S/y Renata's Logbook, August 1998


Aug 31 - Aug 11             Tahiti
Aug 11 - Aug 12             Sailing to Raiatea
Aug 13 - Aug 14             Raiatea
Aug 15 - Aug 18             Bora Bora
Aug 19 - Aug 24             Sailing to Suvarov
Aug 24 - Aug 29             Suvarov

Friday, July 31st - Saturday, July 11th  1998  


Tahiti, French Polynesia


Tahiti is the economic and political center of French Polynesia. The inhabitants of the island (100,000) represent two thirds of the entire population of French Polynesia. School kids and students come here for school and university. Usually, only the lower parts of these high rising islands are inhabited. The inner parts have remained relatively wild. Parts of the island are not even accessible with a car.

The history of Tahiti is colorful. You can read more information about the islands' past and present in Presence which can be found in the TahitiNet pages.

We spent 10 days in Tahiti. We accomplished quite a few things. We got a new part for the Autopilot for which we also had an attachment part made. Our view of Tahiti remained a bit one-sided. We did not visit the inner parts of the island at all, although we were told that one could go just by climbing. We only saw Papeete, which looks like any other Western city in the world. The shops look similar to the ones in Finland, even the selections and prices are the same. All the shop windows had pearls in them, both real and copied ones. We were able to admire them for free at the pearl museum.

We met a lot of Frenchmen here. I had a chat with a shop assistant in a bookstore. He told me he had been here for three years now. He said the place was beautiful, but living here was expensive. A young man called Phil whom I met at the barber's shop said he missed some action. He thinks the Tahitians are too relaxed.

At daytime, the weather is warm, but as the sun sets after six in the evening, it cools down. When I sat on Renata's deck watching the city lights I was reminded by the dark and cool August nights in Finlad.

We left the sheltered harbor of Tahiti's capitol, Papeete, after we had heard that strong winds were approaching the area and that they should arrive in two days. By that time we should make it to Bora Bora. I do not know what they mean with strong winds, because the wind was blowing at 30 knots speed reaching 40 knots in gusts. As the wind was blowing from behind, it might have been even stronger. We approached Bora Bora swinging and swaying in the waves, but as we saw that we could not make it there before dark, we decided to stop for a rest in Raiatea island.

Thusday August 13th - Friday August 14th, 1998 


Raiatea, French Polynesia


Raiatea is also surrounded by a coral reef that has some openings through which you can enter the lagoon. It was surprising how the sea, which roamed with five-meter waves outside, was like a pleasant lake inside the coral reef. We found a nice harbor in Raiatea. It had all the conveniences we could hope for. We were thinking of leaving the next morning, but decided agains it because of the weather. The other boats had been waiting for the storm to recede for three days already, and they were wondering what we were doing out at sea on such weather. When we woke up the next morning, the wind was howling at 45 knots. It felt like being in Finland in autumn. We had to put on thick sailing jackets as we set out for the village. Surfers were having fun, they could surf as fast as 50-60 km/h on their small boards. We had a chat with the guys and they said surfing was really easy, just like riding a motorbike.

We felt like being in the wild west, because the houses looked like they had come straight from the wild west. The effect was partly due to the wind which whirled the dust around and made the bushes and trees bend. We spent our last Francs on food. We decided that if the weather would continue to be so bad we would not go to Bora Bora at all. We were able to borrow European standard videos from a boat next to us, so we spent another video night.

Raiatea island used to be a popular target of pilgrimages from Hawaii and New Zealand. This was the center of a cult serving the Oro god. The temple sanctified for the god, marae tapu tapu atea, which is now in ruins, was built at around 1600's. The temple was a place for worshiping god, but also for crowning the king, celebrating a successful military campaign, celebrating weddings, and asking god for favorable winds when setting for a journey. People brought fruits, roots, pigs, and dogs to the altar at the middle of the temple. They were eaten after the service. Women could not take part in worshiping rituals, not even the altar of sacrifice where the men sometimes offered a captured enemy or thief to Oro.
                                                                                                            Sanna and Reko

Saturday August 15th - Tuesday August 18th, 1998  


Bora Bora, French Polynesia


Next day, the storm had calmed down, and the passage to Bora Bora was only 20 miles. We encouraged ourselves and headed off towards the island that was looming up North. We needed to go around the main island of Bora Bora from a distance, because the submerged corals extend themselves 1.5 miles from the shore to the sea. There was supposed to be a 13-meter high beacon to warn seafarers about them, but it turned out to be broken. Otherwise, the entrance was easy to find. There was only one. The main island of Bora Bora is only partially sunken. A lagoon circles the Bora Bora's main island, which is like a medieval castle surrounded by a fosse. After a couple of million years ago, all that is left of Bora Bora's 400-meter volcano is its top.

