Ah, Tahiti. What a delicious word. The language sounds like Japanese dusted with Hawaiian sugar, and the very name itself, conjures thoughts of the Mutiny on the Bounty, Paul Gaugin, and an exotic tropical paradise. It's all these things. It's also a major city called Papeete that's thousands and thousands of miles from any other. It's fascinating.
French Polynesia consists of 3 island chains. Moving from East to West you will find the Marquesas, then the Tuamotu, and finally the Society Islands. They are radically different geologically, but to my eyes, culturally identical, though I'm certain that the natives would disagree. It's hard to penetrate the cultures on a deeper level when we don't have a common language, but the kindness & warmth that these people exude matches one another. The drastic geological differences are obvious to any navigator. The Marquesan islands are tall dead volcanic remnants. Everything is colored in green or black. The Tuamotus are atolls. That's a fringe of reef that denotes the outline of the now missing volcano. In its place is the lagoon that the reef encircles. They are flat and sandy. From a distance, it appears the palm trees are growing right out of the sea. The Society Island chain has the big name allure of places like Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora. Geographically, they are a combination of the previous 2; tall and verdant with a surrounding reef. I'm typing this from a perfect anchorage on the island of Moorea, just north of Tahiti. But first let me backtrack.
The pearl culturing process: They begin by dangling these black plastic strips in the lagoon until tiny oyster polyps develop. After a few years the oysters are large enough to have a nucleus of shell implanted. The "surgeon" is a Japanese man who opens the oyster, inserts this perfectly round shell (that comes all the way from Mississippi) along with a tiny bit of the oyster's own shell. A couple years later, the farm manager delicately opens the oyster, pops out the pearl, and if the oyster has done a good job, he inserts another nucleus. Years later - repeat again. If the oyster hasn't produced a satisfactory pearl then he makes it into a stew.
A wave is a frequency you can see with the naked eye. No oscilloscope necessary. When the waves are long period swells the size isn't much of a problem. However, when you get short period steep waves that are wind generated over long distances, the conditions can become horrible. Add to that 30+ knot winds that are only 10 degrees off your nose, constant squalls and time at sea becomes rather unpleasant. The passage from our paradise that was Kauehi to the island of Tahiti was ugly. Real ugly. It was the first time I ever saw Suzi look like she might be sick. And we had it easy. We beat the really bad weather by a day. Our friends, who left a day later, had 50+ knots and everyone broke something. That's the real problem with bad weather - It isn't the fear of losing your life (Well, I haven't been in any weather that severe, and I try with all my brain power never to be), it's the cost of repairs and the time out of your life it takes looking for the material and then doing it all yourself. The truth is, I avoid rough weather because I'm cheap and lazy.
Though it was a tough passage Tahiti was well worth it. I took my first hot shower in 5 months and 9000 miles. Hot running water is a luxury of the first world (But are you really a 1st world country without toilet seats? Come on France), and Tahiti is absolutely the first world. It's France without any neighbors to make them feel insecure. The people here have been wonderful. Get this - Suzi and I were hitchhiking when 2 young French guys, who are doing their internship in marketing, stopped to give us a ride. (It helps to stand next to a hot blonde). The next day they picked us up to take us surfing, cook us lunch, serv us French wine and then lend us a scooter for 2 days. Suzi and I circumnavigated the entire island. It's extremely expensive. There are food wagons that set up in their own spots around the city once night falls and you can get fantastic fare for "reasonable prices". Poisson cru is my favorite. It's not unlike Mexican ceviche but they use a lot of coconut milk and add cucumber. Public transport costs $2 one way. That's hard to swallow when I was paying 25 cents all over Central America, and is why we hitchhike everywhere. These people are so warm and kind that they just can't stand to see you wanting anything so a free ride doesn't take long. Even the friendliness that the South Pacific Islanders are famous for hasn't become jaded in the city of Papeete. It's the middle of nowhere and you can get anything you want (except replacement springs for my Lewmar winches). The French have done a handsome job of building a real city thousands of miles from any other. Of course, they had a stunning island to begin with.
On the subject of navigation: We were anchored in the shadow of Point Venus which is where Captain Cook erected a fort to watch the transit of Venus in 1769. He spent the majority of his life at sea, and made 3 voyages to the South Pacific that resulted in 3 circumnavigations. As of July 1st I have been living aboard Barraveigh for 2 years. I've only covered a fraction of my circumnavigation, but I love my mobile island of fiberglass and look forward to each new anchorage. Right now we are the only boat anchored in the most perfect water. 65 feet of visibility and a short ride away there are manta rays that swim up to take food from your hands. Yesterday, while kayaking, Suzi found some ancient tiki heads laying on the bottom in white sand. We couldn't believe it. Some were as big as the dinghy. I guess the ancient inhabitants changed gods and dumped the old ones in this glorious bay. Lucky us!
Captain Bob Friedman