French Polynesia

Passage from Mexico:

We stopped at the Socorro/Revillagigedo islands again on our way out of mexico.  Boy did we have another great time of
diving and snorkeling.  This time there were less mantas, just as many sharks, but also the bonus of mother and baby
humpback whales!  We got to snorkel with whales twice and learned that the loud snoring you hear in the night is not the
other person on the boat, but actually a sleeping whale next to you!  Anyway we absolutely loved our stay yet again and
this time even went on to clarion island.  The officials there would not let us dive (no official permit), but we did snorkel in
the very clear and colder water and got a few boat projects done.  Nothing like rigging a new support for the VHF
antenna after yet another bird strike taking out the whole fiberglass cover.  Oh well it looks a bit stupid now, but it works.

Our passage from Clarion island to Hiva Oa (Marquesas) was only 14 days with not too many squalls, lots of fast days
under spinnaker, many fish caught, and zero motor hours.  If you combine the Socorro part our total trip would be about
18 days.  I was happy, because last time this same trip took 21 days so we are much lighter and faster now.  Bigger sails
help and most of all we have a variety of spinnakers including some small heavy cloth ones for higher winds.  Somehow
we even broke 18 knots surfing under full sails in a mild squall.

Hiva Oa (Marquesas):

Our landfall was the island of Hiva Oa and the small bouncy port of Atuona.  We had a lovely race along the island to the
anchorage with Starship, but we managed to win:)  Ok it was totally not a fair race competing with a 36 foot monohull, but
it was still fun.  The harbor is small and unlike last time some boats were stern anchored and most were not.  Lucky for us
we did not have to put out a stern anchor (major pain on a cat), but it was a tight squeeze to fit in.  We only stayed one
night (not a great place to hang out) to clear in and get some very basic provisions (they don't have much at all to buy
there).

There are tons of islands in French Polynesia and to see them all could take a couple of years so of course they only
issue 90 day visas to non EU members so how to maximize your time in the right places is what it is all about.  Lucky for
me I have been to this area before so I can try new places and visit my favorite ones again.  Of course everyone
manages to stay a few weeks past their 90 days and so far the officials don't seem to mind.  Just clear out before your
visa expires and stay longer.

Tahuata (Marquesas):

This is more like the south pacific experience!  Clear warm water with decent diving.  We woke up the next morning to a
few mantas behind our boat so even before breakfast we had snorkeled with 3 of them and got the photos to prove it.  
We stayed here a couple of days to relax and catch up on sleep.

Fatu Iva (Marquesas):

This is one very scenic anchorage with tall cliffs and rock spires around the anchorage.  Last time it was jammed packed
with boats and if you are not close to shore it gets deep really fast.  I was amazed to see only 5 boats when we arrived so
anchoring was easy and I remembered where the sandy patch was and hit it first time out.  Most boats make more than
one attempt to get a good spot and some spend hours.  It does make for a good happy hour show when a boat arrives
near dark and is stressed to the max to get their anchor set.

This used to be known as the bay of penises due to all the rock spires, but then along came religion and somehow it is
now the bay of virgins.  Certainly I can't see any sign of this and if you look at the photo I doubt you will either...

Claudie has adopted family here that she has lived with for several months so she was ashore every day to see them.  
Not speaking french I opted not to visit that often.  They did throw us a couple of dinners that were pretty amazing.  The
time I spent with them reflected on traditional south pacific islander values.  They welcome you to their home and share
what they have.  

I went diving every day and had some pretty good diving.  It was the first time I ever saw a dragon moray eel and the
macro photography is really good.  Wide angle is not so great as the water is not that clear.  We stayed two weeks and I
was ready to get moving again.

Motane (Marquesas):

This island has zero people and many goats.  They claim there is only one anchorage at the top of the island, but really
there are many on the west side.  Ok they are pretty bouncy, but still we were totally alone for a few days.  Too bad the
diving really was not great.  Of all the islands that we dove in the Marquesas this was the worst.  Still it was good to finally
be alone for a change.  

We went back to Hiva Oa for more meager supplies and then back to Tahuata for more diving.  Nothing like a mere 8
dollars a gallon for gasoline.  I could get duty free diesel, but we hardly motored at all so I was down about nothing.  The
dingy, compressor, and portable generator eat fuel.

