Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora - Changing Fashions

Apparently this months Yachting World has a 2 page article about Intrepid
and the Economics of Cruising - we havent actually seen it since although I was asked to
submit it, I dont know what the editor has done to it, and YW doesnt get
to Bora Bora! And there are a few more photos on the www.intrepidofdover.co.uk
website.

By tradition and in reality, the island of Raiatea (20 miles west of
Huahine, and known as Havai'i - our home - in olden times) is the original home of all the
Polynesian, Hawaiian and Maori people, being the first to be settled (by
people from the Western Pacific). Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki theory that the
Pacific Islands were populated from South America has been disproved by
archaeological and DNA evidence - shame really since Thor spent a lifetime
publicising his theory, but just because something CAN happen doesnt mean it
DID (or will) happen. Religious chiefs from all the other Maori
archipelagos including New Zealand (colonised from Raietea surprisingly) gathered in Raiatea periodically, and
when canoes set off
from Raiatea to set up new colonies they carried with them stones from the
Marae temples at Raiatea so that the connection with the home land would
continue. Raiatea was THE place to be, and was the mythical promised land
where souls returned to after death. The American island of Hawaii (another
island colonised from Raiatea) is just calling itself the old name for the homeland.

 Nowadays Raiatea is a quiet backwater away from the cruise ship, package tour or canoe
circuit - the more so because after being hit by several cyclones, and just
as soon as they had built a large modern cruise ship dock at the capital
Uturoa (2000), the cruise line which had contracted to come here went bust,
leaving the island more deserted than ever.

However Raiatea retains its
status as 'capital' of the Leeward Islands of French Polynesia - Huahine,
Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora and Maupiti, which are all within 20 miles of each
other and 80+ miles west of Tahiti. A conference in London in 1847
recognised these islands independence, but after France annexed Tahiti in
1880, they decided to do the same for the Leeward Islands in 1888. It took 9
years, 3 warships and 1000 troops to persuade the local people they wanted
to be French, independence finally being quashed in 1897.

We sailed and motored the 20 miles west from Huahine, entering through the
straightforward Iriru pass in the coral reef into deep Faaroa Bay on the
east of Raiatea. We had to
be told, but when you think about it is obvious - there are gaps in the
coral opposite deep bays because the fresh water brought down by the rivers
that formed the valley in the first place kill, or at least stunt the growth
of the coral. Convenient for early explorer ships looking for fresh water,
and also for boats like us.

Faaroa Bay is base to Sunsail Yachts, who generously let visiting yachts use
their moorings in 20 metres for free and also fill their tanks with
fresh water. Nice people. They had about 15 catamarans and monohulls
available to charter from about $3500/week. Jill's mother is writing a book
about Maori migrations,so Chris
and Jill were correctly keen to see the source. We felt we could do with
some explanation of the ancient traditions, so contacted Bill, who has 2
PhDs in Cultural Mythology and Anthropology, and claims to have navigated to
and from Hawaii from Raiatea using only traditional methods of navigation,
the stars over islands, the clouds, and putting a hand in the sea to feel the
current. He was born in Hawaii, sailed the world, is associated with Bishop
University in Hawaii and is now 82. You know the phrase 'He has forgotten
more about X than I know?' Well unfortunately thats exactly it, he had
forgotten it. But he was a delightful old man, and we put up with his
rambling prevarications to our direct questions because there were nuggets
hidden in that mind, it just took time to get them out. He charged us $150
for a 4 hour tour.

