‘Raaou Tahiti’: Respecting Our ‘Roots’


The Mami 'taote' (doctor) and her pet shark, Tamaro.


When the Lau family caught wind of my ciguateric state, they quickly reported the news to ‘Mami’, their Tahitian grandmother who was rich with knowledge of traditional Tahitian medicine or ‘raaou Tahiti’.


Twice the first day, and once for the following three days, ‘Mami’ prepared the local remedy for me to drink. Despite its unappealing pea-green color and potent taste, I sucked down each glass, willing to try anything that would take away that terrible muscular pain. She explained that I would be able to eat fish in a few weeks rather than a few months like those who don’t drink the ‘raaou’.


…When finally I felt well enough to make my way over to thank the Mami, and find out what exactly I had been drinking…


The ciguatera 'raaou' ingredients...


She explained that the remedy called for three ‘free-standing’, above-ground pandanus roots and the bottom half of a large, mature coconut. As the pandanus plant grows taller, it pushes new roots out from its trunk, which grow down in the direction of the ground. These roots, before they reach the ground, are those that are cut from the trunk to prepare the ‘raaou’, at about a forearm’s length each. She then took one large mature coconut, and after shucking the husk and splitting it in two, using only the bottom half (the part without the three holes) to grate and press into coconut milk. Next she skinned the roots and pounded them flat with a hammer, and finally twisted each one until its brownish-green sap dripped down into the coconut milk.


I was fascinated by the process. I’d spoken with a French doctor in Tahiti who told me to take calcium tablets, but if I had none, I should eat a lot of cheese. But he’d obviously never had ciguatera, because the Mami was horrified when she found out I had been eating lots of cheese, as the animal protein in cheese exacerbated ciguatera symptoms. The Lau’s couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting better quicker…alas, it could have been the cheese!


It’s part of coming from western civilization to naturally think that we have all the answers; that modern science always knows better. This situation was a good reminder to respect local knowledge, especially that of the elders who lived here before there were planes and French hospitals. It seemed both tragic and scary, that in maybe just one more generation, traditional Tahitian medicine might virtually disappear. There seemed to be a scarce few locals interested in learning from the elders. And unfortunately, modern science doesn’t seem to help–often turning up its nose to local knowledge, when with respectful collaboration of information everyone would win…

But change is inevitable, the world is getting smaller and smaller, and more and more homogenized. But with a little attention and respect for the past, hopefully we can carry some of the best of the old ways forward.


Practice makes perfect: the T-Cup Regatta

My dilapidated dinghy became the last minute storage spot for all the loose gear that would get in the way during the race...

Chat about the T-Cup Regatta had buzzed around all week. It was a yearly, just for fun, local regatta, but still up to my gills with projects, I ignored the other sailors’ taunting and tempting. I had no intention of putting the extra work on my plate for some silly race. I explained that I was no racer, that my preferred sailing is over-reefed in open sea going comfortably less than hull speed while reading a book and dreaming of the waves I might find at the next island…

But the evening before the race, the buzz got under my skin. The weather would be perfect–a 10-knot, NE wind and clear skies. Having not sailed the boat for so long, I’d been feeling a bit uncertain of my captaining capabilities, too. “What better way to give Swell a little test run than a jaunt around the lagoon with a bunch of friends?” I thought.

The next morning I woke still wondering if I should enter. By 7:30am I’d ruled out any reasons against it. “It’ll be a great opportunity to see what else I need to fix.” I told myself as my competitive spirit kicked in. The race started at 9am about two miles from where I was moored. I rounded up a friend who would be positive company and some extra muscle for pulling lines, despite that he hadn’t done much sailing. We quickly piled anything unnecessary into my disintegrating dinghy, left it tied to the mooring, and headed off to the race…

Late as usual...Swell made it to the start about 10 minutes behind the other boats.

A whole ten minutes behind the gun, Swell cantered toward the start line on a fumbling reach as I untwisted halyards and flattened the main, stretching the wrinkles from her creased sails. I showed my friend how to wrap the jib sheet around the winch, then release the other sheet, pull, and then crank it tight, while I turned Swell’s bow across the wind. We tacked around the start buoy, entering the first upwind leg of the race. The lovely breeze pressed into Swell’s sails and she took off like an eager underdog across the shimmering lagoon. Soon Swell was gaining quickly on the fleet! With a strategic tack, we overtook the first boat and moved out of dead last. Then, one by one, Swell glided easily and surely past two, three, four…five, six, seven of them!

