Friday, November 4, 2016

Hawaiki Nui Va’a Canoe Race

Bora Bora is the South Pacific island most identified with the word "Paradise."
It’s tough to leave Paradise but we had to slowly make our way back to Raiatea for our scheduled haul out on November 14th. We left the idyllic southeast bay of Bora Bora and motored north around the interior island back to the MaiKai Resort and grabbed a mooring buoy. Having spent almost a week on the boat, we decided it was time to see a bit of the island. We walked about 1 mile into town and found a bike rental company. For around $20 we rented some great cruiser bikes and headed clockwise around the island.

The red dots represent our anchoring locations on Bora Bora.
With over 10 major resorts, Bora Bora is the most “touristy” of the Society Islands. For someone used to quiet secluded anchorages, Bora Bora was like being in Times Square for New Years.  We found a nice seaside restaurant near Matira Beach (location of the finish of the famous Hawaiki Nui Va’a canoe race) and just sat and soaked in the ambiance. Bora Bora was one of a few US bases in the South Pacific during World War II and it was interesting to see machine gun "pill boxes" and other remnants from the US Army and Navy. Back on the bikes we completed our circumnavigation of the island with just enough energy to check the bikes in and walk back to the boat at MaiKai. 

The beautiful MaiKai resort where we moored for about a week.
We thoroughly enjoyed pedaling around Bora Bora on our cruiser bikes.

The beach at Matira Point.
Cruise ships Paul Gauguin and Windstar at anchor in Bora Bora.
We hung around MaiKai for a couple of days and then headed due south on Nov. 3rd to join Eye Candy and Plastik Plankton at an anchorage just north of Matira Beach. While there were just a few boats when we arrived, it started to get crazy later in the day when more and more boats tried to squeeze into the area to get prime viewing for the finish of the Hawaiki Nui Va’a the next day. There were quite a few dirty looks and incantations as boats tried to anchor closer than was safe given the conditions.

The start of the Hawaiki Nui Va'a canoe race in Raiatea.
We awoke to a beautiful day on Nov. 4th and could see the flotilla of racing canoes, safety boats, spectator craft, and helicopters outside of the fringing reef heading our way for the race finish at Matira Beach. The canoes had left Raiatea around 7:00 am that morning and were now outside the reef and headed towards the only pass into Bora Bora. They would then do a 90 degree turn and head south towards the finish. As they entered the lagoon it was like watching a flotilla slowly approaching, all easily marked by the swarm of helicopters overhead. We decided to dingy one mile south so we could watch the finish at Matira Beach. In our little dingy, traveling alongside Plastik Plankton, we were astonished as 30 ft. spectator boats raced by at 25 knots just feet away from us to get places at the finish line.  

The crowd of over a thousand people cheering on the racing canoes.

The 6-man racing canoes can hit up to 11 knots sprinting towards the finish.

The winning boat from Tahiti:  Team OPT.

We managed to squeeze in a small opening near the finish line and get our dingy anchor down in about three feet of water. No sooner had we anchored then the first racing canoe came surging by. These guys had just raced 54 miles through ocean waves and were now racing towards the finish line at about 11 knots. It was an absolutely amazing athletic performance from these superb rowers.  The crowd of several thousand people went wild cheering the winning Tahitian boat on to the finish. Shortly there after, canoe after canoe began finishing the grueling race and hit the beach for cheers, congratulations and a few cold beers. As mentioned before, this is the Super Bowl for Pacific Islanders and 90 6-person teams from around the world participated. Tahitian canoes took the first four places and the American Red Bull team placed 12th.

Realizing that the hundreds of spectator craft would all be leaving later in the day and powering through our anchorage, we decide to head back early and re-anchor around the corner in the relative peace of the old Hilton Hotel lagoon. It was quite a day.

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