Monday, August 11, 2008

Bora Bora (found the pretty side)

First, a few random observations:

In the Society Islands they make a strange small boat.  Bill finds these boats intriguing; think he would like to try one out for fun.  These boats range from 16 to 28 ft in length and are powered by either a large outboard engine or an inboard engine.  There usually is a tiny “cockpit” in the very bow of the boat.  This cockpit provides a tiny seat barely large enough for a small person to sit; many are driven by a man standing just behind this seat area.  The seat area is equipped with a throttle for forward and reverse, but there is no helm, steering wheel or tiller.  Instead, there is a small stick.  You use this stick for left or right movement of the boat; sort of like a joystick used to play a computer game except this stick only moves right or left and not forward or backward or at a slant.  We did not see these odd boats in the Marquesas or Tumotus but they are found at every island in the Societies.  I know Bill would love to play with one.

One afternoon while anchored in the deep water of Baie de Povai I saw the strangest sight.  A school of hundreds of very small fish scooted across the surface of the water, obviously being chased by larger fish.  Suddenly a large strange looking fish flew a couple of feet out of the water, formed a small arc and fell back into the sea.  This fish was about a foot long and ¾ foot from bottom to top, very square.  Took me a moment to realize that it was just the head of a decent sized fish, chopped off behind the gills.  Guess he was trying to jump out of the water to escape a predator and the momentum made the head complete the jump after the larger predator bit him in half just behind the gills.  Oddest thing I have seen in some time.

More about Bora Bora history:

The island of Bora Bora is 7 million years old.   As stated in previous log, there is no letter “B” in the Tahitian language; and the real name is Pora Pora.  Pora Pora means “first born” and the island thought to be so named because it was the first island formed island after Raiatea, which is the oldest island in French PolynesiaBora Bora was first inhabited about the year 900 A.D.  The traditional name of Vava’u suggests that Tongan voyagers reached here because I know Tonga was inhabited prior to 900 A.D.  The ancient inhabitants of Pora Pora were indomitable warriors who often raided the islands of Maupiti, Taha’a and Raiatea.

The Americans set up a refueling and regrouping base here in February 1942 during WWII, code named Operation Bobcat.  This was to serve shipping between the US west coast or Panama Canal and Australia/New Zealand.  The 4400 American army troops left behind 130 half-caste babies when the base was abruptly closed in June 1946.  Forty percent of these abandoned infants died of starvation when they were forced to switch from their accustomed American baby formulas to island food.  One guide book states that the naval guns installed as protection around the island (and never used) were 16-inch.  Another guide book states that these were 7-inch guns.  Yet another guide book states that these were MK II naval guns.  So we have no idea which book is correct.  However, all the guide books do agree that only one gun is now located on what is not restricted private land.

And, finally, our time in Bora Bora:

Last week the wind was high for 6 days and we were stuck on the boat and anchored in deep water, deeper than we liked.  The wind finally abated and we motored up the west side channel and over the north side of the main island of Bora Bora.  Bill wanted to see the airport located on a motu on the north side not more than a mile off the main island.  Friends recently needed to pick up arriving guests at the airport on a windy day.  They knew everyone would get wet in a bouncing dinghy, so they inquired about the services of a water taxi.  The price of a water taxi one-way from the airport to the main island was $150.  That is positively absurd for such a short water taxi ride.  So our friends brought plastic trash bags for everyone to cover themselves and their duffle bags and suffered through a dinghy ride instead.

Getting to the eastern side of the lagoon at Bora Bora is easy enough as long as you pay close attention to the navigation markers.  The trickiest place in the well-marked channel of the lagoon is where you must leave a cardinal marker on the port side and immediately make a 90 degree turn to port and leave the next red marker on the starboard side (the main land side).   After passing that red buoy you immediately turn right again.   The lagoon channel is 80 to 90 feet deep all up the west side and north side of Bora Bora until you reach that cardinal marker, where the depth drops suddenly.  When moving in the channel between the cardinal buoy and the red buoy, the water depth under our keel was only 2 feet 6 inches.  We draw 7 feet and really get nervous when it gets that shallow.  But friends who were here recently had warned us about this shallow spot in the channel and that the bottom was all sand with no coral in that area, so we motored on through.  Had we not be forewarned then we would have stopped and turned around when we reached that very shallow spot in the channel.

