Friday, August 8, 2003, 9:00 a.m.

LATITUDE: 16-38.19S

LONGITUDE: 151-29.24W

At anchor Haamene Bay, Tahaa, French Polynesia


Barbara and Craig on Taha'a

Dear friends and family:

We are anchored in a bay which is reminiscent in some ways of inlets in British Columbia -- a long arm comes in from the sea, with mountains all around, fish farming at the edges, and a village at the head of the bay.  The difference, of course is that the trees are palms, not Douglas firs, the water is a swimmable temperature, and there are virtually no tidal changes.  We followed our friends, Thijs and Nicolette on Tramontana, into this bay.  The day we arrived from Huahine, the wind was blowing 25 knots out on the reef (where Tramontana had been anchored) and they moved here to get out of the wind.

Sequoia and Tramontana at anchor in Haamene Bay, Taha'a

Taha'a has an interesting geography: it shares a fringing reef with the larger island of Raiatea.  It's possible to sail or motor, inside the reef, around the entire island of Taha'a and most of the island of Raiatea, without going out into the big ocean.  This means that the strong trade winds are available, but the water is like a lake -- the waves are quite small.  So it's possible to sail fast, with not a lot of waves to slow down the boat's progress.  Probably as a result of this excellent geography, several charter fleets are located here.    Often there are six or eight people on a 45 foot boat, loud parties, and perhaps even young, nubile nude sunbathers.  The skippers of the charter boats are a real mixed bag -- some with lots of sailing experience, and others who are complete novices.  We always try to keep our distance, in case they don't know how to anchor.  The last thing we want is to be fending off another boat that drags down on us in the middle of the night.  It hasn't happened so far, but we've certainly seen it happen.  We remember one catamaran in the Marquesas which seemed to be a continual drunken party, and which dragged down on a hapless single-hander three times in one day.  He was getting mighty testy by the time we arrived, and was issuing loud warnings to any boat that came too close.  "I'm upset with how you are anchoring [or where you are anchoring].  Please move."

Some of the more brave charter boats crossed the 25 mile channel to Huahine, and we saw them coming and going at Avea Bay (where we spent nearly two weeks) and at Fare.  There seem to be quite a lot of Americans, but also plenty of Italian (or Italian speaking) and French charterers.

We had quite a laid back time at Avea Bay.  I wrote in my last message that it's one of the prettiest anchorages we've seen.  We ate excellent French food at the two restaurants on shore, went for walks, snorkeled nearly every day off the back step of the boat, and socialized with the other cruisers.  We happened upon a birthday party being thrown for Kurt on Interlude (a Deerfoot 74), and watched him open presents which had been carefully wrapped and sent to him in May by friends and relatives back home (Alameda, California). 

Subsequently we spent a lot of time with Kurt and Katie, and learned more about their very interesting trek from high powered stock broker (Katie) and vintage home renovator (Kurt) to laid back cruisers.  They seem to have totally achieved the rhythm of cruising, with the goal of each day being to get up, lie in the sun, read a book, have a little excursion ashore, and then spend a pleasant evening with friends from other boats.  I'm having a more difficult time adjusting my goals to that level, and I'm still constantly feeling like I should be doing something more socially redeeming.  (Katie's life is not totally without stress -- the SEC is investigating her former employer, and is trying to serve a subpoena on her to come to Washington DC and testify about the firm's practices.)

In the socially redeeming department, we took on the weather reporting for Fridays, for the "coconut breakfast net."  The net is an agreed gathering of cruising boats which takes place on the SSB radio, every morning at 7:30 a.m.  It is extremely informal, with no overall leader.  People volunteer to be "net controller" (moderator), and there is a different one each day.  We hear from boats that are on passage, we hear the weather forecasts, and we exchange information.  "Does anyone know a dentist in Papeete?"  "Can anyone tell me what the conditions are in the entrance pass to the island of -----?"  "Is there anywhere in the Leeward Islands where I can get my American propane tank filled?"

Doing the weather involves gathering the various relevant reports by email, translating the French parts, and sorting out what is relevant to the cruisers involved in the net.  The email part is the most difficult, because we seem to be equally far from all available "PMBOs" (transmitter stations) and we sometimes spend hours trying to download email.  We try stations in Southern California, Hawaii and New Zealand, and occasionally even get a connection to Texas or Portland.  The connections are poor (if we can find them at all), and one simple email may take ten minutes to send or receive.  Last night we managed to get all the emails in, and then we went over to socialize with Thijs and Nicolette on Tramontana, as a break from the whole exercise.  The idea was that we would come back and translate and edit the reports and then print them out for reading in the morning.  Of course, last night our printer died.  After a lot of fussing around, we began to cast about for other alternatives.  The problem is that the computer installed in the bulkhead gives off too much noisy interference to use at the same time as the SSB.  One alternative would have been to write everything out by hand (groan, it was already 11:30 p.m.)  In the end we moved everything onto the laptop (which doesn't give off any static), and Craig read from the laptop this morning.  Whew!

We met lots of interesting people in Avea Bay, Huahine.  At one point the neighboring boat was Glide, from Ventura, California.  They had two children, 8 and 10, and we invited the kids (Max and Gina) to visit us on our boat.  They had just finished their school year, and burned their books on the beach.  They were going to be allowed a month off before they started the next year's curriculum.  Max demonstrated his knowledge of the harmonica, and told us about his recorder and guitar lessons.  I showed them the electric cello, which they found fascinating.  But the definite highlight of the afternoon was when we unveiled the TV monitor and played the "Yellow Submarine" DVD.  Mom came to retrieve them, and confessed that although they could play DVDs on their laptop, they actually owned only one DVD -- Star Wars II (which we hadn't seen).  We have Star Wars I (which they hadn't seen), so we traded discs for the evening, and everyone got their fill of previously unseen inter-galactic explosions.

We invited some local Avea Bay residents on board: Jean-Paul and Angeline.  They work for Eurocar (where we had rented a car), and were very kind to us, so we invited them to dinner.  They speak almost no English, and we speak very little French, so it was a very interesting (and exhausting) evening.  Definitely an experience to remember.  They brought us tomatoes and peppers from their garden (vine ripened -- yum -- definitely not available in markets here), and several coconuts.

The water here in Haamene Bay is somewhat murky, because there's a river that brings the mud down off the hills.  Our favorite activity is snorkeling, so we took the dinghy back out to the reef (4-5 miles away, where the water is crystal clear) and tied up near the entrance pass.

A lot of small tour boats choose the same destination for snorkeling, so we joined the crowd and snorkeled along the side of the pass.  The coral drops sharply from a 10 foot shelf -- probably down to 60 feet deep.  There are plenty of small colorful fish on the shelf, including some we've never seen before, and then clouds of small and larger fish swimming adjacent to the drop-off.  It's easy to see why divers prefer diving in passes rather than inside reefs.  I think we'll try and do more of that, and perhaps get out the scuba diving gear as well, so we can see what's on the wall as it drops to 60 feet. Taha'a dive site

Local girls at Haamene Bay.  Laverne, on the right, took the picture at the top of this page.

Today we're set to do some shore exploration, and perhaps move back out to anchor near the reef (as the winds are moderating).  (Or at least that's what our weather reporting exercise tells us...)

Best wishes to all!

Craig and Barbara Johnston


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