NANA’A (adios, au revoir, good-bye) BORA BORA!
04 September 2012 | Bora Bora, French Polynesia
One month and (still) counting – we have been in Bora Bora much longer than we had anticipated, dealing with gremlins in the generator, thieves in the night, visa woes, and now some cantankerous weather systems that are delaying our departure. But hey, it’s not all bad – after all, we are in Bora Bora, reputedly one of the most beautiful islands in the South Pacific. Frankly, I don’t share that assessment – it is beautiful here, no doubt, but in the Society Islands, I think Mo’orea is the most spectacular, perhaps second only to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas!
We took a mooring at the Bora Bora Yacht Club when we first arrived on August 1, and have been here since then. BBYC is not really a yacht club, but a restaurant (and a good one, at that!) and bar (with a pool table), with a mooring field and a dinghy dock, that also provides other services and amenities for cruisers – such as wi-fi, book exchange, potable water, bicycle rentals, showers and laundry service. And we have used it all! Linda has been a regular at the book exchange; I can’t count the number of books she has read this month – it seems like every other day she is starting a new one! I have read a lot, too – from our “on board library.” I finished “Founding Brothers (The Revolutionary Generation)” by Joseph Ellis (that I started in Raiatea), “Twenty Chickens for a Saddle” by Robyn Scott, a New Zealander’s fascinating story about growing up in Botswana, and Geoffrey Perret’s biography of Eisenhower – all great reading! For less intellectual entertainment, Linda and I are working our way through the first five seasons of Boston Legal – about which we only have two words to say – “Denny Crane!”
The moorings here at BBYC are fairly protected from prevailing winds – unlike those at the Mai Kai Yacht Club (same loose use of the term “yacht club”) just around the corner to the south, where being closer to the main town of Vaitape is the most obvious advantage. The mooring fields offered by both establishments are for all practical purposes obligatory, as the depths in the “anchorages” can be 90+ feet, with rapid shoaling by the near shore reefs. Still, there are those who will drop an anchor in the middle of the mooring field (even if moorings are available) and let out barely enough scope to deal with the depth – which gives everyone a thrill when they swing on their rode and those around them on mooring buoys don’t, and when the wind whips up (as it does at times, even here at BBYC). Neighbors can be a challenge, no matter what the context! But what a neighborhood this is – with a distinctly international flair! During our time here we have seen boats from Germany (many of them!), Great Britain, Canada, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Chile, Italy, France, Poland, Slovenia (3 of them, actually!), Finland, Australia, New Zealand, and the US.
Our “neighborhood” also includes the near shore, with its local fishing fleet, a large group of local Polynesian kids that play in the water for hours on end (and sometimes paddle out to our boat on anything that floats, and charm Linda into giving them a piece of candy), a night club (for locals only, so we are told) that “entertains” the entire neighborhood until the wee hours on weekends, and a local musician that often cranks up his amplifiers in the afternoon and sings for hours – usually the same song (in Polynesian), over and over! Fortunately, he has a nice voice, and his electronic back-up “band” doesn’t miss a beat! In addition to the fishermen with power boats who take off early (or sometimes even at night) and fish outside the fringing reef (for mahi mahi and tuna, mostly) there are a couple of fishermen who paddle outrigger canoes around the mooring field and tend fishing lines tied to multiple floating plastic bottles – a surprisingly productive endeavor! Linda watched one of these fishermen catch two very large fish one day, one of which took the fisherman on a ride around the lagoon before the fish was finally hauled aboard! Often when we are sitting in the cockpit, we will see the water just “explode” with schools of small fish jumping out of the water as a larger fish tries to chase down lunch – sometimes the predators will also jump out of the water, and they appear to be chevron barracuda. Every afternoon there is a group of locals who paddle the outriggers around (for exercise?). Never a dull moment!
One day Linda and I rented bicycles from BBYC (one speed “beach cruiser” models!) and rode all the way around the main island in four hours. There was some spectacular scenery, particularly on the south side of the island. That, too, is where the bulk of the tourist industry (hotels, fancy restaurants, pearl shops) is to be found on the main island (in addition to the jewelry stores, arts & craft and souvenir shops in Vaitape) – there are also a number of four-star resorts with the typical over-the-water bungalows located on the motus (islands) just inside the fringing reef that surrounds the main island of Bora Bora. There have been a couple of cruise ships anchored for a day or so off Vaitape, and every day we see a high speed passenger ferry going back-and-forth from Vaitape to the airport, which is located on one of the outlying motus. For the well-heeled tourists, there is a helicopter service that zips around from the airport to the resorts. We certainly have not felt overwhelmed by the emphasis on tourism here in Bora Bora, though, and even enjoy seeing some of the tourists visit the BBYC for dinner (mainly US, French and Japanese – and even one young Russian couple). We tend to avoid the tourist establishments, with one notable exception. We had (a mediocre) lunch one day at Bloody Mary’s (named for a character in Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific”) that prides itself on the famous guests that have visited through the years; there is a sign out front with a list of their names that reads like a who’s who of Hollywood, the music industry, and Fortune 500. But not to be outdone, one evening while we were having dinner with friends at BBYC, Robert DiNiro and his entourage made an appearance, coming in by boat - I’ll stop short of calling it a dinghy!
