A Brief Stay in Papeete
There seems to be some negativity about Papeete within the cruising community, but I loved it.
The town quay was almost empty, and by the second day Next Chapter had a pontoon all to herself. It was both novel and convenient to be alongside so close to the centre of town. The well-stocked Municipal Market was just a five-minute walk away, and along the way there were enough bars and cafes to keep any thirsty sailor happy. As pleasant and convenient as the town was, it was the officials left a lasting impression on me.
As transient sailors, or vagabonds as some would call us, we are often treated with a degree of disrespect, suspicion even. The worst case I have experienced was in St Lucia, where the immigration officer subjected Brigitte and I to such overt rudeness that we left immediately and never closed its shores again. We later heard from friends that they had had the same treatment from that same officer. It was the extreme, but it is often there in varying degrees.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I arranged to get duty free fuel in Nuku Hiva, paying the ‘agent’ $150 to do the paperwork. When I checked the receipt more closely as I departed that island I found that I had paid full price. I was very unhappy with that agent.
The subject of duty-free fuel came up in conversation with the Harbour Master when I was clearing in to Papeete. I explained what had happened and how much the agent had charged to supply the required paperwork. The Harbour-Master was clearly unhappy with the American who runs yacht services in Nuku Hiva, and immediately called the head of customs and discussed what they could do to get me a refund for the tax that I had paid. He also voiced strong concern about Yacht Services in Nuku Hiva, charging $150 to process paperwork that was completed free of charge in Papeete. All this, by the way, was without any prompting from me at all. It resulted in me having a meeting with the customs officer an hour later. We met again the following day, discussing the chain of events in more depth. We then went together to see the managing director of Total Fuel, Papeete. He was also very unhappy with what had happened. There were many phone calls and some heated discussion, unfortunately much of it too fast for me to understand more than the odd word. Anyway, the result of it all was that Total Fuel, refunded the tax that I was wrongly charged, and customs/immigration are going to investigate yacht services.
I was both surprised and impressed with the reaction of all involved. In many countries they would just shrug, but here they were apologetic, (not that any of them were to blame) and genuinely concerned that a visitor had been treated unfairly. I was sad to be leaving Papeete so soon, but ahead lay Bora Bora, the island I remember most fondly from my last voyage across the Pacific.
Since first owning next Chapter, I have had reservations about her in-mast furling mainsail. There are a few aspects that are definitely not fail-safe, and some that could present difficulties. On the passage to Tahiti, I had a problem on a couple of occasions where the sail was rolled too loosely in the mast and jammed in the slot whilst rolling it out. This is a relatively easy one to get around by rolling it back in and then gently coaxing it out. It might take a few tries, but should always come out eventually. I knew why this was occurring. I had not paid attention to the vang height or the out-haul tension. Both of these are critical to achieving a good roll. If you roll it in correctly, it will unroll with ease. I had been lazy.
Whilst in Papeete, I did some reading online about other people’s techniques with this type of main, as well as some of the other problems encountered. Most agreed with the importance of the boom height and outhaul tension and I determined to pay closer attention to those from now on. Another couple of the writers described the misfortune of the halyard breaking, which is something I was conscious of being the most calamitous of all. If the halyard were to part with the sail anywhere other than fully out, there is no way to roll it in, out, or drop it on deck. A scary thought, especially if you imagine it happening on-passage in a rising wind.
However, as I have to drop my main regularly to sew up the fast fading stiches, I knew my halyard was in good condition. So you can imagine my surprise and consternation, when it parted as I was unrolling the sail just outside Papeete Harbour. I felt lucky that the sail was almost fully unrolled, but it still took me over an hour to tease those last two or three turns off the foil. I was lucky that there was less than ten knots of wind and that I was not in an awkward situation with currents or shipping. There was a small amount of damage to the luff-rope through all of the winching in and out, but that is nothing compared to some of the alternatives such as trying to tie the sail to the mast, or if all else fails, cutting the sail off at the slot.Where the halyard had parted, it looked like a rat with ADD had been chewing on it. It had not broken under load, but rubbed through. At this stage, I can only assume that when I last raised it, which was at sea a few days before Tahiti, it had taken a turn around the foil, and had been wearing through with every turn.I wondered if I should return into the harbour to effect repairs, but with it being a Saturday, I would have to wait until Monday for anything I might need. Bora Bora lay 130 miles to the northwest and with a forecast for east and southeast winds, I decided to continue in hope that I could sail there slowly using just headsails. Fuel was marginal for motoring all the way, but with some sailing, I would be alright.
The forecast winds didn’t eventuate. No surprise there. The wind barely rose above eight knots throughout the entire passage, and so I motored and motor-sailed when the wind allowed. Looking at the chart I decided to call into Raiatea, which was about twenty miles closer than Bora Bora, and where I could buy diesel if needed.
I spent the night at Raiatea, anchored in 100 feet, which was the shallowest spot I could find. I did not find it a particularly beautiful island, and with the water being too deep to anchor in most places it was not very appealing. After checking the fuel level and finding I had adequate without topping up there, I headed to Bora Bora early the next morning, again using just headsails and engine.
As I approached the outer reef to the south of the island, I was reminded of just how beautiful it is. To my eye, Bora Bora is the most spectacular of all islands, anywhere. The huge volcanic plug towers above the verdant slopes that run gentle into the calm turquoise water. It has it all. The water is clear, the sand white and the people friendly. I could easily spend the next month here, but will have to be happy with less than a week. Tonga lies thirteen hundred miles away and already it is almost September.