Oh my. Kids. Lots of them. Hysteria, mania and joy!
We arrived at Raiatea having had a easy sail across the 15miles from Huahine. We were joined at the entrance pass by two canoeists who wanted to slipstream us to ease their passage and do some training. Both were superbly fit but the older man by far the more efficient and skilled paddler. His paddle stroke was effortless and other than his metronomic arm movement, he was motionless. They kept up with us for about 3 miles whilst we were doing 6kts. Very impressive. The younger guy asked us if we would speed up and he lasted another half a mile at 7kts, sweating bullets but finishing with a shout, a big grin and a wave. We clapped and cheered him to his great pleasure as he turned away into a village dock.
We motored around to the NW corner of the island to the Raiatea Carenage. This has a few mooring balls of it which neither the yard or Carenage seem particularly interested in managing and picked up just off the entrance to the yard. Be and Be and Sangvind were both there waiting for us and the first dinghy with Dylan and Jayden from Sangvind arrived before we even finished tying up. Eleanor was immediately in difficulty. The mooring was a short one and we had failed to lift it high enough to get a line through, resulting in her jumping in in just a pair of pale pants and a t-shirt to do so, whilst rescuing the boat hook at the same time. Two boys arriving in a dinghy was almost too much for her but she managed to save her dignity by hightailing it through the hulls to get decent. The boys couldn’t see the problem with her just jumping in to the dinghy!
Be and Be are an Aus boat with a family of six (Peta and Geoff with Shelby, Evie, Harry and Jake – 13, 11, 9 and 8 respectively). They are taking a year out to sail their newly bought boat back from Tahiti to the Gold Coast. Sangvind (Sylvia and Frans with Dylan, 12 and Jayden, 9) have been travelling for a while. Although they stopped in the UK for a couple of years, they have been sailing a long time with Frans and Sylvia already having spent nine years in the W Pacific, buying their first boat in NZ and travelling for 18 years in total. The current trip is partly financed by Frans’s part in the film “In the Heart of the Sea” in which he had a major part and his own death scene. His kids are particularly proud of this fact!
We had two great days there. The eight kids ran feral across all three boats and moved between them by swimming and canoeing as the feeling took them. Meals were made after counting the heads you had on the boat at that moment in time. It was great fun.
Frans organised some wakeboarding and we used the ring from Mary Ann II properly for the first time.
There were a variety of sleepovers including the big kids sleeping on our trampoline – at least until 0430hrs when the rain came – and the move on the third day with the parent’s decision that everyone should have a quiet night on their own boat was greeted with a surprising enthusiasm by the exhausted kids coming down from hyperland!
I managed to get the Carenage to find me an electrician who understood aircon. Our aircon had gone west on us in the Marquesas last year and with our need to run the aircon to load the generator to a point of reasonable efficiency, I wanted it fixed. This is important as at the moment with little wind and not much sun, I am having to run the generator a lot more than I normally do and it can be damaged by under loading it, with a carbonisation of the exhaust system being the biggest issue. At 6kW, our genset needs a lot of loading. It really is too big for us.
I had thought that the aircon water pump had failed. It turned out that a corroded control panel was the issue and the system was simply not getting correct commands so was starting without the pump switching on. The second aircon unit (yes – thanks to the last owner who liked his home comforts, I have two) which supplies the the rest of the boat, has a wiring problem. All the parts work but we need to run new cabling to the pump. Two hours work and we had the saloon system working and the cabin system diagnosed. The joy of a cold saloon! Our thanks to Joseph who did the work.
With some variable weather coming in from the NW, we decided to move the 6 miles up to the second island sharing the reef with Raiatea, the island of Tahaa. It is a lot smaller than Raiatea, the anchorages are generally very deep, 30m+, and it has one of the few acknowledged hurricane holes in FP at the top end of Haamene Bay. We took a mooring in 45m off the Hibiscus Restaurant, halfway up on the N side of the bay. Conveniently close to a shop, surrounded by mountains of greenery, it is a magnificent spot. On our evening there with all eight of the kids on Be and Be watching a film, the grown ups had a beer at the Hibiscus, just getting back to the boats before a torrential downpour.
