Tahiti – Island of sagas and songs

We’re now on Tahiti, but before I write about Tahiti we need to finish our tale about the Tuamutos, specifically Toau. Toau is a large atoll with a population of four. Valentine (born here) and her husband Gaston, her sister and her husband are the entire population. There is a little pass through the reef at one end that leads to a small lagoon. The large lagoon is inaccessible for sailboats because of the many coral reefs and bomies inside. Only dinghies and small motorboats can sail there.

Valentine and Gaston have set out ten mooring balls for visiting boats. The lagoon is too small for boats to drop anchor and have enough room to lay out the 60 or so meters of chain necessary. When there are five or six boas in the lagoon, Valentine makes a Polynesian dinner for the sailors. We were the only boat here so Valentine didn’t cook for us, but we did spend some time at her house having a beer with her and Gaston.

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Bente, Gaston & Valentine

Just down the beach, at her sister’s house, a big trimaran was tied up at their small dock. I could see that the bilgepump was working overtime, it sent a constant stream of water out through the hull. When I asked about the boat, Valentine looked peeved – not at us, but about the boat. She explained that he boat belonged to a Canadian couple who had sailed it onto the reef, holing the bottom. The Canadians managed to limp into the lagoon and tie up to the dock. The wife then announced that she wasn’t sailing anymore. She was going back to Canada by airplane and her husband could do what he wanted to with the boat. The man then scribbled a quick note, giving the boat to Valentine’s sister and left.

One might think that it was a princely gift, but in reality it was a huge burden. The boat had electric motors, not diesel and the water had managed to ruin both the motors and the batteries. There is a big hole in the hull. The boat needs to be hauled out to repair it properly. They can’t sell the boat because the have no real legal title to it. The Canadians have disappeared and now the boat and the pollution it will cause are Valentines sister’s problem. To make matters worse, soon they will have to pay duty ad taxes on the boat – seven percent of the value.

A terrible situation and one can only hope that karma will come back and bite the Canadians in the ass.

 

We stayed a couple of nights ad finally there was a decent weather window for the couple of hundred nautical miles to Tahiti. We weighed anchor and well out of the pass we were hit by a granddaddy of squalls. The wind was right on the nose so we were forced to fall off. Unfortunately, there was another atoll just off to starboard (the direction we needed to fall off in) which greatly hampered how far we could turn.

Time to keep our wits about us and keep Capri on a sharp course. We took our beating and hoped that the wind wouldn’t veer any further. After 45 nerve-wracking minutes, the squall passed and we could get back on course for Tahiti, the island of song and saga. The little squall intermezzo gave Bente her first real taste of “ocean sailing”. Fortunately, she wasn’t nervous, trusting to the competence of Capri’s crew.

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As usual – we were treated to a fabulous sunset

Songs and books have been written en masse about Tahiti – Cook came here twice. Bligh also. And many, many other ships and adventurers. Gauguin lived and painted here for a number of years before he made an enemy of the King and had to retreat to the Marquesas. He died and is buried on Hiva Ora.  Curiously, Gauguin was married to a Danish woman, Mette, and their descendants still live in Denmark – the surname Gauguin can be found in several cities. Tahiti was famous as a paradise on earth filled with fruits and fish and not to mention the beautiful women who wore only grass skirts (and frequently not even that). Sex was a game that everyone played with everyone and felt no shame.

Is there a better description of Paradise? Probably not and it is easy to understand why many a seaman deserted his ship and made a home here.

Most think that the mutiny on the Bounty occurred here on Tahiti. It didn’t. The mutiny occurred off the coast of the Tonga island group, far to the west. Even though the mutiny occurred far from Tahiti, I will write about it here, as the tale is forever tied to Tahiti.

The British Frigate Bounty was sent into the Pacific to make cartographic measurements but mainly to bring breadfruit saplings back to Europe. The British government hoped to plant the breadfruit tree in the Caribbean and use the breadfruit as cheap food for the slaves.

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The copy of HMS Bounty

Bounty had a long passage to Tahiti. It was unable to force a passage around Cape Horn and Captain Bligh finally gave up and sailed more than halfway around the world, south of Cape Hope to reach Tahiti. Bounty then lay at anchor at Tahiti for almost six months while Bligh waited out the hurricane season before sailing back to Europe. During those six months the crew developed a taste for this paradise and not the least, a taste for the Polynesian women.

