Day 3: Au Revoir Bora Bora
20 July 2016 | 14 9.49'S:159 27.18'W, Between Bora Bora and Suwarrow Atoll
Mark & Deanna
Days at sea completed: 3
Distance sailed in the last 24 hours (nm): 162 Distance sailed total (nm): 303 Distance to go (nm): 219
Wind Speed & Direction (knots): ENE 15-20 and then N 10-15 Waves (ft): NE 5
Mark: It's been an interesting last 24 hours with quite a variety of wind strengths and directions! For most of yesterday, since my last 8am report, we had a lovely 20 knots directly from behind. That let us run wing on wing at 8-9 knots directly towards our destination. It was great sailing with surfs to 11 knots on the bigger waves - lots of fun! In fact, it was going so well it looked like we would make it to Suwarrow in four nights instead of five, as long as the wind held. However, as soon as one thinks that, Mother Nature sends a curve ball. Last night the wind dropped to near zero and we had to motor much of the night. Then, this morning, after a very wet squall line came through, we then ended up with a North wind, ninety degrees different than just a few hours before.
The strange winds in this area are not totally unexpected. We are in an area called the SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone) where several different wind systems meet. One minute we can be in a nice comfortable trade wind and the next hour we can be in a totally different wind as both systems compete for dominance. Where these wind systems meet they are divided by squalls and thunderstorms - just as we experienced early this morning.
We are sailing along quite comfortably at about 6 knots right now, but after lots of slow motoring, 6 knots won't be enough to get us to Suwarrow before dark tomorrow night. If Suwarrow was a regular harbour that we knew well, no problem going in at night. But, it is very dangerous to go into a coral infested, rather uncharted, atoll in anything other than good light from above. Instead of charts, we rely on eye-ball navigation to get in safely. So, at our current pace, we will arrive just as the sun is setting. Darn! We seem to be quite good at arriving just a little too late!
Deanna: Our French Polynesian flag has been been lowered and we're sailing beautifully toward Suwarrow Atoll. The sun is shining, the seas are calm and we're experiencing trade winds sailing at its best. Speakeasy is racing along at 7-8 knots in a steady wind of 15-20 knots. We're sailing wing on wing (a sail out on each side), and the sails rarely need adjustment. If conditions were always this lovely, I'd keep sailing around the world!
We said a bittersweet goodbye to Bora Bora. In our nine days there, we'd been fighting colds and making preparations to leave the country and start an ocean passage. Moreover, the unsettled weather conditions often kept us onboard. However, in our final days when the brilliant sunshine came out and the winds and seas calmed, we got out and both agreed that we could've enjoyed more time exploring this postcard perfect Island.
Bora Bora is a gem, most certainly! We've visited over a dozen islands in French Polynesia, and this one dramatically showcases elements of all we've seen. Like the Marquesas, an underwater volcano gave birth to Bora Bora. Now, the Island is distinguished by three spectacular mountain peaks covered in lush green vegetation. An ocean pool, or lagoon, surrounds the Island, and it's protected from the large waves and currents of the Pacific by the walls of a coral reef. Like the Tuamotus, the coral reef forms a circle, but in the Tuamotus the coral circle is broken and has wide ocean gaps in many places. Bora Bora's circle reef is nearly complete, except for one small gap or pass that allows water and vessels in and out. Also, Bora Bora's lagoon is dotted with motus - idealic coral islands with palm trees. The airport is located on one, and swanky over-the-water bungalow resorts rest on many of the others.
Unfortunately, there's a downside to Bora Bora's single pass. The lack of fresh cool ocean water flowing around the Island has had a negative effect on the coral. Snorkeling near Motu Piti and the Sofitel Resorts with John and Deb from Moonshadow, I was surprised to see grey lifeless coral and broken coral pieces spelling out "BORA BORA LOVE" on the sandy bottom. Tour boats were constantly bringing tourists to feed the colorful and very tame fish in the area. It was plain to see that Bora Bora's tourism and development has effected the fragile health of the coral as well.
Water clarity is astounding in the Bora Bora lagoon, and this provided for a paddling experience like no other. Anchored near the Bloody Mary Restaurant where we enjoyed dinner with John and Deb, I paddled above and along a dramatic coral wall descending directly below my board. It was a strange sensation to gaze so deeply into the water and let my eyes follow the descent of a steep underwater cliff. The clear flat water allowed me to see right to the sandy bottom. It was similar to standing on the rooftop edge of an eight story building and looking straight down to the ground below - eerie and fascinating at the same time.
I paddled on toward a viewpoint which I will always remember. The point appeared to be the site of a long abandoned resort, and it was clear why this had been the chosen location. The ocean had dramatic depth changes, unbelievable clarity and sparkling reflection from the sun. A white sand beach beckoned me and I lingered there alone for quite a while. I kept shaking my head as my eyes took in an unbelievable array of ocean colours. Vivid shades of purple, navy, blue and turquoise danced in the sunlight, and the color transitions were astonishing. It was as if a crayon line had been drawn in a curve to delineate the start of each colour band. Later on, on a shoreline walk and dinghy excursion with Mark, we saw these dramatic visual effects in the ocean all along Matira beach. Regrettably, many abandoned hotel and resort sites dotted his shoreline, likely due to the newer over-the-water bungalow resorts on the motus.
The outrigger canoe races, part of the local Heiva celebration, will serve as a fond memory of Bora Bora too. Speakeasy had perfect timing and placement to view races, not once but twice. Both races were incredibly long distances compared to the short course we paddled as part of the Rendezvous. Firstly, we cheered on the six person canoes as they'd rounded a mark near the airport motu and headed back toward the town of Viatape. Secondly, Speakeasy was perfectly positioned in the middle of the single outrigger canoe race course. With nearly a hundred colorfully attired paddlers and their brightly painted canoes maneuvering around our bow and stern, we had the best seats in the house. The frontrunner paddlers had family to yell and cheer for them from small speedboats following them on the race course. For those that didn't, we clapped and yelled "allez, allez!" which often brought a smile to the paddler's face and a subsequent surge of energy.
Au revoir Bora Bora! You confirmed that French Polynesia is not a destination to check off my bucket list. I hope to return and see your astonishing beauty once again.