We drove to the Taputapuatea sacred area on the south east coast of Raiatea.
Its surprisingly flat, only just above sea level, but contains 19 Marae
including the main 'altar', to Oro the God of War. Like many marae this has
raised walls on 4 sides with the rectangular space inside filled to within 1
metre of the top, oriented North/South. This marae is big, about 50 metres
long, 5 wide with a large paved courtyard in front. Bill says he sailed to
this place from Hawaii in a canoe in 1938, and found at least a 1000 human
skeletons here, the largest over 8 feet tall (when the skull was reconnected
to the body). After WW2 archaeologists from Bishop University collected the
bones and put them in a small burial room inside the marae. The sacrifice
stone is only about 10 metres from the marae, here the poor victim had his
eyes gouged out, the right one for the priest, the left for Oro, then they
were beheaded or worse,scraped against the rough sacrifice stone until they
died from loss of blood. When setting out on a war raid, human sacrifices
were held to be necessary, often it was the fit young warriors who were
sacrificed. Now the descendant of the priest/chief lives in a Government
supplied bungalow, and the last convention here was held by tattooists,
rediscovering this art banned for years by the missionaries.

More encouragingly, the next marae was dedicated to the God of Navigation,
and Bill claimed that when Captain Cook arrived here, Omai the nephew of the
King of Raiatea drew for Cook a map with sea shells to show islands and
sticks to show currents that has been reproduced and found to be accurate to
within a few miles. Omai subsequently went with Cook to England in 1774
here he was feted, but when he returned to Raietea he was shunned and cheated
by local Raieteans, and eventually had to be moved to Huahine where he died
soon afterwards. The sea has already reclaimed the courtyard of this marae,
Bill likes to sit here at night gazing at the stars. Nice guy.

We moved north to Uturoa, the capital of Raiatea, which, perhaps because of
the demise
of its cruise ship dreams (for now) offers free dockside mooring for one
night. We moored and explored the little town, which is surprisingly like a
small town in Borneo for example, Chinese traders, some local people sitting
around waiting for ferries, fast food vans, a slight smell of drains. We
kept being warned by various guides that we would not be able to buy things
in 'the next' island, so were constantly stocking up only to find that each
island has perfectly good supermarkets and stores (the only items we could
not get were vegemite (for Chris who brought a 'travel pack' of the stuff
from Sydney but after scraping the last speck is now pining) and springs
(for valves and handles). So we selectively grazed the Champion supermarket,
the internet cafe ($9/hour) and went out for ice cream and desert to the
brightly lit cruise ship complex.

I really dont want to admit to the next bit, but I try to recount what we
do, the good, the bad and the dumb (this fits the last category). The
one item we really needed at this stage was propane gas for cooking. People
at Raiatea told us we would have to go back 100 miles to Papeete, which was
discouraging. The only other possibilities were a repair yard just 4 miles
west of Uturoa, or a Moorings base just before, so we motored round to see,
towing our dinghy with its motor still attached. In a strong wind that got
stronger as we got out of the harbour, and just after we noticed one tow rope
for the dinghy had somehow come unfixed (they are snap shackles so cant
really untie) which makes it unstable, the wind caught the dinghy and
flipped it over. Now dinghies are OK upside down (for a bit, everything was
tied in), but outboard engines aren't. We got the dinghy right way up in
about 2 minutes (its heavy and we have to use the winch) then got the
outboard off and hosed with fresh water then WD40 penetrating oil on all the
electrics and took off the spark plug and sprayed inside the cylinder, and
after a bit it started and ran 'OK'. But not well, and since there was a
Yamaha agent just 3 miles away, I got them to pick me and the engine up and
they took the carburettor apart, washed traces of seawater from it,
reassembled, retuned, and charged me $110 which was annoying but worth it.
Meanwhile I had found a laundry which did all our washing in one afternoon,
Chris found someone to fill our propane tank, so we ended the day poorer but
wiser, cleaner and full of gas. Oh well. We motored the 3 miles or so to
Tahaa, the smaller island to the north of Raietea, to the Marina Iti which
isnt a marina but a hotel with moorings. It had been
recommended, and we intended to celebrate by eating in the restaurant there. But
there were no yachts, the hotel was empty, and the cook (the manager's
wife) was in Papeete, so we BBQ'ed merguez on board. Certainly we did find a
distinct lack of tourists in these islands. I guess its too far to go for a
short break, and too expensive for a long break.

