Apataki, Tahiti and Moorea - Pearls and Fumes

What's the highest value farm produce?
Probably black pearls, which are produced from pearls farms dotted around the
Tuamotu archipelago, and which have largely rescued their economy from the
collapse in the price of coconuts/coconut oil which is made from copra
(dried coconut), and which was attacked by farm lobbies in the USA as a
'tropical oil'. We motored south within Apataki's large 30metre deep lagoon(10 miles x 10
miles), keeping the coconut tree covered motus (small islands
that make up the atoll) to our left. After about 8 miles we found Alfred's
pearl farm in the south east part of Apataki, on a motu about 1 mile long
by 200 metres wide. Alfred waved us in to anchor just 100 metres off his
small jetty, with Nicky having kittens at the many coral heads we had to
avoid, often just 1.5 metres under water (too deep to see, too shallow to

Alfred's motu is 8 miles from the nearest village and he is effectively
king of the island - the only inhabitants are him, his 4 workers and his
father. We had arrived on Saturday and they have Saturday afternoon off, so he
invited us to go fishing with him on the outside of the reef. Not many
people go fishing in a JCB/construction digger: Nicky, Chris Jill and I were
in the bucket, his 4 workers were draped around the digger, and Alfred drove
as we crashed through the undergrowth to the far end of the motu,stopping
only to collect bright red hermit crabs for bait.

But when we arrived, the wind was too strong and surf was crashing over the
coral reef, making it impossible to stand there long enough to get fish and
the lines were being thrown back by the surf. So we fished in the freezer
instead, and had a great fish BBQ with everyone, chattering away in our
appalling French, and drinking home made 'beer'
that Daniel (the cook, ex Hong Kong Police) made from 3Kg sugar, 20 litres water, yeast and
fluorescent green colouring/flavour. It tasted better than the Swan's beer on
a bad day, thats the best I can say about it. It even comes in 2 varieties -
after we drank all the green 'beer' we switched to 'red'.

Sunday we 'gunkholed' - dinghying to coral/shell/sand bars that form part of
the atoll, where we snorkelled while 4 or 5 black tip sharks, lazily
patrolled around us. Black tips aren't really dangerous, but they do get
Tiger sharks up to 12 feet long (which are dangerous) in the lagoon,
but usually only December - February. We hoped the sharks had looked at
their calendar. Daniel feeds a nurse shark every day, it comes right up onto
the beach and Nicky and Jill were able to tickle its head. The weather is
not the tropical perfection that travel brochures would have you believe,
and as night fell we had a violent thunderstorm traversing the lagoon, with
torrential rain and incandescent sheet and fork lightening.

Monday Alfred had to harvest pearls for one of his buyers, (60% go to Japan,
some to Canada, the rest to Tahiti, Aus, France, UK). The large productive
oysters are kept in wire baskets hung under long ropes attached to buoys
about 1-2 miles out in the lagoon. After about 1.5 years Alfred collects
them, and brings them in to his workshop on top of the jetty. One of his
workers wedges open the shell, then Alfred working behind screens (security
is important - he sacks most of his workers after 3 months) uses what
look like dentist instruments to gently cut away part of the muscle and
extract the pearl (if there is one), put back a similar size white seed
pearl (oysters produce again for up to 6 cycles) and
the oyster is then returned to its basket suspended beneath the jetty until
in the afternoon they are returned to their buoys in the lagoon. Alfred let
us watch and photograph this whole process and you will find 2 photos in the
website www.intrepidofdover.co.uk . As I was photographing a particularly
difficult operation, (normally Alfred takes about 1 minute, this took
perhaps 3) he finally extracted a large deep blue lustrous drop pearl about
15mm long, 10mm diameter, that he immediately pronounced AA quality. Having
seen it 'born' I was later in the day able to buy it for Nicky as it is our
30th wedding anniversary on 28th June 2005. Prices like this at the pearl
farm are about 20% of what they cost in Tahiti or elsewhere. Arlene on Nomadess
bought a perfect necklace of pearls from another island for about $12000,
worth many times that elsewhere.

Like most economic miracles the black pearl industry is suffering from
over-production - 90% of the farms have costs that are too high or as likely
are not reliable enough for the notoriously picky Japanese buyers. Alfred is
1/4 Chinese, 3/4 Tuamotan but has the work ethic of a Chinese and manages
with just 4 workers whereas other farms had up to 30. But the weather
continued overcast, and Nicky and Jill were starting to hanker after the
bright lights of a city just for a bit, so we grabbed a tide and weather
window and motored across the lagoon to the only village in Apataki (where
Alfred's father Assam is part time pastor of the Reformed Church of latter
day saints - very big in the Tuamotus). The village is in the middle of a
difficult pass, but we timed it perfectly and were through at slack water
exactly,  tied up to the jetty for 2 hours, then were out to sea en route
the 250 miles to Papeete. By the time we arrived 2 days later, we hadn't
seen another yacht or spoken to another Westerner for 4 weeks.

