Bora Bora is My Back Yard!
"Our final weeks in FP were spent exploring the delightful Society Islands", was to be my title line for this blog, but we have decided to delay our departure to Fiji even though our application for Fiji visas had been accepted. After signing up for the Destination New Zealand Rally, and paying a $100 deposit, Richard completed online forms and then some more forms and further forms in order for us to get into Fiji. Not that easy when wi-fi connections are intermittent and often flaky! Likewise, banking with one-time codes being sent to a telephone number that does not connect and an 11 hour time difference makes managing routine administration tasks super challenging!
Fiji was to be the staging post before heading south out of the cyclone belt to the safety of North Island, New Zealand. We like sailing in company and thought we would accompany our friends on the American boats, Amari and Amazing Grace, as their extended visas end on 31st July and being non-EU citizens they now have to leave French Polynesia. However, on 22nd July we read that NZ borders remain closed to Foreign yachts, unless there is a serious need for repair or humanitarian aid. After much thought and deliberation it seemed irresponsible for us to leave a country of safe haven on the edge of the cyclone area and where we are allowed to stay indefinitely, to head for Fiji, 1900 miles away, in the cyclone belt and where we have a maximum stay time of 4 months, especially since our destination country of NZ remains essentially closed. A list of growing costs such as agents fees and costly Covid testing at each end, on top of Rally fees was starting to be off putting as well and the final decider was an email on 26th July in which we were informed all that exit formalities, including the Covid testing must be completed in Papeete, not any other island. Rather than sail back upwind 190 miles we have chosen to stay in FP for now and review the options yet again. So, we bid our friends fair winds and safe sailing until we catch up with them again!
Scrolling back to my last blog which finished with our return from the Tuomotu Atolls to Papeete at the beginning of July. We found Papeete was fully open post lockdown and was bustling, busy with traffic, shops, stalls and had a distinct European, colonial feel overlaying the Tahitian's natural liaissez faire! Irony is intended with that French expression!
We sailed in the company of 3 other boats and also met up with quite a few other boats from the WARC or those had met whilst cruising. Talk as always was about "What next? " Whilst we were staying in a French City, the pursuit of gastronomical delights was necessary, having experienced the fine dining at "L'O a la Bouche "in May we chose another strongly recommended venue called "Soufflé". A fine menu was enjoyed and our party of 7, surprisingly, got very rowdy when the cocktail menu offered Cunnilingus and RedHot Pussy, especially after we sampled them at the table! Double Entendres all round!
We had a rental car for the day in order to drive to the large Carrefour and provision for the proposed 2 week passage and to visit Point Venus. This promontory on the East side of the historical Matavai Bay anchorage, is where, in 1769, Captain Cooke measured the transit time of Venus crossing the sun, for the Royal Society and then named these The Society Islands.
The existing light house was erected in 1835 on the site of his astronomical observation, and his findings helped to calculate the true size of our solar system. The Polynesian navigators, who originated from Asia 2000 years ago, also used the stars and the ocean currents to navigate across the Pacific Ocean, slowly populating the numerous islands even as far as New Zealand.
They identified the star that is closest to transiting above an island as a guide star. Sirius transits Tahiti and is therefore used to aim at Tahiti and I do remember observing it during many night watches on our passage from The Galapagos, many moons ago! Interestingly, I also found out that Scorpio's tail is identified as Maui's Hook in Polynesian star reading!
With the availability of Marine chandlers and hardware shops I persuaded Richard to buy me an unusually expensive, but very useful, birthday present. A new outboard engine, Tohatsu 9.8. 2 stroke, because I was fed up with the old one breaking down, being repaired, not starting, cutting out and being very slow! The joy of an engine that starts with the first pull and has double the horse-power of our old one is endless. We can zoom about exploring in our dingy and not worry that we will be stranded or blown out to sea! We can join the other crew for snorkelling trips to destinations more than 1/2 mile from our big boat! Great fun!
After an expensive few days in Papeete, we headed for the island of Huahine, 105 miles, (15 -20 hours) to the north west, where we had arranged to meet up with other SOLA (Sailors Of the Lost Arc) boats for a Bastille Day reunion. A beautiful afternoon turned into a very windy sunset and we rounded Moorea with 3-4 metre breaking waves which were a bit scary, so we ducked into Cookes Bay on the north side of Moorea for the night. A pre-dawn start at 0430 allowed us to get through the passe at Huanhine before sunset but not before sundowners with another few boats from SOLA!
The next day was Saturday and canoe racing is like the Park Run for locals here!
We re-convened for lunch on board Domini, a catamaran big enough for 9 people to talk, eat, drink and play music. The afternoon finished off with a glorious sunset complete with the elusive green flash! It's more of a green bean actually!
