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Teti'aroa aerial view

Teti’aroa, aka Brando Island

Teti’aroa is an atoll (see last blog), which means there are islets or motus but no main island.  This particular atoll has no passe so we have no way of entering the lagoon.  But we were able to secure Sugar Shack to one of the five available moorings.  The five moorings are located just off the motu Rimatuu.  These are primarily used for charter boats who bring tourists here from Tahiti (33 miles south).  This is such a pretty spot that we decided to stay for a few days.  We had glorious sunrises over Rimatuu.

Sunrise over Teti'aroa

Sunrise over Teti’aroa

The tide exposes the plethora of rocks during low tide in the morning.  It still takes my breath away to see the surge breaking on the reef so close to our home.  The top photo shows the exposed reef as the tide goes out and the bottom shows the same spot with the incoming wave.

Surge and reef at Teti'aroa

Surge and reef at Teti’aroa

Charter Boat Hysteria

The charter boats come to Teti’aroa from Tahiti.  We had heard that the mooring balls were owned and operated by the charter boats but that cruisers could tie up to them if one was available.  We had tied up to the last one furthest away from the entrance.  Mainly because it was available and because it was not as close to the reef as the other available one.

At 0730 the next morning, the skipper from one of the charter boats came by and asked, “how long we planned on staying?”  We told him a few days and he mumbled something about “owning” the mooring.  He said that a lot of boats would be arriving later in the morning and he may have to tie up behind us.  We said, “no problem” and he went on his way.  We had heard that this might happen.  But what we were told was that we would have to give up the mooring and tie up behind the charter boat – which was not ideal.

By 0945, 6 charter boats had arrived.  Keep in mind there are only 5 moorings and we were on one and another charter boat was on another.  So, what happened you may ask?  The strangest thing we have ever seen.

The Game of Musical Chairs:

A Poe (name of charter) 40’ Lagoon tied up to a mooring.  Then a Poe 38’ Lagoon tied up to the first one’s stern (using their bridle and a line tied to one cleat on the stern of the first boat).  Then another Poe 40’ Lagoon tied up to the 2nd one’s stern.  What?  Yep, 3 boats tied on to one mooring.  Then a “Moorings” boat came in (that is a charter company called “Moorings”) and he tied up to a new mooring ball closest to the entrance.  And then a 70’ charter cat came in and tied to the 3rd Poe’s stern.  If you can believe it, then a Tahiti Tours Fountain Pajot came in and circled the group of boats.  It seemed to me a certain understanding was going on that we were not a part of.  The charter cat that was here the night before with the skipper who talked to us, left his mooring.  What?  Why would he do that?  He left the mooring for the Tahiti Tours boat and went behind the 70’ cat and tied up to him.  So, now 5 boats are tied bow to stern all using one mooring ball!

5 Charter boats on 1 mooring ball

5 Charter boats on 1 mooring ball

This is absolutely not advisable.  I am assuming they know their mooring and the strength of the lines, but still who would take this chance?  The captains spent the next 90 minutes ferrying their guests to the beach.  They only take 2 guest per dinghy ride in order to get up on plane to safely cross over the reef and surge.

Morning Swim?

We had lots of Teti’aroa friends protecting the boat throughout our stay at this atoll.  Several black tip sharks and lemon sharks swam around checking out our undercarriage.  The waters around Teti’aroa were brimming with sea life!

Protection from the sea

Protection from the sea

These sharks are relatively harmless.  They are not aggressive, but we still respected them and gave them their space.  No swimming or showering off the back of the boat for us.

We had hoped one of the boat captains would offer to bring us to shore since we did not want to risk damaging Sweetie.  However, they were very occupied with their 75+ guests so we stayed on board.

The next morning, we had swung around to have our stern pointing at the reef.  Now we were only 45-50 meters away from the breaking surge.  Still, nerve racking.

Surge over reef feeling really close

Surge over reef feeling really close

This was a truly gorgeous atoll.  We would have loved to explore the shore and sea of Teti’aroa a bit but the conditions were just not right.

