Vakaeitu – David’s Island 

Anchorage at Vakaeitu

Friday 26th August 2016 

I awoke Wednesday morning to an amusing sight. We are anchored off the beautiful island of Vakaeitu and the sun is finally shinning but fantastic as the view is, what tickled me this morning, was the sight of the husband and wife who live on the island wandering along the beach with the pet pig trotting along behind them. This pig thinks he’s just another one of the family dogs. Not only does he go for a walk each morning, he sits at the family’s feet as they work creating handicrafts and when you land on the island he runs up to you for a stroke. 

David, his wife and daughter live in a small house made from a wooden frame and corrugated iron panels, set just off the beach in the shade cast by the magnificent trees that grow all around.  They are the only inhabitants of the island that has been the family home for a hundred and fifty years, a clearing in the hill with a cross, marks his Grandfather and Great Grandfathers graves. David worked for the national Tongan airline but has recently moved back to the island and now lives a subsistence life growing and harvesting from the land and sea. They make handicrafts to sell and prepare a Tongan Feast for the yachties anchored in the bay. 

We joined one on Monday night and had great fun, despite the rather makeshift organisation, wonky chairs, disparate collection of plates and bowls and a selection of dogs and pigs around our feet. Along with the essential spit roast suckling pig his wife, an ex-chef, cooked a delicious fish curry, sweet and sour fish, a crab salad and a dozen other dishes. To accompany the food they entertained us with traditional songs, David played his guitar and his daughter, with a touch of teenage shyness, gave us a demonstration of Tongan dancing. At the end of the meal they made an appeal for any mechanics to look at their outboard that had broken down, without their small boat they are dependent on others to get off the island. Rick dingied accross to help Tony from s/y Cetacea have a look, they both concluded it was the carburettor and unfortunately needed more skill than they could provide but we did at least manage to charge his phone for them.

Vakaeitu is semicircular in shape and with the other islands in the group were once the edge of a volcanic crater, so we are completely surrounded by wooded islands and are protected from the brisk winds that have at last cleared out the rain. We spent our first days here windows wide open, everything from curtains to mattresses on deck, drying out the damp and cleaning away the mould that had suddenly appeared on items and spots through out the boat. 

With Raya fresh and clean we started to explore. The beach has a shallow band of rock and coral running right around it and with over a metre of tide, runs ashore have to be timed well to avoid either stranding our dingy high and dry or having to wade thigh deep to retrieve it. So yesterday at twelve, an hour before high tide, we anchored the dingy a few metres out and tied to a tree. Behind David’s house is a trail through the tropical forest, up over the ridge, to a stunning secluded beach on the SE coast of the island. The trail took us through a tangle of countless species of trees and shrubs, tropical bird song filtered down with the sunlight from the canopy above, tiny lizards with luminescent blue tails skitted through the thick leaf litter at our feet and bright burnt orange butterflies filled the air.  

As we reached the crest of the hill we were hit by the cooling breeze from the southeasterly wind and carefully decended the steep muddy path down to the delightful beach below. The white sand was soft, our feet sinking deep as the waves lapped around our ankles, we regretted not bringing our snorkelling gear, reef stretched out from the rocks. 

On our return David was waiting for us with an opened coconut to quench our thirst. With sun back out the true Tonga is shinning through.

Stunning white beach on the SE coast

Tipping it Down in Tonga

Saturday 20th August 2016

The sky was dark and heavy with clouds, the air enveloping us was totally windless, thick and damp, the water was a dark green mirror, Raya drifted aimlessly around her anchor chain, nothing else moved. It felt strangly like we existed within a bubble that had been dropped into a world that had stopped. We were anchored off Aisea beach, deep inside another of Vava’u’s convoluted inlets, we were the only boat. The quiet stillness continued into the evening and then suddenly the wind picked up, a cloud opened and the rain came down, the world outside had started up again.

Sailing around these islands with their associated coral reefs in bad light is not a good idea, so Tuesday we grabbed a brief thinning of the clouds to move from Port Maurelle a few miles around the corner for a change of view. I’m sure the view at Aisea Beach is normally beautiful, as I’m sure is the rest of Tonga but we unfortunately have had only short glimpses of this pacific paradise with the sun shining.

It is now Saturday and the rain is still tipping down. We thank our lucky stars that we are not just here on holiday, there has been little sunshine for two weeks, just rain and more rain. At least we have not be feeling up to doing very much, yes of course, I caught the cold too.

