The Adventure Begins Again!
We are sailing again! You can see where we are via our YB tracker, which is still live, though not through the World Cruising Club website because the World ARC Rally has been postponed until next year! This seemed disastrous at first, but it turned out that confinement in Tahiti was not as restrictive as elsewhere for one reason and another! If we had been in the UK we wouldn't have been able to deliver any courses or cruises this season and our personal restrictions would have been greater-especially for Richard who is in the high-risk group!
There are now NO active cases of Covid 19 in French Polynesia and over the last few weeks the restrictions on travel have been lifted gradually, until on 21st May inter island travel throughout the whole of French Polynesia was allowed. Some Rally crews had already gone home and will re join their boats this time next year, some are waiting for parts and repairs in Papeete, and some of us are off sailing again. Although we have different plans we will stay in touch and hope to meet up along the way. We have a new Rally name now- SOLA-Sailors Of the Lost Arc!
Richard, myself and the fleet had some plans and decisions to make about what to do and where to go. Factors we considered were; getting to a safe place or out of the cyclone area before the cyclone season starts in November; areas and activities that are covered by our boat insurance; whether to stay or whether to go and return next year. If we chose to repatriate, which safe port should we leave Celtic Star in? Lastly, but not least the financial implications of any decision we made. The impact of the Pandemic has also affected our potential income from our future cruises which have had to be postponed until next year. Plus our fully booked Airbnb in Deganwy is now fully empty!
Weeks in confinement had turned into months and our discussions and meetings about the future of the rally dwindled as pseudo Stockholm syndrome set in, a feeling of comfort in familiar surroundings and difficulty in breaking free again! Our band of boats had formed a strong community with our own routines and shared social events to keep us occupied in the safety of Papeete Marina.
Together we watched the town of Papeete come back to life as gradually more shops, bars and restaurants opened, allowing us to discover the fascinating blend of French and Tahitian cultures that exist on the island. Plus a successful Chinese population!
When movement around the island of Tahiti was allowed, we were able to explore outside the town on a couple of tours arranged by a brilliant company called Unique Tahiti. Tracey, from Brighton, married a Tahitian she met in a bar in Barcelona where she was working! After having their family and living in France they moved back to Tahiti 17 years ago. Apart from having a wicked sense of humour Tracey was able to explain the culture and scenery in depth, but with the understanding of an outsider.
It rains a lot on Tahiti and Moorea because the high islands create their own weather systems of clouds and rain. The steep hillsides and mountains are verdant and because there is no frost, they are unbroken and pointed and fascinatingly green to the very top. Rain, lush green landscapes and rivers made us think of landscapes in the UK, especially when we saw cows in green fields! However, the remarkable skyline and the palm fringed coves soon reminded how far away from home Tahiti is.
We arranged to go canyoning up in the hills on the east side of Tahiti. Tracey delivered us to the meeting point where we transferred to a 4-wheel drive Land Rover for a hair-raising drive up the mountain side.
Halfway up we stopped and changed into wet suits and helmets before ascending the muddy track to the entrance of the first of three lava tunnels. Here we stepped into the river and started to clamber up the rock strewn water course. Sometimes we used knotted ropes to pull ourselves up steep edges or steady ourselves along narrow ledges as we worked our way through the amazing caverns and holes! As we progressed through the caves, we saw wondrous luminous algae that shone like fool’s gold in the beam of our head torches.
We saw underground waterfalls and swam in black pools deep inside the mountain before emerging into the green edged pools where we splashed in the daylight. Large freshwater eels live in the outside pools, they are harmless, once you have got over the surprise of swimming past them! However, our guide, Herve, told us a story about the eels in the pool by his house eating one of his young puppies when they came to drink!!
After canyoning, Herve, took us to his beach side residence, a shack by the sea! We were welcomed by his daughter and grandchildren and enjoyed their home grown produce for lunch. Herve himself is a master voyager and told us about his extraordinary journey all the way to Shanghai in a 15-metre mono hull canoe with outrigger and sail! A feat of skill and bravery (and quite a lot of beer drinking)!