French Polynesia Poly Magnet SSB Group

Absorbed into Tahiti

We had only planned on spending a week in Tahiti, but that was written in sand during low tide.  It is easy to get absorbed into a routine here.  Especially when you have access to supplies, marine stores, markets, and fresh goods.  In addition, you have lots of cruising friends to keep you entertained.  We ran into our good friend Barry on Adventures of an Old Seadog, Mike from “Easy”, Josh and Rachel from Voyages of Agape, Niki and Peter on Sailmore, James and Kimmie from Zingaro, Adam and Daniel from Reverence, and James from Moonrise.

Barry is always good for a million laughs and superb stories.  We hung out with him and Mike from “Easy” several times before Barry headed toward New Zealand.  Barry was in a slip at the Papeete Marina, so we often went into town and stopped by.

Barry from Adventures of an Old Seadog

Barry from Adventures of an Old Seadog

We “controlled” ourselves for the most part, but typically the four of us can be trouble..  From left to right: Barry, me, Matt and Mike (top).  Barry is pretending to be grumpy but he comes across simply adorable.

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Matt and I participate in the French Polynesia Poly Magnet which is a twice daily SSB net where cruisers report their position underway and share news and information.  Birget from “Pitufa” held a happy hour so that everyone could meet the face behind the voices.  It was really interesting to meet these folks face to face as we have been hearing their voices for months.

French Polynesia Poly Magnet SSB Group

French Polynesia Poly Magnet SSB Group

After our happy hour, we walked a few miles to a food truck park where we enjoyed tasty pizza, pasta and burgers.

Food Trucks in Tahiti

Food Trucks in Tahiti

Provisioning in Papeete

In between all the fun, we have worked on boat projects (see list below) and provisioned the boat.  There is a huge fresh market downtown Papeete.  You can get fresh goods, trinkets, souvenirs, and oh so much more.

Fresh Market in Papeete

Fresh Market in Papeete

We had not seen our good friend James since Panama and it was a real treat to hang out with him again.

James from Moonrise with Sugar Shack

James from Moonrise with Sugar Shack

Our friends on Reverence, Adam and Daniel invited Agape and us over for happy hour.  It was really nice to see their beautiful boat, a 58′ Tiana.  They are flying back to the states and hired a crew to deliver their boat back to San Francisco for them where they plan to sell her.

Adam, Daniel, Rachel, Josh, Matt and I

Adam, Daniel, Rachel, Josh, Matt and I

You can easily get absorbed into a routine in Tahiti.  We did not mean to stay almost a month that’s for sure.  But at least we were productive, had fun, and engaged with lots of people.  Being “absorbed” isn’t all bad.

Boat Projects Completed:

  • Starboard engine circulation water pump replaced
  • Starboard toilet joker replaced
  • Replaced two water hoses for the freshwater pumps in each engine room
  • Installed fuel filter on Sweetie
  • Installed windlass activation switch at Starboard helm
  • Washed down boat
  • Caught up on writing blog and scheduling posts
  • Recaptured and saved photos that were being deleted from iCloud. I now officially hate iCloud!
  • Cleaned half the boat waterline from the muck that grew while anchored in Tahiti

One of the SSB net boats, Winsome lost its engine and had to sail back from the Cook Islands.  We assisted them as they came through the pass and anchored.

Assisting Winsome enter port

Assisting Winsome enter port

This massive sailboat had the most spectacular dinghy.  Check out how the lines of the sailboat and colors match the dinghy.

Matching Dinghy

Matching Dinghy

The days got away from us.  Our routine absorbed us. But, we managed to escape and move on as we have new islands and a new archipelago to explore!

Dried Vanilla Bean

The Vanilla Bean Story

The best way to see all of the special places in Taha’a is by tour and the best tour guide is Noah from Vanilla Tour Taha’a.  We signed up with 4 other boats and had a total of 8 people on the 4×4 adventure.  The first stop is a vanilla bean plantation.

