“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.John Lennon, et al
Halfway across the mighty Pacific Ocean, after weeks of sailing, diving and dodging squalls, we arrive in Tahiti – the largest island within French Polynesia. But we’re not here for long as our plans have changed. I’ll talk about that a little later on, but in the meantime, we departed Rangiroa to Tahiti…
Timing the exit through the Tiputa Pass at Rangiroa had us leaving one hour after high tide in the morning. The swell had eased so it was a good day to leave with no challenging huge waves to navigate; even still, our little boat pitched and rolled over standing waves and turbulence until we were spat out into the relatively calm conditions. It was an early morning exit and we had 230nm and two days to reach our destination – Tahiti.
For our passage we had easterly wind between 12-18kn – although at times we had to deal with squalls of heavy rain and wind up to 30kn. The last few hours we had to motor as the wind died to less than 6kn.
Typically cruisers head direct to Papeete, but as the anchorages and marinas are chock full of local and international vessels, so it’s not so easy to find a spot. The two main marinas – Papeete Marina and Marina Taina – don’t take reservations, so we decided to head to Baie Phaëton located at the ‘waist’ of the island on the south side, and close to the township of Taravao and not far from the surfing magnet of Teahupoo. We allowed ourselves a slow sail over two nights to arrive at Passe Tapuaeraha to the south of Port Phaëton, where we waited until sunrise to enter.
Tahiti is the first place we’ve stopped since leaving Panama where the population is greater than a small village. Here we have the opportunity to visit chandleries and large supermarkets stocked with food. Taravao has a Carrefour supermarket, a laundrette, McDonald’s, Nautisport chandlery, Ace Hardware, Sin Tung Hing Marine, and buses to Papeete which take around 1.5 hours – the bus is a good way to see the island. The anchorage is super calm, has a potable water tap a little way out of the bay, and it’s very easy to get ashore at the local Bouledrome where the locals toss their boules and give us a friendly wave and ‘ia orana’. It’s a good place to hang out and spend time researching for spare parts!
There are always boat jobs to do after sailing for months. First was to replace our blown watermaker hose. This was done with the help of Ramon at Soflex in Papeete, who had his guy make up the hose in about ten minutes. Meanwhile, our fridge has died – a slow and painful (for us) death. With temperatures inside the fridge as high as 15degC (sea temp around 29degC), it was wasting so much power through constantly running. I switched off its life support and put it out of our misery. And to add to the job list, we discovered our Raymarine autopilot had more serious issues than first thought. Fun fun fun!
With less than four weeks until our 90 day visa expires, our plan was to spend the remaining days diving around Moorea and Bora-Bora. However, this has now changed as my dear old Dad back in Victoria is having a hard time with his health, and I want to go home to support my family and be with him and mum.
But it’s high season in these Pacific islands, and shivering tourists from the chilly south leave little room on flights to Australia from Tahiti. With our visa about to expire, we’ve made the decision (correctly or wrongly), to sail over 2000nm direct to Fiji where flights are more regular and the country is in a similar time-zone to Australia. So, on Monday 20th, we’ll sail away from Tahiti and make a direct route to Fiji. This should take us around 16 days, all being well.
In the meantime, after some days down at Taravao, we motored around to Papeete to organise our clearance and prepare for the voyage. We entered through the Taapuna Pass just south of Marina Taina.
French Polynesia offers transiting cruisers a duty-free fuel certificate and we’d already visited Customs on Motu Uta to receive our authorisation (this is free in Tahiti, but $160 in Nuku Hiva to obtain). There are only two places where you can get duty-free fuel in Tahiti and one of those is the busy Marina Taina. This was the first time we’ve added fuel since leaving Panama and we were intrigued to see how much diesel we’d used in four months. Only 195 litres since leaving Panama, which we think is very good. The duty-free price per litre was 100FP (around A$1.26 per litre) – the cheapest fuel we’ve had for a long time.
With no berths or moorings available at Marina Taina, we continued north around the airport, making sure to call Port Control on VHF12 to obtain airport clearance beforehand. Within two miles of the busy Papeete Marina, I phoned the marina manager, Ken, who cheerfully told me that two boats had called ahead and wanted slips, but if we were closer the ‘first in; first served’ policy would apply. We managed to find a berth alongside the dock in the midst of a fleet of Outremers and other catamarans. The only other option was to anchor to the north of the airport and dinghy into town – about 3nm each way. Ugh!
So, here we are for a few nights only, preparing for the long 2,000nm voyage – half the distance of the Panama to Marquises trip, and still a long way. Final chores – laundry, grocery shopping, catching up with crews from Kismet, Hold Fast, and Gargoyle, and greeting other cruisers we’ve bumped into over the past 4000nm or so. I take the remaining time to walk around Papeete to enjoy the sights, sounds and welcome smiles from the friendly locals. The main Papeete Market offers all sorts of local produce, brightly coloured pareos, and woven baskets; women sit and chat as they make up Tahitian head-pieces. These flower crowns are not just for tourists, and many local women where the head-pieces or place a simple flower tucked behind their ear. Tattoos are as popular as they’ve ever been and some are absolutely stunning.
And that’s about it. In a couple of weeks, our little Blue Heeler and crew should be in Fiji. Soon after I hope to be hugging my family in Australia.