Plastic in the Pacific Crusade – Part 22 – Society Islands Part 1 – Tahiti

Thommosbigtuna660Welcome to our blog for the Plastic in the Pacific Crusade.  If you missed the earlier editions please go to category file in the footer to go back and read them.  They are listed under Plastic in the Pacific.  Over the coming year we will be writing regularly of our adventures and what we are seeing.  In this article we sail to Tahiti

We left the Tuamotu’s really hoping to get back, however we had been told by other cruisers that the Society Islands had a lot to offer. One friend said that Raiatea and Tahaa, which are surrounded by one reef, were the best islands in the Pacific. Another said the diving in Huahine is just as good as the Tuamotu’s, and then of course you have Tahiti, the place people dream of and home to the world famous Teahupoo surf break, not that we’d be surfing.

We left Fakarava with northerlies forecast which was to be a straight beam reach. It looked simple on the forecast but what the forecast didn’t tell us is that northerlies bring stormy weather and whilst it looked straight forward, it proved to be one of the most difficult trips we’d undertaken. It seemed that Susky did not want to leave the Tuamotu’s either. At one stage a storm came straight at us from the West and saw us having to put all sails away and steam into it at just 2 knots for a couple of hours until the wind passed and backed to the north once again. The last 8 hours of the trip we were sailing into the wind, hard on the nose, not like our original, or even our current, forecast had suggested. However short trips like this gave me an opportunity to finally break the ‘arriving at night’ hoodoo. And we did, arriving into Tahiti at 1435 in the afternoon.

brownwater660We steamed in through the main channel to the north and there was a lot of brown water as it had been raining a lot and the run off was insane. It definitely wasn’t the azure waters you see in the brochures, but it was wet season so we can’t complain. The main obstacle was not the reefs, it was the floating trees and logs. I differentiate between the two as a log is one thing but when a full tree goes floating past, that’s another. Neither are good to hit. We steamed around past the airport, gaining clearance at each end of the runway from the port control as you are so close you would easily be in the way of any plane landing or taking off. Just south of the airport on the west side of the island is the Intercontinental hotel with those bures over the water you expect to see in these islands. We had a chuckle when in the rain there is a couple on their balcony. She is lying on the sunbed under cover whilst he is staring into the water at what should have been the reef. Instead it was muddy brown water. I’m sure it wasn’t what they expected

We anchored near Marina Taina. There are three mooring fields but on the northern side of the marina, land side of the channel you can anchor if you want to. Moorings are cheap at US$80 per week, but anchoring is free so we went with that option. That afternoon we checked out the marina to find no free wifi, not even in the Pink Coconut bar. It ran by a system where you pay for hours with a couple of different companies for options. It was not cheap at US$5 an hour but we had no option. Reception on the boat was poor so we didn’t bother the first day, we simply went back and cleaned up a little bit and settled in for the evening.

The next day and the rain was still hanging around. We went to the local chandlery and they were very helpful in giving us information we needed. Priority was to get Annika to a doctor. There was a local doctor at the supermarket just 500m down the road so off we went. The shopfront was very small in a very large complex but it was the first thing we came to. We met the receptionist and were told the doctor did not speak English. We still proceeded thinking we should be able to work it out one way or another. We walked in and as we start speaking he puts his hand up as if to say wait. He then punches away on the computer and then turns the screen. Google Translate!!!!! So we had a doctors appointment where all communication was by computer. I was hoping I wouldn’t have the problem we had in Nuku Hiva where a translation came out totally wrong and instead of mentioning a marine creature it came out with the equivalent of smoking Marijuana!!!

After a short while Annika had her prescriptions and we were off to the pharmacy across the hall. Annika was in heaven. It had all the girlie stuff too like nail polishes and skin care and whilst Annika is by no means a princess, she does like her girlie things occasionally. After that quick shop we went to the Carrefour and it was huge. It had everything and was the closest thing we had seen to our home supermarkets. If Annika was grinning when she was in the pharmacy, well I must have looked like I was a kid in a candy store when I was standing in the meat section. Quality meat, mostly from New Zealand, including angus beef, it was amazing. I would have a good steak that night, the first proper steak I’d had in a very long time.

