Latitudes & Attitudes spent a magical week in Tahiti with a flotilla of 10 boats and nearly 80 guests. Here are some highlights from Afaro – my boat that had six guests aboard.
We chartered from Tahiti Yacht Charter which shares the marina with Sunsail and is very near the Moorings marina on Raiatea. Both are about 5 mins from the one-room airport. I had a Lagoon 380 with only a few idiosyncrasies that performed very well throughout the trip. The windlass worked (with one small exception on the first day) but the chain was unmarked and as our French checkout guy said, "Well, you just look and see how much you need." The boat drew under 4' which came in very handy in the 5' depths on the back side of Bora Bora. We got to know our depth sounder well. Overall, we never had a problem.
We had a good dink that we kept on the davits at night due to marauding pirates (the rest of the StS gang) who stole dinghies and burgees in the middle of the night and demanded grog for their return. I had a good boat and great crew with two couples from Texas and one from West Virgina.
The first afternoon, we headed to Tahaa's southern tip to the Taravana Yacht Club (palapa that served beer) which took about an hour. One boat didn't check his charts and grounded immediately - so hard, he had to be pulled off by a tugboat. There is a black pearl farm on Tahaa's tip where they show you how they cultivate the pearls and sell them as well. We caught a mooring that night which was $25 or you can buy drinks to waive the fee.
Huahine was taken off the itinerary while still at the base - it's a real stretch on a 7 day charter. On a two week charter, it would be no problem but otherwise it’s a lot of time doing crossings. Each crossing is about 5-6 hrs with all going well. We always got an early start - since Tahiti is 3 hours later than we are in California and since it's dark by 6:00pm, it's easy to adjust to the early up schedule. My boat was always up by 6:00am and under way no later than 7:00- 7:30. We were always secure for the night by 3:00pm before the glare of the setting sun obscured the reefs.
The next morning the group went counterclockwise around Tahaa with a snorkeling stop on the east side. My boat went clockwise two bays down and to Hurepiti Bay where we caught a 4 hour land tour with Vanilla Tours’ Alain Plantier, a French botanist. Alain stood on his dock with a handheld VHF and guided us around the reef to his mooring. He and Christina then invited us into their beautifully, hand-built home (talk about green architecture) and then drove us around and showed us how to pollinate vanilla, how to feed chickens coconut (they’re crazy for it), and how to use all the indigenous plants for one thing or another. The last time I visited them was 12 years ago and other than the kids being off to college in Paris, they hadn’t changed a bit. It was the only land tour we did and was well worth it.
That afternoon we sailed to Tautau island within the Tahaa reef and hung out with a beautiful sunset and Bora Bora in the distance while the rest of the group came around and anchored. One boat ran aground here in dark blue water (so it should have been safe) on an unmarked and huge coral head. They were pulled off and were fine.
Anchoring is pretty easy on the motus (fringing reef islands) in 15-30'. Anchoring near the big islands is not advised because the water is deep, dark and usually fouled with something. One of our boats dragged up a huge anchor chain from something that might have sailed by a century ago. They could barely get it off their anchor. I had only about 130' of chain spliced to another 130' of line. Our checkout guy made some comment about the windlass not liking the chain/rope splice - then he emphasized it. Over the first few days, I learned that the checkout guy lets you know about the boat since he's the one who takes care of it. I replayed the checkout carefully, remembering all that he repeated and emphasized and made sure to heed his advice for the rest of the trip. I had no problems anchoring except one fight with a coral head – which I lost, temporarily.
By 7:30 the next morning, my boat was headed through the Papai pass to Bora Bora. It was the "chick sail" where the women navigated, hoisted and trimmed sails, and steered, and the men made breakfast and lunch. (That was reversed on the way back to give equal time but still get everyone involved.) We made it to Bora Bora around 1:30 and anchored, swam, and relaxed behind motu Topua. The next morning we motored around to Bloody Mary's where Rick the manager let us get water because we were with the Lats & Atts group. Then we stopped in Vaitape for ice and more Hinano. Afterward, we went around to the back side of Bora Bora which takes about 2 hours over very shallow water and lots of markers. The three most indispensible items to me on this trip were binoculars, charts and the depth sounder.
That afternoon we went in to Le Meridien and had drinks with another boat. We each had one tropical concoction ($25) while toasting Otemanu - Bora Bora's main mountain which makes for a very imposing but beautiful view from the bar deck. The next morning we snorkeled looking for manta rays but never saw them and watched in awe as Bob Bitchin’ took his big 46’ cat through the tiniest opening in the reef and got through without grounding. Woody was on the radio immediately telling all not to try that.
In the afternoon, we headed back around and caught moorings at Bloody Mary's. That night we went to the Mai Tai hotel for dinner and a dance show. The next day we hiked to the radio tower (short but steep walk) and got some nice shots of Bora’s southern reef. The rest of the day, the crew napped – could have been that big lunch plus cocktails at Bloody Mary’s. That night we had our party with Eric Stone playing and wrapping up with my favorite song - Southern Cross.
By 7:30 the next morning my boat was the first through the Teavanui pass. We pounded for the next 5-6 hours - and made it back to Tahaa in time to circumnavigate it, have a nice sail down the east side and then side tie to editor Sue’s boat because they had a mooring and we had wine – all worked out well.
The last morning we made our way carefully around the central reef between Raiatea and Tahaa to Utuora where we fueled up. The TYC base is about 45 minutes from town and markers are essential when getting around the reef called the Grand Banc Central.
We had partial provisioning from the chater company and then dispatched some people to take a taxi to Uturoa (about 15 minutes away) to get fresh provisions while I went to the chart briefing and tech checkout on the boat. Uturoa has plenty of shopping these days and it's easy to get most anything. You do not want to take the boat to Uturoa – it slows things down and it’s best done by car. Everything is expensive in Tahiti – we found that shopping local or French brands was best. Best things to buy are lots of local fruit (mangos, pineapple, pamplemousse (grapefruit) and bananas - all of which are excellent). Someone on another boay bought watermelon - $40 for two mid sized mellons - ouch. Hinano is the local beer and it's excellent - everyone leaves wearing a Hinano T-shirt after having consumed quite a few cans. If in the area, try the mahi mahi mousse with a glass of chilled white wine.
It's not hot but it's not cold. Winds are constant which is pleasant until you have to head into it like coming back from Bora Bora where we got 20-25 knots with gusts to 30. The sea state was pretty confused but not large so we motored with one reef in the main. The charter companies provide guidelines on when to reef and when to take the sails down - I found them extremely conservative and ignored them. Our boat was never overpowered, never had weatherhelm and although all cats pound to weather, she was fine and comfortable. The boats are pretty idiot-proof on reefing - 2x one-line, continuous reefs. There is a one foot high tide. Those prone to sea sickness, about the only time that that’s an issue is on the crossings.
I found the people at the charter company very pleasant and accommodating. The water is nice and warm and you can find clams with colorful mantles growing within the coral heads. We saw no dolphins, whales nor turtles – perhaps it was the season.
Finally, the best part of Tahiti is the scenery. Depending on personality and expectations, various people in our big magazine group liked/disliked something. But even if you hate everything and everyone, you can't beat the view.