07-31-2019 – Mo’orea, French Polynesia

It’s been a very busy month, full of boat projects and socializing with lots of new friends! Our batteries finally arrived from India, and we quickly sailed back to Tahiti from Mo’orea to pick them up and install them. We transferred 12 batteries from the truck on shore to the dinghy to Lungta anchored half a mile away, in three separate trips – followed soon thereafter by three more trips to off-load our old batteries. 8 of the new batteries got connected up to our “house” electrical system, while 4 were saved for our friends on Cinderella who was away entertaining family. The first day we only hooked up 2 of the batteries, and already they were performing better than our tired old bank of 8! What a pleasure to have stable power again! The next day we installed the remaining 6. We paid more for these batteries than the standard lead-acid ones, because these Firefly batteries use a new technology to bring better performance and longevity. With some care, we hope to get 20 years of life from them (as opposed to the 4.5 years we got from the set that’s just been retired). That’s our big news, and I’m sure everyone out there can share in our relief that this long-running saga has come to a satisfactory ending. 🙂 As an added bonus, they’re pretty!

Three weeks previous, we had moved to Mo’orea to await their arrival. We had Fin with us, and we were exploring a new place. We learned that there was a shrimp farm at the head of the bay where we were anchored, and that they were open to the public on Wednesdays. We bought a kilo of delicious home-grown shrimp and had a feast! We went snorkeling once or twice, but didn’t see anything especially nice. The anchorage area gets a lot of traffic, so the reef and its residents are pretty rough and stressed. We have heard plenty of stories about sightings of mantas, eels, anemones, dolphins, even whales in the area, but we haven’t seen them first hand.

  

We set off one day on a hike up to a lookout (here they call it a Belvedere) that offers a spectacular view down the length of two beautiful bays, Cook’s to the east and Opunohu to the west. Two women driving up to the lookout picked us up very soon after we began our hike up, and we zipped to the top in no time. We snapped a few photos and took a well-worn trail back to the bottom. This trail was scattered with ruins from generations long gone by, with some archaeological and botanical commentary posted here and there. But we didn’t actually spend much time reading the signs, because almost the moment we started down it began to rain. At first it was gentle and misty, but it rapidly grew to be a fairly heavy downpour. We watched our steps carefully – and successfully – so that we didn’t slip and fall in the sticky mud. We “hopped” from one tree’s “rain shadow” to another to take a break from the chilly rain, but couldn’t avoid becoming completely drenched. Near the bottom we passed a crowd of people playing at a zipline park. There were lots of children enjoying themselves, and the sounds of their excitement were delightful! By the time we reached the road again, the shower had passed by, and we arrived at the dinghy with clear skies directly overhead. It appears that Mo’orea creates much of its own weather, gathering clouds in its high peaks and funneling the prevailing winds to create stronger gusts in the valleys.

    

While we were there, a weather system called a Maramuu passed by. A low pressure which passed over New Zealand continued east, and created a week’s worth of fairly strong winds throughout this whole country. A lot of boats scurried to find a secure place to anchor either out of the wind or protected from waves – or both. We found that our original anchorage had a slick muddy bottom and that our anchor slipped through it rather than grabbing a solid hold. So we moved to the outer end of the bay where the bottom was coarse white sand and we stayed put throughout the blow. (We did choose to put out two anchors for added security.) Every day we saw a few boats relocate, presumably because either they or a neighbor were dragging their anchor. But there were no serious problems in this area. It was almost an anti-climax to all of the anticipation and preparation that everyone did. 🙂 We later heard some dramatic stories from other areas that were not as well protected.

One of our neighbor boats was a couple that we had met in Mexico in 2012, shortly after we began our travels, and we hadn’t seen them since. It was a lot of fun to reconnect with Jaye and Irwin after all these years! They had arrived in French Polynesia almost three years ago, though, and their boat’s permit was about to expire. They needed to leave the country after only a week – but their plans are to go to the Cook Islands for just a month and then return immediately, which will restart the clock on the permit for having the boat in the country. We had a few meals together, including a potluck party on the beach to celebrate Irwin’s birthday. They introduced us to a local man named Stevenson who is building a farm on some family property up in the hills. He was full of stories about traditional knowledge and his own personal life, and we had a nice connection with him. We hope to visit him in his home some time soon.