Without much hope I put out fishing lines. Floating debris like pallets, etc
are supposed to attract fish, and just as we passed an old pallet/net at
5.45pm midway we got fish on both lines. By the time we had sails in, one
had bitten off my lure, but the other was a designer yellow fin tuna, about
3Kg. Seared Tuna one hour later was as good as Christian had described, we
thought of him as we ate.

Papeete is the capital of Tahiti and French Polynesia, THE big city in the
Pacific (Tahiti alone has 180,000 inhabitants, 70% of French Polynesia). We
could see it from 60 miles out at night,
lights silhouetted up to the volcanic crater, and we entered the main pass
to the harbour and tried the town quay mooring - but it was right next to a
busy road, and an American boat had been broken into 1 week before, so we
asked for and received air traffic control permission (really) to go past
the end of the runway to Marina Taina 4 miles southwest. For the last 4
months we had been at anchor so it was a change to be able to step out onto
dry land directly from Intrepid, and the marina was clean, efficient,
reasonably priced ($45/night) and most of the 15 or so yachts that we had
sailed with from the Galapagos were there or at anchor directly outside.

We bussed ($2) or trucked ($1.50) into Papeete, and most particularly to the
Fedex office to pick up spare parts for our Duogen that Peter had sent -
kindly wrapped in a copy of the Guardian newspaper. Duogen really have
provided superb back up service for our wind/water generator. Then to
Papeete which is noisy dusty full of people and fumes, a mix of French and
Polynesian, lovely market, a shopping centre, good restaurants pizzas and
bars, internet cafes drunks and transvestites. And we could stay here for 10
days - which we did, Intrepid took a rest, we took a holiday within a

As yachties do, we headed for the industrial area for yacht parts and found Intrepid
80% of what she wanted which is pretty good. Every yacht was doing
maintenance (not surprisingly after 5000 miles). Intrepid is something of a
rarity  - most yachts are either sailed by husband and wife (or just
husband); or they have a paid skipper and crew. We were the only yacht with
friends on - much the nicest way to travel we think. The crewed yachts were
scraping off old varnish and ordering teams of contractors, (mainly
repairing generators which always seem to break), all yachts were waiting
for parts. 2 yachts had complete engine breakdowns requiring replacement
engines, one had a fire on board in the marina caused by a starter motor on the generator
burning out the wiring, one almost sank because of a badly installed
watermaker, 2 crew were sacked from Silver Tip (a beautiful but unhappy
Swiss banker owned 90 foot racing yacht).  Ed and Andrew on Nomadess were
there getting her into glittering shape (even Fedexing a special polish out
from Virginia), they invited us on for a Friday BBQ - we took sashimi tuna,
they provided great USDA steaks, and far too much red wine.

Saturday there was the sound of groaning from both our bathrooms (Nicky and Jill
had neglected to practice sufficiently on Apataki 'beer'), but later we were
able to use Nomadess's car to stock up on food and parts, and in the evening
while Nicky and Jill recuperated,
Chris and I enjoyed the Polynesian show at the BeachComber Hotel ($80 each
plus drinks including a buffet dinner, or $12 for a cocktail from the bar -
we chose the latter) then drove into Papeete. There is reasonable night
life centred around Rue des Ecoles, we went into a local Tahitian bar next
to a parking lot (a bit seedy), enjoyed a singer/guitarist at Dao, then paid
$15 to enter the Piano Bar which is a transvestite haunt. I found it
impossible to tell which sex most people were, some were so glamorous they
had to be.......... well, male.

Sunday we toured Tahiti. Its about 60 miles
round with another smaller volcano Tahiti iti at the south. To the east of
Papeete is Point Venus where Captain Cook set up the instruments to observe
the transit of Venus in 1769 - the ostensible reason for his trip (other secret objectives were to
discover the great southern continent, and the NW passage). Now Point Venus
is a low spit of black sand beach, with a lighthouse and memorial
commemorating the landing of ....the missionaries a few years later. Tahiti
was first 'discovered' by Samuel Wallis in 1767, then by de Bougainville in
1768, who wrote a bestseller extolling the beauty of the semiclad natives
and comparing Tahiti to Eden. This inspired all manner of artists including
Robert Louis Stephenson and (later) Gauguin. By then of course the
missionaries had introduced the concept of sin, and the Tahitians were
clothed and the tourists on the beaches unclothed. Tahitians are ambivalent
at best about their status as a colony of France, and there were severe
riots a few years ago about nuclear testing. Most of the authorities are
French, there is a substantial military
presence in Papeete, and the bars seem to be full of French squadies. But
unemployment is 20% because the tourist trade is not expanding as much as
hoped so the independence movement is muted. Bizarrely when we shopped on
Saturday we were not allowed to buy alcohol because......it was the
referendum on the EU constitution, and law forbids the sale of alcohol
during elections.