We did have one day of nice weather, keen to get off the boat despite feeling a bit fragile, we took the dingy out to snorkel and explore the cliffs around the area. The geology here results in amazing shoreline features, Vava’u is comprised of 60 low lying coral limestone islands, that sit on volcanic bedrock. Most of the shore is formed of steep wooded cliff faces that plunge straight down into the sea making for deep coastal waters, where there are no reefs it is often 50m deep right up to the shore. As the sea erodes the relatively soft limestone, over millennia a notch has appeared that runs all around the islands, it is punctuated with caves some of which run far under the cliffs. Close up the rock is heavily pitted and looks quite soft but is actually razor sharp, as we discovered trying to investigate under one of the many ledges, ouch!

The notch worn by the tide clearly visable in the cliffs at Port Maurelle.

Looking up through the woodland we spotted a colony of fruit bats hanging from the trees above us. Each bat is a good foot long with a much larger wing span, when flying they are rather spectacular and live up to their common name of flying foxes. Asleep however they resemble bits of decaying leather tangled in the branches.

Tongan Fruit Bats

On the rocks were a pair of white Black Naped Terns. We must have been a little too near to thier nest as they squawked loudly flapping their wings at us, refusing to move from their spot while we past by. Terns of various varieties have been entertaining us since we arrived in Polynesia, their flight is extremely graceful and often performed in perfect formation with a second or third bird.

Black Naped Terns standing guard

With no sign of a let up in the weather we returned to Neiafu, using the rainy days to stock back up with fresh food, so we can spend the sunny days that must arrive soon out at the more remote islands. We also went to immigration and extended our visa for a further two months which will take us to the end of October and our departure for New Zealand.

Bumping into friends we were persuaded to join them at the Thursday night quiz at the Bounty Bar, with considerable help from the two youngsters off the catamaran Do Over, our team was victorious. Our prize made us feel as if we were in the tropics even if the weather didn’t, free rum punches all round. 

Sniffing and Soggy in Port Maurelle.

Saturday 13th August 2016

It is a bit of a relief to see a patch of blue sky amongst the grey clouds this morning, we’ve had unsettled weather for about five days now, we are again being effected by the South Pacific convergence zone, that is running SE all the way from Northern Australia to the Southern Cook Island straight over Tonga. Yesterday it drizzled in true English style all day, the boat feels damp, the cockpit is soggy and Rick sits with a heavy cold  huddled in bed, head pounding and his nose streaming almost as fast as the rain outside.

We moved out of the harbour at Neiafu on Wednesday and are now anchored in a pretty cove just a few miles south, tucked behind a thin headland on the island of Kapa. Fangakima is also known as Port Maurelle, named after the first European to land in Vava’u in 1781. Maurelle and his crew anchored here and found a valuable source of fresh water in the, now overgrown, spring fed swamp nearby.

Anchored in Port Maurelle

The bay is currently crowded with yachts escaping the bad weather but when we arrived it was almost empty. We took the opportunity of a break in the clouds to take the dingy across to the deserted beach to stretch our legs, the sand was soft and washed clean by the tide, our foot prints the only break in its smooth surface. The beach and sides of the cove are backed by thick wooded slopes, amongst the palms, hibiscus, figs and many spindly unidentified trees were surprisingly large specimens with thick branches, hanging out over the water they cried out for a hammock or swing.

Far S end of the beach at Port Maurelle

Port Maurelle is also popular for a couple of snorkelling spots. At the furtherest point of the headland is Swallows Cave a large cave that you can swim into, we were taken there to round off our whale watching day. A roof of a hundred stalactites streaked with red and a floor of deep blue water full of huge shoals of tiny fish. Still in awe of the whales we had just seen and sharing it with another tour group, it’s full spender passed us by, we hope to give it another visit. The guide book also describes a good reef with a dramatic drop off on the north coast of the small nieghbouring island of A’Ai, so we need both the weather and Rick’s cold to improve.

As another black cloud darkens the sky I think comfort food is probably the order of the day, so to celebrate finding real potatoes at the market a few days ago I made a shepherds pie. We have discovered, especially when it’s just the two of us, it is great to have ready prepared food on passage so I make plenty and pop one in our now functioning freezer.

