Bora Bora is a lot of fun

The lagoon at the southern end of Bora has amazingly clear water, despite the huge fields of sand that could churn up – but it doesn’t. Not sure why. The sandy fields inside the fringing reef are very wide, perhaps a half mile, and the areas closer to the island don’t have coral and instead have lots of Eagle Rays and Sting Rays wandering around. The sting rays are on the bottom and let you get very close with the dinghy, the Eagle rays are up in the water column definitely do not like the dinghy approaching. Both rays are easy to spot, they are the moving dark blobs over the white sand.

Once you pass the open sand you reach a gradually building slope of coral, on out straight to the reef. You can anchor the dinghy in the sand just beyond the coral and them swim around slowly in the clear water and wander on through the beds of coral. The colors are wonderful, and while not as many fish as one might see in the deeper water, there are indeed lots of fish and lots of sea urchins to watch as they move around within the corals.

The island hasn’t lived up to its reputation as a crazy place, in fact it has been very nice so far. The pace of life here is definitely more frenetic as compared to Moorea, there is a lot going on here and people move around with much more purpose in life, as it were. The passenger boats do zoom back and forth, woe to anyone that anchors in the channel (which SV Apolima did) as the zooming boats don’t give much credence to that, and will pass by at full tilt less than 10′ off the anchored boat. After two days of this Apolima upped anchor and moved well clear of the channel!

Yesterday Kristen and I went for a snorkel on the reef near a small steel wreck that must be ages old, as the wreck itself has many large corals growing on it. That was another super trip underwater, lots of animals and good light to see everything – and the coral is growing in large clumps with sandy bits in between to facilitate swimming around the corals to see who is hiding inside. We saw several large puffer fish hovering in small hiding holes at the base of the corals, and those fish have big round wide eyes which they swivel around to watch you with. Fields of short-spined sea urchins across the sand flats, and in the reef itself are large numbers of spiny sea urchins with long delicate nasty pointy blackish spines, all aiming out away from the urchin’s body.

After the snorkel we decided to circumnavigate the island, and found that Bora is in fact quite small – it’s easy to zip around in the dinghy, I’ll be driving Kristen directly to the airport in the dinghy tomorrow as there’s no road to the airport – it dates back to WWII when the USA built the runway, which they did on a motu as it was fairly flat (the island doesn’t have a good flat area suitable for airports).

The main town has a tourism office, which directed me to the post office, which didn’t have the desired Vini data card SIM for the phone, and they directed us to Tahiti Phone. After an hour in the air conditioned phone store I emerged armed with the ability to get online via cellular telephone, plus I know how to recharge the access when it gets used up. That’s way better than looking for the WDG WiFi antenna, which being WiFi has quite short range. The weird part is that I now have two Vini SIM chips, one suitable for voice (open phone to install), and the other suitable for data (open phone and remove voice sim to install data sim). AT least it works! The lady at the Tourism office told me the WDG antennas didn’t work in town, but there was one antenna on the remote side of the island that did work – only it’s too shallow to anchor Beetle over there. Thus the trip to Tahiti Phone.

This morning I dived on the anchor chain and worked out which way Beetle needed to move in order to slide the chain out from under the Bommie. Immediately after getting up and out of the water Beetle was powered up, pointed in the desired direction, and voila! – we unhooked from the bommie. It was kinda early to action be un-anchored, so we thought for a moment and decided to shift across the lagoon to the moorings in front of the restaurant Bloody Mary’s. This is the same place that friends on Pangea had gone to as we were arriving, and yesterday we reconnoitered the moorings to see what they were (look for the yellow soccer size float with the large mooring line running through it). In the nice light air and early morning sun Kristen pulled Beetle up to the float, I nabbed it with the boat hook and we were done. Nice way to start the day.

This evening we’re joining Pangea for happy hour at Bloody Mary’s, and Kristen has made dinner reservations for two at 6:30. And last night we had a delightful evening with Philip on board his 20 ton steel 40′ boat Parotia; he’s singlehanding and I invited him over to Beetle for sundowner conversation and munchies. He turned out to be a delightful person, is an avid bird person (land birds, of all things, unusual to be observing land birds from a boat), spent three years in Peru leading nature tours, and is now on his boat working across the Pacific from Panama in search of getting photos of birds.

