After two and a half months either at sea or on remote islands, our food supplies were rapidly diminishing. On leaving the Tuamotus we set our course for Tahiti, with a plan to stay in a Marina to re-stock Florence with food and water. However the price of the marina stay ($50 to $60 per night) was causing us to waver in our decision and perhaps head to Moorea, where food was a little more limited, but the anchorage was free. En-route we were in email contact with Sandy Cheeks, our friends of many months now. We had last seen them at Tahuata in the Marquesas and were keen to catch up. They were anchored in Moorea, so that made our decision easy, and we changed course to head there instead. The itinerary of cruising sailors is a free formed thing; liable to be changed on a whim at any time! A couple of hours into our course change, we received an email to say they were heading to Tahiti to fix a problem with their autopilot but they knew where we could anchor for free there, close to the supermarket. A quick change of direction and we were bound for Tahiti again.
Once anchored, we were able to use the dinghy dock at the marina and they were even kind enough to let us bring Florence in for 45 minutes, to fill up our water tanks for free before we left. Given that one of the ‘yachts’ in the Marina had a fair sized helicopter on board, it seemed they are making enough money from the super yachts to allow them to be generous to the relative peasants anchored close by. With the surrounding reef creating a beautifully sheltered anchorage, views of the sun setting over the dramatic peaks of Mo’orea, and local outrigger canoes paddling by, we were very happy peasants.
Excited for exotic luxuries like carrots and apples, we skipped down the road to the first supermarket we had seen in 2.5 months. Our mouths watered as we feasted our eyes on French delicacies we had not seen since leaving Europe. Okay, the price tags were a little eye watering but the air-con was free (well worth the walk in itself). Having hardly spent any money since leaving Panama (its very hard to spend money at sea), we stuffed the trolley with baguettes, Brie, fresh fruit and vegetables (wo-hoo fresh vegetables).
Having caught up with friends and feasted on fresh food, we were ready for the festivities. For more than 125 years July has been the month of dance, singing and sports competitions in Polynesia, known as Hieva iTahiti. Competitors from all of the Polynesian Islands congregate around Tahiti for the biggest event of the year.
Polynesian outrigger canoe (va’a) races started and finished in our anchorage with the canoes racing down either side of Florence shortly after the mass start. The outriggers hold one, three or sixteen paddlers.
In the javelin throwing events (Patia fa – Patia ai), athletes must hit a coconut, attached to the top of a pole, 10m off the ground and 20m away from the thrower. Originally Polynesian warriors would train for war in this way, replacing the coconut with the head of a defeated warrior.
The stone lifting competition (amora’a ofa’i), originating in the Austral Islands has athletes lifting then holding giant stones, weighing up to 150kg.
In the copra preparing competition (pa’aro ha’ari), groups and individuals race to extract coconut meat from piles of coconuts.
Our favourite event was the Coconut Tree Climbing world championships, where competitors raced to reach a mark on the tree, cheered on by the crowd sat just below them. The fastest clocked just 4 seconds!
After lunch, competitors from some of the islands performed their traditional dances. We managed to see the Samoan fire throwers and Marquesan dancing, among others. This made up for the fact that we missed out on tickets to the main dance competition in Papeete as they were all sold out.
Having read that Tahiti, particularly Papeete, was dirty and expensive, we were very pleasantly surprised at how much was on offer for sailors on a budget. Although it wouldn’t be one of the main destinations we would rush back to, we found it to be very friendly and a great stop to easily re-provision.