We also bought our internet, 11 hours each for US$80. Not cheap but the website needed updating as did facebook and our social lives.   When I sailed around Australia I found that when I had internet access I was in a better head state as I could keep up with the world. I had basic internet on the boat through the satellite connection but it was awfully slow. However I was able to get sports scores and emails. Annika didn’t have this so when she was on land she would use the internet to get in touch with her friends and talk on skype. I’d use the land internet to update the website, send stories to Sail-World.com and speak with mum.

badwether2660Back on the boat and that is what we did, although the internet was pretty slow. The next morning and we woke to the sound of a lot of wind through the rig. A storm front came through and one boat reported wind gusts of 65 knots. Two boats dragged anchor, one wrapping itself around a moored boat, another drifting out amongst the moored boats before the wind changed and sent it back towards the superyachts at the marina. Luckily it got caught on one of their anchor chains before it made it to the boats themselves. Another yacht on a mooring had his headsail unfurl and whilst I really wanted to help him, our boats safety was paramount and getting into a dinghy in those winds with our 2.3hp outboard was not a wise idea. I could easily flip the boat and end up in more trouble. Unfortunately for this guy, obviously an inexperienced yachtie, his headsail had unfurled in two different ways. The top half one way and the bottom half another and it was well and truly wrapped. He couldn’t furl it so it was flogging and as the boat was now effectively sailing on its mooring, it was a pretty awful situation for the owner who was by himself onboard.

He couldn’t get it down and he unfortunately made a bad choice by disconnecting the tack. His thinking was probably that he could unwrap the bottom half and pull it down. There was no way he could hold it and the flogging sail started working its way up the forestay. So now the power was flogging even higher, a more dangerous situation. Eventually he let the halyard go, something that should have happened immediately. Slowly but surely he got the sail to the deck and as he finally wrapped it up, the storm had passed. Our only issue was that the wind was too strong for the brake on our wind generator. It over-road the brake and was turning so fast I thought it would disintegrate. I was very hesitant to go near it as if a blade got thrown it could be lethal. In one short lull I took the chance and got to the wind generator as the blades were spinning slowly enough to stop it by hand. I then tied it up for the duration of the storm.

After the storm, Justin, a young American guy sailing a 30 footer solo came over. His anchor had dragged and he was the one wrapped around the other boats mooring. He had seen we were divers as we had tanks on deck and asked if we could help. So after securing our vessel we headed over and I went down and retrieved his anchor that he cut during the storm to clear the other boat. It was easy to find and as we were pulling it up into the dinghy a French guy Christian paddles over in the most flimsy rubber boat I’ve ever seen. It was deflating and taking on water but he came over to help anyway. His two inflater hose inlets had beer bottles sealing them, that’s how bad this boat was. His boat just happened to be the other boat that dragged and he was paddling out to his boat which the marina had moved to a mooring. We got Justin and his anchor back to his boat and then went over to Christian’s boat and his anchor had been set loose too so we went on a mission to find it.

In the middle of the channel I dive down solo as Annika couldn’t dive because of her ears. With little visibility and 20m+ deep I didn’t feel safe so took a quick look and got back to the surface. We went and got Justin to dive with me and we went on a search but failed to find the anchor. We would try another day when the visibility was better. Later that week we would donate our small 2.1m dinghy to Christian in return for a case of beer. At least he would have a better dinghy to get to and from his boat.

gutter660The following day we decided to go off into Tahiti’s main township and get our duty free fuel exemption certificate. It was once again raining and we walked up to the bus. As we did we saw something that you will never see in the brochures. Gutters full of rubbish, the main culprit was plastic bottles. It was like being at a tip. The rubbish was being washed down a cliff and was gathering in the drains. Next stop, the ocean. I’ll go more into this later.

The bus trip into town was great and only cost US$2 each. We arrived in the main town and found the tourism info center to find out where everything we wanted was. We needed boat supplies and the customs department. We were sent to the Papeete Marina which was actually the wrong place but Ken from the marina helped us out and actually sent off some paperwork for us which was exceptionally nice and saved us a lot of hassles. If you stay in the marina this is part of his job, but we weren’t in his marina and hence he didn’t have to, but maybe it was Annika’s smile that did it!!!

