Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Opinions of French Polynesia

Hello to all,

We're still at Beveridge Reef where the winds have begun to decrease and I'm pretty sure we'll get some exploring done this afternoon.

I've been meaning to summarize my feelings about French Polynesia for some time. I guess now is the time. Love, hate relationship is too strong. There was little to hate and plenty to love but there are strong contradictions. For a number of reasons, chiefly the limit of ninety days on our visas, we had to move through the islands faster than we wished. But, contradiction, we were happy to leave as well. In my opinion the only reason, today, for a person to go to Tahiti is to have their boat worked on or get stuff delivered. Not that it's bad place but there are many better and far, far less expensive. We had some really good meals thanks to the guidance of our friends and we got what we needed and, like most cruisers, got out. The Marquesas are lovely. Many of the Tuamotus are South Pacific dream places. The Society Islands beyond Tahiti are very beautiful and, other than Bora Bora, relatively unspoiled. We especially liked Moorea and Huahine. Bora Bora is beautiful but far over developed and the hotel industry appears to be in collapse. Hanging over most of French Polynesia is the expense of the place. It is, I believe, the most expensive place in the world to visit. There are too many other beautiful places for people to go and get far more for their money. For a yacht moving across the South Pacific it's still worth doing, almost a 'must do'. But for a person looking for an exotic vacation I'd recommend looking elsewhere. Quick example, it costs exactly the same in US dollars to rent a scooter for four HOURS in French Polynesia as it does to rent one for a WEEK in the Cook Islands. And the Cook Islands scooters are much better Yamahas. Another example, a case of diet coke costs $65 US in French Polynesia, is costs about $25 US in the Cooks. We got used to paying $40-$80 for a very simple lunch for two in French Polynesia. The same lunch would cost $8-10 in the Cooks. The only thing reasonable in FP is the very good baguettes which are cheaper than in the states. A great fresh baguette can be had for about $.75 US. Everything else you can think of is so expensive as to be ridiculous. A couple bags of groceries will shock the hell out of any 'new to the islands' shopper. The Polynesian people were very friendly and kind and the French we met were equally charming and very generous. But the islands live off the French subsidys. It's generally felt that there are jobs for anyone who wants to work but, for those who don't, there's an elaborate subsidy system. To balance some of that cost taxes are really high. So few new businesses are interested in coming.

In contrast the Cooks are still in a loose association with New Zealand but I don't believe there's any subsidy system. It's pretty common for Cook Islanders go to New Zealand and work and send home money. Somehow Rarotonga seemed a livelier, more vital place than anywhere we found in FP, including Tahiti. It's a small place but it's bustling in a good natured manner. There's definitely a different attitude. The good natured Polynesian kindness and sweetness is still there but they seem to be having a lot more fun with life.

So I'll hazard some very broad conclusions and say that what we're looking at is a high tax, high cost, socialistic society versus a low tax, low cost, more free enterprise society. Also we're looking at a legacy of different colonial systems. In fact French Polynesia is still French whereas the Cooks and Niue are now independent of NZL and Tonga has always been independent. The French we talked with in Papeete and elsewhere are very aware of the problems and feel that things have to change but say that no one is willing to take the political heat for the inevitable, very painful, change. Judging from what we saw of hotel occupancy, change will come one way or another.

So, what would I recommend for a non sailor who wants to visit FP? First, understand your wallet and kiss much of it goodbye forever. Second, stay at the Mai Tai in Fakarava or the Kia Ora in Rangoria or the Shangri La in Moorea. You'll have a good time and have chance at a real South Pacific experience. There are a lot of smaller and very nice places but I'd stay away from Tahiti and Bora Bora in the Society islands. Moorea, Huahine, Tahaa and Raiatea are more beautiful and there are many places to stay.

Better yet, go to the Cooks or the Vava'u group of Tonga.

