One thing and then another


A steel hulled gaff-rigged cruising boat at the waterfront marina in downtown Papeete

There is a well-known aphorism in the sailing community that goes: “Cruising is working on your boat in exotic locations.” For us, this has been true for the past three weeks as a couple of important pieces of equipment broke, and one piece of equipment needed attention. We mentioned in our last post that we discovered a broken engine mount as we left Kauehi Atoll. A broken engine mount doesn’t stop the boat from sailing, but it makes using the engine for propulsion (when needed) very problematic because of the possibility of damage from a misaligned drive train.


Engine mounts: Broken foot on the left. New whole foot on the right. Shipping cost to Papeete was four times the cost of the replacement part.

The second piece of boat gear that gave out was our almost-new water maker. While it continued to put out plenty of water, it stopped removing the salt from the water. Removing the salt is, after all, its main job. We knew this was not a problem we could trouble-shoot easily on board and that it would likely mean taking the unit apart and examining every component. Doing this job would be much easier in a calm marina than out in the ocean on passage.

Water maker trouble shooting

Water maker trouble shooting

The third piece of gear that needed attention was the rudder stock, specifically where it passes through the deck to the rudder tube. We had noticed a loud squeak when the tiller moved back and forth while the wind vane was steering. Eventually, we figured out what was squeaking – rubbing between the rudder stock (the stainless steel pipe that turns the rudder) and the fiberglass tube it turns in.  It was worse when the wind vane was attached due increased load. We couldn’t see any signs of wear, so it seems to be just an irritating squeak that a little grease would help alleviate. Problem was, we couldn’t get grease into that particular area of the rudder post.

The engine mount is now in place. A missing bolt – lost in the bilge?? – was the cause of the break. The search for a replacement bolt sent us on a bus trip into Papeete. We hoped to find a bolt at one of the marine suppliers in the commercial wharf district of town. We also hoped to find a replacement sea water strainer for our Groco filter as the strainer was disintegrating, and also some fiberglass cloth and peel-ply for a small job Randy wanted to do. Our goal was SOPOM, a marine engine parts dealer. After a ride on the bus into downtown (after a 30 minute wait at the stop) followed by a 30 minute walk, we arrived at the SOPOM retail and warehouse. The entrance was very unobtrusive, around the back of a big warehouse shared by several businesses facing the commercial waterfront. When we found the door, it was locked. Like almost all business in French Polynesia, they close for an hour or so mid-day. We had arrived at 11:47. A sign on the door informed customers the store was closed for lunch Mon-Sat between 11:45 and 1:00. Sigh. Making the best of the situation, we found a small and busy snack shop (busy is a good sign) not too far from SOPOM. We took a table, ordered sandwiches like everyone else, a big bottle of water, and relaxed until 1:00.  Back at SOPOM at a little after 1:00, we found a well-stocked marine engine parts supplier staffed by two employees who were earnestly interested in helping us and chagrined to discover that nothing they had on hand would do. Neither the right bolt for the engine mount, nor a new sea water strainer basket. But they provided us with a street map and directions to a second supplier whom they thought might have what we needed. We found our way to this second marine supplier, located a few blocks away, after a stop at a different small marine store to buy some fiberglass. Unfortunately, the business SOPOM sent us to did not have what we needed either. However, wanting to be helpful, the staff at this second business suggested that we try yet a third business (fourth, if you include the marine store where we were able to buy fiberglass), Tavita, which they located for us on the map as being back downtown, near the public market in the tourist district. Feeling a little skeptical but wanting to to try all possibilities, back to the center of town we went, walking all the way in the humid afternoon. This third (or fourth) business turned out to be a small fishing tackle store owned by a Chinese family. The store was about the size of a walk in closet and packed to the ceiling. We weren’t overly hopeful but, surprising us, the owner immediately took the bolt we showed him and walked with Randy back to his supply room. In a few minutes, Randy returned holding a plastic ziplock bag with TWO of the exact type of bolt we needed, followed by the smiling owner: Metric, fine thread, high tensile strength and the exact size.


A memorial in the waterfront park of downtown Papeete to all those lost or displaced in the Pacific by nuclear weapons testing. An especially moving account of this period is told by Simon Winchester in his book “Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the coming collision of world superpowers.” It seems especially poignant to us now.

It took us almost all day to find two of the three things we hoped to buy, a successful outing in any cruiser’s opinion. All along the way, people were earnest in wanting to help us and, when they couldn’t, in directing us to someone whom they thought might. At least one person in every business was able to speak a little English, and with our phrase book Ruth’s school French and gestures, we were able to communicate well enough for the purpose.


