Tahati on the MS ARINUI 1997

Here we are, at sea on the Arinui. All of the hassle of flight, transfers, and unpacking are over. We have had our mandatory meeting and will have the life boat drill at 11 am.

It all began when we went to LAX at 6:30 PM for our 9:30 flight to Papeete. We wanted to be sure we weren’t caught in the same mess we encountered with AAL on our trip to the Carribean last January. There was a moderate line at ANZ, but nothing like what we encountered in January. We were checked in after only a half an hour, perhaps because there were several agents working rather than the one that AAL had. Although we would be fed during the flight we thought we might get a bit hungry so we had a pizza from Wolfgang.

Boarding was uneventful as was the flight. There was a free premeal cocktail and free wine with the meal. Food and booze were adequate.

We arrived somewhat ahead of schedule, around 2:30 am, after an 8 hour flight. There are none of the boarding walkways at the Papeete airport. We left the 747 via a long stairway. I now admire the grace with which the President enters and exits his 747 Air Force 1 on these stairs.

There was a very light, warm rain falling on us as we walked to the terminal. After passing through immigration with a slight wait, we collected our checked baggage and walked through Customs to the open terminal area. The greeters were set up in a semicircle of portable chalk boards with names written on them. We located ours and received our welcome lei. While we were awaiting transportation to the hotel, the heavens opened. These brief, intense showers continued throughout the remainder of our day in Papeete.

The hotel is in the center of the downtown area. We arrived there around 3 am, 6 am California time. I didn’t expect to be able to sleep however to both of our surprises, we went to sleep and didn’t wake until around 7 am. Had a bit to eat in the hotel coffee shop and then checked out the town. Found the public market which was fascinating. It was divided into areas of interest; fresh fish including large tuna and reef fish, flowers, fresh fruits and veggies, and tourist stuff on the upper level.

At 4:30 we were picked up and taken to the ship, a fairly short distance away at the harbor. We boarded and were shown to our cabin. The deluxe cabins are nicely sized and provided with a queen sized bed. There is a fair amount of storage. The closet has room to hang all of our hanging stuff. There are several shelves on the other side for the non hanging stuff. Each side of the bed is provided with a very small table which has a drawer and a shallow shelf. There is also a desk with a rather large drawer. The bathroom is provided with a medicine cabinet and a very shallow shelf.

After unpacking we went to the bar for a welcome cocktail, a wicked rum punch. We signed up for second sitting so supper wasn’t until 8:15. Normally it would be at 7:45. Lunch is 11:30 and 12:30. Breakfast is open from 7 to 8:30.

Supper was rather ordinary with canned peas and lamb. The ship departed at 10 PM and we bolted down our first of several sea sick pills. It rolled all night long.

We traveled all day and arrived at Takapoto in the Tuomoto Archipelago the next morning. This was our first experience going ashore by whale boat. The crew started unloading cargo as soon as we arrived. The hold is quite large and quite full. There are several standard cargo containers along with a lot of loose stuff. I arrived on deck just as a motorcycle was lowered into a whale boat. All cargo was taken ashore by these rugged boats. The crew had to muscle them through the surf to the dock which, because of the low tide, was barely in water.

When the time for passenger disembarkation arrived, cargo handling was suspended and seats installed in the two boats. Each holds 25 passengers. Boarding is via the gangplank which is lowered to the sea.

There was a small crowd watching the passengers come ashore. They were friendly. Takapoto is a typical coral atoll covered with coconut palms. We walked through the center of the small town then out toward the pearl "farm". Along the way we saw piles of coconuts that had been gathered and allowed to dry. We also encountered people prying the meat out of the coconuts and spreading it out to dry. Copra is a significant product here. (The French government pays three times the market price for it.) The most important cash crop, however is black pearls.

The black-lipped oyster makes black pearls. Actually the pearls are various shades of gray. The oysters are captured on plastic simulations of seaweed. When they reach the right size, a piece of black mantle plus a seed are placed in a pocket inside the pearl. This pocket is the oysters sex organ. Understandably, this irritates the oyster so it trys to cover the foreign object with shell material. After three years, the oyster is opened and the pearl removed and another seed inserted. When the second is removed, a seed may be placed at the fringe of the muscle between the muscle and shell. This produces a asymetrical shape that forms on the shell. The oyster is killed and the shape and shell cut out when it is harvested.

