"Arctracer" Letters

Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine and Raiatea in the Society Islands of French Polynesia, Sept 1998

It is a rainy day, a good day to stay inside reading and writing letters. Since my last letter we did a few more things in Tahiti. We rented a car with a cruiser from San Diego to go to a Traditional Polynesian Dance Show. On the way to this performance we bought 50# of potatoes since we had the car, and we discovered an agricultural fair. A Polynesian agricultural fair is very similar to what we have seen in New England. The predominant features were feathered (hens, roosters, ducks, and weird geese) but we also saw horses, cows, huge pigs and goats. They had farm machinery, exhibits and literature on how to improve farms, craft booths, local fruits and vegetables, four or five rides for children, beer stands, constant performances by musical groups (broadcast on radio with wisecracking announcers), and even a few games of chance. We tasted rum punches, but didn't purchase any. The people watching made the stop especially worthwhile. Then we drove to the site of the dinner and show. There we walked on the sandy beach, and saw a couple of unusual foot races. One involved Polynesian women carrying 10 kg of fruit on each end of a large stick on their shoulder, while the other involved Polynesian men carrying 20 kg of fruit in the same manner. They all appeared to be having a lot of fun and we enjoyed watching them. A Creole buffet was served. The food wasn't great, but the performance was well worth the effort and expense. The first performers were three guys from Hawaii, called 'cousins' by the locals, who did their versions of the hula. Then came a local group of about 25 dancers who were among the winners in this year's big July festival, with spectacular costumes involving many pearl shells, flowers, green leaves, and bright prints. Great dancing, at least until they pulled Jerry and our cruising friend up to participate. It was a very enjoyable evening.

During the last few days in Tahiti we checked the post office for mail daily, but two large envelopes never arrived and our allotted time on our visas was getting shorter, so we decided to sail on and hope that this mail gets returned to the states eventually. While waiting, we had time to cut each others hair; replenish our supply of water and diesel fuel; make breadcrumb pancakes with crumbs from the baguettes that dried out rather quickly; put Penetrol on our shrouds to protect them from this corrosive environment that we live in; scrape the green algae off our lines tied to the shore, our anchor chain, and the waterline of our boat; scrape our propeller of the growth that had collected in the month we'd been at anchor; mend our fairly new flag that we attach to the back of the boat when at anchor; mend our antique braided rug; restitch seams which were chafed on our sails; read books; and do other little boat projects. Later we noticed a hole in the bottom of our fiberglass dinghy. The numerous small rocks on the beach in Tahiti were quite rough on the back part of the keel below a watertight compartment. We didn't notice the hole until we put the dinghy bottom-side-up on the cabin as we were leaving for Moorea. We also had the opportunity to buy fresh baguettes every day, enjoy goat's cheese and Camembert, buy cheese to make calzones, buy red wine in 5-liter boxes (the cheapest way to go), try a fruit we'd never tried before called April star fruit (it was actually round with purple and green colors), and do a lot of socializing with other cruisers. Most of these cruisers were from California, but one was an architect on a steel, junk-rigged boat from England.

I've decided that life afloat is much safer that in towns. One day on my way back to the boat after sending some email I almost got hit by a motorcycle. I was waiting at a crosswalk with three other people for traffic to stop. As the first lane of traffic stopped we waited to be sure that the second lane also stopped. Then we all headed across the crosswalk. As I got between the two lanes a motorcycle came blasting down the center and I thought I was going to be hit for sure. Luckily he missed me, but it took a couple of hours for me to calm down after that.

On September 5th, while Jerry was reading the May issue of 'Cruising World' magazine, he was startled to find a picture of the two of us! There was also a little article telling a bit about "Arctracer" and our passages. What a surprise! A gentleman had interviewed us in Barbados and said he wrote for a small cruisers' newspaper in the Caribbean. We had agreed to talk to him for that newspaper, but not for the magazine. What a surprise! Fortunately, he didn't make too many mistakes in his reporting. Since the interviewer had taken pictures of the boat, I had assumed a picture of "Arctracer" would be in the newspaper, but the picture (a terrible one in my opinion) was of us in a section called "Dispatches From the Cruising World" which emphasizes the people involved more than their boats.

(view photos of Tahiti)

On September 11th we sailed 15 miles to the island of Moorea (also in the Society Islands). On the 12th we hiked through pineapple plantations and papaya tree farms to see some maraes (Polynesian religious sites of former years), petroglyphs, and a belvedere (touristy lookout). We also saw several soursop trees, which we hadn't noticed on other islands. On the 13th we hiked through a wonderful mape forest (large chestnut trees) and up a ridge. This was an all-day hike, but absolutely wonderful! We ended up on the opposite side of the island (on a Sunday). Luckily we were able to catch two different busses to get back to the boat in Opunohu Bay where Captain Cook anchored in 1777. This bay had magnificent mountains all around it. Their peaks were very dramatic and we continuously remarked about their magnificence. We think it is the most amazing anchorage we've been in so far in all our travels. We are now anxious to compare it with Bora Bora and the Marquesas, as they are also said to have spectacular anchorages. On the 14th we went ashore about 10 am to catch a bus to the town where all the ferries arrive from Tahiti. After 2 hours of waiting we finally decided to take a taxi when one stopped. At first he wanted $ 30 to take us where he was going anyway so Jerry said no thank you. When he got down to $ 10 we decided to get on with our day. Since the bus would have cost $4 and we were only going about 6 miles it seemed like a much fairer deal. We read that it is usually less expensive to rent a car than to take the taxis on these islands. About noon we started off on a trail. We couldn't remember the last time we hiked three days in a row. This hike was the most challenging of the three and we didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the other two hikes. This could have been because of our ages, bad backs, bad ankles and knees, etc. The trail went very steeply up to a ridge and then almost immediately headed down the other side just as steeply. When we got off the trail we walked through lots of fields of pineapples on our way to the road that would take us back to Opunohu Bay. Jerry found a tail feather (very long) of a Tropicbird on the trail so we have it as a souvenir now.

