was getting unpleasant and our planned departure for the Tuamotus delayed by bad weather. Ham radio reports of strong gusts, blown out sails, impassable entrances into the atolls, all encouraged us to wait.

Desperate for a good night's sleep we decided just to nip around to Daniel's Bay, five miles to the west, where the protection from swells is a little better. There was a slight lull in the weather so we quickly weighed anchor and headed out; even so, we still faced 25 kt winds and large seas, but they were from behind and manageable. Luckily a yacht was ahead and, playing follow-my-leader, we approached the entrance. Suddenly, we saw the yacht ahead of us turn around and head back to sea!. Whether the entrance had scared him (or some other reason) we will never know - it just made us even more cautious. The entrance to Daniel's Bay is tricky - you chose your wave, surf in and then do a right hand turn into the lee of the cliffs (similar to many harbours on the west coast of Portugal!). In the end it wasn't too bad and we were pleased to anchor in a relatively peaceful bay with little roll. Daniel's Bay had become a waiting room; there were nearly 20 boats waiting for good weather, some running out of fresh supplies. The locals were very friendly and generous and would trade fruit for other items. After one visit for water we ended up with a sack of pamplemousse (extra large grapefruit) and a hand of bananas plus some roasted nuts (variety unknown). We spent five days in this pleasant anchorage, which is the set for the American version of the TV programme Survivor. (This is about the exploits of groups of TV stars, cast adrift on deserted islands - although the airport and civilisation was less than 5miles away!). The scenery was spectacular, with walks in the valley and trips to the waterfall (at 2000 ft the third highest in the world) a highlight.

The weather finally moderated and a mass exodus of yachts headed for the Tuamotus. The Tuamotus is the largest group of coral atolls in the world. Each of the 78 atolls are similar, they are a ring of coral reef surrounding a lagoon. 21 have only one pass into the lagoon, 10 have two passes and the rest no passes at all. Variable currents, sudden storms and poor charts make cruising by yacht extremely hazardous. The seas were still confused after the two weeks of bad weather but the wind was perfect. We headed west for 500 miles to Ahe.

It is important to enter these atolls at slack water or with a following current. Good daylight is essential to avoid the numerous coral heads. Four days later we approached Ahe and calculated that our ETA would be early evening, therefore we altered course to Kauehi a little further west and south and arrived early the next morning. The entrance was wide and easy, although the overfalls and counter current were a little unnerving. We had a pleasant few days here, including a guided tour for all us cruisers around the island by a local pearl farmer, the highlight being a high speed ride along their new airport runway plus a stop at the (empty) new airport terminal! All this was a warm up so we would buy lots of pearls from him. Trading was OK so for bottles of rum, snorkelling gear, sunglasses etc. lots of pearls changed hands!

It was mid-summers day, which is a cause for celebration in Norway, so Ben and Henrietta on Uterus organised a barbeque on a deserted motu (palm fringed small island) at the west end of the atoll. The setting was lovely and the company great with good snorkelling in the anchorage.

After a couple of days we moved to Fakarava, a day sail away. Fakarava is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotus and is renowned for its snorkelling and diving. True to form they were superb. A dive on the pass is a must. You drop off into 30m of water and allow the current to sweep you into the atoll. On entering the water at about 20m you are met by a wall of sharks…amazing. Then the drift dive takes you along a multicoloured coral bottom with myriads of fish swimming against the current. The snorkelling was equally great with healthy, well populated coral heads just inside the pass where we anchored.

From Fakarava we decided to go straight to Tahiti so that we could prepare the boat ready for Carol and Trevor. This is a two day trip so we left late afternoon with a gentle 10kts of breeze and the forecast indicating a gentle sail to Papeete. But as ever it never pays to be complacent. At 2am I responded from a shout from Christine who was on watch, "Keith! The genoas gone!" I jumped out of bed and glanced at the wind speed as I donned my life jacket - it read 35 kts. Christine was battling with the wheel and, sure enough, the genoa was in tatters. First job: furl the remnants; second job: drop the mainsail. Next, gather your breath and put the small staysail up. We settled the boat down and didn't see the wind drop below 30kts for the next 36 hrs. Averaging 7 kts with this small sail we did make good time. The approach to Papeete was easy and with relief we anchored of Taiana Marina along with about 100 others - here to join in the festivities (dance, spear throwing, fruit carrying, handicrafts and canoe competitions) leading up to Bastille Day.

