2C Update #122
(Photographs & videos by The Two Captains & Ben of Waking Dream)
There’s a saying we’ve heard quite a bit since we’ve been in French Polynesia: “One of the best-kept secrets about the South Pacific is its lousy weather.” We heard it in the Marquesas, we heard it in the Tuamotus, and we heard it in Tahiti. It died down a bit in late July and August when the weather got so settled there was hardly any wind, although then the westbound sailors complained. But since we’ve been in Bora Bora, we’ve been hearing it again. Somehow, you just expect Paradise to be day after day of perfect sunny weather with gentle breezes. Believe me, it’s not, and lousy weather punctuated our two weeks here.
However it was exactly what you dream of the day we arrived in Bora Bora from Raiatea. After a lovely downwind sail we motored into the wide lagoon that surrounds what must be one of the world’s most recognizable islands. Bora Bora’s signature twin peaks, thrusting skyward from a central island that very clearly is subsiding back into the lagoon around it, became well known to Americans during World War II when Bora Bora was a major US supply base. Since then it has built a reputation as one of the most exclusive of luxury-vacation destinations. What’s surprising is that most of Bora Bora’s luxury resorts are not on the island at all, but on the motus that nearly completely encircle the lagoon atop the reef edge. On second thought maybe that’s not so surprising, since from the motus most of the hotel rooms all have the twin peaks in view.
Friends anchored along the southern reef, the only side of Bora Bora without motu, hailed us to come on down and join them. We did and found an anchorage with about a dozen boats clustered together in very shallow water over white sand. We are developing quite a taste for these reef’s edge spots. Shallow though they may be, they suit Tackless II’s shoal draft (5’) and they are hugely more appealing than the alternatives which can be 60, 70 even 80+ feet deep! The light is bright, reflected as it is from the white sand bottom, the ocean swell breaks with a steady roar along the outer edge of the reef about two kilometers of even more shallow water away, and the wind blows steadily across Matira Point to keep the wind generator cranking. At least that’s how it is in settled weather, which it was those first days.
While at anchor here we made the first of Bora Bora’s two “Manta” dives. Manta Pass lies west of the anchorage along the narrow channel that rounds the southern tip of Motu Toopua. Ironically for two people whining about crowds, we ended up making the dive with six other cruisers! It seems as if the moment you make plans to dive with one crew, the word spreads and the group grows. The thing is that of the cruisers that dive, only a few actually have compressors or tanks, so we often still find ourselves “taking” people diving…just like the old days. And just like the old days, the less experienced divers usually really appreciate having some experienced divers to go with.
The Manta Pass dive runs south from the red nav marker along a lovely coral bank from 20-55’ or so, looping back through shallow coral gardens, and although it is a popular spot for the resort dive operations, snorkel tours and the semi-submersible tourist submarine, we managed to avoid any other groups while under water. Although Bora Bora’s coral suffered heavily in a recent El Nino, this particular spot is still a delight, offering us the most appealingly mixed formations we have seen anywhere in Polynesia. In the early morning light the reef fish were bright as jewels, and we saw here our first carpet anemones with the Pacific’s distinctive clownfish – better known these days as “Nemo” fish (from the delightful animated Disney film) – that take refuge there. Only Don and Ben of Waking Dream, the first two in the water, actually saw a manta here, but that did not dim anyone’s enjoyment of the dive. We came up underneath the moored “Yellow Submarine” semi-submersible, a sister of which does the reef in Eustacia Sound, Virgin Gorda. It’s pretty amusing to look into the bubble of glass from underneath. Later while out kayaking in the same area I passed over a school of sixteen rays circling over the coral. Since the water was as still as glass, I could see the rays – which turned out not to be mantas but eagle rays – almost as clearly as I would have diving.
