Tuesday, May 28, 2013


We have had over a week of fine weather, giving us a clear "go" signal to visit Maupiti. We left Bora at 2AM Friday under a full moon, and arrived outside Onoiau Pass at 8AM ("Oh no, ee, ow!" is the sound I imagine a skipper would make if his boat ran into trouble here). We had sailed conservatively under genoa alone. Even with this smaller sail plan, we had to reduce sail a couple of times due to squalls overtaking us from astern. After all the warnings we had received about Onoiau Pass, we were wary but prepared. It was a matter of lining up the range markers and going for it, with breakers close by on either side and against the outflowing current. Fortunately, after 4 days of diminishing swells, the current was only about 2 knots - we have faced far stronger current before, so this did not deter us. Before we knew it, we had made the dogleg turn and were inside the lagoon, where all was tranquility and peace. And there was only one other sailboat in the lagoon, adding to the feeling of accomplishing something special. The steep rock cliffs made for a dramatic backdrop to the village. We found easy anchorage just off the mairie (town hall), and dinghied ashore to check things out. This was the first time we used the dinghy wheels since Mexico, as we were landing on a lee shore lined with rock walls. We rolled the dink up a concrete launch ramp and left it in the shade of a breadfruit tree. Although we were still a bit tired from the night passage, we rented bikes and set off to explore the island. The tour books lied - there are lots of cars on this little island, and quite a few of them passed by in a wedding celebration, the happy couple facing backwards from the open bed of a pickup. After that, it was pretty peaceful the rest of the way, until we had to push the bikes up a steep hill. We were rewarded by a spectacular view of the lagoon and the southern end of the island. Far out to sea, we could see sails - one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, EIGHT! So much for feeling special! By the time we finished our ride and dinghied back to the boat, the first of the charter catamaran fleet was anchored nearby. Soon we were surrounded by a boisterous group of German sailors. We're not antisocial, but we didn't want to be in the midst of someone else's party. We upped anchor and moved back down by the motus guarding the lagoon entrance. The next morning, we took a long beach walk on the eastern motu. It was beautiful, but we forgot the camera, so you'll have to take my word for it. Next, we went snorkeling with the resident manta rays, only about 200m E of our anchorage. When we arrived, there were 3 giant mantas and 2 eagle rays, but the eagle rays are shy and soon disappeared. The mantas didn't seem to mind our presence, and soon several boatloads of snorkelers joined us in appreciation of these unusual creatures. The mantas spent a lot of time hovering over a rock, letting the current fill their gaping maws with plankton-rich water. In the afternoon the German charter fleet joined us, but after the morning's adventures, we didn't mind a bit. We had our own party, inviting a French couple out to the boat for drinks. Jean-Pierre and Josephine had met us on the island the day before, and surprised us by saying that they had visited Oregon. During the night, the wind amped up a bit and clocked around to SSE. We still had excellent protection from the nearby motus, and our anchor was deeply dug into sand with no coral bommies nearby, so we slept well. In the morning, the German fleet raised anchor and headed back to Bora Bora, bucking steep seas and a 20-25kt headwind. I dinghied out to the pass to watch them ride the 5kt ebb into a wall of steep waves. Glad we are not on a tight schedule - we will wait for better weather to leave this protected lagoon. We walked the other motu, and this time brought our camera. We tried snorkeling with the mantas again, but the visibility was poor due to the increased wind and wave action. On the other side of the lagoon, we could see about 6 kiteboarders. They are loving this wind! (2 days later) It's now Tuesday, and we are getting a bit tired of being pinned down by the wind, which has remained in the 25-30 knot range for the past two days. We'd like to return to the village, but it's a bit too far by dinghy, and it has been a bit rough for pulling up the anchor and moving the boat. So we've done a lot of reading, a bit of swimming, and a few boat projects. Anchored nearby is a truly amazing yacht - a French aluminum 50-foot cutter named Alioth, owned by two brothers and their wives. Yesterday they invited us over for coffee and a tour of the boat, which is purpose-built (by Alliage of France) for world cruising at any latitude. They took it around Cape Horn, and arrived in Polynesia via Patagonia and Easter Island. Our boat is like a Sabot by comparison! Yesterday we were surprised to see another boat enter the lagoon. It appeared to be a charter catamaran, and its headsail was in tatters! I'm amazed they made it safely through the pass in these conditions, and even more amazed that the charter companies allow their clients to come here. We've now re-anchored near the village, and are headed to the island to visit a French couple we met a few days ago. They have lived here 14 years, since the last major hurricane struck. They are going to give us some information about Mopelia, our next intended stop.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Au revoir a Polynésie Française

