Journal 15-Society Islands Tahiti and Morea


LAT  17deg 34min       LONG 149deg 37 min

We didn’t really want to sail to Tahiti.  We had planned to anchor in Moorea and ferry the 12
miles across, complete our business then enjoy the quiet beauty of Moorea.   Thus, we sought
anchorage on Moorea’s eastern side in the 3-pronged entry called Vaiare where the ferries
dock.  We’d dropped the hook in the spot designated by our Cruising Guide (books that all
cruisers use in addition to navigational charts), settled in when merely 30 minutes later the
shadow of a giant car ferry loomed over us, made his displeasure at our presence known by
the blast of a very loud horn and frightened us our of our lair – discretion being the better part
of valour, we immediately weighed anchor to seek a more peaceful spot for the night.    
Thereafter ensued several futile attempts to find the deep water passage that our charts
indicated, through to an anchorage on the northern finger of the pass: we could see several
cruising yachts anchored no more than 1 kilometer away but despite three attempts to get to
their location, failed miserably and skulked, frustrated, away to the south, not before bumping
the old girl’s bottom along some lumpy coral as we meandered through the shallows in search
of the deep!   We will forever want to return to that place and find the elusive deep water
channel 1. We eventually dropped the hook at sunset in 90 feet of water between the fringing
reef and the hills of Moorea and settled in to a wonderfully quiet evening looking at the lights
of Tahiti.

The Society Islands are part of French Polynesia (along with the Marquesas, Tuamotos,
Gambiers and Australs) and are probably the best known of the South Pacific island groups –
magical names like Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahiti are amongst the dozen or so in the group and
they are, like their cousin islands, stunningly beautiful.  All of the islands are high, volcanically
formed and fringed by coral reefs.  They are worn remnants of once tall volcanoes that now
display jagged towers and various other shapes.  They are geogphysically a combination of
the Marquesas and the Tuamotos: having a ring of coral reef and then a grand set of jungle-
coated mountains plopped in the middle!  The space between the surrounding reef and the
mountain makes a blue peripheral lagoon where boats can passage and anchor, though not
without some care.   We had been fretting about the Tuamotos but on approach, both with
radar and visually, they were quite easy to see and deep water was available right up to the
motu.  In contrast, the barrier reefs surrounding the Societies are submerged and while entry
passes are marked, and the surf break upon the reef is usually visible, the approach is a little
“hairy”!   When we did in fact enter the Tahiti lagoon we chose a pass that was advised for
“locals only”.  Our cruising pals on s/v Splashes had attempted it the previous day and radio’d
us “it’s ok if you take a deep breath and don’t look back”…. Well, we wish they’d added “and
take a tot of rum afore ye go!”  There was a considerable swell running into the western side
of Tahiti, with very robust lines of surf all around the somewhat narrow pass….here’s a quote
from our cruising guide…”the pass is marked “dangerous” in the Pilot charts, though it is
suitable for auxiliary powered yachts.  The pass is awash between the reefs and it is actually
narrower than quoted because of shoals on each side.  The outgoing current can be strong
and if the swell is high the pass will be white with breakers and transit should not be
attempted.  Such a high swell is evidenced by large breakers and spume.”   Well, in we went,
breakers, spume and all and were flushed into the lagoon with an “oh shxt!”, coming to rest
happily in an anchorage just outside the Tiana Marina.   Tots of rum came early that day!

Thus commenced our planned 2 days in Tahiti, which turned into 8.
As mentioned, our original intent was never to enter Tahiti – Papeete, its’ capital city is big,
busy and brash and such an assault to our senses after the silent pristine lagoons of the
Tuamotos and the gentle Marquesas.  We were quite literally shaken by the clamour of heavy
traffic and the ugliness of it’s rambling concrete development.  What an awful thing to do to a
pretty island.  However, capital cities and ports have a purpose and ours was to do as much
boat business here as possible and “get outta Dodge”.   First, we needed our mainsail
repaired – nothing major, just a few nicks caused by reefing and six thousand miles of
sailing.  Next, mail and internet, and of course refilling our propane (cooking) gas tank which
was running on empty.   We plied the concrete pavements of Tahiti in pursuit of such
business, including the Immigration office to collect our Carte de Sejour – can you believe, we
are now residents of French Polynesia!

The waterfront in Tahiti is busy and interesting and the city council have invested money and
effort into the downtown dock: it’s nicely done with pretty lanterns, lovely new wooden planks,
sturdy boat cleats and convenient to every amenity in the city, including a colourful produce
and craft market.  The docks are empty.  Sadly, there is a negative element along the
waterfront and crime is the after dark sport, with two cruising boats being burgled while they
were there.  Both were aware of the situation and both had crew aboard when it happened.  
We and other cruisers speculated that the placement of a couple of beat cops or visible
security guards would rectify the situation, but the city appears not to want to make that
investment.  One of the megayachts hired personal security guards to ensure their boat wasn’
t breached, and they have 10 crew aboard!  Word gets around lightning-fast in the cruiser
community via the radio nets, and the city docks were immediately put on embargo – it’s a
lose-lose all around.  Papeete city loses the revenue it would doubtless get from cruising boat
expenditure mid city, and cruising yachts lose immediate access to entertainment and on-the-
doorstep shopping.  When we last looked at the cityfront docks, they were completely empty.   
What a shame.  Hopefully the city council will get the picture, fix the problem and do some
positive PR before next cruising season.

