martes, 3 de julio de 2007

Tahitian Exploration II

2007, July 3. Tuesday—9 a.m.
During the night of June 25th, while anchored inside of Little Vairo Pass (the right I ended the last blog at), the swell picked up noticeably. With Little Vairo nearly maxed out it was time to head further south to the big boy, Teahupoo. I followed close on Windekind’s stern as we weaved through a couple narrow, shallow channels inside the lagoon. Within an hour we both anchored in a small basin just north of the Havae Pass, home to the famed Teahupoo left.
With the hook set I hitched a ride in Windekind’s dinghy and we headed out the pass to check the surf. The conditions were calm, wind slightly offshore, and fifteen people were out in the six to eight foot perfect waves. From the channel I felt for the first time the true power of Teahupoo. As the swell approached from the southwest it leapt from the sea nearly horizontally onto the shallow reef of the pass. A massive tube rolled down the line, too fast to ride, till it finally reached the drop zone where somebody would brave the steep drop, pull into the massive pit, and either pull out before the closeout section or wind up caught inside scratching to get off the reef. The inside is what looked so fierce. Whitewater would suck down off the reef with each approaching wave, defying nature and creating an uphill slope of water you’d have to climb to get onto the reef. After watching a couple sets roll in I was actually surprised by how manageable the waves looked. Myself and the three other surfers in the dinghy decided it was time to paddle out.
Thirty minutes later Windekind’s dinghy was moored in the channel and Eric, Will Austin (15) and I were paddling to the lineup. Eric immediately paddled deep into the peak and picked off two quick waves, one a nice barrel, and the other ate him up. I was on the 6’ 6” Mike left on board, and quickly found it wasn’t big enough for the wave. Every wave I paddled for rolled beneath me, heaved up, and left me behind.
The swell was picking up with each set, and when I turned around from paddling for a wave I saw the crowd scratching for the channel and followed suit. Next thing I knew a heavy fifteen-foot wave was breaking over the reef, throwing a massive barrel that could easily have fit Avventura inside it. I was able to duckdive under the lip and opened my eyes to watch as the monster rolled on. I was relieved to find no waves behind it; but when I looked inside I saw Eric and Will in the cauldron of whitewater left in its wake. Eric was clinging to the back half of his board, Will’s was gone altogether (broken board to go with the snapped leash as he later learned), and another broken board was drifting around in the cauldron. One wave took out three boards, and with that we headed back to the boats to regroup and reload.
On Avventura I quickly threw a sheet of fiberglass and gobs of resin over where my 7’ 0” had buckled (my first session in Tahiti, at Taapuna) to give it some added strength. Just as the resin was drying the Windekind guys picked me up for round two. I threw some sandpaper in my pocket and hopped in the dinghy with the freshly-repaired board. Eric was the first to paddle out while the rest of us watched from the dinghy. The swell had not only picked up, but was shifting further west as the day wore on, making it harder to get out of the waves once you were in and causing for some big, heavy closeouts. On Eric’s first wave he dropped in deep, pulled in to an impossible tube, was eaten alive, and emerged from the soup with another broken board. He swam back to the dinghy frustrated, not about the broken board, but that he hadn’t made it out of the barrel. Within minutes of his return we all paddled out, Eric on a brand new board, and me on my 7’ 0”.
Eric and Will continued to charge the set waves as the wind picked up a bit and the crowd fled the growing swell. On Will’s second wave he pulled in from behind the peak and was eaten by the eight foot (?) wave. In the tumult he smacked his knee on the reef returning to the lineup bleeding and saying he was done for the day. As Will returned to the dinghy a group of Australian surfers paddled out. I mostly sat watching as Eric, one of the Australians, and a Hawaiian guy traded off waves I didn’t have the guts (or the board) to paddle for. Every third wave they seemed to make to the channel, but the rest were unmakeable and led to the inevitable underwater dragging and long hold down that seems to come with every Teahupoo wipeout. When you did come up you still had to take the next couple waves on the head.
Little Austin caught a couple insiders, putting me to shame and increasing my paddling efforts to get into a wave. I managed to get myself into one of the smaller waves, made the drop and a bottom turn, and raced for the channel. No monster tube spitting behind me, no awful wipeout; but at least I can say I caught a wave at Teahupoo.
A half hour after catching my lone wave I was on the inside when the wave of the day came through. I saw it coming early and Little Austin and I scratched for the channel as the Hawaiian (called Biff, which seemed to be a running joke with the Windekind fellows) took off right at the peak. The wave hit the reef and grew into an eighteen foot face (my guess; definitely the heaviest wave I’ve ever seen up close) as Biff paddled into it. As he got to his feet the bottom fell out of the wave and after air-dropping for a short while he began to cart-wheel down the face. A couple seconds later he hit the water for good, only to be sucked back over the falls as I duckdove under the lip. Biff’s wipeout was enough to chase me back to the dinghy and end my day of “surfing” Teahupoo. Two sessions, one wave. Not a great showing, but to surf it again I’d want a bigger board so I could get into the waves before the bottom dropped out, as Eric, Will and the Aussy were able to. As for Biff, he wound up in the hospital where they had to remove chunks of coral from his back; which I’m told looked like a sheet of blood despite the vest he had been wearing.
On the way in from Teahupoo I was invited to the famous “Pizza Tuesday’s” on Windekind. I headed over around sunset and we passed the night having a few beers, eating homemade pizzas and playing cards—a nice way to unwind from a heavy day of surf.