The 30-minute walk to and from the farm was the best part of the visit. There were almost no birds around and no animals other than lots of dogs and one pig.

After reboarding we departed for a day at sea on our way to the Marquises.

Arrived in the Marquesas at Hakahau on the island of Ua Pou. Massive unloading occurs here, first because most of the stuff goes here and also because the draft of the ship has to be reduced to get into Atuona. At high tide the harbor depth is 5 m. Our draft is assume fully loaded, is 5.05 m. Although we have seen into the hold as unloading has occurred, today was a revelation. There was a tremendous amount of stuff! At the very bottom of the hold was the heaviest stuff, pallets of cement blocks and bags of cement. There were also several traditional shipping containers, new 4wd vehicles, a diesel electric generator, and bins of loose stuff like flower and sugar.

While all this was going on we hiked up to a view point. It wouldn’t have been too bad a hike if it weren’t so hot however it was quite a chore. The view of the harbor and the island was quite nice. These are volcanic islands. There are many sharp needles around, the remainder of volcano throat plugs whose mountain has eroded away.

We returned to the ship and cooled off, had lunch, and then set off to see the town. There doesn’t seem to be much to the town other than residences. Although there is a bank and a post office, there is no business center. I don’t know where all the stuff brought in by the ship goes.

As a special treat, we all trouped into town for a native dinner followed by polynesian dancing. The menu featured many unusual items, such as breadfruit, goat prepared various ways, and a delicious octopus salad

Departed late for Nuka Hiva. Stopped briefly in the morning at Taoihae to drop off a coffin plus family then drove on down to Anaho bay where we spent the day. Today is the Catholic Feast of the Ascension which takes on the cloak of a national holiday so nothing goes on the towns. There was a hike up to a saddle to view the beautiful bay. I think the bay is the blown-out crater of a volcano. There are several dwellings along the bay and many visiting yachts in the bay. After the hike we had a picnic on the beach and then snorkeled. Although the water was quite turbid we saw quite a number of beautiful reef fish. After all reboarded we drove the hour back to Taoihae.

The town has a population of 1600 people and is the administrative capital of the Marquesas.

There were several new vehicles unloaded. This ship reminds me of the famous circus car containing a large number of clown. Stuff just keeps coming out of the hold.

We took Le Truck into town. That is a form of bus made from a truck with passenger benches in back and a cover. It dropped us in the center of "town". There are about four stores. We spotted a truck unloading bags of flour and quickly surmised that this must be a bakery. Turned out that it was a baguette bakery. It was quite simple with a mixer and a machine that forms the baguettes, and an oven, of course. The cost of baguettes is subsidized by the French government. On the average, two are consumed per person per meal! They were served at all meals on board and at almost all restaurants, even at a pizza place where we ate in Papeete.

We had a welcoming dance around 9:30. The dancing was good but the kindergarten class that came to watch was better. They tried to dance like the big dancers. I believe more pictures were taken of the kids than the dancers.

After the dancing we all boarded jeeps for an island tour. These islands are extremely rugged. The roads are quite rough and would be mud holes in the rainy season. Eventually we reached a high ridge and stopped at a picnic site. There were low benches under a tree and a delightful, cool breeze. The food and drink all came from the ship.

After lunch we drove on to the highest point t of the island and enjoyed a spectacular view of Taoihae. Then back down to Taipivai Valley. This is were Herman Melville lived for a while after jumping ship. The whale boats took us down the river back to the Aranui.

Another day, another jeep ride. Today is Ua Huka. The island is pretty barren because of a lot of goats and wild horses. The narrow entrance requires an interesting maneuver to anchor. The ship heads in and drops the anchor at the appropriate point, while still having very small forward way. It pivots on the anchor. Stern lines are run to shore on either side and all is stable. Flower bedecked jeeps met us at the dock and we buzzed off to the museum for a welcoming dance. After the museum we visited an arboretum. The island mayor has imported plants from all over the World to determine what will grow here. There are now several hundred citrus trees planted with the intention of selling the produce to the residents of the Tuamotos. There are also some cacao trees that are doing well. More will be planted.

