Blue is the Colour of My World!
Cerulean, lapis, azure, turquoise, sapphire, cobalt, aquamarine blues in infinite shades of depth and transparency illuminate our days on the reefs and in the gorgeous lagoons throughout the Society Islands.
The surround sound from any anchorage is the roar of the reef but closer to shore there is an incessant crowing of cockerels, barking of dogs and somebody's happy stereo. Locals fill their days with gardening, raking, strimming and lighting bonfires. Of course, many residents have paid jobs in cafes,hotels, or shops as well as at boat services, diving, engineering and tourist services but many folk still live off the natural harvest available on the land and in the sea.
It is a month since I published my last blog from Maupiti, mainly due to limited and poor internet connectivity. Our week in Maupiti finished dry and warm after three days of torrential rain that was caused by a large weather system affecting all the Society Islands.
Maupiti is a tiny treasure of an island (12sq km, pop. 1300) and most westerly of the Society Islands that we visited. It is very small and took us less than 2 hours to cycle around the island, taking it slowly! We would have cycled back the other way if the one and only cafe had been open to stop for a drink or bite to eat at, but it was Saturday, so it was closed!
We were lucky enough to be on Maupiti during a festival of music and dance. This is usually an inter-island event with competitions and celebrations but because of Covid many events have been cancelled or remained local. It was a very local event, not put on for tourists, of which there were about 6, so we were privileged to be welcomed to watch the equivalent of the village show (apologies for the poor quality of my photos).
The dances were a joy to watch, some were sinuous and dreamy, some were energetic with fast hip movements that made me wonder if twerking originated here! The costumes were exotic creations, artistically woven from palm fronds and the band also wore amazingly complicated headdresses teamed with purple sarongs. The music itself was fabulous, drums, pipes voice and percussion created an amazing sound.
It was here I first noticed the family graves in the front gardens.
The land is everything in FP, money is not worth much when you have everything you want. Breadfruit, bananas, mangos, papayas, coconuts, yam, and many more fruits all grow easily here. Fishing is free and chickens are feral! The land is where you are, where you live and exist, so it is equated with family and heritage, and therefore is not a commodity. There is no land tax or council tax, taxation is on purchases and can be up to 40% of the value of the product. Once a house becomes empty, and there are no family residing there anymore it seems that is left to ruin and returns to the jungle. Another feature I love about the houses here are the bread boxes outside houses, these are long boxes similar to letter boxes into which baguettes are delivered daily!
We left Maupiti early one morning to
return to Bora Bora, choosing to motor eastward because sailing would have been difficult as our course was directly upwind. The sea wasn't too bumpy and the heavenly scent of flowers blowing in the warm winds from the island guided us as much as the soaring green peaks rising before us.
Bora Bora is so photogenic, and visible from other islands so ideal for sunset snaps from our anchorage at Tahaa to the east, what a view!
We celebrated getting together with friends in BB by consuming happy hour cocktails at a restaurant called Bloody Mary's! (South Pacific musical reference!) The Bloody Marys at Bloody Mary's were Bloody Marvellous, and the second cocktail was free so we were definitely Happy, but two were enough otherwise you end up feeling like this!
The next day we hired a car to drive around the island. As with most of these volcanic islands there is essentially only one road that circumnavigates the flatter terrain around the shore. Bora Bora is not much bigger (circ. 32km) than Maupiti so we drove around it one way, stopped for lunch and then went back the other way!
During WW2 the island served as an American base after the destruction of Pearl Harbour, (the story of that musical again!) and we visited a couple of large canons that had been abandoned here when the troops left after the war, they were never fired!
Five thousand US troops arrived in BB in 1942, apparently, the population of locals had never been more than 2000 (now 10000) and the Tahitians (all residents of the Society Islands are referred to as Tahitians)
greeted and welcomed the military ships in their outrig canoes. The local society had remained fairly simple, so the US army landed 20000 tons of materials in order to install water, electricity and to build the road, airport and troop accommodation. The largest project undertaken was to construct massive fuel tanks for their navy to use. It was an interesting history lesson that resounded even further when I returned to Celtic Star that evening and realised it was the 75 th anniversary of the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 6/08/1945. The traditional canoes with outriggers are still everywhere in FP and a single person can keep up with us at 6 knots! We saw this team double hull being launched at the fuel dock in Bora Bora.
