L O G B O O K - by John Philp


MON 26th JUNE - Tuamotus, French Polynesia. The water is brilliantly clear here in the Ahe lagoon. Tony goes snorkeling, finding a pearl shell below the boat in thirty feet of water. When he brings it to the surface to open it we fuss around, making a joke about finding a pearl in it.

TUE 27th - A calm morning. We motor across the lagoon to the pass and anchor just inside it for the day, taking the Zodiac to the entrance to spearfish and snorkel in the transparent water - teeming with fish life. The current is running out to sea so we start on the inner side of the pass and drift through. Small white tip sharks are hanging around once again, and a large bronze whaler takes a keen interest in Sefo soon after he spears a parrot fish. Sefo tucks the fish inside his shirt, ignoring it, and eventually it goes away.

At 10pm we sail for Rangiroa Atoll.

WED 28th - As morning dawns we are on approach to Rangiroa. When we arrive at the passage we are confronted by an eight knot current hurtling out to sea through a pass a hundred meters wide. We inch up the channel at about 1 knot, despite having the mainsail and genoa powered up and running in concert with the motor. Tau bounces through two foot standing waves and whirlpools, a school of large dolphins cavorting around us. As we clear the worst of the turbulence they jump up high in an aerial salute. On a good day we’ve heard you can see also see schools of hammerhead sharks and sailfish just outside the pass. We anchor amongst other yachts off the beautiful Kia-Ora resort.

Rangiroa is 74 km across, the second largest atoll in the world after Kwajalein in Micronesia. It’s impossible to see the other side, like an ocean within an ocean. The locals say water has been flowing out of the lagoon for three days from storm surf breaking over the reef and flooding the lagoon with millions of gallons of excess water.

THUR 29th - In the morning we motor out of the western passage speeding through with the current then sailing down the western side of the atoll, and SW towards Tahiti, watching miles of reef and beach and rocky islets pass by us crowned by coconut trees and green tropical scrub.

We pass Makatea in the afternoon - a former phosphate mining site. It’s an unusual looking island with steep square cliffs on all sides - much like Ayers Rock except flat on top.

FRI 30th - Looming large in the half light of dawn is the island of Tahiti. We’re on the same approach that visiting sailboats have been making for hundreds of years, all the way back to Wallis in 1767 and Captain Cook in 1769. Soon we are passing Venus Beach where the astronomer Charles Green made his sighting of Venus passing in front of the sun. Sheer volcanic peaks tumble over each other, impenetrable green mountains sloping down from the centre in all directions, broken only by sheer sided valleys.

A va’a (outrigger canoe) race is about to start when we enter Papeete harbour and a little motor boat speeds by to ask that we hang about for a little while before proceeding. As they start we have a fabulous view of fifty canoes powered down the race course by heaving Polynesians, urged on by spirited supporters ashore chanting passionately and pounding drums in a frenzy.

SAT 1st JULY - The port offers berths along the waterfront of the city and we are fortunate to grab a spot right in the centre of town opposite the landmark Le Retro Cafe - a great people watching spot. A promenade runs along the water’s edge behind us, a four lane road separating the promenade and the first row of cafes, bars and shops. A couple of elegant mega yachts are moored just along from us, their stainless steel highly polished like jewelry, their hulls gleaming across the water. A large cruise liner is parked beside them and at night they are all lit up like Christmas trees.

SUN 2nd - The annual Heiva festival opened here in Papeete last week. This year they’ve expanded the format and invited the Marquesan, Tuamotu and Austral islanders for cultural, sporting, dancing, and agricultural competitions and festivities. Much of the action is focused on the brand new paved To’ata promenade a short walk from where the yachts are moored on the city waterfront.

Around 450 yachts visit Papeete each year compared to about 600 or 800 visiting Fiji. We’ve seen many of the yachts here in Papeete at past ports and it’s fun catching up with them and comparing notes. Almost all of these yachts are passing through Fiji in the next few months.

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