ship's log

Sunday 14 May - Friday 2 June - Moorea to Bora Bora


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Sunday 14 May – Sunday 22 May

We spent Sunday in Opunohu bay, Moorea doing some snorkelling off the reef which guards the entrance. As I mentioned in the last log, there is a wreck of an old coaster there, with its rusty funnel and deckhouse still visible out of the water. There was some great shelling to be had, and the girls came back with a wonderful collection.

On Monday we weighed anchor and moved next door to Cook's Bay. As we left the pass we were surrounded by a very playful school of dolphins, which put on a great show. We switched off the engine and watched them for a while. We then tried to swim with them. Tress and the girls got into the water, but unfortunately they were a bit bashful and swam away to the reef. Still, a real treat.

Cook's Bay has a rather sleepy bar and restaurant at the head of the bay, the Bali Hai club. We anchor off in about 20 meters of depth. This is a bit more than I would like, as it puts quite a strain on the windlass when we haul up the anchor, but there is not much choice in the bay.

We set off for a meal at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Half way through I bit into a very hard piece of duck bone and broke a tooth in half. Ouch! Luckily we found a good dentist locally, who patched it all up by teatime, much to my relief. I hate visiting the dentist, and am an abject coward when the drill bit starts whining away. One of my biggest fears was the nightmare of having someone in the crew develop severe toothache in the middle of an ocean somewhere. We have emergency filling equipment on board, but there is always the worry that it will not work too well.

On Tuesday we hired cars and went touring round the island. A blissful day, as the island is beautiful. We set off in separate cars, but kept meeting up at various places, including a lovely secluded lunch spot overlooking the reef on the West side of the island.

On Wednesday we met up with Dimas Manrrique. He is the second officer of a huge Renaissance cruise ship that travels between the Polynesian islands. He is also the brother of David Manrrique, a friend who had looked after us so well in Panama. The cruise ship came in to Cook's Bay, so he was able to join us for a sail out of the bay. In the evening he took us for whirlwind tour of the ship, resplendent in his smart all-white uniform. The bridge was amazing – all the computerised charting you could ask for, with lots of great sources of weather info and the most powerful radar system I have every seen. The girls were wowed by the sumptuousness of the restaurants and salons. It definitely appeared to be fully set up to really look after you well for a while. A far cry from our rather more spartan life on the Duck. There was much muttering about jumping ship from the Duck. Closest we have come to a mutiny so far.

We said goodbye to him and watched as they sailed out of the bay, bound for Bora Bora, where we will go next week.

On Thursday we moved round to a lovely anchorage on the East side of the Island, overlooking Tahiti and did some snorkelling on the lagoon reef which had great visibility. In the afternoon we sailed back to Tahiti. We had decided not to moor up on the rather noisy main Quai at Papeete, but rather preferred the peace and quiet of the Beachcomber anchorage, about 6 miles outside Papeete, next to the airport. On the sail back we were treated to the spectacular sight of an Air France Concorde taking off from the local airport. Mark, who is a bit of a plane buff, spotted it on the runway and correctly identified it. It looked wonderfully graceful against the lush green backdrop of the volcanic island. Mark Vear joined us again at the Beachcomber. He left us in Panama, and will now sail with us all the way to Australia. He is great crew and keen to develop his skills as a watch leader and skipper, so this will give him some time to do this.

On Friday we moved back round to Papeete, and got a mooring on the Quai, again connecting up the umbilical chords to the luxuries of fresh water and electricity. It was great to meet up with old friends again, on ‘Friars Goose’ and ‘Escapade’. We said goodbye to Tress and Mark, who have been excellent company on our cruise around Moorea.

Nick Esch and Sarah Howard joined us on Saturday evening, having spent a few days in Huahine. They had been with us in the Canaries for a week. This time they will sail with us further and longer, first to Bora Bora, then to Tonga. After cleaning and provisioning the boat, we hired cars and went driving round the island of Tahiti. The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Botanical gardens and the Gauguin museum on the South of Tahiti-Nui. Gorgeous gardens which were very quiet and peaceful in the early evening with nobody there.

Monday 22 May – Saturday 27 May At anchor in Bora Bora, Lat: 16 deg 32 South, Lon: 151 deg 45 W

We set off from Papeete harbour at lunchtime having said goodbyes to all our friends there. Its been fun stocking up on goodies from big supermarkets, and even succumbing to the lure of McDonalds for a Big Mac. But we are looking forward to heading West. We have heard great things about the beauty of the lagoon in Bora Bora.

Our anchor comes up without incident this time, unlike last weeks departure, which was fraught by a wrap round another yachts chain. Soon Tahiti and Moorea are fading into the distance, and we are sailing fast on a reach towards Bora Bora. Conditions were fairly normal for the Pacific. There were a few rain squalls about, but nothing unusual. I had taken one reef in the main as a precaution against squalls. It turned out it was just as well.

