A two night and one day sail in brisk winds and lumpy seas brought us from the atoll of Toau in the Tuamotu Archipelago to the reef pass leading to the famous city of Papeete, Tahiti. From our reading, and information passed along by other cruisers, we knew that Papeete was a busy, noisy and rather commercial town that was no longer the vision of unspoiled, tropical paradise. Never the less, we were excited to be there as it gave us the opportunity to re-provision at real supermarkets and to purchase a few items for “Blue Rodeo” at a well-stocked, marine hardware store. We had been sailing for several months around the sparsely populated islands of the Marquesas and Tuamotus so being back in “civilization” also allowed us to indulge ourselves in a restaurant meal or two.
We had been traveling at a fairly fast pace hoping to see as much as possible and still make it to Tahiti in time for a three-day rendezvous party, put on by “Latitude 38” magazine and the Tahiti Board of Tourism, for the fleet of “Pacific Puddle Jumpers” that were making the crossing this year. As we motored into the crowded anchorage about 5 miles south of downtown Papeete, we were pleased to see many familiar boats and good friends including Larry and Karen, of the yacht “Phanta Rei”, who had come there two weeks early to have their water maker repaired. As soon as we were securely anchored, they picked us up by dinghy and shuttled us to the nearby marina docks where we could start a shore-side exploration. In their company, we stopped first at a nautical chandlery (hardware store) and then walked a short distance to, of all places, a McDonalds where we treated ourselves to “McFlurry” soft ice cream deserts. Next, it was off to the Carrefour supermarket where we experienced sensory overload perusing isle after isle of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses. Just imagine a store similar to a US Wal-Mart, but with a French flavor. After a provisioning reconnaissance run, we all climbed aboard a city bus for a trip to the downtown area. After two seasons of riding busses in Mexico, where they are usually driven through traffic at hair-raising speeds and often lack functioning shock-absorbers and mufflers, we were unprepared for the Tahitian bus experience. We have to say that although the ride was much quieter, smoother and more comfortable, it lacked the adrenalin rush that we had come to expect from public transportation in Mexico.
Once downtown, we walked around a bit, getting oriented, then headed to a large parking lot adjacent the waterfront that is transformed each night into a culinary venue that has become a “must experience” for Tahiti visitors. Around sunset, the lot fills with mobile kitchens (food trucks known as “roulottes”) that serve an assortment of tasty, reasonably-priced meals ranging from poisson cru to burgers to all of the usual Chinese dishes. We all enjoyed an assortment of our favorite Chinese specialties at one truck and finished with chocolate waffles and crepes, complete with ice cream and whipped cream, at another.
Over the next several days, we greeted more arriving friends, shared stories of our sailing experiences this season with them and took another trip into the downtown area to shop at the huge city market.
On our last evening in Papeete, we gathered with fellow “puddle jumpers” at the Tourism Center for a welcoming ceremony that included refreshments and a fine Polynesian music and dance exhibition. When the dancers concluded there routine, some of our group of uncoordinated, mostly over-the-hill cruisers were coaxed onto the dance floor where we made attempts to mimic the rhythmic moves of the pros. We were embarrassed by our lack of skills but had great fun never- the-less.
Day two of the “Puddle Jump Rendezvous” began with a 20 mile, group rally/race From Tahiti to the beautiful island of Moorea where the group would anchor for another day of festivities. While the sail was intended to be a relaxed, no-pressure rally rather than a race, there was an official signal from a starting gun and, since it’s usually the nature of most sailors to want to “race” any other boat that they see on the water, most everyone seemed intent on sailing their floating homes with as much speed as possible. When signing-up for the event, we had been asked to take two passengers who worked for the Board of Tourism. As most of the fleet proceeded out of the harbor to the starting line, we were left behind waiting for our passengers. When it was determined that our passengers had been accommodated on another boat, we were late and had to scramble to raise our sails and start sailing after the fleet that was already underway. Starting about 10 minutes late gave us the challenge of overtaking those ahead. Fortunately, windy conditions of 18 to 22 knots from our starboard quarter were just what we needed to sail “Blue Rodeo” near her full potential. What fun it was knifing through the group, overtaking boats one by one! Even though Mark has limited racing experience and Anne even less, we sailed like a well –honed, America’s Cup team spurred on by Anne’s inner competitive instincts. When the race concluded, we crossed the finish line in fourth place out of 27 boats behind a 55’ performance catamaran, a 57’ mono hull and a 44’ catamaran that unashamedly admitted that they had left Papeete early.
The exciting day concluded with a cocktail reception and social gathering on the beach near our anchorage at Moorea’s spectacular Opunohu Bay. Sharing good times with so many wonderful people in such a beautiful place…wow, how fortunate we are