07/29/2008, Bora Bora
As always there's some cleaning up to do after guests depart. Our guests are generally wonderful and leave nothing out of order but you still need to wash sheets, wipe down heads and all of that.
After a slow morning of relaxing and cleaning we decided to snorkel out to the floating dock on the sand bar. It was a good long invigorating swim. We saw sting rays and eagle rays on our swim along with many little fish hanging about the various isolated coral heads. Once there we climbed up on the dock, which is some work as it is a good two or three feet above the water with no ladder. We took some great pictures and jumped off a few times before heading back.
You need to be careful out this way when swimming because many jet skis and power boats use this route. In all the hustle over the pas few days I had not managed to recover our dive flag, which would have been a useful safety precaution. On the way back we located it, almost vanished beneath the sand. I was surprised it was so well concealed after just a couple of days. I made one concerted effort to pick it up and had no problem clearing today as I swam straight down to the flag. I grabbed it and made a necessarily quick ascent from the 40 foot bottom. My free diving is not what it used to be, I need to practice. I feel lame being able to only barely recover items at 40 feet. We were recently chatting with friends on Arbuthnot (sp?) who were hunting at 60 feet in Fatu Hiva (and bringing back some big fish!).
We surveyed all of the coral heads between us and the exit around the west end of Toopua as we dinghied over to the NUI in the late afternoon for lunch/dinner. The weather is supposed to get fresh over the next few days and come around to the east southeast. Tonight into tomorrow would still be from the southwest though and getting up into the 20 knot range. This is fine for us even in an unsheltered anchorage but depending on how the reef breaks down the seas in this area the chop may make things no fun, killing the snorkeling and making dinghy rides wet.
We had another idyllic meal at the NUI. As at most resort here, the food was good (sometimes, but rarely, great) and very expensive. The dollar is so beat up and prices were so high to start with that a nice lunch for two runs about $100.
We had met a friendly pair of Japanese tourists at the Roulottes in Tahiti and after a short discussion we discovered their daughter worked at the NUI. As we walked back to the boat we ran across her and found out it was her last day working at the NUI. It was nice to chat with her after meeting her wonderful parents. We also discovered why the parents were out, she had just gotten married and was moving to France! Omedetou Naoko San!!
We were also trying to look up Elenore the guest relations manager who did such a wonderful job with our wedding. She had unfortunately relocated to the Saint Regis. We would have to try to visit her there.
We had a choppy ride back in the dingy. After considering conditions and the forecast we decided to move back to the bay by Bloody Mary's. It is a deep anchorage but it puts the island between you and the wind, and though it can be gusty because you can' get up close to the shore due to depth and reef at least the water is pretty flat. It also allows you to huge the coast in the dink and make reasonable trips to town or various other spots ashore. So we raised the hook and slowly motored through the windy channel around into the main bay. It struck me that this was the first time Hideko and I had been underway alone since Margarita Venezuela.
07/28/2008, Bora Bora
Nobu and I got up early today to edit a little video together from the raw footage he shot underwater yesterday. It turned out nice with a soundtrack including a local Bora Bora tune and a Crystal Method track. We burned Nobu a DVD of all of the photos from our travels together as he packed.
Once we had things wrapped up aboard we headed to the main town on Bora Bora, Viatape. Nobu was set on getting a Marquesas style tattoo in French Polynesia before he left. He looked at a shop in Tahiti that he had a recommendation for but once you get a tattoo you have to stay out of the salt water. That is hard to do in French Polynesia. Best get the tattoo on the last day. The Tahiti guys recommended a fellow named Marama on Bora Bora. Marama had won the international tattoo competition the prior year and seemed a good choice.
So we tied up in the back corner of the main tourist boat dock and began asking around for Marama. He was down by Matira Point, a good 4 miles south of town as it turned out. A cruise ship was in the harbor and there were no buses, taxis, goats or other conveyances to be had. So we started hiking and hitching along the way. Just out of town a wonderful lady picked us up. As luck would have it she lived right next to Marama!