The eastern side of Bora Bora is very pretty.  The various depths of the lagoon with the backdrop of the dramatic mountain shapes are what make it so pretty.  Of course, as any sailor realizes, the pretty colored water means dangerous sailing due to varied depths and coral or rocks.  Much of the lagoon is very shallow which causes the clear water to appear a very pale green.  The water color varies from pale green, aquamarine and turquoise in the shallow areas and in the deep areas there are blues that range from light baby blue to royal navy to midnight blue/black.   This is what we expected Bora Bora to look like from the picture postcards sold in all the French Polynesia shops.  Unfortunately, all the coral is permanently bleached from the effects of El Nino in 2001.  Apparently Bora Bora experienced what we know as a red tide during that El Nino and the coral damage is irreversible. Bora Bora suffered more damage than most other islands because there is only one pass into the lagoon.  Islands with multiple passes have better water flow and were not as severely affected by the hotter water during the worst El Nino year.  Bet this place was really beautiful when the coral was still alive and brilliantly colored.  Now it just looks like gray or beige rocks.  There is a deep-water channel on the eastern side that allows boats to navigate down to the southeastern end of the island.  You cannot navigate across the southern side of Bora Bora because of the shallow water and coral heads.  We watched several boats go through the deep-water channel and most of them went the wrong direction at least once.  One boat headed in the wrong direction a total of 6 times while navigating that deep-water channel.   Don’t know what his problem was unless he simply did not know how to read channel markers and cardinal buoys.  Looked pretty straightforward to us.

There is a splendid view of the eastern side of Mt. Otemanu on Bora Bora.  Near the top there is a completely circle-shaped cave.  The helicopter tour takes passengers right in front of this cave.  The cave is so dramatic that I can’t help but think that this cave had some significance to the ancient inhabitants of this island.  But our guide books don’t even mention this cave, so that will remain a mystery to us.

We anchored in 20-feet clear water off a motu on the eastern side.  Bill decided to take advantage of the millpond smoothness and got in the water to clean the scum line.  He immediately climbed right back out and dug out his full-body Lycra skin.  That water is too cold for us to enjoy!  It might feel great to all these Europeans, USA West Coast people, Yankees and Canadians who are all used to colder waters; but to those of us who grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast, this water is too cold.  Wearing even a thin Lycra body-suit over your swim suit makes all the difference in the world.  That thin fabric helps retain enough body heat to maintain comfort, although neither Bill nor I would want to stay in that cold water for hours even with the Lycra body-suit.  We prefer 85F degree swimming water temperature.  Don’t know the current temperature of the local water, but it is certainly is lower than our comfort range.  But it sure is pretty.

Bill set up a new Excel spreadsheet last week when we were so bored and stuck on the boat in the high winds.   He likes to do that sort of thing when he is bored.  You would be amazed at his interactive spreadsheet used to track engine hours, generator hours, fuel consumption, passage planning, times of arrival based on various boat speeds, etc., etc., etc.  It is really fancy.

This new spreadsheet is used to track our water production and usage, among other things.  Since arriving in the cooler Pacific waters, the TDS readings of our production water has risen from 120-130 to 210-230.  That is still an acceptable reading, but we do not know what accounts for the increase.  Don’t know if the salinity level of the Pacific is different from the Atlantic and Caribbean or if the cooler water temperature is the cause.  At any rate, Bill decided to start tracking everything connected with the watermaker.  He is tracking the TDS readings or output at beginning of watermaker operation and also just before we turn it off, TDS of total storage tank, the liters produced per hour, pump temperature, pump motor temperature at intervals while operating, and our weekly water consumption.  There are probably a few other things he is tracking but I am not getting involved in those spreadsheets. 

On Saturday we motored back and picked up a mooring in front of Bloody Mary’s.  We ate dinner there again with friends.  BTW, the drinks were not nearly as expensive as we thought.  On our first visit we were charged 1200 CPF twice on our bar tab.  We only had one Bloody Mary each, so we assumed that these drinks cost 1200 CPF each, or about $16 USD each.  Turns out that the drinks are 600 CFP each, or about $8 USD each.  That price is far more reasonable; probably about the same as in the US now.   We found the food and drinks to be excellent and prices were no more than a nice restaurant in the States these days.