Upshot is life is very good in Bora, it’s calm in the lagoon (light wind, the passenger zoomer boats aren’t ripping by as we’re not near a channel), the French Navy is here in the form of P675 which is grey and slightly smaller than the cruise ship Paul Gauguin which is white and somewhat larger, and Kristen is working on the last of the shrimp she obtained from the shrimp farm in Moorea.

It’s tough not to like Bora, particularly with the super snorkeling in the corals.

– rob

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Beetle in Bora Bora

This morning at 7:55AM Beetle motored in through the pass at Bora Bora. This island has a lot of name recognition, even if it doesn’t have the most outstanding reputation as a cruising destination. It definitely has lots of sand flats inside the outlying reef, and on those sand flats are lots of grey sting rays that don’t mind dinghies driving over them at all, and lots of Eagle Rays that are definitely gun-shy of a dinghy going by. Plus lots of resorts built out as individual bungalows on concrete cylindrical stilts with a common gangway that run out into the bay; the bungalows even appear on the charts as obstructions, which I find somewhat humorous.

The sail over was straight forward, a 135 mile run from Moorea to Bora, take Huahine to port and run over the top of Tahaa on the way to the airport beacon at Bora. The sea state was reasonably unpleasant, two swell trains running plus the wind waves on top of that. At least it wasn’t three or four swell trains running, that is even more interesting to bump and hop through and over.

The giant sailing cruise ship Wind Spirit went by a mile off in the middle of the night (they were upwind under power, we were downwind under sail, they gave way), and the Aranui 5 combination supply and cruise ship also went by, though they were a bit further away.

When we cleared the pass into Bora there’s a question as to where best to anchor. The most popular anchorage with the cruisers is to the west of Motu Toopua, just to the south of the pass. We weren’t certain if we were going to go there of across the main lagoon to “Bloody Mary’s”, a deep anchorage (80-100′) on the south side that is also popular with the cruising crowd, mostly as it provides relatively close access to the coral snorkeling on the SE corner of Bora. The hurdle for entering west of Motu Toopua is a marked shallow shelf/bridge that needs to be crossed in order to get into the deeper bowl inside for anchoring purposes. With Kristen calling directions from the bow while I motored along slowly, we passed over an underwater ledge of 11′ of water and we were in. And promptly discovered that Pangea was present, so we stopped and talked with them to learn more about the anchorage – which sort of follows as marked navigation channel that a lot of small passenger boats (think catamaran with 14 people on it going 20 knots) use to shuttle folks to and from the airport at the other end of the lagoon.

‘Anchor anywhere’ was the response. I eyed the traffic, lined up with a 70′ Oyster, got the anchor to stick in the sand on the first short, and we promptly wrapped the anchor chain around a bommie on the bottom – shades of Fakarava! So tonight we are firmly attached to the bottom, as the anchor isn’t doing much some 60′ behind us, while the 60′ of chain descending from the nylon anchor snubber is securely fastened to the bommie. Something to sort out tomorrow.

A deciding factor in today’s Brownian Boat Motion across the Society Islands is the weather has laid down considerably, therefore everyone that has felt stuck is suddenly on the move – boats are shooting about going every which way. When Beetle arrived we anchored behind two and in front of one, plus a couple others on our side of the channel and perhaps 10 on the other. Most of these boats departed by mid-day, all headed off to somewhere else, the anchorage emptied out to almost zero. A ‘rule’ of anchoring is that the first one into the anchorage is fine, and any subsequent boat that swings into the first boat’s way needs to up anchor and move. It’s always nice to be the first boat in. We were number 6, then 5, then 3. And now 2. All the other boats on our side of the channel were up and out. By late afternoon the anchorage on the other side of the channel emptied out and refilled with all kinds of boats, including Ocean Star – a larger (Beneteau?) that has a salt water leak in their generator and is planning to motor over to Tahiti tomorrow to get their generator worked on, thus explaining the two 55 gallon plastic drums of diesel lashed to their mast.