So, I guess no one has asked, but those are my opinions. Janet feels you could spend as much money in some other very nice places. I think the point is you can't avoid spending the money if you're in FP. Time for a little lunch and an exploration.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Friday, July 25, 2008

Beveridge Reef

Hello to all,

We're currrently anchored in 35 feet of water 125 miles from the nearest land in the middle of the South Pacific ocean. How can it be? Ahh...Beveridge Reef....a poorly charted but well known (amongst South Pacific cruisers)reef about 125 miles ESE of the island of Niue. It's pretty much directly on the way from Rarotonga to Niue so it's a convenient stop with a unique situation. It's a sunken atoll, just a reef with an enclosed lagoon and an entrance but no land. The reef is more or less exposed depending on the tides. It's about 35 ft. deep throughout the lagoon with few hazards or coral heads inside and it's protected from the swell but not the wind. The bottom is sand with good holding. There's the wreck of a 90 ft fishing boat on the reef and not much more. You can't see the breakers on the reef until you're within two miles and there's little radar return. What's more it's location on the charts is about two miles off the GPS positions. Not comforting at all! Fortunately almost everybody knows this and the harbor master at Rarotonga has a nice little GPS surveyed chart of the place, made by a cruiser, that he gives to anyone who asks. It is accurate. How long it will take the chart organizations to get it right is a good question. This is the first place we've encountered with charting problems. There are probably others. So we had a good sail over from Rarotonga. A little slower than we'd hoped due to light winds but of course when we got here the wind began to build and it's been 20-25 ever since. That makes it pretty choppy for snorkeling or running around in the dinghy. Janet went for a long snorkel despite the chop and came back with some nice shells to add to her collection. Tomorrow it's supposed to calm down so we'll stay another day and explore around before heading to Niue.

We did catch a nice 38", maybe 40lb, tuna the day before we arrived. I think we've identified the species as Southern Bluefin Tuna but whatever it is it's delicious.

It's a days sail over to Niue, we'll spend a few days there and then head for the Vava'u group of the Kingdom of Tonga. We should have internet access of some kind in Niue so we'll try to send another update with some photos from there.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Enjoying Rarotonga

Hello to all,

And good morning sports fans. It's been an action packed week. We're med moored at Avatiu Harbor in Rarotonga with our friends 'Shilling' on one side and 'Traveler' on the other. There are seventeen boats at Rarotonga today and room for a few more although this is a tight little place with no room for foolishness. Proof of that is the impressive recent wreck of a steel coastal trader on the breakwater at the entrance to the harbor. He didn't quite get out in time when a big norther brewed up. The harbor is untenable in a strong northerly sea. Rarotonga is lovely and we're just beginning to explore around. Everyone is very friendly and, great joy, everything is in English!

The voyage over was reasonably fast but 'boisterous'. Several boats were ready to leave Bora Bora and we all had been watching the weather. It had been blowing out of the southwest for days, since the previous bunch left and got clobbered, and no one wanted to beat into the wind for 550 nautical miles. It looked like the wind had shifted around enough to the south, as a big high was approaching, that we could initially leave and hold a heading a few degrees north of course close hauled and that the wind would back around so we could reach into Rarotonga, true course 237 degrees. There was a building swell out of the south but you can't have everything. That's pretty much what happened. Shilling, Meridian and ourselves left Sunday morning close hauled in ten knots or so of SW breeze and six feet of southerly swell and over the next four days the wind backed around to a close reach and finally a beam reach into our destination. Of course the swell built as well as the wind and we had 10-12 feet on the beam or slightly forward the entire trip and 20-25 knts of wind. Not a restful sail. But we got in at dawn on Thursday, after throttling back quite a bit during the night so as to arrive in daylight, and Shilling and Meridian were not far behind. Course made good, 536 knts. Actual distance sailed, 570 knts. Speed made good, 5.73 knts. Actual average speed, 6.09 knts. Not bad for a trip 90% to weather. We've put a total of 5616 nautical miles under the keel so far this trip.

So now this segment of the 'fleet' is all cozy in Rarotonga. It's definitely a different place than French Polynesia. It's very nice and we've already had a lot of fun at the big annual Constitution Day Parade yesterday. One of the guys organized a yachtie entree to the parade. The theme of this years parade was " Women of Courage" so the guys all dressed up as south seas babes with grass skirts and coconut shell bras and the girls got to ride on the float truck we arranged and we were the ' foreign entree'. They seemed to think we were pretty funny and we made the local television news last night. Pictures will follow.