In the mean time I am trying my best to follow the Oympics, I’ve always been a big fan, not just of the swimming and athletics but the opportunity to enjoy so many other sports. No chance of video with my three bars of Tongan Digicel 3G so the best I can do is follow the BBC’s live text feed. Much as I am delighted by a trampolining silver it’s difficult to really appreciate it through the sticarto medium of written commentary. And hearing the exciting start to the heptathlon two hours after the event can’t compare to watching it live in the stadium four years ago.

Worry not however we’ve just found two old series of Dr Who that Rach put on to a hard drive for us a few years ago, so we have something to keep us occupied until the sun and Rick are ready to come out to play.

In With the Whales

Tuesday 9th August 2016

We woke this morning to the sound of  rain pounding on the hatch, it continues to pour, the sky is dark grey, but we have smiles on our faces, our spirits are still sky high from the incredible experience we had yesterday. 

We started our two ‘Vava’u tourist days’ attending the  Ene’lo botanical garden’s Sunday Tongan Feast. This comprised of spit roasted suckling pig, fish poached in coconut milk, chicken curry, corned beef wrapped in Tarrow leaves, salad and much more, we washed it down with a coconut rum cocktail served in the shell. All very delicious but our hearts weren’t in it, I had just drowned our camera by taking it for a swim with the battery cover loose. We have two underwater cameras, one that we thought was coming to the end of its life and a new one kindly brought out to Panama for us ( P.S. Peter and Jonko you still haven’t billed us for it!). The old one is still doing fine so we have been using whichever one comes to hand, guess which one I took swimming!

That evening we readied ourselves for a 7.20am start the next day, wetsuits, towels, suncream and fully charged batteries for our remaining cameras, we were hoping for some great shots, we were going swimming with the whales.

Well the shots aren’t brilliant, photography became a definite afterthought, we were far too busy and distracted by the amazing show going on around us. During the southern winter the humpback whales leave their feeding grounds in Antarctica and swim north to calf and mate in the warm seas of the Tropics, with its deep, calm, protected waters Tonga attracks thousands of whales each year. August and September is  height of the whale spotting season, all boats have to be licensed, it is strictly forbidden for you to approach whales in your own boat.

The Vaka Vave whale watch and swimming motor boat, crewed by Robert, Izzie, and Jay, picked up our friends from Nina and then us from Raya and the six of us sat excitedly as Izzie the Tongan guide gave us instructions and the plan for the day. We headed out to the best areas for spotting whales, everyones eyes peeled for any signs of whale like activity. We have all sailed from Europe and have spent many an hour staring out over miles of blue ocean, it was a familiar pastime.

This time however, within minutes of reaching Faihava passage we saw our first blow, two males were swimming a couple of hundred metres away. The boat slowed and Izzie assessed the situation, it is of course of prime importance not to distress the whales in any way, so it’s a waiting game to see what the whales are doing and let them decide if they are happy with the boats presence. These whales turned out to be on a mission they quickly dived. While we had been watching  them out of the front, Robert and Jay had spotted a much calmer female behind us. So we turned and slowly approached, suddenly the were three whales the two males had joined her. In fact they had come to impress her, we couldn’t tell if she was won over but we certainly were, they breached high out of the water, slapped there long slender fins and dived around her. 

Impressing the females with whale acrobatics

When the boat was close enough, in groups of four, we took it in turns to enter the water. We caught a fleeting glimpse as one dived below us, we returned to the boat and waited for the whales to resurface. The trick we learnt was to move quickly and try to follow Jay as closely as possible as he led the way. Second time in we did better, we couldn’t believe it, we were swimming with whales. They were so huge we rarely caught site of the whole animal, but with three in the water we were surrounded by whale bits. Then with a hardly visible flap of the tail they were gone, it had been astonishing but so brief, having wetted our appetites we wanted more.

We motored further south, seeing nothing for about half an hour, then over the hum of the engine we heard whale song. We took to the water and there 10m below us was a singing male, the sound under the water was incredible, haunting, you were immersed in the sound as if it was part of the ocean. He hung there for a minute or two before disappearing into depths. It was a breathtakingly beautiful moment.

