Saturday, July 30, 2011

Exploring Raiatea and Taha'a (Part I)

<i>The "Exploring XYZ…" series is our attempt to remember everything we can about the anchorages and stops we make, mostly to benefit cruisers who follow us in future years. We anticipate folding this information into a wiki or Soggy Paws compendium as soon as possible. In the meantime, please feel free to ask questions; If we can remember, we'll share. GPS marks are for reference only. If you use them for navigation and hit something, it's not my fault.</i>

With teeth and outboard resolved, Don Quixote moves back into our more typical gypsy mode. We move anchorages almost daily, dipping into and out of baies, passes, and reefs to test the waters. Serendipity has brought us together with Ceildyh for this section of our voyages ensuring that we have good company for most of our adventures. Like us, they seem willing to change anchorages frequently dependent on mode, luck, and boat breakage. They also like rum cocktails, which is a helpful lubricant to good relations.

Raiatea and Taha'a are actually two islands which share a single barrier reef. The gap between reef and islands is unusually wide, frequently enabling boats to sail from point to point behind the reef. The novelty of sailing once again in light breezes with absolutely no wind or swell is appealing to the entire family. We find ourselves attempting to sail everywhere which can sometimes get a bit ridiculous as we tack back and forth quite literally caught between a rock and a hard place. Raiatea is the larger and southern of the two islands and boasts the second largest town in the Societies -- a whopping 5,000 people. Despite the small size, Uturoa boasts two grocery stores and a farmers market as well as hardware stores worthy of the name. In fact, many boats choose to complete their final provisioning on Raiatea as the selection is as great as Bora Bora and many report that the prices are considerably cheaper.

Our first days on Raiatea were spent at the Raiatea Carenage. This is a haul out and careening facility found on the north west end of Raiatea, all the way around the corner past the airport and the Tahiti Yacht Charter base. If available, you can pick up a CNI yellow mooring ball for roughly $15USD (1300 CFP) per night. We never saw a ball available. The anchorage in front of the facilities is just awful. Steep to and rocky, it's hard to find a shallow spot and even harder to set the hook. There is considerably better anchorage across the channel and on the reef to the west. We couldn't take advantage of it, however, as our problem was a dinghy motor. The last thing we wanted to do was row over a mile across the channel in 20 knot winds. Ceildyh was very happy with the quality of the sailmaker they found at the charter marina just around the corner, we were reasonably convinced that the outboard mechanique knows what he's doing. The facility consists of multiple buildings all housed on the same bit of land. It looks like you could have virtually any type of boat work done by someone in that yard. The only issue is unless you bring your own parts, anything that needs fixing with speciality bits and pieces is likely going to have to come from Papeete before it can be grafted to your vessel. The haul out is on rails rather than a lift and apparently can accommodate fairly large vessels, including catamarans. The posted prices on the web site are extremely competitive, almost scarily so. Hard to imagine why it is cheaper to haul on Raiatea than in Mexico.

As is the case with many Polynesian islands, there is no bus service on Raiatea and only one taxi. The taxi actually isn't a taxi; It's a guy with a truck who sells his time and services for obscene amounts of money as a "tour guide". He will "tour" you from the carenage to downtown for a price that makes you consider buying a scooter as a viable economic alternative. Every time we end up in a situation like this -- far from anywhere with no buses or cabs -- we vow that on our next cruise we will travel with bikes. The good news is that Polynesians are friendly and fully cognizant of the limitations of their public transit system. While you will never see one of them hitchhiking, they are very willing to scoop up the wayward cruiser and drop them in town. Our 'lift' came from a really friendly guy named Steve (whose car smelled like gardinia) who not only took Jaime and I into town, he stopped, got out, and guided us down the street and up the dark stair case to our dentist. He was afraid (rightfully so!) we wouldn't have found it otherwise. He introduced us to the receptionist, with whom not surprisingly he was on a first name basis, and made sure we were all settled into the waiting room, before he returned to his vehicle.

Escaping the carenage, we spent a night in Baie d'Haamene. The bay cuts deeply into the heart of Taha'a and makes two jinks before terminating in a lovely, shallow and mud filled bay (S16 38.238 W151 29.157). The protection from waves and wind is so complete and the holding so good that this bay is considered a hurricane hole. DrC and I estimate it has the capacity to shelter at least twice as many vessels as Puerto Don Juan up in the Bay of LA (call it maybe 60) with potentially better protection. For us, the bay was a much needed respite after nearly two weeks in a 20 to 30 knot wind tunnel. For the first time in what felt like forever, the wind generator stopped it's whinging and we slept like the dead with no movement and utter silence.

(continued Part II)

1 comment:

Victory Cat said...

Victory Cat had a full bottom paint and prop repair at Raiatea Carenage in 2009. Excellent job that was far better than San Diego and much cheaper than Mexico. Highly recommend this shipyard and we also could not believe how reasonable the prices were, but the real surprise was the high skill and work ethic we experianced.