Salty is spending his winter months sailing with friends in the South Pacific. This is his second report of this trip.
The next stop in my journey was to meet up with Double X, the boat my old friend Sam Rehnborg was sailing to the South Pacific. Sam invited me to join him and I jumped at the opportunity to travel to places I hadn’t seen in many years. Since sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in mid-July, Sam and Double X had visited the Marquesas, the Tuamotus and Bora Bora, and now lay at anchor in Moorea’s Cooks Bay.
No sooner did I reach the dock at Club Bali Hai, I was collected by the yacht’s dingy and whisked off to a welcoming lunch of fresh-caught Wahoo, expertly barbecued by Paul Nelson, the ship’s 26-year-old deckhand and recent graduate of Orange Coast College’s Professional Mariner Program. Then I received the news that my host Sam would no longer be aboard, and that just four of us, Captain Bob and his Dutch wife and First Mate, Els, Paul and myself, would be sailing on to New Zealand. I also learned that due to some necessary repairs and upgrades, the boat needed several extra days at Tania Marine in Punaaula on Tahiti’s South Coast. Armed with that information, I elected to remain on Moorea in order to spend time with some old friends.
The island of Moorea lies 12 miles to the west of Tahiti and is a pleasant 45-minute ferry ride. Each time I’ve seen those green covered peaks of that lovely landscape I am reminded of three high school friends who in 1959 purchased 400 acres of vanilla beans on Opunaho Bay, chucked their stateside jobs, and moved to Tahiti. Returning to the island would be my fourth visit and a welcome chance to catch up. Maybe for the last time.
After several enjoyable days in Moorea, I rejoined Double X on the main island of Tahiti and got to work doing piles of laundry and the all-important grocery shopping for the journey ahead. The heat and humidity during the days was oppressive, but we managed to soothe our withered souls each evening, finding solace at cocktail hour at the water’s edge and enjoying the marvelous sunsets beyond Moorea.
Finally, on a Saturday morning eleven days after my arrival, we cleared customs and pulled the hook. An hour later we slipped through the pass on the Papeete Reef, skirted Moorea and set our course for Tonga 1,300 miles to the west.
It’s the rainy season down here, and of course with lots of rain comes little wind! During our ten-day crossing to the isles of Tonga, we experienced everything. One day it would be sunscreen and straw hats, and the next, rain gear.
Under sail or under power, the boat moved along smoothly, mainly due to calm seas. In between standing watch every eight hours, there was ample time to read or sleep. And we always were looking forward to the next meal, expertly prepared by Els.
Els has cooked on yachts all over the world for over 35 years. She’s amazing. When was the last time anyone had homemade vichyssoise while sailing? Every meal was a tasty surprise. The only thing we lacked was fresh fish! Hard as it may be to believe, we hadn’t caught a Wahoo since late August. Our lures were not at fault. I worked a number of years as a commercial fisherman and consider myself a good judge. Some think the problem is the water temperature, which in some spots was in excess of 87 degrees. Some blame El Niño and others Global Warming! At any rate, the sea was still a clear cobalt blue and flying fish were everywhere, yet there weren’t any fish to catch.
As the days rolled by, we planned our stop at Tonga. Beside supplies and fuel, we looked forward to fresh fruits and veggies obtained at an open air public market. Believe me when I tell you, you have never seen half the fresh produce on display here! One particular tuber looked like it should have been scaled on a log truck before being delivered to the mill at Weyerhaeuser!
Aside from the King’s Palace (which looked a lot like a weekend Cabana at the Hotel Del Coronado), the town was a cross between Tijuana and Avalon. Many colorful homes were hedge-lined with bougainvilleas, but for the most part it was flat, noisy and congested. For us, our anchorage five miles to the east aside Pongai Motu was a diamond in the rough. It was a tiny islet laden with coconut palms that could have been used as a backdrop in a World War II John Wayne movie.
At the end of the Motu lay Big Mama’s Yacht Club, a sand-floored watering hole at the lagoon’s edge. The large hut was festooned with abalone shells, flags from every nation and many ships, and T-shirts signed by various crews. Fish nets shaded the entrance from the setting sun and the beer was cold, but the real attraction was the Wifi. In total command was Big Mama herself. A sarong laden 350-pound Tongan, who welcomed guests while sitting at water’s edge, feet dangling in the sea, with a fish line in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
When we said goodbye, I spoke with a white-bearded potbelly fellow, who could have been Big Mama’s twin brother. He told me that he sold everything in San Diego in 2003 and moved here for good. In light of our country’s recent political chaos, his decision doesn’t seem all that bad!
Until next time, Salty