Passage from Bora Bora to Suwarrow, Sept. 12-17, 2007, in which we had rolly, uncomfortable seas ,strong gusts, two accidental jibes, a little spill, and no traffic at all.
On Wednesday September 12, after using up the last of our wi-fi minutes with Ioranet, doing last minute checks for email and weather, and lots of last minute stowing of items that scatter themselves around the boat so quickly while we're safely at anchor, we picked up our anchor at 10:30 a.m. and headed for the pass out of Bora Bora to begin the 675 miles to Suwarrow Atoll. Just after exiting the pass, we saw our friends on Zazoo just arriving. Sadly, we wouldn't have any time to visit with them, but it was very nice to see them again, however briefly, and to know that all was well with them. The last we'd seen them was in Fakarava in the Tuamotus, when they had been talking of going back to the Marquesas for the cyclone season. (It was Ben who free dove 50+ feet to free our anchor in Fakarava so we could leave.) They had since decided to continue on to New Zealand, where Ben can safely leave the boat while he looks for work as a professional diver in Singapore for a bit to boost the cruising kitty. Once we passed them, we did not see another boat until we arrived at Suwarrow 5 days later!
This may have been our most uncomfortable passage yet, but nothing the boat (and its intrepid crew) couldn't handle easily. After a very easy first day, the winds and seas increased, with one day mid-passage of nasty squally skies, gusts to 30 and 40 knots, and building boxy seas. The last few days the winds came down, but the seas stayed up, making for very rolly motion as we slewed through the mountainous peaks of the sea. Occasionally the seas would cascade over the cockpit coaming, dousing anyone sitting there. Amazingly, the huge following seas behind us would almost always just slide under the boat, only once or twice sending a stream of water in under our "back door" to briefly wet the cockpit floor. Of course, every time the sea slid under the stern, the aft end of the boat rose and slewed from side to side, occasionally throwing something or someone out of place. I had one nasty slide - the cushion I was sitting on suddenly slid to the floor with me on it, causing severe pain in my shoulder, elbow and various other spots. I remember sitting there, stunned, wondering if I'd broken anything. In a few minutes I moved everything and realized nothing was broken. Bryan was very helpful, rushing to get me ice packs for my shoulder and elbow, and some aspirin. It was sore for a few days, but the ice seemed to help a lot and I was cranking winches again the next day.
Lizzie, our windvane, steered beautifully in the beginning, but as the seas became more confused we had two accidental jibes of the mainsail the second night out. On one, the preventer worked nicely and prevented the boom from crashing to the other side as the wind passed across our stern. On the second, the preventer pulled right off the cleat and the boom went banging to the other side, fortunately without any apparent damage but a jolt to our nerves. The entire passage we had the wind almost directly behind us, which meant having either the main or the genoa all the way out (with the seas and winds we were reluctant to use our sickly whisker pole so couldn't sail with both sails unless we altered course to a broad reach). Sailing dead downwind with just the main all the way out made it easy for a big sea to momentarily knock the wind out of the sail, sending the boom from one side to the other unless held firmly in place with the preventer, a line from the end of the boom to the rail which prevents the boom from swinging. If we sailed downwind with just the genoa, unpoled, it would pull nicely for a bit, then collapse as the seas rolled the boat and knocked the wind out of the sail. This worked OK occasionally during daylight hours, giving us slightly better speed than the main alone, but was intolerable in the dark when the noise of the collapses and jerks made sleeping difficult. As a result, we did most of the passage under mainsail alone, with 1-3 reefs in it depending on the wind, averaging 5-7 knots most of the way.
After the accidental jibes, we used the electric auto pilot for steering, not trusting Lizzie with the big seas. This uses a lot of power, and our continuing low voltage problems meant we had to run the engine a bit more than usual to stay topped up. When the auto pilot is on, the single sideband radio starts acting up. This radio is our link to other boats through various "nets" that we check in with daily on passage and for receiving weather information. So every time one of us got on the radio for a net, the other would have to hand steer. Fortunately, having the sat phone gives us good back up for obtaining weather info and email when the radio decides to be uncooperative. One day when Bryan turned the radio on while the auto pilot was steering, the radio wouldn't transmit again for 24 hours, then mysteriously started working again.
We had surprisingly little rain, given that nasty clouds often filled the horizon in all directions. We were both feeling a bit bummed and bored toward the end of the passage, tired of the big boxy seas coming from all directions tossing us around, so it's good we didn't have a lot of rain to make things worse. The winds were lighter the last few days, occasionally under 10 knots, so we motor sailed the last night to insure getting to Suwarrow by mid-day on Monday. We first saw land about 10 a.m., and were in through the pass and anchored by 12:30, with 4 other yachts as neighbors.
