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Day 788 - Cook's Bay, Moorea (S 17° 30 W 149° 49)
12:28hrs - July 27th 2009
A Friday Sail in the South Pacific

A regular summer Friday for us back in New York, oh so many moons ago, would typically have included a mad dash out of the office by lunchtime followed by an illegally speedy drive out to the marina on Long Island where I would race round the local supermarket for a few weekend provisions, while Neville was getting the boat ready, and then without any further ado we would throw off the dock lines and made all possible haste to one of the many gorgeous anchorages along the Long Island Sound for a weekend of boaty bliss.  But today it’s Friday lunchtime in the South Pacific, and we have just provisioned the boat in Tahiti. We are about to cast off the lines from the Tahiti Yacht Club to make our way to a gorgeous anchorage in Moorea a few hours sail away, so I guess not that much has changed? Except of course the South Pacific part, and also the not having to race back home on Sunday to be back in time for work on Monday part. Well I guess it is a little different.

We are constantly talking about how amazing this life has turned out to be and although I didn’t know what to expect when we started, all of this has outshone any expectation I ever had.  I believe that it’s probably one of the healthiest, happiest and most fulfilling ways to live a life, and that given an opportunity to try it out, everyone would be the better for it.  We are absolutely enjoying every moment of it and yes we know how fortunate we are to be able to do this at this stage in our lives and that just makes the experience that much sweeter.  So although New York life was spectacular and I wouldn’t change a bit of it, this new life on the sea is just where I am supposed to be right now.

 

 

 


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Day 782 - Papeete, Tahiti (S 17° 31 W 149° 32)
09:30hrs - July 21st 2009
Moving On Up

Tahiti may not offer golden sandy beaches and calm sapphire blue lagoons, and mariners may no longer be greeted personally by descendants from King Pomare with lavish festivals in their honor, but even in 2009, with Papeete harbor filled with cruise ships, naval vessels, greasy fishing boats, and her shoreline stuffed with shops, department stores, multi-story hotels and New York-style traffic, Tahiti is still an intoxicating and dramatic island with more contrast and breathtaking beauty to offer than one might initially suspect.

We've been in Tahiti for a little over two weeks now and explored this remote island by foot, boat, bus, hitchhiking and hire car. For three days we drove around the perimeter road that almost circumnavigates Tahiti Nui (Big Tahiti) and Tahiti Iti (Little Tahiti) the two land-masses joined together by an isthmus, forming a lopsided figure eight. Driving along the western coast, away from Papeete, the dual highway soon became a quiet single-lane road winding its way around the coastline. Supermarkets gave way to rickety fruit stands, traffic thinned to just the occasional local, and before long, Catherine and I were cruising south in a landscape that has remained mostly unchanged from the days when Captain Cook and Captain Samual Wallis first roamed the shoreline back in 1767.

We repaid our hitchhiking karma along the way, stopping when ever we saw local thumbs pointing in our direction. Stuffing parents, smiling children, shopping and even a guitar into the back seat of our little three-door Hyundai all added to the colorful experience of our time spent in Tahiti. But it's time to move on, such is the cruisers way. Cyclone season is only fourteen weeks out and we have a lot of ground to cover, new islands to explore, more waves to fall off, reef to swim and whales to watch.

Our next stop will be the islands of Moorea, just a few miles off the north coast of Tahiti, then we'll sail on up through the Society Islands making our way to the ultimate holiday destination, the pearl of the Pacific, playground of the rich and famous...Bora Bora!

 




 

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Day 779 - Papeete, Tahiti (S 17° 31 W 149° 32)
18:00hrs - July 18th 2009
Lovely Tahiti

We have definitely been spoiled with all the deserted white sandy beaches entirely to ourselves in the Tuamotu’s, so initially the volume of traffic, people and cruise ships in the main town here in Tahiti felt altogether crowded and busy by comparison. But Tahiti is still Tahiti, and it’s filled with gorgeous Tahitian people who are unfailingly friendly and accommodating so any misgivings I had soon vanished after we settled in.  Funny thing is Tahiti is this little speck of an island in the middle of the pacific so there’s the perception of a tranquil sweet smelling little island with the occasional luxury hotel, when it’s actually a bustling little island full of activity.  But it is ‘French’ Polynesia, with an extra helping of French, so there are plenty of public holidays, thoughtful relaxation and the requisite 3 hour lunches, and the food is actually so good here it’s worth every minute.

