Bora Bora, Society Islands

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Author: Pete
Location: Bora Bora, Society Islands
Date: July 13th – 19th, 2015

 

Motored out of Passe Paipai before sunrise in flat water leaving Taha’a in our wake on our twenty mile passage to what is reportedly the most beautiful island in the world. We got complacent with the flat seas and had a horrific accident just outside the pass, completely destroying THE most important piece of equipment on the boat: the French Press. NOOOOO!!! Left it sitting on the table and ran right through a ferry’s heavy wake. We weren’t sure how we’d make it the next 19 miles to Bora Bora uncaffeinated, but somehow we got through it, despite steering by hand.

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Bora’s twin peaks on a central masiff rises sharply from sprawling fingers of the island. All around the island is a ring of taller motu just inside a reef. The lagoon between the island and the motu is deep and dark, and the outer lagoon is bright, clear and shallow.

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We motored south through the lagoon then around the inner island of Toopua where we anchored in seven meters of clear sand as far as the eye could see and the kind of electric blue water that makes you pinch yourself and grin like and idiot. I was in the water almost before the anchor. 

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Took the dinghy over to the pass just south of Toopua to check out a drift dive we’d heard about. Clouds of fish greeted us, looking for hand-outs, but unfortunately I’d left my bread and multiplication worksheets back on the boat. We drifted along the pass and spotted a spotted eagle ray, then two together, then four in a group, then FIFTY in a swarm! They are usually solitary so they may have been mating. As we watched them a fifteen foot manta ray winged past us. Of course the camera was dead for this round, so you’ll have to take my spotty word on it. 

It had been a rough day, what with missing pictures of the spectacular rays and the looming prospect of a morning without proper coffee so we rinsed off back at the boat and made a couple margaritas with our contraband tequila. Sat on the trampoline alone in the lagoon and played guitar. The night was so bright and the lagoon so calm you could see the reflection of the Milky Way in the water. Looked like the bright band dove into the sea and swam up to the boat. What a place.

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The next day we went back and snorkeled the same spot armed with the camera. Eagle rays showed up, but not in the number of the previous day. No mantas though. Wah wah.

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A few days of enjoying the lagoon and it was back to some business. We picked up our much awaited part, which necessitated a two-mile dinghy ride to the airport on an outer motu. Pretty cool to be able to dinghy up to an airport though. Installed the part and tested out our autohelm. Looks like we’re in business. Welcome back Otto! Now get to work!

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The outer islands of Bora Bora are unreal.  The lagoon is otherworldly blue and the motu are packed with luxury hotels masquerading as bungalows.  The main island is home to regular local folk.  The streets are dirt, the town is small and rough around the edges.  It’s an interesting juxtaposition.

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Looked at our itinerary and decided we better get moving. We’ve been three months in French Polynesia! We’re planning on heading from Bora Bora straight to Tonga with a possible stop in Nuie if weather permits. So we’re anchored off the little town getting the boat in passage making shape. We fueled, watered, provisioned, cooked meals, changed oil, and the like. It’ll be twelve days across to Tonga and we’ve been spoiled by the short-hops afforded by French Polynesia. To give you some perspective, sailing the 1200 miles from Bora to Tonga will be like traveling from Minneapolis to Miami at a brisk walking pace for two weeks. Maybe a jog if the winds are favorable. Wish us luck.

 

Bye-bye French Polynesia!

For folks who’d like a perspective on the distances we’ve covered here, this map overlays the country on top of a map of Europe.  Pretty neat.  Red = our trip aboard Tayrona.

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Taha’a, Society Islands

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Author: Pete
Location: Taha’a, Society Islands
Date: July 9 – 12, 2015

 

Sailed out of the Fare pass in Huahine and headed west downwind with following seas, running wing-wing to Taha’a….a….ah.. a… ah.. aaaa. Ugly clouds obscured the island as we crossed the twenty easy miles, but thankfully never hammered us. I love weather that’s “All-Bark, No-Bite”, or as my buddy Hal puts it, “All Hat and No Cattle”.

