Visiting the Western Islands of French Polynesia
We left Tahiti after a week or so of boat work, having completed most but not all of the projects we set out to do. We had a long list of repairs that needed to be completed in Tahiti, the most important of which was rebuilding the port transmission.
We enjoyed our time in the city at the marina. It was nice to have unlimited water, walking paths, and parks for the kids and access to food of every shape and kind. However, we didn’t sail 3000 miles across the Pacific Ocean to hang out in the city.
The next stop on our list was the island of Moorea. Moorea is only a few miles from Tahiti. You can see it clearly in the distance. It only took a few hours to motor to Moorea from the Papeete marina, including a brief stop at the fuel dock.
We anchored just inside the reef at Vaiare Pass in crystal clear water. Vaire Bay is home to a little marina which kindly allowed us to dock our dinghy and walk into the village, which is home to the ferry port and a few stores. We surveyed the stores and village and made our way back to the boat. Our stay here was short, as I recall.
We made our way around the island in the next few days, exploring Cooks Bay and D’ Opunohu Bay. We visited the small natural history museum on the island, which had some tidy exhibits about sea life, an aquarium, and an air-conditioned projection room. Katie and the big kids hiked the trails outside of the museum to an overlook of the bay, and archeological remains of holy sites called the Mooreas. Rumor has it that when Captain Cook landed on Moorea, it was here that the locals made human sacrifices in honor of him.
We made it to church in Moorea. Visiting LDS chapels, despite the fact that we can never understand the services.
Moorea is the tourism capital of Tahiti. Each morning, we were awoken by jet skis and tour boats full of anxious tourists, zipping back and forth between attractions to tiki-style beach hotels standing on stilts over the clear blue water. We followed the tour boats to popular spots and swam with the rays and sharks. We explored the lagoons of Moorea in our Dinghy and hiked through several abandoned hotel resorts. For island paradise, both Tahiti and Moorea are lacking in beaches. Moorea has a reputation for being hostile to cruisers, but we didn’t find this true. People were friendly, and the anchorages all around the island seemed to welcome boats from all over.
An overnight sail from Moora, maybe one hundred miles or so, lays the island of Huahine, technically its two islands, Nui and Iti. We anchored on the island's northwest side near the city of Fare. Fare is home to the greatest grocery store in all of French Polynesia. In fact, if I had to, I wouldn’t mind skipping Tahiti and Moorea completely. The provisions at Fare would be sufficient, and Huahine's little is quite beautiful. At Fare, we meet up with a kid boat Kolohe. We rented bikes and rode with them around the island's north side. We stopped and visited local shops, saw the sacred blind eels, and visited a restored Moorea and Archeology Museum. Katie and had a few peaceful date nights at the yacht club restaurant in Fare. We also sailed down to the southern anchorage inside the lagoon of Avea. Avea is beautiful. It has a fantastic sandy beach and beautiful clear water. From there, we hiked to the huge stone Moorea on the sound side of the island built by the ancient Tahitians.
Off in the distance from Huahine, you can make out the silhouette of the island of Raiatea. We had an appointment to haul out Tusitala for new bottom paint and repair the though whole that broke off in Cabo San Lucas.
Raiatea is the charter capital of French Polynesia, home to at least two large charter fleets and two boat yards. Raiatea is the place to go to get boat repairs in French Polynesia.
We had a few days on Raiatea before we had to haul out our boat. We first anchored at Faaroa Bay. This is a quite well-protected bay inside of the lagoon. The water is silt brown, fed by a freshwater river. We took our dinghy and explored the winding river that dumped in the bay. The tropical river is canopied by thick overgrown foliage, tropical fruits, and flowers. At the end of one fork of the river is a well-maintained dock. We tied up our little boat and stepped up into the Botanical Gardens of Raiatea. Here we hiked the curated tropical gardens of Raiatea.
We left Faaroa Bay to meet up with our friend boat, Aquafox. They had delivered a foil board that we had purchased in Tahiti. The next day we took our boat to the Raiatea Carnage Boat Yard and had her lifted out of the water.
For the next week and a half, we lived on Tusitala as she sat on stilts 6 feet above the ground, putting her deck at least 15 feet above the ground. The boat yard crew worked each day repairing the scratch we got when we hit the reef in Raroia and prepped her for new bottom paint.
While we waited lived on the boat, I rented a little scooter to get about the Island. The kids loved going on nightly scooter rides around the Island. We took turns riding it about, probably filing the tank 3 times, getting as much out of it as we could. Each day at 6am, I would ride the little scooter to the little store by the main marina and pick up a load of baguettes, then I would scooter back to the boat yard and show in heaps of cold water.
The boat yard facility is quite sad. One toilet and single cold water shower services all employees and folks visiting for repairs. 3 or 4 other couples were staying on their boats while getting them fixed up, and we became friends with them all. One couple had come to get a new keel put on their boat after their folding keel fell off near Tahiti. Another couple lived in French Polynesia on a small Hunter Mono Hull and were doing all of the prep and paint work themselves. Other boats looked like they had been in the yard for years; some had clearly been abandoned by their owners, the cost of repairing them too much to justify. Every inch of the boat yard was covered with broken boats, boats being repaired, boat parts, or other junk. The ground was a combination of mud, fiberglass dust, and paint. We made the best of it and had quite a good time.
In the evenings, Katie and I would ride into town on the scooter and shop for groceries, explore the town and occasionally go out to eat at the local Chinese restaurant, the only kind of restaurant on Raiatea. We hiked the Tres Cascades, about a 5-mile hike through the tropical jungle to three fantastic waterfalls, each larger than the previous. While in the boat yard, we replaced bilge switches, changed the oil in the Diesel and serviced the autopilot, and changed the steering cables in preparation for the crossing to Samoa. Ironically a boat we know quite well-had steering cables break a few days ago as they sailed a few hundred miles south of us to Fiji. As I type, we are still two hundred miles from Samoa, so touch wood, I hope our preparation pays off.