30 April 2010

Day 115: Tahiti – 30/04/10

After doing yet more laundry (we have an unlimited supply of water on the quay) Carole and I hit the streets of Papeete.  Carole is a girl on a mission, and that mission is to help me buy pearls.  We start off looking for Johanne’s pearls and we trail around the same shops as I did yesterday.  We spot an upstairs shop that I didn’t see before and once inside, I see a necklace that I instinctively think is the right one.  Naturally it’s more than the guide price Johanne gave me (isn’t it always that way?) but it is a beauty.  I haggle the guy down quite a lot and we shake hands, but they have to do some work on it (I think it needs to be a little longer so they have to add a few more pearls and a clasp, and we arrange to pick it up later.

We then go round to Robles pearls again, where I choose two necklaces and a pair of earrings.  The pearls are significantly different to those that I bought from the pearl farm, being green and much larger but not of such high quality.  I will have the original ones set very traditionally and therefore will have two very different types of jewellery.

P1000598 Photo:  My two new necklaces

We go to the market to buy a juice as we are both really thirsty, only realising when we get there that neither of us have any money, so we go back to Jeannius, meeting John on the way.  He has been going out to buy some lunch for himself and Mike as they have been waiting like baby birds for us to return and provide them with food and have now given up in disgust.

After a quick drink, we all head out again, back to the market.  Unfortunately the juice bar is closed, and the sugar cane juice stall closes as we approach so it’s cans instead.  We stop at the food stands and Mike eyes up the chow mein and chips in a baguette – I kid you not!  And he buys one!!  I settle for six deep fried shrimp.

We walk round the fresh fruit and vegetable market buying some nice bits and pieces, plus a huge lump of white tuna. 

P1000506 P1000502 P1000510 Photos:  Papeete market

After the market, Mike goes off to the chandlers and fishing supplies shop and Carole, John and I go back to the pearls shop to buy Johanne’s pearl necklace.  I am a bit worried that my credit card might get refused as it has been hit just a little bit (!) recently, but all is OK and I am pleased with the finished result.Everyone is tired by this time, but I still really want to visit the Robert Wan Pearl Museum, and as we are probably leaving Papeete tomorrow, I decide to go alone as it’s only a 15 minute walk through the shore side park.

It’s a fascinating place.  There are exhibitions of the history of the pearl farming industry as well as reconstructions of costumes and jewellery that people such as Queen Elizabeth I wore.


Photo:  One of the exhibits at the museum

I give the museum a suitable amount of browsing time but in truth I am more interested in the Robert Wan shop exhibits!  Robert Wan is THE pearl guy in French Polynesia and his wares have prices to match – but they are beautiful.  I am encouraged to try on whatever I like and end up with a £200,000 pearl necklace around my neck.  I’m surprised they don’t lock the doors while I’ve got it on!  They have champagne coloured pearls and baby blue coloured pearls (both of which I try on at a mere £20,000 a piece).  There are some pieces which make my jaws drop and I hope to God I’m not dribbling!  Even the beaded curtains are made from pearls.

P1000515 Photo:  The Robert Wan shop

I leave the museum as they are locking up, dice with death as I cross the road and make my way back through the park.  The sun is setting over Moorea and lots of guys are out in their canoes.  It is a lovely walk back.

P1000517P1000525  Photos:  The rowing starts in earnest as the sun goes down

P1000526 Photo:  Walking through the park, clouds obscuring the mountains

P1000530 Photo:  The sun setting over Moorea

P1000534 Photo:  Jeannius moored Mediterranean style in Papeete marina

When I get back to the marina, Jutta invites us aboard Chessie for a wine tasting session as she is trying lots here before stocking up for the trip to Australia and I arrange to go over, but when I get back to Jeannius, Mike is in bed with a headache so it’s just the three of us that go.  After a few drinks Carole and John go off to find something to eat and I stay behind – just for a little while.  The little while ends up being a bit longer and I am still sitting there when they come back having eaten, and carry me back to the boat.  Unfortunately Mike had been waiting for me to feed him (oops), but had given up and found himself some instant curry in the cupboard - I am severely berated for neglecting him and my wifely duties, but I have a feeling I will pay for it tomorrow anyway.