BORA BORA, August 30-September 12, 2007, in which we spend lots of money, finally see sea turtles, make some new friends, crunch a reef, and see how the rich and famous live.
Bora Bora is the most upscale of all the Society Islands of French Polynesia, an exotically beautiful island with jagged volcanic peaks set against crystal clear jewel-colored waters in just about every hue of blue and green imaginable. Most of the Societies have beautiful jagged peaks and aquamarine lagoons surrounding them, but Bora Bora's are especially nice. During World War II the Americans had a large base here, leaving the island with its first (and for many years only) international airport, set on a small motu at the northern end of the lagoon. The main island has several enticing peaks which brought my camera out again and again to capture their many faces. Many of the 20-plus resorts (most with thatched, over-the-water bungalows at exhorbitant prices) are on the motus near to or part of the fringing reef, where they offer excellent views of Bora Bora's dramatic beauty. We were dumbfounded at how many thatched bungalow resorts there are, with even more new ones under construction. One motu appears to be lined for miles with them.
The pro-independence faction seems to have a lot of support on this island, largely because of opposition to the rampant tourism development which is gobbling up their lands and damaging their marine resources. Many would like to see the French OUT, but not quite enough to make a majority. Politics has been rather tense while we've been here, not that most of the tourists have a clue. I listen to Radio Australia and Radio New Zealand, and read Pacific Islands Report's daily news bulletins on the internet when I can, so know that there has been a vote of no-confidence last week, with the pro-France, pro-development president ousted. There was supposed to be a vote for a new president yesterday in the Legislative Assembly, but they postponed it pending a ruling from France on whether an absolute majority of the 57 members would be required to elect a new president - because they don't believe any of the three candidates can get an absolute majority. While the newspapers here are full of all the political intrigue, few tourists read French, so go along their merry ways oblivious. Another vote is scheduled for later this week, when they hope to have a ruling from France that the highest vote-getter wins. Then they may actually be able to have a new president.
Although the waters are lovely to look at, somehow even more magical than many of the other islands we have visited, there was far less to see underwater - small areas of healthy coral amongst large areas of dead or sickly coral, and far fewer fish than we've seen elsewhere. Much of the dead coral is attributed to a bad El Nino they had a few years ago, but much is also blamed on development.
We had a lovely sail to Bora Bora from Raiatea with 20-plus knots of wind most of the way, making for speeds of 7-8 knots much of the time. We actually did over 10 knots through the water a few times! The seas were quite pleasant as long as we were in the lee of Raiatea, but when we hit the fortunately fairly short exposed gap between the islands the 2-1/2 meter swells made for a very rolly ride. Once inside the pass at Bora Bora we headed for Bloody Mary's, a well-known watering hole and cruisers' hangout, where they offered free moorings if you eat dinner, and also have a wi-fi antenna. Of course the moorings were all taken (they seem only to have two!) and we had to anchor in 75' of water. Throughout the afternoon and night and for much of the next few days the winds here were horribly gusty, seeming to swing every minute or so between 10-15 knots and 25 knots or more. This caused the boat to skate around dramatically on its anchor, far more than normal in these conditions because we had almost 300' of chain out making for lots of swinging room. We didn't even bother trying to launch the dinghy the first day, it would have been too much fun in all that wind.
The next morning the wind subsided a bit so we launched the dinghy and went in to check out Bloody Mary's for lunch. Two large boards out front listed all the famous people who have stopped here, including, Brad Pitt, Mia Farrow, and many other top stars and athletes. It is a large beautiful establishment, huge thatched roof over a well-run dining room with sand covered floor, tables and stools made from local woods heavily epoxied or varnished. Our cheeseburger and fries lunch was very good and reasonably priced. Yet, I can't help but think I would have enjoyed what I imagine the old Bloody Mary's was like much better, when it was truly a yachties' hangout and not an almost plastic Disneyland-like caricature of native tradition. Unlike many of the thatched establishments we've seen where the rafters were all made from local trees, and you could imagine the native women hand-weaving all the thatch, here there were lots of 2x4s and 4x8s and much more precision and perfect symmetry holding the thatch together. Instead of a lot of yachties sitting around discussing rough passages and remote anchorages, the place was frequented more by the high end tourists who flock to Bora Bora, mainly Japanese honeymooners. One nice feature I'd never seen before was a place inside the door to check your shoes if you preferred bare feet in the sand as you ate. We went back in for dinner of appetizers and drinks and dessert, not wanting to spend the big bucks that a full dinner cost, and saw only a few other cruisers among the hundred or so patrons.
