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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
The Rails of Raiatea
08/18/2008, Raiatea

We got up at the crack of dawn this morning hoping to make Raiatea in time for an AM haul out. We raised our anchor and motored out of the sand bank into the Povai Bay. We decided to raise the main here. The winds were predicted to be light today, around 10 knots, and from the east. This would make exiting the pass, which is on the west side of the island, pretty easy. We left the jib put away until we got a better picture of the situation in the channel.

The pass was calm and we motored out and around toward the south side of Bora Bora. Once around the southwest point we made a direct line for the main western pass of Raiatea, just south of the Raiatea Carenage. This seemed to be exactly where the wind was coming from, as usual. We motored along at about 7 knots with the main helping some here and there.

It is about 21 miles from pass to pass and it took us the expected three hours with an hour on each side for negotiating the lagoons and passes. The channel between Raiatea and Bora Bora is protected from the southeast seas by Raiatea but anything from the south or southwest comes barreling right in. Fortunately there was little swell and the apparent wind never got over 20 knots. The Raiatea pass was well marked and eventless as was the lagoon transit.

We ended up on a mooring outside of the Carenage at about 10:00 but it was too late to haul until after lunch. We probably could have made it in the AM but we weren't sure we were in the right place. The Raiatea Carenage is right next to, and looks like the same facility as, Raiatea Marine. Raiatea Marine has a big sign on the roof that says "VHF channel 72". Unfortunately the person handling radio and pone for Raiatea Carenage didn't connect the dots when we described our location and the VHF 72 bit. After receiving some fairly suspect directions, along with a call back after lunch, we decided to stay on the mooring and get the hotel accommodations sorted out first.

We had called around a bit the prior week and settled on Raiatea Lodge. After touring Raiatea I can feel good about saying that it is the nicest place to stay on the island. They have a great little dock out front and the are a very short trip south from the Carenage, so Hideko and I just took the dinghy over.

We were greeted by Oliver, one of the owners, and shown to a lovely room with free wifi, hot water and aircon (no of these a given in FP). The grounds are lush and lovely and the hotel is a quaint boutique with only 16 rooms. It would be a prefect place for our week or two stay while Swingin' on a Star got her annual tune up.

Oliver explained to us that there are only two place that haul boats on Raiatea and both are right where we were parked. This information in hand we returned to the big boat and clarified things with the Carenage. We were indeed right in front of their shop, which is situated on the northwest side of Raiatea, between the main west side pass and the airport.

I had never done a rail system before so I was looking forward to the experience with a touch of trepidation. After our dinghy ride I noticed two hazards in the area. First, like many of the society island lagoons, the anchorages her are deep and many use moorings. There are moorings (most with boats) all around the area, and some don't necessarily clear the surface. Second there is a very shallow, as in above water at low tide, reef covering the entire south side of the Carenage ramp. In fact if you are south of track on the line into the ramp you will hit the rocks in anything but a dinghy.

I was on the radio with Dominic, who is the owner of the Carenage, and he talked me in. We approached north of the transit leading into the ramp. As we got over the rails I slowed the boat. I had to keep her moving a bit though because the wind was up a bit and we were pushing to the south. There were about four or five guys in the water and once close enough we quickly secured lines to the port bow and stern to keep the boat off of the reef. This involved a bit of hustling and some confusion as the guys working in the yard speak Tahitian and French.

Once the port lines were on we secured cross ties forward and aft, springs, and starboard lines. At this point I realized that there was no one in sight who could speak English. I continue to scold myself for not coming up to speed on other languages faster. I should really have conversational French down by now, but I don't. Nor Spanish. Nor Japanese, Nor Tahitian. Though bits of each are running through my head making things even more interesting.

Once secured to the car below the winch operator on shore begins to haul the car up the tracks. I noted that before things got moving my sounder read 2 feet. This really means a bit over three feet but I had still never seen the number 2 there before.

