A spanking breeze carried us onward. And soon leaving the Tuamotus astern, in another 36 hours we reached Tahitian waters.
Tahiti is the most famous of all South Pacific islands, but today it lay obscured in moiling thick clouds, so we couldn't see much of it. And as we were rounding its northern seaboard, racing the setting sun in an attempt to reach the Papeete harbor before the onset of total darkness, a tremendous, bombarding rainstorm reduced the visibility to a scant few hundred feet. Thwarted, we could only heave-to.
Darkness fell, and with it came an unexpected blessing: a flashing light emanating from Point Venus, on the island's north-west shore. The beacon pierced the gloom and provided us with a point from which to navigate. So we motored across calm waters in the island's lee, holding about two miles off-shore while making our way toward the harbor entrance.
“I unbolted the nefarious switch from its panel and gave it a fast-ball farewell out over the briny deep.”
Abreast the harbor we decided to stand-off for the night, for the sake of safety. I shut down the engine, and before long we smelled an alarming stench of something burning, pervading the cabin. Anxiously we tracked the acrid trail and found the ignition switch aglow and emitting a thin ribbon of smoke. Apparently it had been subjected (indirectly) to salt spray for too many months, until it had eventually shorted itself. I yanked its hot wires free, and disconnected them at their other ends from the starter solenoid. Then I unbolted the nefarious switch from its panel and gave it a fast-ball farewell out over the briny deep. Thereafter we started the engine by simply reaching into the engine compartment with a hefty screwdriver and shunting the solenoid terminals.
We spent the night drifting - the sleeper sleeping while the watchkeeper merely snoozing, kitchen timer in lap to signal the end of the 15-minute resting period. Four times each hour we arose and peered outside. By midnight the clouds had lifted, exposing Papeete's glittering lights. Oh how they beckoned the eager, wayfaring mariner!
Zoom out to see where we are.
At daylight we recouped the six miles the current had swept us away in the night, then entered Tahiti's principle harbor. There we found perhaps 50 yachts of all descriptions laying stern-to to the quay.
Once inside the port, I maneuvered Suka's bowsprit to the wharf so Jenny could hop ashore. She then walked to the harbor offices to determine what instructions the officials would have for us. She returned with the directive that we were to stern-tie anywhere along the quay, and then to report to the offices afoot.
Med-mooring, as it is called, was a docking procedure unfamiliar to us. So when we selected a suitable site between two yachts, and when someone began shouting instructions, they found appreciative ears. Perpendicular to our intended berthing, we dropped the anchor well out. Then while I stood on the afterdeck paying out 200 feet of line, Jenny used the dingy to pull ashore and make the line's end fast to a bollard. Back aboard, she paid out bower chain while I winched us aft and into position. Then she snubbed the cable and we attached three additional lines ashore, which stabilized Suka laterally.
We had arrived!
Suka Med-moored with the other yachts in Papeete, Tahiti.
Clearing-in with the officials proved a reasonably humane procedure, as the offices of immigration, quarantine, customs, and the assistant to the Port Captain were all housed in the same small building, standing at the waterfront. In turn, we visited each of them.
“Papeete was a dizzying whirl of high-speed automobile traffic, of busy French professionals tromping the sidewalks, of gaudily clad tourists poking into the tawdry shops, and of bronzed islanders standing by the wayside letting it all happen.”
Papeete was a dizzying whirl of high-speed automobile traffic, of busy French professionals tromping the sidewalks, of gaudily clad tourists poking into the tawdry shops, and of bronzed islanders standing by the wayside letting it all happen. Window shopping was our excuse to search out a fast-foods restaurant, where we then gorged on hamburgers, milk shakes and ice cream. And after collecting a small pile of mail at the post office, we window-shopped onward in search of more ice cream.
Tahitian paddlers in their racing pirogues.
Three days after our arrival in Papeete, another cyclone ravaged the Tuamotus, this time by Orama (a Tahitian word meaning vision). Villages on Ahe and Arutua, and on several other atolls were destroyed. Fate's irony was not lost on Jenny and I, for had we called in at Ahe we probably would have encountered this monster.
Three Weeks in Papeete
We lingered three blissful weeks in Papeete, taking-in the sights, absorbing the bustling culture, and generally compensating for our four-month absence from the civilized world.
The view from our boat.
High above the city, at Le Belvedere restaurant.
Tahitian paddlers under a hurricane sky.
Cyclone Reva "the Thrasher"
One of our San Diego friends who had seen us off, flew from California for a visit. An avid outdoorsman, Joe worked as a land surveyor, and he and I had been fellow instructors at the Colorado Outward Bound School. But his subsequent Tahitian visit did not fulfill any dreams of lounging in the Elysian Fields of tropical paradise, for three days after his arrival the radio came alive with warnings of yet another approaching cyclone: Reva, "the thrasher."
During the austral summers and autumns, virulent cyclones, also known as hurricanes or typhoons, occur with some regularity in the Southern Pacific. The cyclone belt - the area of potential cyclonic activity - normally lies safely to the west of the Society Islands. Thus, severe storms rarely occur in French Polynesia. In fact, in the whole of recorded history, prior to this season the Tuamotus had experienced only three cyclones. The "Great Cyclone" of 1903 devastated the atolls, and in 1905 and 1906 storms of lesser intensity swept the area. Furthermore, prior to this season, the Marquesas Islands had an even better record: zero cyclones. Clearly, the cruising class of 82-83 had not chosen the best year to roam the South Pacific.