4/2018: Raiatea, Moorea, Tahiti, Tahanea


After a little engine work in the morning we left to motor for three hours to anchor near a large motu, Tehotu, off the north end of Tahaa. Some wind but easy travelling in the lagoon through a well marked area, beautiful scenery with the island and Bora Bora in the distance. The anchorage was very pretty, a little exposed to the wind but comfortable. After hanging out a couple hours I finally got a new shifter for the outboard working and we went snorkeling off the motu, gradually making our way out to near the lagoon’s edge. Things started out pretty good and then got excellent as we moved further out, great visibility (60-80′), lots of healthy coral and great fish numbers and variety. Really fun being back in the water with these guys. Lisa spotted an eagle ray which I saw a little bit of too, other than that no big sights.


My 35th birthday! Winds were calmer in the morning and we left to motor a couple hours and anchor off Mahaea, a motu at a pass off the east end of Tahaa. Another beautiful spot, after relaxing a bit we went snorkeling at a few areas around the pass — some nice coral, but it was ebbing and we didn’t explore all that much. I had been fixing some issues with our scuba tanks earlier and went for a short dive under the boat to make sure the gear was ok. Not much going on but I saw a lionfish and some other critters. My thirst wasn’t slaked so afterwards I went for a 20 minute dive in the pass, checking out a small area with nice fish and coral and a moray, mostly experimenting with the camera. Finally, in the afternoon we went out together to paddleboard around the motu; lots of big stingrays on the way over, then in the back super calm conditions in shallow water and little rock and coral bommies, really nice. Fun day!


In the morning we motored back to CNI and spent most of the day taking care of a few final errands at the yard (getting rid of our oil and bilge water, etc.) and using the internet.


In the morning we motored to Uturoa, got fuel at the public dock and then stayed on the dock through the afternoon. We did several trips around town to get things we needed and explore a little, then moved the boat to an anchorage in deep water (80′) in a little alcove across from the town.


In the morning we dinghied the four miles back to CNI to take care of a couple errands. After getting back I went out for a dive (Lisa’s ear was bothering her and she did not want to get in) at Teavapiti pass, shortly to the south. It was a beautiful day with full sun and glassy conditions on the ocean, several folks surfing on boards and kayaks and others in an outrigger and spearfishing off a kayak. I dropped in on the outside at the southernmost portion of the pass, starting in shallow 20-30′ water and moving pretty quickly on the flooding tide to a nice little wall. The best life was in less than 40′ and I moved down the sloping wall, admiring the fish and coral and a giant moray in a little cave. Visibility was pretty good, 80′ or so. I didn’t stay down too long but had a great time; afterwards went back to the boat to work for a few hours before returning to CNI (needed to pick up a propane tank we dropped off earlier) and some more small projects.


After a couple hours reinstalling the mainsail in the morning, we moved the boat to a spot we used last year in shallow water northeast of Uturoa; Lisa had been getting nervous about our close proximity to shallow water in the deeper water anchorage we’d been using. This is a nice spot and when we arrived there were a couple blacktips swimming around, several puffers and a stingray as well. Lisa got in to snorkel with her camera and while the sharks left and didn’t return, it was still fun. In the afternoon I went out for a long paddleboard along the rim of the lagoon — beautiful and relaxed scene, flat water, lots of fish in tide pools on the rim and a baby blacktip shark — down to Teavapiti where I paddled around the island in the middle of the pass and watched a surfer there for a bit. The spot seemed friendlier than others I’ve seen in Polynesia, will see if I get around to trying it out. On the way back a squall parked itself on Tahaa and blew wind at me most of the way, pretty challenging in the paddleboard but I got back to Magic ok. Afterwards I tried snorkeling outside the lagoon by walking across the rim, but on the outside there were tons of sea urchins and even though the swell was small I wasn’t interested in trying to make it in.


After working in the morning I went for a dive a little bit outside the north side of Teavapiti pass. The site was a gently sloping shelf to 40′ with lots of coral, then dropping off at a steeper angle with some nice scattered coral heads but mostly rubble. I was mostly playing with the camera but had a lot of fun in the good 80′ visibility and wonderful water. More working and relaxing in the afternoon.


