Friday 1st July 2016
With the forecast finally predicting a few calm days, Wednesday morning we headed North from Avea Bay towards the small town of Fare to restock. This meant sailing back up the narrow lagoon that encircles Huahini, this takes quite a bit of concentration, we have one eye on the chart, one eye on the channel markers and one eye on the colour of the sea to identify the shallows. Luckily we have four eyes between us and we snaked our way through the deep areas up to our next anchorage without incident. We click away on the camera but it is impossible to really catch the narrowness of the channel, the glorious colours of the sea or the grandeur of the hills.
Fare is the capital of Huahini but it is tiny, like all the islands here there is basically one road around the island that follows the twists and turns of the coast. Everything is stretched along it, housing, shops, churches, industrial units …. A town constitutes just a more concentrated area of buildings on one part of this road. So Fare, like everywhere else, has just one street, we walk past the gendamarie, a supermarket, a ceremonial area, the dock and a bank but it is 2pm and every where is deserted – still lunchtime. The next morning is another story , every foot of pavement is taken over with food stalls. Cars, bikes and people jostle for space on the road. Everybody knows everybody else, it must take all morning to walk from one end of the road to the other as everyone stops to greet and chat to each other. We fill our bags at the supermarket and buy fruit and eggs from the stalls before returning to Raya.
We were anchored on shallow sand just off the outer reef. The water and nearby coral looked inviting but when we jump in armed with brooms to clean the hull we soon discover there is quite a current running, I swim hard against it to check the anchor but decide cleaning and snorkelling can wait for kinder waters.We rock occasionally, the harbour area is busy with cruise ship ferries, small fishing boats and dingies but it felt great, to finally, not be taking a battering from the wind. The tradition of canoeing is alive and well throughout French Polynesia, in all our ports of call there have been crews or individuals training for the frequent regattas. In the Society Islands they use a modern version of outrigger canoes, we sit at the yacht club restaurant watching a crew of five sprint back and forth paddles in exact harmony with each other.
Thursday we get an email from our friends onboard their catamaran Yollata, the Raymarine instruments onboard have failed, they still have the GPS but no wind, speed or depth information and most disasterously no autopilot. When there are just two of you sailing the boat, the autopilot acts as an important third crew member, a crew member that never sleeps, never needs feeding, never loses concentration. They are 400nm into the 1200nm passage to Tonga and are appealing to the cruising community for any expertise or ideas of what might have gone wrong and things to check. Everybody does their best to help but it is difficult to diagnose from afar. We feel for them, it’s going to be a long tiring week ahead, especially with two young children onboard.
The next two islands on our continuing route west our Raiatea and Tahaa, they are contained within a single outer reef. We have been told of a beautiful coral garden that fills a shallow channel between two motu on the west coat of Tahaa. With the weather still set fair for the weekend we decide we should take advantage of it to make sure we can snorkel and appreciate the experience in good conditions. So Friday we head out of the Port of Fare, through the Avamoa pass, with a pod of dolphins swimming and leaping all around us. There is a steady 15kt wind from the ESE, it is only 20nm across the channel, so although it doesn’t take us quite in the right direction we shake out the sails and enjoy the ride.
We are welcomed to Raiatea by a flock of Red Footed Boobies, no great flying displays today, they just sit bobbing about on the waves, reluctantly taking to the air as we motor past, exposing their bright red feet and blue beaks, making identification easy. The pass into the lagoon is flanked on both sides by picture perfect dessert islands but the bay we had planned for our first stop looked less lovely, the water was brown and the shore lined with small scruffy warehouses.
It was still only 1pm, so we sail on through the central channel to Tahaa. There are a few sailing charter companies here and the next bay is full of charter boats, the next bay the bottom is too deep to anchor. We motor on, pass a striking church on the banks and dodge a surprisingly large container ship for inside the lagoon. We are now north enough to spot the Motu we expected to visit tomorrow and decide to try the sandy anchorage nearby. It is very steep dropping from 2m to 25m in just a couple of boat lengths we don’t feel happy enough to stay the night. It is now 3.30 and the sun is beginning to get too low to safely navigate the coral, we need to decide where to anchor. On the chart we spot a potential bay a mile across the lagoon but when we arrive half the bay is full of fishing buoys the other half is 25m deep. However, the pressure is on and we put our nose a little further in to investigate, we hear shouts, arms wave frantically, the bouys hold oyster cages, this is a pearl farm. The kindly owner motors out and shows us where it is safe to drop our anchor, it is deep but too late to move on, so we are in 24m of water with most of 100m of chain out.
In had turned into a long day and as we sit down for our well deserved ‘got here beer’ we look around for the first time at our surroundings. We can hardly believe our eyes, beyond the lagoon ten miles away sits the dramatic outline of Bora Bora and we have a grandstand view of the sun setting perfectly behind its craggy silhouette.
P.S. We have just heard from Yollata, after four tiring days, they have managed to cobble together a fix and have their autopilot functioning again.