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Once through the easy Toahotu pass we cut slightly south and into the deep Haamene Bay. We’re not sure what’s up with the island’s obsession with unnecessary vowels; I bet they’d get along well with Brits when they visit. I’m think they’d love the flavour, colour, and granduure of the island. We picked up a mooring in 100 feet of water courtesy of Hotel Hibiscus who we heard did great tours of the local vanilla and pearl farms on the island. We radiod them to see if they’d show us around the next day, then settled in to enjoy the huge empty bay and clearing skies.

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The next day we met up with Marke, whose French father and Polynesian mother ran the pension. In my mind, Marke is spelled like that in following with the unnecessary vowels. You think I’m kidding, but when he showed us around the island, all of the signs seem to be missing all the consonants. Like when we drove through the town of Faaaha. Sounds like something I’ve shouted in front of my students when I forget to move the decimal and end up with completely the wrong answer twenty minutes later. “FAAAHA!”

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Our first stop was at a local vanilla farm. Apparently, 80% of the French Polynesian vanilla comes from Taha’a. Teva, our host, showed us his covered grow house that keeps birds and other pests out. He said each vine takes 3 years to mature and give flower. The beans take nine months to develop after the flower is pollinated. Then the beans need to be sun-dried which takes another five months. So it takes over a year to go from flower to sellable bean. One kilogram (2.2 pounds, you lackey) of dried beans though goes for about $400-500 USD.

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It’s a hybrid of the Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar, and needs to be pollinated by hand since the insects that normally do the job weren’t brought to the island with the first plants. So our host, Teva, showed us how to pollinate the flowers. It made me blush, but it’s all in the name of science and fine cuisine!

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The whole thing was run out of his house with his wife. Sounds like it takes a good deal of time and capital to set up, but then runs pretty smoothly. Teva said he sells mostly to local and foreign restaurants looking for organic, independently grown vanilla. Great niche.

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Then it was off to the pearl farm along the winding coastal road. Gorgeous weather and a great view of Bora Bora.

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Out on the docks our hostess, Magda, showed Miranda and I the process of making a pearl. The oysters are mostly a breed from the Tuamotus and are now grown here, hung in baskets under floats in the lagoon. Oysters will coat foreign objects in their iridescent mother of pearl. When that happens in nature you get a gorgeous object the size and shape of a Nerdz candy, but certainly not your gramma’s pearl earrings style.

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To get that shape the oysters are grown for a couple years until they’re big enough to handle a nucleus, or sphere cut from a swarthy clam from the Mississippi river. So a white marble is put into the oyster, and twelve to eighteen months later the thing is coated to an appropriate thickness with mother of pearl. Seems like cheating, right?

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If an oyster spits out the nucleus or coats it only partially, which happens about half the time, the oyster will never be a pearl bearer and is thus is eaten with lemon and garlic. If the oyster coats the nucleus well, which can be discerned through careful, non-destructive surgery, a larger nucleus is inserted and the oyster is returned to the farm. Most productive oysters can make four pearls before they’re tuckered out. Magda showed me all about where to squeeze to get the pearl to pop out. She said I’m pretty good at it, but I’m sure she says that to all the guys. Geeze, here I thought vanilla pollination would be the only thing that made me blush on this excursion.

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The next day the good weather held and we were off to the other side of Taha’a. On the northwest side of the island are a couple motus; we anchored just off Ilot Tautau, encrusted with expensive palapa-style bungalows stretching out across the water. They had a really lovely view until we showed up and plunked our anchor just offshore in the eight feet of crystalline water and clear sand. Suckers!

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Between Tautau and the next motu north, Mararare, there’s a pass out to the reef that’s 300 feet wide and a quarter mile long. The channel is only three feet at the deepest and it’s a snorkeling gold mine. It’s called the Coral Gardens, but Coral Maze might be more appropriate. The corals are healthy, colorful, and dense. And the fish must be used to getting fed by the tourists because upon entry they swarm you. If you open your hands to them they nip at your empty palms. I lost sight of Miranda a few times behind clouds of Pacific Double Saddle Butterflyfish and Convict Surgeonfish.

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Even though we didn’t bring any bread to feed the fish I still think they were happy to see us.

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Two days of almost constant immersion and then we were off to Bora Bora, purportedly the most beautiful island in the world!

