Monday, August 4, 2008

Bora Bora first week

August 2, 2008 Saturday

“The spectacular volcanic peaks surrounded by an extensive lagoon of varied hues of blue make this one of the world’s most beautiful islands.”  That is the opening sentence of Charlie’s Charts of Polynesia, the primary sailing guide for Bora Bora.  We have now spent a full week anchored in the same spot – Baie de Povai near Bloody Mary’s restaurant & bar – so we have seen only the western side of Bora Bora.  Supposedly the shallow eastern side is gorgeous with its light blues and greens of the shallow water.  The western side is deep and just looks like dark blue water around a small mountainous island.  We are not overly impressed so far but will withhold judgment until we have an opportunity to see the other side. 

Winds have been pretty consistent 20 knots with occasional gusts to 30 knots for the past 3 days, so we have been confined to the boat and are getting bored.  We do not want to leave the boat unattended in the high winds.  We are anchored in deep water – 66 feet under the keel or 79 feet from the bow deck.  That means we should have out 553 feet of anchor chain in order to have the preferred scope of 7 to 1.  Unfortunately, we do not have near that amount of anchor chain.  We have down 309 feet of chain, which is scope of just under 4:1.  But the bottom is mud and we seem to be very well hooked.   Bill set an anchor alarm on the GPS and we tracked our swinging for 24 hours, and our anchor is definitely well-set and not likely to drag.  But other boats have dragged anchor so we don’t want to leave the boat unattended until the winds die down, which is predicted to happen in another 3 days.  We will be good and sick of sitting on this boat by then.

Hans and Georgie of S/V ARBUTHNOT arrived here the day before the winds kicked up.  Hans and Georgie assisted us as line handlers during our Panama Canal transit.  They transited the canal exactly one month after we did; and they have already caught up with us.  They are a young couple and live near Perth on the western coast of Australia.   They plan to arrive on the eastern coast and have their boat trucked across the continent.  They invited us to join them for dinner at Bloody Mary’s.  It was a lovely evening; the food was great; and the company was even better.  Needless to say, the bloody Mary drinks are fabulous (and they cost $18 each!, plus tax and tip). Bill and I definitely want to have dinner there once more before leaving Bora Bora

Hans was very creative and constructed bamboo poles to use for downwind sailing here in the Pacific.  He got the original bamboo from the jungle in Panama and his idea worked great but did eventually break.  He replaced the original bamboo pole from the bamboo stands on the hillside of Moorea and plans to use the new pole for the upcoming passage to Tonga.  Very creative.  And being free makes the idea even better.  Sorry we did no  t get a photo to show how this works.

Bora Bora was originally called Vavau.  The northern group of islands in Tonga today is also called Vava’U, which leads to the belief that people moved from this area to settle in Tonga a very long time ago.  The Polynesian language has no “B” and the real name of this island should be Pora Pora.  But the world knows it as Bora Bora and that name has stuck since Captain Cook “discovered” this island in 1769.  Apparently the Europeans misunderstood several islander words that originally contained the letter “P” and coined similar words using the letter “B.”  Taboo is another of these words.  The correct Polynesian word to mean something is forbidden is tapu, not taboo.

Quoting the sailing guide authored by 2 French sailors: “In 1942 the US Army built a big naval base here during the War of the Pacific against Japan (1941-1945).  I find that truly insulting.  This was the Pacific campaign of World War II.  I guess all the other countries that participated in fighting Japan don’t warrant a mention by these 2 French sailors.  And apparently they believe that only the European campaigns are considered to be World War II.

The first airport in all of Polynesia was built by the Americans in Bora Bora in 1942.  There is also a wonderful breakwater and concrete wharf in the main village of Vaitape which was built by the US and is still in use today.  At times during the war there were as many as 100 transports in the huge deep lagoon on the western side of Bora Bora.  As there is only one pass for entry and exit, this very deep lagoon was the perfect protected area for transports and submarines and ships during the war.  A very strong cable was stretched across Baie de Faanui just inside the pass and the ships would hook onto this cable rather than anchoring.  This would allow faster exit in case of an attack by the Japanese, which never happened.  Eight 16” Navy guns (think huge cannon) were placed at strategic locations around the island.  Seven of these guns can still be found in the heavy vegetation on the mountainsides, but all but one are located on what is now private land of luxury resorts and cannot be visited unless you are a guest of the resort.

The circumference of the main island of Bora Bora is only 32 kilometers, not including the lagoon and the many outer motus or smaller long islands that surround Bora Bora.  Like most of the other islands in French Polynesia, there is only one road and it encircles the island edge at sea level.  The road around Bora Bora was also constructed by the US Army during WWII and is still in use today.  We have been surprised by the constant automobile traffic on the circle road, both day and night.  Can’t imagine why there is so much auto traffic all night when the restaurants close by 9 p.m. and this is not a bar town.  The total population here is only around 8,000 people.  Bora Bora is quite the tourist destination, especially for honeymoons.  Luxury resorts are scattered all around the main island and there are many private motus.  But it is not a party place and the only bars appear to be those located in the resorts, plus the obligatory bar inside each restaurant where one is directed to wait an hour for seating to dine, even when the dining room is completely empty. 

Every tourist activity imaginable on an island can be found in Bora Bora – outrigger tours around the island, helicopter rides, parasailing, surfing, you-name-it.  All for a “nice” price.  We visited the tourist center one day and learned that a 15-minute helicopter ride costs 18,000 CFP per person, or around $250 each.   That is a bit ridiculous for only 15 minutes.  We decided to skip it.  I wanted to see one of the Polynesian dance performances at one of the resort restaurants.  There is a dinner and dance performance at one of the many resorts on every night of the week except Sundays.  They usually cost around $150 per person and that was something I wanted to do while here.  But after sitting here for a week I have lost interest.  Figure it would not be any better than the Polynesian dance performances at the old Mai Kai restaurant that we frequented in Ft. Lauderdale 35 years ago.  So we probably will skip that also.

French Polynesia has the strangest process for clearing out.  Our agent in Papeete took our passports and had obtained Immigration stamps for Tahiti exit.  He also gave us a customs declaration for exit that we were required to mail from Bora Bora to Tahiti 10 days before we plan to leave.  That is hard to do since weather predictions are not accurate that far in advance.  But I completed the customs declaration for exit and mailed on July 31.  We are supposed to visit the Gendarmerie in Bora Bora and have our passports stamped for final exit from French Polynesia one day before our actual departure, and receive a stamped copy of the departure declaration that we mailed to Papeete.   All official clearance in and out of French Polynesia is handled in Papeete, even though you are supposed to visit the Gendarmerie at each of the island groups that you visit.  We hope to depart Bora Bora on the first good weather window after August 9 for a long passage to Niue.  Usually after strong winds lasting this long then there is no wind at all for several days, and that might delay our departure.  We do no t want to leave in light winds; want enough winds to sail comfortably since this will be a fairly long passage.

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