29 April 2010

Day 114: Tahiti – 29/04/10

Carole and John go off for the day on the WARC trip around Tahiti, leaving Mike waiting for an engineer to arrive and me to carry on with the mountain of washing.

The engineer arrives.  Mike calls me out of the cabin to translate but the words ‘circuit breaker’ were not ones that I learned at school so Mike reverts to pointing and gesticulating and I return to using Skype, where I continue berating everything to do with boats to Johanne on the other end of the line.  When I finish I find that the engineer and Mike appear to be in agreement over replacing the circuit breaker and the engineer goes off in an attempt to locate one.  He doesn’t seem very hopeful though.

While he is off ‘locating’, Mike decides to take the water maker pump apart and fit the new valves in the hope that the generator will eventually work.  He has to fight to get the pump out – it was supposed to be tightened to 10lbs ft of torque but he has to apply all of his weight to an 18 inch lever in order to get it to unscrew.  When he takes it apart and can see it spread out in the cockpit, he can see immediately why it has not been working – the plastic valve seals have melted and stuck in the valve springs preventing them from closing.  He replaces the valves, reassembles it and then the engineer comes back with the bad news that he has been unable to locate the right circuit breaker but he has come up with a cunning plan.  Yesterday, Dick from Tucanon gave us two ordinary circuit breakers in the hope that they would do the trick.  As they were, they didn’t.  However, the engineer manages to cobble something together to make them work, Mike switches on the generator, and hey presto – we have power!

He continues to work on the water maker and puts the pump back into the engine room, connects everything back together, and when he switches it on, it immediately starts to produce water – hurray.

While all this fixing has been going on, I am exploring the streets, and, let’s not deny it, the shops of Papeete.  I am still looking for a necklace of champagne coloured pearls as well as a pearl for Victoria and a necklace for Johanne.  She has ‘authorised’ me to shop on her behalf and given me a sum on money but there is so much choice it is bewildering.  There is shop after shop selling pearls of all qualities.  Some look decidedly of bad quality and some are really expensive.  There are so many variables that comparing from one shop to another is impossible and spending money for someone else when you have to use your own taste and judgement is daunting, but I attack the shops with vigour – at first.  The trouble is, so much of it looks the same. 

P1000500P1000499 Photos:  Searching for pearls for someone else – HARD!

I trail around getting more and more punch drunk.  Then I find ‘Robles Pearls’.  At last, something different.  Their designs are amazing, mixing pearls with black onyx, lava stone, feathers, ribbons, net and leather.  I buy Victoria a beautiful pearl on a long leather thong and realise that there are quite a few things I would wear myself – if I decide not to have the more sedate champagne pearl necklace.  Mmm – decisions.

I visit the pearl market on my way back to the boat and they tell me that I need to go to Australia to get the champagne pearls which fits with what I have already been told.  I do see a couple of strings of champagne ones but the cheapest are imports from the Philippines and cost $4000 and the others are actually Tahiti pearls and cost $20,000.  I might be about to change my mind.

I trail back to the boat, tired and thirsty to be greeted by a triumphant Mike and all his successes.  I am so relieved, as, quite frankly, this morning I was more than a little pissed off with Jeannius.

Carole and John arrived back from their tour of the gardens and supermarkets of Tahiti.  Pardon?  Well, their tour was a little disappointing.  The bus driver didn’t turn up so the guide acted as driver and guide and just took them around the island’s coast road, not into the interior at all.  For some reasons, gardens and supermarkets were on the agenda, the latter probably because she needed to do shopping herself.  Glad we missed that one!

Flushed with success, Mike wants a beer, so we go to the local micro brewery for dinner.  Carole and I share a small carafe of relatively unpleasant wine while the boys do the beer thing.  Our food is pretty good although it does take some time in arriving.  When the band start up though, we can hardly hear ourselves think and we retreat into the back room which is much better as it is air conditioned.

P1000469Photo:  Carole and John at the ‘3 Brassieres’

We walk through the  ‘roach coach’ eating area on the way back – the area where all the food is cooked from travelling vans and you sit out in the open to eat – and we bump into a lot of the other crews. 

