13 july 1986, Sunday, 1800 hrs

Quay #57, Papeete, Tahiti

Sunny and warm 85F

 

To all my good friends. Greetings from PAPEETE TAHITI.

Well, believe it or not, ODJ and I made it to Papeete. According to my reckoning we're only nine years late.. But by god, we're really here!

Let me set the scene for you: We are moored mediterranean style to the busiest street in Papeete. By med style we mean that the anchor was dropped off of the bow, and we backed down until the stern was against the sea wall. After tying lines to the seawall, we put a gang-plank ashore and can step right onto the sidewalk in downtown Papeete. It sure beats rowing ashore in the dinghy.

I have made up my mind to write a letter each month, so that you all can follow the (mis)adventures of 0DJ and I. I'll bring you up to date from my Nuka Hiva letter of mid June. The little more that a week that I spent in Nuka Hiva was a time of boat chores; altho I of course found time for some 'fun and games'. I rode the ferry (old WW II LCP (landing craft, personnel)) clear around the island. A full day trip with a mixed cargo of the friendliest people and their dogs, cats, pigs, goats and yes my friends, even a horse or two.

This island is what one imagines when you think of the south seas. High, very rugged mountains, covered with lust tropical growth. Coconut trees stand tall among the banana, papaya, and beadfruit trees. Reaching even higher that the coconuts are the mango trees, some as high as 100 feet. The only thing in real abundance was the fruit, and every tree was owned by someone. Because of this you don't just go around picking (or picking up) the fruit; however they were very generous if asked. I traded a tee shirt that was too small for at least 50 lbs of fruit, and most got too ripe before I could eat it all. Nuka Hiva was a great place and I'm glad that I made landfall there. The check in proceedure requires that you get to Papeete within a month and since I wanted to spend some time in the Tuamotus, I sailed out of Taiohea Bay on June 21. My next destination was to be either Ahe or Rangioa. The distance was about 600 miles and at average speed would take 6 days sailing.

The days on this passage were wonderful sailing. Winds about 12 to 20 knots out of the. east and southeast. My course was SW which made a broad-reach or a run, good time was made and the noon sight on the 24th showed that the atoll of Abe would be reached after dark. Since none of these low atolls can be sighted further away then S or 10 miles and there are few lights; I altered course to give Ahe a wide berth and steered for Rangiroa instead. The noon sight on the 25th indicated that the atoll was 6 miles away.. and sure enough, when I went topside, there were the palms straight across my path horizon to horizon. Luckly the current was flowing into the pass and I had a wild sleigh ride in. Other boats have arrived when the current was out-flowing at up to 10 knots. In those cases they 'wait' 6 hours or skip the atoll. By 3pm we were anchored off Kia-0ra Hotel.

 

The low lying coral atolls are very different that the hgh islands like Nuka Hiva or Tahiti. The atolls are rings of land, composed of dead coral. They only rise 10 to 20 feet above the sea. The plant life is restricted to coconut palms and a few (very few) cultivated plants. A few oranges and limes were the only local products, but for what they lacked in produce, they made up in fish, lobsters and clams.

The coral reefs inside the lagoon teamed with fish. Diving was like being in one of the big tanks at the Steinheart Aquarium. The fish were absolutely fearless, unless I had my speargun; then they became the wariest fish alive, allowing me get to within one foot out-of-range. The fish knew the length of the line on the spear to the exact millimeter! But with a little luck I was able to have fish every night. There is a problem with fish poisoning, called Ciguatera. To make sure that I didn't eat the 'bad guys' I took my fish to the local village and found out the 'good guys'. After that, I only speared the 'good guys'. I went out with a couple of the kids for lobsters one night. I'm not much of a lobster hunter. The trick is to walk the outside reef in knee deep water, looking for the shine of their eyes in the light of a big two-mantle Coleman. After spotting the eyes, you sneak up on them and grab them with your bare hands. It turns out that I'm not much of a sneaker-upper. As I said earlier, thank god these people are generous, otherwise, no lobsters for John.

I remember an old movie where a pearl diver stepped into one of those huge clams, with the fluted shells. John Wayne or someone dove to his rescue and used his knife to open the clam and save the diver. Well I'm here to tell you those clams, in that size, do exist. I didn't step in any, but a lot of the small ones clamped down on my screwdriver and ended up in the pot. I turned out several good chpwders and one clam spaghetti feed for eight other 'yachties' and myself.

The atoll had been planted in coconut plantations, mile after mile of rows of trees, with the ground covered with coconuts. However, the price of copra (dried coconut meat) has fallen to less than 10 francs (about 8 cents) a kilo (2 pounds) so nobody gathers the nuts. they lie there and go to waste; but the real 'kicker' is that if you want a drinking nut, it costs 200 francs (1.75) at the store! And they really get irate when ,you pick up a single nut. The prices for everything are outrageous. One night I dressed up and went ashore to the fancy hotel for dinner. The dinner was served family style, and the food was really not that good, but they still gave me a bill for 3000 francs (about 27.00). I had skipped the wine (at 2500 a bottle) and had a beer (small) at 800 francs (7.50 a beer). Needless to say that was the last time I ate out.

Rangiroa was a beautiful place, clear water for diving, good shelling, and continually pleasant weather. There were a number of other yachts that came and went, while I sat out a very enjoyable 10 days. But the old time limit of Papeete by July 13, meant that I had to up anchor for the 'big city'.