It was lovely to be in Tahiti; there is an air of affluence with French influence everywhere, especially in the large supermarkets (which had been plucked from the heart of France complete with all the produce) just a few minutes walk away. Heaven - but at inflated French prices!

Our main task was to sort out the genoa, repair the autopilot and get the boat ready for visitors. Carol and Trevor (Christine's sister and brother-in-law) arrived at 2am on Friday and were with us for two weeks. They had flown in from a very cold New Zealand and arrived to a warm and rainy Tahiti. After settling in we planned a trip to the dance competition. It rained and rained; Thursday's competition was postponed to Tuesday, Saturday's (our trip) was postponed to Thursday… a bit of a disaster for the organisers! This was not balmy Pacific weather. One highlight was a visit to the local bar for breakfast on Sunday to watch the World Cup Final and to see the disappointment on the faces of the clientele when France were unlucky and lost on penalties. The multi-national crowd made for a raucous fun time.

Monday it was a bit brighter so we left Tahiti and sailed to Moorea (the setting for the film version of South Pacific) 15 miles away. A pleasant trip in 10kts of wind. We anchored just inside the reef. Wednesday night was dance night so we moved into Cooks Bay and anchored off the Bali Hai hotel and had a fun evening joining in with the tourists.

Trevor hired a car so a tour of the island by road and visit the sights and lookouts was a great treat for us. We then moved around the corner to Opunoho bay. We had heard that the local sting rays were very tame and an early morning trip was planned (to arrive before the tourists!). I was armed with some squid to feed them; little did I know that this is their number one favourite food and I got mobbed by these friendly creatures! Carol and Christine were not so sure, but took some lovely photo's. It was Brett from Interlude's birthday so an impromptu breakfast in the dinghys just off the beach was fun.

The overnight sail to Huahine was not the smooth trip we expected. Although it started off well, as seems usual in this part of the world, the wind came up unexpectedly. Just as we were about to eat dinner a gust required us to put a deep reef in the main. This flurry of activity was looked on with trepidation by Carol and Trevor, but Poco settled down and we had an easy but noisy sail arriving at dawn. We entered the reef and found a lovely anchorage off the beach. After breakfast I zoomed to Fare in the dinghy to get some fresh supplies - we then spent a quiet day aboard. An information board in Fare indicated that there was a Vanilla plantation in the next bay and could be worthy of a visit. We moved around there before breakfast the next day and took the dinghy ashore for a visit to the Vanilla plantation. François was a bit surprised to see four people walking up his drive on a quiet Sunday morning however he gave us a warm welcome and a great tour of his plantation. As well as vanilla he showed us lots of native fruits - we came away with a bag full of lovely tropical fruit and some fresh vanilla.

We weighed anchor after lunch and moved a little further west to D'Avea Bay where the rest of the crowd were anchored and had a lovely "cocktail hour" on Poco that evening. The stay here was lovely with great snorkelling off the point and Trevor treated us to a lovely lunch on the beach at the resort hotel. The final hop to Raiatea was a lovely gentle sail in 10-15 kts and, as a treat, we pulled up alongside at the Apooiti Marina so that our guests could make ready to fly. We again hired a car and toured the island - the flowers were magnificent and scenery delightful.

Following a farewell dinner we wandered into the local dance contest and were treated to a wonderful display of gyrating hips and colourful traditional costumes, which was a great finale to a lovely two week visit by Trevor and Carol.

We had a few jobs to do so we hung around Raiatea for a couple of weeks, enjoying the food and company of fellow cruisers. We had enjoyed the dancing so much we went back for a second visit and also booked tickets to see a dance troop from Bora Bora (which is reputed to be the best in French Polynesia).

We had also heard that a replica of Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki (captained by Heyerdahl's grandson) had just completed the trip from Peru to Raiatea and was due to land at the most sacred site in Polynesia. The Norwegian yachting contingent (Uterus, Necessity and Stormsvalen) were excited by this so we joined them early one morning to go out and meet the Kon Tiki 2. It was an impressive sight - a Balsa raft, complete with Satellite Communication dome, wind and solar generators and other mod cons! Even more impressive was the Polynesian welcome they were given and it was so interesting to see how the marae worked and how it is still a cornerstone of the island culture.

We have now finished our odd jobs and had a lovely evening watching the dance troop from Bora Bora - living up to their reputation - very skilful!

This email also marks our third anniversary of our voyage and we trust that you are not getting too bored with our exploits. The next episode will probably be from Tonga, which is the island group that has stolen the hearts of so many cruisers…