Magnificent humpback whale just 10m away

There was more to come however, our final few swims were with a large group, four males, a female and her calf and an adolescent that arrived on our beam and dived directly under the boat. They were extremely active and gave us a full display on the surface, it was difficult to know which way to look, as they breached, slapped their fins, rolled and dived. In the water we were completely surrounded by whales they were underneath us, in front and behind us. They were incredibly graceful and so obviously at one with their environment, one came so close I felt I could reach out and touch him, another swam below upside down, displaying his large white underside. No more than twenty meters away the female swam with her calf tight at her side. At around fifteen meters long and weighing twenty five tons they could have easily batted us out of the way, as one swam directly beneath us a moment of fear flashed through me as I contemplated him deciding to surface but they nonchalantly kept their distance.  

Jay, Lin and Steve snorkelling towards the mother and calf

We were in the water with them for about ten minutes before they moved away. Ten minutes of our lives we are extremely privileged to have experienced and that will never be forgotten, despite the lack of good photos.

The King Comes to Town

As we entered Faihava passage Rick spotted more whales, I rushed to the bows with the camera but they dived and were gone. The islands of Vava’u surrounded us, compared with French Polynesia they are relatively low and flat, but there are hundreds of them, some tiny, all topped with trees and encased in deep blue sea. We wound our way down a channel and motored through the narrow pass into the protected harbour of Neiafu.

Our first job was to check in at customs to formally enter Tonga. The concrete dock looked high and unforgiving, we did a circle as the two yachts already there squeezed up for us, Rick parked us perfectly as I rushed around lifting the fenders as high as I could to protect the rail. The wharf had deep grooves for the fenders to slip into and a lip perfectly placed to catch a yacht on the rising tide. Luckily the formalities were achieved quickly by the friendly officials and within an hour our passports were stamped, Raya had passed her health inspection, we had drawn out 500 Tongan Pa’anga and the yellow quarantine flag was lowered.

The customs inspectors informed us to make sure we attended Vava’u’s premier event of the year, to be held tomorrow, the Royal Horticultural Show, the King of Tonga, King George Tupou V, would be there to officially open it. The Tongan people dress conservatively and we were advised to ensure our knees and shoulders were covered. A ripple of panic spread through the cruising community as the normal uniform of shorts and T shirts was discarded.

Dressed in our Sunday best we walked the fifteen minutes to the high school playing fields. The show was delightful, a small version of a county show, with rows of stalls displaying fruit, vegetables, fish, and handicrafts. 

Islanders ware set out for the judges, the odd things strung out in the lower right picture are squid.

Food stalls BBQ chicken kebabs, hotdogs and other less recognizable fare, the cake stalls had cinnamon buns, coconut cake and drinks, people milled around the attractions and jostled for patches of shade, all waiting for the Kings arrival. About a half an hour late his cavalcade of jeeps and cars drove right into the centre of the show ground and escorted by a large entourage he took his place in his especially decorated small pavilion. The Tongan national anthem was played and a series of long speeches ensued. Flagging in the heat, after about the sixth one having not understood a word, we quietly slipped away back to the boat. 

We are hooked up to a sturdy mooring bouy in the middle of the mooring field close to town. It is very settled with land on all sides it feels like we are tied up on a lake. The surrounding hills are covered in trees out of which fly rather strange, large black birds. On closer inspection we notice they land oddly in the fruit trees, out come the binoculars, they are large fruit bats and the source of the high screeching we can hear.

Town planning and health and safety have yet to reached Tonga. Visually at least it appears less sophisticated than French Polynesia and without the European influence feels a lot more ‘foreign’. It is an independent Kingdom, with a close relationship to New Zealand who help with defence and foreign affairs. The GDP struggles, the largest part of the countries income comes from money sent back from relatives abroad, the most profitable export crop is vanilla but world demand fluctuates wildly. The majority of buildings are made of concrete, all different shapes, sizes and colours and all occupying ground at different levels. They are accessed up short steep hills, down winding staircases and over uneven kerbs. Dogs and pigs wander the streets, cars often old and rickety pass by slowly.  There is a sense of higledypigeldyness. 

Main street in Neiafu, with the yachts moored in the bay

Having been weaned off Waitrose months ago the empty shelves of the small stores no longer horrify us, if we see something we may need we buy it there and then, menus are set once the shopping is completed and stand-in ingredients rule. Rick’s phone won’t connect to the local network and you have to pay for the local businesses to take away your rubbish. Strangly although as I said there are pigs in the streets, you see them in people’s garden and scavenging along the shore, pork is the ‘special’ on every restaurant menu but we can’t find any to buy. Smillarly there is the continuous chorus of cockerels wherever we go but no fresh chicken and rarely eggs. On the upside there are plenty of restaurants around and the fruit and veg market is quite well stocked, here in town we have expensive but reasonable internet and with few tourists the town focuses on being well set up to help the yachts and their crews.

