Suka presses on for Raiatea. Photo by Larry and Mollie.
The Island of Raiatea
Zoom out to see where we are.
Sailing the twenty-five miles to the island of Raiatea (rye-eh'-tay'-ah), we entered Passe Teavapiti, and after traversing the expansive lagoon, moored the ketch alongside the town wharf. Uturoa, the principle village on Raiatea and the second largest city in eastern Polynesia, oddly sits on the windward side of the island. So despite the presence of the offlying barrier reef, the brisk trade winds were kicking a chop and sending Suka reeling and lurching torturously against her pneumatic fenders, bearing against the wharf.
We ran a long hose ashore and connected it to a spigot, which trickled water of questionable potability. A few locals assured us the water was drinkable, but first we fed the hose into an open bucket for visual inspection before siphoning it into Suka's fresh water tanks. Then we added a dollop of chlorine bleach as a purifying agent. While preparing the ketch for the voyage we had equipped her with a ceramic water filter. This was purportedly capable of removing impurities to one micron, defying any parasites such as giardia, amoebae, tapeworm eggs, and so on. But it would not protect against bacteria or viruses.
Uturoa town warf on the island of Raiatea
The town of Uturoa was characterized by red roofed and white painted wooden buildings, and was bustling with activity. It soon proved itself yet another culturally fascinating place. The air was saturated with the rich aroma of vanilla beans, grown locally and sold at inflated prices at the quaint Chinese shops.
Emanating a bouquet of vanilla redolence, Suka motored around the northern perimeter of the island, her crew ever watchful for shoals within the lagoon, unsuspecting of the adventure that soon lay in store.
Mishaps in the Marina
Making way to the marina, we could see a dozen yachts within the quiet pocket harbor. As we reached the entrance, the water shallowed from 70 to seven feet; leaving Suka with a mere six inches of water beneath her keel. With trepidation, we crept in.
If you can imagine the absurdity of building a marina into which flowed a creek that disgorged its sediment, then you will have pondered the logic behind this one. The central portion of the basin proved shallower than its periphery by about a foot; and there Suka skidded to an abrupt halt, aground on the soft sediment. The wind blew vigorously, but having inadvertently deployed our "keel anchor" we stood in little danger of being driven onto the windward concrete wall. Nevertheless, we dispatched the dinghy, from which Jenny then motored a kedge laterally to windward. Then with a bracing wind in the sails heeling the brig well over, and with her engine assisting at full throttle, her crew managed to winch her toward their intended berthing, while her keel plowed a lengthening furrow in the favorably compliant seabed.
“At vocal levels no doubt audible to half the population of Raiatea, directives, demands, recriminations, ultimatums and a few unprintable expletives were exchanged amongst the various factions, which now included a growing number of onlookers.”
While we were thus engaged, an impatient skipper of one of the vessels lying to the wall, stern-to, cast his moorings and set out. Never mind that Suka was presently occupying the lion's share of the basin's maneuvering space. And as if this was not sufficient complication, a third sailboat was at that moment entering the marina. While rounding Suka, outbound vessel A inadvertently snagged her self-steering gear in another yacht's bow rode. And inbound vessel B skidded aground on the above-mentioned hump. At vocal levels no doubt audible to half the population of Raiatea, directives, demands, recriminations, ultimatums and a few unprintable expletives were exchanged amongst the various factions, which now included a growing number of onlookers. Vessel A squeezed past Suka, nearly colliding with her and in the process compressing our inflatable in torment between the two hulls. This was a considerable test of the dinghy's integrity. Skipper A's confusion was partially offset by the adroitness of his woman-crew, who frantically fended-off the nearby moored yachts, their mooring lines, and the marina's concrete walls. And in this way these folks eventually scraped and clawed their way out. The crew of vessel B, after finally winching their ship's keel free of the shoals, had obviously grown discouraged by the marina's lack of aesthetics and overall gray ambiance, for they turned tail and moved out to the lagoon and anchored there.
With suitable elbow room restored, Jenny and I continued kedging Suka ever onward; and finally Med-moored her leeward of the concrete wall. Peace returned to the normally peaceful Polynesian setting, and the onlookers quickly lost interest and moved on.
Secret Sharer soon came steaming into the marina, her crew oblivious of the lurking underwater snare. Before we could warn Larry and Mollie of the pernicious shoal, they somehow cruised right over it; their vessel being of lesser draft. Utterly oblivious, they casually tossed us their mooring lines, and rafted alongside Suka. Considering the chaos we had endured, their easy entrance was dumbfounding. However, the incongruity was to be reversed a few days later:
As Larry and Mollie were leaving for Bora Bora, waving us farewell, their cutter's keel suddenly embraced the hump, and the yacht shuddered to an abrupt halt. To free Secret Sharer, Larry instructed Mollie to perch at the end of the boom, which after she had climbed on, he then swung far out and guyed it to starboard. Coming to their assistance, I stood in Suka's dinghy and grabbed the end of the same boom, and pulled with all my weight. Still Secret Sharer refused to budge. A neighboring yachtee, Jim Carlyle from aboard his yacht Sybaris, came to help. Grasping a long line attached to Secret Sharer's masthead via its halyard, Jim motored his tender away full tilt, and this heeled the ship far enough to lift her keel free of the bottom. Seizing the moment, Larry gunned the engine; Jim released the line; and I dropped off. And thus, Secret Sharer sped out of the marina - with Mollie still straddling the boom end, angled far out and high over the water.
The little pocket harbor on Raiatea, with the island of Tahaa in the background.
During our stay, Jenny and I rode Le Truck - as the public buses there are called - into Uturoa, and there we rented motorbikes. This time we were careful to inquire whether helmets were mandatory. That they were not, furthered my suspicion that Huahine's mad henchman was in the habit of fabricating personal ordinances to suit.
From the outskirts of the township, and outward, Raiatea resembled her comely neighbor. The islanders were friendly, their yards were well kept, and the countryside was lush. We spent most of the day touring as far around the island's periphery as the road extended, in both directions.
Ramy's Place, at the outskirts of Uturoa.
As time passed, our favorite morning haunt became a nondescript little café known as Ramy's Place, cowered at the outskirts of Uturoa. Locals congregated here. They liked to sit at wooden tables while Chinese waiters scurried about, serving plates of savory, freshly baked baguettes and wide-mouthed cups of steaming coffee. Curiously, at 8:30 a.m. the place would practically empty, as customers would leave to get on with their days.
Motorbiking around the island of Raiatea.
Yes, it does exist.
We also spent a few glorious days hiking into the mountains. These were not so thickly vegetated, and were laced with a few, seldom-used dirt roads, presumably as fire-breaks. While trekking in the higher regions, we found spices, fruits, and semi-wild vanilla beans. Once we climbed to a vista atop a hillside overlooking the western seaboard. The fringing reef clearly extended away to the north, and also encompassed Raiatea's Siamese-twin island, Tahaa. Beyond that, Bora Bora squatted in the distance. What a good location, we mused idly, for someone to build a home.
Our vista on the hillside overlooking the fringing reef and the island of Tahaa in the distance.