Dawn revealed a more westerly swell and Teahupoo was no longer an appetizing place to surf, so Windekind and I headed out the Havae Pass, skirted along Tahiti’s barrier reef, and returned to Big Vairo Pass (Tapuaeraha Pass on the charts) where we had surfed three days earlier. We anchored in the same little cove off the “Ifremer Centre Oceanologique du Pacifique,” a marine biology research station. [As a sidenote this little cove proved to be a great anchorage in 45 feet over a muddy bottom, one of the few shallow places within dinghy distance of Big Vairo Pass, supposedly one of the better waves in Tahiti and more mellow. GPS POS: 17˚48.49’S by 149˚17.64’W]
Unfortunately soon after leaving Teahupoo the wind picked up to fifteen knots, blowing sideshore and adding an unwanted chop to the good-sized sets that were rolling through Big Vairo Pass. After waiting unsuccessfully for the wind to die we paddled out for an afternoon session anyways. The surf was much more manageable than Teahupoo. Though still sizeable, there was a much gentler face and shoulder to be ridden after a steep drop. Though the good waves were hard to pick out of the jumbled mess the wind and swell had created, I had a fun session and caught a couple good waves. Adding to the enjoyment was the simple pleasure of watching the massive rooster tails sweeping off the big rights across the pass. The downside of the wind, coupled with the cooler water the swell churned up (81˚), was that after an hour and a half I had goosebumps on my arms and was conscious of being cold in the water for the first time since the Galapagos.
The following morning saw the arrival of Robyn’s Nest at the anchorage, and I was glad to hear they had come into a good swell at Faaite just two days after Mike and I left. With their arrival came the passing of a weather front over the island (same as had happened on the day I arrived in Tahiti a couple weeks earlier), which brought with it thirty knot southwest winds and periods of heavy rain. The front brought four days of lousy weather during which Windekind decided to brave and return to Papeete while Robyn’s Nest and I hunkered down in our little cove. I awoke on day two of the nasty westerly weather with a sore throat, beginning what has been a five day sickness to date. My sickness still lingers on, perhaps accounting for the fact that I can’t find any sort of writing rhythm in this damned blog. Sorry about that, but I wanted to get it out in spite of this.
After a few days of waiting out the weather, while still feeling sick, I decided to brave the conditions and return to Papeete in search of medicine. Despite periods of thirty knot winds and no autopilot that could cope with the eight foot swells I made it back to Papeete on the evening of July 1. I entered the Papeete Pass as the sun set, and awaited permission to use the Faaa Chanel for fifteen minutes while planes came in low overhead. The harbor authority finally gave me the go-ahead and I scurried along before the next plane came in to the channel-side runway. I carefully followed the channel markers around a bend in the reef to the opposite end of the runway where I tucked into a cove off the Intercontinental Resort (formerly the Beach Comber) and dropped the hook in the dark; collapsing in my bunk moments later.
Yesterday I moved back to the normal anchorage off Marina Taina and made it to a pharmacy where I picked up a couple medicines which, though everything is written in French, I was told will help me. After a day of medicating I’m beginning to feel better and am hopeful that the fourth of July will see a return to my former good health. Either way I’ll be taking it easy till I recover fully, because being sick in the tropics is no fun.