We anchored next to the local yacht club just like the rest of the boats. The prices at the club were a bit on the steep side so we settled for canned beans at Renata. We walked a bit along the road that goes around the island. We saw houses whose gardens had plants like banana, palm trees and flowers growing in them. There was no pier by the water. The fishermen hung their boats from an iron grid in low water. This way the boats were not affected by the tide nor the sea shells.

On Saturday morning, we moved to the other side of the island to a place that was supposed to be good for diving. However, we did not have time for diving that day so we took the dinghy and went to the shallow waters to admire a captured shark, turtle and manta ray. Their life must not be very nice especially when tourists come and snorkel in the same small space. We visited the local luxurious hotel and were given permission to come and watch the Formula 1 racing in their TV room even though we were not guests at the hotel. Antti was excited. We had only heard about Häkkinen's success and we were anxiously waiting for the race to start late at night. Unfortuntely, Häkkinen's car had some technical problems, and we had to watch as his leading position was replaced with a sixth place.

Next day, we dove to the place we had been recommended. The water was cloudy and the corals were gray. We were getting a bit disappointed, when suddenly two big rays came to see us. The bigger one got a bit scared as Antti touched it. Smaller fish kept following us. Remoras, which we found a less pleasant company, tried to find a place in us to attach themselves to. When we surfaced, we were surrounded by approximately hundred tourists who had come with their snorkeling gear to see the rays. We figured it was time to leave.

We moved on to the South tip of the island where the outer island was surrounded by a wide sand shoal. We anchored Renata right next to the shoal. The surf board was really fast here. We snorkeled to a place where the locals fed sharks, but the dinner must have been over already, because we did not see any sharks. One of the snorkeling guides showed us a big moray who was happily snuggled in its hole. Despite its size, the moray let the guide feed and scratch him.

                                                                                                         Sanna and Reko

Wednesday August 19th - Monday August 24th, 1998 


Sailing to Suvarov


We arrived at Suvarov atoll last Monday after six days at sea. The wind was blowing strong, 20-25 knots, throughout the entire passage. Waves were big and the boat swayed in tailwind a total of 60 degrees from side to side. When reading the sailing book we learned that Suvarov is only accessible in calm weather. We thought about skipping it, because we would not make it during daylight. We had also heard that there's a lot of sharks in the area and we needed a break from swinging and swaying. Thus, we spent the night at sea approaching Suvarov slowly. In the morning, the wind calmed down as we approached the atoll and made our way between the island and the coral reef into the lagoon.

Monday August 24th - Saturday August 29th,  1998 


Suvarov, Cook Islands


Suvarov belongs to Cook Islands, which have achieved autonomy, but which still are under New Zealand's rule. The atoll was found by russians, who named it after their ship. The atoll comprises of an 11-mile wide coral reef the shape of a circle. The only inhabited island is right next to the entrance on top of a coral reef. It is only 150 meters wide and 400 meters long.

From 1952 until 1978, Tom Nealy lived in the island alone for a total of 16 years. He has written about his experiences in a book called An Island to Oneself.

Nowadays, the atoll and its islands have been declared a natural park because of their rare birds, coconut crabs, and untouched waters. A caretaker lives in the atoll for seven months, but he leaves in November for the hurricane season. The caretaker also takes care of signing in the boats and acts as a host in the island.

At the moment, the island is being hosted by Tom and Margaret Marama. They have entertained all the crews by serving fish at the beach every night. During daytime, we have been snorkeling and shooting fish with a harpoon. We have been able to shoot fish with a harpoon from underneath our boat. We have also seen rays and sharks. The visibility is 50 meters.