On board it’s been a fairly slow day simply because Kristen and I didn’t get a lot of quality sleep last night. We got the dinghy up and out, went off and found Eagle Rays on the sand flats, did some snorkeling in two spots (coral definitely in better health in Moorea than we saw in those two areas), talked to some folks on the radio, had dinner, and now is 8:30pm and feels very late. The moon has just risen, and that moon was fantastic on the water last night – made everything super bright and I never needed to use a headlamp while adjusting sails in the dark.

General plan for tomorrow is to check out the water at the SE corner of Bora, I’d like to find a Vini (cell phone provider) store to enquire after a cellular data card, and I need to resolve the chain-on-the-bommie situation. Simply unwrapping from the bommie and resetting right here doesn’t help as all I’ll do is wrap up again. So we might move over to Bloody Mary’s and the moorings that they maintain there – if there is any room.

All is good, it’s odd to be in the middle of the South Pacific and feel like we’ve landed in the Las Vegas of the Society Islands – but it is fun to see the activity and the boats going by and the bungalows. Lots happening here. Tomorrow we will go exploring further afield, visit the town, and learn a bit about how things work here.

– rob

headed for Bora Bora, it’s dark and the moon is up

We left Moorea just a few hours ago (it seems) and already we’re off Huahine, located some 9 miles to port. We’ll be on this course (311T) for another 2-3 hours, and then bear off for the 48 mile slide downhill to cross the north end of Bora Bora.

The day has gone well, no squalls, good clear sky, wind has been steadily dropping and now we’re seeing 18-22 from the ENE. The swell has been decling but still very bumpy lumpy, what with two swell trains running and lumpy wind waves on top of that. Kristen is unimpressed with the swell’s behavior. I kind of thing it’s not too bad, though Beetle does occasionally lurch about a bit.

All is good on board, hopefully this will be a nice evening on the water.

– rob

Underway for Bora Bora

Good morning! Beetle this morning is staggering along towards Bora Bora, it’s a bright sunny day so far, breeze is up in the 20-24 knot range, we’re running along with triple-reefed main and a scrap of headsail unrolled to help hold the bow down. The sea state is up, and that is what makes the going so rocky rolly out here, nothing pond-like today in the South Pacific.

The forecast calls for the breeze to reduce through the next several days, which is what everyone has been waiting for. The folks out in the Tuamotus are still hunkered down and not leaving the boat due to the wind they’re experiencing. In Moorea/Tahiti we were seeing the reduced winds first, the Leeward Societies (Bora Bora, Huahine, etc.) will see that reduction tonight some time. First boat out of Opunohu was Shindig, Rob and Jeff wanted to visit Huahine and the recommended approach is to depart Moorea early evening to time arrival for early morning at the pass into Huahine. We elected to wait another 12 hours and then we headed out. Shindig reported in this morning that they were at the Huahine pass, and had winds 25-30 through the night, gradually tapering to 20-25 by their arrival. I’m hoping for a similar reduction today – breeze should drop another 5 knots and the swell is already down from 8′ to 7′.

And we had yet another dragging boat through the anchorage at the top end of Opunohu. It’s soft mud up there and boats do not seem to like setting the anchor. In this case a boat had come in and proceeded to anchor very close to two other boats, we’re talking something like 30 feet between boats. That seems way too close to me, but there they were. In the afternoon there were intermittent 180 degree wind shifts that turned everybody around and that’s when Cinnabar drifted down on top of Papajou, the miscreant anchorer. They elected to hoist their anchor and simply drift downwind another 40 feet and put the anchor back down. That approach definitely does not set the anchor, and at midnight Cinnabar put out a call on the VHF that Papajou was adrift and headed out of the bay. Papajou heard this and were up on deck in a hurry, hoisted the anchor, and had all the fun of motoring up into much shallower water and setting the hook in the dark with intermittent 20 knot gusts through the anchorage.