Easter weekend didn’t start well. The shop didn’t keep our ordered bread so Hannah and I whizzed up the two miles to the village at the top of the bay in the hope of getting some at the supermarket there. We got lucky in both bread and entertainment. We came off the dock, walking past the sports hall and had to stop to listen to magnificent Polynesian voices singing lustily, harmonising without instrument accompaniment. It was their Good Friday service and it was glorious noise. We decided it would be good for the kids to see an Easter Service so we planned to dress up and go back in on Sunday.
We snorkelled Pass Toahota, the pass on the E side of Tahaa. The N side of the pass wasn’t up to much. Some old fish traps and a steep wall to the too deep floor meant we quickly decided to move. Be and Be’s dinghy became the workhorse!
The S side proved to be much better and we had a pleasant hour slowly meandering out over reasonable coral and good if small fish in water up to 8m. Frans looked enviously at some local kids surfing at the edge of the pass in the 2m swell. We found a good clump of anemone with a family of Clown fish in it which required us to dive down to it for a good look.
Back by the yachts, Eleanor did well at wakeboarding getting up without problem first on a surf board and then on a proper wakeboard.
Eleanor had fun taking photos of some of the other kids. These ones, I think, came out the best.
Easter Sunday came and there was a sigh of relief from certain grown ups that the service was to be held at 1000hrs rather than the more normal 0800hrs. We dinghied up to Haamene village, all tarted up, to be welcomed with open arms by an elder and, we found out later, the young minister and put in the front row. We had been hoping to hide at the back! The local kids sang beautifully and then all headed out for a egg hunt.
The service was great, good humoured and with lots of laughter, with a mix of small groups of locals singing accompanied with ukuleles and then the whole congregation, with some of the men acting as bass boom boxes (best way I can describe it), coming together to deafen us with fantastic harmonies. I took some voice recordings although sadly the Ipod doesn’t do the bass justice at all. I’ve been failing to work out a way to imbed them to the blog. Can anyone help?
We motor sailed in no wind around the N end of Tahaa to what is known as the Coral Garden, the channel between two motu on the westernmost point of the reef opposite Tapuamau Bay. The anchorage at 16 36.737S 151 227.337W in 5m of water provides a glorious view of Bora Bora at sunset.
The anchorage is not a reliable one and certainly I wouldn’t want to be at it in any kind of wind. It is a lightly sanded bottom over old coral, covered in bombies, providing poor holding. In the moderate 10kts we had it was fine; with more it would be a very nervous affair. We had one last sleep over with the smalls deciding to sleep on the trampoline. According to them they hardly got “any sleep” but having checked them every couple of hours all I heard were little snores!
The bigger kids stayed on Sangvind. They appeared just after sunrise, asking for the kayak to go for an explore around the motu. The smalls, up a little later, played around the boat and Jayden proved you can row a rubber ring.
The Coral Garden is a major tourist attraction and by the time we hit it at 0930hrs, there were several fast boats already there with their loads from the mainland hotels. We were surprised at how quick the initial current was, maybe 4-5kts but it slowed as you progressed through the reef. It was good to see the number of fish we did, all small and some colours on the coral. Much of what we have seen in the Societies has been bleached and the Garden seems to have been less effected. We enjoyed it so much we went through twice.
We picked up after untangling ourselves from a coral head and drove back S to meet up with our friends of Quatra, last seen in the Galapagos last year. We started to move just in time as the wave bringing the strong SE wind we were expecting turned up. We had 35+kts apparent on our bow for most of the 8miles we had to run, making it unpleasantly choppy, wet and a slow trip back to Raiatea. We took an extra hour to get in and Quatra had been and gone. We made up for it by coming across Kathi and Wolfgang on Plastik Plankton, our friends who had helped us through the Panama Canal, parked 100m outside us and then having an excellent evening with Sangvind.