P1000498 Photo:  Wearing a Guinness t-shirt and drinking Hinano - Tahitian beer

I am modelling Victoria’s necklace (sorry sweetheart!) and lots of people comment on how good it looks.  By the time we get back to Jeannius I have decided that I am going to abandon the idea of a formal pearl necklace and go for something more casual instead.  So, it’s back to the shops tomorrow!

28 April 2010

Day 113: Tahiti – 28/04/10

Chessie, Tucanon, Brown Eyed Girl and Noeluna all arrive into the marina.  They too have arrived without the aid of wind and have motored hard to get here.  Apparently the boats that have been here for a few days had the opposite – high winds and high seas. 

The yacht agent, Lauren, arrives to complete the check in process with us and also brings our packages – the parts for the generator and the water maker.  Looking at the contents, I cannot believe that they have cost so much to buy and to get here, but that’s boats for you!  He also brings with him some pearls.  He has remembered that I wanted some but has been unable to get any champagne coloured ones.  Although they look good, they are not as nice as mine.

Mike starts the engine for me so that I can have some hot water to start on the mountain of laundry that has built up while we haven’t had water to spare for such fanciful ideas and we fill the tanks up from the tap on the quay.  How wonderful.

Graham and Mike from Eowyn arrive with their wives Chrissie and Val and I invite them in to have a look around Jeannius.  In the middle of the ‘tour’, Carole and John arrive and we settle them into their cabin – they are going to be sailing with us for the next few weeks so that Carole can see whether her seasickness is improved by being on a catamaran rather than a monohull.

Mike disappears down to the engine room to remove the old brushes from the generator.  To do this he has to disconnect the salt water cooling system, the diesel supply and return lines, which unfortunately empties a large amount of diesel over the bottom of the boat and over him.  More evidence of him being Pig-pen.  It is unbelievably hot in the engine room and Mike is soon dripping with sweat.  He looks so disreputable that I go to take a photo then realise that I don’t actually want to remember him looking like this and put it away again.

Carole makes herself useful by making lunch then it’s time to go to the welcome that has been arranged by WCC on the quay.  As Mike is still well and truly ensconced in the engine room, the three of us go without him.

They have musicians playing and welcome flower garlands for everyone except us as we arrive late.  Luckily a member of the Tahitian staff takes pity on me and gives me hers.  There is a skippers’ briefing taking place next and in Mike’s absence I attend and take notes for him (which I find difficult as I don’t understand the nautical bits and probably make notes on unimportant things and leave out the essentials).

By the time we get back it’s nearly 4.30 pm and the evening’s festivities start in an hour.  The news Mike gives us when we appear is not good.  He has removed the generator brushes (which look fine) and replaced them with the new ones, connected all the wiring, diesel hoses and water hoses back up.  The generator starts but now generates no electricity at all – a far worse situation than before he spent seven hours in a sweaty hole.  He is extremely pissed off and is now going to have to pay for someone to come and look at the generator.  Worse still, without the generator, even if he manages to fix the water maker, he won’t be able to test it as we have no way to power it (the shore power is only sufficient to power one air conditioning unit – attempting to run the water maker will blow the supply to the dock!)  He now has a thumping headache and has no wish to go out tonight. 

Jet lag catches up with Carole and she heads to bed as well, so it’s just John and I that go to take part in the evening’s entertainment.   It is arranged that we all meet on the quay and follow a band of musicians through the town to the Mairie, where the entertainment is to take place.  The sun is setting as we leave and it looks beautiful over the marina.

P1000463 Photo:  The rally fleet, fully ‘dressed’ with flags at sunset

There is a show of local singing and dancing.  The style here is much more gentle than the tribal-like stomping of the Marquesas.  I just don’t know how these women manage to get their hips to wriggle like they do!

P1000466 P1000465 Photos:  Local display of singing and dancing

The prize giving takes place and much to my surprise we win two prizes, one for being the third catamaran on handicap rating for the last leg and one for finishing closest to the time guessed by the skipper.

There is a bar and really good buffet laid on for us and I spend a couple of hours catching up with the crews from other boats, particularly those I haven’t seen since we first arrived in the Marquesas and we say goodbye to some crew members who are leaving in Tahiti, notably Cali from Grand Filou and Patrik from Ronja.  Tom will also be leaving in a couple of weeks and I get a photograph of the three deserters together.

