Monday, June 27, 2011

Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendezvous

Approaching the Island of Moorea

Last November, I attended a seminar on cruising the South Pacific at the local West Marine store in San Diego. The speaker was Andy Turpin, the managing editor of Latitude 38 magazine, a widely-read monthly publication that particularly focuses on sailboats cruising the world. One of the things that Andy spoke at length about was the Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendezvous - he said if you're in French Polynesia, it's not to be missed.

Sponsored in part by the Tahitian Board of Tourism, the Rendezvous is a three-day event that attracts cruisers from all over the world but primarily those from the US and Canada. It frequently became a topic of conversation amongst cruisers and was often a way of avoiding having to say, "I'll probably never see you again." Instead, I'd say something like, "Are you attending the Rendezvous?" and most of the time the reply would be, "We're thinking about it . . . " "Great," I'd say, "We'll see you there!" A high percentage of cruisers love to party and enjoy hanging out with other cruisers - a small minority keep to themselves and stay in the most remote anchorages.

This year the Rendezvous got started on June 24, with registration and the Friday night's events taking place at a pavilion on the campus of Papeete's City Hall. The pavilion, with it's thatched roof and no walls, started to get crowded once the 100 or so attendees filled the place during registration. There were booths from vendors as far away as New Zealand (they know a lot of cruisers are heading there) and there was a group of Tahitian women who were making the spectacular flowered crowns and leis. There was a skippers meeting to talk about Saturday's sail to the island of Moorea, speeches by local dignitaries and even a traditional blessing where a pretty girl placed a lei around the neck of each skipper and kissed each cheek, followed by a large Polynesian man in an elaborate costume who placed a short rope made of palm frond around the wrist of each skipper secured with an over-hand knot. The fed us fruity drinks laced with rum and had a nice spread of fruit. From there, we walked en masse down to the water front where there was Polynesian dancing and the 'roulotte' trucks where cooking up a storm. I had been told that the Chinese food was the best thing to eat there but the one at which we ate was only mediocre. The buses in Papeete quit running at about 1730 leaving you with the choice of walking or taking a cab which are terribly expensive - often charging $30US for a 4-kilometer trip. Not feeling like walking that late in the evening, we started looking for a cab when what should stop right in front of us? A bus!

I had ignored many of the normal preparations I would make before leaving port so I had to get up early on Saturday and work fast. Ruthie and Corie pitched in and we dropped our mooring at about 0800 and steamed out the Arue Pass, back into the swells of the South Pacific Ocean. We motored to the starting line of the rally where the boats were congregating and waited for the start, which was delayed a couple of times. There was almost no wind, which may have been a good thing as few cruisers and very few cruising boats are good at sailboat racing, particularly the starts. It almost reminds me of what roller derby would be like with morbidly-obese players, in this case, the cruising boats laden with wind vanes, solar panels, wind generators, provisions, spare parts and everything else are like over-weight players, lumbering to position themselves. We got a pretty good start but with the wind so light, we abandoned the 'race' about 45 minutes later and motored the rest of the way to Moorea. Of the thirty-nine boats that were entered, nine sailed the entire fifteen miles. We never saw more than 5 knots of wind and it was all right on the nose.
Moorea is one of the two Windward Islands in the Societies, the other being Tahiti. With tall green crags jutting into the clouds, it reminded us much of the Marquesas. There were already about twenty boats anchored in Oponohu Bay when we arrived and the steady stream of boats swelled that number to about sixty by the time everyone got their anchor down. The water here is very clear, unlike the cloudy water of Tahiti. In fact, it's one of the picture postcards of the South Pacific and we couldn't stop talking about the over-the-top beauty. All the chores associated with arriving at a new anchorage were ignored for the time being, as we all jumped into the almost-too-warm water. We made our way to shore with the other cruisers and enjoyed more fruity rum drinks and Polynesian dancing but we made an early night of it. The anchor lights of the sixty-some-odd boats was a very pretty sight. Fortunately for Corie, there are some people her age in the fleet and she invited a group of them aboard Rutea, where they played guitars, joked around and didn't drink too much beer.

Events got started pretty early on Sunday with outrigger canoe races. Four large canoes, each holding six paddlers, raced in heats. Since the canoes take a lot of skill to steer, locals manned the bow and stern while the silver-topped cruisers tried their best to move the canoes as fast as they could. Ruthie and I came in a very close second in our heat but posted one of the best finish times. Corie raced with a bunch of people her age. There were other games and races, followed by a typical Polynesian meal. Then more dancing and an awards ceremony followed by still more dancing and music. All in all, it was a very fun weekend and gave us a chance to see people whom we've met in Mexico and along the way.

I could see how we could easily spend a couple of weeks here in Moorea but our visas expire in thirteen days so we don't have that option. We'll probably leave here on Tuesday for the Leeward Islands before jumping off to Suwarrow Atoll, almost 700 miles to the west. Unfortunately, I'm having trouble with the internet here and have to post this using the radio, which means no pictures. I'll add photos as soon as I can.
At 6/27/2011 12:38 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 17°29.49'S 149°51.17'W
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