04-19-2019 – Fakarava, French Polynesia

Lungta sat patiently in Port Phaeton for almost six months, but as the title above indicates, we have now moved on.Β In the last month in Tahiti, Kathy and a couple of other sailing women joined a Polynesian dance class. The teacher had won a national competition a few years ago and was quite well known. The first evening we came, she had been doing a television interview just before, and was heavily made up and glamorously dressed with a big flower behind one ear. There were roughly 25-30 women of all ages joining in twice a week. As each person arrived, they greeted all of the others with a kiss on both cheeks – this charmed us boaters! πŸ™‚ The class actually began in August, but they welcome newcomers year-round. It’s intended for beginners, but was gearing up for a year-end performance. The teacher welcomed us in English and showed us the very basics of the hip movements, but taught the class completely in French otherwise. Basically we 3 just watched the other students and clumsily mimicked whatever we saw them doing. πŸ™‚ Each class began with some training exercises, moving the hips in clockwise circles or figure-eights while walking one step at a time forward or backwards across the room and moving the arms in sweeping arcs or cheerleader-like angular motions. It was a challenging aerobic workout as well as a mental challenge to coordinate the different movements! After those “warm-ups” we practiced some of the dances that they were working on for the performance in May. Most of them had been taught previously and they were just zipping through them to keep them fresh in the mind, but a new one was taught in the four sessions Kathy attended. We thought of it as The Breadfruit Dance, because it was telling a story with the hands and arms about growing, harvesting and processing a breadfruit into fabric. The music was slow and glamorous, and the movements were graceful and fluid – at least when everyone went the same direction! It was fun and an interesting view into the local culture. Even though we didn’t speak much French, not to mention the Tahitian language, we could tell that the women were comfortable in their bodies and with each other, because of all the laughing and teasing. A few of them had small children underfoot and everyone would look out for them, sometimes even holding them while dancing. The whole mood was playful and supportive.

Our last couple of weeks in Phaeton, life got suddenly social. We met a couple of French boats whose crew we enjoyed. The women on those boats joined Kathy and Ava in the dance class, and the men hung out together. One of them was a French couple that were politically passionate and even participated in a few of the “yellow vest” protests. The other was a single-hander named Laurent who had just taken on a crew-member named Marine. We first met Laurent when he came over and asked for some advice on repairing a sewing machine, which he had borrowed from another boater who had previously needed assistance with that same machine. πŸ™‚ He was an engineer, and clearly a good one, from the way he dove into the task. We probably spent three hours together, searching for the source of the problem, cleaning up rust and changing various settings. Ultimately Laurent figured the problem out, after nearly disassembling the entire thing! The local marina hosted a pot-luck “meet and greet” sort of event one night, which we all met at. There was a huge turn-out, and the evening turned into a night of food, laughter, music, and yes some drinking. πŸ™‚ A day or two later we went for a hike with this fun group of French folks. We just went down the main road and took a left when we came to a dirt road that looked interesting. The path went almost straight up into the steep hills. We passed numerous fruit trees and flowering shrubs. From time to time we could hear water running alongside the road but we never actually saw it. It was hot and we were sweaty, and it felt great to be strenuously active! We never reached the end of the road or arrived at a landmark, but after a couple of hours there was a general consensus that it was time to turn around. The views of the bay were beautiful, and we were glad to have spent the day moving, outdoors, and among friends.

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Finally we decided that it was time to move on. We were low on fuel, and needed to go to a bigger marina to refuel. French Polynesia offers us the opportunity to get diesel duty-free by jumping through a few hoops, one of which was to visit a participating fuel dock (duty-free saved us about 30%!). Marine decided to join us for a couple of weeks, because Laurent’s plans were changing and she was enthusiastic about visiting the Tuamotus. So one Friday we pulled up our anchor and motored out the entrance of the bay and through the several dog-legs of the pass. It was to be Marine’s longest passage to date, and she was excited to be moving again. A pod of dolphins raced out to greet us as we exited the breakers outside the pass. Although we thought we’d sail that day (the forecasts showed pleasant winds in the direction we wanted to go), we ended up motoring the entire way because the island itself was blocking the wind and changing its direction to be not what we’d hoped for. We arrived at the anchorage near Marina Taina just before sunset and just managed to find a place among the hundreds of boats. There were some floats quite nearby which we nervously realized were probably marking a wreck which was noted on the chart – a couple hundred feet away! We looked down into the clear water and couldn’t see any sign of trouble below, just the plastic bottles tied to lines that went straight down. Over the next few days, we bumped into those bottles but never had any trouble. The anchorage is protected from the ocean’s waves by a very shallow reef, which causes big waves to break – waves that are appealing to surfers. From inside the anchorage we can see out to the open ocean, though, which seems a little like the “invisible” walls of an Infinity pool. It’s a little odd to have a clear view of the open sea without feeling the effects of its waves! We also had a nice view of Tahiti’s sister island, Moorea.