I pulled the anchor on July 7 and sailed out the west pass (I had entered the east pass), with an out going current. The distance to Tahiti from Rangiroa is about 200 miles, so about two days sailing. Since I left about noon my ETA for Papeete was about noon on the 9th. The passage gave me a little of everything, calms, high winds, rains, rough seas, and a beautiful sunset. About 4 in the morning on the 9th I could see the loom of the lighthouse on Venus Point, Tahiti. At 9:30 I entered the harbor of Papeete and was told to hove-to (stop sailing) as I was right in the middle of the sixteen man canoe race course. An hour later they finally let me follow the last of the canoes into the harbor. As I followed them I got a good look; they were catamarans with 8 paddlers in each hull. I found out later that they could do 10 to 15 niles per hour in spurts. Very impressive when there are 30 or 40 boats churning the bay to a froth. I dropped the anchor right near the start line and spent the rest of the day watching all the races. Singles (over 60, under 10, etc) then mens doubles, womens doubles, mixed, little kids, old kids, girls 6's and 8's (lots of teams from Hawaii). All this activity was part of the month long celebration that had started on the 28 of June. Why had I taken so much time to get here? Doesn't really bother me as I had such a good time anyhow.

I finally got ashore and checked in with the port captain and found mail , the first since Mexico. I was assigned a 'slot' on the quay and promptly moored med style. Friends (Bob and Mary Kay) invited me out to dinner. Steak and fries (frits) at a food wagon in the carnival area. I brought a 'baggy' of wine and we had a fine time. After dinner we went to the singing and dancing competition. Different teams from all the islands compete nightly, with finals to be in a couple of days. The outdoor stadium was packed and all seats had been sold out for weeks, I don't know how Bob and Mary Kay worked it out for me to attend. Unfortunately, because of the sold-out ticket situation, I will probably not be able to see anymore performances.

The next days were filled with all kinds of activities; exploring the city, shopping at the open market (get there before 7 AM for the best stuff), rides on Le Truck which for a few hundred francs goes clear around Tahiti (100 kilometers or so). Every day there were events for Fete. I dug out the video tape deck and filmed some of the javelin throwing competition. There were 30 or 40 guys who each threw 10 spears at a coconut on the top of a 30 foot high post. They had to throw from 60 feet away. The slant range is about 100 feet and (to me) suprisingly about 10% of the spears hit this (maybe) one square foot target. The competition continued until each contestant threw 100 spears. Believe me it was quite a sight to see, and I'm glad that I wasn't around when these guys threw them for real.

Today (Sunday) finished with the military band giving a concert (mostly Sosza marches). Tomorrow is the 'Frenchman's day' (everything up to now has been definately Polynesian, with not much love lost) which is the commemoration of Bastille Day, July 14th. At 9AM there is to be a parade, followed by a reception at the governor's house (all invited . I'll tell you all about it tomorrow).

This is a great typewriter as it remembers all that I've typed today, and it will be there in memory when I finish this tomorrow. I'll finish my wine (French, bulk, 3.00 a liter, not bad) and go to bed.. see you all tomorrow.

Tuesday 1200

Well as you can see, I didn't make it on Monday, somehow the day just got out of hand and I didn't get back to this typewriter keyboard. Now back to Bastille Day; the parade was very, very military with flags and sailors and soldiers and gendarmes and WACs and WAVEs and all kinds of military types. Even K9 corps on a small island! The brass lined up a bunch of mixed military and civilians and pinned on a bunch of medals. Lots of speeches (because I don't speak French I couldn't understand specific words, but the meaning is clear to any 'old soldier'). Then the military pomp and circumstance was over and the Tahitian part of the parade began.

The floats reminded me of New Year's Day and the Rose Parade. They were completely covered with flowers, and the best part was you could really smell them. No kidding! The floats all had dancers and/or singers, and stopped in front of the reviewing stand for a performance. It was a wonderful 4 hr show and as you could guess, my video recorder battery went flat in the first half hour.

After the parade, all 2000 or so of us went to visit the governor. He had all kinds of goodies (cavier, little sandwiches, raw fish ,chicken, pork, poi, and about anything else you can think of). But the best was the wine and champange. .which is why I kinda lost Monday. I can tell you that it's hard walking the gangplank with a 'snoot-full'. So my Monday sort of disappeared and now it's Tuesday the 15th.. yes I know that I typed the 16th on the last page, but I'm just screwed up as to lining up dates with days. It really is Tuesday which makes it the 15th, right?

This morning I walked across town and found~the marine store. (special to Pete.. they take VISA at the marine store. So go rob Fort Knox) and bought new lower shrouds. The new shrouds go up romorrow to replace the jury-rig that I fixed on the crossing. Also the hull of ODJ gets a new coat of white gloss and the dinghy gets new paint inside and~out. The old jib gets a seam restiched (about 6 feet). They're making a new 'bullet proof' Genoa jib. And when all is done then we're all ready to up anchor to Noorea. Probably will pull out next weekend (about July 20th or so). Moorea is only a short ferry ride from Papeete, so I'll come back every week or so for the mail annd supplies.

Immigration is only granting 3 month visas,.which means that I'll leave French Polynesia (last stop Bora Bora) about mid Oct. I plan then to go to American Somoa (Pago Pago) for the hurricane season (Nov thru Jan). Maybe a trip home over Christmas, who knows? After Pago Pago I'll sail on to Tonga and Fiji next year. But, like all plans this is subject to change. We'll see as time goes on.

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