Henoa, Polynesian Gentleman


“Leeeeeeez!!” I heard from behind me as I wandered back toward Swell at the end of a long day in the yard. Little Henoa came running over with an icy cold pineapple juice in hand. Dirt was smeared across his left arm and sweat dribbled down his cheek. I imagined how fun life must be for an eight year old in the islands.

“Pour toi (for you).” He said. “Prondre! (take it)”

“No, c’est vrai!? Tu est trop gentil! (No, really!? You are too nice!)” I replied enthusiastically.

Ever since the holiday party at the boatyard, when I’d taken the kids paddling on my surfboards, August’s son, Henoa, has been my most faithful little friend. Whenever he’s waiting for his dad to finish working, he comes over to say hello. This time, he’d bought me a juice from the vending machine…

He handed over the juice, but just as I reached for it, he pulled it back.

“Attendre. (wait)” He said. And in the true spirit of chivalry, he put the can to his mouth and pried the tab up with his front teeth. The can hissed open and a proud grin spread across his face as he handed it over the second time. His full Polynesian lips were glossy with sweat and saliva.

My heart melted. I took the can in my hand and hesitated a moment…His eye pinned on me…He could have had bubonic plague and I still would have taken a sip.

“Ahhhhhh,” I said after the first gulp, holding back laughter. “Fantastique! Merci!”

He beamed as only a kid can beam. We turned and continued down the road towards Swell, chatting about school and soccer…

Fred, Fin, and Doug…

Hope at last!!

With the tube removed, there was no more time to waste. I had to find someone to help me do the fiberglass work. I’d conceded to the realization that it was NOT going to be Laurent. It was beyond me why he didn’t want to do the job, but that didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t want to give it any more energy. And so I began the search for someone else…

Just across the road lies another boatyard, but the owners of the two yards detest each other and normally forbid their workers to ‘cross the tracks’ into the other yard. But at this point I was desperate…just maybe there was someone there that could help me?? I wandered onto the foreign yard grounds to see who I could find. A handsome older man in a grinding suit pulled off his respirator as I approached.

“Can I help you?” He asked.

“Um, yes…well you see…” I stuttered as I launched into my story. His eyebrows lifted and mouth pursed as I recounted the saga of the shaft tube removal.

“But you actually got it out?” He clarified.

“Yes. It’s OUT!” I replied.

“Well, you’ve done the hardest part. If you can get your yard’s approval, I’d be happy to do the work. I have fifteen years of experience doing that kind of job.”


“Yes,” he smiled casually. “I’m Fred. Come by later after you talk to them.”

Back in the land of yellow…

“Abzzzzoluteleeeeee NOT.” The second-in-command, Ariel, scowled. “Iteeezz forbeeeeeddin for zeeee-ozzther workerzz to work in zisssss yard.” “Yes, I understand, but…” I replied softly, but then, Karin, the secretary, piped in.

“You know she has been waiting for more than one month for Laurent.” Karin coaxed.

“Yez, but it teezz NOT posssibule unless he payzzzz thu percentaaaage to our sociiiieteeeeee.” Ariel said firmly.

Fred came to have a look later that afternoon. He said didn’t mind to give my boatyard the normal percentage. He looked over the task and surmised, “We could make the tube ourselves, but I think it actually might be cheaper in the end just to order one.”

That same day I received another email from, Fin Beven, who had originally given me the ‘slide hammer’ idea. His email read:

“My friend, Doug Grant of Marine Products Engineering Co, sells the exact tube you need with a cutlass bearing to go with it. I already spoke with him and he said he would sell it to you for half price…And if you send me your address. I’ll get it in the mail by Monday and cover the shipping.”