Afterhterain660Next we went on a long soggy walk to the customs which is out on the main port facility. This was to get our duty free fuel certificate which would save us half price on diesel. Whilst it was a long walk, it was worth it and getting the certificate in Tahiti meant it was free, getting it elsewhere you had to pay for it. One thing that stood out on our walk as we passed the main commercial port was the rubbish washed up. The Aranui is a vessel that cruises to the Marquesas with guests and cargo. But right behind its berth was a collection of rubbish that was despicable. More on this later.

After the customs visit we went chasing chandleries and there are 3 good shops in town. We walked between them all and found everything we needed. By this time it was time for a late lunch and we found Jimmy’s Chinese restaurant which had food Annika could eat. The meal was huge and nothing went to waste. Afterwards we made our way back to the marina and onto the boat, exhausted after a long day of walking around town.

The following day we did a lot of maintenance and more shopping. The best shopping was not in the big supermarket, it was on the short 500m walk to the shops. There are small marquee’s set up with local vendors selling fruit. The people are ultra nice and their mangoes, pineapple, breadfruit etc is all very good. It’s not cheap but you have to support the locals.

We had been checking out the dive spots but with the rain, visibility was not good and we needed to wait a little longer for Annika’s ears to sort themselves out. By the 24th February, Annika’s birthday, we decided that she should try diving again. We knew there were two wrecks in one spot near the middle of the airport. Justin, our new American friend wanted to come so we took off in his dinghy that had a bigger engine than ours. It was a wet ride from both below and above but we made it after about 20 minutes punching into the wind. We tied to a mooring and guessed that if we went down that line, we would be near the wreck. There were two moorings and we had gone down the one closest to the reef. At the bottom we found the mooring was actually attached to the wreck itself, so we found it!!!! It was a much bigger boat than I had thought it was. It was probably 30m long and was a mess of wires and cables. It even had huge cylinders with valves everywhere. The highlight, even in the poor visibility was that the frame was steel and the hull material was timber. With the timber rotting away, the frame was left and looking up through it was beautiful. We didn’t have time to find the plane wreck, that would have to be another day.

Now when you go to your travel agent you will see brochures of the society islands. Highlights will be Tahiti, Raiatea and Bora Bora. You will see pictures of plush green volcanic mountains rising out of the water but each island is surrounded by these incredible lagoons with azure waters. You will be told that you will be able to swim with sharks, rays and many other tropical fish and that you will see beautiful coral. Well the brochures are wrong, well maybe not wrong, but they miss out a few creatures that are far too common, and quite deadly. On our dive in Tahiti we saw many species that you won’t find in the fish books or cruising guides of the area. The common plastic bottle fish is everywhere. You could be sitting on your boat and a coca-cola bottle will drift past, shortly after a water bottle, and not long after a pepsi bottle. Other species include several box fish, like the polystyrene box fish, the cardboard box fish and even the plastic box fish. The a few thongs, bottle caps and all sorts of other rubbish species swim by.

Rainbow660Our dive on the wrecks saw us dodging plastic as we descended and ascended, there was rubbish littering the floor and it was a disgrace. I spoke with a local bar tender and told her what we’d been seeing out in the lagoons and she was from mainland France. Her response….’the lagoons aren’t always like this, it’s only when it rains.’ I really do think that the human race is one of the dumbest species on earth. We create all this rubbish and even in this beautiful location, it is a huge issue. People discard it anywhere and everywhere and wonder why it ends up in the ocean. O.K there are lots of clean-up operations in the world and I really think this is a real problem. People think someone will clean up after them. It is amazing how much funding goes into these programs. Unfortunately mother-nature gets to most items first and here in the Societies, with wet season upon us, the rubbish is being cleaned out to sea where it will join the other 53 trillion pieces of rubbish. Our responsibility really starts at the supermarket. You have to make a choice and if you choose plastic then you are risking that ending up in the ocean and possibly killing a beautiful creature that we all want to see in their natural environment.

You’ve got to remember, EVERY PIECE OF PLASTIC EVER CREATEDSTILL EXISTS. It could have broken up into small micro plastics, it could be stuck in a turtles throat killing it, it could be picked up by a parent bird and fed to its chick not realizing or in some countries, including here, they burn it, sending toxic fumes into the ozone layer and breaking it down, adding to global warming.