We spent 3 days driving around eating scrumptious food and seeing as much as we could and discovered the quieter version of Tahiti along the way with its pretty hillside hotels, and beaches full of enthusiastic surfers.  We drove out to Teahupoo which is famous in surfing circles for its awesome 30 to 60 foot incredible waves, and it was a bit like watching fireworks as we oooowed and ahhhhhed at the menacing waves as they roared and crashed into huge white clouds over the reef in front of us, making Neville even more certain about taking further surfing lessons. 

Now we have been here for two weeks of Tahitian dancing, Bastille Day parades and gnarley surfing, its time to start thinking about our next island Moorea, a day sail away.  Apparently there is some great fishing between here and there so we have been busy stocking up on even more sophisticated fishing accessories to catch those illusive fishies without, I hope, loosing any fingers in the process!

 




     

 

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Day 774 - Papeete, Tahiti (S 17° 31 W 149° 32)
22:48hrs - July 13th 2009
A Little Gnarly

On Saturday I had my first Tahitian surf experience. Now I didn't exactly ride any giants or hang ten, but at the end of my two-hour surf lesson at Papenoo surf break on Tahiti's north coast, I was managing to stay on my board just long enough to catch a wave and stand up, albeit, only for a few seconds, but stand I did.

Along with Therese, a fellow cruiser Catherine and I first met in Panama with her boyfriend Helge aboard Coquelicot, we received expert instruction from Teano, our radical surf instructor and even, during our brief moments of balance, loud and I suspect a little sympathetic, shouts of encouragement. I quickly discovered that surfing is infinitely harder than it looks or I imagined it would be.

Teano, our instructor, was probably surfing before he was walking, and rides the monstrous breakers at Teahupoo whenever he can. Casually catching the occasional wave during our lesson, he paddled and stood with such ease and fluid grace, I felt like a bumbling oaf by his side, and so to avoid any direct comparison of our surfing styles by the spectators on the beach, discreetly paddled as far from him as possible. But even with my arms wind milling wildly around me and my legs wobbling like jello, for the full 2-3 seconds I did manage to clamber upright on my board, the feeling of catching a wave, a Tahitian wave no less, was extremely satisfying.

The waves at Papenoo were barely 4 feet high and breaking gently over soft black volcanic sand, mere ripples when compared to the giant surf at the famous Teahupoo break on Tahiti's southwest coast, which attracts competitive surfers from all around the world. But for me, it's a start. It seems, however, that even the experts occasionally wipe-out too. Sure, in much gnarlier conditions, but the pattern of scars on Teano's bare back show just how passionate they are about their sport. After-all, if they're prepared to catch 20, 30 or even 40 foot waves, breaking over razor-sharp coral, when a fleeting lapse of focus or a brief moment of indecision results in the most painful wipe-out imaginable, then you can begin to understand just how deep their love for surfing is here.

For yours truly, the only scars I bear are those on my knees from scraping against a rough board, and a bruised ego. But while my surfing triumphs may have been short lived, they were still gnarly, well, at least to me. Still, I hope that perhaps after a few more lessons, I may actually stand long enough to truly experience the supreme pleasure of riding a wave, or at least stand long enough to give Catherine a chance to snap a photo or two.



To learn more about Ecole de Surf Tura'i Mataare, visit their web site at: www.tahitisurfschool.info




 

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Day 771 - Papeete, Tahiti (S 17° 31 W 149° 32)
11:01hrs - July 10th 2009
Tahiti!

It still seems a little impossible but we have actually arrived in Tahiti, a dream destination for most folks but for us, in our little boat all the way from New York, it is especially sweet.  The dreamlike quality was more pronounced for me when we arrived, and actually for the preceding 10 or so days, because it turns out I have been working my way through a case of Dengue Fever number 4 that I managed to pick up from a mosquito in Fakarava, our last stop in the Tuamoto’s.  We didn’t know that’s what it was till we got to a doctor here when we arrived, and confirmed that I was feeling awful for a reason. Good news is I’m now immune to the number 4 variety but I can still have 1,2 and 3 if I meet the appropriate mosquito.  Unfortunately there is no way to immunize against it and once you have it there is nothing you can do about it other than wait it out, you’ll have about 8 days of truly awful followed by 10 more days of exhausted, then you’re done, and you can get back to what you were doing before, in our case being in Tahiti!!