P1000468 Photo:  Tom, Cali and Patrik – the deserters

When John and I get back to the boat, both Carole and Mike are still sound asleep, although Mike wakes up as I clatter around the cabin and I show him our prizes.

27 April 2010

Day 112: Fakarava, Tuamotus to Tahiti – 27/04/10

We motor through the night again.  I am still in so much pain that I don’t sleep well and decide that if sleep is not on my body’s agenda, then it’s not worth waking Mike up and instead allow him to get five and a half hours in bed.  He is very grateful when he eventually wakes up.

In the morning there is still virtually no wind.  Mike calculates that at least if we put the two engines on from around 11 am we should be able to get into the marina safely by dark.

P1000455 Photo:  Not a breath of wind, not a hint of a wave

During the late morning the stomach pains gradually wear off and I risk eating some eggy bread, but don’t fry it in butter, just dry fry it instead.  Yuk.  All that lovely butter makes such a difference.  My stomach feels a bit uncomfortable but that’s all.  Maybe after 48 hours it is reaching the end of it’s course.

We watch Tahiti and Moorea gradually appear on the horizon.  They both have mountains so high that they are visible from 40 miles away although it’s hard to distinguish them in the haze.  Even as we motor along the coast of Tahiti there is no sea breeze heading towards the land – very unusual with land so high.

P1000456 Photo:  Tahiti on the horizon only visible by its crown of clouds

We arrive into the main port of Papeete, call rally control on the VHF and are given our berthing instructions.  When we arrive at our allotted floating pontoon there are lots of people to take our lines, and we tie up stern to.  We then have to pick up the lazy lines that are tied to the dock but attached to stern lines in front of the boat.  The trouble is, these lazy lines spend their their lives lying on the sea bed and are totally covered in a thick, brown, disgustingly smelly sludge.  I don’t even want to think about the biological makeup of this sludge as I run the line through my hands – very carefully – until I reach the end and can pull the rope aboard and tie it on to the bow cleat.  By this time, this gunk has flicked itself all along the side of the boat.  Gross, gross, gross!  I look across to Mike who has fared no better on his side.  Actually, he has fared worse.  Not only has he managed to cut his finger on a barnacle which was one the line, but he has flicked the gross gunk over his t-shirt too.  Pig-pen by name, Pig-pen by nature.

Unfortunately, the engines are left in gear while we tie up in order to keep the boat from slamming back into the concrete dock, and we realise that one of the lazy lines has been cut by the starboard propeller.  Not only will we have to reattach this before we leave, but Mike will also have to dive down and check that none of it is not wrapped around it.

We put the gangplank out and watch it slide sideways everytime one of the large ferries comes into the port and past the marina.  Mmm, this could be interesting!  Carole and John arrive to welcome us and invite us to their hotel for a long hot shower and some air conditioned comfort but we are both to tired to go.  We sit with a cup of tea and chat for a while.  When they have gone, I strip our main bed and sea bed.  It will be showers and lovely clean, fresh bed linen tonight.  Bliss.

As the sun sets, Moorea becomes more visible in the distance.

P1000460  P1000462 Photos:  Sunset in Papeete with Moorea in the distance

By the time we go to bed, I am not completely better, but starting to feel distinctly more human.


Our position is:  17 deg 32 min S, 149 deg 34 min W

Distance so far:  6628 nautical miles

26 April 2010

Day 111: Fakarava, Tuamotus to Tahiti – 26/04/10

The day passes in a haze of stomach pain.  I am incapable of doing anything much to help Mike and am just glad that nothing needs doing.  There is no wind – literally less than one knot – and we motor relentlessly on through flat calm seas, which looks more like a mirror than any sea I recognise.

I am terrified that Mike will get this too and keep as far away from him as possible, when all I really want is someone to cuddle me and rub my tummy.  Luckily we have food prepared in the fridge that he can eat.