Next day we motored east and north within the lagoon that is shared by the islands of
Raiatea and Tahaa, to Haamane Bay, past Hibiscus Restaurant and Turtle
Sanctuary (somewhat rundown by the look of it) to the end of the deep bay
where we anchored just off the school, and (once we had found that the track
had been transformed into a road) walked over the hill to the west side of
Tahaa. Tahaa produces about half of the worlds production of vanilla, grown
on Free French crosses in enclosed gardens on the rich volcanic soil. We ate
Mahi Mahi a la vanille, at the local restaurant, then Friday had a glorious
sail in 25 knots of wind, the 20 miles to Bora Bora.

I had not been familiar with Bora Bora, but apparently it is THE honeymoon island in the Pacific,
beloved of Japanese and nouveau riche Americans attracted by James
Mitchenors writings (which inspired South Pacific). Bora Bora is small but
high, about 3 miles by 4, surrounded by a turquoise lagoon with a single
pass in, and assorted hotels mainly 5* thatched hut style built over the
lagoon. I have to say it, but we have been spoiled - we didn't find the
lagoon particularly impressive, not much coral (El Ninjo did significant damage), a few fish compared to the
wonders we had seen getting here. But if you just fly in for a quick
honeymoon, I guess watching fish (that the hotel feed to make sure there are
enough) through the glass floor of your hotel bedroom is romantic enough to
get by.

Bora Bora started life as a tourist destination in a less elegant way - in
January 1942, the month after Pearl Harbour, the American Navy with few
intact ships had to decide what they could realistically defend. They
decided that an arc from Hawaii through French Polynesia to NZ was the best
they could do, and Bora Bora, the unwanted colony of a defeated France,
until that time almost totally unspoiled, no roads, a few coconut palm
bridges, was selected as the forward refuelling base. A 6 ship convoy left
on 21st January 1942 from the USA and arrived in Bora Bora on 17th February
with 4500 men, seaplanes, bulldozers etc and changed Bora Bora for ever. By
1943 they had constructed an airstrip on one of the many motus surrounding
the main island, and after the war this was handed to the 'victorious'
French, and was the only international airstrip in French Polynesia until
one was built in Papeete in 1961. So it was Bora Bora that became the top
Pacific destination for......Japanese amongst others, and its still the same
airport today.

Bora Bora's lagoon is deep, few places are less than 23 metres, so we took
one of the 10 mooring balls off the Bora Bora Yacht Club, which confusingly
isnt a yacht club but a restaurant (but it does have a washing machine which
you can use ). The yachts La Contenta, Seren Wen and Bluesipp who were in our
radio net from Galapagos were there, so we had cocktails and a cordon bleu
dinner overlooking the lagoon ($190 for 4) - the 'Yacht Club' only re-opened
last week so were pleased to see us. The building is thatched with no walls,
but some bureaucrat had made them put up an illuminated 'Issue de Secours'
(Emergency Exit) sign over one of the non-walls.  This was the first of Chris and Jill's 3
farewells - next day (Saturday), we were the early yacht that catches the
buoy - in this case off Bloody Mary's Restaurant which touts itself as the
place for the rich and famous (Rod Stewart, Diana Ross, Michael Heseltine
etc) who stay in the Bora Bora Hotel just down the road, and want to see
what 'real' Polynesian life is like. 'Real' it isn't, but  they do have 3
moorings, sand on the floor, thatched roof, photos of celebs, and pretty
fresh fish (we have been spoiled), and I liked it anyway ($170 for 4).
Sunday we walked south to Matira Beach, about the only public beach in Bora
Bora  - tribal law allows anyone who squats on land and plants anything to
stay there until the plant is mature - and a coconut tree can last 100
years - so landowners are very sensitive about anyone intruding and there
are lots of notices declaring land including beachfronts to be 'Tabu' -
Propriete Prive - Private .

