We spent the first half of February in Raivavae meaning we’d been there a month before leaving for Tubuai. Our time was occupied by doing some boat projects, exploring the periphery of the island, reading, swimming and generally relaxing. Sheryl re-covered our cockpit cushions using material she had bought in Papeete.
Like all the outlying French Polynesian islands Raivavae relies on regular visits by a supply ship. This one also carries passengers a, not necessarily cheap, way of visiting the islands. This logistics effort supports a population of not quite 1,000 people. If it wasn’t for the money that the French Government contribute annually to French Polynesia I can’t see how these islands are economically viable. I’ve done a bit of research having been told that the French pay €2 Billion a year. A more realistic figure appears to be about €150 Million, still a very large sum for a population of less than 300,000 people.
There is one cash machine on Raivavae and thats at the post office. On Tuesday 14th we went to get some cash to buy provisions with as none of the shops take cards. The machine had broken that morning! Apparently when that happens someone has to fly out from Tahiti to fix it and who knew when that would be. We made a quick decision to move on and head for the next island.
We left Raivavae on Thursday 16th at 0800. Its about 100 Nm west to Tubuai and 24 hours later we were motoring through the pass in the fringing reef on the north side of the island.
Our first anchorage was off the supply ship wharf, very rolly due to a constantly west setting current and the wind usually in the opposite direction. Many of the islands have a contingent of Gendarmes who act as customs and immigration officials. Some of them are recruited locally whilst others are on a six month secondment from France, great duty if you can get it! They clearly don’t have enough to do. They had seen Emma Louise arrive and were waiting for us on the dock when we took our dinghy in. A lift to the Gendarmerie was offered and accepted and we completed the formalities in less than an hour. They offered to drive us the mile back to the dinghy but we decided to stretch our legs and do some reconnaissance at the same time. To paraphrase, I think, the Duke of Wellington, “time on a recce is seldom wasted”.
Tubuai is a very fertile island with quite a large area of flat ground in the middle. This is unlike most of the volcanic island of French Polynesia which have steep hills and crags of igneous rock. There are lots of small holdings and also many roadside stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables. I don’t know if we were there at the wrong time of year but most of them were shut all the time.
Having spent a rather uncomfortable night rolling off the supply wharf we moved to an anchorage to the east of the lagoon that the Gendarmes had suggested. The charts of the lagoon are virtually useless and good, overhead sunlight is required to avoid the many coral heads or “bombies” studded around the lagoon. In many place the water is 10m or more but the bombies can be only a few feet under the surface, very keel threatening. However, in the right conditions you can see them a long way off and I stood on the bow and directed as Sheryl steered us safely through the maze.
Our efforts were rewarded and we spent about two weeks in a most delightful anchorage off Motu Roa, a small island on the fringing reef.
The locals use the motus (motu – a low lying coral island on the fringing reef) as weekend retreats and there are quite a number of beach huts on them. Hardly a day went by without us seeing some locals enjoying the beach and having a picnic.
The account of our time in Tubuai is continued in the March installment.