Bora Bora

Posted by John

I don’t know when I first heard of Bora Bora, but I do remember seeing someone with a Bora Bora T-shirt at Greenlake Park in Seattle during the summer of 1983. I wanted a Bora Bora T-shirt too. I don’t think I knew exactly where Bora Bora was then, except that it was an exotic place far away in the Pacific. And okay, I know for sure that it was summer, but I admit it could’ve been ’82 or ’84. Memory is a funny thing.

Now, all these years later, my thoughts were not so much about Bora Bora’s exotic nature as that it was generally the end of the line for French Polynesian cruising. All of the Puddle Jump and Oyster Yacht World Rally boats would be stacking up there like floats at the end of a parade. Oyster Yachts are a high-end sailing yacht. I can’t imagine many of them cost less than a million dollars each. Since they all arrived in French Polynesia at about the same time as all of the Puddle Jump boats, we’d all be faced with the same 90-day visa limit.

Although not far from each other, we wondered if Bora Bora could be as nice as Tahaa. I keep remembering the smile on that woman’s face in Papeete as she coached us on the proper way to say Ta’ha’a. It was like she was laughing and saying “ha-ha.” She had fun with it. We’re glad we spent time there. But we also needed Bora Bora for diesel fuel and groceries (“provisions” in yacht-speak) for the long road ahead. We also wanted good Wi-Fi (one could only hope), and to re-supply our beer cooler. And we wanted to find a cheeseburger and/or pizza. These were all things we’d been lacking lately. And of course, we needed to fill out forms and check out before our expiration date. As they say, “Thank you for coming, and thank you for leaving.”

Although I imagine relatively few have heard of Tahaa, Bora Bora is a tourist destination with hotels and restaurants and fleets of Sunsail, Moorings and Dream Yacht Charters that people fly in from all over to rent for a week or so. The two main anchorages in town are too deep for us but have a few fixed mooring buoys. When we arrived we found what we had been afraid of: all of the mooring buoys were occupied, and our anchor chain was too short for anchoring in the 100-foot depths. We cruised slowly and hopefully through the mooring fields at both the Bora Bora Yacht Club and the Mai Kai Marina, passing Puddle Jump boats we knew: Fandango, My Dream and Sweetpea; and Oyster Yachts we had been crossing paths with since Nuku Hiva: Calliope, Dalliance and Miss Tiggy. Many of the Oysters speak with British accents, and it seems that their boat names are intended to be spoken with such as well. They sound so sophisticated that way, like an expensive yacht should. We ended up anchoring in about thirty feet in a quiet bay on the far side of one of the small islands inside the lagoon; too far away, and too much intervening bigger boat traffic (choppy water), for us to make a dinghy trip to town.

The next day we were just sitting there, when we heard an outboard approaching. It was Dan from My Dream. He and a friend were out looking for the manta rays that hang out nearby. He also said that he was leaving at first light in the morning, on his way to Palmerston in the Cook Islands. We told him we wanted his mooring, and we’d be over there very early in the morning, circling like a vulture until he let it go. We were. He did, eventually. And we swooped in and snagged it.

A little while later the guys from Sweetpea dinghied over and talked for a while. They had been there for several days already and filled us in on what they knew. We could pay for the mooring at the bar in the restaurant that was right over on shore. There was a dinghy dock, but its connection with shore was “sketchy” and not recommended if you stayed too late in the bar.

So with that, we launched our dinghy, took our remaining French Polynesian cash, and went in search of answers to our questions. The dinghy dock, one of the few floating docks we’d seen in French Polynesia, was indeed a little rough. For one thing, it floated like a bobbing cork in the wind and waves, making it difficult even to just stand up on. It was held in place by a large rope tied to something on shore and a few more anchoring it to the bottom. It made no physical connection to the wooden deck in front of the restaurant and there was a gap of three to four feet. Not only were the steps up to the restaurant’s deck on the far side of this gap, but the first step was up higher and at a right angle to the dock. There were no railings of any kind; nothing to grab or lunge for. After trying to stand and stare at the problem for a while, we were finally spurred on by the two large boats tied to one side of the dinghy dock. Every time the gusting wind bashed one of them into it, the dock gave an extra lurch. We couldn’t keep standing there all day.

Interesting digression: there are only a few inches of “sun tide” in the Society Islands, with high tide at noon everyday. Due to a fluke of geography, there is virtually no “moon tide.” Docks don’t need to float up and down with the tide because there really isn’t any.

We rented the mooring for a week, and it came with use of the pool and vouchers for two free drinks. There was a laundry down the street somewhere, if we could find it. The best part about our first Bora Bora shore trip, however, was the couple of hours we spent having a cheeseburger lunch while sitting at a table just inside the open wall of the restaurant, above the wooden deck, with a sweeping view of the boats in the bay. There was a gentle cooling breeze making its way inside, but it was blowing twenty knots outside. It would’ve been rough trying to anchor that deep in that wind. Thanks Dan.

Within a day or two the Oyster yachts began departing. This opened up several moorings, but instead of quieting down the bay, the extra space seemed to give the local boats more room to drive faster and put up bigger wakes. In addition to that, we have been plagued by what I call “Air Balls.” These are sudden blasts of air, coming from seemingly random directions right out of a gentle breeze, and with a ferocious, even frightening intensity lasting mere seconds before a return to the previous conditions. They come without warning, and go just as quickly. They spin and toss the boat and tear at things aboard trying to suck them away, even the dinghy with outboard attached.

So while we had idyllic days on Tahaa, things were more boisterous on Bora Bora, especially with it being the last week of the month-long Polynesian Heiva festival. But although not so idyllic, we found everything we needed to prepare for the next leg of the trip.

With the departure of Fandango, My Dream and even Sweetpea, which was a surprise when they came to say goodbye, we are the last (as far as we know) of the Puddle Jump boats that departed from Mexico and California all at about the same time. From here our plan is to head to American Samoa, with a possible rest stop at Suwarrow. In American Samoa the rumor is we can get mail and packages sent from home as if it was just another destination within the U.S. Then, depending on how bad the Pago Pago harbor is, we may hop across the dateline to regular Samoa (formerly called Western Samoa?). We’ve heard it’s really nice there.

So, next up, I guess it will be Bora Bora to Pago Pago. Total distance to Pago Pago by way of Suwarrow: 1,140 nautical miles.

The island of Bora Bora as seen from inside the lagoon of Tahaa
Coming into the lagoon of Bora Bora
Only time will tell if we run across any of the boats from the Oyster Yacht World Rally again
Mai Kai Marina restaurant on Bora Bora
Surf breaking on the fringing barrier reef of Huahine
We woke to a muddy bay on Tahaa after heavy rain overnight
Black pearl farm on Tahaa
Polynesian houseboat above the reef on Huahine
Supermarket in Fare on Huahine
Churches like this one on Tahaa are all over French Polynesia
French Polynesia still has lots of phone booths, some of which are oddly placed
Julie snorkeling on Huahine
Fish and coral on Tahaa
Bora Bora, after the sunset

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