Even though I know this is ‘just’ a stomach bug, when you are alone at sea and things go wrong your imagination can get ahead of you, but rather than anything exotic I actually think that there might have been some vile little bacterial left inside my guts from the Galapagos that has just flared up again when something else tipped the balance.  I probably need to get some antibiotics just to make sure when I get to Tahiti.  At least today the aching in my skin and muscles has stopped, and I am no longer hot and dry, but back to the less hot but sweaty state.  I think I prefer the former!


Our position is:  17 deg 14 min S, 148 deg 02 min W

Distance so far:  6542 nautical miles

25 April 2010

Day 110: Fakarava, Tuamotus to Tahiti – 25/04/10

I wake up feeling distinctly not quite well but can’t put my finger on what’s wrong but it seems to pass after a while so I think no more of it.  We go with Chessie to explore the south pass and the ruined village of Tetamanu.  Even as we are clambering into the dinghy we can see squalls gathering on the horizon and dark clouds just beyond us.

P1000364 Photo:  Gathering skies

We try to land at what we first think is a dinghy dock but actually turns out to be the decked walkway to the dive shop, having to make an abrupt stop as deep water suddenly gives way to a beautiful wall of coral.  The water is fantastically clear and you can see lots of purple and pink brain coral and bright blue fishes darting around.

P1000378Photo:  Purple ‘brain’ coral

We explore what’s left of the old village but it isn’t very interesting, just a few ruins scattered amongst what is now very obviously a haven for divers given the number of dive shacks and little cottages for diving holiday makers.  Then the heavens open and we take refuge in one of the dive centres, gleaning information from one of the divers about the best time to leave through the pass.

P1000402 P1000391  Photos:  The dive centre and surrounding area

We stand and wait for the rain to pass, then wander out onto the deck.  From here, and in less than three feet of water, I can count eighteen sharks.  OK, so they are only about four feet long but even so!  No swimming for me.  The dive leader assures me that we stand more chance being bitten by one of the dogs on the island than by one of the sharks, not mentioning the three people that were bitten here in one day just a few days ago (they had been feeding the sharks and should have known better).

P1000386 P1000388 P1000400 P1000393 Photos:  Black tipped sharks and parrot fish seem oblivious to each other

We head over to the area where we have been told that there is a pink sand beach, getting dumped on by another rain cloud as we make our way over.  It’s a bit of a trek as we have to go right outside the reef before heading back in as we would not be able to get the dinghy through.  Even from a distance it’s beautiful, but close up, the pale baby pink sand is stunning.


P1000435  P1000416

P1000417 P1000421 P1000419 P1000437

Photos:  Walking around the sand banks and beach

The water is so fantastically clear that I realise it’s that time of year again, and I just have to go in although I only do this for a short while as the tide is coming into the lagoon and there’s quite a current – but just long enough for a bit of posing.

P1000424P1000439 P1000448 P1000453 Photos:  Amazing colours, an amazing few hours

On the middle of the little island we find a grizzly sight, a human skull and some other bones arranged with some coconut husks.  Jutta (who as a doctor should know) says that the skull is real but we don’t linger long enough to check out the site properly as it is just too creepy.

P1000430 Photo:  A grizzly sight just tucked off the beach

We say goodbye to Jutta, Jochem and Tom on the beach as they are staying until tomorrow and make our way back to Jeannius in the dinghy.  The ride back is uncomfortable as I am constantly thrown up and down across the rough waves.  By the time we are back at the boat, I am feeling as sick as a dog and aching all over.  I start to get the anchor up and it gets caught on a coral head, just like at Manihi.  Three times the anchor chain pulls out and the windlass is unable to stop it.  I don’t believe this!!  Mike tells me to put the hook on the chain to hold it and motors forward and with a great jerk, the anchor comes free, I take the hook off and quickly pull the chain up.  Then we just have to tackle the pass!

Again, just like when we left Manihi, it looks a little daunting (well a lot daunting to me actually) but Mike has no problem.  Finding his way around the coral heads by way of the markers, he points Jeannius straight down the middle of the channel and charges through with the current.  Once we are out, the sea flattens out the winds settle to a steady pace and we get the two genoas out, goose-winging them as the wind is almost directly behind us.  We have a lovely sail, smooth and peaceful, which is good as I am now knocked flat for the second time in two months with a stomach bug.  By late afternoon, I am no good to man nor beast, lying on my bed with bad stomach cramps and aching all over.  I am also boiling hot, but not sweaty.  Just like a sick dog with a dry nose, I am bone dry.  And I feel very, very sorry for myself.