In the morning Lisa and I went diving at the same spot as yesterday. We had a great time: visibility was a little worse than yesterday at 60′, but life was better with several blacktip sightings and a small whitetip, moray, fish, etc. Did some more boat projects in the afternoon as we got ready to leave the island.


It was a little squally in the morning but we left the anchorage around 7am and headed out through Teavapiti pass. As we got away from Raiatea the weather improved and seas smoothed and we motored on towards Moorea. It’s been a while since we had done an ocean passage and things felt a little rolly until we raised a triple reefed main. After that things were pretty mellow the rest of the day.


A few hours before dawn we were approaching Moorea and winds increased, causing some slapping. We ran both engines to get through it and anchored off the Papetoai village on the west side of Opunohu bay. As we came in the dramatic coastal mountains were very beautiful and the place had a lush, tropical appearance even moreso than Raiatea. After getting in I struggled for a short while trying to get our wifi booster to work, then gave up and we headed in to check out the town. Lisa was biking and I was skateboarding, we went down the main road a mile or so before returning, mainly because I was having trouble (shot bearing on the skateboard and I was out of practice) and was sweating profusely. Still a fun outing, and after getting back to the boat we headed out soon after to the stingray feeding area 1.5 miles to the west. There were only a few boats here and the stingrays were pretty interested in us. I fed them a couple cans of tuna as they surrounded me like sentient roombas; the water was chest to neck deep so I could just walk around. Lots of blacktip sharks around, and smaller fish came in to get the tuna floating in the water too. Very fun scene. Relaxed the rest of the afternoon on the boat.


We left mid morning to see the stingrays again. There was a cruise ship in Opunohu bay and lots of boats were visiting the rays, I watched a couple guides who were feeding the rays sardines and had the rays clambering all over them. We stayed nearby and enjoyed seeing the rays from a little further away and all the sharks around. After getting back to Magic I went for a dive outside the nearby pass at a mooring ball, nice time as I followed a short wall out to 100′ admiring the plate coral around, then came in to an undulating wall of coral with some canyons in it. A blacktip was hanging around and I followed a turtle for a little while, really nice. I got a little concerned when I didn’t relocate the mooring after arriving back at the wall, but kept diving anyways and eventually found it a little further along than I had been looking. After hanging out at the boat for a bit Lisa and I went out in the dinghy to see the deeper parts of Opunohu bay and then look for a tropical garden Lisa had read about in a guide. We landed at a beach park on the east side of the bay and had trouble locating the garden as we walked around, eventually finding a taxi who dropped us off at the base of a steep road we had to climb for a few hundred vertical feet. Eventually we got to the garden, which was nice but had a slim selection of a few jams (tasty and well priced, however). Things felt like kind of a bust until we spent some time with a sugar apple tree we’d spotted on the way up, fun to finally see this tree and reminisce about the fruits we had last year on Nuku Hiva.


We left a little earlier than yesterday to see the stingrays again. Things were still pretty busy but we were well armed this time with a few tins of sardines. I started feeding them first, keeping the tin in the water and doling out small portions to interested rays. They got really interested in me, surrounding me and crawling up my back and in my arms, some of them seeking the tin but most just eager for food like hungry dogs. Lisa fed them a couple tins of sardines too while I got photos and video, then more boats just kept showing up so we left. Back at the boat we went into town for a couple hours to use the internet, then both went on a dive to the same spot I went to yesterday. Similar conditions, a little murky (50′ vis) but lots of life, saw several blacktips and another turtle, lots of fishes and so forth, had a great time. Topside things were really calm, and after getting back to the boat and charging a tank I went back out again by myself, diving at one of the mooring balls further out. Conditions were similar to the first dive, with better visibility and a little more complicated topography. Saw another turtle and blacktip, lots of nice fish.


In the morning another cruise ship arrived and its tenders kept going back and forth past us, so we moved the boat to the back of Opunohu bay, anchoring in a nice area with great views and few buildings around. It was pretty windy, squally, and rainy the rest of the day, so we hung out on the boat. I worked most of the day, and in the afternoon did a bunch of boat projects.


