Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Moorea The Hard Way


After a quick whirlwind tour of Tahiti by rental car, it was time to get Far Fetched, a Beneteau 390 Oceanis, back out on the ocean where she belongs. Our initial plan was to head for Opunuho Bay on the west side of Moorea, only 20 or so miles away. We were chasing Captain Bruce's buddy-boat friends Randy and Jenny on Mystic, who had left a few hours ahead of us. The the winds were light and the seas relatively calm so the sailing was slow. Mystic called on VHF radio to say that they were considering pulling in at a closer pass on the southwest side of Moorea called Matavau off the village of Haapiti. Randy likes to avoid using his engine whenever possible and it was clear he wasn't going to make it around to Opunuho before sunset. So, we said, why not.

Matavau Pass turned out to be a real attention grabber. It was deep, but very narrow with huge breaking waves on either side of it, probably 12-footers. We got lined up, with Bruce steering and me crouching in the bow pulpit to keep an eye of the reefs and the surf. Then we gave it full throttle to counter the current, maintain our steerage, and get us in as quickly as possible, The water in the pass was very disturbed with eddies, rips and waves from all directions. I had to keep low and hold firmly on to the bow pulpit to keep from getting tossed overboard. The excitement was intense, but brief. We were soon inside the calmer waters of the pass heading to the right for a suggested anchorage marked on the GPS chart. We felt that spot was too close to the pass and therefore a bit rolly so we kept going further in to the right to get more into the shelter of the reef.

We were in about 80 feet of water according to the chart but out depthsounder was not giving us anything near that, in fact it was stuck on one number and flashing. We began a slow turn to avoid a marked reef to our left when the depthsounder suddenly started working. I was at the helm now, having traded jobs with Bruce. No sooner had the depthsounder started working than it began displaying rapidly decreasing depths: 30, 24, 16, 10, 8! About that time our other crew, Steve and Sherry, began reporting they could see the bottom at the bow. No kidding! We could see it at the stern as well and so I spun the wheel around and headed us back into deeper water. That was a close one. Try as we might to find something in the 30 to 35 foot range, it seemed that we were either in 80 feet or we were awfully close to very shallow water. We ultimately gave in and anchored in about 75 feet and put out lots of chain, about 220 feet to give us enough scope to have a good set on the anchor, but not so much that we could swing into danger. We were essentially anchored in a deep, narrow trench.

It was less than an hour till sunset when Mystic came through the pass (we caught and passed them a couple miles from the pass). They opted to anchor close to the pass. We saw them hobby-horsing and rolling quite a bit while we were nice and calm where we were, a fair compensation for having to anchor in deep water.

We were the only two boats anchored off Haapiti as opposed to Opunohu and Cook's Bays, where large numbers cruising boats anchor. That was our reward for having braved Matavau Pass.

The following day, Bruce loaned me his Trek mountain bike and I rode 40 miles on Moorea, including a very steep climb up to the lookout at Belvedere with its spectacular views of Opunohu and Cook's Bays. Kay and I had ridden up here on our little folding bikes twenty years ago. How we made it is beyond me. We must have walked them. But it was a great ride and wonderful to see the beautiful island of Moorea once again with its Le Dent de Requin (The Tooth of the Shark), the jagged peak made familiar if not famous in the movie version of South Pacific. It's a fair debate as to whether Moorea or Bora Bora holds the title of most beautiful island in French Polynesia.

Next it's on to Huahine and the rest of the Iles Sous Les Vent (Leeward Islands).


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