I sleep for most of the afternoon and evening, just getting up around 11 pm to do a watch.  Thank goodness there is nothing to watch and no weather so worry about.


Our position is:  16 deg 42 min S, 146 deg 10 min W

Distance so far:  6435 nautical miles

24 April 2010

Day 109: Fakarava, Tuamotus – 24/04/10

Tom comes over at around 8 am to piggy back onto our internet connection in exchange for a run to the boulangerie so we do get our pain chocolate after all, and I have to say, they are the best ones I have had for years.

Chessie leaves the village anchorage before us and I panic, not wanting to be left somewhere without help in case we have the same problems as in Manihi, so we hurriedly pull our anchor up too and there is not problem thank goodness.  It’s about 30 miles from here to the south of Fakarava.  All the way we have to follow a channel, going to the left of any right markers and to the right of any green ones.  Most of the patches of coral are marked by these, but by no means all and we have to keep a vigilant look out.  God help the unwary sailor that goes through here in the dark!

P1000327 Photo:  This patch of coral is marked but some are not

We pass 1+1 and Noeluna on they way and speak to them both on the VHF.  Marie-Anne tells me about the pink sand beach, and I tell her about the pearl shop and farm.  Matthieu tells me about the wall of sharks in the south pass where you can drift dive past 500 to 800 sharks.  I think I’ll stick with the pink sand thanks, Matthieu!

P1000338 Photo:  Noeluna passes us heading north while we head south

We finally arrive in the late afternoon and anchor alongside Chessie who are having to spend the next few hours cooking as their freezer has decided to switch itself off, just like ours occasionally does (although it has been as good as gold since Mike found the offending loose wire).

P1000344 Photo:  Our anchorage for the night

Mike and I get in the dinghy and go exploring the shoreline but almost immediately have to turn back as although we can see all the rocks on our way into shore, the failing light makes it difficult to see them as we turn and it will be impossible within a few minutes so very slowly and gingerly we make our way back to the boat.

P1000361 Photo:  You can see the rocks in front but not behind as the sun goes down

Jutta, Jochem and Tom come over for sundowners and we idle away a few hours together in this nice company and beautiful setting.  Tom brings with him a hard disk full of movies so we can copy any we want onto our system.

P1000356 Photo:  The night sky over the anchorage

23 April 2010

Day 108: Fakarava, Tuamotus – 23/04/10

What a lovely day.  We wake early enough but don’t actually get ourselves going until past 10 am.  I call Chessie to say that we are going ashore and they arrange to meet us on the dock.

Mike and I go ashore and are greeted by one of the German guys, Jorg, from Lady Ev VI, one of the other WARC boats.  He has been staying on the island for two weeks while the boat has gone on to Tahiti and will join them again in Bora Bora.  In the meantime, he acts as our unofficial guide.  He has arranged to visit Dream Pearls, the pearl farm that Francois recommended so our first stop is their shop in the village to see if it can be arranged for the five of us to go as well.  It can.  I can’t wait.  I am really interested in seeing how the grafting is done.  We look around the shop and although there are lots of things I like, the only gold coloured pearls are single ones on pendant drops, which is exactly what I have already.  There is a nice grey one, category A pearls, but it is too short, more of a choker than a necklace and one which is the right length but the pearls are category B and C, and just don’t look as good.

We wander through the village.  It’s an incredible place.  Like most of the atolls, we can hear and just about see the ocean on both sides even though we are walking up the main road.  There is no rubbish anywhere apart from occasional piles of copra, no bottles or cans strewn by the side of the road, and the gardens are pretty.  There are just over 700 inhabitants on Fakarava, nearly twice as many as there were ten years ago.  There is a grocery store, a boulangerie, a snack bar, a hardware store, police, infirmary, in fact, a small version of everything you really need.  It is a jewel of a place. 