At least the wi-fi worked here, so after a hiatus of a few weeks without internet access we were finally able to check email on-line.
After a few days, we moved over to anchor off the Hotel Bora Bora. Our old cruising guides showed the reef and shallow areas around here as great snorkeling, but we found mostly dead coral and thousands upon thousands of black spiny sea urchins. We did find one spot of fairly healthy coral, but a fairly small population of fish. We dinghied quite away around to the southern tip and discovered more jet skis than good snorkel spots.
On Sunday we moved over to the Bora Bora Yacht Club, another supposed gathering place of yachties with free moorings if you ate ashore and internet access. Again, at least the internet worked. While there were a few moorings empty, they were so close to anchored boats that they were unusable, so we had to anchor in 90' of water. The Yacht Club itself is not really a yacht club at all, but a small restaurant and bar with a current owner who would rather not have yachties around at all, but he'll probably be out of business soon anyway. Maybe the next restaurant owner will be more welcoming. It is located on a slightly larger piece of property which includes a few bungalows and a very nice Polynesian man named Rapa who loves yachties, and offers laundry and other services. He seems to be the true yacht club at this point.
It being our sixth wedding anniversary, we decided to celebrate with dinner at the Yacht Club, but were surprised upon going ashore that it seemed to be closed on Sundays. Finally about 6 p.m. it showed signs of life, so we went in. We were later to learn that the restaurant owner can't be bothered to open during the day, and does very little to encourage boaters coming in to drink. There are maybe 10 tables under the open-air thatched roof of the restaurant, without enough chairs to go around (but the chairs they have are quite nice) and the two small tables outside have maybe 2 or 3 chairs total, somedays none, unless you take them from an inside table. When you arrive for sunset cocktails, all the inside tables are set for dinner, suggesting that they only want a few people to stop in for drinks, because that's all the chairs available unless you steal from a dinner table. Needless to say, they don't get much business.
When we arrived for dinner, there was only one couple seated for dinner. They were American honeymooners. We got to talking, and soon the four of us were sharing a table for dinner. Angela and Charles Grannum, from Brooklyn, NY, like us they married fairly late in life (in their 30's and 40's). He's a dentist, she's in guest relations at a Manhattan hotel catering to Asians. Both had ancestors who came from Barbados, so we shared a Caribbean connection. Fortunately they were great company, because my dinner left a lot to be desired. I ordered rack of lamb, was presented rib-eye steak, and when I complained, the waitress took it back and returned with a stingy serving of rack of lamb with the same sauce the steak had (which hid the taste of the lamb) rather than the mint sauce promised on the menu. It didn't taste very good at all. In retrospect, I probably should have graciously accepted the steak in the first place - I think the chef was trying to tell me something by sending it rather than the lamb.
Charles and Angela were staying at the Le Meridien, a bungalow resort on one of the motus, where we visited them the next night for cocktails and appetizers and a tour of the resort. The architecture was very striking and the grounds beautiful. They had an inner lagoon of sorts, closed off by grill-type fences, where they had a turtle sanctuary and guests could snorkel with turtles, rays and a fair abundance of fish. They raise the turtles for about 3 years before setting them loose to the wild. In all our months in French Polynesia I think I'd only seen one turtle before this, on our first island, Fatu Hiva, so it was a joy that a serious attempt was being made to rebuild the turtle population. In the Virgins we regularly saw turtles while swimming, so it was quite a surprise to see so few here. Between eating the eggs and the turtle meat, they seem to have greatly reduced the numbers. The Grannums showed us their bungalow out over the water, with large slabs of glass set in the floor to view fish in the spotlit water beneath, except there were almost no fish, and none of any interest. Their room was quite nice, with very upscale amenities. It was even air-conditioned (every night when they returned to the room they would find someone had cranked the AC colder) which didn't seem necessary given the constant pleasant breezes across the water.
Taking the boat over to the eastern side of the lagoon where Le Meridien is located was quite an adventure winding our way through coral and shallow spots. The channel is fairly well marked (something the French seem to do very well is navigational markers) but we still found ourselves in the shallowest water we'd seen in awhile. A few days later moving around on that side we smacked hard into a coral head after misreading a channel marker. I immediately put the boat hard in reverse and we didn't budge. Bryan jumped in the dinghy and pulled from the stern while I again went into reverse and we managed to pull free, with a little gelcoat missing from the keel and several scratches. We knew that sooner or later we'd hit the bottom, and were fortunate that it caused only minor damage, but I hope we don't have it happen too often.
