We set our alarm (my watch) for 6AM and by 0700 we were on our way out the Bora Bora pass. I had to look for the markers to find it because it was so calm on the west side you couldn't even tell where the reef was. From the Bora Bora pass Maupiti is just short of 27 nautical miles due west.
Once clear of the pass we put the main up. It may have added a tenth of a knot but I'm not sure. It does stabilize the rig though. Most cats don't have back stays and need the main or at least the topping lift to keep things safely balanced, particularly in a sea way. The wind was a little north of east but light and at several points showed 3 knots apparent. We were running one engine at 2,000 rpm and doing mid sevens on average.
At 09:00 local time (19:00z) we checked in with the ANZAC net on 6.227 MHz USB. This is a cruisers net that was set up by a group of folks crossing the Pacific back in Panama. It is the principal position and weather net that I know of out here. You can get a lot of first hand weather information (always yacht relevant), catch up with friends and get help with problems on the net.
Our friends on Thulani recently hooked us up with the Bob Mc Davitt report. Bob is a Kiwi with a weekly perspective for yachts on South Pacific weather. It is a great summary and fills a gap in the other resources I have been using. We pull down a spot report for where we are and where we're going. This gives us wind, waves and pressure every three hours for up to a week. We download a copy of the FZPS40.PHFO text report from Hawaii. This gives us information on fronts and lows moving around and Thunderstorm info as well. This is very macro information and covers almost the entire South Pacific in a one pager. We pull down a GRIB file with three days of wind and pressure over the general are to weather of us so that we can see patterns on the move. Bob fills in the gap between the Hawaii report and the GRIBs giving you a one week summary of the most interesting and important weather patterns relevant to yachts. ( send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with "send nz.wgrm" in it).
With the SPOTs, FZPS40.PHFO, GRIBs, Bob, and the Anzac net we have a lot to work with. If Bob did a daily I think I would finally be satisfied.
As we got about half way across, a layer of alto status started to fill in behind us. I wasn't happy about this because I wanted a nice blue sky over head to navigate the new island's lagoon, not to mention its infamous pass. We also noticed a larger than expected swell coming from the southeast. The swell was a good two meters, just the height that an experienced skipper had told me you don't want to have more than when entering Maupiti's lagoon. I was reminded of the huge metal hulk that sat next to us in the Raiatea boat yard, the remains of the prior Maupiti Express pulled from the Onoiau pass reef.
About an hour out we caught sight of the new Maupiti Express buzzing along. I was hoping to watch him go through but he was too fast and we lost sight of him well before being able to make out the pass. As we came in on the southeast point of the Maupiti reef we started getting things ready. We brought the main down without even heading up, which tells you how much wind we had at the time. We also brought in our fishing lines, which saw no action the whole four hour trip.
As we approached the area of the pass I was taken aback by the size of the breakers on the south reef. That swell was really pumping. Then I saw the two motus that flank the pass. I couldn't really see a pass at first, just a nice surf break. Then we spotted an area of disturbed water that didn't seem to be breaking. It was very dubious.
We passed by the entrance to the pass to get an overview of the scene and then turned 180 and came back from the west side. This gave me a much better perspective but I still was not happy with the view. A couple of Polynesian guys were bobbing around outside of the pass with some lines in the water so I decided to confer with them. I asked if they thought we could transit the pass safely with our big slow sail boat. They said, "yeah, good", and made sweeping motions with their arms in the direction of the pass.
We sat out there and watched the break for a while to get a feel for it. It is hard to tell if a wave has an overfall from the back when it is rolling over water. The waves breaking on the coral threw up quite a bit of spray but the waves breaking on the two fathom bank, not so much. There was a pattern of large swells coming in groups that made things look dangerous regardless.
We had timed things to arrive on the flood as close to high tide slack as possible so that we wouldn't have tide against swell, though getting accurate tide information for Maupiti is difficult. Our Navionics electronic charts for the area offer Tahiti as the closest tide station. We had also waited for a neap tide in the hopes of further reducing complications. I didn't see any standing waves so we seem to have gotten that part right. One cruising guide suggests 6AM as the calmest time to make the entrance but with sunrise at 05:30, 10:00 seems about as early as most folks could get here from Bora Bora. The same guide suggested an overnight to arrive at first light but 27 miles is a little short for an overnight, you'd need to do less than 3 knots to avoid running into Maupiti in the night.