On the 16th we sailed the 85 miles to the island of Huahine in the Society Islands. We left Moorea in the late afternoon and arrived at Huahine about noon the next day. The sail was one of the most rolly rides we've ever had. Jerry almost got seasick sitting in the cockpit, which has never happened before. Then, when we arrived at Huahine about noon it was raining hard and it was difficult to see the pass to the anchorage. Finally, at about 4:30 PM he decided to go in despite poor visibility. Was I ever nervous! (I usually am when we approach land. Give me the sea any day!) We got through the pass fine, but then the rain came again in torrents, so we couldn't see the bay we wanted to go into. Finally it cleared a little, so we were able to anchor in 90 feet of water (the deepest we've ever anchored in) while it started to thunder and lightning. The lightning continued for a couple of hours. Later we heard they had hail just south of us, something virtually unheard of here.

On the 18th we repaired and fixed things that had broken or deteriorated on the trip here in the adverse conditions. In the evening we walked several kilometers to another Polynesian dance show. We were expecting to see a lighted sign to the Bali Hai Hotel, but there wasn't one. We walked several kilometers farther than necessary, but as we were returning from the airport some kind locals gave us a ride to the entrance of the hotel we were searching for. Since the show was half an hour late in starting we got to watch the whole thing. They had a fire dancer and a small local troupe of 3 men and 5 women who were all very good dancers and we enjoyed the show.

After a late night we decided to rent bicycles to tour the island the next day. We wanted to see one of the most extensive complexes of pre-European maraes in French Polynesia. Many cruisers have fold-up bicycles aboard their boats and one cruiser volunteered his bikes for our use. We decided to try them, as we had never used these small-wheeled bicycles before. They worked out very well and we had an absolutely fantastic day biking around the island. We don't really see ever having any aboard ourselves though, since they get rusty and are hard to maintain. Then there is the problem of space aboard a small boat and where to store them. After hiding the bicycles in the woods we did some hiking to see several maraes. We hiked through a vanilla plantation on the way and got to see the vanilla beans in their green, 'string bean' form. I had been anxious to see what they looked like and we finally saw them. When we got to the end of the trail we walked along the seashore back to the bikes. Along this part of the seashore there were several seaside maraes too, several of them partially restored. We stopped at a small local market to have some banana-coconut juice and discovered another fruit. This fruit is cerettes (en francaise) and they were candied (bonbons). The proprietor of the shop sent some local children out to get some fresh cerettes too. These were quite sour, but he said they would be ripe in a couple of weeks if we took them home. In our guidebook we read about some 4-foot-long blue-eyed eels on the other side of the island from where we're anchored. The guidebook said they would eat tinned sardines so we took some out of our food lockers. We got a lot of attention when we arrived in the small town. The local children had apparently never seen adults riding bicycles with such small wheels. Jerry asked about the eels and two children, about ages 6 and 4 wanted to feed them our sardines. They knew exactly where to put the sardines so that we could get the best pictures. Since we no longer have a decent camera the pictures won't be that great, but we did get a couple anyway. We had wanted to buy dinner at the vans in town for the cruiser who loaned us his bicycles, but he had prepared dinner for us. He did let us buy some poisson cru for an appetizer and we had another late night out. It was enjoyable, but today it is nice to have it rain - otherwise we would have been on our way to Raiatea, the next island in the chain of Society Islands.

(view photos of Huahine)

Wednesday, September 23, Raiatea

OK, we are at another of the Society Islands now. Notice the triple vowel in the name. This is not unusual. The town near Tahiti that has the airport is Faaa, which at first made us think it might be an acronym. We sailed here on the 21st in a gentle breeze. We aimed for Passe Teavamoa, the 'sacred pass' near the most influential marae in Polynesia, but changed our minds and slipped into Passe Iriru and Faaroa Bay where we dropped anchor in 60 feet of water in a very sheltered spot. The boat that had been tied to the shore beside us in Tahiti was also here, so we had a nice reunion with them that night. Nina made escargots, tabuli, eggplants fried in a coating of egg, corn meal and spices, and tomato sauce. It was a pleasant celebration of another 21st.

On the 22nd, our friends took us up the river, the only navigable river in French Polynesia, which was quite beautiful with lush vegetation on both sides. When we reached the rapids, we got out and walked the road a couple more miles into the incredibly fertile valley, past fruit trees and crops of all sorts. We came back down the river to the dinghy, swimming as much as walking. It was great fun. On the return to the boat, a spotted eagle ray leaped twice beside the dinghy, very beautiful.

Today we dinghied to shore and walked several miles towards Marae Taputaputea, then caught 'le truck' for the last few miles. This site had several nice maraes, but the remaining stones were no more spectacular than others we've seen. Its historical significance was enormous, however. This was the legendary first settlement in French Polynesia, and no other marae could be built without incorporating one of the stones from this one. From here, great double canoes started on voyages to settle the Marquesas and New Zealand. This is one of the spots where Captain James Cook anchored too. We had a picnic on the beach nearby, then walked and caught another truck home. Now we're going to our friends' boat for potluck.

(view photos of Moorea & Raitea)