While on the eastern side we ran into Ruth and Angus from Do It who were just about ready to head out for the Cook Islands. We had them over for lunch and caught up on our various travels and those of mutual friends. We then had a couple of very rainy squally days so didn't want to risk navigating the channel down to the southern point or back to the western side and elected to just stay put. We caught lots of water, worked on blog entries and pictures, and read a lot.
By Friday the weather was nicer so we moved back around to the Yacht Club and went ashore for sundowners with the crews of Do It, Gammel Dansker, Bess, and Antje, most of them leaving within a day or two for the Cooks. Only Antje is heading for Suwarrow in the northern Cooks then on to Samoa, which is our intended track. The others are all headed to the southern Cooks, then Tonga and New Zealand, so this was our last chance to say goodbye. Hopefully we'll see some of them again next year when they come north to Fiji and Samoa and we come south from the Marshalls.
When we arrived for sundowners at the YC there were only 2 chairs available at the outside drinking table, and as the others arrived they had to take chairs from inside - and were told this was OK but they had to leave by 7 so the chairs would be available for dinner guests. Some hospitality!
On Saturday we dropped off 5 bags of laundry with Rapa, then moved over to the western side of Motu Toopua for the weekend. The first night we spent off its southern tip by the Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa, alone in a large lovely anchorage with only a megayacht, Gran Finale, for company during the day, and delightfully all by ourselves for the night. Anchored in 35' of water on a nice sandy bottom, with protection all around from the seas, and far enough off-shore that we still got some wind, it was a wonderful anchorage and we couldn't figure out why more boats weren't there. We went for a long dinghy exploration, futilely trying to find the place out on the shallow flats where we'd seen several tour boats gather from time to time, then going around the southern tip to investigate a raft full of birds sitting in the midst of the shallows. Almost back to the boat again, we saw tour boats once again out on the flats, so went out to join them. They were feeding stingrays, so we donned masks, fins and snorkels and hopped in. A very nice older gentleman, a guide on one of the boats, came over to us and advised we take our fins off, stand up in the shoulder-height water, and not move and the rays would come to us. He then gave us some chopped up fish to use to encourage their approach. We had several large rays swim up to us, allowing us to pet their soft silky bodies and look them in the eyes. It's still hard to believe that one of these gentle creatures did in Steve Irwin.
Sunday we moved to the northwestern anchorage off Toopua, another fairly shallow, very comfortable spot. We snorkeled and saw some very nice coral and fish.
Monday morning it was back to the big city (or should I say small village) to anchor off the Yacht Club and begin the process of checking out of French Polynesia. I headed for the store while Bryan went to the bank to get our $2700 bond back, only to be told he had to go to the Gendarme first, then come back. Of course the bank was closed for the 2 hour lunch period by the time he could get back. In the meantime he joined me at the store, where we spend a few hundred dollars and wondered how we would get it all back to the dinghy a half mile away, when the cashier asked if we needed a ride and arranged a free ride for us back to the quay.. Back to the bank in the afternoon, we got back $2500 (the rest had gone for fees to change the money in and out of local currency), and proceeded on to the other big grocery store where we dropped another $150. Back at the boat we went in to the YC to pick up our laundry only to find Rapa gone and not due back for awhile.
Tuesday morning Bryan ran in at 7:30 to make sure he found Rapa and our laundry - after all, we've already checked out of the country and really do have to leave soon. Then a dinghy ride back around to the gas station where one jerry jug of diesel, and two large and one small jerry jugs of gasoline cost us $115, and on to find a pay phone to call home and use up the remaining time on our French Polynesia phone cards. Had a nice chat with Mom and Dad and Baide, but couldn't reach anyone else in the family. Either got busy signals or machines, so finally gave the phone cards with a bit of time remaining to the gas station man who had given us a huge breadfruit on our earlier visit. Now I'm just finally bringing the blog up to date, and will try to use the last of our remaining wi-fi time getting it all posted.
Tomorrow we head off on a five-day passage for Suwarrow, also known as Suvarov, a small atoll in the northern Cook Islands which is a national park. It is inhabited for 6 months of the year only by one caretaker family of parents and 4 small boys (about the same ages as my brother John's kids when they circumnavigated, including the two youngest being twins), and all the reports we've read of other yachts which have visited indicate that it's a wonderful experience. We'll probably spend a week or so there, then on to American Samoa, another few days away.