Speaking of dinghies, which for a cruiser is the “family car,” we have sure been enjoying the new one we bought in Seattle last summer – a 9 foot AB with an aluminum bottom – along with the new 8 hp, 4-stroke Tohatsu outboard we bought in Olympia last summer; both of which we hauled down to La Paz in our old family car, the Ford Windstar. Here in Bora Bora we use “dink” to get back and forth from shore (BBYC), to go into town for groceries and to visit the ATM, and to explore. We have visited several of the nearby motus, poked around some of the resorts with their over water bungalows, and visited the shipping quay just around the point to the north – it’s always interesting to watch the small freighters being loaded and unloaded, and to see all the hubbub on the dock. One day we threw our snorkeling gear in the dink and “drove around” until we found a congregation of dive company boats on a reef off one of the motus – bingo! We stopped, got “suited up” and went for a great snorkel – lots of interesting fish, coral, and eels. One of the most surprising things we saw was some tourist free diving and harassing (wrestling with) a giant moray eel (and I do mean “giant” – not just because that is its common name!). His girlfriend was taking pictures – undoubtedly for show-and-tell at the Bubba Club back home!
But it has not been all fun and games here in Bora Bora. Our troubles started with a water pump problem on our genset; it was leaking anti-freeze on the fresh water side of the Johnson “piggy back” pump (a raw water pump bolted to the fresh water pump, each with its own impellor but using the same shaft and drive belt off the engine). I could (and in hindsight, probably should) have simply torn the old pump apart and changed the seal, but I thought it would be easier, instead, to simply replace the entire “piggy back” pump – we did carry a spare (and then I would rebuild the old pump later, and still have a replacement pump). The process of replacing the pump turned into something just short of an ordeal, as often is the case when working on mechanical stuff below the cabin sole that requires standing on your head to get to. Suffice to say that by 6 pm I had finished the all-day-sucker and had the genset purring like a kitten without a trace of antifreeze dripping down its chin. After throwing back a cold Hinano, Linda said “I’ll start dinner,” to which I replied “I’ll treat you to dinner at BBYC, and I’ll even do the dishes.” So, we hopped into the dink and headed ashore, just as it was getting dark.
We headed back to the boat in a couple of hours; after drinks, dinner, and some conversation with a sailor who was taking off the next day for Hawaii. When we got back on board, we knew immediately something was wrong – the cover on the main salon hatch was pulled back, and one of the small (6”x12”) vent hatches was open (and we had closed all hatches before we left the boat). The companionway door was still locked, but when we went below we discovered that someone had opened the hatch over v-berth, kicked in the screens, and cleaned us out – my computer (with all of its navigation and weather related software), a pair of binoculars, a Canon S10 digital camera, an external hard drive, Linda’s new 3g IPAD, her 12 black pearl bracelet from Rangiroa, and $230NZ – the only New Zealand currency we had been able to get in Papeete in anticipation of stopping in the Cook Islands or Niue on our way to Tonga. If you have ever been the victim of a burglary, you know what the feeling is like – denial at first, then dumbstruck, violated, kicked in the stomach; an awful, helpless feeling that soon gives way to anger, then the “what if’s” – had we done this or that differently, ‘this would not have happened.’ But it did, and, all things considered – it could have been a lot worse. Other than a broken cupboard latch, torn screens and broken screen latches, there was no physical damage to the boat, and the boat was not totally ransacked. What’s more, they either did not find (or could not carry) Linda’s computer and a second external hard drive, on which all of our files, including pictures – and our Boston Legal programs – “whew” – were backed-up.
After making a VHF radio call to warn nearby boats of the break-in, I went back to BBYC to have them call the gendarmes. When they arrived, the gendarmes were not interested in seeing the boat; they simply took an oral report, and told us to come in the next day to file a written report. Here’s where I started getting nervous. Technically, we should have been gone – we had checked out of French Polynesia on Thursday, August 9, when our visas expired. Initially, I thought we had two days to leave after checking out with the gendarmes, but it turns out we only had one day – our passports were stamped August 10. In any event, I wanted to fix the generator before leaving, because in addition to charging the batteries when there is not enough sun to do so with the solar panels, that is how we run our water maker. I explained my visa concerns to one of the managers at BBYC, and he told me not to worry, the gendarmes were his friends, and he would drive us in the next morning to help with filing the report and to make sure we got an extension.
