05 August 2008 | Bora Bora
Hideko and I met James and Amelia in Shelter Bay marina waiting to go through the Panama Canal. I crewed for them on Rahula, their Woods catamaran, on the way through the canal a few weeks before we made it through. They are wonderful folks and both have great British navy backgrounds. James has captained war ships and is a very competent skipper, one I would have no second thoughts about sailing with.
We had all decided to head over to the east side of the island for a dive at a site the Lonely Planet guide calls Manta Reef. I'm not sure that we found the actual dive site but we had a great day.
Rahula was on a mooring at the Bora Bora Yacht club. These moorings can go fast and many of the protected anchoring spots in that area and in the Povai Bay are in 70 or more feet. In order to be sure that they would not lose their spot we motored over with Swingin' on a Star and everyone jumped aboard. James, Amelia and Mark, a friend visiting from the UK, zipped over in their dingy so that we wouldn't have to raft up in the gusty winds. Once everything was aboard, James took their dink back to Rahula and swam over to Swingin' on a Star as we drifted by in neutral.
We motored around the north end of the island through well marked deep channels. I had been looking at our electronic charts and French Chart 6002. This chart is THE Bora Bora chart. Ours was updated through July of 2007. Reading the fine (French) print one discovers many interesting things about the best chart of Bora Bora money can buy. The chart is WGS 84. The good thing about this is that key land marks and Nav Aids will be located on the chart where your GPS shows them in person. That said, the less used areas of the chart are not all that accurate so while they are WGS84 they are just as wrong. The actual surveys were taken in 2001 for the heavily used West side, not bad. However most of the island is 1954 survey with some actually dating to the WWII American surveys of 1945 (US chart 5745).
The Guide to Navigation and Tourism in French Polynesia is helpful and provides good aerial photos of the island. My favorite guide for Bora Bora is, again, Charlie's Charts. There is only a single sketch chart but it shows the yacht anchorages along with enough detail to give you the basic routes that are viable, but little enough to ensure you keep your head out of the book and on the water. Once you know your way around all of these east side routes can be sailed in the dark. It could be a fatal mistake to attempt anything but a good light, +/- 2 hours from noon transit on your first go however. (In particular, the anchorage in the southeast end of Motu Piti Aau where there are many coral heads in the 7-8 foot sand.)
We had Amelia and Hideko on the bow, both heavily experienced in finding marks and reading the water. It is always fun to have extra crew to help out. Exploring uncharted, poorly charted or wrong charted places is part of what a trip like this is all about anyway. Amelia's vision was astounding and she continually picked out marks before anyone but the birds of prey flying overhead could see them.
The water is deep and wide as you head north toward the airport on Motu Mute. There is a squeeze between a Green (Ocean/Motu side) and Red (Island side) mark at Point Tahi, the northern most point of Bora Bora. From here you head East-Southeast for about 1,000 meters to the South Cardinal across Paorie Bay. This is the first interesting zig in shoal water. The bottom is 10 feet or more but you must make a tight turn to the north around the cardinal to head up to the near by Red mark and then a tight turn to the east. The bottom outside the described route is typically 10 feet or more with the exception of the coral heads that rise within a foot or two of the surface here and there.
You exit this little passage into a deep blue area of 15 to 30 feet just off of the Northeast chain of motus. The bottom in this area is perfect sand with very good holding. We picked a nice spot and set the anchor. It was a good compromise between the dive site to the south and the trip back to Rahula.
Hideko made us a great taco lunch as we all geared up for a dive. Amelia had recently been diagnosed with an ear problem that relegated her, unhappily, to snorkeling. After getting all of the gear together the five of us piled into Shooting Star and we set off for the dive site. I had never been unable to get up on a plane with our 25hp Yamaha before. Five folks and their dive gear in rough chop seemed to be the limit. As we plowed along in displacement mode several waves made it over the side. Everyone was happy to be wearing wet suits.
The dive site we were looking for was about half way down the length of Bora Bora in the Bay of Yairou. The reef that runs along the center of the lagoon on the east side leaves 10 feet of water on the Motu side but more like 80 feet of water in deep bays on the island side. We found a few buoys but none really seemed like a dive spot. We settled on a spot on the reef that looked like it had some interesting coral heads around for Amelia and was reasonably close to the drop off for the scuba contingent.
I could be described as anal when it comes to dive safety. I try to keep my opinions to myself unless asked for or in the presence of actions I consider dangerous. I was impressed at the professional way James handled the dive gear and preparations for himself and Mark. It is more fun to dive when you are with a group that takes safety and protection of the environment seriously. At least for me.
Our dive worked its way out to the wall over steep coral formations ranging from 30 feet to 0 feet. Right below the boat we discovered an interesting eel and many fish flitting about a large rock. The coral heads on the bank looked to be mostly fire coral and rose up in long walls that forced us to swim over them rather than around. This gave us a little more of a saw tooth pattern than I would otherwise like but not too bad. I had never seen such huge chunks of homogeneous fire coral before. We reached the drop off and descended to 70 feet and then worked out way back up the reef.
The visibility was not fantastic. The windy days have stirred up the sediment from the shoals which drifted out into the bay with the surface current and then rained down upon us. We saw some big puffer fish, lots of interesting coral formations, black pearl oysters, and lots of other interesting things though no large animals came around (was hoping for the mantas advertised).
We got back to the boat after a nice hour dive to find Amelia still looking about. She had stayed in the water to avoid being wet and cold in the windy dinghy. The ride back didn't make us much dryer with wet suits and BC flooding the bilge and chop splashing over the side. Hideko valiantly bailed as I motored us back to Swingin' on a Star.
Once on the big boat everyone took hot showers. Hideko and I had hoped to entice our friends into staying for dinner so that we could spend more time together. It was getting late in the day and after promising to zip them back to Rahula first thing in the morning our ploy worked.
We had a lovely dinner of steak frites with ice cream and home made butterscotch sauce for desert. It was a wonderful day and a great time spent with friends.