RAIATEA AND TAHAA, Aug 23-30, 2007 - in which we learn to anchor in very deep water, learn all about vanilla beans and other tropical botanica, run into several old friends, and discover the beauty of another few paradisical islands.
An easy 4 or 5 hour passage took us downwind to Raiatea from Huahine, with good sailing winds at times, almost no wind at others. We entered through the Teavapaiti Pass on the northeastern corner of Raiatea, and then anchored in the lee of an island in the middle of the pass.
We snorkeled to check the anchor and discovered one of our worst fears was realized - the anchor was just in front of a 4-5'diameter coral head, and the chain led underneath an overhang of the coral head on its way back to the boat. This meant we could have a problem picking it up - pulling up on it would make it catch on the coral head, and possibly require a diver to free it. On its way from the boat to the anchor, the chain lay neatly on the bottom passing through two narrow grooves between other sets of coral heads, which was good news and bad news. The good news was it meant we were unlikely to swing wildly during the night which could cause the chain near the anchor to wrap itself around the first coral head, the bad news was that the chain could get wedged under one of these other coral heads and mean additional obstruction(s) when picking the anchor up.
The next morning we launched the dinghy and put its engine on, and then I went snorkeling to see if the anchor and chain were still in the same place. They were. The chain through the grooves had kept us from swinging completely around our anchor with the current, and had prevented any extra backward pressure on the anchor which could have pulled it underneath the coral head. I then pushed the boat around a bit while snorkeling (it has amazed me how easy it is to move it while pushing on the chain as it comes off the boat while I am in the water) while directing Bryan when to start picking up chain. This enabled us to get the chain up out of the grooves, and then Bryan had to run back to the helm, put the boat in gear, and make a sharp sudden turn to starboard with the chain now close to vertical to pull the anchor out from underneath the coral head without catching the coral head, while I hovered in the water watching and directing. It all worked beautifully, he pulled up the rest of the chain and the anchor, and I swam back to climb on the boat.
We then proceeded around the northern point of Raiatea to pick up a mooring off the Apooiti Marina, where the Moorings bareboat fleet is based. We had read in a book that we could have our mail forwarded here, so were eager to pick it up as well as a package from Tahiti forwarding a cable for our sat phone that had not arrived in Tahiti before we left. We eventually found the package with our after trying first the Moorings office, then the marina office, and then the Moorings office where it had been all the time. The package from Tahiti had not arrived, but the marina manager called around and found that it was at the airline office at the airport and we had to go pick it up. Luckily the airport was only a 20 minute walk away. We had a big surprise just after we picked up the mooring here - our friends Claudia and Erich on the catamaran Tahaa who we had last seen in Nuku Hiva were just leaving the marina and passed right by us on their way to exit Raiatea and leave for the Cook Islands. We had thought they were now far ahead of us, they had planned on leaving French Polynesia much earlier, but their new crew, Herbert from Switzerland, developed a hernia and they had to hang out a bit longer while he had surgery. Although we didn't have a chance to get together and swap stories, it was still very nice to see them however briefly.
Our friends on Volker and Michelle on La Gitana were hauled out at the boatyard just a ways up from the marina, so we dinghied up and had lunch with them at the Snack Mimosa, a simple local restaurant with pretty good food for a relatively reasonable price. During lunch we were entertained by the future boxing champ of Raiatea - a 3 or 4 year old boy with huge red boxing gloves that were almost bigger than he was. La Gitana was in the yard for repairs to their keel from when they struck a whale as they were leaving Galapagos an hour ahead of us, and they were painting the bottom.
After picking up our cable at the airport, we hitched into town for a bit of exploration and to buy some steak and potatoes for a dinner treat. We got a ride from a young French dentist who has a pretty good life - he works two months, then travels two months, off and on through the year, so is getting in 6 months of travel a year to all kinds of exotic places. The following morning, Saturday, we did a bit more provisioning at a store near the marina (beer and baguettes), then took off for the island of Tahaa, after which our friends' boat is named. Tahaa and Raiatea are very unusual islands in that they are both within the same large fringing reef, Tahaa just a few miles north of Raiatea, so journeying from one to the other doesn't necessitate going out into the big rough ocean, but rather navigating between lots of reefs and shoals inside the fringing reef. On our way north we saw sailing by our friends on Do It, whom we hadn't seen since Kauehi, and had a brief chat with them on the radio. We continued north about 2/3 of the way up Tahaa's west coast to anchor off a resort of thatched bungalows over the water called the Tahaa Private Island Resort and Spa which is situated on a few small motus off the main island. We anchored in about 25' amongst but not upon scattered coral heads, just off the large area of shallows that extends outward to the fringing reef. We did a delightful pass snorkel here, in a small shallow pass between a few of resort motus - not at all as fabulous as the Fakarava pass, but quite pleasant with lots of healthy corals and a variety of beautiful fish.