The worst part about this whole saga in French Polynesia is they have the alternative and it works, they just don’t enforce it. Beer and 1liter soft drinks come in glass and crates. You can buy a case of 20 Hinano 500ml beers in a crate. You pay an extra US60 cents for each bottle at the check out, and US$6 for the crate. When you return them, you get your money back. Same with the soft drinks, you get the bottles and crate and return them. Nowhere have I seen a glass bottle in the streets or the ocean. A container deposit scheme works so why do they not have it on plastic. Plastic is a huge issue. I’m not talking about plastic bags as they really aren’t a major issue here, nor are cigarette butts, but the plastic bottles are a huge issue. Don’t get me wrong, plastic bags and cigarette butts are an issue here, just totally over run by the plastic water bottle issue.

If the local government want to make the place like the brochures, then they have to step up and ban plastic bottles. They have been complaining that tourism is down in the islands. Any wonder. Their glass bottle system works, why not use it more. Force the local water companies to put their product in glass or introduce a deposit scheme on plastic so that every bottle is worth 60 cents. That way there will be no plastic bottles floating past you in a dive or snorkel. Our dive at the wrecks had more rubbish than fish and that’s saying something as there were plenty of fish, but you couldn’t look past the rubbish.

But it’s O.K, the lagoons only contain this plastic after rain!!!!!

intotheblue660It has taken me a while to write this article as I have tried to remain positive about the place and be able to write good things but the fact of the matter is, with what we do, I cannot look past the plastic problem. This little so called paradise is throwing millions of pieces of plastic in the oceans every year. It is a country that relies on the fishing industry to provide the locals, yet the European invasion from mainland France and elsewhere is creating real issues. If the locals went back to their original ways of life where plastic did not exist then everything would be so much better. But we have introduced plastic to their way of life and provided no recycling facilities. The end result is swimming with tropical fish with the risk of a piece of plastic coming to get in the way of your shot, or smothering the reef.

Speaking of the reef, the lagoon in Tahiti is destroyed. There is no way of putting it any lighter. It is crushed and there is very little life. There are still fish however not as many as the Tuamotu’s. It is really sad and if I had to write a true to life brochure for Tahiti, I’m not sure you’d want to come here. The only good thing I found was that all day every day the local paddlers are out on the water in large numbers. Outriggers, stand up paddle boards and surf skis would cruise past one after the other. The good thing to see is that Naish SUP’s, supporters of our Naish Paddle Against Plastic campaign, were outnumbering the other brands easily. Locals are serious about their paddling and all the Stand up’s were race boards. It made me want to get home and get a new board, and made Annika miss her board which is in storage.

So to sum up our first impression of Tahiti, it is tragic what we have done. We even heard that the French President had arrived as he was about to approve a development next to Marina Taina. They were going to relocate the locals that live on the waterfront behind the Carrefour and grow fresh fruit that we buy on the streets from the friendly vendors. They would relocate them and build a multi-million dollar resort and marina and take out the existing marina which is run by locals. It is no wonder the local Polynesian’s are pushing hard for independence from France. In all our travels, the Polynesians are ultra-friendly and will do everything for you. The European influence is not positive. So when we talk to the locals we do our best to speak the few words of Polynesian we have learnt, even if they greet us in French. They are Polynesian, not French.

I do apologise that this has been a real negative blog but we truly are disheartened by our findings in Tahiti. Maybe the other islands will be better. Let’s wait and see. However, do yourself a favor and if you need to spend your money to go to paradise, spend a little more and head out to the Tuamotu’s rather than stay in the Societies. You won’t be disappointed.

Ocean Crusaders are out to change the way people treat our oceans.  Our online education program is free to download at www.OceanCrusaders.org/education where children can learn of the issues our oceans are facing and how they can make a difference.  The Plastic in the Pacific Crusade is about educating the South Pacific Islands, finding out what is happening in these islands and updating our programs.  You can join us in the Pacific and see for yourself what we do.

Ocean Crusaders Plastic in the Pacific Crusade is proudly supported by: Cressi Dive Gear, Gill Marine, Keen Footwear Australia, Barz Optics Sunglasses, Maxsea Navigation Software, Digital Diver Cairns, LED Dive Lights Australia, Boat Names Australia, Predictwind Weather & Sail-world.com

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