After spending parts of three cruising seasons here, the time has come to bid goodbye to French Polynesia. As when we departed Mexico, there is some sadness mixed in with the anticipation of seeing new places. While the sights and activities have been diverse and interesting, what I will take away from my time here is the memory of new friendships made. Despite our poor ability to speak French, and even less so Tahitian, we have been met with kindness all along the way. From Teiki in Daniel's Bay, to Regis, Tatiana, and Kivahei in Raroia, to Seply and Vatina in Moorea, to Smith and Jocelyn in Huahine, to Dominic and Marie-Catherine here in Bora Bora, we now have names and faces to associate with many of these beautiful islands. The route from here is still a bit uncertain. We have permission to visit two more islands within French Polynesia, even though we have officially checked out. Tonight we will drop our mooring pennant about 2 AM, and depart Teavanui Pass under the full moon. If all goes well, we will enter the pass at Maupiti, only 27 miles west from here. But we have been warned by many people of the dangers of this pass, so if we don't like the looks of it, we will continue west for another 100 miles to Mopelia, a coral atoll instead of an island, but as with Maupiti, a potentially difficult pass to enter. From there it is about 500 miles to the Cook Islands. We had originally planned to head WNW to Suwarrow Island, an uninhabited atoll with fantastic bird and fish life. But the path to Suwarrow lies along the brooding South Pacific Convergence Zone, with lots of potential for foul weather. Friends just made the equally long passage to Rarotonga, which lies WSW from here, and reported great sailing conditions. Plus we would have the opportunity to learn something about the culture and people of Cook Islands, which we would not have at Suwarrow. So we are uncertain at this point which way we will go, but we are leaning toward Rarotonga. Of all these destinations, there will only be Internet at Rarotonga, and possibly Maupiti. So for those who are following our progress, if you don't see a blog report in the next several days, you can deduce that we have gone to either Mopelia or Suwarrow. In that case, we will check in with the Pacific Seafarers' Net on HF radio, and our track will be reported at www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps_reporting_boat_list. Just scroll down the list to our call sign, N7PZZ. Otherwise, we will try to blog from our next stop.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bora by land

Once again we rented a scooter to see some of the sights on land here in Bora Bora. There are a lot of remnants of the American military presence in WWII, including the airport runway that is still being used, and a number of gun emplacements on strategic hilltops. Unfortunately, they are not well marked and the maps are somewhat ambiguous. After numerous inquiries and several false starts, we thought we were onto something when we spied this steep concrete road heading up to a ridgetop. A man working nearby assured us this was the way to "ze cannon." We plodded up the steep hillside only to find a few abandoned homes, some water tanks, and thick jungle. Oh well, the view over the lagoon and motus was magnificent. You can even see a neighboring atoll, Tupuai, in the background. Can't blame the locals for not keeping the historic trails cleared. Look how quickly things grow here! Beautiful backdrop for this residential area. We decided we had to have a meal at Bloody Mary's, one of the most famous restaurants in the South Pacific. It was actually pretty good value for the money. I had an excellent hamburger, accompanied by a virgin mary (no drunken scooter driving for me). Our last stop was at the home of a man who had given us a ride earlier in the week. Dominic is a retired architect from Grenoble, and his partner teaches physical education in the local school, and (to Vicki's delight) is a massage therapist. We enjoyed sitting on the cool shady veranda, smelling the tiare blossoms freshly picked from their garden. They're coming by the boat later with a bag full of pamplemousse (grapefruit) for the next stage of our journey. Now we're back at our temporary home, the Bora Bora Yacht Club. Its actually a bar/restaurant, and not a true yacht club, but they provide wonderful services (mooring ball, dinghy dock, hot showers, free Internet) for only about US$15/night. Vicki and I have been practicing yoga on the deck in the mornings. Yet another place we will have a hard time leaving!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Bora lagoon (with updates)