But Tahiti was not all bad and in it’s defence, our observations were based on a narrow view
limited by time and goals.  We’re sure it has a lot to offer outside of Papeete.  On the up-side,
we were transfixed by the supermarkets! (we’re real easy to please these days!!!).  Not
having seen any grocery shop bigger than a squash court for months, we were amazed by the
size and sophistication of Carrefour and made several visits there which enhanced the larder
and depleted the bank account.  Two words re Tahiti: BRING MONEY.  Another cool thing
about Carrefour was that it was less than a kilometer from the marina and we were able to
push our shopping trolleys along the streets to the dock, looking all the while like homeless
people, I’m sure.   We traveled the 15 Km to and from Papeete on “Le Truck” – local transport
which are essentially trucks converted to people-carriers: bumpy but interesting and colourful,
they were a real asset as taxi’s are prohibitively expensive.

Dining out centered about the “roach coaches” or roulettes – meals on wheels essentially:
Vans that are mobile kitchens with side flaps for serving access.  Good food at a reasonable
price alongside the waterfront.  And for a treat, at the other end of the scale, a fine dining night
out at Le Belvedere restaurant at the top of the mountain, with magnificent views over
Papeete across the channel to Moorea.  Dave of s/v Sundance joined us and we had a great
night out that featured good wine and seafood fondue.

We had a surprise social encounter with a mega-yacht in Papeete.  We had originally met
this boat in The Marquesas after they had generously dropped several magazines on our
deck.  The yacht is 120 feet of pure luxury worth between 22 and 25 million USD and owned
by a couple who play a high profile role in US politics .   She’s crewed by a great skipper and
10 crew made up of Aussies and American’s.  Henry had first made contact with RJ, the
Captain, at the port office in Nuku Hiva.  Surprisingly, after a couple of other dock encounters
there, he invited us to come aboard and view the yacht.  It is VERY unusual for privately
owned megayachts to invite strangers on board, particularly those of the raggedy cruiser
variety.  However, welcomed we were, and were simply bowled over by the MONEY that was
evident aboard the boat.  She was just amazing – rich but understated elegance in white and
cream, trimmed with silver and gold.  Couches were rich in soft leathers and beautiful fabrics,
artwork abounded (some of it covered up) but we were shown one artifact: Captain Cook’s
drinking cup which has pride of place in the antique shelves.  GT fell in love with another – a
simple bronze statue of a plump Polynesian woman mounted on a pedestal in the entry-way.  
The owner is also a credible artist and some of his paintings were beautifully displayed.  We
were open-mouthed at the sheer luxury of the vessel and loved the bridge deck layout with the
vast windows and unlimited electronic gadgetery.   RJ’s personal suite was next to the bridge
and that in itself was impressive.   The large galley was personally designed by the chef when
the boat was built 7 years ago.  It sports surround-sound, 22” flat screen TV, counter-top to
ceiling all-round windows at the mid deck level (many galleys get short-shrift on boat space
and are oft located at sea level or below).  The chef is a happy man….very important!   The
amenities and luxuries were without end and we were delighted we’d had the priviledge of
being aboard.  When they left 2 days later for Hawaii (the owners & family had flown in) we
thought we’d never see them again.  But, lo and behold, there she was in all her sparkling
white glory at the dock in Papeete!  We saw Barry, the second mate, chatted and he called
RJ who gave us a warm welcome and said “we’re leaving tomorrow but want to catch up with
you, so come aboard for lunch before we go” . A great invitation,  we were hosted to a
wonderful lunch and loaded up with books, magazines and newspapers.  The chef also
wanted us to take a 10 kg pack of frozen meat but we couldn’t.  What a warm and generous
bunch of people who were happy to mix it with the humble cruiser.  

Without intention we seem to be keeping company with “guy boats”, ie, cruising yachts that
have no women aboard.  Earlier, we’d made good friends with Roy and his all male crew on
Drala Magic… Victor, the youngest crew member was chartered with the task of “obtaining
female company” but was failing abysmally, according to the skipper.  Sugarcane’s female
crew “jumped ship” in Tahiti, leaving Jerry & Karl alone.  David of s/v Sundance was waiting
for his wife to return from surgery in the US,  s/v Olive Oyl had always been a guy boat but was
now reduced to AJ & Chris, father and son, with Greg the other chef having to return to work.  
We invited them all over for sundowners and a light buffet – what a hoot! : 5 sex-starved men,
Henry & one GT!   The most fun was cooking up a chick-pea frittata with AJ helping.  Actually,
AJ could never “help” in the galley  – being a professional French chef he’s the driver and we
had a terrific time making a tasty mess that was eagerly devoured.  The funniest part was AJ
“burning” a large red capsicum right on the stove top burner - he had it sitting in the middle of
high flames and we all thought it was going to blow up or incinerate!  It turned out great and
we had a terrific evening wound up by fresh berry pie and port.