Again, sorry for the disjointed, choppy writing and lack of rhythm to this blog; I’m attributing it to my sickness and the medication-induced drowsiness and malaise. I’ll be posting more pictures soon at

lunes, 2 de julio de 2007

Tahitian Exploration Part I

2007, June 25. Monday.

With Mike’s departure my run as a solo sailor began. As a way to ease into this, and in search of a refuge from the exhaust fumes, traffic jams, and money-spending opportunities of Papeete I’ve tagged along with the Santa Barbara surfers on Windekind the past couple weeks paying a visit to Moorea and exploring the west coast of Tahiti. This has also had the added advantage of surfing with other familiar faces in the water, always a welcome thing in the heavy waves the Society Islands produce.
On June 16 Avventura followed Windekind (a Sundeer 56) out the Taapuna Pass and south along the Tahitian coast bound for Teahupoo. A small swell was set to hit the following day, and it seemed like the perfect chance for me to surf the famous wave. As we approached Pointe Maraa the wind started blowing twenty knots on the nose, so rather than beat into it we changed our destination to Moorea. After a few hours of sailing I entered the Matauvau Pass and dropped the hook on the steep slope of a sand bank in thirty feet of water. Inside the lagoon all was calm and we were the only two boats in sight.
Moorea rivals the Marquesas in terms of its dramatic beauty. The island juts up from the peaceful waters of its lagoons into rugged spires and pinnacles, covered in dense vegetation and with but a few houses dotted along the coastal road. The anchorage in the deep blue waters of the lagoon was bordered by a shallow shelf of sand about 7 feet deep, appearing almost white in the midday sun. What’s more, the Matauvau Pass has a nice left which sweeps into the pass itself and, unlike many waves in the region, lets you off in deeper water away from the reef. I spent a couple nights anchored here, surfing three times in fun, chest-high surf with usually ten other people out. Unfortunately the damned internet surf forecasters were wrong—the swell never hit, so with more work to be done on Avventura, I returned to Papeete on Monday afternoon.
Five days of work and crowds in Papeete and I was anxious to leave again. A small swell provided some fun surf on the Taapuna Pass (yet another good, hollow left which, on my first session out buckled my lone big-wave board), but being the closest wave to the capital it was always crowded. So after the arrival of two more people on Windekind (Now there are 5: the captain, Eric, his two brothers Garland and Austin, Will [who was on board with Eric when we met in the Galapagos], and Danny.), and with hopes of surf in the coming days we took off through the Taapuna Pass on the morning of June 23, slowly heading in the direction of Teahupoo.
After an hour of motoring with no wind, as I neared Pointe Maraa the wind once again picked up to twenty knots on the nose. With our first anchorage tucked just around the point Avventura continued to pound into the wind and swells for an hour before arriving at the Maraa Pass. Eric came out in the dinghy to explain the entrance to me and I set the hook inside the lagoon in 53 feet of water with all the chain I carry out (250 feet). After relaxing for a couple hours I grabbed my board and headed out for an afternoon session with Eric and his brother Austin. The pass is known for its right, but with the wind and swell direction the left was setting up better ands we traded off overhead sets, surfing by ourselves. As the sun sank into the sea we caught waves in and returned to our respective boats. In the evening I headed over to Windekind for a card game before returning to Avventura for a peaceful night’s rest.