Heading south in the lagoon the next day we stopped to anchor in the bay between Huahine Nui and Iti. A small bridge joins the two and we explored the loch like waterways in our dingy with it's super-duper new engine!
Bastille day was booked for our formal SOLA reunion dinner at a very nice Hotel and we managed to get together 6 of the remaining SOLA fleet.
A group of us decided to hire e bikes to explore the interior of Huahine by road, finding it very pretty with well manicured verges lined by brightly coloured hedges of hibiscus and other tropical plants that are usually sold as indoor plants in the UK. All of which gave us a feeling of cycling through a very large garden centre! Apart from the rain! The day on which we chose to cycle was extremely wet, early sun was covered by grey cloud and the rain started shortly after we set off, contrary to all expectations and forecasts it was not showers but steady unrelenting rain that rarely stopped. It rained until the ditches were running with a clay red mud, the roads were running with water and the only saving grace was that at least the puddles were warm!
Our first tourist stop was at an extensive Marae, a coral built temple site with a small interpretive museum.
Ironically, the museum was closed in order to limit tour numbers because International flights recommenced on 15th July. The population of these Covid free islands are understandably nervous of the disease being introduced from France so masks and social distancing became mandatory again on 16th July!
Further along the road we stopped to see the Sacred Eels with their blue eyes, but I never established why they were sacred! On arrival at the designated spot, we were disappointed to find the river was an ochre coloured torrent and nothing was visible to us, so we ambled back to our bikes just as a tour group arrived. The tour guide opened a tin of Sardines and slowly emptied them onto a partially submerged rock at the side of the water, we watched, intrigued, and after a minute several metre long eels reared up and slithered onto the rock, twining their thick blue black spotted bodies together and vying for the tasty morsels. We watched with a fascinated horror as the sharp teeth and voracious writhing bodies of the eels appeared and disappeared into the muddy waters. Sadly, it was too rainy to get my phone out and take any pictures! The next challenge was the steep hill, brakes were tested, warnings given but poor Alan had a nasty fall and after emergency first aid and dressings he and Avryl were collected by the bike patron. The remaining 5 of us completed the circumnavigation of the northern island of Huahine Nui with a break at the Belvedere when miraculously the rain stopped for a photograph.
By the time we arrived at the bridge over to Huahine Iti the downpour had recommenced and the other three decided to head home by completing the circuit of the north island. Richard and I, stalwart Welsh weather fans, continued across the bridge to Huahine Iti and pedalled on to find a lunch venue. After another hour or so and another Marae, (with prune hands!),
we eventually found a small cafe where we were the only customers (quelle surprise!)and the owners kindly provided bath towels for us before we ate.
We were served good local food, "poisson cru" which is raw tuna, cucumber, tomatoes in a lime and coconut milk sauce, accompanied by breadfruit chips and a glass of French red wine. Delicious!
This was followed by a lost in translation moment as the cafe didn't take payment cards and we didn't quite have enough cash to cover "l'addition". Richard's French is fairly good and we thought we had made our cash limit clear before ordering! Eventually, the waiter overcame his confusion and stopped asking for more money; "sorry, we don't have any more!"; FP francs, " sorry, we don't have any more! "; US dollars " sorry, we don't have any of those !"; or Euros " sorry, we still don't have anymore of any currency!" and it was all sorted out with an arrangement to collect outstanding funds from the bike hire shop! Whew!
The e bikes came into their own after lunch when the additional electric boost was employed and enjoyed by our tired legs, especially as there were a few more hills and kilometres to cover. We managed to arrive back after the 60 kms tour with more than half our battery powered remaining and were delighted to discover a distillery on the outskirts of the town of Fare where we had started 7 hours before. This is always useful for a celebration and it had eventually stopped raining!
Sundowners at the Yacht Club that evening were accompanied by the endless conversation about who is going where, who is thinking of staying or going and possible locations for meeting again being in Tahiti, or in Fiji, or NZ or maybe even in September 2021 in Darwin, "this year, next year, sometime, but hopefully not never"!
The following morning was dry and bright as Celtic Star and Amari slipped their moorings and waved farewell to Next Step who we first met in the Spanish Rias last August.
We had perfect wind conditions for the 30 mile passage across to Taha'a, gave us a fast exhilarating sail and we raced into the passe at over 7 knots under sail before bearing away downwind we furled the main sail to continue cruising inside the turquoise blue lagoon flying only the head sail. An hour later we picked up a mooring in a delightful bay on the West side of Taha'a along with Amari and our friends on Amazing Grace, who we had last seen in Fakarava 6 weeks before. Reunion beers on our boat were followed by an unplanned but interesting trip to a local rum distillery.
Vanilla, (which is the climbing plant, not the tree) and sugar cane are used to produce
this fine product and there was a wonderful aroma pervading the afternoon air. The following day we moved anchorage and found a Pearl Farm that had just re-opened to visitors.
