Deep waters

Raiatea and Tahaa share a reef encircled lagoon some twenty miles west of Huahine. An early if rather hungover start ensured both Rhumb Runner and ourselves were approaching Passes Teavapiti before noon. Having re read all the material we had on the islands it appeared that reasonable anchoring depths were in short supply for a medium draft vessel like Temptress, cats and lifting keel boats can find patches on the outer reef, most of the bay’s are 30 metres or more at their very edges.

Our initial plan was to drop the hook behind the motu that divides the passe but when we rounded the corner the sandy area on its western side was full of small boat moorings, the motu is a popular weekend spot for locals to BBQ and swim. No room for us. 

Much of the information we’ve gathered from fellow cruisers in electronic form is over ten years old, even the Soggy Paws Compendium, a collection of cruisers experiences which we consult every day for help, is mostly from 2010 and 11. Many of the cruising guides to these islands are out of print and date from the 1980’s but cruisers have scanned and shared them as at least they are able to provide rough ideas of what to expect even if the shops and businesses mentioned are long gone, rocks rarely move! Some information is better than none and we did buy the latest edition of Charlie’s Charts which is the guide to the Polynesian islands and the Tahiti Yacht Charter charts to back up our electronic charts. 

Out in the midst of the eastern reef we could spy mostly catamarans at anchor but looking at our charts the approach channel from the north seemed too shallow for our 2.1m draft. Motoring on round past the town of Uturoa, at the north end of Raiatea, the main administrative centre of the ISLVs we tried to identify the anchorages mentioned in our various guides. Most were full of moorings or marinas, everywhere occupied by laid up charter boats, this is the main base for Tahiti Yacht Charters, Sunsail and the Moorings.

Onward to explore the western side of the huge lagoon that divides the two islands. Surely there in the lee of Raiatea we might find somewhere? We discovered the hard way that within feet the bottom goes from 30metres to six metres to a single one, fortunately only the skipper’s pride was dented and we reversed off the sand and coral bottom fairly quickly with a little help from a nearby cat whose owner used his tender as a tug to push our stern round. He, the cat owner, wasn’t that polite though, “don’t anchor in my space and the boat ahead they like to be naked” he barked as he returned to his boat! Did he think we would block his view or was it just his command of the English language? We thanked him and didn’t linger. Anchoring on the reef was not a viable option despite one of our 1980’s guides waxing lyrical about the too numerous to mention reef side anchorages.

In hindsight we should actually have realised just how few if any areas with four to ten metres exist within this lagoon. When previous cruisers give actual coordinates for anchor spots on sand spits (cf the Soggy Paws Compendium) and when at the Puddle Jump seminar back in Panama the lady from the Tahiti Tourist Board emphasised the availability of TN ISLV (tourism nautique) moorings we should have started to put two and two together; both islands are surrounded by deep water close to the shore even inside the reef. As I write Temptress is on a mooring in Bay Apu, Tahaa in over 35m just a hundred metres off the shore and we are very grateful for it.

Enroute from Huahine the bilge pump started going off a lot, initially we rather ignored it knowing there had been some water under the engine which Kevin had pumped into the bilges. Eventually though the skipper lifted the floorboards to check. More water under the engine which was deep enough to slop over into the bilge. It was too rolly to check the source at sea so it was amongst the worries the skipper had as we sought somewhere to stop around Raiatea or Tahaa. The problem turned out to be a broken jubilee clip on the pipe work for the gear box cooling water resulting in warmed sea filling the bilge at several litres an hour; easy to spot, somewhat more difficult to access and replace. A whole afternoon later having had to remove various bits of the turbo charger mechanism it was done. Not an easy job lying on the floor under the table squeezing hands into a tight corner.
These islands are lower than Mo’orea, Tahiti or the towering Marquesas but still rugged, green with steep valleys reaching down to the sea. The edges are fringed with coconut palms, copra is a staple export here as elsewhere in French Polynesia. A few single story houses with their wide corrugated iron roofs are scattered along the road that runs along the narrow low coastal area. The only sounds dogs barking and cockerels crowing. 
The weather has turned slightly windier and wetter. A torrential downpour woke us last night and we’ve had to tie back halyards etc to prevent them rattling, something we’ve hardly bothered to do since the Caribbean. Grey clouds hang over the low peaks of Tahaa today, it’ll probably rain again before the afternoon is over. 

Looking ahead to Bora Bora we intend to do our homework much more carefully. We need a plan A and a plan B for potential anchorages as well as knowing where we can pick up a mooring if necessary. It would be tempting to skip Bora Bora but having got this far, we glimpsed the islands familiar outline as we approached Raiatea, it would be a shame to miss this classic of the South Pacific and anyway we have to complete our check out paperwork with the gendarmerie there before Temptress can sail on west to Niue and Tonga