Ua Pou (Marquesas):  

This is another very scenic island similar to Fatu Iva in many respects.  There is one good anchorage were we were all
alone except for the goats.  The diving was nothing special other than a few manta cleaning stations so you could get
really close.  We anchored our first night off a town to get some baguettes and first thing the next morning the dang
french patrol  boat boards us and searches the boat.  We got a bit of a spanking for massive under reporting our alcohol
supplies on board...  Luckily they let us go with a warning.  Maybe it was the offer of letting them taste the really bad Baja
box wine from Mexico to prove it barely counts as wine that got us out of that.  It was funny to have them talk among
themselves only to find out Claudie speaks french and understood it all.  Oops the arrogance of the French:)

Nuku Hiva (Marquesas):

We caught two nice yellow fin tuna just as we entered the bay!  Ok one sort of caught us by wrapping the line around the
rudder and prop so we had to anchor on one engine (good practice for later engine problems).  I bet folks looked at me
strange hopping over the side in scuba gear to check the anchor (total dark terrible muddy much dive) only to come up
with a tuna:)  Macho man is all I can say!  It only took another hour to clean two tunas and the boat.  You can get decent
supplies at this island, but the water is not safe to drink anywhere near the darn pier so we had to catch rain water.  The
diving out at the entrance of the bay is good with hammer head sharks and manta rays, but the visibility is not very good
most of the time.

Tahanea (Tuamotu Atolls):

We learned not to say Tuamotus and the translation of Tuamotu is many islands so no "s" on the end.  This atoll has an
easy pass to enter and it should be done at near slack and for sure not when there is large SW swell.  We were inside
watching the pass when big SW  swell was happening and it was pretty scary looking.  We spent two weeks mostly
trapped by weather and waiting for our friend to fly in.  The east side of the lagoon is protected and nice, but no diving.  
The passes were ok, but nothing big or exciting in them.  We never got a break to try diving outside.

We had one depressing encounter in this lagoon that I hope to never repeat.  We met a nice Aussie cat and had drinks
with them one night.  All was well until they mentioned they love to spear fish.  I can handle that, but I said you know that
the fish here have ciguatera and are not safe to eat.  They said no problem as they never eat the fish, but use it to feed
the sharks off the back of their boat each evening!  I almost killed them.  They talked about spearing napoleon wrasses
that are not common at all and feeding the sharks!  So yes by all means destroy nature and teach the sharks to hang out
behind the boats expecting handouts.  Just great for these folks with a big fancy watermaker, but for those of us that
shower in saltwater off the back we don't need hungry sharks hanging out.  What is wrong with folks in this world?

Remember that part about anchoring on one engine?  We got to play that game off and on for weeks in these atolls with
a faulty engine water pump.  For sure shooting tricky passes on one engine or with one overheating is not at all fun.

Katiu (Tuamotu Atolls):

This place has a bit of a narrow but not too bad pass to get into the village dock.  Now the problem is that the dock is not
protected from the N winds predicted and the guide book says you will get cockroaches if you tie up so with fingers
crossed, a local guiding us in a fishing boat, one engine overheating, etc. we opted to take the totally hairy pass inside
the lagoon and anchor there.  Don't do it!  We made it fine, but only by inches.  Tie to the wall if you feel the need to visit,
but really there is not much to see here and no diving that we could find.  It was fine to pick up my friend at the tiny airport
and they had a couple of small stores and of course the church.  The exit in very calm near perfect conditions with no
guide worked, but still it was hairy.

Fakarava South (Tuamotu Atolls):

This is a pretty easy pass and a nice anchorage other than no sand around to anchor on so all dead coral to wrap your
chain on and just about everyone does.  There is another better anchorage on the other side from the tiny village/dive
resort, but it is far from the pass by dingy.  The diving here is intense and great!  You can tie to the mooring outside the
pass and dive the wall or you can drift the pass  We came up with variations on pass diving techniques and had some
great diving.  We even stayed two weeks so my friend could get over his nasty flu he caught on the plane and tried to
share with us and also to be around for the once a year grouper mating day.

Imagine thousands of groupers meeting in the pass for days waiting for the first incoming tide after the full moon (in
daylight luckily) to spawn.  Also imagine hundreds of sharks gathering knowing that these groupers are easy prey after
they span.  Then imagine this happening in about 30 minutes of pure action and it gets wild.  To add further excitement
the groupers know to hide from the sharks by hovering near a diver, but the sharks don't consider the divers to be much
of an obstacle and might grab the one next to you anyway.  National Geographic even showed up to film this so it was
pretty cool to be in the water at the same time as them.  I bet their photos were better than mine.  Still in this pass in one
dive you can see sharks, 14 kinds of butterfly fish, nudies, unicorn fish, etc.  If you are a diver don't miss this place.

Kauehi (Tuamotu Atolls):

The inside lagoon dives here like just about every atoll we visited are dead.  Heck the pearl farming industry pretty much
died out at many of the islands as well so something bad is happening.  The weather did not allow us to dive the pass this
time so it turned out to be a waste of time stopping here.  It has a very easy pass and navigating the lagoon is easy.  It is
a wonderful place to hang out and relax as well as walk the beaches.

Fakarava North (Tuamotu Atolls):

The pass is too far (4 miles) from the anchorage so we did not get to dive it.  The dive shop wanted our first born to take
us diving so we opted to save the money.  We dove a couple of coral heads in the lagoon and found some nice nudies,
but not much else.  My friend flew out and we left the next day.