After a month of agonizing, everything had suddenly turned around! Shiny beams of hope were making the world twinkle again!! Fred seemed fantastic. Fin and Doug, neither of whom I had ever met, were like angles that had descended to carry me out of boatyard purgatory…


Adrian, the cheery 6’ 2” Canadian, was low on cash but full of spirit. He had been borrowing my bike for the prior week to ride to town for parts and pieces to fix up his newly acquired steel sloop. He dropped by just as Mike’s overtime charges were about to begin accumulating, so I thanked Mike profusely for getting things started, then turned the challenge over to Adrian. He needed cash; I needed help.  He accepted the challenge for a reasonable fee, but after a few more hours of struggling in our sleep-deprived haze, we decided to reconvene the following morning…

I added oil to the jack and we were back in business. We carefully set up Mike’s puzzle of wooden blocks and metal plates that made a safe pushing platform for the jack. Next, it was time to pull out the heavy artillery…My buddy, Kyber, on ‘Natty M’ had run me through a quick certification in the use of his pyromaniac’s delight—a hefty, flame-spitting, butane torch.  The idea was to repeatedly heat and cool the bronze tube from outside (without setting Swell on fire…) in hopes of breaking the tube’s bonds with the surrounding fiberglass. Adrian stood by with a bucket o’ water in the event I lost control of the torch. The tube turned rainbow colors under the heat and boiled the water that was soaked in the surrounding fiberglass. Fantastic! When we both agreed that any more heating might cause Swell to spontaneously combust, Adrian threw on some water to induce quick contraction of the metal.

Adrian finishes the battle...

...millimeter by sweet millimeter...

THRILLED. And look...those holes in the tube were the culprit of the leak.

Next came the final showdown. Back inside the cabin, a few pumps of the jack’s lever placed 20-tons of pressure against that stubborn ol’ shaft tube. At first it didn’t budge at all…

I couldn’t bear to watch. If this failed I would have to concede to ‘open-fiberglass surgical tube removal’. Being rather nervous around pressurized jacks after my accident last year, I decided it was better for me to go down and survey what was happening on the other end.

“Hit it with the sledgehammer!!” Adrian called from above.

“Okay!!” I hollered back, slinging the beastly tool over my shoulder and unloading on the exposed part of the tube.

“It moved!!” He yelled.

“It MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVEEED!” I shrieked back in delight. The tube had officially broken from the fiberglass and moved 1mm in the right direction!

We carried on like this for the better part of the day: Adrian loading up pressure with the jack from the top, while I occasionally hammered from below. When the jack reached its maximum length, we’d pull it out and shove some other piece of steel inside, re-assemble the support, and continue to push. Millimeter by sweeeeeeet millimeter, we pushed it out of the hull! That afternoon, the final 6 inches of the tube slid out to expose a series of corroded holes, meaning it was certain that the corroded tube WAS in fact the culprit of all this leaky madness!!

Hallelujah!! It was OUT!!

20-ton Hydraulic Jack + Tsunami + Hollywood Director + 6’2” Canadian + Butane Torch= GREAT SUCCESS!

Mike from 'Apple', the successful Hollywood director, directing the 'Swell Shaft Tube Extraction Challenge'!

I woke in the middle of the night to a pounding on Swell’s hull. I shook myself from a dream and looked up at the clock. It was 3 am. “Who the heck drops by for a visit at this hour?” I thought.

I peered over the side and saw Taputu standing below with a flashlight.

“Sorry to wake you,” he said quickly in French. “But there is a tsunami coming. It’s supposed to arrive at 6 in the morning.”

“Quoi?” I replied in shock, rubbing my eyes.

“Tsunami,” he repeated. “Go to Simona’s house and drive with her up on the mountain. I’m going to tell the other boats.” His light shrunk as he disappeared across the yard.

Tsunami? Come on, really? I couldn’t believe it…but soon the lights of other boats flickered on and my phone began to ring…It was true!? A severe tsunami warning had been issued for the entire Pacific!? For the second time in less than 2 months, I packed up a survival bag with my passport and a few precious items, secured Swell as best possible, and wandered down the road to Simona’s house.

We drove up onto the mountain overlooking the lagoon and waited…and waited…breath fogged windows but opening them meant an instant invasion of mutant mountain mosquitos. We opted for recycled breath. By 8 am the local radio declared that the wave had passed through the Marquesas at less than 30 centimeters, so we thought it safe to descend to sea level. Thankfully, all that the ‘great wave’ washed away was any chance of a normal Saturday as I crumpled into a wad on my bunk and shut my eyes at 9am.

I rolled over at 9:45am, hoping that Mike would have had read my mind and postponed our appointment for ‘Mike vs. Swell’s Shaft Tube: Challenge 2010’. But no, the lively Hollywood director rolled onto the ‘Swell scene’ right on time. I was just about to douse myself in the hose when he came bounding through the gate…I didn’t get my rinse. Instead, moments later, Mike had me running about the yard in search of scraps of wood and metal that would work to brace the jack.