This post will focus on the vanilla bean and next week we will share the rest of our escapades.

VANILLA ENCOUNTER

It takes a certain artistic know how to grow this exquisite spice.  It is a skill that is acquired over time and with great experience.  Taha’a generates nearly 80% of all the vanilla in French Polynesia.  There are two philosophies to growing vanilla: (1) organically as nature would grow and (2) in a controlled environment.  When we were on Huahine we saw a small controlled grower.  (See previous blog “Safari Tour Mario from 10 September” for the controlled environment vanilla bean experience.)

Noah is a vanilla farmer and firmly believes that they best way to grow the vanilla vines is organically as naturally as possible.  But let’s back up for a moment.  Where do you think vanilla beans come from?  The primary sources of the vanilla bean are Mexico and Madagascar.  However, a few years ago Madagascar’s vanilla bean crops were destroyed so other areas, like Taha’a have flourished in production.

NATURES PROCESS

Mexico and Madagascar grow their beans outside and allow nature to take its course.  The beans are grown around a support tree.  During flowering season, a small bee will help pollinate the flower which will then grow a bean.

TAHA’As ORGANIC PROCESS

The organic or natural process in Taha is similar to that in Mexico and Madagascar.  They take a healthy vine and attach it to a support tree to climb on.  The vine will take 2-3 years to grow roots and loop around the tree before flowers start to bloom.  The photo below shows the vanilla bean wrapping around the support tree.

Vanilla Bean Attached to Support Tree

Vanilla Bean Attached to Support Tree

Once the vine is mature (2-3 years of age) it will flower.  The vines require a stressor to flower like a change in the weather.  Flowering season is typically between July and October.  Each vine will produce 10-15 flowers and each flower will produce a vanilla bean if pollinated properly.  Flowers will only bloom on the vines that are hanging down.

Vanilla Bean Flower

Vanilla Bean Flower

The Polynesians do not have the small bee to pollinate the flower so they actually do this process by hand (see above photo).  This process is called “vanilla wedding.”    They gently open the flower and remove the top of the it to access the pollen from the pistol (male).  They then open the flap of the stamean (female) to insert the pollen.

They only pollinate 8 of the 10-15 flowers to ensure the vine does not become over stressed.  Remember, each pollinated flower will provide a vanilla bean.  The stem of the flower becomes the bean which takes about 9 months to grow.

The bean will notify the grower when it is ready to be picked by turning black.  The bottom of the bean will start to turn black and within 5 days the entire bean will be black which means it is ready to be picked.  It is during this period that they are the most aromatic.

Vanilla Bean Growing

Vanilla Bean Growing

FERMENTING THE VANILLA BEAN

Once the beans are picked, they are sold to a drier.  There are over 200 vanilla bean farmers and only 4-5 driers.  Typically, it takes 4 vanilla beans to make 1 kilo of dried vanilla beans.  The farmer will get paid 20,000 xpf ($200) per kilo which does not include the drier.

The drier will take the vanilla beans, spread them out on a cotton cloth and lay them out in the sun.  They will then flip them every 30 minutes for for 3-4 hours per day.  At the end of the sunning time, they will wrap them up in the cotton cloth and store them until the next day.  The beans are massaged to help them ferment.  This process takes 3-4 months.  The beans are then ready to sell.

Dried Vanilla Bean

Dried Vanilla Bean

A dried vanilla bean will last up to 15-20 years when stored in a sealed glass jar.  That is if it was dried and fermented properly.  Once you purchase a dried bean, you can boil it to get the vanilla extract out, let it cool and store it back in its jar.  You can do this 6-8 times before you need to cut the vanilla bean to use in other ways.

As you can tell it is a very labor-intensive process that requires a great deal of skill and patience.  It takes up to 4 years to begin to see a return in your investment.  I hope you too have a new level of respect for everything vanilla.

COMING UP

Stay tuned for more adventures on Taha’a as we eat flowers, get a tatoo, visit a distillery, see part of the Heiva, and learn about health benefits of local fruits and plants.