Huahine to Raiatea
The rain stopped at 0930 on 3rd September. So, presented with the chance of a dry run to Raiatea, we slipped our mooring, squeezed through the pass and motored 27 miles in a light breeze from Huahine to Raiatea. We were on a mission: our watermaker pumps had arrived.
Nathalie Savon of Iorana Yacht services handled the shipment of the pumps from the UK on our behalf and arranged a berth at Apooiti marina after handling daft questions from me for weeks. Not only did she organise space at the marina, but she also sent us a map of where to find our berth so that we could drive straight in and park up.
A fresh start
The next day Nathalie drove over with the parcel containing the pumps. The watermaker hasn’t worked since the Tuamotus, so getting these pumps was a big deal for the malodorous crew of Lady Jane. We no longer need to ration our showers or hunt for places to do laundry. Although, given the backlog of washing we accumulated, we thought it prudent to hand the laundry over to Nathalie to take care of. Also, given our reacquired personal freshness, we threw in the upholstery covers from the saloon and forepeak for good measure.
Two days later, Nathalie arrived with her Renault Clio stuffed full to bursting with another delivery she managed for us: a new sewing machine, accessories, material and foam, shipped from Sailrite in the US. This was an unusual special offer: free delivery anywhere in the world (I doubt they made any profit on this order, delivery here does not come cheap).
Illumination at last
Almost a year ago, we bought a new LED masthead light to replace the old faithful one that has lived at the top of the mast for over 30 years. Not that there was anything wrong with the old one, it’s just that technology has moved on and LED is a lot less power-hungry. We tried to get the new one fitted in several places without any success, but now it sits gleaming and shiny on the top of Lady Jane after Nathalie arranged for an electrician (Cyprien) to come along and sort it out. It only took him twenty minutes up the mast. And he managed to sort out a problem with our speed log (bad earth connection).
A combination of tropical heat, humidity and salty air plays havoc with materials, especially metal. We had to replace the zips of some of the upholstery covers (where the zip heads had corroded almost to nothing) before wrangling them back on to the foam, which required a couple of days of sweaty effort.
So, to avert the risk of becoming even more bonkers due to heat and captivity, we asked Nathalie to hire us a car so that we could explore the island. And, as a Saturday night treat, we headed over to the only restaurant in the marina which, unfortunately, was devoid of people, personality and most of the food on the menu. What it lacked in character and choice, though, it made up for in price. There’s no happy hour here – it’s miserably expensive all the time. We didn’t return.
The hire company delivered the car to the marina Sunday 8th September. And, after taking the cheerful driver back to his office in town, where he gave us his wifi code in case we wanted to use it later, we headed south towards Taputapuatea. There’s no need for satnav here – there’s only one road around the island.
Before hitting the main road, we made a stop at the Super U supermarket at Uturoa to get a few provisions for the boat. Included in our shopping list was red onions, which Maria picked up and put in the basket. Onions, of course, are not usually known for their eye-watering cost. But red onions here in French Polynesia seem to be an exception. I thought there was something wrong when we paid up at the checkout. There was. When I looked at the receipt later that day, I found that we had been charged 2,690 francs for 1 kilo of red onions.
So (and we are projecting ahead here) before returning the car the next day, we took the receipt and the onions back to Super U. The stern-faced woman on the checkout marched us to the display of onions and pointed to the sign above the onion rouge that proudly advertised them at 2,690 francs for 1 kilo. That’s a few pennies short of £20. We left the store 1 kg of onions lighter and 2,690 francs richer.
The road around Raiatea passes Taputapuatea – a Unesco Heritage site – on the south-east coast. It doesn’t take long to get there – we pulled into the almost empty car park only one hour after leaving the supermarket.
Then, after crossing the road to the sprawling site, the heavens opened. Fortunately, we were close to a group of trees when it started raining, which almost provided excellent shelter.
Wikipedia covers the context and history of Taputapuatea at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taputapuatea_marae. And the Unesco website adds some more information – so I won’t bang on about it too much here. Besides, I won’t be able to do it justice – and there’s a fair chance that I’ll make a complete ass of myself. But, in brief, Marae Taputapuatea was believed to be the intersection of the world of the living with the ancestors and gods. It was the cultural and spiritual capital of Polynesia: a place of learning and sharing of topics ranging from navigation to the origins of the universe. And chiefs throughout the islands were invested here. All very nice. But, on a darker note, this was also a place of sacrifice to the gods, which included the odd unlucky human.
All that history and probably the after-effects of the rain give the site a slightly mysterious feel which is hard to explain. It’s one of those places where you have to be there to appreciate it.
After an hour of trudging around the site, we returned to the car and continued our clockwise circumnavigation of the island. Just before midday, we spotted a vanilla farm (resembling a large greenhouse at the side of a house) on our right. We pulled into the driveway to be greeted by a woman waving us to join her. She took us around the back of the house and into the greenhouse, where we found the man farming the crop explaining the pollination process to another couple. That was lucky for us: our French hasn’t developed enough to understand the vocabulary of vanilla farming yet, but the other couple volunteered to translate for us.
Vanilla isn’t the easiest crop to farm in French Polynesia. The climate is right, but unlike Mexico, where native bees naturally pollinate the flowers, the flowers here need to be hand-pollinated. The farmer does this with a small stick that he referred to, with a broad smile on his face, as his ‘little penis’. His little penis works wonders. He carefully lifts the pollen from the stamen to the stigma of the flower. Or, to use his description, from the man to the woman. It doesn’t look easy. But, if successful, the flower stays on, and the vanilla pod will develop.
We bought some vanilla pods from him at the end of his tour. The aroma is wonderful. It’s possible to smell the vanilla even through the plastic of the vacuum-sealed bag.
Most places lower their shutters for business by 1 pm in Raiatea on Sunday. And that includes restaurants. Despite the persuasive endeavours of our vanilla farming friend, he couldn’t persuade the local restaurant to stay open for the four of us (the other couple were similarly food-challenged.) So, with that plan knocked out of the field, we carried on driving clockwise around the island hoping to find somewhere open. There wasn’t. But, in a spark of desperation-fuelled inspiration, we thought about the airport and were delighted to see that not only was the cafe open, but the parking was also free. And entertainment was provided by the free-roaming chickens hanging around the tables like dogs looking out for scraps of food dropped by diners. I’m sure that’s not to everyone’s liking, but we thought it amusing. Although they didn’t get much from us – we were hungry.
Stumping up and checking out
On Tuesday 10th September, Nathalie rolled up in her Clio and took me to town to get some cash from the ATM so that I could pay her bill and that of the marina. Then just after lunch we sprung off the dock and headed to the island next to Raiatea (Taha’a) for an overnight stay to shorten the distance before heading to Bora Bora.
It’s been a very productive stay in Raiatea, thanks in no small way to Nathalie to whom I am very grateful. So, for any boaty folks needing things done, here’s a link to her website: http://iaoranayachtservices.com.