Tick…tock…tick…tock…he would give exactly two hours of his time…it was like some sort of twisted scavenger hunt. I was exhausted, sweaty, and hungry while searching for two pieces of wood 5” by 2 ½” under the blaring tropical sun?!…I thought I might throw up.

The clock struck noon and we’d only just finished fitting out the mish mash of metal and wood scraps to support the jack against the fiberglass bulkhead behind the v-drive…but just then, a 6’2” Canadian appeared on the scene…

No More Chirps in Boatyard Purgatory

still NOT extracted...

For a week after Poe died, it felt strange when I’d return to Swell–no more chirping, no more fishy stink, and no more fuzzy head popping up? Instead I found only piles of progress-less projects staring at me. Despite grinding off the recent epoxy job and making a more precisely-fitting steel washer, the ‘extracteur’ continued to fail at removing the shaft tube. Finally, a sledgehammer swing by my friend, Josh Humbert, broke the ‘extracteur’ for the third and final time–severing it in half at the upper threads and sending it flying across the yard.

So the shaft tube remained stuck in the hull and Laurent’s behavior (the yard glasser who was supposed to help me) continued to puzzle me. He would walk by me stone-faced and cold, dead-set on disregarding my existence. It was obviously time to seek out other help…but who? Where? How?! Rain poured down and I wandered circles around the yard in a cloud of despair. The weather matched my bleak humor as I stomped puddles and squished mud between my toes. It seemed useless to fight anymore. I was defeated, broken, sinking on land…doomed to indeterminate boatyard purgatory…

Then on Friday afternoon, Mike, from ‘Apple’ (another sailboat in the yard) yelled down at me from his shiny blue hull over on the ‘east side’. “Hey Liz! We got my rudder shaft out today using a hydraulic jack.”

“Fantastic,” I replied, struggling to sound enthusiastic.

“This could be your answer!” He said. “Take it over to Swell see if it might work push against your tube!”

…You’ve never seen a girl sprint faster with a 15-lb hydraulic jack in hand. I hauled it up the ladder…

“It fits!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I cheered with a shuffle-step-wiggle. “I’ll have to remove the v-drive…and cut some wood and steel supports…and it will have to work on its side so I’ll need some extra fluid…”

At once a surge of hope rose inside me. I raced cheerfully back down to the Friday gathering.  The owner of the yard teased me as I arrived, “Lize!! Ma belle, we don’t want you to fix your boat, anyway. We like having you here. You love it here, don’t you? ”

“Of course!” I replied with a smile. “In fact, Jacques, how about you sell me the land underneath my boat so I can start planting a garden!?”

“I’ll tell you what, Liz,” Mike interjected from across the ramp, Hinano in hand. “I’ll be at your boat at 10am tomorrow. If I can’t get that tube out in 2 hours…it’s officially impossible!”

Extracteuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuur!!! Say it with a french accent…it’s kinda fun.

'Extracteur' failure #1...aluminum plate too soft for my ferocious sledge hammering.

So…I carried the broken parts back across the yard. Everyone looked over at me curiously.

“Extracteur!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I yelled. They just wrinkled their foreheads and went back to whatever they were doing…I’m like a bad rash around …impossible to get rid of…

So next,

  1. Make the washer out of a thick piece of steel.
  2. Reinforce and re-weld the end plate.
  3. Wait patiently for the new pieces to be made.

By Friday afternoon and I was again ready to try my beefed-up ‘extracteuuuuuuuuuuuuur’.

“Sa ne va pas marcher! (It’s not going to work)” Thierry, the mechanic, taunted.

“Extracteuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuur!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I yelled back.

After setting it all up, Taputu came over to help me. I held the new steel washer perfectly in the middle of the shaft log from inside Swell, while he slammed on the newly welded piece. But every time he hit it the washed just sucked down into the tube because the end of the tube was cut slightly diagonally.

My ‘extracteur’ had failed again.