After watching the break around the pass a little while longer, I asked Hideko what she though. She said, "let's go". So we did.
I waited for a big brutal set of honkers to pass by and then progressively opened up both Yanmars all the way, something I rarely do. We had 8-9 knots of way on as we came into the pass. The cruising guide and charts tell you to follow the transit marks on the outer part of the pass until inside the pass and then switch to an interior set of transit marks to get through the last part, but the outer transit takes you too close to the eastern breakers for my liking. We split the difference between the two transits coming in a little more from the west. This gives you a better view up into the pass and keeps you a little more to the mid point of the breaking water. When we had cleared the large break on the east side we just followed the channel which is easy to identify in good conditions.
Once through the pass the tension melted and we were awed by the beauty of Maupti. There were some interesting currents, eddies and chop in the channel between the motus but no standing waves or dangerous flows at 11:00 on 9/20/2008 (I can not comment outside of our experience). You have to stay on top of things but the channel is plenty deep and well marked. I looked back at the pass from the inside and shuddered to think I had just drove our house though it. In retrospect I imagine that if it hadn't been my first time through this pass I probably wouldn't have batted an eye, but it was my first time. The difference between your first time navigating a tricky area and your second is infinite. If you've been through twice then you're twice as experienced as the guy who's been once. There is no number you can multiply by zero to get one however.
As you wind up the channel from the pass you sail between two lovely motus, each with wonderful coral pools, white sand beaches and lots of coconut palms. The channel winds ahead to Maupiti proper where you can anchor off of the town quay. You can also just hang a left after you pass motu Pitiahe and anchor in the lee of the north point.
As we came in, the lagoon spread out in front of us and it was full of colors. The clouds had not quite caught up with us so we had great visibility. We saw a Tahiti Yacht Charters Lagoon 380 parked in the Pitiahe anchorage and decided that that was a good sign, particularly because the skipper was certainly a professional (no bare boats in Maupiti). The anchorage is 25 to 30 feet of great holding sand. There are some coral rocks on the bottom but if you're careful you can find a good arc to lay down plenty of chain without fouling.
After anchoring and putting the boat away, Hideko made us a nice lunch and we just sat in the cockpit soaking up the amazing scenery. The cloud layer that had been after us passed to the south and it was a spectacular day.
After lunch I jumped in for a snorkel around the boat to check the anchor and give our props and rudders a once over. Upon inspection I found that the rudders were a little out of alignment. Hideko opened the hydraulic line on the port side and I tapped the rudder into true under the boat. Hydraulic rudders can get out of alignment over time but I think ours were probably just a little off after the boat yard work in Raiatea. You can also get going in a straight line, coast and then open the hydraulic lines and let the rudders true themselves. You need flat water and no current for that approach though.
Hideko's next priority was to take a nap, so while she was counting sheep I took the dinghy on a little tour of Pitiahe and the pass. Pitiahe is surrounded on the west by a huge shallow bank of perfect sand. The sand is interrupted by black spots here and there, the moving ones are sting rays and the fixed ones are chunks of coral. With a bit of care you can easily drive a dinghy through most of this area.
On the way back to the anchorage I stopped to say hi to the charter group, they were the only other yacht in Maupiti. The skipper was very friendly and agreed with my slightly west approach in the pass, though he said following the transits works too. They would be leaving in the morning at or around 6AM low tide. He also indicated that the anchorage off the town dock was nice, though I'm not sure we'll get to it. The spot we're in is in good proximity to the pass, making an early exit fairly straight forward. You can also see the southern reef break from the anchorage if you are trying to gauge things.
Zipping around the area we anchored in I noticed no real hazards. You have to be careful to lay your chain on sand but the rocks that are in the neighborhood all have 20 feet or more water over them. In the pass both motus have hard shoals with little rivulets and pools. The locals have found passages here and there deep enough for their skiffs to make it to the beach. Both motus and the pass itself make for great exploring. Snorkeling is supposed to be good here but you'd need to keep an eye on the current.