The weather got a bit nasty Saturday night - rainy and gusty and squally, making the protected waters of the lagoon somewhat bouncy and us a bit nervous with a lot of very shallow water just behind us, so we moved over to anchor in Tapuanua Bay on Tahaa, where we traded a nice shallow anchorage for one 75' deep but at least the bay was far more protected from the wind. We did a bit of exploring on shore, where there was a small, laid back settlement with not much going on - and they were out of baguettes already at 9 in the morning!
On Monday, we moved south to Herepiti Bay where we had signed up to do a tour with Vanilla Tours at 8 a.m. on Tuesday. On our way down, we anchored for a snorkel on the flats inside the reef, where we didn't find much coral or many fish, but did see a huge eel sticking out of one of the few coral heads, and a shark swimming by. We picked up one of Vanilla Tours' moorings (nice to have when the bottom is 75-100' deep and you can't tell if you're anchoring in sand, mud or coral) and went ashore to meet Alain who is Vanilla Tours. He is a Frenchman who has lived here over 20 years after sailing in on a small yacht. Over the years he has built a fascinating home of several thatched and bamboo buildings set in a lush property with dozens of fruit and flower plants and trees, as well as several vanilla vines. He gives "botanical tours", in French and English, starting with his own property, then covering quite a bit of the island in a 4 wheel drive Range Rover. He is extremely knowledgeable about the plants on Tahaa, both indigenous and introduced, and does an excellent job sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm. He showed us how the vanilla flowers must be hand pollinated, as there are no insects here which will do them, then took us through the whole process of growing and readying vanilla beans for market. It takes nine months from flower being pollinated, to the bean starting to grow and maturing enough to be picked - and then several more while it is alternately heated in the sun then wrapped up and left to sweat while its moisture content is continuously reduced without rotting the bean. Once its moisture level is down to 38%, it is massaged and sorted before packaging. It's amazing that they are not much more expensive than they are given the amount of labor required to bring them to market. He also showed us numerous other fruits and vegetables, shared with us the many other uses of various plants including making ropes, roofs, clothing, and on and on. We also stopped at a "belvedere" - a high point on the island with magnificent views all around, where Alain provided us with a snack of fresh coconut water in the shell, starfruit and pamplemousse, which looks like a grapefruit but is much sweeter.
After the tour we headed to Apu Bay where the Taravana Yacht Club (a resort which appeared to have no guests, only a highly priced restaurant and several empty bungalows) offered moorings and internet wi-fi. Unfortunately, the 3 or 4 empty moorings were all "reserved" (even though most weren't used that night) and we had to anchor in 95' of water, just off the shore and too far from the Yacht Club to get wi-fi. One very amazing thing about many of these Society Islands is how deep much of the water in the lagoons is, and how shallow much of the rest of the water is. The shore in this bay, as in many others, is ringed by very shallow corally flats, only inches deep in many places so even getting a dinghy ashore can be a problem, and this flat then drops off suddenly and dramatically to 80-100'. This makes anchoring very difficult - we prefer to anchor in water less than 50', and really prefer water 20' deep or less where we can see exactly what we're putting our anchor into and don't have to put out very much chain to hold us. In the Virgins we almost never anchored in over 50', and rarely that deep. Here we have had to anchor in 75-100' several times now, and are gradually feeling more comfortable about it, but still dreading the day when we find ourselves wrapped around an unseen coral head on the bottom, or dragging anchor in a big wind because when we can't put out any more chain.
Wednesday morning we upped anchor successfully and headed back to Raiatea, getting caught in a squall as we were passing a big coral reefs and shoal known as" Grand Central" between Tahaa and Raiatea. The squall produced 30 knot winds, driving rain and white-out conditions for several minutes, making us a bit nervous, but we made it through fine. We had planned to stop at the fuel dock in the town of Otorua, but the strong winds blowing on the dock there discouraged us, so we headed back around to the western side and visited La Gitana on their last day in the boatyard. Had lunch with them again at Snack Mimosa, then had them aboard for dinner knowing how beat they were from several days in the boatyard. Once again we hitched into town to provision, taking a $20 5-minute taxi ride back to the boat with our groceries.