We continued east, the drove up the edenlike Papanoo valley, fast flowing
clear water surrounded by tumbling fertile hills. After a mile the black top
road stopped, but we carried on past increasingly concerned signs indicating
4WD only until after about 12 Kms it became clear they finally meant it, and
we turned back and picnicked with our feet in the stream, and our hands
swatting away no-nos (obviously some latter day penance for original sin).
The rest of the island was surprisingly uniform, steep hillsides with
'servitudes' (French roads leading to housing developments), and to seaward
the coral reef. In Tahiti-iti we found the French/Tahitian equivalent of the
Women's Institute singing their hearts out in the local gym, and then holding
a raffle (as WI's do). We passed Gauguin's museum (closed) near where he
lived for a while in the south of Tahiti, but Gauguin moved on and so did

We had the pearls we had bought in Apataki set in Papeete by Pauline, Alfred's
wife, and Nicky and Jill test wore them subsequently (beautiful). In the UKI had
asthma, but while sailing I never get it. In Papeete we found that we could
distinctly smell the car fumes (although the traffic was not particularly
dense) and within a few days I was having some asthma, and within a week we
all caught colds. The joys of city life -  I guess you city dwellers are
immunised to it.

After a few more pizza and restaurant parties with other yachts we were
ready to go, and sailed off to Morea, which is the main holiday island -
most people fly into Papeete, then take the ferry to Morea. We were promised
strong winds so chose Opunohu Bay, the westerly of 2 deeply indented bays on
the north side of Morea. The other is Cook's Bay, although the great
Captain also decided after a few days that Opunohu Bay was the better
anchorage. Car hire in Tahiti is relatively expensive, $110 + /day is the
cheapest, and in Morea we were quoted $95 for 4 hours. There are various ray
and shark feeding tours ($75 each) which seemed a bit naff, so we took
Intrepid over to Papetoai Village and anchored in the middle of the
'Corridor of the Rays'. There is a lovely early Protestant hexagonal church,
and a great local restaurant, so we had lunch then snorkelled, but clearly
the rays were all sleeping off their tourist meal as well. So we went back
to our anchorage on the east side of the bay and saw straight away.....rays
swimming right under Intrepid in the crystal clear water.

Tuesday we again
opted for the natural approach and took Intrepid up to the head of the
Opunahu Valley,and then walked up the road to the impressive Marae community
site with altars and archery platforms. 3 Americans from Florida came in on
scooters, and the elder waved at the altar with walls round and explained to
his 2 sons that this was a Tahitian vegetable patch with walls to keep the goats out.
He was standing 1 metre away from a large board that described in English,
French and Tahitian the entire provenance of the community site and altars.
Oh well. The next quad bike roared into the carpark, video camera running,
swung round and out and I swear I saw them put a tick in a box as they

Although the Tahitians practiced archery they regarded it as so awesome that
it would never be used in war, because it meant that a person could be
killed from a distance. So they ritualised it, and archery was only ever
allowed during religious ceremonies to see who could shoot the furthest. The
bow and arrows were issued by the priests and returned to them at the
conclusion. Equivalent to Tahitian Nuclear Weapons,  perhaps a solution to
the Iran issue? Certainly Tahitians were no novices at war - when Cook
arrived on his 2nd visit he found 10000 warriors in 1000 war canoes
preparing to invade Morea. Cook stayed neutral, the Moreans defeated the
Tahitians unaided, and the Marae we were at was a celebration of this
victory. It was only the missionaries who caused the Tahitians to abandon
their Marae and move down into 'civilised' communities with 'proper'

We walked up the 'Path of the Ancestors' through delightful secondary
forest, eventually emerging at the Belvedere, with a quite magnificent view
over the Opunohu and Cook Bay and the mountain between. Mutiny on the Bounty
was filmed here (partially) and Marlon Brando bought a nearby island. We fed
some dozen cheeky chicks, cocks and chickens with our lunch, had an ice-cream
(coconut flavour) from the roulotte, and wandered down past the
Agricultural College which sells mouth watering fruit smoothies. We had
invited David and Barbara on Calabar to cocktails at the Sheraton Happy Hour
( $12 cocktails, 2 for 1), and there was a dance and fire troupe as well, so we stayed 3
hours in all (for the price of one drink).