With the boat in relatively good order, and preparations for my student's oral exam complete, we decided to spend a few days exploring the lagoon surrounding Bora Bora. We set off under power, as we were starting from the downwind side of the island, and we found ourselves battling a 20 knot headwind. The anchorage that sounded most attractive was the furthest, naturally, and required threading our way through some intricate channels, complete with shoal depths and strong wind against equally strong current. At one point we saw a least depth of 9 feet (we draw 6.5). Two hours later, we had reached the extreme SE corner of the lagoon, and we anchored, improbably, next to a derelict power boat that reminded me of the liveaboard fleet back at Puerto Escondido. There were only two other sailboats, and one soon pulled anchor. To achieve the maximum amount of shelter from the strong E wind, we nosed in as closely as we could toward the shoreline of the motu, and put the hook down in 10 feet over a smooth bottom of silty sand. If we had misjudged the tide and were to go aground later, it would be a very soft bump! The wind was blowing a bit too hard for a dinghy ride, so we stayed onboard for the rest of the day. The next morning, we arose to a wonderful sunrise lighting up Bora's main peak, Otemanu. After breakfast, we loaded the dinghy with snorkeling gear and headed out to the seaward side of the motu, where we had heard there were nice coral gardens. Our initial appraisal showed only a few isolated coral heads amidst the sand, so we opted for a beachwalk instead, our first since Tahaa. Walking eastward, the lagoon narrowed, then the barrier reef merged with the motu, and we were only a few hundred feet from the open ocean, still breaking violently on the reef, though the swells have diminished over the last few days. At our turnaround point, we opted for an inland route, and soon found ourselves in a tiare flower plantation. There were also coconut palms and palmettos, and a few lakes that looked like great breeding grounds for mosquitoes. We ended up back on the lagoon side of the motu, and walked that shoreline back to the dinghy, stopping to admire a few nice bungalows, and Vitali's artwork, along the way. Back in the dink, we noticed a couple of excursion boats moored far out toward the barrier reef and realized that must be the place for good snorkeling. We motored out, then anchored far enough away that we would not arouse the ire of the tour operators for horning in on their site. Once in the water, we were delighted to find that the visibility was about 100 feet, the norm for these islands but far better than we had experienced so far this season with all the rain. We worked our way out toward the barrier reef, where the coral was heavily damaged from recent storms, but the formations were still beautiful. The current flowed strongly toward us, just like a river. Surprisingly, there were not many fish, and we soon found out why. Once the tour boats had left, we snorkeled over to their mooring buoys, and were promptly mobbed by a horde of small fish, mostly Pacific double-saddle butterflyfish, but also sargeant majors, parrotfish, triggerfish, and, lurking in the background, a posse of over a dozen blacktip reef sharks. Knowing they had been recently fed helped assure us that we would not be too tempting to them! (tried to upload some videos, but it looks like that option no longer exists!) The next day, we followed the same pattern: a long beachwalk on Matira Beach, reputedly the best beach on Bora: followed by snorkeling in another "coral garden" (none of the pictures I took here were very good, although the videos were nice). On Saturday, we pulled the anchor and returned to a mooring in front of the Bora Bora yacht club. On Sunday, we went scuba diving for the first time this season. We went with a commercial dive boat out of the pass to a dive spot on the outer reef wall. The main attraction here were the nine-foot lemon sharks, several of whom made very close approaches (again, I have video, but no stills). There were a number of other fish species present, including this unicornfish, but the coral was probably 90% dead.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Passage to Bora

We had closed the circle on Raiatea, and now we had to decide if the engine was good enough to go on to Bora Bora. It had run fine for the past 2 days, so after a final phone call to the mechanic, we decided to sail the 25 miles across to Bora. It started off to be a nice sail, right out of Paipai Pass, with huge breakers on either side from the 4-meter high south swell. A charter cat left about the same time as we did, and as they drew even with us, we were amazed to see it almost disappear in between the large swells. But these were long period swells, and we barely noticed our own movement. Unfortunately, the wind gave out and we had to motor again. About ¾ of the way to Bora, the engine began sputtering again. I bled the fuel line and all was well. We marveled at the huge surf breaking on the barrier reef, and continued around the southwest corner of the reef and up toward Teavanui pass. The engine sputtered again, and I re-bled the