Tahiti Tall ship

This was my third time visiting Tahiti by ship, but this was the first time I felt that I was actually a part of Tahiti. I was on Star Flyer, one of three tall ships operated by Star Clippers. Flyer is 360 feet long (imagine a football field and a half); now look at the 36,000 sq. ft. of sails billowing on four masts as high as 226 ft.

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You are in Tahiti, you are silently sailing, and there are 71 crewmembers to keep you and the other 169 passengers in high spirits. Oops, 72 crew, I forgot the cook who is one of the best you’ll find on any ship. Breakfast on Star Flyer is quite an enterprise with all kinds of fruit, pancakes, waffles, eggs, an omelet station, and even two kinds of bacon; crisp and bendable. Dinner has excellent choices all previewed in serving dishes along with the menu. What you see is what you’ll get.

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Then to the dining room.

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Star Flyer is a sailboat, and the only time you’ll hear the engine is when the wind is 180 degrees to the bow. Otherwise it’s the lapping of the waves, and once in a while the “oohs” and “ahhs” of passengers watching the dolphins cavort alongside. With a lower cabin, you’ll be able to look straight at them from your porthole.

The cabins are functional, not plushy, but for me, this added to the sailing adventure.And if you want, (I didn’t), you can climb to the crow’s nest to see the top of more water.

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At each port, Star Flyer offered beach barbeques on isolated motus or, at the larger islands, tours. My favorites were the ones in Huahine and Moorea.

Huahine itself is actually two islands interconnected by a bridge, known as Huahine-Nui and Huahine-Iti (Big Huahine and Little Huahine). Crossing the bridge we saw ancient fish traps that shut fish in a small pool for easy pickings. It all works with the tide. Tide in; fish in. Tide out; trap closes, fish stay.

A few hundred feet from the traps we caught a look at a Tahitian home overlooking the water.

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Our guide, Jeremy, must have had the same glimpse years ago, but he saw a Tahitian maiden on the porch. An American, he came to Tahiti, married that Tahitian woman, and started a guide business. He probably knows more about the island than the natives.

At times, Jeremy would stop our 4 wheeler and pick a piece of fruit here, a nut there, and flowers. When squeezed, one hard skinned fruit would drip a fluid that would cure and remove the pain of a scorpion sting or a mosquito bite. I asked why this hadn’t been developed for the world market, and he answered, “Why?” I took that to mean they had what was needed on Huahine and wanted it to stay as it was, relaxed and stress free.

Perhaps an indication of the remoteness he was describing came with our visit to a vanilla vendor.

Jeremy said that the Reagan White House bought its vanilla solely from this one vendor. He was a man with no teeth who didn’t speak.

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I don’t know much about vanilla, but this is supposed to be about the best available anywhere.

We went from vanilla to blue eyed freshwater eels. An eel entrepreneur put some bait in the water and upstream they came; blue eyed black eels who looked like they’d been using Plus White toothpaste.

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By the way, you may have noticed that I have not translated Huahine. Wikipedia does, but then Wikipedia is not a family magazine. I can, however, translate Moorea, a favorite honeymoon destination. You can tell all the folks back home that you spent a glorious honeymoon on Yellow Lizard.

In Moorea I joined a group for an ATV adventure. At 8:30, the tender took us to the pier, where a van was waiting to take us to the ATV headquarters. After signing some “nothing is management’s fault” papers and showing our driver’s licenses, we were each checked out on how to operate an ATV. Actually, there wasn’t much to learn; they’re simple to manage.

“Here’s the brake, here’s the throttle, here’s the key, have a good time.”

As I’ve mentioned, this is not my first trip to Moorea, but it’s been the best. Our tour took us to the interior of the island, an area that most tourists don’t see. We went off the main road, up an access road, and from then on it was dirt trails.

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We saw pineapple fields,

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unusual flower blossoms, and felt completely isolated in the lush surroundings.

The peak of the tour was, well, a peak. We drove, then hiked and came to the crest of Magic Mountain. The view was awesome. Star Flyer, alone in the bay, particularly striking.

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You must make this part of your trip to Moorea. http://www.atvmoorea.com.

Perhaps the most famous island of all is Bora Bora. It was here that we swam with the rays and the sharks. Our launch took us to a sand spit some distance away, where the water was about 3’ to 4’ deep. The Tahitian guide dropped a few pieces of fish in the water, and Stingrays came gliding through the crystal clear water. There were about fifteen or so a couple of feet in diameter. This was not like Grand Cayman’s Stingray city where there’s a gang of boats and a horde of people. It was just us and the rays.

To feed a ray, you take a hunk of raw fish, make a fist, and put the bait between the thumb and forefinger. The Stingray has a mouth on the underside of its body. No teeth, but amazing suction. If a vacuum company could duplicate it, they’d make millions. But then I guess you’d feel silly feeding raw fish to a vacuum.

Our next stop was on the other side of the reef. Again pieces of fish hit the water and quickly disappeared into the mouths of white tipped reef sharks and one lemon shark, obviously the boss.

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Mask on, snorkel in mouth, into the water I went. After I splashed in, the sharks didn’t hang around the surface, but were not too far below, and easy to see through the mask. They don’t seem scary at all until they turn in your direction. Wipe that smile off your face Sharky.

This great tour ended with a cruise to a Motu for more snorkeling, freshly picked bananas, and after a quick climb by one of the Tahitian guides, coconuts tossed from the tree.

Note: All Tahitian guides are young, muscular, with very white teeth. (This tooth thing is getting on my nerves.)

Note: All Tahitian guides called me “Papa”, showing respect for an elderly grandfather.

Note: Enough “Papa” already! That was me with the sharks!!!

That evening, Star Flyer provided a tender to the dock at Bloody Mary’s, a funky restaurant where each evening (except Sundays), the daily catch of the local fishermen is displayed on ice. Pick it out and it’s yours. It’s truly a fine dining experience, which has, besides good tasty food, an astounding Bloody Mary mix. I’ve talked to the owner who tells me that he can’t bottle it for export as it has to be fresh. I love this line from their website; “The BAR Opens around 9:30 AM (Depending on how much fun we had last night)”.

Star Flyer is an experience all its own. You’ll meet adventure cruisers who have done it all, and honeymoon couples who have, oh well, never mind. It’s easy for me to say Star Flyer is Tahiti. From stepping on Air Tahiti Nui to waiting in the LAX baggage area at home, this added up to one of the best cruise experiences I’ve had.

Hurry though, as Star Flyer is leaving Tahiti in February 2010. Sad as that is, the departure will be an exciting, but long cruise (34 nights), from Papeete, Tahiti to Balboa, Panama.

If you have the time, do not miss this one! Check out www.starclippers.com. Unfortunately you’ll not sail through the Panama Canal on this one, but you can sail through from Balboa to St. Maarten.

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Muruuru, Star Flyer.

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