On Thursday morning, August 30, we picked up the anchor and headed through the pass to sail to Bora Bora.
I just added two new photo albums - see the last page of the photo gallery. One is a variety of pictures of the gorgeous flowers that abound on every island of French Polynesia - every yard is full of flowers and walking along the roads is like walking through a botanical garden. I also added pictures from Tahaa to the album for Tahaa and Raiatea, the Raiatea pictures will be added shortly.
HUAHINE, August 16-22
A very fast overnight passage brought us from Moorea to Huahine sooner than we wanted. A distance of about 90 miles, this passage cannot be confidently done during daylight hours, so is best done overnight, with arrival planned for daylight. The book recommended leaving at dusk through Moorea's pass, traveling at about 5 knots through the night, to arrive in the morning with good light to enter Huahine's pass. We figured a double-reefed main and staysail instead of our genoa would give us a nice speed to make the trip properly, but once we got outside the pass we found ourselves averaging 7-8 knots in 20-25 knots of wind, despite quite lumpy seas that made the going harder. We put a third reef in the main, and eventually dropped the staysail to sail under the main alone, and still did over 6 knots at times. Why is it that when you don't want to go fast, the boat and conditions insist on it, and when you'd like more speed they won't cooperate. As we approached the southern tip of the island around 4 a.m., still several miles from the pass into the village, we had a bit of an argument about course - I wanted to stay well off the fringing reef while it was still dark, Bryan thought we could safely go in closer. Perhaps because of my adventures in the Pacific 25 years ago when one boat I was on went on 2 reefs in one day and another ended up drifting without a rudder for 8 days I am very leery of getting close to reefs during the night when they can't be easily seen. Once Bryan realized why I was so adamant he agreed to hold off changing course to approach the reef until we were in a safer position.
We safely arrived at the pass at 7:30 a.m., and entered to anchor off the town of Fare amidst several old friends: LaGitana, Do It, Happy Monster, Promesa, Gammel Dansker and others. We were exhausted from a night of not sleeping, so slept through most of the day. Oliver from Bess stopped by about 5 p.m. when he finally saw us up and around, and invited us into the beach for a potluck, which it turned out, was also a birthday party for him. We reluctantly declined because he said others were already in there, and we figured that by the time we got the dinghy in the water, the engine on, and figured out what food we could take and got it prepared, the party would be over. We kicked ourselves the next day when we found out they'd partied until 11, and that it would have been our only chance to see several of the crews as they were leaving the next morning.
The next morning, Friday, we launched the dinghy and went ashore to check in with the gendarme. After spending about 30 minutes in an outer office being almost totally ignored while the gendarme chatted with friends inside, we left. We checked out the Chinese grocery store across from the dock, which from the outside looked fairly modest, only to find it was absolutely huge inside, and had a great selection and on some items better prices than we'd found elsewhere. We rented bicycles for the afternoon and rode around the northern side of the island, stopping at a lovely archeological museum set amongst the ruins of several marae - traditional Polynesian temples - alongside a large body of water that appeared to be a lake, but was actually connected to the ocean by a narrow channel which contained several ancient traditional stone fish traps. Further along we came to the village of Faiea, where dozens of large eels live near a bridge across the river, waiting for nice people like us to throw them some fish. The small store across the road does a big business selling canned fish just for this purpose.
Along the way we passed several homes with graves in the front yards, always covered with roofed structures, often fenced in, and decorated with flowers. We've since seen a few of these front yard graves on other islands, but never as many as we saw on Huahine.
We also saw a lot of homemade mailboxes, or what we thought were mailboxes. We later found out these were actually baguette boxes by the road, for home delivery of French baguettes.
After our several hours of bicycling, we went to the Te Marara restaurant next to the bay where we were anchored for happy hour and dinner with Gammel Dansker, Happy Monster, Bess (we were just now meeting Germans Oliver, Beata and their daughter Eliza), and another German boat new to us, Antje with Norbert and Antje. They are the only ones we've run into who will be on roughly our course after the Societies - Suwarrow, Samoa, then Kiribati on our way to the Marshalls. Happy hour was a treat, the first time we've been offered half-price drinks rather than slightly discounted ones, but they were serious about the "hour" - when I went to order another round just before 6:30, they pointed to their clock which said 6:32 and said no more happy hour. We moved into the dining room for a nice dinner of hamburgers and fries which were quite good and reasonably price.