We left pretty early to go hiking in the bay. We shuttled some boats so we would just have to leave a kayak on a nearby beach, then walked up an inland road heading to a saddle between Opunohu and Cooks bays, with a nice viewpoint at the Belvedere. The road was nice, lots of plants and some fruits and a couple big banyan trees with hanging vines we spent some time swinging on. A fair amount of tourist traffic, though, especially tricky as we got closer to the top and the road narrowed. The viewpoint was really nice, and on the way back we took a different route on a well maintained jungle trail. It took us through a large area of marae, house platforms, some rebuilt traditional houses, lots of informational signs, a very nice experience. Afterwards we went past a few pineapple fields set among beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, also really nice. We didn’t get back to the boat until early afternoon, and hung out and worked the rest of the day.


We left mid morning to see the stingrays for the last time before leaving the island. We had to take the dinghy about three miles in pretty windy conditions to get to the spot, kind of an ordeal. There were lots of boats there when we arrived, then I split my thumb while opening a tin of sardines and then had it get bitten pretty hard while feeding a ray afterwards. I wasn’t feeling great, but we stuck around and things got better as the boats left and the rays started paying a lot of attention to both of us. Still cloudy and windy but the rays are lots of fun to feed and very interested in swimming all over us when they smell the sardines. After getting back to Magic I wanted to try kiteboarding but I hadn’t inspected my kite yet this season and several valves needed replacement. I did that but it was getting a little late and we would need to move the boat for me to kite so I worked on boat projects the rest of the afternoon.


We left an hour after dawn to travel to Tahiti. As we left Opunohu bay the winds increased to the mid-teens out of the east and we had to bash straight into the wind for five miles or so, before turning south and beating the remaining 12 miles. While this didn’t take that long it wasn’t very pleasant and I was glad when we got into the wind shadow of Tahiti and motored into the pass at Taapuna in calm conditions, a lively scene with a few outriggers, kayaks, boats anchored at the pass and folks surfing the impressive wave there. We anchored a little north of Marina Taina, went in, wandered around, took a taxi to a car rental agency and got a car for a few days. After driving around Papeete a little we made our way back to Magic, grounding the dinghy on a reef shoal along the way (which we’d seen on the way in earlier but had forgotten about). Kind of a long and stressful day, I was feeling pretty down in the afternoon but think I was just tired.


We went into the marina in the morning to talk with a yacht agent (Tahiti Crew) and make some progress on finishing the paperwork for our long stay visas. After that we drove around Papeete the rest of the day, shopping and checking things out and so forth. The main things of note were a great lunch at a French restaurant (Le Souffle) and buying a new dinghy, to be delivered tomorrow (our current dinghy is pretty long in the tooth and I’ve been attemptig to fix it to keep the air in and water out all season so far, without much success).


In the morning we went in to deliver our visa paperwork to the government, then did some shopping. In the afternoon our new dinghy was delivered, and after an hour or so of moving things from one to the other I left with the new one, great to finally have a dinghy in good shape again (I gave the old one to the folks who dropped it off, making a clean break from it). We did some more shopping to find a suitable shortboard for me, then REDACTED.


To recover from yesterday we decided to drive around the island and find some fun things to do together and see the tourist sights. We left mid morning and visited a nice marae, some pretty grottos with water running down the sides, and the black sand / surfing beach near Papara. After a nice lunch near Port Phaeton we continued around, seeing a waterfall, some more surfing beaches between Papenoo and Point Venus (these looked the best of the ones we saw today, some good areas with beginners and gentle breaks), then finally getting to downtown Papeete where we walked around for a bit, checking out the shops and patisseries. This was a nice and relaxed day and we felt pretty good again when we got back to the boat.


I worked most of the day while Lisa drove around to enjoy Papeete.


In the late morning we did several trips to the big supermarket nearby, Carrefours, to provision, getting three huge loads of groceries and not finishing until late afternoon. Afterwards we visited Mike and Shelley on Avatar, who were our brokers when buying Magic four years ago and sailed to French Polynesia two years ago, to hang out for an hour or two.


We spent the morning preparing to leave the island, eventually getting out around 2pm. It was sunday and lots of people were enjoying the water as we motored the two miles out through the pass we came in, then turned north into the seas. Things were a little windy at first as we headed north to Papeete, but after a few miles they started slacking off and then died altogether. We motored to Point Venus in glassy calm seas as the sun set, super nice and mellow.


