Almost more than anything else I’ve been looking forward to the Papeete market. In all my travels it’s always the markets that lure me. They tell the story of a place and show the character of the people who live here, in an abbreviated Cliffnotes kind of way.
I’m tempted to buy one of everything, but living on a small boat cures you of that desire pretty quickly. We’re happy to just wander the stalls and admire, dazzled by the colors and abundance. And always, the pearls.
After Fatu Hiva and the rest of the Marquesas, after the Tuamotus and pearls and drift snorkeling and Heiva, how can anything more be as exciting? But as we spied the distinctive profile of Tahiti and sailed along the coast toward Papeete, we kept hugging each other with delight that we now find ourselves in a place that’s dazzled ocean travelers for centuries. What’s more, we haven’t been in a proper city for six months and our pockets are vibrating with the prospect of retail joy.
But first things first. We called Tahiti Port Control on VHF and requested permission to enter the harbor, necessary because the airport is right here on the water and a low flying plane might make quick work of a tall mast. We were given permission to proceed and tiptoed toward the city marina, right on the main street of downtown. Our friends on Enki II had arrived hours earlier and helped us choose a spot and tie up. Also on hand were Mark and Eileen from Wavelength, who hosted an engine repair party on their boat in Tahuata months ago. And then we saw more and more boats we’ve met and befriended throughout Pacific journey so far. We say hello and goodbye all the time, and every new hello gets sweeter as the friendships deepen.
It’s Monday and the first thing we learned is that the local brewpub does a half-price happy hour on Mondays. We’ve both been up all night and all we want to do is sleep but how can you pass that up? We tidied up as best we could, registered at the marina office and paid for a week at the dock, then walked (walked! no need to dinghy!) to the noisy, crowded streets of Papeete to a wonderful brewery right on the main drag. The beer flowed, Jack had a burger, we twelve intrepid sailors celebrated our outrageous good fortune. We can’t stop smiling.
We live in a time when a watch can tell us where we are on the face of the earth, down to the millimeter it seems. I find it remarkable that the tide tables in Polynesia can be counted on for only one thing. They will be wrong. This, dear Escapees, is significant because today, with much regret ,we need to exit through the northern pass in Fakarava in the Touamotus, and we need to do it at slack tide.
Months before we got here we started reading panicked messages about tide tables, how to use certain software, and a lot of agro with regards to tides in general. We grabbed all the latest stuff and in true Escape Velocity fashion we said that we’ll figure out how to use it manana, which as all of you loyal Escapee readers remember, doesn’t mean tomorrow but just not today.
So where does that leave us, dear reader? Weighing anchor a little early due to the strong possibility that our anchor chain might be wrapped around bommies on the bottom. In company with Enki II we were headed for our eleven o’clock appointment at the pass. A small rusty red tramp steamer apparently had the same idea, so I radioed the skipper and after I told him that we were heading for the pass, I heard a lot of animated patois but understood not one word. I thanked him, hung up the microphone, looked at Marce and shrugged.
We made our turn into the pass at precisely eleven o’clock and suddenly I could imagine what the skipper of the rusty red steamer was saying. You idiot, it’s the wrong time! You are going to take a pasting!
After cleaning up all the stuff that flew out of our very secure lockers only to scuttle across the saloon floor into a pile near the galley, we set sail in seven knots of wind from directly behind EV. Not our fastest point of sail so we angled off to the south a bit more than we wanted which put the swell on our beam. Sometimes you just can’t win. Up ahead we could see the much longer Enki II pulling away but we were keeping up with another boat that left an hour or two before us. Dare I say maybe even gaining.
Weather was moving into the area in two days with a warning to avoid if possible, but with the wind so light I was beginning doubt our decision to duck out quickly before it overtook us, which would have meant three extra days in Fakarava. No hardship that. Showing a surprising turn of speed we slowly overhauled the sloop ahead throughout the day and by night we could clearly see red port navigation lights behind us, but we weren’t sure who they belonged to. When a cargo ship swiftly came between us it blanked-out the red lights with her own multiple white lights. This thing was lit-up like a Mexican low-rider. We weren’t at all sure what was going on behind us but eventually the red light of the sailboat reappeared and order was restored.
By morning it was clear we’d passed our first boat. Huzzah, huzzah EV. The winds continued to be fluky and light but with the occasional squall thrown in to keep us on our toes. So it was a constant course and sail change kind of passage, with the inevitable do we reef the main for night time or leave all the sails up and hang on in a squall. You’ve never seen sorrier sailors when squall after squall moved in after dark but it made up for a decreasing average speed the previous day. Be careful what you wish for fans! That night we heard Enki II check in on the SSB Poly-Net and their position was only twelve miles ahead of us so I was tough going for all of us.
Morning brought us a hazy view of Tahiti and The Mysterious Island of Moorea. Yours Truly was a little misty eyed staring at a life long dream. For at least twenty years I looked at the large format Seven Seas calendar above our kitchen table and dreamed of sailing here. Every year at least one page had a photo of Moorea’s dark mysterious peaks. It’s the stuff of dreams, friends.
With the predicted weather soon closing in we wondered if it wouldn’t be a bad idea to tuck in at Venus point where Captain James Cook was sent to observe the transit of Venus June 3, 1769, but just as we were trying to find a way in through the reefs Enki II called on VHF radio and encouraged us to just keep coming up the coast to Papeete. An hour later we were tying up to the dock amid the hustle and bustle of the famous town quay at Papeete, which has been completely rebuilt and is very nice, although our docking skills are a little rusty.