When we went to the gendarmerie the next day to file a written report (which we would need in order to file an insurance claim) the officer who took the report asked how much extra time we would need, and we said two weeks – to repair the minor damage to the boat, set-up Linda’s computer to obtain weather data at sea, and – with overly high hopes – to see if the gendarmes would be able to recover any of our stolen items. He said fine, just come back when we’re ready to go, and they would re-stamp our passports. “Okay” – I’m feeling better now!
The next day we got going on our new “to do” list; there is always more than one “to do” list on a boat – some just more imperative than others! We bought new screening material at a local hardware store, ordered New Zealand currency at the bank, and, after we replaced the screens and repaired the broken latches and cupboard door with epoxy, I set about downloading software for Airmail, Ocens Mail and Weathernet, and a tide program we use. I am no computer wizard, but I was able to finally get everything installed and working – with a little help from tech support at Ocens to configure the drivers for the sat phone to function as a modem to run the Ocens Mail and Weathernet systems.
So far so good – at least so we thought. On Thursday the 16th, we went into town to pick up our NZ currency at the bank. We decided to check in with the gendarmes to see if there had been progress on the investigation of our theft. When we walked in the front door, it was like we had walked into a buzz saw, posterior first. As best we could determine from the diatribe (which was mostly in French, with some tortured English thrown in when our expressions were too blank to convey even faint a understanding of what was being said), apparently our agent in Papeete (whom I had e-mailed to explain our situation) had contacted them and said we needed to get an official extension from the High Commissioner in Papeete - it would not do to simply come back in to get our passports re-stamped when we were ready to leave, as the officer had told us on Sunday. Now a couple lady gendarmes on the front desk were po’d because they were going to have to do all this paperwork to process our extension, and they so much as told us so! The next day we took them all the information and documents they said they needed, and we were told to just wait for the paperwork to come back from Papeete. It did – on Wednesday, August 22, granting an extension until Thursday, August 23. When we went in on the 22nd to sign the paperwork, we were told in no uncertain terms that we were to leave the next day. However, by now we were having generator issues again, and the weather was looking iffy for a departure until at least early the next week.
Now, I am not one to ignore rules and regulations – heaven forbid! – but I am also not about to put to sea under untenable conditions (with 700 miles or so to sail to the next jurisdiction) simply because the French have pulled in the welcome mat. In fact, staying beyond check-out is not at all uncommon here – for whatever reason (weather, mechanical issues, or in some cases, more sightseeing to do), many (if not most) cruisers do so. Here in Bora Bora the gendarmes do not even have a boat, as they do in many other islands – so on the water checks are very unlikely – and I doubt they even have a VHF radio, although many cruisers adopt a fictitious call sign when they have stayed beyond their check-out time (“Tinkerbell” is a popular option we have heard a number of times, and have never seen stenciled on the hull of a boat!) We have opted to simply keep a low profile (primarily because of our extraordinary exposure with the gendarmes) and stay out of town as much as possible until we are ready and able to leave. Oh, by the way, there have been no positive developments in the investigation of our case – I wonder if it that has anything to do with the fact the not so pleasant lady gendarmes told us if we had left when we were supposed to, this wouldn’t have happened. (I can’t argue with that – and if my uncle had been a woman he would be my aunt!)
I tried for several days to exorcise the demons still lurking in the genset. After replacing the pump, everything seemed to be fine until one evening we were running the generator to juice up the batteries as we watched Denny Crane, and the generator just stopped (automatic shut down) – the trouble lights indicating high cylinder head temperature (over heating). It couldn’t be the pump – I had just replaced it – right? So, the next day, I replaced the thermostat (the old one was pretty tired looking); nope, not it. I replaced the cylinder head temperature sender; nope, not it. I ran some Rydlime thru to clean out the heat exchanger; got a much better flow on the exhaust water, but nope – still not it. I drained some of hoses and found a piece of impellor vein from several years ago; replaced the anti-freeze, fired it back up; nope, still not it. Finally, I took the new pump off, and found the fresh water impellor had sheared off its metal sleeve. Bingo! I had heard this was a problem with older Johnson impellors, which is why I stock Jabsco impellors as replacement parts. I replaced the faulty impellor, put everything back together. The generator ran for a half hour, then shut down again, still overheating. Damn; what could it be? I tried some more Rydlime, to no avail, and then decided to put off further repair efforts until we get to Tonga. We put the tools away, and filled our tanks with potable water from BBYC, which should hold us until then (and then some).
Now all we are waiting on is a weather window to leave. There have been a series of high highs and low lows marching across the higher latitudes south of here, with spin off troughs (frontal systems) and squash zones (high winds and heavy seas) that have made the route from here to Tonga look pretty nasty. Things look to be moderating, though, and it looks like we will be able to get out of here soon; better late than never!
Thanks for checking in, and we look forward to giving you an update from Tonga in the near future!