Having been in BB for a week at the end of July we headed east again after a few days and enjoyed an exhilarating sail to Tahaa. BB is even more expensive than the rest of FP. Mooring balls are $30 / night, (usually free) but anchoring isn't allowed because the increased number of yachts causes an impact on the coral, plus sewerage and rubbish disposal need to be managed, which is fair enough!
Back in Taha'a, we explored one of the deeper bays in our dingy and then had a quiet night in. The next night we were joined by a boat called Barracuda of Islay (a Howard's Way reference), they had spent lockdown in the Galápagos. Not as interesting as it sounds, they had to make their own masks out of old sheets as there were none available to buy but it was mandatory to wear them in the shops. Of course, none of the tours or diving or other adventures we went on were available. That evening they joined us for dinner at the French restaurant called Maitai, in Bay Haamene. The speciality was fish in Vanilla sauce and the chef was a whisky fan, so he had a menu of hundreds to choose from, Bourbon through to Japanese. Richard chose a 10-year-old Springbank from Cambelltown on the Mull of Kintyre. It smelt of heather, peat and mist and reminded me of home!
The following day Richard and I hired e bikes to cycle around Tahaa. Monday was to be a healthy alcohol-free day with a 40 km cycle ride planned. That plan was scuppered before 10 am because when we arrived at the bike hire shop, which coincidentally is a Rhumerie, a group of tourists were finishing the tour and starting the tasting. The patron asked us to wait until she had finished with the group and then included us in the tasting! Well, it would have been rude not to! Tahitian wine plus a shot of both their dark and white rum, set us up for the cycle ride!
Thank goodness they were e - bikes as there were only a couple of places to stop for coffee or a cold drink!
On the way back we visited the local fishmonger! I had noticed that the sea in a small bay was coloured red so we stopped to investigate.
"The boat had come in " after a successful days fishing and we bought a fillet of this large Thon Rouge (Red Tuna)!
Naturally, we purchased a bottle of Tahitian wine and rum, at the distillery when we returned the bikes. Well, it would have been rude not to! This accompanied our delicious dinner and was deemed essential medical care for saddle soreness! After all we had been quite Faaaha! (Ha ha ha ha! see the signpost in front of the church and remember to pronounce each letter!)
Tahaa is also known as the Vanilla Island because it was a major producer in the 1970's, but a significant reduction in production was brought about by the formulation of synthetic vanilla flavour. However, there are quite a few plantations still in production so we went on a guided tour to find out how this exotic orchid is cultivated and processed.
Vanilla originates from Central America and because there are no local insect pollinators this task needs to be done by hand. The flowers open early in the morning and in order for the pod to develop it must be pollinated before the flower drops in the afternoon.
Each flower results in one pod or bean and that takes 9 months to ripen on the plant, before it turns brown, signalling the start of the natural fermentation which produces the vanilla flavour. The pods are then picked and slowly sun dried for 4 months to allow the flavour and smell to fully develop.
The whole island smelt of a combination of vanilla, coconut oil which comes from the copra drying
and tropical flowers, especially Ylang Ylang which is abundant here. Roads are lined with hibiscus hedges, plumbago and other colourful flowers.
The next day we moved the boat 8 miles south to the island of Raiatea which is inside the same lagoon as Tahaa because they both originated from the same volcano millions of years ago! We visited the chandlery and yacht services to discuss lift out and winter storage and to order a new windlass gypsy (More about that later, I'll leave you guessing for now! ) followed by a quiet night in watching a movie so at last my liver had a day off! But not for long! We were leaving the anchorage and motored past an anchored catamaran called Painkiller 2 who we had sailed and shared beach barbecues with in Rangiroa two months ago. A slow swerve and a loud ahoy, followed by a shouted conversation before we re-anchored and joined them for sundowners and snacks! The Soggy Dollar Bar in the British Virgin Islands serves a cocktail called "Painkiller". Apparently, Painkiller 1, Ken's previous boat, overdosed, so now he has Painkiller 2!
slowly over the next week, staying within the cerulean blue lagoon and admiring the contrasting steep green mountain ridges that flanked the bays. We anchored in these bays and went ashore to visit a couple of tourist spots. Firstly, we took our dingy up the River Faaroa, feeling like intrepid explorers as we followed the winding watercourse, dodging under the encroaching jungle on our way to tie up at the newly established Botanical gardens.
