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The Two Captains


2C Update #121

Raiatea & Taha’a – August 2004

In the Huahine sunset, Raiatea and Taha’a looked far enough apart that we at first mistook Taha’a for Bora Bora. In fact, the two islands are in the same lagoon with about three miles of water between them. Sailors world around know Raiatea as the base of the Moorings and Sunsail charter fleets here, and cruisers value it for not one but two dry storage yards. Taha’a, though in Raiatea’s back yard, remains one of the least “discovered” of the Societies. Together they make a very nice cruising ground without even leaving the atoll. Ironically, it seemed to us as if the bulk of the bareboaters had rushed away to Huahine or Bora, possibly thanks to the mild weather.

Uturoa, the main town on Raiatea, is the administrative center for all of the Leeward Societies, and among its many big town services is a real hospital. During the previous week or two I had become increasingly bothered by a growth on my back. On several occasions it had bled (copiously) at the slightest provocation, and, rather than healing, it seemed to be getting larger. It was time to find a doctor and get it attended to.

Uturoa may be the largest town in the Leewards, but it is still a small town. When we asked directions to the hospital we were directed to a smallish building where we took a number and stood in line with mostly mothers and their kids. When I finally got into “triage” and the nurse took a look at my complaint, I was delighted (and aghast) to hear someone actually say, “ooo la la!” It seems when they pulled the Band-Aid off, my spurter spurt, and no one was prepared. Blood everywhere. So, I was rebandaged and set to waiting some more to see the doctor. When the doctor took her look she said , “Oh, yez eeet must go!” and sent me…to the hospital! It turned out we were in some clinic.

The hospital, a gratifyingly more substantial complex, turned out to be a bit farther down the block. And so we started the process all over again…only to be given, an hour or so later, an appointment to come back in five days to see the surgeon! Okay. Five days later we came back, the surgeon looked at it and she agreed with all the previous “ooo-la-la!”s and “Eeet must go!”s only to schedule me for the NEXT day! Since we were moving the boat around in between and hitchhiking in and out of town for each of these interviews, the delays were a little exasperating. However, the next morning, almost on schedule -- snip, snip -- it was over, the stitches were in, and my verrule (the dictionary defines this as a “wart”) was off and in its test tube bound for analysis in Tahiti. There was a little delay while the doctor and the nurse – both thin, middle-aged French women – discussed excitedly the whereabouts of missing pieces for the cauterizing equipment, but when the pieces couldn’t be found, the doctor whipped in a few stitches, slapped on some sticky bandages and I was sent on my way. “Ehh, you may get a bill…or you may not,” she said, shrugging and smiling as I went out the door. You gotta just love the third world.

Before, during and after all these hospital visits, we managed to visit some nice spots on Taha’a and Raiatea. Our first night was spent on a mooring belonging to Marina Iti. Marina Iti is not actually a marina, but a lovely small resort with a dock out front. Their moorings are available to anyone as long as you spend a few bucks ashore. Spending a few bucks ashore is not hard as dinner at Marina Iti, like most restaurants anywhere in the Societies runs a set $50pp. We were very tempted by the delicious sounding menu, but as the mooring can be had for the somewhat lesser cost of a drink, we chose instead to enjoy a sundowner with some Moorings bareboaters from Ohio.

We spent the five days before our first appointment with the surgeon in a choice little spot perched on the edge of Taha’a’s northwest reef near a string of four small motus. Of all the spots we’ve visited in Polynesia, this will rank as one of our favorites. Blessed with settled weather the whole time, we were nudged up in barely seven feet of water next to Peter and Irene of Catspaw, a Gib Sea 37 from England, whom we’d met once on the bus in Tahiti. The coral dropoff in front of us made a decent little dive for the four of us, the coral shallows around the motus behind us were perfect for kayaking, and the sunset view of Bora Bora was worth a million bucks. Enjoying this with just the one other boat was absolute perfection.

After the surgery itself, we went the other way to Baie Faaroa on Raiatea’s southeast side. This long deep bay happens to hold the Sunsail charter base, but it also is known for Polynesia’s only river trip. Since I wasn’t to swim for four or five days, this seemed like an ideal time to do some kayaking. However, no sooner than we got hooked up to one of the free moorings than the clouds rolled in and the wind began to blow, so we hunkered down to the chore of lightening some bookshelves. After two days of it, our time was running short, so we decided to venture out anyway. It was not bad going downwind to the river mouth, and once in the river we were completed protected from the wind. The waterway was probably to 2-3 miles long and wound through tangled woods, past back yards and along plantations of papaya, banana and coconut before petering out into a rocky stream. The paddling was easy and our inflatable kayaks very comfortable. Although we saw more dogs than people, we had a nice chat with some guys in a runabout who were intrigued by our inflatable kayaks and a picturesque old gentleman waved us over for a coconut water break. However, when we got back to the river mouth we found the wind had not in fact gone away, and that half-mile paddle back to Tackless into the teeth of the 20-knot wind was no picnic. The inflatable kayaks are really great, but they are NOT windward craft!

The water right off Uturoa itself was very deep, so for all our trips to the hospital we were actually anchored somewhere else. The first trip in we actually dinghied the three miles across from Marina Iti. Since the weather was flat clam that day, that was feasible and easy. But once the wind came up we opted instead to take a mooring in front of Raiatea’s two boatyards and hitchhike the 8km in from there.

Sitting on the mooring off the two boatyards eventually led to changing our plans on where to store Tackless II for cyclone season. Our original plan, as we’ve mentioned before, was to store the boat at the Tahiti Nautic Center boatyard in Port Phaeton, the same place we’d left Tackless for the Easter Island trip. We’d heard plenty of debate over the relative merits of the two yard locations. The chief argument we’d heard for storing in Raiatea versus Port Phaeton was that Raiatea didn’t get as much rain. This is probably true, and with Tackless’s various leaks it was an important point, but Port Phaeton had seemed more protected to us. The proprietor of the yard in Raiatea, however, opined that the mountains of Port Phaeton have an accelerating affect on any wind funneling through. Hmmm. Both yards use welded steel cradles which are a major improvement on the jackstands we knew in the Caribbean and both yards have on-site boat building operations for knowledgeable workers. Plus our insurance company would extend a rider for either yard (for a fee). In the end, what it really came down to was that we have really liked the easy cruising in the Leewards and hauling here would mean we could stay longer and get a faster start next year. That – and the not-insignificant detail that the Raiatea yard’s bathroom is much closer to the stored boats (and has an actual toilet seat) – made up our minds to change!

So with the surgery complete and the backside on the mend, we found ourselves with three whole weeks until our new haulout date. We could easily have spent the time without leaving Raiatea/Taha’a, but we figured we’d take some grief in the States if we weren’t able to bring back at least a preliminary report on the last of the major Society Islands. So, on the next to last day of August, the 2Cs turned our course west.

Next stop: Bora Bora.



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