When Bounty sailed homewards, a part of the crew, led by the first officer, Fletcher Christian committed mutiny near the Tonga Islands. The mutineers set Bligh and those crew members loyal to him adrift in an open boat.

The Bounty returned to Tahiti while Bligh and his crew made an historically unequalled trip 3,500 nautical mile crossing of the Pacific in an open boat. After over seven weeks they reached The Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). The voyage is still regarded as unique and a testament to Bligh skills as a navigator and seaman. Having only his memory and a sextant he accurately plotted and sailed a course to his intended destination.

Bligh reached England and the British fleet sent a Frigate to the Pacific to find and capture the mutineers. They caught fourteen mutineers, now settled on Tahiti. Of these fourteen, four died en route to England, four were acquitted, three were pardoned and three were hanged. Fletcher Christian and the rest of the mutineers sailed the Bounty, accompanied by a number of Tahitian women and men in search of an island where the British fleet wouldn’t locate them. They found Pitcairn. Pitcairn had been discovered and its location noted on the charts of the ear, but it was noted 300 nautical miles from its true location. This error meant that there was little chance of a British ship finding them and the mutineers landed, emptied the Bounty and then burned her so there would be no return.

Twenty years later, when a passing accidentally “rediscovered” Pitcairn, all the mutineers, save one, John Adams, were dead. The mutineers and Tahitian men had not brought enough women with them and they killed each other off fighting over them. Adams was the last survivor, but there were many children.

The story of Mutiny on the Bounty has been filmed many times, amongst them one wherein Marlon Brando depicted Fletcher Christian. To make the movie, the studio had a full-sized copy of Bounty built. According to the script, the ship was to be burned at the end of the movie. Brando managed to stop the burning, feeling that such a beautiful ship should not be burned.

The Bounty copy then led a varied life, ending as a charter ship. In June 2014 Bounty was in the Atlantic when she was hit by hurricane Sandy and sank. The skipper and one crewmember, Claudine Christian, died. Curiously, Claudine Christian was a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian.

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The Bounty as she sank off Cape Hatteras

Picairn is still populated by 43 of the descendants of the mutineers and the Polynesian men and women that sailed with them. The island is one of the most isolated in the world and has in the past had few visitors. The supplyship/mailship came by every half year and sometimes a freighter would pass on its way to New Zealand. The trade routes changed over the years and freighters no longer call on Pitcairn. Occasionally an adventuresome pleasureboat would pass, perhaps six to eight per year. Pitcairn is famous as a place where it is very difficult to anchor. There are no protective bays and the swells generally huge. Despite this, now that there are many more pleasureboats circumnavigating, the island is visited by twenty or more pleasure boats yearly. The island’s postage stamps are sought after and they can only be had by visiting the islands and sending a letter from the little post office there. The mailboat only comes every three months so it can take a long time before the letter shows up on the mainland. A combination supply/cruise ship sails from the Gambier island to Pitcairn every other week. The number of passengers is limited and Pitcairners and their families have first priority. If you want to take this ship, you need deep pockets – the trip costs around $3500 – for four days on Pitcairn.

Back to Tahiti.

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Tahiti in the early morning sun

The night’s sail was calm and as morning dawned, we had our first glimpse of Tahiti – Island of Songs and Sagas. The sun lit up the volcano top and Tahiti lay beautifully on the azure blue waters. By the middle of the morning, we arrived at the harbor mouth and we could call the port authorities and ask for clearance to enter. Well inside the reef, we followed the lagoon a couple of nautical miles south to the anchorage in front of Marina Taina.

The anchorage here is crowded. There are many boats in transit (like us)and many boats where the sailors have “grown roots”. They have gotten this far and found their own paradise, some for a few years, some for ever. The more we sail in Polynesia the more we understand those sailors that get here and no further. Life here is relaxed, no stress and there is still a bit of paradise over all of Polynesia. A number of boats are at anchor here with either singles or families living permanently on the boat.

We have reserved a space at the boatyard here. We need to bottompaint Capri with anti-fouling and replace our batteries. They are only three years old, but unfortunately, we can feel that they have lost 10-15% of their capacity. So this will be expensive. Our credit cards are also expiring and we could have some new ones sent via Fedex (which is also ungodly expensive), but we decided that Vinni could fly back to Denmark (tickets are cheap, cheap, cheap). As an extra plus going to Denmark would allow here to surprise her goddaughter on her tenth birthday (which was one hell of a surprise for a ten year old girl – her godmother showing up out of the blue).