The next day we motored along the channel inside the fringing reef to the southern tip of the island and Avea Bay. We stopped about half-way along for a nice snorkel and lunch, where we saw our first clown fish - black and blue cousins of the Nemo of "Finding Nemo" fame. It would be another day or two before we found the orange striped clown fish we were expecting. We spent a delightful 4 days in Avea Bay, anchored on a lovely sandy bottom in about 40'. The reef was a mile or more out from land here, with deep navigable waters in close to shore, then broad stretches of sparkly aquamarine water over 2-10 foot shallows dotted with numerous coral heads spreading out to the fringing reef. We did lots of snorkeling. Highlights were the clownfish and the anemones they live in - these anemones did something I'd never seen before - many of them had rolled their bottom fleshy edges up around their dozens of tendrils to form what looked like giant bright pink donuts. There were lots and lots of varied, healthy looking delicate corals in a variety of hues, and a wide variety of exotic fish, surprisingly abundant along the shore in the murkier waters near the small resort.
The Sunday afternoon we arrived we heard music coming from shore, from the Chez Tara beach restaurant, so we dinghied in to check it out. Two men were making lovely Polynesian tunes to entertain a few tables of patrons at tables set in the sand under a magnificent thatched roof at the water's edge. This was the first real beach bar we'd come to that reminded us of sitting with our feet in the sand in the Virgins while drinking a brew to the accompaniment of delightful music. We had a few beers, and decided to come back in for dinner a day or two later. When we did, we had some great breadfruit fries (gratis with our drinks) before having two different shrimp dishes that were elegantly prepared and served - and quite tasty.
This island is far more laid back than Tahiti and Moorea, only a few small resorts, but very lovely - perhaps our favorite of the Society Islands. The anchorage in Avea Bay was just delightful - quiet, usually no more than 5 or 6 boats in a large area, great snorkeling, incredible colors, absolutely crystal clear waters, and abundant fish. Some of the coral is a bit sickly looking, but on the whole in better shape than much we've seen, although it couldn't hold a candle to Fakarava, but maybe no place can. Surprisingly we've seen no soft corals at all here or anywhere else in Polynesia.
Other than going ashore a few times for walks and visits to Chez Tara, we spent our time in Avea Bay snorkeling, exploring in the dinghy, reading, and working on chores on the boat. We tackled our dirty water line once again, the black smudgy stuff left after the grass is scraped off is almost impossible to get off. I could only get about 10 feet of the waterline really clean in about an hour, very slow work requiring massive amounts of elbow grease.
On our motor back north through the channel we stopped for a snorkel across from a small resort. While there was nowhere near as much to see as in Avea, I did find one fascinating new critter on the sandy flats. It looked like a little orange polka-dotted flower on the bottom, but close investigation revealed that is was a variety of sea hare, a mollusk without an external shell. In the Virgins I often found spotted sea hares, leopard-printed creatures that looked like snails that had swallowed ping-pong balls that lived in surging water on shore-side rocks, and occasionally on sandy bottoms. They sometimes squirt purple into the water when picked up, as did these much smaller cousins of theirs that I found on Huahine. The Huahine ones were very pretty, looking at rest on the bottom like tan translucent bells with orange polka dots and orange-edged petals extending off one end. It was only after picking one up that I realized it had the body of a snail that had swallowed a marble with the "petals" fluttering along the upper edge.
We anchored for the night in a different anchorage off Fare with two other boats, Checkmate and Criolla (sp?). New Zealander Tony on Checkmate offered us a chunk of mahi he'd just caught. Seems he doesn't like to eat fish, but caught some to impress his sometime crew Lisa from California who had joined him in Tahiti and was sailing to Bora Bora, before flying back to work in cartoon production. It sounds like she joins him for various legs as he heads home to NZ. We dinghied out to snorkel the southern Fare pass (there are two passes quite close together here - the northern one we'd entered which comes straight into the wharf, and one slightly south of the town.) We found large areas of beautiful coral gardens and lots of fish, but somewhat murky water, perhaps because of the late afternoon hour. Later we spent happy hour at Te Marura where we also met Linda and Bill of Criolla, before going back to the boat for a dinner of lightly fried mahi sandwiches with wasabi/mango/yogurt dressing and tomatoes. Yummy!
On Thursday morning we put the dinghy back on deck, picked up the anchor and headed off to Raiatea, 20 miles to the west.