At Marama's shop Nobu looked over the art work samples and gave the thumbs up. Marama asked if he wanted a tattoo and Nobu said let's do it. Little did we know that this just doesn't happen. Marama it so popular that he is typically booked for days if not weeks. Every other person that came in after us (and there were many) was turned away with a quote of next week. There must have been a cancelation or something but luck and serendipity was not to end there.
Nobu would be busy for the next few hours so Hideko and I walked down the beach to the Hotel Maitai, a small but nice place on the water with a few obligatory overwater bungalows and a nice beach restaurant. Shortly after ordering some lunch Hideko exclaimed, "that is Patrick". Patrick was the Polynesian priest who had married us on Motu Tapu three years before! I couldn't believe it. I went over to say hi and he greeted us warmly. He was with his daughter who was visiting for the summer.
Patrick is the ambassador to Bora Bora as far as we are concerned. He knows the traditional cuisine, the history, the people, the tourist spots and the cultural ones and just about everything else you could imagine. He has 4x4 tour trucks and great outrigger boats. He arranged an awesome dance and music troop for our wedding as well as an Ahima'a feast.
I dared to ask if he was available to show us around the island so that Nobu would have one good tour of the place before his flight. Not only did he take us on an amazing tour, including some fantastic vistas from his family property but he wouldn't let me even pay for gas at the end of it! If this is Polynesian hospitality I wish the whole world was Polynesian.
We wrapped up the trip at the town dock. We said a fond farewell to Patrick and promised to catch up with him again before we left. Then we walked Nobu over to the free airport ferry at the town dock. Hideko and I were both very sad to see Nobu go. It was a tough goodbye and we will both miss his bright smile.
07/27/2008, Bora Bora
We put a bridle on the dink this morning and made our way over to the little bay between Motu Toopua and Toopua Iti to the southwest of Bora Bora. This bay is spectacular and runs about 35 to 40 feet deep all around. There are coral heads here and there some as shallow as 15 feet though I found none any closer to the surface. You can find spots of perfect sand large enough to allow 360 swinging but most are smaller, fine for 90 degrees but requiring a re-anchor (or a reef unwrapping) if the wind moved more.
Another option is to head out toward the barrier reef where there is a huge expanse of perfectly pure white sand in about seven feet of perfectly clear water. There is an isolated floating dock out on the bank that is fun to snorkel to and dive off of.
We anchored in 40 feet just off of the Bora Bora Nui Hotel, where we and our wedding guests stayed three years ago. It is an incredibly picturesque hotel. As the lights came up in the evening illuminating the stone precipices of Motu Toopua we were carried back to the very day.
We had an agenda however. Nobu was leaving for Japan tomorrow! We were really going to miss him. It was as if he was part of the family, a long lost little brother or something. Nobu started his Advanced Open Water certification in the Galapagos and we wanted to finish it up before he went home. He had done a deep dive at Kicker Rock off of San Cristobal and a Peak Performance Buoyancy dive in Wreck Bay. His Navigation dive was in Moorea and we now had to check off the Videography dive and the night dive here in Bora Bora. Rough line up of dive sites, huh?
As soon as we jumped into the clear blue water we spotted rays swimming along the bottom and a turtle up by our anchor. We snorkeled around for a bit first to ensure the anchor was well set and make sure that the various coral rocks and larger heads in the area were outside of our swinging radius. Everything looked good however we noticed that a fair amount of power boats motored through here during the day and early evening. Some taking guests to and from the hotel, others just making a nice island circuit.
We took the dive flag with us as a precaution but the flag came off as we snorkeled about. Nobu and I found the flag in 40 feet of water. I tried a few times to free dive down and grab it but my left ear wasn't clearing. I could clear it by stopping my descent but after two stops to clear I didn't quite have the range to grab the flag. We made a mental note of the location and decided to grab it with scuba rather than spend more time. We were burning daylight.