But Chris and Jill have to fly out of Bora Bora on 13th June, so we had to
head 80 miles west, overnight to Hauhine, which was the last Society island
(named by Cook in honour of the Royal Society who sponsored him) to be
conquered (sorry, liberated) by the French. It is also the centre of the
independence movement. We entered the easy pass into Fare, the main town,
then slowly motored south in bright sunshine inside the coral reef outside
which world class surf was putting on an extravagant display ((Huahine hosts
some top surfing events). We anchored half way off Te Tiara beach resort (12
luxury thatched huts built over the water seems to be de rigeur for proper
relaxation if you are a 5* tourist ($350-800/night). We anchored much closer
to the coral and had a stunning display of reef fish and iridescent coral.
All the reef fish, no matter how apparently specific and individually
coloured seem to be paired off, so you always see 2 of something unique (if
you see what I mean). They are adapted to individual coral species, so if an
intruder (us) appears they disappear into crevices custom made for them.

We anchored for the night in Avea Bay right in the south, and storms from
Raietea (the next island 20 miles away) came over to make us feel at home.
We squelched along to Parea, the southern village, and regrettably
cancelling plans to
eat at the highly recommended Pension Mauarii (good food and rooms at about
$80/double room), had really very good BBQ pepper
steak a la Intrepid. Friday, we snorkelled, then headed north to Fare.
Raietea is the centre of the Moorings charter yachts, and we passed 12 in an
inhospitable anchorage 500 metres from the town, and dropped our anchor 80
metres from Te Mahana, a great beach front bar/restaurant in Fare, and
watched a kind NZ yacht anchor outside us, just as the first of 3 freighters
brushed past only 30 metres away from them.

Strange to say most villages don't seem to have a bar, so this was our first bar
for some time. We TGIF'ed with everyone else in the crowded bar (well we
have weekends too) chatted with the owners of the local pearl farm, ate
great fish and danced on the boards. Saturday we hired a car ($66/day for a
(new) 5 door), and were in time to watch the main canoe race of the festival
at Parea, a kind of preparation for the main open ocean canoe (pirogue) race
in October each year from Huahine west to Raiatea, Tahaa and finally Bora
Bora, 116 Kms in all. . We were just about the only tourists, (we only heard about it by
chatting in the bar - must do this more often) this was a Huahinian event, 6 crews each of 6
Huahinian men with magnificent muscles paddling their outrigger canoe as if
their life depended on it (which in earlier days it did of course). It was 3
laps of a long course, perhaps 20 minutes in all,and at the end all
contestants had a rice and chicken meal prepared by - well if it wasn't the
Women's Institute, I dont know what was.

We drove on round Huahine, 60 kms in all, past lots of steeply indented
bays, some shallow (turquoise), some deep (dark blue), some both
(exquisite), picnicked as we watched the canoes being towed home, then on to
Maeva, which is on the north of Huahine, and used to be the royal residence.
The missionaries made the locals tear down their old residences, (too
associated with the old gods), but many have been restored up to a point.
They still look more like Lake District dry stone walls than the centrepiece
of village life, but some villagers showed us a footpath opposite the
Protestant Church, hidden behind a private house, and we walked up through
the steep jungle to the extensive Marae Matairea Rahi, then onto Marae
Tefano dominated by a huge banyan tree, and on to Marae Paepae Ofata with a
stunning view of the coastline below, and the stone fish traps in the creek.
I shouldn't give the impression that early Polynesian life was idyllic - for
a start they seem to have been one of the most status conscious and war like
societies I have encountered. Much of the Marae were delimiting parts that
lower status people couldn't enter, priests and chiefs and high status
families had the pick of most good things in life including the many
'sacrifices', and many of the 'customs' seem to have been designed to
reinforce this, but at least it was their way of life. Then back to Fare to
celebrate Chris and Jill's wedding anniversary at Te Mahana, having first
fumigated Intrepid to rid her of bugs all boats pick up from time to time en
route, (oh the romance).

Sunday we.........went to Church, the Protestant Church at Fiti, a lovely
well maintained white building on the waterfront. We went for the singing
and the ladies in hats and to experience the power that religion has here.
Perhaps 70 ladies in beautifully decorated straw hats with flowers, and in
one particularly dazzling case, tinsel round the brim chatted before the
service, then once the service began, broke into a powerful 4 part harmony
in the Tahitian language that was spell-binding. The men sang a deep bass
and tenor, but the ladies lead them to even greater volume keeping natural
time and rhythm with no music, books, words or conductor that I could see.
Interestingly the most prominent singers (perhaps the choir?) were at the
back of the church, so we felt surrounded by the voices as we sat in the
middle, in contrast to the choir in English Churches who sit at the front.
My mother sings in the choir in her church in Somerset, so I thought of her
in this church half a world away.

Huahine is one of the most attractive islands I have yet encountered, the
colours are entrancing, reefs magnificent, the bays sheltered, the people
friendly  without being overly touristed, the society relatively at peace with
themsleves. Do come if you can. We send our best wishes from the crew of
Intrepid, Andy, Nicky Chris and Jill.