P1000262 P1000272 P1000276 P1000277 P1000281 Photos:  Views of Rotovea village, Fakarava

Even the Catholic church is beautiful, decorated with local island flair, with a bright blue, vaulted ceiling, mother of pearl mosaics, and shell garlands and bright tapestries everywhere.  The pulpit is a beautifully smoothed out tree stump – I tried to get Mike to stand at it for a photo but he refused - I think he was worried that a bolt of lightning would strike him, atheist heathen that he is!

P1000268 Photo:  The pretty interior of the Catholic church

P1000269 Photo:  That’s what I call a pulpit with flair

We visit another pearl shop where Jutta eyes up a very nice string of pearls, then, having reached the end of the village, we walk back and visit the supermarket and vegetable stall.

We go back to the boat for a drink and something to eat then return to the dock where Lulu Steiner is waiting with his minibus to take us to his pearl farm.

It is fascinating.  He explains that the oysters are grown for three years before they are used for grafting.  When they are removed from the sea, they are cleaned to remove all the parasitic life living on the outside, then taken inside where they are opened about a quarter of an inch and a wedge placed just inside. 

P1000283 Photo:  Cleaning the oysters

They are then taken to the grafter who puts them in a clamp, inspects them, discards those which she suspects are not healthy enough then places a tiny piece of organic material (for additional nourishment) and the nucleus, around which the oyster will hopefully wrap layers of nacre to form a pearl.  The three experienced grafters here can each graft 1200 oysters a day!

P1000287 Photo:  Grafting the oysters – 1 done, another 1199 to go!

The oysters are then wired together on a string (each grafter’s work is marked by different coloured string) and placed within protective netting and hung outside in the sea before being taken to the oyster beds two kilometres away in the lagoon. 

P1000298 P1000299 P1000300 Photos:  Strings of oysters in their protective netting

There they grow for about eighteen months before being harvested.  Each pearl is x-rayed to determine the amount of nacre that has formed (it must be a minimum of 0.8 mm to meet the standard) and categorized.  Anything below a category D is not able to be exported.

We visit the shop where Lulu sells single pears rather than jewellery and although they have no champagne coloured pearls, I select a trio of A grade pearls for a pair of earrings and a necklace drop, but get Lulu to take them back to the shop so that I can compare them with the necklace I saw and see which I want.

Lulu stops at the local supermarket (laughingly calling it Carrefour) and buys beer and fruit juices for us to consume back at his place which is behind the shop.  While the others sit on the back patio overlooking the lagoon, I take ages deciding what to do, knowing that if I buy the three pearls, I will still want to get a string of champagne coloured pearls if I see them in Australia.  Decisions, decisions, what is a girl to do?

P1000304 Photo:  Everyone drinks on the patio while I agonise in the shop

P1000307 Photo:  View from the decision making seat

Eventually I go with the bird-in-the-hand syndrome and Emilienne, Lulu’s wife (actually I think his real name is Lucien) wraps up and certificates the three beautiful pearls.  They are steel grey with a pink tinge, completely round and perfect.  Almost gem quality, but not quite.

P1000306 Photo:  Mike, myself and Emilienne in her pearl shop – decision made!


Photo:  My three beautiful pearls

Happy with my choice, we go back to Jeannius for a little lie down (Mike needs a cool, darkened room) before getting ourselves ready to go back to the village for dinner.  When we arrive at the dock, the restaurant owner, Enoah, is waiting for us in his car, and when Jutta, Jochem and Tom arrive, we all pile in and off we go.

The Restaurant Teamayua is beautiful.  Set on the edge of the lagoon it is decorated with coral, white stone, oyster shells and colour-washed driftwood.  All around us, flame torches are lit to provide ambient lighting.  The menu is great, the food even better (although very expensive), the music is to my taste and we have a lovely evening. 

P1000309 P1000310 Photos:  A lovely evening with Jutta, Jochem, Tom and Enoah, the owner

Unfortunately when it comes to paying the bill, we realise he doesn’t take plastic and just about have the cash to pay for it.  Mike now has the equivalent of £4 left in his wallet and there are no banks or ATM machines until we get to Tahiti.  Bang goes our pain chocolat from the boulangerie in the morning!  As we sit after dinner, we can see black tipped sharks coming into the shallows beside our table and just gliding away.

And I say again, what a lovely day!