In the night we had a few knots of wind on the beam but just kept motoring. A couple hours before sunrise these winds increased to the low teens, and after first light we started sailing on a very pleasant close reach. This was especially nice for us because we’d been waiting for a weather window we could use to make progress against the prevailing trade winds; this looked like a good opportunity in the forecasts with calm and northerly winds for a few days, and now it was turning out that way. In the morning we had some rain and the wind started to vary, but afterwards the weather improved and the wind returned and stayed the rest of the day. Caught a nice little tuna mid-morning.


We sailed through the night, with a couple hours motoring in the morning before very pleasant sailing conditions resumed. We sailed the rest of the day, had a little drama in the evening dealing with a wind shift / backwinded sails / cranky autopilot, but got that sorted out quickly. Not long after sunset the wind died and we motored through the night, passing to the south of Faaite.


We continued motoring with a 5-8 knot north wind helping a little as we went along the north coast of Tahanea, then entered the atoll via the Teavatapu pass. We anchored, snorkeled and saw lots of unicornfish and a shark and some bigger fish in the clear water, then I dove to install a temporary mooring (a new technique I’ve been thinking about: tie in to a bommie with a mooring line to avoid damaging from the chain dragging around) and had a remora follow me around and then attach to my calf as I started back up to Magic. Cute! I brushed it off unconciously and it swam away; it felt wonderful to be back at the atolls. We went snorkeling on the west side of the pass, but were getting pushed into the middle of the pass by a squall’s winds and didn’t see much besides a curious shark. After that we relaxed in the boat a couple hours while the squall and rain passed through, then I went diving under the boat to get some videos and play with the tripod for our underwater camera. As I descended I saw that the force of the wind on Magic had pulled over the bommie that I’d tied off to earlier, oops. It was about four feet tall and 2-3′ across, need to pick a bigger one in the future I guess. I tried getting it upright but it was too heavy (scraped my thigh pretty good in the attempt), so went for a mellow dive in the area, seeing a friendly grouper, small blacktip, parrotfish, titan triggerfish, all sorts of critters down here. The best was just as I returned to the anchor, where I saw a couple of gobies and a shrimp sharing a burrow, the gobies hanging out by the entrance and the shrimp repeatedly going into the burrow then returning to the entrance with an armload (clawload?) of sand it was excavating. For months we have been obsessing about the shrimp gobies and their fascinating / adorable commensal relationships with pistol shrimp, and it was great and unexpected to find them right here instead of further west in the south pacific. Anyways, we tried snorkeling again in the pass now that it was calm, and found some promising dive areas but didn’t explore too much as it was ebbing pretty strongly. Back at Magic we went out paddleboarding for an hour, seeing lots of coral and fishes in the shallows to the north of Magic, and a turtle at the end. What a great day.


We left a little before the forecast low tide to dive at a spot on the west side of the pass we saw by snorkel yesterday. We dropped as the flood was getting started and drifted in 50′ of water past bommies with a mix of coral and algae, pretty nice scenery with lots of big fish around and several sharks visible almost all the time. We went up with about half our tanks left, then dove under Magic to look for more shrimp gobies. We found them all over the place now that we were looking; I watched them from up close while Lisa set up the camera to get videos of them. Afterwards I set up a new temporary mooring and righted the bommie the boat pulled over yesterday, with the assistance of a lift bag. Some kite repair and work stuff in the middle of the day, then conditions looked nice for a dive so I headed out. I was expecting the flood to have started but it was still ebbing and there were pretty big waves outside the pass. I crossed these and found a calm area in what looked like an eddy just east of the pass, and started my dive. Great coral here and a steep dropoff I followed down to 60′ or so to see a huge school of rainbow runners. Very nice. Then I noticed the dinghy wasn’t attached to me; I was using a new line and bag setup and neglected to attach the other end to the dinghy, so I was just towing around 120′ of line. I was just a few minutes into the dive and swam to the surface as quickly as I safely could, to see the dinghy drifting in the eddy towards the pass, several hundred feet away. The wind wasn’t strong and I figured I could catch it as it drifted so I went after it. It went on the eddy until it found the main ebbing current, which it entered and started bucking around in steep waves as I kept after it. It was getting harder to spot but seemed to be slowed down more by the waves than I was, and I caught up with it and hopped in. From surfacing after the dive to rejoining the dinghy took 12 minutes. I buzzed back to Magic and relaxed the rest of the day.