I took a break from the sun back at the big boat and caught up on some reading. Hideko woke up shortly thereafter and then we saw the Maupiti Express on her way toward the pass. The Maupiti Express is no small catamaran. I would guess it is 35 meters long and 18 meters wide. Hideko and I scrambled to get into the dinghy, we really wanted to see this beast transit the pass now that the chance was in front of us. We came up behind her just as she was getting between the motus. The Express had big steep four footers coming off her stern. At first I thought it was her wake, but then I realized they were standing waves. It was 4PM and the tide was trying to get out against the 2 meter swell. As she closed on the pass itself we throttled back to watch. The big boat was hobby horsing through the waves under heavy throttle like I have never seen a large ship do. It was quite a sight. Clear of the pass, the shuttle continued to bash into the heavy head seas as she turned for Bora Bora.
Note to self: don't exit the Onoiau pass in the afternoon...
09/19/2008, Bora Bora
The Gendarme that we checked out with yesterday was a nice guy and told us that we had 24 hours to leave once clearing out. The big task after clearing out is getting your bond back. Americans and Japanese (and most other non EU passport holders) have to post a bond to enter FP by yacht. The bond is approximately equivalent to the amount of a flight home. This made the Japanese bond 176,000 fp francs and the US bond 150,000 fpf. We hit the Gendarmerie at 4PM yesterday but the Socredo bank (holders of our bond) closed at 3:30.
The bank opened at 7:30 this morning so I arrived bright and early to get things handled. In order to make for a fast get away I decided to dinghy over to the Saint James restaurant dock one bay over from the yacht club. The Saint James is in a little plaza with a computer shop and a nice bakery with yummy breakfast items. A half block farther toward town and you are at the big grocery store, the chandlery and the Socredo Bank.
I purchased the bonds with my credit card and thus expected the symmetrical credit. Nothing doing. They would not credit my card. I was very insistent but they would not budge. This is not only inconvenient but seemingly unreasonable. If you can charge the card, certainly you can credit it? The cash amount is over $3,000 US. They suggested I take francs. The last thing we needed was more francs, we had just cleared out!
In the end I had to settle for US and New Zealand Dollars (good in the Cooks, Niue and Tonga). We made about 10% on the US dollar over the three months we were here, not sure whether to be happy or sad about that.
I made my way back to the boat with a stop at the pastry place. It was 10:00 when I returned to the boat. It was getting late to make Maupiti in good stead for clearing the tricky pass. After a nice breakfast, we had the dinghy up and the big boat ready to go by 11:00. Then I noticed that the bank had taken my clearance out and not returned it. They, of course, close from 11:30 to 1:30. So we enjoyed one more day in Bora Bora.
It was choppy in the lagoon but we ran the dinghy over to the Pearl Beach Resort on the motu across from the yacht club just to check it out. It was the only large hotel on Bora Bora we had not yet taken a look at. It was a nice place with the expected over water bungalows and all. The location was not optimal however. This resort, like the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort and Spa, faces the east and there is a fair amount of fetch off the resort beach. This makes the dock and beach of the resort choppy quite often. If you're going to visit Bora Bora and stay in a hotel our recommendation is still #1 Four Seasons or Nui (tie), #3 Saint Regis.
After lunch we returned to the bank to get our clearance papers. We also stopped at the Total station, the only fuel dock I know of in Bora Bora. We picked up a little 5 liter emergency tank for the dinghy that I had been looking for. I was surprised that the station did not take credit cards. Some yachts must run up a pretty serious bill which has to be rough on the cash reserves When we returned to the big boat I downloaded weather over the yacht club's Iorana Net WIFI site (you get one free hour a day with a mooring). The Bora Bora wind guru report among other resources indicated that wind and seas still looked good for Maupiti tomorrow, so we turned in early to prepare for a crack of dawn departure.
09/18/2008, Bora Bora
It was our three year wedding anniversary today! We were married here in Bora Bora so it only made sense to enjoy our anniversary here as well.
We had a relaxing morning. I made lattes and we thawed out some of the frozen Pain au Chocolat (chocolate croissants which are actually really good) while our recently repaired washer dryer reduced the size of the dirty laundry which had been building for some weeks.
We took the dinghy around to the east side of the island and visited the new Four Seasons hotel for lunch. They just opened on September 1st and it is a really nice place. I still have to give the Bora Bora Nui the number 1 rating here because of its location, laid back style and bar/restaurant with the sand floor. If you are looking for sterling service and great food I would have to give the Four Seasons the nod and it is now clearly my #2 with the Saint Regis coming in third.
