Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dispatch 40 Society Islands Farewell

August 1 - August 24
From wilderness to the big city, we arrived in Papeete, Tahiti, one of the main cruiser destinations and experienced the culture shock of crowds, buildings, a busy waterfront and traffic. We left the Tuamotus before we would have liked to because we loved the family on Toau, but we had a weather window and we caught it, arriving in Tahiti two days later with the wind in the 20’s nipping at our heels. It was a nice sail as the wind was behind us, but it blew fiercely for several days thereafter and we were snug in an anchorage off a fancy marina just south of Papeete.

Having been here before, we weren’t as shocked by the big city as some of our fellow cruisers and we settled into the errands easily. We had mail waiting for us at the post office. Well, WE knew we had mail there, it took some convincing for them to work their way around to finding it. We wandered the supermarket aisles in awe of our choices—it was a store worthy of the US but with prices almost twice those at home. While we might not have been suffering from culture shock, we certainly continued to reel from sticker shock. We visited the market, took a bus down to Port Phaeton to decide whether to leave the boat at a marina/yard there, did happy hour, did laundry, etc. The only “excitement” was we tried to get our propane filled. When the bottle hadn’t returned 3 days after it was promised, we braved a wet dinghy ride in the remains of a 25 plus knot day in the anchorage, arrived at the station only to find that Gaz of Tahiti was “en greve”, on strike. I was most amused to find that our French for Cruisers guide actually had a listing for the expression “on strike” suggesting, one might imagine, that, in the French speaking world this happens often enough to want to learn the phrase. After the weekend, we went to Gaz of Tahiti and found a very lame strike action indeed—no posters, no marchers and business was going on as usual although they might have been managers running the place. They found our bottle, filled it and were quite cheerful about the whole thing. Phew.

Meanwhile a good portion of our time was spent on wireless internet on the boat (what a luxury!) arranging for work for me. We are now headed to Seattle where once we are settled will figure out the rest of the storm season activities. We are leaving before the Southern Hemisphere storm season (which is roughly from Nov. to April) because, after 3 months, we get kicked out of French Polynesia and there is not another place to put the boat on the hard before New Zealand which is still a long slog away. This way we get to leisurely make our way through the South Pacific next season if desired, starting with these Society Islands.

When our lives were arranged as much as desired and we had the propane bottle back, we headed for Moorea, the next island in the Society group. Tahiti and Moorea are beautiful. The islands are green, mountainous and lush, similar to the Marquises. However, these islands have reefs around them which make the anchorages calm and lovely. One can dinghy to the reef a half mile away and snorkel with beautiful fishes, lovely coral and the occasional black tipped reef shark. On Moorea, we went to an area where they have regularly fed the stingrays. Thus, the rays (up to 4 feet across) are very tame, eerily so as they approach and nearly crawl up on you while you stand in waist deep water. We could stroke them—their bodies feel like velvet—and the guide of another group fed them while we watched and explained how to tell male from female, etc. He would stroke them all the way along their long tail/stinger, but I just never got my nerve up to do more than stroke their backs. They are bizarre and beautiful creatures. After feeding the rays, the guide then started throwing food for the black tip reef sharks so the group he was with could see them. They swam near and took the food, but, thankfully from our point of view, they didn’t swarm and start crawling on us. Nice sharks.

On our way to Moorea from Tahiti, we saw another old friend: humpback whales. We watched whales breaching outside the reef from our anchorage on Moorea.

The days have been beautiful here and we look forward to returning to explore more fully without the task of getting a job hanging over our heads. We will return next spring to relaunch the boat out of the boatyard and continue on at least through the Society Islands, the best of which, according to our friends who have gone on, is yet to come.

It has been a big year of cruising for us. We left from latitude 9 degrees, 42’ North and are now at 17 degrees, 29’ South and longitude from 84 degrees, 39’ West to 149 degrees, 51’ West. We were as far east as Florida (while we were in Panama) and are now as far west as Hawaii. We crossed the equator by land and by sea. We have sailed almost 5700 miles this year, and most of it has been done under sail with passages of 1000 miles in 9 days and 3100 miles in 29 days making up the bulk of the travel. We have only visited 4 countries but have switched from Spanish to French. Qayaq has held up well throughout and we are pleased with her performance, though, at various times, we both have longed for a bigger boat to be able to go faster between destinations. We have met many more international cruisers and have seen lots of marine wildlife.

How lucky we are to have been able to cruise these beautiful parts of the world and still go back to work each year to keep our minds stimulated, see our friends and family and appreciate what is wonderful about the US. As with all travel, we learn from all we meet about life’s richness apart from actual money and, to those who have continued to teach us those lessons, we say thanks. Naturally, this is probably the last blog for a while, but do keep in touch.