We have plenty of time to enjoy Tonga so we have spent the past week slowly sorting ourselves out, Internet, laundry, charts etc… We have cleaned the boat and carried out routine maintenance and there has been a lot of socialising with the many friends, we have met along the way. 

This weekend we are going to play the tourist game, joining a Tongan feast on the beach and at great expense, going on a whale watch boat with the hope of swimming with the hump back whales, that as we have already seen, frequent these waters at this time of year. They come to enjoy the warm calm sea to rear their young and are apparently unphased by people swimming close by. We can’t wait.

Landfall Tonga

Friday 29th July 2016

Our life afloat has many special moments, I suppose in a way that’s what we are doing it all for. This was not a wow special moment however. No sharks circling the boat, no formation boobies diving a few feet away, no magnicant rock formations towering above us, this was a much more subtle and precious moment.

The last couple of days of our passage were quite intense, pushing hard to keep our speed up to ensure a daylight landfall we were half reefed in 25 gusting 35kt winds. The waves had built and as we headed slightly further south came further on to the beam, sleeping was fitful, normal life hard work. 

Pacific swell loomimg over the stern

Still out of sight of land we picked up chatter on VHF Ch26, the radio net that is boosted to cover the whole of the Tongan Vava’u group and the main means of boat to boat and boat to business communication there. After a week at sea it was good to hear familiar boat names even familiar voices over the airwaves. Then through the haze the two hundred meter high flat chunk of rock that is the eastern shore of  Vava’u came into sight. A sense of excited anticipation ran through us. 

Sunset was at 6.20pm so although we knew from the chart that we were going to make it before dark, we still faced the unknown of our arrival. We had picked Vaiutukakau bay as an anchorage from the chart in the NW of the island where we should in theory be sheltered from the SE winds and swell but you can never be really sure until you get there. The chart showed the bay was deep with just a couple of shallow ledges, would they be sand, coral, rock, would they be suitable to anchor in, would the bay be full of other yachts, fishing bouys or other hazards? We had no time for a plan B.

It is difficult to express the feeling of euphoria of rounding a headland after a period at sea being bashed by the wind and waves to find the calm expanse inside a protected bay. And what a spot this turned out to be, the bay was serene as the sun sank below the horizon. There was not a sign of human intervention any where, not a hut, a fence, a radio tower, even a boat insight, the water was flat and crystal clear. The shore was a vertical limestone cliff covered in trees that somehow clung to every crevice, the air was full of tropical bird song and the shore line was dotted with white sand beaches and caves. After a week at sea this was a special moment indeed.

Enjoying my ‘got here beer’, just got in before sunset.

We warmed up a chilli, drank a glass of red wine and then slept like the dead for twelve hours. We would loved to have stayed but we were yet to check into Tonga and so reluctantly at 9 the next morning we started to raise the anchor. As if in protest to my statement earlier accusing Vaiutukakau Bay of lacking the wow factor, a pod of humpback whales appeared a couple of hundred meters away, they treated us to the full show spouting water, slapping fins and fluking. 

Good start Tonga.

Rays, rain and referendum results

Tuesday 21st June 2016

I watch as two coconuts bob by, or is one a turtles head popped up for a breath of air, so common place are these occurrences that we hardly acknowledge them any more. We no longer sit in blue clear water, we are surrounded by a thick brown soup. Waterfalls have appeared in the mountain sides around us, the rivers at the head of the bay’s gush thier reddy, brown contents into the sea. We have had 3 days of rain, our whole world is soggy and damp and I have a cold, we have been remarkably healthy since we left the UK hardly a sniffle between us,  unfortunately I seem to have caught one in Tahiti and as it has poured with rain outside, my eyes and nose have streamed inside. 

On Saturday the wind began to pick up but the sun still shone, in an attempt to clear my head a little we dingied over to a sting ray feeding area. A patch of shallow sand in the lagoon where the tour boats come armed with tinned sardines to hand feed the large ray’s and inevitably the local black tip shark population. Today there were no tour boats but the sound of our engine was enough to attract attention, we were immediately surrounded by over a dozen or so black tip sharks and four or five large sting rays. We hadn’t bought any food with us but to be honest with sharks outweighing the rays by about four to one the prospect of jumping in the water hands full of sardines seemed rather foolish. We were happy enough to just see them at such close quarters sitting in the dingy.