fuel line. We talked about what we would do if the engine gave out in the pass, where the current was likely to be strongly running. Sure enough, we entered the pass, and were fighting 3 ½ knots of current. And sure enough, the engine died, just as we had passed one of the channel buoys. We rolled out the genoa and fortunately had just enough wind to hold our own agains the current, even though we were tacking into the wind. After what seemed an interminable amount of time, we made it in to the calm of the lagoon. I bled the fuel line for the 3rd time, and we motored a short distance to a mooring ball next to the Bora Bora Yacht Club. It was great to be safe and sound after clawing our way through the pass! Although the scenery is truly magnificent here, we have spent the first few days heavily involved in projects. After much head-scratching, and a few good tips from Nigel Calder, I discovered the source of our engine troubles – a slightly loose bleed screw on the bottom of our fuel-water separator. It was letting a tiny stream of air bubbles into the fuel line, although there was no fuel leaking out. The air bubbles were so tiny, I had a very difficult time seeing them, but when I tightened the bleed screw, they had disappeared, and so, we assume, has the engine problem. Moving on, I patched a leak in the dinghy, and re-bedded the troublesome main hatch. Vicki busied herself with patching and sewing torn stitching on our cockpit canvas, and continued provisioning and meal planning for our upcoming passages. I also spent some time preparing for my graduate student’s oral exam, which will take place next Monday. Between now and then, we hope to explore some of the beautiful lagoon surrounding this fabled island.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tour of Raiatea

After Nicolas bled our engine it started right up, so we made plans to leave the paid mooring at Apooiti Marina, and move to the free anchorage a mile west near Raiatea Carenage. I wanted to find out about getting our propane bottle filled, and to see about getting the main hatch re-bedded (it leaks in heavy rains). When I went ashore, I was surprised to meet Sieg and Barbara from sv Sorceress, whom we had met in Moorea last year. Like us, they had laid their boat up for hurricane season, and were now heading west. It was fun to compare ideas, plans, and experiences. It rained quite heavily for most of the next couple of days and nights. We were easily able to fill our water tanks and do all the laundry and showering we wanted! After the rains finally ended, we decided to see if the engine was truly working, and take advantage of the light winds, by motoring toward the south end of Raiatea. We got to Nao Nao Islet by mid-day, and put the hook down in a small bay at its west end. The snorkeling was better here than in most parts of the lagoon, due to a heavy south swell and resulting influx of clear ocean water. But the visibility is still much worse than what we saw last year, due to all the rain. But the anchorage was a bit too tenuous to spend the night here, so we continued motoring in the afternoon, along the southern side of the island, and partway up the eastern side. We found a nice anchorage just north of Teavamoa Pass. We were only a mile from one of the most important historic sites in Polynesia – Taputapuatea. In the pre-colonial period, groups from all the neighboring islands would gather here. From here we followed the scenic coastline north to Faaroa Bay, home of Polynesia’s only navigable river. We dinghied up a mile or so, hoping to find a local guide to show us around some of the beautiful farms. But it was Sunday morning, and we realized that everyone was probably in church. So we dinghied back down the river and followed our ears to a large metal shed emanating harmonious sounds. We were welcomed in and shown to a pew, but the music soon ended and the sermon began – in Tahitian. Not being able to understand a word, we soon slunk back out and resumed our journey by boat. By mid-afternoon we had reached a nice looking anchorage just inside Teava Piti Pass, the main pass on this eastern side of Raiatea. After getting the anchor set and the chain buoyed up off the coral, we did a drift snorkel through the pass. Lots of fish, but the water was still pretty churned up from all of the rain. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset here, but our sleep was interrupted by a current change which floated the boat over our anchor buoys. They knocked against the hull for a couple of hours, then stopped. When I awoke the next morning, I found that the noise had stopped because the anchor buoys had become wrapped around the rudder! So I started the day with a nice bit of snorkeling to untangle our ground tackle. Next we motored the short distance to Uturoa, the second largest city in French Polynesia and home to not one but 3 markets. We were happy to find a few tinned meat selections we had not been able to find previously, such as turkey and chicken. We will rely heavily on canned foods during the long passages between here and Fiji, if the going gets too rough for cooking.