Suddenly in the early afternoon, things turned nasty. After a succession of rain squalls, each bringing winds of 25-30 knots and 5 minutes of rain. We got walloped by the biggest squall we have had on the trip so far. At about 3.30, Caroline was on the helm, and Sarah (Howard) was also in the cockpit chatting. Caroline called down to me to say that the wind was getting up quite fast. I came up on deck to find that the wind was indeed accelerating fast, and already up to 40 knots. The sky behind the boat was black. We furled in the headsail quickly, and I was just on the point of tying back the bimini and thinking about taking the main down when it hit us hard. The wind started howling, and the sea was whipped up into white spume. I took over the helm and Caroline continued to secure everything in the cockpit, and shouted for Mark and Nick to come and help. We watched the wind speed indicator incredulously as it continued to rise, 45 knots, 55 knots, 65 knots, then it sat at 77 knots for over a minute before settling back down at 60 knots. This is severe storm force wind, so quite a surprise, coming out of the blue like this. We still had the main up with one reef in. I steered downwind, and the Duck, as ever, behaved impeccably. Everything was well strapped down, including the spare sail on the main. The wind stayed over 55 knots for over three quarters of an hour. During that time I considered the options. Were we in the beginning of an out of season cyclone? Unlikely, as the wind was South East, and anyway the sea state was still quite flat. Cyclones come from the West generally. I dismissed this thought and realised that it was probably a couple of squalls that had combined to create a particularly fierce one, and that it would be likely to pass over us soon. Unfortunately, by running with it (we were doing 10 knots under reefed main alone) we were simply prolonging the pain. But we had to run with it to reduce our apparent wind. To turn upwind and try to reef would have risked breaking a batten, and only been worth doing if we thought the wind was going to stay at this intensity. So we sheeted in a little but and started to broad reach, travelling across the wave pattern on Port tack, so that the squall travelled diagonally away from us. From about 4.15 onward the wind started to reduce, and came down to 50 knots for 10 minutes, then 40 knots, where it stayed for the next hour. By this time we had sheet rain, so we were in oilskins. At least I was, as most of the crew rather sensibly headed down below for shelter! When the rain came, I was very relieved. It is the classic symptom of a tropical squall, and confirmed in my mind that we were soon going to be rid of this bad spell.

By 6 pm we were back to normal, and it was as if nothing had happened. The only residual effect of the squall was a rather nasty swell which had built up, leaving everyone on the boat feeling rather green. Caroline was her usual stoic self and produced an excellent risotto supper, but there were few takers. A timely reminder from the ocean not to take anything for granted. When things had calmed down, I called the Met Office in Bracknell on he satphone, to let them know what had happened, and find out what they thought. They confirmed that there was nothing structural around, but that the South Pacific Convergence Zone was right on top of us, which can sometimes create extreme squalls like the one we had just experienced.

We gybed through the night around the islands of Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa.

It's my Dad's birthday. Great to have a phone on board so I can call him. It's late at night on Monday 22nd when I call, but he is just waking up to his 70th year in Malta on the other side of the World.

By Tuesday lunchtime, we were sailing into the gorgeous lagoon in Bora Bora. It has high twin central peaks, and a surrounding coral reef. There is one entry pass in to the lagoon, and once inside you are in one of the most spectacular underwater playgrounds. There are manta rays, lots of different shark, eagle rays and stingrays, and great visibility for snorkelling. We moored up opposite the Yacht club and headed ashore for a drink and to plan our 3 days stay here

The next three days were spent playing in the lagoon in Bora Bora. We are feeling so thoroughly spoilt with fantastic snorkelling and lagoons which shimmer with every single shade of blue you can possibly imagine.

One of the highlights was a barbecue at the Hotel Bora Bora. The local dance troop, practising for their Heiva festival dance competition, put on a good show on the beach afterwards. Sarah, Mark and I were each pulled out of the audience for ritual humiliation dancing opposite these exotic creatures from Polynesia. Actually Sarah did a great job of her dance with a good looking kid from the troop, and got an enthusiastic round of applause and cheers from the audience.

Now it is Saturday May 27th. We are full of water, gas and diesel, and all set for the next leg. This is a 1300 mile sail across the centre of the Pacific, to Tonga. We plan to cruise there for quite a while, as we have heard it is very beautiful. We also need to decide whether or not we can risk going to Fiji, which was in our plans initially, but is currently being rocked by a coup.

Sat 27 May – Friday 2 June Still in Bora Bora, moored up off the Yacht club, Lat : 16 deg 32 South, Lon 151 deg 45 W

So what are we still doing in Bora Bora? Well just after posting the last log on the eve of our intended departure, I got some good quality weather data, and decided not to leave for Tonga as planned.

I could see from the weatherfaxes we were receiving, and also from some excellent weather forecasting information that came in, that we would be heading out into strong headwinds and big rough seas. The forecasts were from The Met office in Bracknell and Bob Mcdavitt, a professional forecaster in New Zealand. Both sources are excellent. The cause of these headwinds and seas is a Low pressure that had formed at around 20 S 165W, ie South of our position. It was forecast to deepen, and only move very slowly South. It would inevitably create a cold front, which would blast right across our track.