But Matira Beach is as good or better than the rest, so we snorkelled and
picnicked, and Chris found a large multicoloured octopus, which had
disappeared by the time I got there - probably alarmed by the sight of Chris
in fluorescent green mask and fins. A young French lady (Alice) brought down
to the beach next to us an elegant casserole, which she and Patrique her
handsome Polynesian husband enjoyed, later we met her in the Bora Bora Hotel
where she is Duty manager, and she showed us round. Patrique runs Maohi tours
with his cousin, and we heard him strumming his ukulele as he returned from a
trip. In the evening we had John and Chrystal from Bluesipp on Intrepid for
BBQ pepper steaks - excellent company - and Monday we had to say goodbye to
Chris and Jill on the Vaitape quay - we moored Intrepid on the south of the
quay, and the ferry to the airport left on the north side, just 10 metres
away, neat transfer. It had been really good fun to have Chris and Jill with us for almost
10 weeks, they had worked hard at everything they did, were a delight to be
with, and we enjoyed having them on Intrepid a lot.

We left Intrepid on the quay that night, and Nicky and I ate from a roulotte
van, and kept a careful watch on Intrepid, but the only people were fishing
and it seemed OK. So  Nicky and I had 4 days on our own for the first
time since 1st December 2004, nice contrast for a bit, but we are genuinely
looking forward  to Elaine and Dennis who arrive very early on Saturday from
Oregon
bearing mail, papers and a treasure trove of stuff for Intrepid and us.
Wonderful!!

Waiting at the quay on Friday night with Intrepid moored alongside, we were
slightly unnerved by some 30 cars parked round Intrepid, most with people
inside. We had been warned that security could be a problem here, and could
understand why people in the luxury hotels stay inside their security
perimeters. But one of the delights of sailing is that you see the parts of
towns that others miss - in this case, the catamaran ferry from the airport
arrived and disgorged about 30 teenagers - students at the college in
Papeete returning for le weekend, bearing food, books or just a suitcase.
The parents and kids hugged and rushed off in the cars leaving a lone
fisherman. So much for security scares - and later that night we wandered
along to the local basketball court towards the sound of drumming to find
rehearsals for the Bastille Day 14th July celebrations in full swing with
some 100 performers pounding drums, wiggling hips and flexing muscles in
synchronised splendour - well it will be synchronised on the day -
orchestrated by the director in baseball hat, who had a good line in
inspiring words. Parents, small children, dogs, transvestite males (who
weren't sure whether to wiggle their hips or flex their muscles), and us
watched from the side. These celebrations commemorate the treaties bringing
Polynesia under French rule. Paul Theroux who wrote about Oceania is very
indignant with the French for persuading the Polynesians to celebrate the day
of their subjugation (to the French) on the same day that the French
celebrate their own freedom from a tyrannical king, and I suppose he has a
point.

Saturday, Elaine and Dennis arrived early from the Catamaran ferry from the
airport, and after getting the crucial fresh baguettes and unwrapping 3 rods,
reels and untold lures plus other boat presents all from eBay - Dennis's
passion (Christmas came early in Bora Bora), we anchored to the west of the
largest motu and splashed and snorkelled and admired rays, and slowly
transformed E and D into relaxed pinky brown ( from stressed out whitey
pale), and in the evening Dennis BBQed steaks on the back of Intrepid.

Sunday we sailed east towards Tahaa, 25 miles away, pausing only for the
wind to come dead against us halfway, so we motored the rest of the way into
the pass (we are really quite keen on entering narrow passes in the light).
Elaine and Dennis will be with us for 5 weeks, as we cruise Polynesia, then
head north to Samoa.

We understand that the temperature in UK is 32C this weekend, so we send you
best wishes from a relatively cool (29C) and windy (25 knots) Tahaa.

From the crew of Intrepid, Andy Nicky Elaine and Dennis.

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