Max and I had left Laura and Charlie at the dock in San Diego on February 11 with the promise that we would meet up in Bora Bora. For 4 months, Max and I have been living the dream as vagabonds cruising the idyllic South Pacific, but we were also longing for our family. I don’t know how many times I would be in the midst of something awesome and feel a pang of, “Laura would love this,” or “This would be so fun to do with Charlie.” Alas, our dreams came true on June 14 when we met Laura and Charlie on the dock in Vaitape, Bora Bora.
The travel was easy.Laura and Charlie were whisked away on flying metal cylinders along a route from Tucson – LA – Tahiti – Bora Bora. (The airport code in Bora Bora is BOB.) We had asked that they bring us some basic supplies. When Laura’s luggage came out in Tahiti, it smelled like anise. Lo-and-behold, the bottle of Sambuca inside had broken and leaked the delicious liquor all over her clothes. For Max and I, the 150 mile sail from Tahiti to Bora Bora was uneventful. With the trade winds behind us, this sail was like a downhill sleigh ride. There was a storm in the south that caused very large waves, which were fun. These swells were over a hundred yards long, so they were not steep and didn’t pitch or roll the boat much. Riding them felt like rising up on a big hill followed by sinking into a trough so deep that we couldn’t see the nearby mountainous islands.
Bora Bora has a single pass through the reef into the lagoon.The combination of these giant waves, the outgoing current and the strong cross breeze made the water in the pass look crazy, like what river rapids would look like if the water was boiling. We ran the engine hard and steered the boat straight through the pass without any consequence other than a little salt spray and the captain aging an extra year. (Max just thought it was cool.)
Bora Bora is a unique place. It has a main island with steep mountains in the center, rising sharply from a deep blue lagoon that is enclosed in a ring of shallow light blue water and small islands called motus. This is surrounded by a coral reef, other than the one small pass. Waves break on the reef and the water filters over the white sand into the lagoon, and it all runs out the pass.This flow keeps the water clean, which gives some of the most beautiful colors.Charlie said that the water we were swimming in looked like “Cool Blue Gatorade”. The main island at the center has majestic peaks that extend over 2000 ft and are usually shrouded in clouds. We hiked up a trail to a peak providing a sweeping view of the lagoon and motus that really showed off the water colors.
We spent a day touring the island by bicycle. We rented bikes that were both too small and had uncomfortable seats, but we had a wonderful time riding all the way around the island. There are a few luxury hotels on the island, but most of the island is rural with small family farms. The fancy hotels with over-the-water huts are on the motus. Max and I had become accustomed to the lush tropical jungle, but Laura and Charlie had come straight from the Arizona desert, so they were overwhelmed by the rich green foliage and by the diversity of interesting plants. The 25-mile road follows the shore all the way around the island, providing views of the different regions of the lagoon. Along the road, the giant crabs, which are up to 10” across, would scurry into their holes when we approach, causing the berm ahead of us to appear alive.
We sailed Akela across the lagoon to some outer islands where we could anchor overnight and swim from the boat. The sea life here was amazing.Many times we donned mask, snorkel, and fins and swam from the boat to explore the region underneath us. The water was typically gin-clear and bottom was rich with colorful coral and sea life. We saw large sting rays along the bottom and occasionally saw the giant manta and eagle rays with their graceful, swooping wings. The big eagle rays were Laura’s favorite, and she also loved the large eels and the giant blue-lipped clams. Max especially liked showing interesting sea life to Laura and Charlie. Charlie and I went scuba diving both inside and outside the reef. Inside we had close encounters with the giant rays and outside we saw sharks, big fish, and rich coral gardens. But my favorite was the Charlie underwater ballet. After a deep dive, we need to stay underwater for a few minutes to decompress and avoid getting the bends. While decompressing, Charlie was having fun gracefully doing inversions and somersaults.
We shared a variety of interesting food. We bought produce, meat, and fresh bread from the local markets and street vendors. We had a few dinners out, including incredible grilled fish at a place called “Bloody Mary’s” and poisson crue (raw fish prepared in lime and coconut milk) at a small palapa on Matira Beach.
We walked to one of the fancy hotels to see a Polynesian dance show. This was interesting. The music was provided by ukulele, singing, and lots of powerful drums. The women danced with a combination of graceful arms and impressive hip motion. The men had very athletic dance moves, including the one I call crazy legs that I have repeatedly embarrassed myself by attempting. The show was definitely worth the price of a drink.
With all this natural beauty and interesting activities, we mostly just enjoyed being together. We spent much of the time hanging out together talking, playing cards, and playing music. Every day we assign jobs based on the placing in the previous day’s game. The jobs were captain, cook, dishwasher, and loafer. Laura was down on her luck this trip and spent most days as dishwasher. It was so great to be together with the family.
On Friday afternoon, the ferry left with Charlie and Laura to take them to the airport where they were catching a flight to Tahiti. Charlie was traveling on to Tucson to take care of our dogs. Laura was staying another two weeks in Tahiti. Max and I prepared Akela for an ocean voyage back to Tahiti to meet Laura. Remember that the sail to Bora Bora was a sleigh ride. The return trip to Tahiti is 150 miles, directly into the winds and the waves. We made the best of it, running the engine nearly nonstop and taking advantage of a “wind shadow” created downwind of Tahiti.
Along the way, we had engine problems. With 15 hours into the trip, the engine conked out. A fuel pressure gauge showed that a filter was clogged, which is a common problem on boats. I changed the filter and attempted to restart the engine, but it wouldn’t start. The pressure gauge indicated that the fuel line was still clogged! I got out my tools and took things apart looking for the problem, but the problem just went away on its own. Twelve hours later, the pressure gauge indicated the same problem. I changed filters, and we were on our way, but I suspected a bigger problem. The next day, just when we were preparing to enter the pass into Pape’ete harbor, the pressure gauge indicated a blockage again. If we lose power in the pass, we could be SCREWED. The pass takes us right next to the reef where the currents are strong and the winds were flaky, making it difficult to control the boat using the sails alone. I told Max, “Bail, bail, bail!,” which Jim’n’Max-ese for bail out and abort our current plan. We turned the boat around and got just clear of the pass, went into a heave-to, and shut down the engine. This gave me time to take things apart to run some tests. I isolated blockage in a priming pump and started to rig a bypass when Max told me that the wind has come up and that we are drifting dangerously close to the reef. Max and I hoisted more sails, gibed the boat and sailed safely out to sea. We completed the fuel bypass and took the boat through the pass without incident.
We docked at Marina Pape’ete and met Laura at the local (and only) microbrewery. Over the next 2 days, we gave Laura a taste of cruising life by spending hours replacing the priming pump and hoses, and taking apart and cleaning the fuel tank. A definition of cruising may be, “Taking your boat to beautiful places and fixing it.” I love it.