Friday, October 28, 2016

Bora Bora or Bust!

With our business completed (sort of) at the Carenage, we set sail for Bora Bora, about 30 miles east of Raiatea. While this would normally be a rousing downwind passage, we ended up with light winds on a reach. With our Code Zero and full main we were able to maintain a nice steady 4 to 5 knots. I am sometimes amazed how we manage to move our heavy cruising boat in winds as light at 6-8 knots. That light weight Code Zero has helped us out so many times.

On a mooring buoy near Bloody Mary's Restaurant.
Seeing the romantic peaks of Bora Bora in the distance is certainly the quintessential experience for any bluewater sailor. The feeling is we’ve reached nirvana; where in the world is anything more exotic than Bora Bora?  In reality Bora Bora is somewhat of an anachronism, some cruisers love it and some hate it.  After reading many of the cruiser reports we had somewhat mixed feelings about visiting the fabled island, but we had to experience it for ourselves.

We entered the extensive lagoon through the only pass, Passe Teavanui, and headed south along the west side of Moto Topua to a bommie-free anchorage in about 30 feet of water. The area where you can anchor is huge given the large “flats” areas of sandy bottom that are immediately behind the reef until they hit the deeper blue water of the lagoon. Many of the charter cats anchor in the shallower areas leaving ample space for the deeper keeled monohulls such as Flying Cloud.

These over-the-water bungalows are everywhere in Bora Bora.
We basically hung out on the boat and did a couple of snorkeling trips and some exploring in the dingy. Just to the east of us in the flats were a small flotilla of tourist boats observing the sting rays who feed in the shallow waters. This brings up the main issue with Bora Bora, hoards of tourists pursing every activity under the sun.  Bora Bora is literally lined with very high end hotels (Four Seasons, St. Regis, Intercontinental, Sofitel, Meridien, Pearl, etc.). All of these hotels feature hundreds of “over the water” bungalows, many of them built up over primo snorkeling areas. The bungalows are priced from $400/night up to $15,000, not exactly in our budget range. 

All of the thousands of guests in these hotels pursue “the Bora Bora experience” with a plethora of waterborne activities, including shark and manta ray watching, snorkeling, parasailing, jet skis, water skiing, SCUBA diving, and so on. We are awoken in the morning by a buzzing herd of jet skis racing one after another to who knows where. They seem to love coming close to the anchored sailboats and waving at us. Some cruisers defense is to stand naked and wave back. At the primo snorkeling sites there will be two to five resort boats chock-a-block with white-skinned tourists to whom no one has mentioned the dangers of the tropic sun and the need for rash guards.

On top of all this many of the hotels maintain their exclusivity by banning cruisers from the grounds and restaurants. One cruiser couple we met did sweet talk their way into the restaurant at the St. Regis where they dropped a cool $384 on dinner. A little out of our league. 

Hanging of the mooring buoy just off Bloody Mary's.
There are two full walls of names of the "rich and famous" who have visited Bloody Mary's. We're not on it.
Stapling a dollar bill to the wall is one way of saying "We've been here."
There is no menu per se:  The chief comes out and explains what he has that night and asks how you would like it cooked.

On Oct. 14th we did a pre-birthday dinner for Meryl and Andrew (off Eye Candy) at the iconic Bora Bora restaurant, Bloody Mary’s. The Bloody Mary’s at Happy Hour were actually quite good and we enjoyed chatting with Andrew and Clare about our various experiences. It wasn’t the cheapest meal I’d ever eaten, but we don’t get out much so it was a wonderful treat and a good way to celebrate the birthdays.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Raiatea -- Our New Home Away from Home

On October 7th we sailed for Taha’a, which normally would be a nice downwind sail, but we ended up motoring the whole way given the prevailing light wind conditions. As was the case with Huahine, we decided to come in an east side pass (that would normally have high surf in a strong easterly wind) and explore some of that side of Taha’a we missed during our first visit. We entered through Toahotu Pass and anchored just north or Moto Mahaea in about 20 feet of water. 
Anchoring out on the flats is like anchoring in the middle of the ocean.
Anchoring in the Leeward Islands can be a challenge, since the water inside the reefs can be up to 100 ft. deep, and within a few feet can transition to 5-feet deep on the shelves of the reef.  We typically try to find someplace 20 to 30 feet deep which reduces the problems of shallow bommies (coral heads) around the boat. I always snorkel over the anchor chain and anchor to see how well it’s set, and at times we buoy the anchor chain to “float” it over a bommie or two.  When anchored out on the shelf, or flats as I like to call them, it’s rather disconcerting since it seems you are anchored in the middle of the ocean with only the surf break from the reef separating the two. Once you get used to it, however, it’s very cathartic just floating out in the middle of nowhere on crystal clear water.