With diving on the collective mind, the same group moved that afternoon to anchor of Motu Tapu, a tiny private island just inside the main pass. The next morning, although the weather had turned grey and discouraging, five of us dinghied out to dive the wall just outside the pass. It is said if you time it right you can see the shark feeding show put on for the tourist submarine (this one shades of St. Thomas) that comes out in the afternoons. We didn’t time it right, but there were still more than enough sharks to make the dive memorable for Dale and Heather of C’est La Vie who hadn’t done the Fakarava diving the rest of us had. Other than the sharks, however, this dive site had much less to recommend it, especially for me who had vowed to stay above 30-40’.
That evening, as we prepared a pizza send-off for Ben and Lisa of Waking Dream, a weather alert – in French – came over the radio, warning of thunderstorms and winds gusting up to ….. (did I hear “quatre-vingt”?!) Very uncertain of my translation, a lot of effort was made to get a confirmation, and indeed they did say “eighty” which nearly stopped our collective hearts until we realized they meant kilometers not knots, which cuts it by about half. Still, several of us scurried to set second anchors just to be safe…which of course guaranteed nary a puff!
Early the next morning, despite the weather that continued to look iffy, Waking Dream departed for points west making yet another set of friends we are parting ways from. After waving farewell, we decided to motor across to pick up one the moorings off the Bora Bora Yacht Club, a protected spot from which we could make a dinghy run to town to reprovision. The Bora Bora Yacht Club, despite a name that rings with authenticity, was never really a yacht club. It was a sailor hangout: a place with secure moorings, an atmospheric restaurant and bar, a dock with water, and a laundry room… just the kind of place we have all been despairing of since we arrived in Polynesia…which of course means it is closed. As attractive a service as it sounds, apparently there have just not been enough boats to keep it going. Although the restaurant and bar had been closed for at least a year, the couple that had been caretaking it had departed leaving taps on and doors open, so many recent cruisers had been enjoying the club’s few remaining services for free!
The town of Vaitape was a surprise. For an island whose name is practically a synonym for jet-set luxury, its main town was small and relatively charmless. We truly expected to see a string of high-end boutiques – a sort of mini-Papeete. Instead we found a pretty average strip of stores with nary a glimmer of glamour. Both markets were well-stocked, however, and there is a small chandlery run by an American as well as an Internet café with American keyboards. (The letters of the keyboard of a French computer are laid out very differently than an American one which is a real headache if you touch type!)
From the Yacht club, we motored all the way around Bora Bora to its east side. Here an almost continuous motu frames the lagoon. Thanks to the distance and some complicated twists and turns in the channel, bareboats rarely penetrate back here, but somewhat to our dismay we found that the long strand of motu is being taken over by the over-water-bungalow phenomenon. Like many things the over-water bungalow resort begins to loose its charm in mass production.
Perhaps in reaction, the resort we went ashore to visit had NO over-water bungalows. Eden Beach, a small, low-key eco resort, has its cabins set amongst the trees. We walked through to the outer edge of the motu and enjoyed a long walk along the shore with Taha’a and Raitea on the horizon. Afterwards we sprang for a beer poolside and chatted with the young French woman who with her husband manages the place. Perhaps because they have young children of their own, this couple made welcome several cruising families who held a big birthday party around the pool there. We were amused by the Polynesian lady working there who was studying a Czech dictionary!!! Turns out the owner is Czech! Anyone who loves dogs must make this a mandatory stop as their Bordeau hound was one of the most amazing canine creatures I have ever seen!
A couple of kilometers north of Eden Beach is Bora Bora’s Manta Reef dive. We buzzed up there in the dinghy with snorkel gear just to check it out, tucking the dinghy in among the flotilla of tour boats. By following one of the dive groups we managed to catch sight of a manta pretty quickly about thirty feet below us. Later, wandering around on our own in shallower water we stumbled on a big guy only about 15’ below us. Like the one we saw at Fakarava, this large ray was circling steadily. This time it was close enough we could easily see its mouth open wide for filter feeding, reminding me more of the whale sharks of Bahia Los Angeles ( Mexico) than anything.