While Vinni was gone, I sailed Capri round to the boatyard, got her hauled and started in on painting and polishing. The big problem was the batteries. There were eight batteries to be unhooked and then carried down a ten foot ladder. The battery resting firmly on my shoulder while negotiating the ladder – oh my aching back!  Then seven new batteries going the other way – oh my aching back!  Each battery weighs roughly 100 pounds. Since I’m not quite the spring chicken I once was – oh my aching back!

But, I managed to get them up and installed and it is nice to have full electric power again. We also needed to replace our anchor chain. After three years and more than 800 nights on the hook, the galvanization was worn completely off and a fair bit of the links showed considerable wear. As you can imagine, the 100 meters of chain (300+ pounds) and the 70 pound anchor had to be hauled ten feet up to the  boat deck and down into the chain locker by hand – oh my aching back!

After finishing the work at the yard, I sailed Capri back to Taina Marian and dropped the hook. A couple of evenings later I was sitting in the cockpit when I could hear shouting. Looking around, I saw a big (turned out later it was a 52 footer) sailboat coming sideways through the anchorage. It had apparently dragged its anchor and there was no one on board. I could happily see that it would miss Capri, but the German boat behind me was another story. It was aiming dead center. I tried the VHF radio but he didn’t answer, so I got our really powerful spotlight out and played it across his windows. This brought him up on deck just in time for him to drop at fender over the side to dampen the impact. In the meantime, a fellow from one of the other boats showed up and climbed on board. He found that the ignition key was there and got the boat’s engine started. The two of them called for me to come over and help which I did. We found the anchor remote and reeled the anchor back in. It turned out that the anchor was a CQR. CQRs are crappy anchors as far as I’m concerned. We sailed the boat out into the channel and dropped the hook. Backing down on it, it dragged again.

It took three tries before we could get that anchor to bite. We left the boat there. I’m sure that the owners got quite a shock when they came back and found their boat gone. One of the neighboring boats probably told them that it had dragged and they could find it in the middle of the channel.

The next morning they sailed and never came by to say thank you. The world is full of strange people; we saved his boat from damaging other boats (big insurance claim) and saved it from going on the reef (big, big repair bill). If this had been Capri, Vinni and I would have found out who saved our boat and come by with a couple of bottles of wine and said a very sincere thank you.

Oh well – his karma will find him some day.

Vinni came back after two weeks and as she said – she was happy to home again on Capri. We have both reached that point where we consider Capri our home. When we talk about home – we are talking about Capri – Denmark is a place we visit. She missed Capri (and me, of course) and while it was wonderful to see family and friends again – the boat life was pulling her back.

We wandered around Papeete and saw most of the town. While we hate to disillusion our readers (that’s you) Papeete is nothing to write home about. The city (yes it is a city with a population of almost 200,000) has no real charm. The city center is a hodge-podge collection of poorly designed and built storefronts. The city has an insurmountable traffic problem. The famous Papeete market is boring, expensive and very touristy.

But it was wonderful to be able to go shopping in a really well-stocked supermarket. Out here, the supermarkets are Carrefour, and they have almost everything (except jalapeno or chili peppers). So we restocked everything on the boat.

Tonny and Marianne arrived in Papeete a couple of weeks later and we will sail out through the Society Islands, rightfully world famous for their ultraclear waters and world class snorkeling and diving. We rented a car and drove around Tahiti. Tahiti is two islands, Tahiti Nui (great Tahiti) and Tahiti Iti (Little Tahiti). They aren’t really separate islands – Little Tahiti is more of a peninsula to Tahiti Nui – but the locals have given them separate names. It rained most of the day so the islands didn’t show themselves as beautiful as they are, but it was still a good day and everyone got an impression of what Tahiti is like outside the city.

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The gang at some Polynesian ruins

As a little plus, we picked papaya, breadfruit and coconuts along the way. Then we found a banana tree that apparently was ownerless and had a huge stalk of bananas hanging. We cut them down and now had fresh bananas for the next several weeks. So many bananas (about 150) that we couldn’t eat them all despite our most (especially Marianne’s) gallant efforts.

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Marianne with 200 or so bananas

Finally the morning arrived where we could weigh anchor and set sail for Moorea, the first of the Society Islands, Moorea, Hauhine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora.

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