Back at the boat we broke out the video rig. I realized, with remiss, that I hadn't used it since the last time we were in French Polynesia. We had shot some footage with the camera above water but hadn't used the housing in almost three years. It was all nicely put away in its Pelican case with one exception. The camera is just a basic Sony Handycam. The housing is the Sony Marine Pack housing for that series of cameras, which is pretty nice. The housing has a tray for the camera (screws into the tripod mount) and the tray just snaps into the front of the housing. The back has a small LCD that you use for viewing and you plug this into the camera. There is also an underwater mic, which is fun even though you pretty much just hear regulator sounds unless there are dolphins or whales around.
The mistake I made was leaving the 4 double AA batteries that power the LCD in the camera! After three years they had of course corroded and munged the little wire contacts they sit on. Nobu's Videography dive was at stake so we got out the soldering iron, electrical tape, small bits of wire and hot wired the rig. It was tricky reaching all of the little wires without damaging anything but we got it up and running.
There's a big scary looking coral head in 40 feet of water that gets up to about 15 feet below the surface just past the south channel entrance to the bay. Nobu and I picked this as the dive site. Nobu navigated us out on 110 magnetic and back on the reciprocal. The marine kit comes with a great wide angle lens and a red filter all of which Nobu tried out. If was a nice dive and we ran across the biggest moray eel I have ever seen in my life!
Once back on the boat we broke down the video gear and gave it a good rinse, changed over tanks and got ready for the night dive. We had a good hour and a half surface interval and Hideko helped us get everything set up so that we could hit the water just after the sunset. We zip tied a chemical light onto the anchor chain at 15 feet and set off for the same coral head to see who might come out at night. It was a totally different dive. In particular it was very dark as there was no moon and even some clouds on the horizon. The compass played a very important role in the conditions.
Nobu's primary light died five minutes into the dive. He switched to his back up and after confirming that he was ok going on with only my backup between us as a spare we proceeded. Once at the coral head we discovered a host of new denizens, including three inch long white snake like eels, droves of scurrying cleaner shrimp, soldier fish and many others. We did a lights out drill to see the bioluminescent critters flitting about. It was a fun dive.
The vis was no better than our lights on the way back and we passed the boat up by a bit. We put out our lights to look for the marker light but couldn't see it. Fortunately Hideko could see our location (it is very easy to see dive lights underwater at night from even a pretty good distance) and shined the ships spot light down in the water. This thing is as bright as the sun and hard to miss. We quickly navigated back to the boat and did our safety stop at the marker light. I cut it away and stowed it in my BC as we surfaced to avoid an incident when weighing anchor.
Back at the boat we rinsed the gear off and cleaned up for dinner. We had decided to eat at the Nui. They have a beach restaurant and a nicer restaurant upstairs. I love the beach restaurant for it's lack of walls and sand floors. You just can't be up tight in this place and it oozes Polynesian flair. We had a wonderful last dinner with Nobu looking out over the beautiful lagoon of Bora Bora.
07/26/2008, Bora Bora
Bora Bora holds a special place in Hideko's and my heart. We were married there and it was a magical time. Everyone aboard was excited to drop anchor in her crystal clear lagoon.
We left Huahine with no issues and the starboard rudder seemed to be doing a fine job solo. The auto pilot wandered a little more than usual but nothing to be concerned with. The sun was in my face on the way out so I focused my attention aft and used the transit on Huahine to guide us out with Hideko on the bow watching the marks.
We raised the main sail just outside of the pass. The wind, and the forecast for the wind, was light and we would likely motor sail much of way across to Bora Bora. I was contemplating pulling the jib out as we cruised near the Huahine reef to enjoy the view. Then I heard Nobu yelling from the side deck. Nobu's English has gone from not so good to very good since I have known him and I am constantly impressed by how fast he picks up languages (Spanish, French, English)(and how slow I do). Yet I could not understand what he was saying here. I was concerned.
Then I looked to where he was pointing and I saw two Humpback whales. Wow. Hideko and I had been in whale territory so many times but had never seen them. These two, a moma and an older baby (my guess), were sleeping on the surface. As we approached on a tangent they woke up and began to swim parallel to us. It was an awesome experience none of us will forget.
The seas picked up a little as we passed out from behind Huahine but squelched again as we entered the lee of Raiatea and Tahaa. We sailed and motor sailed along the north side of the leeward societies enjoying the outline of Bora Bora as it grew clearer and larger every minute.