Sting rays mobbing the dingy

That night the combination of my sneezing, the rain clattering on the hatch and the wind howling through the rigging made for a rather sleepless night. The next day we decided to up anchor and move to the protection inside the bay. The wind still gusted down through the mountains spinning us this way and that but the holding was good and the scenery, when we could make it out through the gloom was fantastic.

By Monday with the weather still not good enough for the crossing to our next island Huahini (pronounced Wuahini, we are told) but unable to make drinking water from the muddy water  around us in the bay, we decided to go off shore for an hour, make water, empty black tanks and then re-anchor in the other deep bay on the north coast of Moorea, two miles to the east, Cooks Bay. 

Cooks Bay is slightly wider and the surrounding mountains less steep giving it a more open feel and it is slightly more built up. Next to our anchorage is the Bali Hai Hotel, yes Moorea is yet another island that claims to be the setting of the movie South Pacific, they have a dingy dock, a bar, restaurant and book exchange, with a small supermarket up the road there was everything we needed.

Clouds building over the peaks in Cooks Bay

Thursday 23rd June

The weather broke Wednesday afternoon so we departed for Huahini that evening, we left at ten, the light of the full moon guiding us out of the bay. The crossing was 87nm so we were sailing through the night to arrive to enter the pass in the reef surrounding the island in daylight. There was little wind and the night passed without incidence however as dawn arrived the sky darkened and we had an extremely wet last few hours. We are anchored off the pretty town beach and coincidentally  we have the best internet we have had since the Carribbean, enough in fact to watch the unfolding drama of the UK vote to leave the EU. Blimey that wil take some digesting!

A wet arrival in Fare , Huahini

Variety of Views

Friday 17th June 2016

The clue should have been in the guide book title – hike to mountain view point. We are not overly keen walkers especially when the word mountain is in the sentence, so I’m not sure how we found ourselves pounding, in temperatures approaching 30C, the path 5 km up the road to the Moorea Belvedere, with its ‘spectacular views of rare natural beauty’. The road took us initially through gently sloping farm land, cows grazed, meadows lined the route, all was well. Gradually the road got steeper and was bordered with tall firs, fast running streams snaked to and fro, pineapple groves dropped down into the valleys. The final two km rose more sharply zigzagging upwards through jungle. We passed flowers of bright yellow, red and orange, shrubs with leaves the same size as us and others bright green one side, purple the other, large Banyan trees, stately Acacia and 30m high clumps of bamboo. At each bend and between each tree was the ever present dominance of the craggy slabs of rock that form the peaks here. Unfortunately our enjoyment of our surroundings gradually decreased in proportion to the steepness of the road, by the time we arrived puffing and soaked in sweat at the viewing point our ability to appreciate its splendour was seriously reduced.

Tall firs line the road on the lower slopes

Still we are appreciating the mountains from sea level, the peaks fill our sky line and we have a couple of sleek Superyachts in the foreground to enhance the view. On Wednesday morning we went right into the bay, it is one mile long and quite narrow, the sides are steep and the water is deep, dark and still, the mountains reflect in its surface. Around the edge the undergrowth hangs low over the water, lightoccasionally finds a  gap and highlights points of grass, green leaves and yellow sand, we creep slowly along the coast enjoying the cool, slightly spooky ambiance.

The head of Opunohu Bay

We had taken the dingy to the black sand beach at its head to a shrimp farm to buy the large fresh prawns for supper. The plan was to BBQ them but as seems to happen everywhere in the world the very mention of a BBQ immediately produces rain and we ended up eating below, fried in butter, lemon and garlic they were still delicious.

Rainbow proceding the deluge to come

Taking the dingy out along the reef is more hazardous, coral heads lurk just below the surface ready to catch your propeller the moment you lose concentration. Markers have been laid to guide the numerous rental jet skis and tour boats that zoom back and forth to snorkelling areas. But finding your way in and out of the channels is a case of painstakingly winding through the maze of bommies. It took us a good half hour to find a route into the Hilton for lunch, it would have been quicker to walk, aching feet and all!

Enjoying a Mojito at the Hilton

Moorea at last

Tuesday 14th June 2016

As I came up on deck this morning I was struck by a novel feeling – there was a chill in the air. It only lasted about half an hour, as the sun rose higher, by 7.15 I was again seeking out the shade but the cool breeze was sweeping down off the top of the jagged mountains that tower 2000ft above us. We have finally escaped the marina. 