As the car moves forward it tows the boat through the water on the lines attached to it until the leading edge of the keel makes contact with the boards lashed to the car. At this point things stop and final adjustments are made to the boats position over the car through the lines. Once set they begin to actually haul the boat when the car advances. The winch is connected to the car via heavily greased cables on a 7:1 purchase, so things go nice and slow.

At some point in the process the keels go flat on the car. It you are lucky your boat will sit perfectly going up the grade this way. I doubt many have this luck. It is nice to have a balanced boat. For upwind sailing this means center of gravity in the middle of the boat, for downwind a lift aft of the middle. Regardless, most cats are going to be a little aft heavy. Even if they weren't lifting them at an angle would make them so. Point being most will pop a wheelie given the chance. We did.

The guys were swimming under the boat yelling at each other and I just have a vision of the trailing edges of the keels crunching down into the knotty wood of the slats mounted on the rusty metal of the rail car. I tried to discuss matters with one of the guys who spoke a tiny bit of English. He was not the senior guy and given the level of our discussion I was as likely to be misunderstood or misunderstand as to communicate. There was noting for it, so I put on a mask and jumped into the water.

The boat was definitely not sitting level on her keels. After a bit of discussion they blocked the starboard stern and continued hauling. I didn't like the look of things and almost had to start throwing things to get the winch operator to stop. "Stop" is apparently not the first English word in the course. After failing to communicate the need for blocks on the port and also failing to find Dominic, or any one else who spoke English, I decided to let them proceed as I watched the port side carefully. It was rocked way back on the keel bit not picking up at all like before. Two of the guys were actually hanging on the bow lines. I not sure what they thought this accomplished but I am very sure I didn't like it.

In the end she made it up to the top of the track without a problem. That said if I were to do it again I would require the following: 1) Someone who speaks English must be on station at all times during the haul out to communicate with the captain. 2) The port and starboard stern must be blocked in the water as soon as the keels are level on the car.

Careful? Definitely. Paranoid? Perhaps. Regardless, no one will be crying but you if a yard damages your boat. They also have to block the stern of your boat once it is at rest so why not just do it when it is most important, while the boat is moving up the track? After a rough opener I have come to have a strong respect for this yard, but more on that later.

It was late in the day by the time the car was locked in place at the top of the tracks and the boat was properly blocked. The railway setup here allows only one boat to be in port at a time. The rail can handle just about any 50 foot catamaran but I do know that they had to turn away a 60 footer. The rail could take her but there is a 100 foot steel power cat sitting in the yard right next to the rail that interferes with very wide (over 9 meter) boats. The power cat was a Maupiti shuttle that took a bit too much of a short cut one day and ended up on the reef.

Once everything was situated I grabbed an overnight bag and joined Hideko in the dink. It was a short 5 minute dinghy ride to Raiatea Lodge and a good nights sleep.

French Polynesia
Motu Tapu and the BBLRS
08/17/2008, Bora Bora

It is our last day in Bora Bora (sniff). We took a trip around motu Toopua to complete our explorations. At the northwest end of Toopua is motu Tapu. It is a private island (I believe owned by a hotel or two). The area between Tapu and Toopua is a popular anchorage. A little out in the open for my tastes but beautiful and flush with white sand for solid anchoring.

We stopped in at Tapu to play around in the water a bit. This is the island where we were married and so Hideko felt it appropriate to represent my wedding ring to me. I lost the original jumping off of a waterfall in Grenada (I never should have let that crazy guy Razmig talk me into that). Now the new ring is as official as the first. We walked around the island a bit but were politely asked to leave by the gardener (it is a private island). With that we set off back to Toopua.

On the way we saw a Lagoon 470 in the anchorage. It was Wakamizu! We knocked on the hull and Nirai appeared. It was great to see him again. He caught us up on their travels and we did the same. Su San and family were out and about in the dinghy. It was unfortunate that we would be leaving tomorrow without a real chance to catch up.