Many years ago a man named Leo Wooten sailed down to Bora Bora from Hawaii in a boat named Alcoholic’s IV.  His first 3 boats were also named Alcoholic and each one sank as he attempted to reach Bora Bora.  After his 4th attempt and successful arrival, he stayed here until his death.  He was the first fisherman for the Bloody Mary’s restaurant and he later taught several local men how to do deep-water fishing.  He became a permanent fixture at Bloody Mary’s – they even had a barstool set aside for him with a plaque identifying it as his.  No one dared to sit on Leo’s barstool.  Leo died several years ago.  The owners felt that Leo was such a fixture of Bloody Mary’s that they buried him in a small corner of the restaurant.  He has a very nice stone-covered grave with a bronze plaque and 3 headstones.  So you can have drinks or dinner seated next to Leo even today.

Bloody Mary’s is the nicest sand-floor island restaurant we have ever visited.  They sift and rake the fine white sand daily.  The fresh catches-of-the-day are filleted and placed on a large container of crushed ice.  The manager calls several groups of customers to stand around the ice table and he describes each fish and the recommended method of preparation and states the price.  There are no menus.  And they really know how to grill the fish perfectly to order.  They also offer boneless chicken breast, various steaks of prime New Zealand beef and baby-back ribs for those who prefer not to eat seafood.  Both times we ate there I had Moon Fish, grilled rare; and it was wonderful.  Moon Fish is only found locally and is caught from 700 to 900 feet deep; it is not exported.  Figured I should try something that I will never have the opportunity to eat again elsewhere.  The tables and stools are all made from coconut palms.  This place has been here for many years and is famous among the filthy rich and famous folks.  There are 2 large coconut palm “walls” at the entrance near the road where names of famous visitors are engraved.  The names range from old actors like June Allyson to present-day actors like Pierce Brosnan , Cameron Diaz and Jack Nicholson, just to name a few.  The 2 names that surprised us were Buzz Aldrin and Warren Moon.  Another set were Bill & Melissa Gates, along with Warren Buffet and Paul & Jody Allen.  Bloody Mary’s is a “not-to-be-missed” place when visiting Bora Bora.

Weather forecast is good for departure today or tomorrow.  We subscribed to the weather guru for the South Pacific, Bob McDavit, for passage planning to Tonga with a brief stop in Nuie.  We have cleared out with the Gendarmerie and filled up with diesel.  Plan is to leave here tomorrow morning.  Hoping to reach Nuie before an expected weather trough develops there on August 20.  Really hope that some of the people in Nuie now will have moved on before we arrive.  There are only a few moorings in Nuie and anchoring is extremely difficult in deep water and can be dangerous because of the underwater chasms.  We have been listening each morning to the conversations on SSB radio of people in Raratonga (southern Cook Islands) and Nuie and Tonga.  Supposedly the small harbor in Rarantonga is totally fully and the officials have been turning newly arriving boats away.  Those who have been denied anchorage in Raratonga are all heading to Nuie or Beveridge Reef.  So we hope all those people have moved on to Tonga by the time we reach Nuie.  The primary reason for stopping in Nuie is to obtain a multi-entry visit for New Zealand; but if all the moorings are filled when we reach Nuie, then we will not stop.  We will continue on to Vava’U, Tonga for a month to 6 weeks.  Then down to Tongatapu, Tonga before heading off on the dreaded passage to New Zealand.  Supposedly we can also obtain a multi-entry visa for New Zealand in Tongatapu.  You can arrive in New Zealand without a visa and then apply for one to allow you to stay 6 months total, but it is supposed to be easier and less expensive if you obtain this visa prior to arrival in New Zealand; so that is what we hope to do.

So, next stop will either be Nuie or Tonga.

P.S. We are motoring around a WiFi hotspot to upload this last log from Bora Bora with our final 10 minutes of air time.  We learned something yesterday that Bill’s brothers and sister will find interesting.  Their dad fought with Patton’s army and he was stationed in France for a long time.  Their dad even was awarded the highest French medal for something done in battle (can you tell I don’t know anything about military medals and stuff like that?).  Anyway, the French believe that the US did not rescue them from German occupation in WWII.  The French say they did it all by themselves.  This belief is pervasive throughout France except in the Normandy area.  They feel no gratitude whatsoever to the US for saving their butts in WWII.  And history is re-written yet again.

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