I had an interesting experience trying to obtain internet yesterday morning – there was none available on Sunday, plus the magasin that operates the WDG WiFi installation was closed Sunday. On Monday they would be open, Kristen and I dinghied to the beach adjacent to the magasin and voila! – no internet. I walked into the store and the lady there has enough English to help me out. I ask about the WDG WiFi and she says, “No WiFi any more. They took the antenna away.” I’m amazed – usually people are installing additional infrastructure, and here they are actively removing it. She did not know why, but the antenna was gone.

I heard on the radio net that there is a group called PGEM that seems to be part of the government, and there are plans afoot to close the east anchorage at Opunohu Bay, which would be unfortunate for the cruising crowd. Perhaps removing the antenna is part of an effort to make the anchorage less desireable? There are several petitions going around now, one from the cruisers, one from the passenger boat operators, and one from the dive boats – each asking that the anchorage not be closed.

So that’s the scoop from this end, we’re out here sailing along towards Huahine, then a left turn and another 47 miles to Bora. I’ve collected a fair bit of local knowledge from various boats, in particular Alycone and Maluhia were very helpful with all their information. Now it’s my turn to see about putting some of that into practice.

Enjoy the morning. Kristen is asleep, or at least trying to rest through the noise of the boat rolling around. I got in a good nap earlier, the watermaker is up and running to replenish the water tanks (day tank now full, port tank 1/2 full and I’ll be transferring that water to the starboard tank shortly. Eventually we’ll be topped up.

Time to go watch for more flying fish!

– rob

Looking for weather window to Bora Bora

Good mid-morning, it’s Sunday morning at the top end of Opunohu Bay, a brilliant sunny day, the wind has been up and down and right now it’s down. Plus the clouds and drizzle and rain have gone away, this is the perfect morning.

Last night was a bit of excitement. We had the gang over for sundowners (Shindig, Cinnabar, Maluhia), that was lots of fun – Beetle was an impromptu snack-stand and bar with indoor-outdoor seating for 7-1/2, depending on the state of rain at any particular moment. More good stories around, and I learned courtesy of Tom how to convert my French Polynesian Vini phone card to talk to me in English; if I can do that then I might understand why I have never been able to place a call that actually connects to anyone.

Well after dark everyone headed home, and Kristen was watching the metal-hulled 40′ hard chine sailboat anchored upwind of us. The further one goes into the bay the shallower it becomes and the more gooey the mud is. Kristen was hoping the fellow up front wouldn’t drag towards us… and then the wind started to whip through the cuts in the valleys to each side, causing the boats to alternately rotate left and right in the oscillating wind gusts and often presenting a full broadside to the next gust. I had just gone to bed when Kristen, displaying the uncanny ability of an anchor-dragger-spotting blood hound, called out to me, ‘You need to get up here!’. And sure enough the metal boat was noticeably moving towards Beetle’s bow, now a boat length from his transom. A quick hail on the radio brought no response, I handed the spotlight to Kristen (and it’s a reasonably bright light) and she was able to point it through the open companionway of the offending boat and light up the interior. That brought up the singlehander on board. He had by now halved the distance between us as I fired up Beetle’s engine and retrieved some larger fenders and delivered them to the foredeck. It took the singlehander a fair bit of time to up anchor in the wind and still control his boat; my concern was the possibility that when his hook came free he would spin back towards Beetle and drift rapidly our way. He was pretty good and ran back and forth to manage the engine RPM, pointing the boat, run to the bow to operate the windlass and get the chain and anchor on deck. When all was done he motored way up towards the shore and dropped again, and that’s where we found him this morning.

Sylvia on board Cinnabar heard the racket over the radio and got up to watch, then turned on their radar and spent quite a bit of time monitoring boat positions to see if anyone else was dragging. Apparently the Outremer 45 next to Maluhia dragged yesterday as well (though I missed that) and had laid out more scope to get the anchor to set properly. For my part I watched the metal boat for an hour, then went to sleep with my alarm set for 1 hour – got up and checked everything, went back to sleep with the alarm set for 2 hours given the wind had dropped way off, and at that check all was well, so I went to sleep for the night.

Boats dragging anchors are no fun, especially when you’re downwind of them.