The hidden bonus of this anchorage was a very strong WiFi signal. When we tried to log in for some reason the system didn’t ask for our password. We normally pay about $150 for 100 hours of Internet, and when it’s slow the time goes quickly without us accomplishing anything online.  For a techie it was Internet heaven.  We typically have about 50 to 100 iPhone apps waiting to be updated at any given time, along with updates to all our Mac apps, so we had a downloading field day.

As usual, we did some snorkeling, boat projects, SUP’ing, and explored the two large bays in the dingy. We did get a short walk in but we need to make a more concerted effort to get more aerobic exercise when ashore.

I love this little island located between Raiatea and Taha'a.
Since both Eye Candy and Flying Cloud will be hauling out at the same yard on Raiatea this cyclone season, we needed to talk with the yard manager to figure out the details. On Oct. 10th we motored the short 5-mile distance through the inner lagoon (Raiatea and Taha’a are inside the same barrier reef) to the Carenage on the west side of Raiatea. We luckily got a mooring ball (it’s very deep to anchor here) and dingied into the yard to get things figured out. We are still uncertain as to how they are going to haul us out (whether the Travel Lift will fit our boat without us having to take down the forestay) and where they are going to put us, but Dominique the manager says don’t worry, we’ll figure it out when we haul you out.  We did decide to rent an AirBnb for a week after we return to the boat in March 2017 since we’ll be sanding and putting on new bottom paint and the showers/bathrooms are terrible in the yard. 
The Raiatea Carenage Boatyard:  This will be our new home for the next five months when the boat is hauled out for cyclone season.
We ended up walking up to the airport with Eye Candy to both buy our tickets from Raiatea to Papeete for when we leave on Nov. 17th. Ironically we’ll be then flying back to San Francisco to catch a flight to Hong Kong; it’s actually a lot cheaper for us to fly that direction. I’m one of those rare people who actually look forward to a long international flight since I can sit back, watch movies, and have people feed me without having to do the dishes. Perfect.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Huahine -- Out and About

We sailed around the north side of Huahine to Fare, one of our favorite places in five years of cruising.  Most of the charter sailboats based out of Raiatea tend to cruise around Raiatea, Taha’a, and Bora Bora, so Huahine remains a somewhat authentic Polynesian island without the hoards of tourists, jet skis, and snorkeling tours.

Fare has a great grocery store with easy access from the dingy, and an even better cruiser’s bar called the Huahine Yacht Club (not really a yacht club, however). We met with the crews from Ednabal, Eye Candy, and French Curve for great Happy Hour Hinano’s and rum punches.  They certainly know how to make a strong drink down here.  Cruisers are fun to hang out with since typically everyone has so many weird stories of people they’ve met, things that broke on the boat, and sharks that  chased them. A fun night with great friends!

I love the simplicity of design here, the bold geometric shapes and the bright colors that mimic the island itself.
We spent the next couple of days just hanging out, SUP’ing and reading books. We even took a walk down the beach to a fancy hotel just to see how the other half lives. Most of the hotels seem half empty to us so we’re not sure how anyone is making money down here. Coupled with the expensive airfares to get here (about $1800 RT from Los Angeles) we’re amazed there are tourists here in the first place. Thank God for Japanese honeymooners.

Views like this are around every corner when you walk on the shoreside roads.
With the winds still unusually light, we decided to follow the fleet down to the southeastern tip of Huahine to Avea Bay, a large bay protected by a large barrier reef to the south. When we were here this past June we had steady 25-knot winds rocking the boat; today there was just a gentle swell.

We did some more hiking on shore to find a magasin that sold fresh baguettes and to get a little exercise after being on the boat for several days. We found a marae (sacred site) called Marae Anini that we didn’t know about so exploring that was interesting. 
Looks like an ad for Red Paddle. Seriously, these inflatable SUPs are great for exploring the bays and shallows.
It's not often that you see these huge slab-sided rocks in the construction of a marea.

We also got to borrow a SUP from French Curve so Meryl and I could explore the bay together. It’s very shallow with a sandy bottom here in Avea Bay and it’s weird to paddle up to a big rock on the bottom only to see it quickly scoot off, that’s how many sting rays are here.

This small resort in Avea Bay epitomizes the old South Pacific, in comparison to the ultra expensive and massive over-the-water bungalow developments you see in Bora Bora.
We typically have sundowners on one boat or another so our social life stays very active, but many nights we just have a drink in the cockpit, watch the sun go down (still no green flashes), and read our books. Life is good. Not sure how we are going to adapt to going back to the States and living in a house (although I am looking forward to long, hot showers again).