Our next stop was the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort and Spa. This was the last of the big hotels that we had yet to check out. Sure we love the undisturbed nature and the away from it all places, but there isn't really a lot of that in Bora Bora. Bora Bora is THE resort destination in French Polynesia. Go anywhere but the society islands if you want to get away from high density tourism.

The big hotels of Bora Bora are interesting in and of themselves though. They have lovely gardens, fantastic swimming pools, (typically) great food, and unique ways of integrating with the lagoons and motus around them. Many of these hotels are great architectural and landscape design achievements and we enjoy them for just this.

The Bora Bora Lagoon resort and Spa is very nice. The dock is unfortunately on the windward side of Toopua and it is pretty breezy there most of the time. As is often the case you have to be careful tying up because one side is very shallow.

The resort itself is starting to show its age. It was the premier resort when it opened and so there is still much to recommend it. The lunch place is a pool side bar but the food is very good and the pool is lovely. The grounds are covered with picturesque Polynesian gardens and ponds covered in lilies. The Spa is a big tree house nestled back in the gardens and they have tennis courts, sail boat, kayak and wind surfer rentals, along with all the rest.

As we returned to our dinghy we saw Su San from Wakamizu. We noticed the other dinghy at the dock when we tied up but it didn't look like Wakamizu's. They said the same thing about ours. We had both changed dinghies in Panama City and almost missed each other because of it. It was great to catch up with them if only for a few minutes on the dock.

With Toopua and a visit to the BBLRS completed we had only missed the Pearl Beach resort, which is isolated on its own motu just north of the pass. We were quite satisfied with our stay in Bora Bora regardless. We will always love this beautiful island and its amazing lagoon.

French Polynesia
Hotel Bora Bora
08/16/2008, Bora Bora

Our date for hauling out in Raiatea (Aug 18) is coming up. The wind has been blowing 20 knots from the southeast which is exactly where Raiatea is. It looked like we might get a day of northeast wind that would allow us to sail over but the forecast has changed and now it looks like a light wind day on Monday (our haul out day) is the best we can do.

In order to get setup for the crossing we decided to move back to the west side of Bora Bora, where the one pass into the lagoon is located. We are all the way down on the southeast side and there is no way to get a big boat around the south end at Matira Point so we have to go all the way back around (tracing the shape of a horseshoe). It is, of course, a beautiful trip but it does take a couple of hours.

We headed out of the Piti Aau anchorage at noon in order to have good light. We motored around the occasional coral head in the otherwise beautiful sand bottom anchorage and left the 8 foot water for the deeper water near the island of Bora Bora. Once in the 60 foot zone we headed north up the coast.

The passage along the east side of Bora Bora is well marked in the deep water. You can stay in 80 feet much of the way but there is a slightly harrowing 10 foot pass through a natural channel in the reef that you must follow to get back to the 30 foot basin on the motu side just north of the Four Seasons. From there you continue north and cruise over the 10 foot bottom back toward Bora Bora around the marks at the north end of the basin. From here on you are back on the Bora Bora island side in deep water again.

We decided to anchor on the sandy bank in front of the Hotel Bora Bora at the south end of Povai Bay. There are great spots with nothing but sand here ranging from 7 to 10 feet. The northern most bulge of the bank gets very skinny right at the edge, maybe 6 feet in places. There are deeper places to enter but we saw a monohull following us bump here. They ended up backing up and entering the bank farther east. There are coral heads along the edge in places and some rocks on the bank here and there (it is a big bank) so it is good to keep a careful eye on the water until you know where you are. There is also a nice snorkel spot at the west end of the bank with many shallow coral heads just northeast of the channel around motu Toopua.

Once settled we decided to visit the Hotel Bora Bora. This is the oldest of the big hotels on Bora Bora. It is also one of the few actually on the island, the new trend has been to build on the motus. The Hotel Bora Bora is also one of the pioneers of the over water bungalow.

We arrived at the dock and were impressed by all of the shallow coral and the multitude of fish just feet from the pilings (careful parking the dink!). Unlike many of the new hotels the HBB has had time to settle into the environment and looks much more a part of the surroundings, as opposed to an intrusion on them.

