Sunday, August 14, 2011

Exploring Huahine

<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>

Huahine is located in the Society Islands north and west of Tahiti. It's a big blog of an island with barrier reef along around, but easily navigable only on the west side and parts of the southeast. Unfortunately, a combination of weather and a broken outboard pinned Don Quixote to the reef for nearly a week with almost no opportunity to explore. I think this is a shame as the island looks beautiful from the reef. I'm sure we would have had a good time. Really I am.

We anchored in two locations on Huahine, both on the southern side. Our first anchorage was on the reef south of the town of Fare. You can enter the reef at Passe Avamoa (S16 42.597 W151 02.716) with little fanfare. I suppose if you were facing a nasty westerly the pass and it's companion Avapehi a mile to the south would be a little bit interesting. In the standard east south easterly even blowing > 20 knots, we found the entrance easy to find, easy to navigate. Just inside Avamoa and to the north is Fare. Many people anchor just west of the village and literally within rock throwing distance of the pass entrance. The problem is that many people anchor there. We couldn't find a spot where we wouldn't bang into our neighbors, so we kept going. If you continue south into the channel, there are all kinds of spots to drop the hook on the reef. From Fare all the way down to Avea, anchoring on the reef is a question of finding a wide spot out of the channel with a nice patch of sand and few bombies. It's easier to find a place if you have a low draft, but we saw enough deep keeled monohulls out there to know that if you're serious about it, you too can find a hole. Keep in mind that some locations are merely coral over rock. This is not the time to just drop and go. Current and winds will scrape you right off the reef if you don't set the hook well. Ultimately, we ended up between the two passes on the edge of the reef (S16 43.239 W151 02.346), out of the way of passing traffic and in a sweet spot for Internet access using both Ioaranet and WDG-Hotspot.

Our first day on Huahine, we thought we had a motor. So we loaded up our walking gear, piled into the dinghy, and motored into Fare. Fare is a very welcoming place for visiting cruisers. There is a well stocked grocery with a farmers market in the mornings just across the street. A bank, post office, hardware store, and several snack shacks round out the provisioning locker. The town has built a nice dinghy dock for visiting cruisers and charter boats complete with a wooden hut and welcome sign. Remember, however, that people have had dinghies, outboards and fuel tanks stolen by less savory residents from this very dock so lock up when you visit Fare. Just to the west of the dinghy dock is the restaurant ??? (S W). You can get food during the middle of the day, but the real appeal is at happy hour from 1700 to 1800 during which all drinks are half off. This is the one place in all of French Polynesia where a pitched of beer will not require that you pawn the family jewels.

There are quite a few interesting archeological sites within easy biking distance of Fare. You can rent bikes by the half or whole day from one of two locations in the town. Unfortunately, the price for a half day was just a smidge out of Don Quixote's price range at 5000 CFP for 4 hours per person. Ever the optimistic hikers, we set off down the road. The road runs around the island along the coastline, for the most part, dipping inland to run along the edge of the northern lake before getting to the points of archeological interest. It is a very long walk. Just before you hit the sites, you'll pass through the village of Maeva. This is a very good place to get cold drinks and snacks at the magazin on the street. If you don't mind long walks, it's actually a very flat and pleasant journey of about 5 km each way. We stopped for water, snacks, coconut husking, more snacks, and a lot of bitching and complaining… mostly mine as I started to get heat exhaustion. At the end of the day, you could argue the half price pitcher was a medical necessity.

Our next few days were spent trapped on Don Quixote. The wind dialed up to 20, gusting 30 and more off the hills neatly pinning us to the reef. At this point, I'd like to say something about the trade winds in this part of the world. Typically, they blow from east to south east. The average is about 18. This means the one speed you rarely see is 18. In roughly two week cycles, the winds alternate between the 25 to 30 range or the 8 to 15 range. Depending on your idea of perfect sailing conditions, you'll choose either light trades or reinforced trades to move from island to island. When the winds dial up out at sea, you'll find that the leeward side of the islands is not always a protected location. Winds can bend around points, rip through ravines, or drop suddenly down the side of islands peaks and scream through the anchorages. Our wind generator shuts down at 35 and it does did so on several occasions while we waited out the reinforced trades on Huahine.

We didn't want to move the boat, and by this time our dinghy had reported back that the motor was just not going to work for love or money. The water off the transom looked so benign, clear and blue and reflecting back the sandy bottom like a Los Angeles swimming pool. The reef in that part of Huahine is truly nothing to look at so don't bother snorkeling. But the water is so tempting, we spent a lot of time in it despite the howling winds. I can vouch that the Huahine reef is a great place to scrub the bottom of the boat.

A few days later, our buddy boat arrived. We moved about 3 miles south along the reef line. While it meant we were close enough to dinghy back and forth between the boats, it did nothing to improve the wind situation. It was also a complete Internet dead zone. So the next day, we gave up Huahine and sailed over to Raiatea in a brisk beam wind. We have this island marked for "future exploration." We sure did a lousy job of it this time through the islands.

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