We met up with Audrey and Adrien the next morning and Lou disappeared off to do a huge shop with the luxury of a car to bring the shopping back in. Adrien and I chewed the fat over coffee on Skylark. They have settled in to life back on land but not without some heartache. The kids are loving school and are doing very well, Arsene having been moved up a class to bring him in line with the level he achieved on the boat. The adults have found the transition after four years on a boat more stressful. Of course, having professions which can be done anywhere (Adrien is a software engineer, building websites amongst other things, Audrey manages their property back in France) has meant that they simply require decent internet for work but Adrien is very keen to move away from IT and start a business on the island where he wouldn’t have to work to other people’s unreasonable and stressful deadlines again. It is obvious that for both of them not having a boat has been emotional.
Raiatea has good schools, all the amenities you need for a simple lifestyle and is less busy and a lot more friendly than Tahiti. There are fewer problems here with the “racism” that exists between Polynesians and French émigrés on the big island, something we recognised back in the Marquesas as well. They are building a house near the main town, up on a hillside with a great view E towards Huahine and plan to stay on the island for at least five years, at least until Arsene leaves school. Life is busy and good. We had a couple of great days with them as Audrey directed that the kids would do well to go in to school for a day so the girls were kidnapped for a sleepover before that.
I got to use their “proper” internet and catch up with the blog, with posts from as far back as the top of the N island in New Zealand. In my defence, they were all ready to go but the internet we have had has not been good enough to post up the large number of photos I always embed. We had two great evenings with them, dinner being superb both times. We will definitely be staying in touch. They are a great family and it would be very good to see them again down the road. Both boys are extremely musical and I want to hear just how good a pianist Arsene becomes (zero to Chopin and The Entertainer in less than a year) and I’d watch out for Axel’s name in a band coming to you soon.
Of course, living on a boat never comes easy. In the last couple of days we had two major malfunctions. The first was a starter battery for the generator that died on us. We came back in an evening to find the house bank low, went to start the genset and clunk. A very depressing sound. On investigation the genset battery was a whole 10.2V. We tried to recover it but had no luck. It is more than seven years old so I suppose it was due for replacement but the timing? Infuriating. $230 later we had a new one (which would have cost $90 max in the USA but hey) and I am hoping that the issue is fixed. However, I have this sneaking feeling that all is not well with the port engine alternator too…….
The other problem was the Delorme tracking device we had, decided that the day before we planned to leave was just a perfect time to go tits up on us. Unrepairable and no replacement for 3000miles, it may be a while before we get a replacement. Sorry, Dad and Joyce, but you may need to be nervous and wait for our emails to show we have arrived anywhere for a while at least.
My thanks to Audrey and Adrien for driving us around the last morning to get, battery, petrol and for taking us to the Med Centre in town. It turns out that Elephantitis, carried and passed on by a worm, is still endemic within French Polynesia. Although the once a year pills to kill the worms have been free for years and all the kids get dosed automatically, it turns out that they are also wonderful at giving fighting cocks, still a popular sport here, a supercharge. This meant that some locals stashed theirs for the alternate use. These days they are handed out and you are supposed to take them in front of the nurse. We were handed ours and told to take them before bedtime as they make you sleepy. Obviously she didn’t think we were in to cock fighting…..
On our last morning, the kids went into school with Arsene and were taught English! Eleanor told us that the kids listened to the teacher talk in English but few would speak it.
With the wind in our favour and lighter than it had been in days, we picked up and headed for the pass.
We said our goodbyes to Sangvind, who are heading for Tonga. We have had a great time with them and I know that the kids will miss their partners in crime, Eleanor especially. However, we should be meeting up with them there so that is only about a month to six weeks away. Plastik Plankton are heading off too and are going in the direction of the Cook Islands but may go straight through to Tonga if the weather looks good. It is difficult this early in the season to guarantee decent trades and safe stops in the Cooks and Nuie and they are keen to get W without incident or hold up. Again, they will be in Fiji whilst we are there and we should catch up with them there.
We left Raiatea by Pass de Rautoanui and jumped the 25 miles across to Bora Bora to meet back up with Be and Be.