To Ahe and Papeete

Following up on the previous blog entry, I ended up making it to Ahe early in the afternoon. Then I sailed near the lee of the atoll and dropped the main and started sailing slowly along the island in calm water. The idea was to spend some time to get to the pass as late into the outgoing tide as possible (following the assumption that the current will be strongest halfway between tides and then becomes gradually weaker).

Arrived at the pass entrance about 4 o’clock. The wind came straight through the pass so I had to motor. To steady the boat I did keep the stay sail up (it being self tacking makes it requiring little to no attention). This worked out quite well. There was a lot of current still running out, with the engine at about 80% (keeping some in reserve) the boat slowed down to about 2 knots. This pass was a lot shallower than the one at Kauehi, shallowest being about 5 meters (that sounds like a lot, but it is when you do start to worry how much shallower it will get). But, with some patience, we came through quite nicely, then to meet rough seas in the lagoon. It was a rocky motorsail across the lagoon to the town, avoiding lots of buoys (maybe for pearl farming?). But, props to the French, even there remote atolls have good buoyage which are lit at night.

The town was on the windward side of the atoll, which meant that the city was actually in nice calm water. But there were quite some coral heads to worry about. First anchoring attempt did not work, think I was obstructing the passage to the dock too much, so I moved to the other side of the dock. By the time the boat was all organized it was already dark, and it had been a long day, so I cooked and went straight to bed.

Next morning a boat I had met in Atuona came in: Steeltide. Actually a Van der Stadt designed steel boat. With a mixture of English, Australian and South African crew. So now I had some company. Went into town, just to see what it was like. Neat little place, a store with limited choice (but no French bread nor cheese, can’t believe there are parts of France where you can’t get cheese!) and friendly people (though none of these islands I have really had much contact, other than saying bonjour, comment ca va, and shaking hands). But they are always friendly.

Stayed all day, just taking it easy, had a look at the seas on the windward side. Was pretty rough out there.

Next day day was Sunday. The locals living elsewhere on the atoll come to church by boat, dressed up and women with a flower in the hair. Quite a sight.

I planned where else to go, originally wanted to also visit Rangiroa, but the distance was just not practical (to work out leaving and arriving during daylight). So decided next destination was Papeete. Steeltide was going to leave at the same time for Tahiti as well.

Picking up the anchor was a struggle again. This time the anchor chain had wrapped around/through a big coral head. But too deep to reach snorkeling (about 8 meters down). So had to go for some brute force: pull the anchor chain as tight as possible and then motored it loose. It took a few attempts, where the stern started to lift up quite a bit, eventually it came off.

It was an even rougher ride across the lagoon to the pass. Winds over 20 knots all the time. Had stay sail and double reefed main up, and the engine idling just in case. Going through the pass went fine, already a strong outgoing current (about an hour after high tide) making us reach 9 knots. First few miles outside were nice, still behind the protection of the atoll. But once passed that it got quite rough, winds 20-25 knots coming almost from abeam. Ended up furling in the genoa, that slowed the boat from 7 to 6 knots, which was a lot more comfortable. And going too fast would actually make me arrive in Papeete before daylight. Next day was still a rough ride, but gradually the wind started to lie down. Eventually on the final day to Papeete the wind became somewhat irregular, with some showers, and came into Papeete late in the afternoon.

Anchoring practice in Papeete turned out quite different from the descriptions in the cruising guides. There is no longer a free anchorage near the city. Ended up mooring bow-to the floating docks in the city harbor, next to Steeltide.

Papeete is quite a shock for someone who hasn’t seen any real city since Panama. It is a bustling big city, there is a main road along the water front, with continuous traffic, including traffic jams and everything else. Did a lot of walking yesterday, and had a galette (stuffed crepe) at one of the snack car restaurants here nearby.

Will not spend a long time here at the city docks. Docking fees are very high, but decided I deserved a little luxury after all those days at sea over the last months.

Next will be Moorea, and on to the other places in the Society Islands (including famous Bora Bora).

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