We have arrived here in time for the 2009 Heiva celebrations and july 14th Bastille Day so there’s lots going on.  Heiva is a 2 week Polynesian festival which includes among other things Polynesian dancing, singing and wild group drumming competitions and representatives from most the islands come to compete. Also there are the famous outrigger canoe races and there was a huge 600 boat outrigger race right by the Tahiti yacht club where we are moored so we had front row seats, and behind the yacht club there are massive rehearsals each night for the competitions so we are getting to see the whole process from practice to final show and its all great.

Now I am over the worst of the dengue I am ready to do some exploring so we are planning to rent a car for a few days and see more of the island, its not big but there is a lot to see, and although there is no dengue reported here, Ill be wearing alot of bug spray!




 

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Day 765 - Enroute to Tahiti (S 16° 08 W 146° 01)
11:05hrs - July 4th 2009
Farewell Fakarava, it's Tahiti Time!

The thin green line of palm trees marking Fakarava's northwest motu has just slipped below the horizon as Dream Time dances along southwest in gentle following seas. The forecast for Independence Day weekend is as good as a sailor could hope for - 15 knots of warm steady southeast winds, our white sails billowing against blue skies, for what we hope will be a single, uninterrupted tack straight to the Society Islands, our first stop Tahiti, 240 nautical miles away.

Our departure from Fakarava was delayed just a few days as we waited for a blustery front to clear through the area, giving me the opportunity, and excuse, to make two more drift dives through the Tumakohua Pass. With Catherine happily bobbing around on the surface in 'Snorvana', playing with every color, shape and size reef fish imaginable, I was back down in 30 meters of water on my seventh, and what turned out to be my most memorable dive to date. During our 53-minute dive, we sighted no less than six species of sharks (grey, nurse, silvertip, blacktip reef, common blacktip, whitetip reef), a giant eagle ray and dense schools of friendly reef fish. The highlight was being completely surrounded for five minutes by grey sharks. Hundreds of them swirling around me, some close enough to reach out and touch, their slick, gun metal skins magnified in the clear water, others far above, countless silhouettes gliding effortlessly, haloed in the refracting light - simply magnificent!

While diving in the Tuamotus is reputedly the best in French Polynesia, and we could happily spend another three months exploring the waters of these beautiful atolls, cyclone season is only four months away and we have a lot of ground to cover before reaching New Zealand. But with plenty of opportunities ahead - manta rays in Bora Bora, caves in the Cook Islands, humpback whales in Tonga, we have a lot of diving to look forward to. But first, a bit of fun above the surface - surf lessons in Tahiti!

Happy Independence Day!

 

We'd like to extend a special thank you to our new friends Philippe and Jeanne Gautier from Geneva for sharing their incredible photos from our last dive together in the Tumakohua Pass (captured with a Panasonic Lumix FX7 Digital Camera no less - good choice guys!)

Philippe is a PADI Divemaster, level 3-star CMAS and a passionate diver who has logged over 260 dives and has an extensive knowledge of the sport. Looking for dive tips? No problem, click here to email Philippe directly.
Thanks again Philippe - see you in New Caledonia?





 

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Day 762 - Fakarava, Tuamotus (S 16° 03 W 145° 37)
10:42hrs - July 1st 2009
A New World

It's official, I'm now a certified CMAS open water diver - familiar with most of the rules and regulations of recreational scuba diving, or at least enough of them not to get myself, or my dive buddy, into any significant trouble. Like the special hand signals so I can communicate to others underwater, letting them know exactly the nature of my panic attack. Or how to roll backwards off a rubber dive boat, loaded with dive gear, without unintentionally sinking like an anchor, losing my mask, or kicking my dive instructor in the head with my flippers, sorry, fins. And, most importantly, which sharks are friendly and which may mistake me for lunch.

In the last four days I've gone on five dives, coasting comfortably around coral at 17 meters (56 feet) for my training dive, practicing my long forgotten scuba exercises - clearing my mask, removing mask and regulator underwater, fine-tuning my floatation techniques and hand signals. I've drifted in and out of Tumakohua, Fakarava's southern passage at 27 meters (89 feet), and finally, yesterday, graduated to an 'extreme' dive, the famous Te Ava Nui.