The gardens had been laid out on an alluvial plain between the ancient volcanoes. In the past this area had been a major area of food production a Raiatea itself was the centre of a network of politically linked islands, seen as a great octopus. The main town is still the administrative centre of the Leeward Islands (Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Maupiti)
In the next bay we visited an extensive ancient cultural and political complex called Taputapuatea, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, here many Marae have been restored and there were interpretation boards, sadly the museum was closed. These buildings and temples had been the centre of a religious and political chiefdom called Opua, which reigned throughout the 17th/18th centuries through Eastern Polynesia. It was 6000 years ago, fleeing persecution, that the first Polynesian people set off from Taiwan and headed south east in their canoes.
Over the following millennia, they navigated onwards from island to island exploring and settling and returning until they arrived in the Society Islands about 2000 years ago. Our visit finished with a pleasant walk up the sacred Tea-e-tapu mountain where I took photographs over the site to the sacred Ava Mo'a pass from where these master Mariners and navigators arrived and departed. Then we had a nice lunch at a small hotel on the beach!
Sometimes I forget how far we are from home and how remote these islands are but am reminded when I visit a small supermarket to buy a telephone data card and find out the ship hasn't delivered any! We are fortunate to live in an age that allows us to connect with home via the Internet. However, our signal is often limited especially when the boat swings on the anchor and disconnects us when chatting to our family. We usually have to re call about 5x in a 30-minute conversation! So, we only speak once a week or fortnight and rely on messenger services. Internet cafes are rare and the occasional hotel will allow wi-fi access with lunch, but not always! We are sometimes to found perched on a brick or wall outside the local town hall which has open wi fi in the week. If it is lunch time and the office isn't busy you might get a good connection! Fingers crossed for my blog post!
About this time, fed up with the never-ending circles our plans seem to take, we made a written list of options plus their pros and cons. This topic remains a constant conversation with the other boats we meet, though most people have now made and acted on decisions by returning to the UK, US or Europe leaving their boats under " guardianage ". Some friends have sailed onwards 1200 miles to Fiji as nowhere else is open to transiting yachts. Others are still waiting to see whether their applications for entry to NZ have been accepted before heading West. Australia refused entry to 3 boats heading home from Fiji to Europe. Consequently, they are sailing 3200 miles directly to Indonesia. We even know of an Australian boat that made it home recently via Fiji. He had negative Covid tests and quarantine in Fiji followed by 2 weeks at sea before arriving in Sydney, where he was escorted ashore for 2 weeks quarantine in a hotel with guards! Something he will have to pay for, he can't even quarantine on his boat.
Finally, on 24th August we acted on a plan and made a bank deposit to Apataki boat yard, in the Tuomotu Atolls. The current plan is to lift out and store Celtic Star on shore for 3 months at the end of the year. Apataki is east of the Cyclone belt so this is acceptable with our insurance company and we feel it is safer than in the water at Papeete, especially if there is a problem or delay in returning to FP. We have decided to take a break and fly home October and return to French Polynesia in January, refreshed and hopefully ready to complete our circumnavigation next year. Of course, we won't be Europeans then so extra time and money will be invested in visas that we currently don't require. We hope the world will have opened up again in 2021 but Covid figures are soaring in FP and restrictions are being re -introduced with public spaces closed, a limit on gatherings of 10 people and we are concerned that inter island travel might also be restricted. At the moment we are hanging out in the delightful island of Huahine, which is said to represent a supine pregnant woman.
We have cycled, visited more Marae, fish traps in the lagoon, visited a shell museum and and absolutely lethal cone shells
dived and socialised and are now in the process of planning our trip back to the Tuomotu Atolls where we will rest and resume sailing next year.
That reminds me, the windlass gypsy is an engineered bronze disc that is a critical part of the windlass. The anchor chain fits into moulded cups that rotate lift the chain and anchor out of the water. It is an essential part of the kit when you have 50-60 metres of chain out.