But then I thought of something…the epoxy job on the tube that we’d just recently done! Surely the tube was firmly bonded there and no amount of pounding was going to break that adhesion. Maybe it was preventing my ‘extracteur’ from extracting! So on Friday afternoon, while the others drank beer and toasted to the weekend, I took a hack saw once again to the end of the tube and asked Taputu if I could borrow the grinder…I had little to celebrate. My leaky shaft log remained stuck in the hull and poor little Poe was sick…wouldn’t eat and couldn’t stand straight and unusually tired…

4. Tend my poor little sick baby bird

5. Cut diagonal end of tube flat with hack saw.

6. Grind off the recent epoxy job and chisel away all the new ‘filler’.

7. Wait for the rain to stop.

To get something done, you gotta do it yourself…


I pulled up the email fromCal 40 owner, Fin Beven.

It read:

“First, we disconnected the propeller shaft from the V-drive and removed shaft and the propeller.”

Okay, I already did that…

“Next, Doug Grant made up a “slide hammer”.  It was a 1/2″ stainless rod, approximately 6′ long, and threaded at each end.  The rod is inserted in the old tube, and a cap is then screwed on to the inboard end which fits just inside the old tube but also has a top plate (roughly 3/8″ thick) that is just a fraction smaller than the outside diameter of the tube.  This cap is what ultimately pulls the tube out of the boat.

A similar cap is then slid onto the rod and inserted into the outboard end of the tube.  This aft-end cap keeps the rod aligned in the center of the tube as it is being “hammered” out.”

The letter read on, detailing perfectly the successful process that allowed him to remove his shaft log without cutting into the fiberglass.

“I’ll be waiting for Laurent anyway,” I thought. “I might as well try to make a ‘slide hammer’.”

So I took my mind off two weeks of waiting by measuring precisely for the pieces of my slide hammer and drawing up a diagram. I mulled over where I could find some makeshift parts to construct it.

…hmm…a 6’ piece of stainless rod threaded at both ends…? Impossible.

When in doubt…ask Cesar.

The ‘VIP yard’

Looking aft from Swell in the 'VIP yard'.

After a weekend spent indulging in the rare angle of wave energy produced by the latest cyclone that turned southwest, I busily made the final preparations for Laurent, the yard’s in-house glasser, to get started cutting away the shaft log the following morning. The week prior, the mechanic had helped me remove my transmission, to better access the leak area and I’d spent another day disconnecting all the hoses and wires that run through the area that we planned to cut out and re-glass.

The chaos of Oli had settled. Poe was eating plenty of fish (and fortunately it seemed she liked to eat about every hour rather than 14-20 minutes!) and growing bigger and fluffier by the day. And as for me, well, I was once again adjusting back to life in the boatyard. This time was a little different, though. Swell was put in an outlying, long-term storage yard, because the rest of the yard space was full. Everyone considered it a terrible spot, but, in fact, after a few days I had decided that I kinda liked it:

I’m the only one living aboard my boat amongst a flock of fancy catamarans. The one just adjacent serves as a fantastic yoga platform with an ocean view. A hose in the corner of the yard is my shower. My Italian friends’ house is just around the corner where I can freeze water bottles for my icebox and keep fresh fish for Poe. The mosquitos are a bit worse over here, but I’ll take mosquitos over ‘creepy kissers’ any day…and so goes life in the ‘VIP yard’, as I now call it.

So Monday morning I waited patiently for Laurent’s arrival…8:30am…No Laurent…another hour passed…no Laurent…

So I decided to stroll the yard to see if I could find him…

There in the workshop, I found him laying up a damaged rudder.

“Bonjour, Laurent!” I greeted him.

“Bonjour.” He replied.

“I don’t mean to bother you,” I said in French, “but I thought we were getting started today? What is your schedule?”

“Oh, yeah, well…in fact I have a lot of other small projects to do right now. I don’t want to be spread all over the place. I prefer to finish up all of the other jobs first and I think I will be ready to start your project sometime in the first week of March…” He turned and went back to work on the rudder.

A bit shocked by the setback, I stiffened and furrowed my brow…

“The first week of March!??” I thought. “That’s over two weeks away??!!”

But there was nothing I could do. It didn’t make much sense to me, but from my prior experience working with him, I knew that arguing wasn’t going to help.

Freshly forlorn, I stared at my feet as I wandered back down the road towards Swell, mulling over my options…What about that email that I’d received from a Cal 40 owner, Fin Beven, about how he’d extracted his shaft log without cutting away the glass…?

Over the weekend, I’d only scanned it, thinking that Laurent was already set to get started.

I climbed the ladder to Swell, and I pulled up the email to read it more carefully…