From our guide Heidi we also learned of a health food thing that sounds like a pyramid scheme. A company called Morinda has determined that the fruit from the noni plant has great health benefits. They are encouraging the residents to gather the fruit and toward this end have provided many large blue plastic barrels that we have left on several islands. When full of fruit they are taken to Papeete where a defunct pineapple juice plant extracts juice from them. The juice is shipped to Riverside, CA, where it is flavored with strawberry juice and bottled. The resulting produce is called Tahitian Noni and costs $40 for a 32 oz bottle, only from dealers.

(I learned part of this from a distributor who sat next to me on the way home. Fifty distributors plus spouses were flown to Papeete and entertained for a week by the company. Among other things, they tasted the raw, unadulterated fruit. It sounded pretty bad. This stuff is sold in a network marketing scheme and is aledged to boost your immune system by consuming only an ounce a day.)

We landed at Viapiee, where the jeeps met us, did the museum and arboretum, visited wood carving stores in Hane and Hokatu, then back to Hane for lunch. On the menu, goat in several forms, rice, breadfruit, banana cooked several ways, raw fish. (Breadfruit is very starchy, quite similar to potatoes.) After lunch we walked a mile or so to a tiki site. Little is known of this site, or of most of the sites even though they were used until the Christian missionaries arrived in the late 1700s. There are three tikis and a lot of debris.

On Sunday we visited Vaitahu on Tahuata from 8-10 and saw the church provided by the Vatican. This is the first place the missionaries landed on the islands. Very pretty as all churches here seem to be. Most of the decoration is carved wood. The holy figures are mostly of carved wood with Marquesaian features. Services were going on the whole time we were there, singing great, no priest. Town is pleasant but quite small.

As a general comment, all the towns or villages we visited are clean, neat, and appear prosperous. Toyota 4 wd trucks predominate, although there are a few other brands, mostly Japanese. There are almost no french or European vehicles seen; no US. The children are clean, well dressed and well mannered.

If its Monday, it must be Fata Hiva. Went ashore at Omoa and visited a little museum then bought some stamps at the post office. Waited at the church until ten to start the hike to Hanavave. We walked 10 miles with an elevation gain of 600 m. In our group of approximately 15 people there were 5 Americans. The rest were French or French-polynesian. One of the Americans was a 75-year old of Japanese ancestry, currently living in Davis, CA, who easily beat us up and down hill on the hike. The start was steep and muddy. It took us 3 hours to reach the lunch stop, after several of the faster hikers had already eaten and departed. The second officer and family were on the hike. As we were struggling up the hill, the two little girls were singing!

Lunch consisted of a sandwich made on a half of a bagette, a hard-boiled egg, an apple, and a banana. This island, as all of the Marqueses, is of volcanic origin and is quite rugged but green. After the steep up-hill the trail was relatively flat. At one point along a ridge we could hear a low, deep throb or hum. It was the Aranui going on to the Bay of Virgins to pick us up. It made a nice sight from on high.

The descent from the ridge was as unpleasant as the assent, but for a different reason. We had to hike through thick weeds which obscured the footing. It took another 3 hours for us to complete the hike. My socks were so dirty and thickly encrusted with "Devil"s Lice" that I threw them away rather than pick the seeds off.

We rinsed our shoes in the shower and hung them overnight. The next day we gave them to Diana who put them in the engine room to dry. Really wished I had brought my hiking boots.

The next day was Hiva Oa. Le Truck brought us into town and to the cemetery where Paul Gaugahn and Jacques Birel are buried. The cemeteries are interesting. Most graves have cement borders around them. Some have elaborate tile structures. Some are even roofed.