Some serious deja vu here with my epic at Fakarava last year. I don’t know what it is that makes me start neglecting what should be habitual safety practices. I generally try to make sure I’m attached to the dinghy before descending, though skipped that this dive — I was drifting towards shore and was in a hurry to get in and swim out to the dropoff. Checklists have helped in other areas, like with kiting off the boat, but I need to actually write and follow them.


We left again in the morning to go diving in the area between the anchorage and the pass. We were a little shallower than yesterday but had similar conditions, lots of bigger fish around, neatest sights were several napoleon wrasse, lots of large snappers that kept following us around, a trumpetfish accompanying a grouper while it hunted. An hour or so after getting back to the boat I went out for another dive on the outer wall while it was still flooding. This time I went about a half mile on the west side of the pass, finding a mixture of great coral and some damaged coral in the shallows (cyclone?) and some good coral deeper down. Lots of friendly fish. The wind came up some during the dive and after getting back I got ready to go kiting. This was the first time I attempted this season and things didn’t go super smoothly but overall pretty well. I managed to get going off the back of the boat and toodled around near Magic, making my way upwind a little and going back and forth in a small area with exposure to the winds coming off the sea and no palm trees around. Lots of fun, great to get out again.


We did yet another dive in the area on the west side of the pass, stronger flood current today but nice sights included several whitetip sharks resting together, gray reef sharks checking us out in the water column (several were interested in Lisa before I got in the water), and several napoleon wrasse including a gigantic one who eyed us until we got close and then slipped into a just-right sized crack in a rock. After the dive there was a nice breeze and I went kiting, but the wind slacked off and I wasn’t able to stay upwind so stopped after a half hour or so, still nice to get out. In the afternoon we went to shore at a nearby Copra shack, then circumnavigated the mile long motu we were on. Sights included some neat sandy beaches on the ocean side, a spit on the north end extending into the lagoon which seemed promising for surfing (very small wind waves today with little apparent swell, however), a beautiful little inlet with electric blue water, and lots of critters and fish as we walked back on the lagoon side. Very nice.


A little after low water I went for a solo dive on the east side of the nearby pass, starting out on a shelf of extremely nice coral and then going in on the flood past mixed coral and limestone. Not a whole lot of interest, some sharks and a huge barracuda were the most interesting, then as things got a little dull inside the pass I called the dive early. After some time relaxing back on the boat we went diving together under the boat; Lisa was practicing taking video while I tried to get photos of the shrimp gobies using a snoot for the first time, pretty challenging but I got a couple good shots. In the afternoon we went to shore so that Lisa could try out another new toy, a swing for aerial yoga, while I tried out yet another new toy, a drone. I flew it around at the end of the motu we were on, getting shots of Magic, the land, the faerie terns flying around, having a fun time with it. The wind started to increase but back at the boat I went paddleboarding in the late afternoon, heading to the north pass and back, beautiful scenery as always and more time enjoying being amongst the faerie terns.


There was a breeze in the morning so I went kiting, having a good time for 30 or 45 minutes before the kite suddenly deflated and left me floating a quarter mile from the boat. I didn’t trust this kite anyways and wanted to be able to self rescue so this was a good opportunity. I ditched the kite pretty quickly and swam back to the boat without much difficulty, then fetched the kite and lines, doing a little scuba dive to make sure the lines weren’t caught on anything. A little while later we dove at the site we’d been going to a lot, seeing more of the usual stuff and also a nice cleaning station attending to some parrotfish and others. In the afternoon I went out by myself while it was still flooding to reconnoiter the pass a mile to the north of us. I did drift snorkels down the south side (not much to see), north side (excellent coral), then a dive down the center of the pass (more excellent coral). Some neat sights included ten or so smaller tuna while snorkeling, a gray reef shark possibly doing its threat display (exaggerated swimming but no hunched back, anyways I wasn’t anywhere close to it), and several golden trevally. Back at the boat there was a nice breeze and I tried fixing the kite and heading out but it still leaked as I got it ready and I just ended up making a mess of the lines and got frustrated with the experience. I fixed the leak afterwards but am still unhappy that I get this way sometimes and let this aggressive “kite brain” attitude infect my judgement. I cooled off and did some work on the boat and then we went to one of our neighbors’ boats for sundowners with everyone from the five boats in the anchorage, nice to meet people.

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