Yesterday Kristen and I hard a very nice dinghy tour of the West side of Moorea, running around past the sharks’ snorkeling area we continued on to a wide wide sandy reef extending out to the breakers beyond the hard coral fringing reef. The wind did pick up as we got around and started to see the wrap-around coming up from the SE, so we wandered back along the marked channel to a calm lagoon set in between two motus and dropped the small dinghy anchor. The snorkeling there was nice, especially with the calm water despite the drizzle and rain passing through as the squalls moved across Moorea.

We’ve been doing a fair bit of time in the water, and have seen some interesting fishes. There’s a spot on the western side of the pass that the first-timer scuba people use, so we visited that on the assumption there ought to be interesting critters there. And there were – lots of ‘Christmas Tree’ worms in the coral with their spiral brightly-colored fronds poking out into the water flow, yellows and blues and purples – maybe even some green ones though I would have to look at my pictures to be certain about the green. And found a large moray eel hanging out in his lair beneath a large rock covered in coral. He had a nice nook from which to poke his head out and observe what was going on around him. We spent a good 20 minutes just watching the moray, and he was quite happy to just watch us. Neat animal.

The weather forecast is improving for a shot over to Bora Bora. The original thinking was to roll Monday (tomorrow) morning, and the latest GFS model run and forecasts call for good winds Monday and reducing Monday night into Tuesday. So we’ve backed up the departure to Tuesday morning. I listened to one of the boats describing their departure from Tahaa to Bora (a short downwind run in the lee of the islands) and he described 30 knots of breeze in Tahaa and slightly less on the way to Bora; he didn’t make it sound like fun, so I’m glad we’ve been able to continue hanging out here in Moorea especially as we have good company in Tom, Sylvia, Rob, Jeff, Dave, and Kim.

This morning was a complete strike-out as regards connecting to the internet; Kristen has to manage some hotel accomodations and there’s a time element to it – if they are not canceled by tomorrow morning she gets charged, and as she doesn’t need all four it would be no fun to be charged for them. I have a HotSpot-WDG login that requires being relatively close to a WiFi antenna belonging to WDG. Such an antenna is in the east anchorage here, so we dinghied there – but, antenna is turned off and the mom & pop-operated family store failed to open today (normally they would be open 6AM – 11AM). We then tooled along to the Hilton resort nearby, yes, they had WiFi and yes, normally non-hotel folks could purchase WiFi access – but not today. This is not so good. We dinghied back up to the anchorage and discovered that Maluhia has a pay-as-you-go Vini Data card on one of their iPhones. This is an alternative to WDG WiFi and will have much longer range and reach given the pervasive nature of the Vini cellular phone system on the islands and the distance that cell phone signals will travel; of course it’s also significantly more expensive, somewhat slower, and data-limited as compared to WDG WiFi – maybe I should look into the Vini Data option as well. Kristen is over on Maluhia at the moment and they are helping her get on the Vini data access. Turns out that the cellular system has been upgraded and now runs at 3G speeds, which is nice.

Plans are afoot to have a dinner on Cinnabar tonight, Sylvia is making up pasta bolognese (spaghetti and meat sauce), hopefully everyone else brings something to suit. That should be fun!

All is good at this end!

– rob

Friday morning and nicely calm in the bay

Good morning – it’s turned to a nice day in the area, it rained early this morning for quite a while and that has given way to blue skies over the water and grey mist over the island.

Yesterday was swap out the watermaker filters, I changed out the carbon filter (prevents any chlorine in freshwater used for the back-flush from getting to the membrane), and the 20 and 5 micron sea water filters. There is a problem with the filter vacuum sensors or wiring to the same, as the unit refused to believe that the filters were allowing water to pass through. After an hour or so of fiddling with the watermaker I was able to get the unit into ‘Program Mode’ and disable the pre-filter sensor check – and instant fresh water! Nice that it is working as it should, next thing is to inspect the wiring to the two sensors that enable measurement of pressure loss through the large 20 and 5 micron filters; the sensors are a great way to quantify how clogged the filters are.

Given the watermaker took much of the afternoon, Kristen and I did not get out for a snorkel. We’re going to make up for that today!

Shindig appeared in the bay mid-day, and proceeded to run around in their dinghy distributing food and beverage purchased at the Super-U in Cook’s Bay. Great fun to see Rob/Shindig again, and got to meet his crew member Jeff.