Another boat that was quite near us in the anchorage was Alila, which is owned by Mike, the guy who helped us install our new freezer compressor, and his German girlfriend Jutta (pronounced very much like Utah). They invited us over to dinner, and we have shared several wonderful meals together since then. He lives on the boat full-time, while she spends roughly half the time in Mallorca, Spain where she still runs a business. When they are together they live a fairly busy life, full of laughter and teasing. They loaned us their electric-assist bicycles one day (we only thought we were coming over to see how they worked, but Mike said that taking a test drive was the best way to know). They move when you turn the pedals, like any bicycle, but the electric motor kicks in and really gives a boost. We rode them up to the Belvedere that we had visited the previous week, and it was a breeze! Then we rode back down and continued counter-clockwise around the island another 5 miles or so before coming back to the beach where we had started. Now we need to figure out how to purchase a pair of them for ourselves! Later on Jutta came over and spent a day with Kathy repairing a bag for one of the bicycles, replacing the broken zipper with flaps for velcro. I think we’ll be friends for quite some time to come…

Around this time, Fin tracked down and talked with a volunteer organization called Coral Gardeners. They are bringing awareness to the plight of coral to the tourists and locals here in Mo’orea. They collect broken bits of still-living coral and nurture it so it can be reattached to a larger head of coral. His energy and scientific background are a great fit for them, so they’ve taken him on as their newest worker. He stopped by to say hi (and retrieve a charger he had left behind) a few days later, and looked happy to be making a real contribution. We’re pleased to see him doing well and hope that we will see him again down the road. The day after he left we were paid a visit by a young couple on a paddleboard. They were going through the anchorage looking for a boat that might take them to the Tuamotus. Damian is a dive instructor from Argentina while Camila is Chilean and works at the same shop as him. They have been living in Rapa Nui (previously known as Easter Island) and are here for a 3-month vacation. They are both musicians, and are traveling with a guitar, a flute, a clarinet, a trumpet, a ukelele, and an assortment of whistles. In addition she carries two hula hoops and he brings along a pair of fire sticks and another which has dancing LED’s that make amazing patterns when he twirls them. They are always busy doing something creative, from playing music together to crocheting to making something tasty from fruit they’ve gathered in the woods. They are avid chess players and are quite competitive; the four of us are at roughly the same level. They’re gentle, thoughtful, and extraordinarily even-tempered – in short, really wonderful people to be around!

After three weeks in Mo’orea (how did THAT much time pass?!) we returned to Tahiti and gratefully took possession of our new batteries. We were expecting two boats to arrive, one from the SE and the other from the NW. The first, Otra Vida, was bringing our friends Wayne & Keith, who had stayed with us a couple of months in 2015 and Keith returned in 2017 for a month of boat-watching while we were visiting our families in the States. They have been traveling with Martin and Patty (British & Peruvian) for a few months, from Patagonia to Rapa Nui, Pitcairn, and the Gambier and Tuamotu archipelagos of French Polynesia. We had been emailing one another for weeks, looking for the best time & place for us to share an anchorage. We’d been hoping for the spectacular, pristine natural environment of the Tuamotus, but when the time became right we were in the busy anchorage near the capital city of Pape’ete. We had a great time reconnecting with our “old friends” and getting to know our new ones, over a couple of meals. Surprisingly, the Otra Vida team already knew our musical friends, because they had met while in Rapa Nui. Quite the small world – or small island in this case. 🙂

Then things changed up a bit, when Wayne & Keith joined us on Lungta, while Martin & Patty took off on their own for 10 days for a romantic interlude. Our house is full of energy and industry! Dan and Wayne tackled a project together, removing a patch of rot in the pilothouse and then patching the area with epoxy. Dan redesigned the area to include some louvers for better airflow through the pilothouse, below the windows. Meanwhile Damian and Camila did a lot of sanding, polishing and cleaning on the boat’s exterior and Kathy did some sewing projects. A few new boats arrived during this time who already knew the Otra Vida crew – and sometimes also our South American friends. We’ve spent a lot of time socializing with these new-found friends and others on boats that we knew previously.

  
One day, 14 people from 4 boats gathered together on a single boat and traveled a couple of miles to a spot where there was an old airplane wreck that could be dived. Some of the divers used SCUBA, some dove while holding their breath (good practice for spearfishing), and some only stayed at the surface and snorkeled. We pulled together a ragtag collection of dive gear for 4, and the 6 of us took turns. This is the first dive we’ve done in many years, and it was a fun outing!

Our friends on Otra Vida have decided to stay in French Polynesia for a while longer but Keith & Wayne have visas that will expire soon. Rather than change boats again, they will just stay with us for their last week. We spent a few days wrapping up the boat projects, and crossed back to Mo’orea again – along with several of the other boats in this circle – and we’ve also met up with Alila again. Our 4 crew-mates have been in the water this morning, marveling at the turtles and rays all around. It’s a very vibrant and fluid social scene at the moment!

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