As the sun rose on a new day I picked up anchor and motored out the Maraa Pass, bound for points further south. The wind was still howling from the direction I needed to go, but with the next anchorage around a dozen miles away I sailed off-shore in the twenty knot breeze for five miles before tacking back towards shore. Unfortunately the wind dropped as soon as I tacked and before long I was motorsailing towards the Tapuaeraha Pass. I arrived over an hour after Windekind and dropped the hook in a little cove perfect for one boat in 45 feet of water with no wind at all. As soon as the hook was set I put my board in the dinghy and headed over to Windekind to see who wanted to surf. Will and I headed out first, to be joined later by Eric and 15-year-old Austin. The wave is reputed to be one of the longer and more mellow lefts in Tahiti, but the current swell had more west in it and the waves were breaking fast and hollow over a very shallow coral reef. Austin continued to live up to his new-found reputation as a reef-seeker, winding up caught inside on the reef a number of times leaving those of us in the line-up to cringe. Somehow he came out unscathed every time, and when the next wave came he’d take off without a hint of fear and go racing down the line backside.
The crowd thinned out as the afternoon wore on and every now and again a good, just overhead set would roll through providing long, fun waves. Riding the 6’ 6” Mike left behind in preparation for Teahupoo, I was somewhat out of my element and learning to surf all over again. By the end of the session I was getting in a handful of turns on the waves and pulling into a couple little tubes, always mindful of the shallow reef lurking just inside of me.
As night fell Windekind moved over and anchored near Avventura and I headed over for poker night. Being a poker rookie, I paid the 500-franc buy-in (about $6) just for fun, considering it cash out the window (a fair repayment for the tuna dinner I had on board the previous night). I never expected to win, but after winning a big pot by making a straight on the “river” I suddenly had a good size stack. Along the way I sold off chips to let people back in and once I had my 500 francs returned to me I played more aggressively, and somehow walked away with everybody’s money on a set of Jacks. Beginner’s luck to be sure, and I’ll save my winnings for the next poker night if I’m around for it.
With the dawn of a new day came the promise of a new wave to surf. Just after 9 o’clock Avventura followed Windekind through the at times narrow channel inside the lagoon to Passe Te-Ava Itii. We dropped the hook in 80 feet of water in the deep lagoon and again I was quick to grab my board and swing by Windekind to see who was ready to surf. Will, Austin and I were the first to head out to the rare Tahitian right. I took out my 7’ 2” for the first time since snapping a side fin off doing a turn at Taapuna, and on my fifth wave I took off too deep, pulled into the tube, and wound up caught inside for a set. I went to duck dive the second wave and felt my fins hit the reef. When I made it back to the line-up I checked and saw I was missing the center fin (I had left the center fin in from the old set, and am convinced the set was cursed). I surfed the rest of the session with a twinny, at first being more cautious, but by the end of the day I was taking off at the peak, trying to pull-in to backside tubes (unsuccessfully), and finishing off each wave with a sweeping cutback where my fins would slide out down the face. We had the entire two and a half hour session to ourselves, just the three Reiter brothers, Will and myself, trading off waves in a state of surfer’s bliss. The sun was out, the water was the perfect temperature, the wave broke in deeper water than the previous two had, and the rugged south Tahiti coastline fell into the calm waters of the lagoon where the two sailboats sat at anchor. By the end of the session the wind had picked up, allowing me a good opportunity to finally get this blog typed up. As for Teahupoo, the swell forecast calls for a small swell to hit tomorrow afternoon and a big one for the coming week. We will probably head that way tomorrow, and then probably make our way to a lesser wave for the big swell set for next week.