Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Huahine, French Polynesia

The anchorage at Huahine

The anchorage at Huahine

I’m told that guardian angels come in all shapes and sizes. Our particular guardian angel on this occasion was an underwater rock wall….

It’s 5.30am and I can’t sleep. It’s still dark but I go out into the cockpit to check our position. Yesterday we arrived in the anchorage off Fare, the main village of Huahine and dropped anchor on the shallow sandbank inside the reef. As usual, I jumped in to snorkel the anchor and it seemed well dug-in. We’d had another frustratingly slow overnight passage from Moorea so we were tired and turned in early.

So here I am, in my early morning confusion, looking at the very large catamaran very close to our stern which yesterday was anchored a long way behind us. Why has he moved, and why is he so close to us? As the sky lightened, so it dawned on me (yes, OK, I’m pretty slow in the mornings) – we must have dragged. But then I’m even more confused – we’re not moving but our depth gauge says we’re in 20 metres of water and we only had 15 metres of chain out. I wake Bruce and we get the motors on and start to pull the chain up. But we’re stuck fast on something – we assume it’s a coral bommie. We’re obviously not going anywhere so Bruce goes back to bed until there’s more light (how does he do that??!) while I fret and stew. As soon as there’s enough light I jump in with my snorkel to see what the problem is. I’m gobsmacked – we’re suspended over a chasm that goes down about 30 metres. Our anchor chain is vertical and the anchor is obviously wedged in a crevice on the wall far below. If not for that wall, we’d have dragged straight into the very expensive catamaran behind us or worse still, be up on the reef or rocks somewhere behind us. We can only assume that there was hard coral under the layer of sand we’d anchored in, and as the wind swung us round we dragged off the shelf and into the deeper water. We thank our lucky stars and hug each other.

But now the dilemma is how to get the anchor up. If we could let out more chain it would be easy, the anchor would fall out of its hole. But we have a rope bridle that runs from each bow and clips onto the anchor chain and this is now taut as a drum with too much pressure on it to release the clip and no way to let more chain out. Bruce goes to chat to Seathan about the pickle we’re in, and in the process remembers that there’s a shackle connecting the bridle to the anchor pin. OK, all we have to do is undo the shackle and the bridle will come off.  Easy peasy. Bruce stays on the helm to manoeuvre the boat while I get my scuba gear on and jump in armed with pliers to remove the seizing wire and pin from the shackle. It’s hard work. Really hard work, because of the pressure on the shackle. I manage to get the pin unscrewed but it won’t drop out.  I’m chewing out oxygen on the tank like it’s going out of style. Seathan comes to assist, breathing off my second stage regulator and finally bangs it out with a hammer and punch. We’ve sucked the tank dry of air but we’re free! We manage to salvage the shackle and clip and we’re then able to bring the anchor up and find a more suitable spot to anchor in. OMG, what a mission, what a relief!

And now back to the VHF radio saga….sadly we’re no better off even after replacing the handset, the aerial and the cable in the mast. What the..??? The only culprit left is the separate cable between the mast and the handset. After much faffing around (a very technical term invented by boat boffins) it becomes evident that the interior cable attached to the mast VHF cable does not, in fact, terminate at the radio. Who knows where it goes. In other words, all this time, we’ve been under the assumption that the correct cable was plugged in to the mast antenna whereas our radio has been plugged into – precisely nothing. It was how it’s always been since we’ve had the boat!  How many times do we have to tell us ourselves to never, ever, EVER assume anything on a boat. Doh!!!! The good news is we now have a brand new handset, aerial and cable and it works like a charm!!

After our two dramas we settle down and have a very enjoyable time in Huahine. There’s a nice dinghy dock right next to the Huahine Yacht Club where we enjoy happy hour drinks in the evening.(several after the ordeal we’ve been through!)

Huahine Yacht Club

Huahine Yacht Club

The rather charming interior of the Yacht Club - good food too.

The rather charming interior of the Yacht Club – good food too.

The village is laid back and relaxed, with a few souvenir shops, one HUGE supermarket that would equal Carrefour in Tahiti, and the familiar roulottes where the usual fare is steak frites, poisson cru, chow mein or tuna tartare, all very delicious.

the main street, Fare

the main street, Fare

Every morning a pod of spinner dolphins does a tour of the anchorage, and we had another visit by a whale and her calf (but no camera to hand this time).

Dolphins visiting the anchorage, Fare

Dolphins visiting the anchorage, Fare

Deciding that we needed some exercise, we hired bicycles with Rehua. We weren’t sure how far the boys would be able to go, but we ended up (amazingly) riding round the whole of the north island, about 20km, up and down some very steep hills. Luckily it was an overcast day and not too hot, and we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery.

Not exactly high-tech bikes but they got us around!

Not exactly high-tech bikes but they got us around!

At the top of the climb!

At the top of the climb!

A nice view off the lagoon from the top

A nice view off the lagoon from the top

On our tour we visited the archaeological site at Maeva, as well as a very small vanilla farm (with very large prices obviously geared to the cruise-ship market), and the famous, sacred (and very large) blue-eyed eels –  fed daily by the locals at Faie. Weird and wonderful indeed!

The archaeological site at Maeva

The archaeological site at Maeva

The vanilla farm (more of a garden really) with vanilla pods on show

The vanilla farm (more of a garden really) with vanilla pods on show

ripe mangoes, just out of reach!

ripe mangoes, just out of reach!

Feeding time for the blue-eyed eels

Feeding time for the blue-eyed eels

Can you see the blue eyes?

Can you see the blue eyes?

The Pearl Farm, Huahine

The Pearl Farm, Huahine

We also stopped at the Pearl Farm, and were taken out by boat to the little shop and information centre in the centre of the lagoon, where we discovered some fascinating facts about seeding oysters. It takes 18 months for an oyster to grow a pearl, which is formed by inserting a very small ball of mussel shell (flown in from Mississippi no less!) together with a small piece of mantle (the soft, fleshy part inside the oyster) into the gonad of the oyster.

An opened oyster, showing the gonad and mantle

An opened oyster, showing the gonad and mantle

seeded oysters are strung in rows before being put back in the water

seeded oysters are strung in rows before being put back in the water

Apparently the rejection rate is 50%, but if accepted then the mantle will grow around and over the ball of shell, creating a pearl. Oysters can be seeded up to 4 times with larger balls each time to make the bigger pearls. Fascinating! Of course there were plenty of beautiful and expensive pearls to buy if you were so inclined – I was content with a little mother-of-pearl pendant with a tiny pearl embedded in it, as a memento of our time in Huahine.

The floating pearl shop and information centre

The floating pearl shop and information centre

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3 Responses to Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Huahine, French Polynesia

  1. Geoff says:

    The adventures continue! I can imagine (sort of) the job of freeing the anchor, you have a guardian angel out there somewhere. Glad to hear there are still things to discover about Toucan, must be nice to finally have reliable VHF. It all looks very beautiful & special.

  2. Linda says:

    Oh so many wonderful and varied stories, beautiful photos. I love your blog and am so glad you are really having the most amazing experiences (except for the radio!haha!)
    Cheers
    Linda

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