It is not only our anniversary but also the anniversary of Chile's independence. There was a group of Chileans at the bar where we had lunch and they were whipping up some crazy drinks with the bar staff made from distilled wine. They graciously included us in their celebration. The beverages were very tasty and very dangerous.
While I could still see to drive we departed the Four Seasons and made a circumnavigation out of it. We dinghied back around Matira point on the way to town to clear out. I think that this is the longest we have been in one country for a few years. It has been over ten weeks in French Polynesia for us. If they would let us stay another six we would. Things as they are we will be off to Maupiti tomorrow on the way to the Cook Islands.
Clearing out was easy and the Gendarmarie guys were very easy going (contrary to the cruiser rumor mill I had heard). They cleared us out even though I told them we were leaving tomorrow. The bank was closed so we couldn't redeem the "make sure you have enough cash to fly home" bonds we purchased upon arriving anyway.
After a quick stop for dog food (it is a long way to the next Purina dealer) we headed back to the Bora Bora yacht club. The cruisers in the anchorage were having a BBQ and we didn't want to miss it.
After a quick turn around at the big boat we headed into the yacht club with a steak to split (still full from lunch) and enough of Hideko's yummy tomato and cucumber salad to feed several cruisers.
We had a great night with a very interesting group of folks. Yachts Honalee, Plan B, God Spede, Slap Dash, and Thulani where there with their crews of two or three. Most are heading west soon just like we are. We look forward to seeing them in the next harbor.
09/17/2008, Bora Bora
We took a bike ride around Bora Bora today. It was a lot of fun and I've been wanting to do it for a long time. The Bora Bora yacht club has bikes you can use for free and they're pretty nice beach bombers. You get a totally different feel for a place when you ride a bike around it, as compared to taking a car or a dinghy for that matter.
We hit the ATM in Viatape to get some cash (only the Bank of Tahiti seems to work for us). The yacht club only takes cash which is kind of a bummer because we're trying to leave the country with 0 French Polynesian Francs.
We ate lunch at a snack (lunch place in french) on Matira beach. It was a lovely day out and the beach here is wonderful. Before we knew it Patrick came by. He was teaching some kids how to fire dance (without the fire). It was great to see him again.
As we made our way around to the east side a full blow squall came in. It was crazy windy and Hideko and I got cooled down by the stinging rain. It was amazing how fast it went from beautiful to nasty. You couldn't see it coming on the west side. The GFS had predicted overcast and here it was.
It never rained long or too hard. By the time we reached the north side of the island the sun was out again. We made one last stop to pick up a few things at the chandler and grab a 10 pack of frozen chocolate croissants from the grocery before we headed back to the boat.
We were going to leave tomorrow but tomorrow is our 3 year wedding anniversary and we got married here so we figured we'd enjoy tomorrow and take off the next day. Still looks good for a Maupiuti pass entrance so we're looking forward to the next stop as well.
09/16/2008, Bora Bora
We haven't been around other cruisers for a while. Last time in Bora Bora we were alone on the east side most of the time, although there were charter boats about. There were a few other folks in the yard at Raiatea but we were trying to get out of there with every spare moment. We were also the only cruisers at the Marina Iti, though there were some nice charter folks there also. Everyone has headed west but us stragglers.
The Bora Bora yacht club is a cruiser hang out though. It is nice to talk tourists stuff, routes, weather and official-dom with similarly minded folks again. We have heard that Fiji is having Dengue Fever problems, Palmerston Atoll (in the Cook Islands) has 8 new moorings with comfortable protection from the north around to the south and that the French Customs in Bora Bora are as much of a pain as the ones in Tahiti (you can't check out until 30 minutes before you depart...). It is advisable to double check the factual nature of the cruiser network, yet there is usually some truth to most of the flow.
We are working on the boat a bit today. We removed the aft edge canvas tracks when we finalized our side curtains with snaps. This left holes in the glass and some rust stains. Nothing some gel coat and a little elbow grease can't fix. It is so beautiful here it is hard to work, at least we're outside!
