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Outer Islands of Tahiti

August 31, 1989

We are anchored in an aquamarine lagoon, 22 feet of crystal clear water, several yards from the tiny island of Toopua—the remands of a crater that once was Bora Bora’s volcano. Behind it lies the main island of Bora Bora, with its one towering peak that rises on the south side like a sheet of perpendicular polished rock straight to heaven and everywhere else is slightly less steep but lush with tropical vegetation. The peak levels off in places and protrudes with small points in others. It looks like a big green tooth—a molar, actually—jutting out of the lower jaw of a grinning giant. The rest of the island is composed of rolling hills and lesser peaks with volcanic plugs poking out here and there, all covered with coconut palms and acacias and lots of green and flowering trees and bushes. Bora Bora sits in the middle of a wide lagoon completely surrounded by a barrier reef. The water in the lagoon is so green that the undersides of the cumulous clouds take on the same tint. James Mincher once wrote that this was the most beautiful island in the world. If it isn’t, I’d like to see what is.

We arrived on August 29 and hope to stay at least a month before sailing to American Samoa to wait out the hurricane season. The snorkeling so far has been wonderful. The fish seem as curious about us as we are about them and sometimes come up for a better look. Haven’t seen any sharks or moray eels.

Hunky-Dory in MooreaLet me backtrack a bit. We left Moorea on August 7 for the overnight sail to Huahine, the next island in the chain. It was the first real ocean sailing since coming to Tahiti on June 18. (Moorea is only 12 miles from Tahiti so that doesn’t count). Huahine was supposed to be a disappointment, just a lower volcanic island with no distinctive peaks, a place to stop for a day or two on the way to Raiatea and Bora Bora. But we stayed nine days there and enjoyed every minute of it. The island is indeed featureless after Moorea and Tahiti, but we had a grand time. The main town was charming and we had a greatest French pastries for breakfast. The reef along the western side created a shelf ten feet deep lined with snow white sand that extended from the deep lagoon channel at least a mile to the barrier reef itself. We anchored there and watched in fascination as several huge rays "flew" by on their way between the barrier reef and the deep water channel. A yacht joined us after a while, filled with a family we had met in Annapolis. Later we motored to the southern tip of the island and found ourselves surrounded by other yachts. One night we had one big cookout on the beach using coconut husks for our barbecue fuel. It was a great time.

We left Huahine on August 17 for the daytime sail to Raiatea. Now we got our disappointment! The reef was hard to anchor because of all the coral heads and the bays were all 75—100 feet deep. With no windlass to help take in our anchor, a deep anchorage presented lots of problems, but we had no choice. At our first anchorage near a small motu (small island near a reef) we found only 30 feet of water and seemed more content. That night the full moon rose behind the palm-covered motu and it was very romantic. But the next morning we couldn’t raise our anchor without the help of the guy on the next boat who went down with scuba gear to unwrap our anchor from around a piece of coral the size of our cockpit. Over where he was, the bottom was sane. We picked the wrong spot. Our next anchorage was deeper and in mud at the mouth of a river. We took our dingy and motored a few miles up the narrow river that wound its way through a lovely valley lined with trees and small farms where families were tying bunches of taro for market. Our next anchorage was in 75 feet outside a marina. We couldn’t wait to leave Raiatea.

The next day, August 22, we motored across the lagoon to Tahaa, an island that shares its reef with Raiatea. On the way we passed Toataulu Island and had to take pictures. This is a spot of land in the middle of the lagoon and has one coconut palm tree smack dab in the middle! It looks like those cartoons of shipwrecked sailors. Tanaa is a little like Raiatea—deep anchorages but some nice motus along the reef. We anchored near one in 20 feet of water and were eaten alive by mosquitoes. It didn’t take long to get the anchor stowed and find another anchorage... 80 feet deep! Oh well.

Bob finally got the hang of raising a 35 pound anchor with 40 feet of 7/16 inch chain and 200 feet of ¾ nylon anchor line (at least 100 pounds in all). He puts down the anchor, chain and line, along with a 100 foot trip line, one end tied to the anchor and the other end tied to a float (in our case, an empty salad oil bottle). When it comes time to weigh anchor (and it sure weighs a lot!), I move the boat forward and Bob and I pull in as much of the trip line and anchor line as we can, then he hooks the trip line to one or the jib halyards and pulls up the anchor by alternating the trip and anchor line. It still takes a lots of time and energy but at least it’s possible this way. When we get to Samoa, Bob is going to devise a way to mount the two winches he bought from the Sea Scouts and see if that helps. Also he, s going to try to buy some 3/8 chain. When in Panama, you buy what’s available if the price is right. Hopefully, there will be some kind of choice in Samoa.

We found several anchorages in Tahaa, all deep once we dragged our anchor and almost went into another boat when a sudden squall hit. We got out of there in a hurry, the winds calmed down and we found a nicer bay down the coast where friends were anchored. When they left the next morning we had the huge bay to ourselves and went skinny dipping. Nothing like it. I recommend it highly!

Our visa for French Polynesia expires on September 5 and we are trying to get an extension until the end of October. Bora Bora promises to be a much better place to cruise than Raiatea and Tanaa. Although there are many deep anchorages, there are also lots of places to anchor near the reefs in water 10-30 feet deep, like where we are right now. We’ll see. Until then, please use our Seattle address to get in touch with us. We will eventually have it forwarded to wherever we are and we answer letters as soon as we get our mail, so don’t give up. OK?

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