Monday, August 20, 2012

Maiao, Society Islands - Off the beaten path.

August 20, 2012
Maiao, Society Islands South Pacific aka Tubuai Manu, Society Islands
Position (tied to quay): 17°38.2275 S 150°38.2229 W
 Panoramic view looking out pass .

Truth be told there are few islands in the South Pacific infrequently visited by yachts these days. Finding warm smiles of greeting and truly authentic experiences is getting tough when you have 400-500? yachts plying a well worn route through the islands each year. Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of these cruisers are super cool travelers, but inevitably the welcome wears thin in the most traveled locals. It could just be me, or perhaps I've broken my own cardinal rule that states: Thou shalt not repeat a trip and expect it to be as good the second time. But, it seems like most of French Polynesia is less friendly this time around. It's been six years since my last visit so 6 X 450 yachts per year is 2700 yacht visits so it's easy to see why locals might not be so warm and welcoming after thousands and thousands of language challenged camera toting visitors invade their small communities.

So getting off the beaten path in the tourism centric Society Islands was not even something that seemed possible until I started to research Maiao island yesterday afternoon. We'd been enjoying many of Moorea's many outstanding anchorages while we waited for wind to sail NW to Huahine, but the wind was not cooperating and so I was looking at the weather chart and noticed Maiao aka Tubuai Manu island lying 50nm to the West. With the light Southerly winds we could easily sail West so I googled Maiao and got close to zero results aside from a brief mention in Lonely Planet and one cloudy goggle earth satellite image. I scoured all the cruising guides aboard and found only brief mention of Maiao. The Google earth satellite image had me interested and so we decided to give it a shot. If we could some how spend a night at Maiao we could potential score an amazing off the beaten path experience and break the overnight sail from Moorea to Huahine into two long day sails.

Winds were around 10-15 out of the South making for a nice fast sail to toward Ile Maiao aka Tubuai Manu which is just 50nm South of West from Moorea. With seas running 2 meters out of the SSW and 15 knots out of the South we found the small slot in the reef easily as it has two channel markers. Low concrete sea-walls protect a tiny dredged basin headed with a small concrete wharf. There is precious little room to maneuver once inside the basin and we were certainly glad to have the enhanced maneuverability of twin engines. When we entered the slot in the coral reef strong currents steamed off the sea walls threatening to first drive us aground on the shoals to port then starboard. I approached the pass like I do ripping off a band-aid and quickly gunned the engines to minimize our exposure to the strong currents. Once inside it was time to slow quickly and get turned around so we could med-moor to the quay. With the South winds blowing on our beam the help of a few local fishermen securing our stern lines was greatly appreciated. Once secured I set a second bow anchor from the dinghy for added insurance.

The locals were all smiles... exactly the reason we ventured off the beaten path. Within minutes we were introducing ourselves to a gather of locals and soon enjoying a smile and laugh filled chat with two local women who spoke a little english. Before long the women had us drinking fresh coconuts while THEY took pirtures of US! It's safe to say they don't get many visitors here. We enjoyed getting to know about the island and it's 400 inhabitants. Perfect!

C-Map charts show Passe Avarei 0.3nm to the ENE (68 degrees) of it's actual position, but with the channel markers the pass is easy to find. Depths along side the quay are in the neighborhood of ~4-5' with the basin showing ~8' over sand and coral rubble at low water. A supply boat is due to arrive tomorrow, Tuesday at 1:30PM so we'll need to clear out before the ship arrives.

Our sailing catamaran s/v LightSpeed is 42' x 23' x 3' draft. With extremely careful placement in a no wind situation there is theoretical room for 3 boats our size med-moor to the quay if they rafted together. However, in real world circumstances, if another boat was already at the quay it would be prudent to evaluate the situation with a dinghy before deciding to sail on or attempting to bring another boat into the basin.