The Bora Bora pass, there is only one, is on the west side of the island in the middle of the reef. We had a nice tour of the island as we approached the east side, sailed along the north side and turned down the west side.
As we came down toward the pass I noted some very large breakers on the reef. The swell was from the southwest as was the wind. Not optimal for entering a west pass. As we approached I watched a freighter exit which gave me some confidence things were reasonable. We dropped the sails and approached south of west due to the tide setting northwest. The single rudder was a bit more noticeable in the rip of the pass with the wind blowing a good 20 knots.
Once inside the lagoon we headed south to the anchorage in Bay de Povai just north of Bloody Mary's dock. Bloody Mary's (a popular restaurant) has about 10 moorings in this area but they are highly contested for. They are supposedly for guests of the restaurant but this restriction is not widely respected by the cruisers present nor enforced by the restaurant. Many boats anchor here though the bottom is consistently 75 feet in the area. We found the holding to be good with a mud bottom and put out our entire 300 feet of chain to get a 4:1 scope.
Once the boat was secure we all cleaned up and headed over to Bloody Mary's. This place is perhaps overrated but only because the rave reviews are so extreme. It is a really cool spot. Sand floor, big hard wood stumps for bar stools, pandana roof with no walls and the menu is whatever fish they have freshly laid out in a canoe full of ice. You order by pointing at what you want and everything is grilled. Very expensive, awesome vibe, and good food (sometimes great).
Hideko and I had our rehearsal dinner here and this was our first time back. It was a lot of fun and we were glad to share the spot with Nobu who seemed to have a great time as well.
We called the Raiatea Carnage first thing in the morning and talked to the yard manager. He had no concerns about making the rudder repair and booked us in for the 18th of August. After some discussion I was upbeat on their facility. There is a Moorings charter base on the island and the facility is known as the primary yacht center in FP. We, as always, have lots of little projects we are looking forward to completing (after the rudder ding is glassed up of course).
That behind us we dropped the dinghy in the water and set about heading up to the Fare Pote'e on the north side of the island. This overwater structure houses the Marae museum of Huahine. Huahine is unique in that many of the Marae here have been restored by the industrious Japanese professor Sinoto. Working with the University of Hawaii, Dr. Sinoto has almost single handedly recovered huge amounts of Polynesian cultural history. In particular he discovered the only remains of an early voyaging canoe ever to be found in the area.
The dinghy trek follows a marked channel up into the area of the Tiare Pass. After a skinny bit just north of the Farerea pass you enter a large lake like area. A small island in the middle of the lake serves as the black pearl farm's visitors center. The setting is enchanting and it is well worth a stop. There is a nice gift shop where wonderful local pottery and pearl jewelry are sold and the ladies at the facility will actually walk you through the pearl making process with real oysters.
Heading north you wind up toward a false pass where on the point you find the deserted Hotel Sofitel Huahine. There's a big shoal in the middle of the open water here but it appears plenty deep for a dinghy though we didn't try every track. We walked around the hotel grounds in awe. It was really in reasonable shape. Almost as if everyone was spirited away in the night by the ghosts of old who want to keep the island to themselves. The most recent round of hurricanes seems to have ended the interest in maintaining a major tourist foothold here.
Huahine is the most natural of the main societies, having no major hotels (left), many rebuilt Marae, and a history of independent spirit (they fought the French off several times, were the last island to receive French citizenship, and voted as an island for independence in the referendum mid last century).
Moving north from here becomes tricky. Our AB VS12 is very shoal and with the engine tilted up one notch we can motor along in a foot of water with no problem, the prop being protected above the hull draft. As we headed up the river we came across many Huahine residents who all greeted us warmly. You need to be careful in the river as the foot of tide can double the depth in places and there are also nets and even stone fish traps farther up. You will also see many boats cranked up into the air amid stands with four posts and bicycle like wheels attached to straps that lift the boats clear of the brine.