We strolled down into town and shopped a bit then had a Chinese/Polynesian lunch that was unremarkable. Then we took Le Truck to a trail head to a petroglyph rock. Another wet, muddy, weedy hike with the added feature of mosquitos. The rock is approx 15'x15'x30'. One side and end are covered with petroglyphs. One other surface also has some however the rock was washed down hill in a storm and that side is now the bottom. Sadly, most rock art is eroding away. Our guide on this hike was Sidsel (Cecelia) Millerstrom, a grad student from Berkley.

Nuka Hiva, village of Hatiheu. Ashore and shop, then walk to a large, restored tohau, which is a ceremonial dance site. Enjoyed viewing some vigorous dancing. Then hiked further up the hill to an unrestored one which was quite extensive, featured three Banyan trees plus a large, deep pit. The purpose of the pit could have been to store food or as a holding pen for sacrificial victims. Had a good lunch at the Yvonne's Restaurant. She is the mayor of the island.

We’re now on our way back. We stopped at two places previously visited to pick up containers that had been previously dropped and to leave some incidental cargo picked up on other islands. The only notable activity was Polynesian Night, the only "dress up" occasion on the trip. Dinner was a buffet served at the bar. All were to dress in their Polynesian garb acquired so far. Jodie tied on her pareo, daringly not wearing a bra and leaving here shoulder bare, a very attractive wahine! I wore a pareo, over a normal pair of shorts, and also wore the palm hat that Jodie had woven. I also sported a tatoo on my ankle. The Buffet was mostly salads and very good.

After a day at sea we stopped at Rangaroa Atoll. This atoll is so large that the entire island of Tahiti could fit inside. The other side was not visible from where we anchored. We entered through a well marked pass and anchored by a resort hotel. This stop was solely for the passengers; no cargo was delivered. For some reason, the ship launches were used to take us ashore, perhaps because the crew needed practice lowering and operating them. It seemed pretty obvious that experience was needed. One wouldn’t start and the "drivers" had some difficulty maneuvering them.

Anyway, we made it ashore in a heavy shower and checked out the resort. Beach cottages are $350 per person per night. Cottages located on stilts over the lagoon are over $500. Meals are not included. It would, however, be a lovely place to stay for a few days.

Since this is reputed to be the best place to snorkel in the whole world, we quickly donned our masks and fins and went in. There were spectacular fish right at the beach. You could see some without entering the water. We saw a pipe fish right at the water’s edge. It would hang there then suddenly lunge onto the shore, partly out of the water and apparently grab some small thing to eat.

There were all sorts of fish around the coral. Some heads had populations of small, white, iridescent fish. There were hundreds of them who moved in unison. I could conduct their movements with my hand. One head had a population of small deep blue fish, some extremely small. Then there were the usual selection of angel fish and parrot fish.

After a picnic lunch on the beach we went out in a glass-bottomed boat to view the fish near the entrance passage. We anchored at one side and were inundated with fish. They are aware that the boat will feed them . The left-over bread quickly drew a throng. Then the boatman went into the water and speared a fish which drew three white-tipped sharks. Luckily they stayed down deep since by this time most of the boat occupants were in the water with the fish.

On our way back to shore we attracted a dolphin escort. There were a few impressive leaps near the boat then they were gone.

After leaving the ship we spent five uneventful days in Papeeate. The ship arrived on Sunday, and therefore, everything was closed. That wasn't too bad since we were both a bit tired. We walked around a bit and found an open shop where we bought a bagette which we had for lunch with cheese.

Monday was a national holiday and therefore, everything was still closed. We booked an all-day circle island tour. Had a great lunch near the Gaugahn Museum. Learned that bagettes are delivered just like the mail. In fact, the mail boxes are especially long to accommodate the loves.


Length 105.1 m breadth 15 m, draft 5.05 m

Built in 1971 in Bremen, GR as a pure freighter. Acquired by cptm in 1989 and modified to its current mixed configuration. Put into its present service in 1990. V8 Diesel 4800 hp. 600 rpm with 3-1 reducing gear driving a variable pitch prop. Displacement 4200 tons

On board there are 36 usa, 1 Canadian, 2 Brits, 1 Norse, 1 Austrian, 5 German, 34 French, and 12 french polys.