Again the weather looked like it was going to cycle from sun to blustery gray cloud, so, not wanting to get trapped on the far side of the tricky channels, we decided to bail out of the anchorage off Eden Resort. We exited the tight squeeze just in time to drop the hook off the lagoon’s northern motu before squalls took over for the afternoon. This was a big disappointment for me, because the area looked prime for my kind of kayaking. However, we sure learned in Raiatea that our inflatable kayaks are not suited to windy conditions. Something to save for next year.
Instead we motored back down to the area of our first anchorage, hoping to pick up one of the free moorings off the famous Bloody Mary’s restaurant on which to sit out the days of blustery winds. Don had a watermaker rendezvous there, we had heard it was a good place from which to stage a bicycle circumnavigation, plus we had a date with friends for a dinner out. However as we pulled up the moorings were full, so we went back to the spot on the southern reef edge where we’d started our Bora Bora visit. What a different place! The winds whipping around Matira Point were now almost too much for the wind generator, and the chop over the shallow sand back kept Tackless II dancing. I opted to keep watch aboard while Don made his watermaker repairs.
Fortunately, or so we thought, a couple of moorings opened up so we were able to move into the lee of the restaurant before nightfall. In the end we were not sure it was an improvement, for while most of the time we sat in calm water, every so often a blast would whistle through that would heel the boat over fifteen degrees as she sailed around the mooring. This was very disconcerting – especially at night – given that the moorings were in ninety feet of water! Indeed, our second night there a single-hander that had tried to anchor outside the mooring field dragged through the moored boats until he got tangled up with us.
The ESP that sailor’s have about such things is something I continue to marvel at. Both Don and I kept watch on this boat through the night as it inched closer and closer through the dark until we both woke abruptly to find it barely five feet away. We jumped up in time to fend it off. It took a concerted effort of the three of us to get the boat off us. Single-handing a boat that size (46’) we feel is marginal anyway, and the owner found himself having to retrieve his couple hundred feet of chain, while trying to motor forwards and fend off us at the same time…all while the gusts threatened. In the end, we rafted him up to Tackless while we disentangled his anchor from our mooring and Don went with him to help him reanchor .. all of this at 4 a.m.!
This adventure motivated us to seek out a better situation. Fortunately we had already enjoyed our evening out at Bloody Mary’s if not our cycle trip around the island. (Something else to do next year.) We and our friends Shari and Dennis of Bobulona found refuge on the west side of Motu Toopua. It was like night and day! The water was so protected that Shari and I were able to kayak the length of the motu, even though the weather pattern continued. One by one all the cruisers in Bora Bora seemed to catch on and gradually our private spot filled until there were fifteen boats anchored there. Most of these boats were waiting for the weather and seas to settle enough to head out westward on the long ocean legs to toward the Cooks and Tonga.
Only two of us – we and the unusual 60’ cat-rigged ketch Convergence, were looking for a window to bash back east to Raiatea, where we both had reservations to haul at CNI boatyard. We had seen Convergence around for the past month or so, and even before meeting the family aboard, we’d identified it as the boat belonging to Randy Repass, Chairman of West Marine, thanks to the picture of it gracing the inside page of the West Marine Catalogue! While hunkered down behind Toopua, Randy, his wife Sally Christine and their son Kent Harris hosted all the crews in the anchorage to a potluck cocktail hour onboard, and it was neat to get a close look at this modern custom boat. Outside it is distinguished by its unusual wind-surfer-type rig and its unique sport deck – a low extension of the stern large enough to tuck away two kayaks under benches and to accommodate the dinghy with motor till attached underway. Inside was like strolling through the pages of the WM catalogue and had Don drooling in short order.
The next day the weather broke and Bora Bora witnessed a mass exodus of cruisers. While most all the boats went west, Convergence and Tackless II tacked around Bora Bora’s north side to get the best upwind angle we could to the pass into Raitea. I won’t try to claim we kept up with them, but we did keep them in sight the whole way during a rousing windward sail topped off by whales just before entering the pass. We went straight back to our favorite reef edge spot on Taha’a’s NW corner and closed out our Bora Bora chapter by putting it once again on the sunset horizon.
All text and photos on this site Copyright Gwen Hamlin 2006