Rangiroa, Tuamotus

Sunday May 30, 2004

S 14o 57.938’

W 147o 38.456’

Peter and I have just finished preparing Lillian for departure from Rangiroa.

On the atoll of Rangiroa we did some snorkeling and our usual walking tour, setting out by foot along the single road between the villages at the passes of Tiputa and Avatoru. From Lillian, we would row into the docks of the hotel Kia Ora; walk through the open lobby as if we belonged, and join the road on the other side. The first time we were headed to the Gendarmerie to check in, the next time was just to sightsee, and yesterday was with the purpose of re-supplying.  Along the ten kilometers of road are  numerous signs for scuba and snorkeling tours, small roadside shops selling souvenirs and black pearls, outdoor restaurants, short driveways leading to hotels or pensions, and an airstrip that supports at least six arriving flights a day.

Rangiroa has the feel of a remote honeymoon destination. Yesterday, the road was busy with all modes of transportation: Couples on rented bicycles, natives on motor scooters, the ubiquitous four wheel drive vehicles, and the rare disheveled pair of pedestrians carrying an empty gas can for an outboard motor. As you might have guessed, Peter and I were the ones with the gas can, and we weren’t having much luck getting a ride on a Saturday afternoon.

After we had walked a scenic 5 miles, with the Rangiroa lagoon to the left and the Pacific ocean to the right, a large, friendly looking man sitting inside the Rangi Car Rental  booth on the “outskirts” of  the town of Avatoru called out in French, asking us where we were going. When we said we were heading to the Shell station, he replied that it was closed on Saturdays but would be open tomorrow. Somehow, this news didn’t surprise us. As the conversation transitioned to details of where we were from, he switched to English, saying he had lived in Los Angeles 25 years ago. As it turns out, the man sitting in the Rangi Rental car booth on the remote atoll of Rangiroa is a big fan of the seventies rock group, The Doobie Brothers. He himself was in the market for an electric guitar, asking if we had any musicians on board. He obviously had fond memories of his time in the US. In the end, we walked back to the huts behind the rental booth, met his dogs, which appeared overjoyed to see him, and watched as he siphoned out 10 liters of gas for us from a 50 gallon drum.

With a full gas can in hand, we continued to head for the far village, having previously discovered an outdoor café with good food and relatively cheap Hinano Beer. Along the way we stopped at a grocery store to fill Peter’s backpack with loaves of French bread and itinerant canned goods. By the time we reached the Café it was late afternoon. We ordered Mahi-Mahi and Poisson Cru, causing the cook to get up from her chair to go prepare dinner for us. At the outdoor bar were two apparent “regulars” in their late twenties or early thirties, drinking beer and whistling and cat calling at any girl that rode past. After a while, one of them came over to us to let us know that Americans were good and the French were bad. How he had arrived at this conclusion was not clear. He continued expressing his opinions by making a contorted face while brushing off the front of his shin and at the same time saying “Arabi.” Clearly it was not a sign of respect. Meanwhile, across the street, fishermen were returning with the days catch and along the street, bicycles and motor vehicles kept cruising by, often with the same people going back and forth. Peter and I sat until after sundown, watching this evolution of Saturday night in the town of Avatoru. Finally, with a wave to our new found admirer at the bar, we set out on the 6 mile hike back to the boat. Fortunately, we were helped on our way by two different cars. The later was a young French European beekeeper now living on Rangiroa, raising bees, and supplying honey to the local groceries and hotels. He took us straight back to the Kia Ora Hotel, where we waved to the receptionist in the lobby, and then rowed back out to Lillian, ready to leave for Tahiti.

The first step in getting ready to leave a harbor is to re-stow various clothing and gear. These include items such as salty T-shirts, sneakers drying in the sun, snorkling gear left out in the cockpit, and various dirty dishes. The gas in the dinghy motor, if we’ve used it, is pumped back into the gas tank. The tank is then secured to a long board bolted to the starboard rail. The motor is lifted by means of a hoist and brute force to a mount on the stern. The later usually involves some degree of struggle, frustration and foul language if there are waves jostling the dinghy against the side of the boat. For short trips, the dinghy is towed behind Lillian like a bath toy, but for longer crossings the dinghy is brought forward, hoisted aboard using one of the halyards on the mast and lashed upside down on the foredeck. The next step is to run a pair of  “jacklines” from the cockpit to the bow. These “jacklines” are a continuous one inch wide strip of nylon webbing used as attach points for our life jacket tethers for when we are working on deck. Statistically, 50 percent of sailors who fall overboard are not recovered. To avoid that statistic, tethers are used at night, when there are significant seas, or when the work has the potential for us slipping or being knocked overboard. We then check the sheets and halyard to make sure they are in order. Below, we check to make sure nothing is in a position to slide or bang. This is sometimes hard to remember to do in the shelter of a good anchorage, but the moment Lillian sticks her nose out into any waves, unsecured objects inevitably announce their freedom with a loud crash. Once the deck and cabin are secure, we start the engine, turn on the navigational equipment, and flip on the circuit breaker for the anchor windlass. In Rangiroa, the anchorage depth is 50 feet and we have over 200 feet of chain deployed. With me at the helm using a little forward throttle, and Peter on the foredeck using the winch and a strong back, we gradually reel in anchor and chain. Today, once the anchor is up, we will head back through the pass in the atoll and then turn towards Tahiti where my wife, Kay, and son, Matthew, will fly in to meet us.

As we get Lillian ready for the last leg to Tahiti, I realize that, in comparison, Kay’s has the harder task. Back in Huntsville, the house is cleaned and the bills are paid. The mail has to be stopped. Arrangements are made for the lawn to be mowed. Notes are left for the house sitter who will look after the house, dogs and cat. Working from e-mailed lists, Kay is collecting various supplies difficult, expensive, or impossible to obtain in French Polynesia: film, charts, marine supplies, books, and Jack Daniels. Loaded down with clothes and supplies, she and Matthew will fly to Los Angeles and then another eight hours to Papeete where we will rendezvous. By then, Peter and I plan to be relaxing at anchor in the harbor.