I'll have a lot more to say about French Polynesia and Rarotonga in a few more days. There are some interesting contrasts. Right now we're very happy to be here. Janet is out shopping at the big Saturday morning produce market. And I'm going to try to get this Wifi system to work.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Yours truly

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Waiting in Bora Bora

Hello to all,

"To be on the wire is life, the rest is waiting."
-Karl Wallenda

It's a rainy day in Bora Bora. This makes the third day of this little weather event and we'll be happy when it passes on. A bunch of boats left a few days ago feeling that all the signs were good for a westward passage. They've got more or less clobbered by greater than forecast winds and seas. Most of the SSB conversations are about hunkered down boats riding it out but making good progress. Although there really hasn't been much damage there hasn't been a lot of R&R amongst the departed fleet. The rest of us are hanging out in gusty, rainy conditions and watching the weather. We don't have to go anywhere until the end of the month so, although we're a little bored right now, it'll clear out and we can have some fun while waiting for the next nice looking weather window. That may be later in the week, we'll see.

So what do voyagers on Bora Bora do when they are killing time? Grown up stuff like watching the cruising kids have a ball tearing up the lagoon in dinghies and various inflatable toys, getting together at Bloody Mary's for happy hour, swapping books and getting in some quality reading, and completing a few small time boat projects. Some folks are organizing a poker game...wear lots of clothes. Very relaxing, but not out there on the wire. A couple boats may leave tomorrow, their visas are up, they have kids aboard, big boats, and they'd rather have a light air passage and motor if necessary than risk heavier winds and seas. We've come to know more and more of these people and it is a great bunch. Bora Bora is the last big get together place before people take various routes west. We'll head for the Southern Cooks and Rarotonga. Others will go to the Northern Cooks and Suvarov, etc, etc. Others head for Nuie and a couple boats are heading directly to Tonga. The general idea is to end the season in Samoa, Tonga or Fiji. Most boats will then bail for New Zealand or Australia. Tonga is the most likely place most of us will be together again and there will be more than a few adventure stories generated between now and then. Word is that 'Little Wing' has a sprung mast in will that be fixed? It will be a war story, one way or another.

So we've celebrated Janet's birthday, coincident to the Bastille Day celebrations, and done some socializing. We've got a few little things to do before heading west but it's mostly bureaucracy and provisioning...the wire awaits.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bora Bora

Bora Bora, Bora Bora! (to the tune of Bula Bula, Bula Bula!)

Hello to all,

We came over from Tahaa on the 10th. A very nice twenty seven mile trip in total. About 22 of that was a nice open water broad reach in 10-15 knots of easterly breeze on a beautiful day. Bora Bora certainly has the most dramatic of skylines and it is, like all these islands, every possible shade of green with a lagoon, like all these lagoons, every possible shade of blue. We'll be here till the end of the month and the jury is still out on our overall opinion of Bora Bora. Certainly it's beautiful but it's small and lacks the shear scale of Tahaa or Raiatea. It's also very discovered and although most of these super luxurious fantasy hotels seem to be about 20% occupied, prices everywhere are even higher than the rest of French Polynesia. However, there are also more tourist types to be seen wandering around town than anywhere we've been since Papeete.

We've got a nice spot in front of the Bora Bora yacht club, a very famous place amongst the cruising community but just an overgrown shack on new wooden landing. They've recently changed ownership and the restaurant is not reopened yet but the bar is open and there are showers, water and laundry. Libation, showers, water and laundry facillities will gather cruisers from far and wide! We've had a couple nice evenings and we've got plans for another....we had lunch at Bloody Mary's...and did the Bora Bora version of the dance contest the 9th. We're going back tonight for the final. We have a frozen pizza in the fridg...we may have one of those libations at the yacht club before dinghy riding over to the village for the dancing. More later!

Later....we did go to the dance contest and it was a good evening. This was just the couples competition and the awards ceremony. The couples and the drumming/music were great! I think the level of dancing and music here may be higher because of all the hotel business. The show itself lacks the charm we experienced in Hauhine. These folks have a constant motivation (money) to practice and perform. The Polynesian drum bands are really impressive. You get 25-30 guys beating on everything from wooden drums made from 20' palm logs to big wooden and leather covered bass and kettle type drums plus a lot of smaller stuff and it is powerful! War and love seem to need little but some really good drumming in this part of the world. Last night the show went well until the final couple. It started to mist a little and in the last portion of their dance the downpour began...did I say the Bora Bora contest is outdoors? The dancers finished but everybody else ran for cover. There were several thousand people hiding under every eve and roof in town! It lasted abut half an hour and the awards presentation was about to start when we decided to dinghy back to out cozy boat...and didn't get a drop on the mile or so ride.

So the big Bastille Day celebration is tomorrow....also Janet's birthday.....wish her a happy birthday!

Love to all,
Bill & Janet