I got all the information together on Friday night. We had planned to leave on Saturday morning. I pondered the possibilities. ‘Lazy Duck’ is a good strong yacht, and would be more than capable of handling the seas we would have to punch through if we reefed her down well. The crew we have of Nick Esch, Sarah Howard and Mark Vear are all strong spirits and would cope well I am sure. On the other hand, The conditions created by a deepening Low, squashed by a strong High pressure to the East, could develop into something really nasty. Whilst we would be able to stay safe, down below we would be thrown around all over the place. And the girls would have to stay down below because conditions on deck would be unsafe. We have 1300 miles to cover, which is not an afternoon stroll. If conditions turned out to be at the uglier end of the possible spectrum, the first four days would be seriously unpleasant for everybody.

I spoke to Helen at the IFU in Bracknell, and discussed likely developments with her. This was very helpful in weighing up all the factors.

I decided to stay put and wait until the Low had gone through its cycle of deepening, spinning South then filling and dissipating. I was aware that in taking this decision, we would be likely to face a weeks delay, as we were at the beginning of the cycle. All things considered, however, I felt good about the decision. The cost of delay would be that we would potentially arrive a day or two late for our rendezvous with Andy (my brother), Steph and family in Tonga. This is unfortunate, but I do not want to put this crew through the storm.

So we find ourselves with a week to do some more playing in Bora Bora. I suppose if we have to be stuck somewhere, than one of the most beautiful islands in the world is as good a place as any. We plan some more snorkelling and diving trips, and also to hire a car for a day and travel round the island. The snorkelling on the surrounding coral reef is very good, especially for the small colourful fish. Nick found a huge octopus wrapped round a conch shell off Motu Tapu, an island just by the Pass into the lagoon. On the day we hired the car, we went exploring and found one of the large Artillery pieces that the Americans had left behind at the end of WW2. It was still there rusting away on a promontory, guarding the Eastern approaches to the lagoon. The Americans had arrived in force to set up a naval base here, with the aim of being able to support their ships in the Pacific. 6000 troops arrived on an island with only 1500 indigenous inhabitants. They built an airport, which at the time was the first in French Polynesia. James Michener had been among them, and his experiences here led to the novel on which the musical ‘South Pacific’ is based. As it happened, the island saw no action in the War. What a posting. They must have had a ball, and certainly left their mark. There are 167 children born of Amercan/Polynesian parents from this time, whose descendants mainly live on the island today.

By Tuesday, the front associated with the Low started to really affect us in the Lagoon. The barometer fell from 1013 to 1008. The normal gentle Trade Winds from the South East were replaced by strong Northerlies which created quite rough water even within the lagoon. Luckily, having had some advance warning of this, we had been able to grab one of the well bedded in moorings off the Bora Yacht Club. Even so, we tied three lines to the mooring, and watched our position closely as the wind howled around us. By Wednesday, even the trip to shore in the dinghy became a bit of a pain, with a soaking from the spray guaranteed however slow we went. And it rained quite hard too. On Wednesday night we had the most spectacular electric storm most of us had ever seen. There were at least three centres all around us, and the lighting made the night into day. Awesome.

We played endless games of Perudo, Oh hell, and Liar dice.

I am very relieved we did not set off last Saturday. The seas out there are huge. It is amazing to watch the bug waves crashing against the reef at the entrance to the lagoon only 600 metres away, sending white spume shooting 20 feet into the air. Our friend Dimas Manrrique came in to the lagoon on the cruise ship R4. They spent all day trying to get in, making four attempts, starting at dawn. It was 4 pm by the time they made their final ‘death or glory ’ run in to the pass, and got in safely. Dimas came for lunch with us the next day. He said things were very ugly and they had seen 56 knots at one point. Most of the passengers and crew were very seasick. Apparently the cruise ship company execs were furious. When the ship is not flat, nobody spends money in the restaurants and casinos, so they started berating the ships officers for not ensuring calm waters! What a bunch of ignorant plonkers, stuck in their comfortable steel and concrete offices somewhere in corporate America.

Another thing we decided this week, rather sadly, is to avoid visiting Fiji. It seems that the political situation is very unstable there at the moment since the attempted coup. We have been following events closely on the internet. The hostages are still being held in parliament, a state of emergency is in place, and most of the Indian shops in Suva have been looted and burned. It seems that the problems there are very deep rooted, stemming from the current structure of Fijian society. The indigenous Fijians make up about 51 percent of the population and the more recently arrived but economically dominant Indians make up the rest. I hope the problems get resolved peacefully, but in the meantime we will not go there.

It means that Susannah Dinnage and her boyfriend will not be able to join us in Fiji, and we will have to form another plan. It also messes up the flight arrangements for Nina, Nigel and Emma Louise Lightfoot who are joining us for the final leg. This is a big blow, but we decided it makes more sense to decide to re-route now then to face the uncertainty and risk of it getting worse when it could be more expensive later on.

We will instead go straight to New Caledonia from Tonga. We have heard great things about it from various sources, and it is good alternative for many reasons.

So here we are on Friday 2nd June, ready to set off for Tonga again. I will be getting more weather information tonight which will help me decide whether to leave on Saturday morning or not. Things are looking much better, so it looks like we will go this time. Hopefully the next bulletin will be from Neiafu in Tonga.

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