The grounds of the hotel are classic and beautiful. It is situated on a point with lovely beaches on one side and a coral lagoon on the other. Hideko and I made our way to the beach bar to get a late lunch, early dinner. We do this often because we really only eat one meal a day. Some cereal or what have you with coffee and a late lunch/early dinner is perfect for us. It also works well because at the end of a hard day of diving/snorkeling or whatever we can get out to visit a resort, eat a nice meal from the (typically less expensive) lunch menu after the crowds have left, watch the sunset and still get back to the big boat before the light fades.

We had a great time at the Hotel Bora Bora. We met a friendly young lady from Tahiti who was studying Hotel Management during the year and working at the hotel for her summer break. We discovered that our visit to the hotel would be our last also. The hotel is scheduled to be demolished in a month! We were both very sad to hear that this beautiful place and all of its history were to be destroyed.

The plan is to erect a modern hotel in its place over the course of two years. Apparently the old classic is having a hard time competing with the newer hotels. In particular, the HBB has no pool and no spa, both items to be amended with the new build out. It will be sad to see such a lovely landmark destroyed. Hopefully they will integrate some of the wonderful bits of the old hotel into the plans for the new one.

French Polynesia
Snorkeling Bora Bora
08/15/2008, Bora Bora

There are lots of great places to snorkel in Bora Bora. The Bora Bora Nui beach has many lovely coral heads and fish in crystal clear shallow water (one of the reasons we rate it as the number one place to stay in Bora Bora if you are choosing a hotel). You can also have a lot of fun snorkeling the edge of the bank just north of the start of the marked channel that leads around the south of motu Toopua from Povai Bay. Charlie's Charts says the snorkeling south of motu Piti Aau is the best, we don't agree but there are some nice spots out there.

The award for best snorkeling spot in Bora Bora, in our opinion, goes to the back side of the Sofitel Motu island. This area is flush with gorgeous coral heads, flooded with fish, has shallows and spots that are 10 feet deep as well as moorings to tie up to. It is a protected area, so no fishing or anchoring is allowed. This combined with the regular fish feeding going on makes the fish very friendly and unconcerned with snorkelers. The only down side is that the location is not a secret. Best to visit early, late or during mid day because the tours seem to come en mass in the morning around 10AM and in the afternoon around 1PM.

French Polynesia
Exploring the East Side Reef
08/14/2008, Bora Bora

Today we took the dinghy out to explore the outer reef area on the east side of the lagoon. The motus running along the east side are connected to the barrier reef for the most part. However in the south end there is a big gap between the Piti Aau motu and the outer reef. There are many interesting coral formations in this area.

One large coral island rises up above the water just behind Piti Aau. You can approach carefully by dinghy and explore the island and its tide pools. There are lots of fish and many colorful clams in this area.

As we were getting ready to leave a Polynesian family arrived on their power boat. The wife tossed a danforth onto the rocky island (helping mother nature make sand of it) and they all came ashore. We said hello and then they headed off into the coral shallows. I wondered what they were up to and then I saw the wife prying clams from the coral with a big steel bar as the son followed along with a floating plastic box to house the harvest. I was pretty fond of all of the colorful clams on the reef. There are a lot of them at present however so hopefully the harvest is sustainable.

Once away from the coral island we headed through the submerged coral to explore the bank behind the reef to the south. There are some buoys here in the sand flats that we saw a tourist boat leaving from. As it turns out this is one of the shark feeding spots. We saw lots of little black tip sharks and several rays patrolling the grounds to ensure that all of the scraps had been cleaned up.

There were many other interesting areas to explore by dinghy on the southeast side and we had a wonderful day of it.