We learnt that family groups live together on their land, the sense of place forms their identity and heritage so the land cannot be sold. The land provides fruit and some vegetables, and everyone fishes as well. The towns are different of course, but the traditional island culture is strong, and the local languages are now being taught in schools alongside French. Moana means Ocean, the usual greeting is Ia orana (yaarana) which means long life and Ma ruru is thank you!
The next restrictions to lift allowed us to travel to the island of Moorea, nine miles away, by ferry, but not on our own boat. We were overly excited to get off Tahiti for the first time in 7 weeks and caught the 08:10 ferry for the 30-minute crossing over. As we disembarked from the ferry a delightful smell of Pineapples filled the air because Moorea grows fields of them! Obviously, we could not leave without buying some and they were cheaper if you got four!
On Moorea, as on Tahiti, the main road circumnavigates the island, so we hired a scooter to explore.
Halfway around the island we stopped at a beach bar and hired a kayak so that we could paddle out to an area of sand and coral where Sting Rays and Black Tip sharks swim around your feet! There were a lot of other wonderful fish too, but this was quite a novelty!
After a delicious lunch in the beach bar we headed up the steep hairpin bends to a viewpoint, Belvedere, looking over the two bays at the top of the island. The volcanic plugs here are an incredible shape, the backdrop was used as Bali Hai in the 1958 musical South Pacific! We visited a few archaeological sites as well.
Restrictions were eased yet again the following week and at last we were able to cast off and go sailing, but only around Tahiti or to Moorea. We sailed across to Moorea and navigated the “passe” through the coral reef which has surf breaking across it into the blue lagoon behind. Most anchorages in the S Pacific are similar to this! We were the only yacht in this anchorage and spent a couple of days here swimming, snorkelling and chilling. We had finally been shown how to manage a coconut and realised that we could scoop the brown ones that float by out of the ocean as they are perfect for eating, not past their best as we had previously thought! Combined with local mangoes and pineapple it made a fabulous tropical breakfast in our first anchorage after lockdown!
The view back towards Tahiti that evening was so pretty as the lights twinkled like a diamond necklace around the base of the mountains.
Our eagerness to go for a sail as soon as possible meant we had to return to Tahiti for one night to attend a Beach BBQ with traditional music and dancing! This was something I very much wanted to see especially since our official welcome to French Polynesia had disappointingly been cancelled when the Rally was directed past the Marquesas directly to Tahiti. We spent one last night in Papeete Marina which also allowed us to re provision with food and essentials like beer and wine! An expensive business because there is no income tax in French Polynesia, most tax is collected on retail products!
At 1700 we boarded minibuses to the delightful beach bar venue with views looking over towards Moorea! Here we enjoyed cocktails and delicious salads with our BBQ before we were entertained by the local dancers and musicians.
The band leader explained the meaning of the of the dances and after the performance we were invited to join in with the hip shaking, high energy dances. It was such a fun and fantastic evening organised again by our friend Tracey!
The next day we went sailing on our first proper cruise in French Polynesia! The plan was to head South East to explore the coast of Tahiti. However, when we got beyond the reef and out of the lagoon the wind increased and followed us around until it was on the nose (upwind)! So, we went on to plan B! and bore away to a enjoy a romping broad reach (downwind) flying along at 9 knots under blue skies, across the turquoise waters back to- guess where- Moorea!! This time we sailed around to the north side and anchored in Opunohu Bay. Bali Hai was calling!
Other boats were anchored in the lagoon and we joined them for sun downers on the beach to celebrate the freedom to cruise to any islands in French Polynesia! Our onward adventure has re-started and if the other island nations open their borders, we hope to head towards Australia or New Zealand for the cyclone season! That is the plan for now, but the plan is always subject to change! Today, we are happy to be able to cruise in French Polynesia.