The ancient stone fish traps are interesting. Sinoto also assisted with the reclamation of some of these. Lac Maeva in the north of the island is salt water but otherwise much like a shallow lake. The river flows with the tides in and out of the lake. On the way out the stone fish traps, shaped like a big V, funnel fish into a round basin at the bottom of the V. Here the Polynesians can easily spear lunch or dinner.
We pulled to the side of the river just past the first stone fish trap. A friendly young lady indicated it would be ok if we tied up to the old post near a vacant lot. You could probably navigate under the bridge and into the lake if you wanted to. We were parked just next to the first two of the restored Marae. The walk along the coast of the lake takes you through the largest section of restored Marae. You can just imagine what the area must have looked like at its peak. It is a sight to see. The museum inside the Fare Pote'e was closed the whole time we were in the area, which was disappointing. They supposedly have maps of various trails you can follow to visit some of the Marae up on the surrounding hills. We took a hike mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide up to a Marae almost consumed by a humongous banyan tree. We pressed on looking for the continuation of the trail but after thrashing through the jungle for a while we gave up and turned back.
As we walked back along the coast we went by the school where a local group was rehearsing Polynesian song and dance. A great free show to be sure. We mixed in with the other locals and tourists who were looking on. Back at the dinghy the tide was up a few inches which made getting back much easier than coming in. It was a lovely day in Huahine and we will likely come back to spend more time here. However we need to be off to Bora Bora tomorrow to make sure that Nobu has some time to enjoy the most famous of the pacific isles.
We exited the Oponohu pass just as the sun was coming up today. We raised the main but unfortunately the wind was not as far around as it was supposed to be and we were motor sailing with the wind about 20 degrees off the port bow. As the day progressed the wind vacillated between 25 and 45 degrees off the bow. We pulled the jib out a number of times and made as much as 9 knots and as little as 6 depending.
We were making for Passe Farerea, the main east side pass on Huahine. You can supposedly anchor in the bay but we have been liking the water in the lagoons much better. The bay is also rumored to be gusty and the east lagoon should be pretty sheltered with the westerly wind.
The pass is clearly marked and though the sun was in my face we had no difficulty coming in on the transit marks on the big island and clearing all of the lateral marks. We were planning to hook up in the Guide to Tourism and Navigation's H10 anchorage in the elbow of Motu Murimahora, to the south.
The marks led us cleanly down about half way. This area is very dramatic in its bottom changes and there's lots of hard stuff mixed in with the sand. You can go from 80 feet to zero feet quickly. Hideko and Nobu were up on the bow as we worked our way down the motu. When we were in the neighborhood of the anchorage as depicted on the chart we tried to head toward an expanse that looked to be the right depth of sand.
While things were pretty calm and the sun was behind us it was far too low to provide optimal visibility so I was really relying on the sounder as my principal tool after Hideko and Nobu. We were in 25 feet of water and then rapidly came into 10 feet, then 8 and 7. I stopped the boat quickly and Hideko reported too many coral heads to have a prayer of finding a spot. I turned the boat and the wind picked up. We were now off of our entry track. I made for the track watching the bottom as best I could.
We have only one sounder but two hulls 8 meters apart. With the sounder never reading less than 10 feet (we draw 4' 8") the boat bumped with a quiet crunch and then we were back in deep water. Hmmm, something was now wrong with the steering. We made our way back to the small bay (Rate Bay?) on the island side just south of the pass using the engines to steer and anchored up.
I dove in to take a look at things and discovered that the port rudder looked as if it had clipped a peaky coral head. This is odd because the keel which is slightly deeper than the rudder showed no damage, though Nobu discovered a small area missing some bottom paint. The damage was not severe but we would need to haul out to grind it clean and epoxy it back into perfect form.
A nice feature of the Saint Francis 50 is the flexibility of the haydraulic steering system. I opened the loop shutoff on the port side, bypassing the port ram, allowing the boat to be steered with the starboard rudder alone. The boat would not handle quite as well with one rudder but if you didn't know the boat you might not even notice. All the same we would be checking in with the Raiatea Carnage in the morning.