Dave and Kim on Maluhia invited everyone over to their catamaran for sundowners last night, which seem to typically start at 5pm. Kristen and I went over a bit earlier to talk with Dave about his three weeks spent in Bora Bora. We had our Charlie’s Charts of the island out and I annotated my copy with his input as to where the good anchorages were and how Beetle might have a good time there in lots of wind from the SE. That was very helpful of him. And then the other boats arrived and we had lots of stories through the evening. A nice feature of the wide multihull is the fixed roof structure over the cockpit, the large cockpit table, and they even have normal patio chairs – gives everyone room to have a comfortable seat. Great food on the table, that was most pleasant.

Had a good night’s sleep, and this morning we’re up and at it. Not much news on the radio net this morning, and that’s a good thing as ‘news’ often equates to a problem that someone had.

Enjoy the day! We’ve got sun up over the ridge and cliff on the east side of the bay. I’ll pull down the weather forecasts and look at what we want to do.

– rob

Moved to the head of Opunohu Bay to avoid the wind

Good morning –

It’s been extra windy in the east anchorage at the entrance o Opunohu Bay as the wind climbs up over the island and whips down through the passes leading into the bay, by the time that wind gets to the end of the bay it’s a steady 20 gusting to low 30’s. Not the most pleasant anchorage given that you’re hanging on the hook just in front of the reef, if anything goes wrong with the anchor you’ve got 200 feet to get the boat moving before you’re on the reef.

While observing all of this for a day or two, we were wondering if conditions were any better up at the head of the bay, a mile and a bit away and around the corner. There are some boats at anchor part way in and observation through the binoculars suggested it was just as bad. Hmm…

Wednesday mornings is when the shrimp farm opens up for sales, and Sylvia, Kristen, and Kim (from Maluhia) decided that shrimp would be a good thing. Tom ran them ashore in Cinnabar’s dinghy and they walked to the farm located at the head of the bay – and reported back that conditions were much nicer up there as compared to the outer anchorage. I also talked with the 200′ super yacht Sea Wolf that had gone up the bay and anchored for two hours before returning on their way to Papeete – the captain said conditions were much reduced at the head.

Upon return from the farm the immediate question was do we want to move as a group to the top of the bay? Cinnabar wasn’t sure (Tom likes the wind for kite boarding), Maluhia immediately picked up and moved, we followed along about 15 minutes behind. Cinnabar then decided it would be better where we were going despite the lack of internet access – so they stayed behind for a bit to get some last minute web surfing done and then came up.

Beetle had a much better evening last night as regards sleeping and relaxing, given the reduced stress level. It’s incredibly green and lush on the soaring cliffs to each side, the tops of the peaks are shrouded in cloud and mist, the water is nicely calm, and the anchor is dug in to the mud bottom. There are blasts of air that slalom across the island and funnel down into the bay, so I can’t say that it’s completely calm here – but the wind strength is 5-22 knots as compared to 15-35 knots out in front, plus we’re not right in front of the reef. Slept very well last night.

Shindig is next door in Cook’s Bay, and has decided to come around today to join everyone here. Shindig even asked if there was anything folks wanted from the store, that was extra nice of them. And Maluhia has invited everyone over to their boat for a 5pm get together in the cockpit. This will be fun, in particular because Rob (Shindig) and his crew Jeff will be in attendance. Rob reported that yesterday they hiked up the muddy trail to a lookout point, and they definitely discovered mud.

The plan for today is to take the dinghy and do some exploring, might be fun to do some snorkeling on the reef to the west of the pass, and then visit with Maluhia prior to 5pm; I would like to learn more about Bora Bora and Huahine as regards reasonable anchorages in the strong SE Maramu wind conditions. Maluhia has spent many weeks in those islands and is happy to walk us through what they learned. It’s not at all clear the weather will cooperate in getting to Bora Bora from Moorea (right now conditions are strong winds, lots of squalls, and 8-10′ swell – not at all pleasant for a 135 mile overnight run through the ocean).

Here’s hoping that today has fun stuff in store!

– rob