April to May 2003
The Leeward Society Islands of Polynesia include Huahine, Raiatea & Tahaa, famed Bora Bora and the tiny atolls of Maupiti and Mopelia. After leaving our guests Frank & Tina in Tahiti and spending a final night in our favorite anchorage of Opunohu Bay, Moorea we departed for an overnight sail to Huahine. We had an interesting passage with very large southerly swells. As we neared Huahine we saw the swells building to waves nearly 30 feet high and crashing on the coral reef. The dramatic power of these amazing waves was a sight to behold. We easily entered the pass and anchored inside the beautiful lagoon. Others however were not so lucky, as a few days later the person standing watch on a charter boat fell asleep and the boat sailed up onto the reef severely injuring two people and totally destroying the boat.
We spent a short time in Huahine snorkeling and driving around the island to see the pineapple plantations. In between adventures I spent an entire day inside the lazarette working on the autopilot and another day fiberglassing and repairing our sail battens.
We had just left Huahine for the short sail to Tahaa and were running the engine to charge our batteries when suddenly clouds of white smoke began pouring out of the exhaust pipe and the engine began to race at full throttle. The engine refused to stop when Dee performed the normal shutdown procedure and smoke still poured out. Fire at sea is one of our worst nightmares and so Rob raced to grab an extinguisher. Touching the engine room door it felt no hotter than normal so Rob opened it a crack and stuck the extinguisher nozzle inside- fortunately no fire was evident and the extinguisher was put aside but the noise of the racing engine was deafening. After minutes that seemed like hours Rob managed to starve the engine of fuel and air and the racing engine and its noise stopped. Fortunately it was downwind to Tahaa and we were able to sail right through the coral reef pass guarding the entrance to lagoon and sail into the anchorage.
We spent the next few days with friends from Different Worlds, Briana, Enora and Manana helping us to diagnose our engine problem. The definition for cruising is often said to be "fixing your boat in exotic places" and that was true in this case as between work sessions we scuba dove, snorkeled and walked on the beautiful beaches surrounding Tahaa and its nearby motus. We were to spend the next two weeks working on the engine, thinking several times we had solved the problem only to have it crop up again a day or two later.
Finally with the engine fixed we set sail for the short trip to Bora Bora. This is the island made famous by James Michener as the most beautiful in the Pacific and it is the locale for the play and movie South Pacific. We had been here in 1984 and again in 1989 and loved the place - returning here in our own boat was very special. While the scenic beauty still abounds we unfortunately found the people rude and unfriendly. In Moorea which sees far more tourists the people are still quite friendly but we found Bora Bora not worth the stop. The internet cafe charged $24 per hour and the general attitude was that while they still want the tourists' dollars they would prefer if the tourists themselves stayed at home and just sent the money.
Being on our own boat at least allowed us to avoid the local hotels and restaurants and enjoy the natural beauty. However bad the folks at Bora Bora were our next stop at Mopelia was to make up for it. Mopelia is a tiny atoll inhabited by only 12 people - all of them very friendly to us. The 3 families here harvest pearls and copra and sell lobster and fish when they can. We became friendly with Sophia and her son Calami. It was especially fun arriving with the sailboat Manana who knew Sophia from having visited here on their boat 22 years previously.
Entering the pass through the coral reef at Mopelia is not for the faint of heart and consequently this atoll only gets a few dozen visitors a year. It had been quite awhile since they had seen any yachts, but in an odd coincidence 5 yachts arrived within a day or two of each other. It turned out we were all good friends, several of us having known each other since Panama 4,000 miles away, so the pot lucks and parties were near constant.
Vetea a 25 year old Tahitian living on Mopelia was very kind to us, one day bringing us fresh lobsters and black pearls, the next night taking us clear across the lagoon in his skiff and showing us how they catch lobsters on the reef at night with a very bright light. The trip back, 6 miles across the coral reef studded lagoon on a pitch black night in a driving rainstorm was one only a local could have made. A few days later he took us scuba diving outside the lagoon and showed us the wreck of a German freighter.
After two weeks we got a short weather window and departed for the Cook Islands.
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