We spent almost a week in this anchorage, preparing for our next passage. We got fuel, we got fresh food, and we turned in the paperwork to renew our visas for another year. Yes, we’ve been enjoying our time in French Polynesia so much that we’ve decided to stick around a bit longer. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here almost a year (well, actually 10 months), and there’s still so much more to see and do. So, true to form, we’ll extend our stay longer than our original plans. But we’re leaving next year, you can believe it! πŸ™‚

In addition to our planned errands, we also spent some time working on an unplanned project. Ever since we replaced our freezer’s compressor with a shiny new QUIET one, the motor has been struggling to keep up with the heavier load. It draws roughly 3 times the power of our previous one, but runs a third of the time, so the total power draw is the same, but it works harder when it’s running. We spent somewhere around a dozen hours over the course of a week, and the motor was only barely limping along. Then one afternoon it just stopped, and nothing we did could get it to run again. Now we were desperately in search of a repairman or a replacement. The first place we stopped was a chandlery in the marina near our anchorage, which is owned by a “salty” Frenchman named Michel. He sold us that replacement compressor system for our fridge a few months ago, and we were impressed with his inventory and integrity in doing business. We thought he might be able to recommend a place for us to begin. Instead he told us there would be nothing. We brainstormed a few different possibilities, including switching our boat from 110V to 220V (AC) or supporting some sort of hybrid of the two, but he was very skeptical that we could find anything that would fit our needs. The conversation drifted back to using the 24V (DC) that we currently use. He mentioned that he had a few old motors that had accumulated in the back of his shop, but said there were no guarantees what he would find. We went into the storeroom with him, and he quickly found one that was perfect for us! He refused to charge us for it, but he warned us: no bringing it back if we decide that we want it in black or red instead of white! We spent another 3 or 4 hours testing it, mounting it, and tweaking the belt and pulley, and then voila! We have a working freezer again – hooray!

One day while we returned from a trip into town, we found a note on our dinghy. It was from our good friends Eva & Hans on the boat Kamiros, who we met when we were in the Tuamotus in October. They had just arrived in Tahiti because their daughter Lola was going to be leaving in a few days after a 4 month visit. We saw their boat on our way back home that afternoon, and were sooo happy to see them again. πŸ™‚ We had them over to dinner one night, and enjoyed a wonderful evening of catching up and comparing notes on life. We enjoyed getting to know Lola, who hadn’t been aboard when we had met previously, and seeing 15-year-old Luca growing into an adult. This family is definitely one of the treasures that we have found while in French Polynesia! It was hard to say goodbye, but there is good reason to believe that we will see them again in a few weeks, because they are also hoping/planning to visit Tahanea again.

We found a good weather window and jumped on it, leaving early on a Friday morning. Historically, sailors say that it’s bad luck to leave on a Friday, but we modern mariners throw caution to the wind and risk the consequences. πŸ™‚ Although the winds were pretty much what was forecast, there seemed to be a current going against us that made the going a bit slower than expected. The waves kicked up by the winds were also somewhat bigger and less organized than we’d hoped, and the trip turned out to be a fairly uncomfortable one. πŸ™ We had some beautiful sunsets and sunrises along the way, including one green flash; it’s been many months since we’ve seen this phenomenon! This was the first time that Marine had ever seen it, and it was kinda cool to share it with her. Fortunately our passage only took 4 days, instead of the 5 that we had predicted. We arrived mid-day on Tuesday, just in time to cross the pass of Fakarava (well, we “nudged” our progress a bit using our motor – no one wanted to spend an additional night on passage).

The supply ship came in the next morning, and we went ashore early to be sure we got some of the fresh produce. The dock was abuzz with activity, as cargo was unloaded and people came to pick up their purchases. There was a table set up where a crew member was checking off the packages as they were claimed. There was someone siphoning fuel from a 55-gallon drum into half a dozen jerry cans. A forklift was moving pallets of construction materials around. It was exciting just to be nearby! That afternoon we went for a nice snorkel and visited the internet cafe for a couple of hours.

There’s an event called the World ARC, which is an organized round-the-world excursion. It’s divided into segments, which boaters can sign up for separately – for several thousand dollars each! Because they have the goal of circumnavigating in one year, they move pretty quickly. Anywhere from a dozen to 40 boats might be travelling en masse, and when they pull into an anchorage it doesn’t go unnoticed. πŸ™‚ The ARC rolled into Fakarava a day or two after we did. The anchorage got crowded, the produce in stores dwindled, as did the internet bandwidth, and the radio traffic increased. We decided to get outta town! We took a small excursion south a dozen miles, about a third the length of the island, to a place less visited. Along the way we encountered a maze of round floating balls, marking a pearl farm. We had to dodge back and forth between them, continuing to keep an eye out for shallow patches of coral and staying within the angle supported by the wind. It was an interesting puzzle! When we arrived at our intended spot along the shore, we were pleased to find that there was no one in sight. We hung out there for three days, snorkeling every day and wandering the beach a bit. We blew up our air mattress and slept on deck one night (but moved inside when it began to rain). We talked with a local who has a small house on the beach nearby. It was a real advantage to have Marine help understand his French, which was interspersed with Tahitian and Pau Motu! He opened up a few coconuts and shared the juice and meat with us, and even gave us a couple more to take home with us. These were the heaviest coconuts we’ve ever had – and very sweet!

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Marine is a very pleasant house-mate. She’s a 20-something French girl, traveling the world on her own. Sometimes she participates in “work-away” arrangements, where she works a certain number of hours a week in return for room and board. She is thoughtful and energetic, and was always ready to go (as long as it wasn’t *too* early in the morning!) She loved snorkeling with us, although was always a bit nervous about any sharks. She generously spent several hours working with us on improving our French, and we also learned a lot about the mentality of the French people and some basics about the Algerian people from whom she was descended. Last but definitely not least, she also cooked a few great meals while she was with us!

We’ve now returned to the town in the north of the island. The airport is just a few miles away, and there’s a fixed dock there where we can bring our dinghy. Marine will continue on her travels, and Kathy’s sister Jean and her boyfriend James are due to arrive in a few days. Lots of moving around…Β  All is well on Lungta, and I hope the same is true for all of you!

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