French Polynesia – People and Patterns

Here is the plan. Fly to Tahiti’s largest city, Papeete. Spend a couple of days poking around. Fly to the island of Raiatea. Sail away for a week on a chartered 50 foot catamaran. Sail to a number of places on the islands of Taha’a and Bora Bora. Then fly to the small island, Huahine, and explore there for a week.

After three canceled flights, we finally arrived by air in Papeete, Tahiti Island. We were a day late and more than a bit travel weary. Our AirBnB owner, Wilfred, picked us up and took us to his home at about 11 pm. His wife and 3 kids were sleeping somewhere and we only heard a tiny bit of sound some 7 hours later when they all left for school. Wilfred took us the short distance to the airport at 8 am and we said goodbye to Tahiti which we had visited for 8 hours — sleeping.

Sailing with the San Juan Island Yacht Club – May 2-10, 2023

Our next AirBnB host, Bruno, picked us up at the Raiatea airport and we quickly discovered that we had stumbled into a marvelous man. Over the next 24 hours we learned much about life in French Polynesia from Dr. Bruno Ruguet, a Frenchman who came here as a new doctor to do his community service and stayed. Bruno is a retired general practitioner who worked on Raiatea for many years. All the locals we saw in the grocery store and on the streets greeted Bruno warmly. Bruno told us that everyone knows him, but he doesn’t know them (as well). When we decide to leave San Juan Island and move to Raiatea, Bruno will become a great friend….. He has a daughter who is a researcher who has just moved to San Diego. When she has her baby in the fall, the kind doctor will visit her and maybe travel to visit us at Orcasound. It seemed everyone we met knew Bruno — because he had been their doctor for decades. His home is high above the sea looking out over the lagoon to the distant waves breaking on the barrier reef. Here is the view from our room! (Leslie spent part of one afternoon exploring and taking photos of Bruno’s gardens and yard where he has planted many flowering shrubs and fruit trees.)

In the morning, Bruno took us to the best bakery around and we bought 2 dozen baguettes for the upcoming cruise. It took the better part of a week for the eight of us on our chartered catamaran to finish off this huge pile of French bread which we made into breakfast toast or sandwiches for lunch or crostini appetizers or French Toast drizzled lightly with Polynesian rum. We spent the morning getting our sailboat ready to cruise, as did our Friday Harbor friends on all four of these chartered cats.

At the Moorings base, after Leslie and the two Sheilas returned from the local grocery store with scads of food, we reconnected with and sailed away with 30 friends from San Juan Island and two marvelous interlopers from southern California, Tom and Knotty Sheila. We are on 4 large catamarans, each carrying 8 people. Our cat also has Chris and Alexis and Dave and Sheila2. We send a huge thank you to organizer-bee Chris Reed for putting this trip together.

After motoring inside the barrier reef, across from Raiatea to Taha’a, we picked up a mooring. We then visited a pearl farm. They grow beautiful black pearls here in Tahiti. After 3-5 years, pearl farmers open each oyster and take out a pearl and insert a little spherical seed, made, oddly, from Mississippi oyster shells. Leslie and Dave found some truly lovely contemporary earrings here.

That evening all 32 of us returned to shore for a nice dinner followed by a dance show involving our restaurant owner’s friends and relatives.

The next day we popped out onto the ocean through a pass in the reef with unimpeded ocean swells pounding the reef on both sides. Now we are off to Bora Bora.

Then it was some 4 hours of downwind gybing in 20-25 knots of wind. It was a great sail with this 50 foot long rectangle surfing down the 10 foot swells as red footed boobies and a few flying fish graced our passage. The landscape is just as dramatic as the travel brochures would have you believe with azure seas fringed by turquoise reefs.

Bora Bora is the collapsed and eroded core of an ancient volcano whose edges were once out at the location of the current fringing reef. As erosion and subsidence lowered the land level, corals and other reef organisms grew fast enough to stay at the surface. This has resulted in an outer reef upon which the ocean swell breaks and a large, shallow and quiet lagoon surrounding the surviving mountain peaks. Almost all the human activity occurs on the lagoon edges of the land and the mountains are largely untouched by humans.

Here we spent 5 days snorkeling, eating out and partying, peppered with lots of laughing!

Each of our four boats hosted a sundown party with all 32 of us on a single cat.

Our sailing catamaran had a set of blue underwater lights that lit the water at the stern of the boat. In the tropics the sun goes straight down into the sea and darkness falls with astonishing quickness. By 6:30 pm, fish and small critters would often swarm in the blue glow below the boat. One evening, several black-tip reef sharks, one with a cute little remora attached to the shark’s pectoral fin, swam in figure eights through this glow with assembled fish, some maybe 30 cm long. This went on for hours with occasional splashes and excitements.

Part 2 of our French Polynesia blog to follow soon…..

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