There was much crying in the pretzels about the dinged rudder. Hideko and I had sailed Swingin' on a Star for almost two years and over 6,000 miles through the shoal Bahamas, the poorly charted Dominican Republic and everywhere else from Florida to Trinidad and from Trinidad to Huahine without once touching bottom. I suppose if you want to consistently creep into the best spots away from other boats and choose to do so without waiting for perfect creeping conditions (it was late in the day this time) you run the risk.
There is some scuttlebutt to be found on the net regarding Saint Francis rudders. A number of 44s have lost theirs at sea. Usually two at a time. Every 48 owner I have talked to has had to replace both rudders after losing them in heavy conditions. Losing both rudders would be a worst case scenario. I believe the factory has handled repairs under warranty for all boats so covered (though I hear a few 44s were out of warrantee and not covered). I do not believe all 44s have this problem and I am now very confident that it does not exist in the 50. We have sailed in some nasty stuff, particularly around Barnquilla where a 48 we know lost one of their rudders and suffered enough strain on the other to have it come off on the next leg. Now we have even clipped a rudder on a reef and it is still securely attached.
Would we do it again? Probably. Finding the magical anchorages that you never forget, where your boat floats alone in an idyllic snorkelers paradise, is part of what cruising is all about to us. It was good that we were moving very slowly (always important) but perhaps we could have gone even slower (hard to say without a perfect recollection of the wind and current). Noon sun would have almost surely allowed the bow crew to have guided us around the bump and a sounder in the other hull might have also allowed me to steer around it. I am now more interested than ever to add a forward looking sounder in the port hull.
Well as luck would have it there are a collection of weather features surrounding the area forming some odd and interesting wind patterns. Of course the outcome is that the wind is coming from where we are going. A northwest wind! Come on. Oh well, tomorrow the wind is supposed to strengthen and move southwest, which would be just about perfect.
This gave us the chance to do some of the things we had not had a chance to do our last visit to Moorea. Top on our list was exploring the lagoon to the west and visiting the string ray city.
We dropped the dinghy and followed the markers over to the village just west of the mouth of Oponohu Bay. We motored around the little harbor and waved at the kids playing by the waterfront. The channel this far was pretty deep. Moving on, the markers take you through some very skinny stuff. No problem for a carefully piloted dinghy but I would stay close to the marks (not too close though as most of them are set into a coral head) and try it first with good light. Just past the Intercontenental Hotel (on the left) we came across the sting ray city (on the right toward the reef). You can usually spot the sting ray area due to the fact that there are many boats in the neighborhood supporting various groups of snorkelers.
The sting rays here have certainly been well trained by fleets of tourists with hand fulls of bait on offer. We avoid feeding the wildlife so it was funny to watch the droves of rays converge on our boat and then after a few minutes leave in disgust when no free food appeared. There are always a few rays in the area food or no. We anchored the dink in about 6-8 feet of water with a beautiful sand bottom. There are some pretty coral heads to snorkel on closer to the reef and the sand drops off to about 30 feet on the island side. In the deeper water we saw several black tip reef sharks, no doubt hanging about for scraps as well.
We continued around toward the motus off of the northwest end of the island. This is a spectacular area and we found a lone catamaran anchored in an incredibly idyllic spot, very protected inside the motus. There is a pass over this way and I assume he came through there as the dingy route inside the reef from Oponohu would be nearly impossible for a large boat of any draft.
The motus form a little lagoon which seems to be a popular tourist spot for the local hotels. It was very picturesque with impressive and vibrant coral heads cropping up from the 15 foot bottom. After touring the motus we headed around to the west side of the island. The dinghy channel seems to wind up in this area, just as well because we were getting to the end of our daylight. This far side of the island seemed much less touristy with more local people playing at the beach and boaters out enjoying the sun or returning from fishing.
On the way back we stopped at the Intercontinental for lunch. Another outrageously gorgeous hotel in paradise, and the food was not bad either (not always the case). We have never had anyone say a thing to us for tying up (out of the way of course) at a hotel's dock.
We made an early night of it back at the big boat. The weather still looked good for a long (80 mile) day sail to Huahine tomorrow so we stowed the dinghy and went to bed with everything ready to go.