09/15/2008, Bora Bora
We got the boat set for sea this morning and dropped the mooring to motor out into the bay. Hideko and I were certainly rusty, we haven't sailed in the ocean in over a month! Strange given we live on a sail boat. We have a good preparation check list though so we put it to use.
Once away from the other yachts we turned head to wind and put up the main. I have heard a lot of opinions on how and when to raise the main. Every boat is different but opinions seem to be most relevant when applied to the owners boat, a good thing to keep in mind when considering adopting someone else's ideas.
I have found that on a yacht of 40 feet or less, raising the main at anchor or on a mooring is a reasonable and often easier approach. As the boat approaches 50 feet it becomes a bit more dangerous and less reasonable, particularly in windy conditions. The power behind a 1,000 square foot sail in a gust is not something you can man handle.
After bringing the main up we headed north toward the Paipai pass. This pass is pretty deep and wide and some of the cruising guides make it sound a bit scary. You would have to have some pretty severe southerly weather to make it dangerous in my estimation.
Once out from behind the headland the wind funneling through the cut between the islands picked up into the high 20s. We had to jib half way down the lagoon as the wind was right behind us. Once near the pass we made a gentle turn into the wind bringing the apparent wind back into the 20s.
There was a French Navy ship making its way through the wide pass at the time. We thought about standing off until she was through but the pass is so wide we decided to slow down a bit until the ship was through the breakers and then move on. We waved at the cheerful navy crew on the way by. Tuff life patrolling the viscous Polynesian waters...
Given the forecast, we had some pretty brisk wind on the 20 mile trip across. I think the draw between Raiatea and Tahaa has something to do with it, even out in the channel. The seas between the two groups also get a little mixed up.
The Tahaa Paipai pass exits in a southwest direction and once out we could not clear the south end of the Bora Bora reef on one tack without sailing deeper than 145 apparent. Without the spinnaker we can't really do much better than 145 and double handed with 20 some knots of true wind is decidedly not spinnaker territory.
Once around the Bora Bora southwest reef marker we headed up which brought the wind onto the beam. The wind was gusty on the west side of Bora Bora and although the gradient wind was out of the east, the island seemed to whip it up a bit with some directional variability. Shortly we were surfing down the gentle four footers on the back side of the island as speeds up to 13 knots. This is always fun but things happen fast at 13 knots. We were coming up on the pass and the next thing you know there's a slow sailboat preparing to enter the pass under power, two small power boats exiting, four open fishing boats moving around the area, a sport fisher zig zagging back and forth in front of us and fish aggregation buoys flouting around all over the place.
You do have a lot of steerageway at 13 knots though. Snaking through the various hazards (none of which were apparently interested in our right of way status as a sailboat) took all of our attention. Once close to the pass we rolled up the jib, headed up and dropped the main quickly, so that we didn't run anyone down, and then followed the monohull into the pass.
Though we have spent a fair amount of time in Bora Bora we had never stayed at the Bora Bora Yacht club. This is perhaps the oldest of yacht hang outs in Bora Bora. It is often crowded as well. It is late in the season however and we were lucky enough to find a mooring. Within minutes of picking it up the last two were gone.
The yacht club is in a nice little bay just across from the pass, easy in and easy out. It is a short hop to town but far enough from it that you aren't "in town". The yacht club itself is a mooring field and a nice dock with a bar and grill. The food is supposedly fantastic with a Los Angeles trained chef. They also have bikes for cruiser use and a nice barbeque area for yachts to use.
We arrived on a Monday and the kitchen is closed on Mondays, as are most things in Bora Bora. We met some kindred spirits at the bar, which was open. Thulani, Decorse Spirit and Chante Foc all yachts we have run into at various points along the run from Panama.
The weather is finally coming around but this morning it seemed like we ware in for one last gasp of disturbed air. It rained most of the day to day. We spent the day enjoying the beautiful harbor and calm, if wet, conditions. The Marina Iti/Yacht Club is a perfect cruiser hang out especially in these conditions. The manager, Maui, is a very friendly and helpful fellow. He is from Bora Bora but went to collage in California and speaks perfect French and Californian. They have a full bar and fantastic food.
There is a pearl farm base next door to the Yacht Club and you can take a walk through the Marina Iti gardens to visit. They will give you a complete run down and demonstration of the pearl making process.