This tour was absolutely fascinating and informative as I had no idea it was such a complex process. Firstly purchasing and growing the oysters, which appear quite different from those we see in Northern Europe. Then the implant, which is made from another type of shell and is placed into the base of the pearl, we also discovered that the colour of the pearls can be influenced by transplanting oyster lips!
Snorkelling and lunch on the next day was at the very smart hotel where they have cultivated the coral gardens, here we saw large anemones and the curious Clown fish who live in them and peek out of the waving fronds to see if it is safe! Definite overtones of Nemo!
This was a prelude to moving anchorage again to visit the slightly larger island of Raiatea. Here we walked and scrambled up a path through the jungle to visit three beautiful waterfalls and swim at the top under the tallest waterfall of them all. The long fall of water onto our heads elicited gasps and shouts as the water felt deliciously cool and took your breath away.
It was a great day out but quite tiring so back on board we settled in for a quiet night and a movie before all three boats headed north west to the stunning island of Bora Bora. This island is an absolute gem, it's iconic shape and gorgeous azure blue lagoon was our playground for five days. We visited several reefs for snorkelling, where we saw clouds of brightly coloured fish hanging about under the dingy, a flock of 20 eagle Ray's gliding, sliding elegantly by, a shy octopus, plus a terrifying Giant Moray eel with large teeth and a body the size of one of George North's legs! It didn't just sit in a hole looking at you but was actively swimming between the coral heads, not an animal to annoy! At another site we saw a lot of Sting Rays and Black tip Sharks but decided to stay safely in the dingy to observe them! Once again we socialised a lot with our boat buddies, Richard ran a sushi workshop and we had a fun Euchre competition as well as exploring fabulous locations and restaurants!
Our life is not just a holiday and all the usual household chores of shopping,
cooking, rubbish disposal are as much part of living on a boat as in a house. Wash day is still wash day wherever you are in the world, but hanging your laundry out in some fantastic locations does make it interesting.
FP is an expensive place to stay, for example a big bag of crisps in the atolls cost £5-£10, beer and crisps became beer and crackers which were much cheaper! We were left aghast at an £85 bill for a bottle of wine, a couple of beers and a bowl of frites in the Bora Bora Yacht Club so we headed 30 miles West again to the island of Maupiti which is topographically like a smaller version of Bora Bora with correspondingly smaller prices!
The Society islands are small land masses in the middle of a vast, vast ocean, so once the boat exits the lagoon and is away from any land shelter you experience offshore ocean conditions. In other words it was a bit livelier than we had expected with 3 metre breaking waves on our stern quarter and 30 knot gusts of wind, as we were going downwind it was a fast passage and we made the passe in less than 5 hours. The passe at Maupiti is long and narrow and not to be attempted with a 2 metre swell from the South East so we had chosen a day with North East winds. The gap still appeared very narrow and there was huge surf breaking either side of the entrance, so it was still a dramatic piece of navigation. Seen here from the top of Maupiti, in between the 2 motus (islands) and reef.
Safely in and anchored we planned our activities for the following few days. A cycle, a hill top walk and a visit to the Manta Ray cleaning station!
The hill top walk started with a lovely path through a woodland with deciduous leaf litter, ferns and lichen, similar to our rain forest and hill walks at home. I have come to realise that the tropical /temperate differentiation refers to temperature only, rainfall and grey cloudy days are as frequent and possibly more excessive here than in Wales. Remember, it is winter or the dry season here, but I can't believe it can get any wetter in the wet season. At the time of writing I am sat in my little boat listening to rain hammering down and looking out at sheets of rain and blurred green hills, reminiscent of a wet day at our caravan! Mildew management, weevil and cockroach containment are all skills I am now fully qualified in due to regular employment of such skills! The gentle walk became a slippery muddy scramble and then a fairly strenuous climb, though there were ropes to help out, Richard's flip-flops were definitely not appropriate footwear! Finally, at the top and with a fantastic birds eye view of the lagoon, I was conscious of the imminent descent which was as I thought even more terrifying and tricky as you have to look down into the void! Celtic Star is a white blob anchored left of centre, above the church!
I am looking forward to a pleasant outing, cycling along dry,quiet, flat roads with no death defying elements involved! Torrential rain has stopped play for now, any outing has resulted in saturation and with 80% humidity so nothing is drying. The solar panels aren't charging and the dingy looks like a jacuzzi, it even had waves in it at one stage! Cycling was postponed and we stayed on board Celtic Star to pursue blog writing, reading, movies and games. Cribbage now as well as chess! Occasionally, we watched Manta Rays swim by and got in the water to snorkel alongside them. Two days of downpours and a stormy night with non stop thunder and lightning have seen the end of the month out. July has finished as soggy and as unsettled as our future plans and sailing dreams.