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Huahine, Society Islands

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Author:  Pete
Location:  Huahine, Society Islands
Date:  July 3rd – 8th, 2015

So when we returned yet again to Papeete, we learned that we’ll continue waiting for our much awaited part.  It needs a few days to come in, so we’re meeting it in Bora Bora and moving (the hell) on from Tahiti.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a gorgeous place.  It’s just time to move.

We did a few things that needed doing before heading out, including fixing the in-haul mechanism on the main.  It was jamming and Miranda had to hoist me up the mast with kitchen utensils to fix the problem.   Thousands of dollars in tools stowed below decks and the most useful thing to get a jammed sail out is a smiley-face spatula.  Somehow snippets of the Sweedish Chef on the Muppet’s Treasure Island came to mind.  Byogen shmeyegerney-ah-nen! 

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Then it was off into the sunset heading west.  We left in the afternoon for a 16-hour, overnight sail to Huahine, an island southeast of Bora Bora.  We were without an autopilot still, so we hand-steered every dang second of the trip.  You know how cars can stay in a straight line when you’re on the highway so you can dig in the back seat for that last french fry or take a quick snooze?  Well you can’t do that with a boat!  (kidding, kidding… I haven’t taken a nap while driving since last August!)  Even when you balance the sails and lock off the rudders a tiny wind shift or wave slap leaves you scrambling to the helm.  It really doesn’t work, so we were in the hot seat the whole time.  Miranda got the good weather at sunset and I got the pissing down rain for the overnight watch.  I probably deserve it though.

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Eventually the sun came up and the black turned to gray.  The clouds parted here and there to reveal the low green of Huahine.  It’s been neat to see the progression of islands from tall volcanic (Marquesas), slowly eroding away (Huahine) and eventually turning into empty atolls (Tuamotus).

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Had to wait out a squall to enter the pass on the west side of Huahine.  The visibility was close to zero and the waves were throwing cresting waves right next to the calm of the pass.  Charts aren’t great for the area too, so we took another squall square to the jaw and ran the pass after we stopped reeling. 

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GOPR0486The anchorage was shallow and hard bottomed.  We dug in with just the point of our good anchor.  I dove the anchor and didn’t like the precarious hold on the bottom for the forecasted blow, so we took a free mooring that our friends on s/v Georgia spotted for us.

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DSC_4581And blow it did.  In the next couple of days a trough came over the Society Islands, which happens with more frequency, apparently, in El Niño years.  We got winds up to 40 knots, the strongest we’ve ever been in.  I only caught this on the anemometer though.

P1150201Went in to town with the other self-exiles for some Fourth of July drinks and dinner!  In true American holiday fashion it rained on our parade, but enough liquid sunshine and arriving home soaked from the dinghy ride doesn’t matter so much.

GOPR0491After the brunt of the nasty weather came through we sidled south along the wild, lush, western side of the island and took a mooring ball one night in Motu Vaiorea and later anchored in Avea Bay where we did some island exploring and snorkeling in the clear lagoon.  After a month in the metropolis of Papeete, it was nice to note the absence of buildings, cars, and big boats.

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Had dinner and drinks a few nights with our friends from s/v Georgia.  Nothing like riding in the dinghy wielding a French baguette…  “Have at ye!”  Had a few gorgeous calm nights.

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Our last stop in Huahine was in the town of Fare for their Heiva Festival dance competitions.  Every July the islands in French Polynesia battle for glory in feats of island aptitude like va’a (outrigger canoe) racing, Polynesian dancing, and my favorite, coconut opening.  They send the best town’s competitors to the inter-island competition to win French Polynesian bragging rights, one of the many things they acquired from the French.  We went with our boat buddies to the festivities.  This was not the standard tourist dance troupe.  There were only nine white people in the stands.  I counted.  It wasn’t hard.  The dancers came in all shapes and sizes.  I didn’t know banana leaves grew in those particular dimensions.  I had to hold Miranda back from donning a grass skirt and shaking her midwestern tail feather.

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Heading farther west soon to the island of Taha’a….a .a…a.a.aaaa..a.  Stay tuned.

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