The waterfront park looking towards the marina and ferry docks.


The waterfront park looking south. This lovely park was well kept and well used.

A couple of days later, we decided to visit the Musee de Tahiti et des iles (the Museum of Tahiti and the Islands):, in Punaauia, a suburb of Papeete (and the site of the SapinusPro annual surfing competition). We thought we’d take the bus to the museum but, after waiting nearly 90 minutes at a designated stop one morning while buses whizzed by without stopping, we gave up on that plan. We’ve been told that buses run about every 30 minutes on their routes but even locals will smile and shrug when they tell you this, indicating this is an approximate interval. Also, there seems to be a color code to indicate where a bus will stop and what its destination is. Two of the colors are a faded pink pattern on side of the bus, or a faded orange pattern; it can be difficult to tell the difference. We haven’t figured this out yet. We’ve never seen a bus schedule (the Papeete Visitor’s Center could not provide one and seemed to think our request was odd) or anything like a route map. Fortunately, we’d made acquaintances with a friendly German couple on a nearby boat, and they offered us a ride to the museum the next day since they had rented a car for a tour of the island themselves.


We found this large snail on the gate post to the museum

The Musee de Tahiti et des iles is a well designed, well laid out museum containing five rooms for the permanent exhibits and one room for a temporary exhibit. The permanent exhibit rooms are laid out so that the visitor begins with rooms examining the geologic and natural history of the islands, moves through exhibits of ancient daily life and relevant ethnographic artifacts, and finishes in a room devoted to the changes brought to the islands by events of the 19th century. This month the temporary exhibit displayed various interesting pieces of modern art produced by local artists. The museum wraps around a small, open-air garden of indigenous and introduced plants, all labeled, with a couple of shaded benches. Outside the museum building itself, spacious grounds planted with a lawn and several large trees spread to the shoreline, where we stood and watched impressive breakers from a shady spot under one of the trees. All in all, a very interesting, informative and enjoyable visit. Leaving the museum, which is located in a middle class neighborhood about 1 km from the highway, we walked back toward the highway and found a lunch spot in a small shopping center. We enjoyed a very French lunch (but without the wine) before successfully catching a bus back to the marina, without having to wait more than 10 minutes.

Back at the marina, life on the boat includes doing a load of laundry now and then. The marina has four good washing machines that cost only 800cpf per load. That’s a bit more than $7. We had purchased these very cool plastic clothes pins hoping that they would do well on the boat: coated coils that weren’t supposed to rust, grips on the pads to hold clothes securely, etc. Plus, the molded plastic would last forever, right? However, the clothes pins didn’t hold up as well as advertised: the molded plastic hinges are starting to break & the coil falls out and can’t be replaced. One or two now break with every load. Sometimes they fall into the water and we can’t retrieve them. Thus we accidentally contribute to the very plastic garbage problem that is already so prevalent and disturbing. So, it’s back to the old tried and true wood clothes pins. Cheap, available everywhere (we just bought these here in Papeete), and effective. Mostly though, if we drop one overboard the wood will decompose and the steel spring will rust away after a while.


Modern plastic clothes pins are failing. It’s back to the old tried and true wood pins for us.





6 thoughts on “One thing and then another

  1. Thanks for the report! I had a similar problem with my water maker, turned out I needed to replace the membrane :(. Not sure what killed it other than maybe the bottled water I used to pickle it contained chlorine.

    We arrived in Portland yesterday. Good to be home but already missing our life afloat.


  2. Another enjoyable read! Especially enjoyed the “parts hunting” story. Wouldn’t you know it…what would seem like the least likely place….!😉 Love, Min


  3. Ruth and Randy, I’m finding your postings truly interesting and meaningful! These in Papeete ring true with my few days there in 1982. I’m thankful that you’re safe, having a good time in a beautiful place with good people! Uncle Dave


  4. Is the seawall med moorage still there adjacent to downtown? We/Chuck only stayed there and at the anchorage by the airport.
    Karen Jacobson


    • We are in Marina Taina, which is a bit out of the downtown area and south of the airport. We are med moored to the dock here. A new dock has been built parallel to the seawall in the marina downtown. With security gates on the seawall, this separates the boats from urban traffic a bit. Boats med-moor to that dock now. This marina’s mooring field extends nearly to the airport, so maybe it is one of the ones Ursa was in. I can imagine you and Chuck enjoying the dramatic sunsets over Moorea from the cockpit, as we have been doing.


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