French Polynesia
Piti Aau
08/13/2008, Bora Bora

We moved the boat down to the southernmost anchorage on the east side today. The trek from the Saint Regis to the bottom corner of Motu Piti Aau can be made in two ways. We took the Motu side route but you can also go back north to the marked channel and pass over to the island side. The island side is deep water (40-80 feet) until you get down to Piti Aau. The Motu side is about 10 feet and you need to stay close to the hotel over water bungalows (but out of the buoyed swim barriers) as you go. The charts in this area are very out of whack. Our track took us right over several charted reefs that supposedly dry at low tide. We never crossed anything but white sand and though we saw 8 feet as we edged toward the middle of the lagoon, there was nothing less than 10 feet closer in on the motu side.

Once you pass the Intercontinental you can just eyeball your way down. Closer in to Piti Aau at the end of your trek you will come across some coral heads. You can zig though these and head straight into the anchorage or you can head back toward the big island into deeper water and come in farther south where the approach is a little less littered with rock.

The Piti Aau anchorage is gorgeous. It is mostly white sand on a very large 8 foot shelf. The bay in the southeast of Bora Bora's lagoon is bordered on the north and east by Piti Aau, on the south by a 2-3 foot white sand bank, and on the west by Bora Bora. All of this of course is inside the barrier reef. You are pretty protected ocean wise.

The bay does get shallow closer in to the Piti Aau motu, so you can't get too close. This leaves room for a bit of chop and wind when the trades are up. It still has our vote for best anchorage in Bora Bora.

When dropping the hook you do need to check the weather and your swinging room. There are enough rocks around that you could easily get your chain wrapped around one in a wind switch. Of course you can lie to 60 feet of chain and still be at 6:1.

We moved all the way into the anchorage. There are two boats, an old sail boat and a power boat, that are on permanent moorings up in the bay. If you draw 5 feet you can easily anchor in front of them. Until you know your way around you should enter during high sun and keep a good eye out because some of the rocks have less than 5 feet of water over them.

We put our hook down in about six to seven feet of water close to the rise. The wind was predicted to blow strong from the east for the next few days, but I still snorkeled around to make sure we could swing a 360 if need be. We spent the rest of the day settling in to our new spot, meeting the neighbors and snorkeling about. It was beautiful.

French Polynesia
08/29/2008 | Frank Taylor
I was really hoping you had added your anchorage coordinates on this one. Looking at Google Earth, I'm not sure where you ended up from your description.
09/17/2008 | Randy
The log book says: 16 32.11S 151 42.25W
Le Meridian
08/12/2008, Bora Bora

Today we decided to continue our hotel tour (after eating lunch aboard!) with a visit to the Le Meridian. The Le Meridian is the oldest hotel in the area and it looks it. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If you want the Ritz, go to the Saint Regis or the Bora Bora Nui, or perhaps the new Four Seasons (there is no Ritz). That said the Le Meridian reminds me of the old Polynesia, which I am only acquainted with through Walt Disney.

The main buildings are big and open with high pandana covered roofs. The bungalows are smaller and more reserved but still charming. The lagoon is big and beautiful and things look a little less perfect and a little more natural (after all the Le Meridian had first pick of the east side motu spots). But in my opinion, the best thing about the Le Meridian is the turtles.

The Le Meridian has a sea turtle sanctuary where they rehabilitate and raise sea turtles. Some are in pens to protect them as they recover but many are loose in the enclosed lagoon. You can swim and snorkel with them if you are careful not to disturb them. Teaching them not to fear man may not be the best thing for their long term survival. Humans are one of the turtle's deadliest predators, but I suppose you have to raise awareness somehow.

Our favorite turtle spent most of his time playing with (tormenting?) a damsel fish. Damsel fish are famous for being very territorial and will often go after creatures much larger than themselves who get too close to their layer (i.e. SCUBA divers). The turtle would swim boldly into the damsel fish layer and then paddle away as the fish nipped at his flippers.

It is fun to just walk around these resorts and look at the architecture and the landscapes. Most of the large modern resorts have really worked hard to create an idyllic setting. Beaches, trees, endless swimming pools, flowers, lagoons, Koi filled lily ponds and bridges with wandering paths all work together to create quite an impression.

French Polynesia

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