Toau (Anse Amyot Tuamotu Atolls):

I have mixed feelings about this place.  8 years ago they treated us badly and we hated the place and what the locals
were doing to the lagoon (raping and pillaging to make money while complaining about others doing the same thing
across the lagoon).  This time I tried to stay on the boat and go diving and not hang out on shore.  Apparently this
offended the locals  and they had another cruiser come by and tell us we should be polite and come ashore and of
course to remind us the moorings are not free.  Now this family (from last time and again this time) is good at getting
cruisers to do their work for them.  They got one guy with diving gear to fix some of the broken moorings so they could
make more money.  They get others to come along and help fish or hunt lobsters so they can then charge you to eat a
dinner with them or sell it to the freighter when it comes.  They pretty much have it worked out on how to milk the cruisers
for pretty much everything.  Sure I understand when you need things, but these guys are so unlike any other south
pacific islanders I have ever met.  Some folks really loved them and come year after year to stay there, but I won't be
back.  Now saying that the diving a mile either side of the pass is pretty nice.

Tahiti (Maava Beach, Papeete, Society Islands, French Polynesia):

What a crowded dump of a place.  They put moorings in most of the anchorage so there is limited room to anchor for free
and they built a new marina that costs way too much to use.  At least for now they have a free dingy dock, free water, and
you can "borrow" the shopping carts from the supermarket and wheel them to the dingy dock (about 3 blocks away).  In
fact there are more shopping carts at the marina than the store most of the time.  I enjoyed even well-dressed european
cruisers pushing carts of groceries down the street.  I considered us all upscale homeless folks.  Oh and by the way
Maava Beach has no freaking beach, unless that is where the new marina is now built

Ok this place is necessary when you need groceries and when Claudie wants to visit an old friend and for boat parts.  It is
the best place so far for boat parts, but you need to hit all 4 marine stores to find most of your list, but of course no
engine water pump.  We never tried the diving after reading the pathetic descriptions in the dive guide.  All I can say is
this place is expensive when you can pay 13 dollars for a tiny terrible margarita.  Then again you can go to the drug
store and buy a tetanus/polio shot for less than 20 bucks and go to the doctor in the same mall and take a number to
wait and have him inject you.  After waiting 2 hours and nursing that terrible margarita we found out the doctor was not
even in so we left.  Back at the boat after some great margaritas we just injected each other and now we have our
nursing skills honed or maybe it was just the tequila.

Moorea (Society Islands, French Polynesia):

We had to stop on the SE side first, because Claudie yet again has some adopted family here.  They are nice and went
way out of their way to help us out and show us around.  Again I don't speak french so it was a bit of a pain for me.  We
tried one dive outside the pass and it was all dead with few fish.  It was so bad I never dove the rest of the week so that
says it all.

We moved over to Opunohu Bay with clear water in good sand holding.  Of course instead of being alone we now had 20
neighbors and tons of pangas and jet skies.  Yes they take the stupid tourists for jet ski tours around the island and they
love to buzz the anchored boats.  This is yet another very scenic bay and worth a visit.  The diving sucks and should be
avoided.  8 years ago the corals were very much alive and there was life and 15 years ago it was pretty nice.  Now I can
say less than 2% of the reef is alive and there are few fish and only a few sharks.  We tried all the "famous" spots listed in
the dive guide only to find dead corals.  The amazing rose corals from 8 years ago are just brown alge covered dead
statues now.  Shoot me.  How can man destroy so quickly and who still has their head in the sand about global warming
and pollution?

Mopelia (Society Islands, French Polynesia):

The guide book talks about how dangerous this pass is and our other info said things like the pass is now where the
chart shows it, but it has 4 channel markers and it not too bad to enter.  We decided to give it a shot.  Lucky for us 2 of  
the channel marker are gone and replaced sort of with fishing floats.  We had two engines (one taking forever to get
cooling water working) reved pretty high to make progress in the pass against the current.  The current is always
outgoing so as one guide says it is hairy getting in, but at least it is fast on the way out:)  

It was totally worth the effort.  Finally off the beaten path again and only one other boat a couple of blocks away from us.  
Ok by the time we left we had 7 other boats and one really close, but still no complaints.  The diving was amazing is all I
can say.  Inside the lagoon it is dead as usual, but outside it is almost all alive.  Heck finding some dead coral to wrap the
anchor chain on was hard so this is my kind of place.  Now those long 2 mile dingy rides in chop were not fun, but worth
it.  Just anchor south of the pass about 1 block down in 20 feet of water and you will be close to the german WWI warship
wreck in the shallows (three areas of wreckage).  Dive at 60 feet along the top of the wall to the pass edge and you will
see sharks, schools of rainbow runners, tunas, jacks, and more fish that just about any other place in French Polynesia.  
At the edge of the pass you can sneak in along the edge to see more sharks or just hang out at the corner and watch the
mantas and sharks.  We had so many types of fish we never got bored diving this spot.  If you go please respect this
place and keep this treasure for others to see.

Yes the trip out the pass was fast, but easy in the wind conditions we had.