Tom has taken us to the best places, and he has also told us how to deal with sharks that Suvarov is famous for. Whenever a fish is shot with a harpoon, it is important to get it out of the water and into the boat as quickly as possible. We could see about ten sharks circling at the bottom; there were blacktips (about 1-2 meters long), whitetips, and grey reef sharks. The other divers were nearby to keep the most eager sharks away with a shark stick; otherwise the beasts would have stolen our catch. Yesterday, after I had caught a fish with a harpoon, a shark attacked my catch and I was thinking of letting it go. However, I could not, because the catch was still attached to my harpoon. Sanna asked another boat to come near and help us chase the shark away. Fortunately, the shark hesitated and did not attack again. I got to the surface and was out of danger when Tom picked my catch in his boat.

The fish we caught with the harpoon were mainly groupers (sea basses of the family Serranidae). Usually, they remain at the depth of 10-20 meters. At the beginning, I thought it would not be possible to dive deep enough and still be able to aim the harpoon before running out of air. As you catch fish with a harpoon, you need to be able to get as close as two meters of your prey. Usually, the fish swim so catching them is quite a challenge. The excitement is further enhanced by the sharks who you need to keep away from your catch after a successful shot. Catching fish with a harpoon is an art in which you can develop, but I think when done without scuba diving equipment, the fish are given enough handicap. The biggest grouper I caught weighed 10 kilos. Yesterday, Antti and I caught a 1-meter long shark. We had put the hook inside a fish head and hung it overboard. The shark bit it eagerly and surprisingly enough, we found it fairly easy to drag it into the boat. We did have to struggle as we tried to kill it, though. The fillets are now in the refrigerator waiting to be prepared. We heard that shark meat is not very good, because a shark has no kidneys and thus, its meat contains urea. The meat needs to be kept in water and the urea needs to be squeezed out.

We have seen manta rays, turtles, sharks, and various kinds of fish. Tomorrow, Tom will take us to the other side of the atoll to see the rare coconut crabs and birds.

This is the fourth time that Tom, Margaret, and their children are in the atoll. Usually, they come from Raratonga in April, but this year, El Niño caused them to delay their departure until June. They were given a lift on the luxury ship we saw in Tahiti (we thought that the owner of the ship was a mere sheik). The experience had been wonderful.

This island is 400 kilometers away from the nearest inhabited island. Tom and Margaret had to bring everything they need for seven months. There are some fruit trees in the island and fish can be caught from the sea. Tom and Margaret have chicken too, and their eggs bring a welcome change to the diet. Rain water is used for drinking and washing. This year, Tom and Margaret did not bring their TV or their frigde. The solar panels produce electricity only for VHF and SSP radio.

I asked Margaret if they missed something from the world they left behind. Margaret replied that they did not miss anything, because the world comes to them. She meant the boats that come from all over the world to visit the Suvarov atoll.

Margaret's whole interview went as follows:

Reko: Margaret, you and your husband are the caretakers of the national park. Could you describe a normal day over here?
Margaret: Well, mostly we clean the island and take care about yachts signing in and out.

Reko: This island is quite isolated, there are 250 miles to the nearest inhabited island. Do you or your children miss anything from the outher world?
Margaret: I myself do not miss anything, but the oldest children are teenagers now and probably most of all miss the kids of their own age.

Reko: What is the best thing living in here?
Margaret: The world comes to us. We get to meet a lot of people from different nationalities.

Reko: This year there has only been 14 yachts. How do you feel about visiting yachts?
Margaret: We enjoy having them here. I suppose this year the problem was El Niño. It effected so that people hardly come around this year.

Reko: People in the Cook Islands speak English and Maori. Would you like to say something to Finland in your own Maori language?
Margaret: Kia orana tartoo gatotuo tetutero notato, kia orana ekimmonee
                    (Transcription mine, Sanna.)

Reko: And can you say what did that mean?
Margaret: Greetings everyone, may the lord´s blessing be with you, greetings again and best wishes.

Reko: Thank you Tom and Margaret. It has been plesure visiting here. This is one of the most beatiful places that we have been and you are the friendliest people we have met. I wish you good staying here in the Suvarov atoll.