Te Ava Nui, or "The Big Pass", is Fakarava's northern passage, the largest in the Tuamotus and, I've been told, one of the best dive experiences in French Polynesia. Considered a "technical dive", whatever that actually means, Te Ava Nui attracts some of the most enthusiastic recreational divers in the world. Certainly the six divers I shared the experience with looked the part, each had thousands of dives under their weight belts and had brought their own gear - wetsuits that seemed to be tailor made, personalized vests, top-of-the-line regulators and giant, complicated diving wrist computers. By comparison I seemed just a little out of my league wearing Bermuda shorts, surf top, and rented gear.

We motored out to the pass in the early afternoon in blustery 15 - 20 knots of south easterly wind. The tide had already begun flooding into the lagoon and a football size area of confused seas, wind-driven waves colliding with 6 knots of current, filled the center of the passage. We geared up and rolled over into the water in unison, dropping immediately to 15 meters to avoid the stronger surface currents that would suck us in to the lagoon at 6 knots. We continued our decent down into a world of complete blue. With no bottom, top or sides (and for me at least, no dive computer to define where we were), we sank further and further into the abyss, Nicolas giving us regular "Are you OK?" hand signs as we pinched noses to equalize under the building pressure.

At a depth I later discovered was 37 meters (122 feet), we began slowly swimming to the pass, towards a vertical wall of rock and coral that rose from the sea bed thousands of feet under our fins. For 10 minutes, to conserve our air and with our legs being swept to our sides, we climbed across the sea bed with our hands, swinging in slow motion from rock to rock like gravity-defying mountain climbers. At 20 meters we paused to watch over 200 grey sharks ride an underwater eddy, gliding around us in great sweeping circles, many passing just 6 feet away from us, rows of white teeth clearly visible inside snarling mouths. The gurgling of released air bubbles played with my ears and suddenly I became very aware of everything, conscious of each breath, the current tugging at my legs, the abrasive rock against my finger tips and the weight of 70 feet of water between me and a world that, all of a sudden, seemed distant and remote. With a conscious effort I pushed those feelings aside, checked my air gauge, and forced myself back to the experience, to simply enjoy the sensations, rather than being consumed by them.

Perhaps sensing my agitation Nicolas gave me the "OK?" sign and then, one by one, we let go of the rock to begin an awesome 10 minutes ride as we flew effortlessly at 2-3 knots over a dense carpet of colorful coral, through giant schools of snapper, past dozens of whitetip, blacktip, silvertip and nurse sharks. I was in another world, and for the first time truly felt a part of it.

Before our final ascent, we dropped down into Ali-Baba, a lush aquatic canyon teaming with thousands of fish, so many we had to brush them gently aside - squirrel fish, long horn unicorn, parrotfish, snapper, giant Napoleon fish and a persistent rémora (a little shark like fish with a suction cup head used for attaching themselves to larger fish) that kept nipping my bare legs. We sat on the bottom for 10 minutes until one-by-one we gave a closed fist salute to Nicolas (the CMAS signal for reserve air) and began our final drift and slow ascent to the surface.

We surfaced to a noisy, confused and chaotic world of 4 foot seas, cold whistling wind and a crashing dive platform on the transom of a pitching boat. We each clambered onboard and secured our gear before beginning a bone-jarring 20-minute ride back to the dive shop. But the crashing of fiberglass against choppy seas, the cold wind against bare skin and the continuous pounding couldn't shake the feelings of tranquility and peace that Te Ava Nui gave me.

We had planned to depart the Tuamotus Thursday to begin our 2-day, 280 mile passage over to Tahiti, timing our arrival for the beginning of Heiva - a month long festival celebrating Polynesian culture - dancing, singing, traditional sports and crafts, but Nicolas has lured us to stay just one more day. So instead of sailing out of Fakarava pass Thursday, I'll be gliding 100 feet under the surface, riding the currents of Te Ava Nui just one last time.


To learn more about Te Ava Nui dive shop, contact Jean-Christophe Lapeyre at: www.divingfakarava.com

 

Dream Time: Serviced outboard - cleaned carburetor and spark plug. Changed generator oil. Installed back-up toggle switch for anchor windlass (Deck "Down" switch failed. Brewer Yacht Yards in Glen Cove, New York have ordered an emergency replacement in record time - thanks Mark and Chuck!)