One of the highlights of our day was the frequent appearance of the outrigger canoes as they
plied the waters of the lagoon.  Mostly manned by very muscled men, they slipped through the
water with a silent hiss as they passed DreamCatcher at about 10-12 knots.  The big ones
were manned by 6 paddlers and the smaller by 4.  The canoes were around during the day
but their numbers proliferated at sunset when dozens would ply the waters around Tahiti.   
Occasionally we would hear the grunt of the lead paddler instructing the oarsmen to change
sides.   We found out that much of this was leading up the the “Round Moorea” outrigger
canoe race, which, between the ocean swell and the distance, would be quite a feat.

Our business in Tahiti done, topped up with essential fuels, gases, food and wine, we struck
out for the lovely Moorea and anchored in Cook’s Bay 14 miles to the west.  Enroute we were
entertained by a large whale playing with some dolphins.    The Moorea reef pass was easy  
and the anchor settled into 80 feet of water with only two other boats for company.  Oh, and
one large cruise ship, the “Paul Gaugin”.  Moorea is a heart-shaped island but with 2 deep
indents in the top rather than one.  Each indent is a long generous bay, one named for Capt.
Cook who called here in 1774 after the observation of the transit of Venus in Tahiti.  
Civilisation in these islands has been tracked back to 900 AD and was essentially
Polynesian until the European explorers and missionaries impacted the area mid 19C.  
Moorea has a current population of 11,000 as opposed to Tahiti’s 150,000 so the
comparative silence was much appreciated after the cacophony of the latter.   Moorea also
has a the reputation of being the most beautiful island on the planet, we can see why, but are
being spoilt by “beautiful islands” so it’s an increasingly difficult choice for us.  Our minds
keep picturing the mystical beauty of the Marquesas, but grand and green Moorea is, with
changing light and cloud patterns as the day progresses, a truly remarkable skyline.   Our first
evening saw us ashore for dinner at a small pizza restaurant which sported “live
entertainment” Thursday and Sunday – this turned out to be one fellow with a harpsichord and
mouth organ.  A Scot who was an ex-cruiser having lived on Ahe attol in the Tuamotus for six
years!   We chatted between songs and heartily joined in with him for the chorus’s:  it was a
good night.  We befriended some folks there from the shoreside Bali Hai Resort which
overlooked DreamCatcher and promised to catch up with them next day.

We’ve been using the dinghy a lot the past few months and it was at Moorea we took her on
her longest ride: a total of 4 miles around to the other indent, Opanohu Bay, and back.  This
was quite an adventure, from the head of the Bay to it’s opening, bumping our way through the
shallow water of the coral reef until we found the channel.   It turned out to be well marked
once we identified the markers (vertical black/white poles) and we zipped along on the sea-
side of these, but keeping them close as the pass through the reef was only 12 feet wide,
intended only for small local boats.  The entire ride was thoroughly enjoyable, with the reef and
surf roar close on one side and the sparkling lagoon flanked by the steep hills on the other.  
Some people, who would have to be amongst the luckiest in the world, have built shacks and
houses both humble and grand, along the water’s edge for what must be one of the loveliest
locales in the world.  We dinghied slowly past them taking in all the waterfront scenes until the
beauty of Opanohu Bay opened up before us.  It’s skyline is truly breathtaking and at the head
of the bay was one sailboat, Puppeteer.   Coincidentally it started to rain, they waved us over
and we spent an enjoyable hour aboard till the rain cloud passed.  We found it quite amazing
that Moorea was as deserted as we found it : there’s a real benefit to “bringing up the rear of
the fleet”.   We motored gently back, stopping the dinghy here and there to take video and

Enroute, the pretty thatched palapas of the Moorea Sheraton beckoned to us from the beach
– wasn’t it time for a cold beer????
The issue was how to navigate outside the channel through the coral- strewn lagoon to the
hotel’s dock.   Perfect timing, one of the hotel’s boats buzzed past us, we picked up speed
and followed in his wake through an intricate path known only by locals, to tie up safely at the
5-star dock.   We wandered through the grounds, chose the beach bar and enjoyed a beer
and French fries with some of the cruise ship crew.  

Eventually back in Cooks’ Bay, we took the dink up to the deck of one of the over-water
bungalows of the Bali Hai hotel.  This was where the New Zealanders we’d met at last night’s
restaurant were staying.  Surprised to see two windblown faces appear at their deck level
from over the water, they laughed, invited us to clamour up and we had a convivial cup of
coffee together.

We enjoyed another day at anchor in Moorea, continuously enchanted by the dramatic skyline
and changing light, then regretfully it was time to leave and we exited the pass under full sail
with 20 knots of wind, bound for Huahine, 100 miles NW.   One of the best sails we’ve had,
we saw a steady 17-18 knots of wind, with moderate seas, and once again arrived ahead of
our daybreak goal and had to sit out the pre-dawn hours off the reef awaiting a safe shot at
the pass.  Once in, we anchored with a clutch of boats near the town and had a swim in the
bright clear water.

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