The oceanic swell continued to increase as forecast and by Thursday night Raya was been battered and jolted uncomfortably by not only the incoming waves but their reflections as they bounced off the wall of the dock. As day dawned the next morning, the cost of the night was revealed, we had sustained more damage in those few hours than in last six months of cruising. The port quarter fairlead had been pulled lose (luckily not completely off and lost to the depths of Taina marina), the passeralle although raised for the night had taken a bashing and its attachment point on the swim deck ladder had come apart. Rick determinedly marched around to the marina office and finally a spot large enough for us in the inner marina was found and we spent our final few days in a still if not quite so salubrious spot. 

Not quite the view of superyachts we had had but calm, calm, calm.

In French Polynesia we have found that their balance of work to play definitely comes down on the play side. Lunch break is often from 11am-2pm and the end of the day can be as early as 4.30pm, 11am on Fridays and Saturdays. The chance of us getting materials or manpower before the beginning of the next week was remote. We were itching to get out of the marina and we probably won’t be in one again until New Zealand, so the need for fairleads and pasarelles was minimal. We opted for Rick making temporary fixes.

The 4m swells were forecast to decrease to 2m by Monday, we spent the weekend readying to leave. This included me winching Rick up to the top of the mast. Being scared of heights, to the extent of being scared when seeing other people at heights, especially when I’m responsible for that person, make this one of my most nerve racking jobs. All went smoothly thank goodness and the fixtures and fittings aloft were all in good order.

Rick checking out the fittings at the top of the mast

The short crossing to Moorea was lumpy with at one point, off the northern tip of Tahiti, the 2m swell coming at us from two directions at once, but inside the outer protective reef of Baie D’Opunohu is stunning, it is lovely to be back surrounded by dramatic peaks. 

Entering the pass into Opunohu Bay

The geography of French Polynesia is interesting. All the islands were formed by volcanoes. The Marquesas group are relatively young the mighty peaks still soar 4000 ft into the sky, the coastlines are deep and there hasn’t been enough time for reefs to form. The Tuamotu lie at the other extreme, created by much earlier eruptions the volcanoes themselves have been completely eroded and have collapsed leaving just the circular reefs above sea level. The Society Islands, where we sit now, are at an in between stage, the islands are formed of high craggy mountains still a few thousand feet high, but there has been enough time for a surrounding reef to form. Inside these reefs there are beautiful protected lagoons full of clear turquoise water, with the added bonus of great mountain views. Moorea is more developed than the islands we have visited so far, the anchorage can’t be called isolated however this does mean a short dingy tide away is a five star Hilton Hotel. It has required digging deep through the wardrobe for something decent to wear, but we are off now to treat ourselves to lunch.

Still (very) tied up in Tahiti

Pacific weather chart for Monday night

Purple is not a colour you want to see on a weather chart, especially when you live on a yacht. The centre of this weather system may be nearly a thousand miles away but repercussions are being felt throughout the South Pacific. We have decided to stay in the marina until its effects have past by.

Not that that means things are comfortable, even in the marina its very bouncy. The waves are crashing over the outer reef that circles Tahiti, creating swell which slams into the dock, jolting us violently. We are stern-to at the dock and trussed up like a turkey. Securing our bows we have two slime lines and our anchor, at the stern we have seven warps in a spiders web to keep us square and try to spread the loads as we rock. Rick has applied washing up liquid liberally to the fairleads and cleats to reduce the graunching that kept us awake last night and our passeralle is suspended high off the ground to stop it hitting the bollards but making it quite hairy to get on and off the boat. There are periods of beautiful sunshine and then intense downpours, our dingy filled with over a foot of rain overnight on Sunday. If we lift the dingy onto the davits then it will drain but we definitely won’t be able to get ashore, so it remains bobbing dramatically at our side.

The super yacht crews diligently continue to tweak their lines, trying to keep the boats perfectly straight, knotted brows of the skippers checking and rechecking. Out in the marina anchorage, the boats look very uncomfortable and mooring buoys are breaking free, the chatter is of night anchor watches and delayed departures. And things are forecast to get worse with more wind, rain and sadly bigger waves over the next couple of days, so we are getting out the scrabble, lining up the books and hunkering down.