Friday 15 May 2015

Bora Bora

Rain lashes down as we beat upwind, ploughing into a big sea whipped up by the squalls that have been bearing down on us all day. We are sailing parallel to the reef where the swell from the south rolls in. Nine hundred metres deep, only half a mile offshore, this huge volume of water runs full tilt into the shallows and with nowhere to escape it thunders against the coral with a roar and rears up, throwing spray high into the air as it washes over the reef into the lagoon. 

Inside the lagoon the water is flat calm but out here large waves pile up in the shallows and Juno’s bows pound into the sea, scooping up gallons of water that surges down our side decks and gurgle through the scupper drains.  The pass is only a mile away but we are making slow progress against the current and the light is failing.  At last, the green marker post comes into view and we bear off the wind and through the pass into the shelter of the lagoon. Shrouded in cloud and obscured by heavy rain, this is Bora Bora, the jewel of the Pacific, but not quite as depicted on the postcards.

The next leg of the rally takes us away from French Polynesia to the land of Tonga, but we can’t come all this way and not visit Bora Bora so here we are, for a few days of relaxation before the next ocean passage.  We pick up a mooring buoy outside the Mai Kai yacht club, owned by Tevia and Jessica, a handsome and charming couple, well known to the World ARC for their hospitality. It is still raining when we leave Juno, so we dinghy to the yacht club in our foulies and peel them off in the restaurant to the amusement of Andrew and Jeanette who are sitting in shorts and T shirt. The yacht club is a single building with a high pitched thatched roof and tonight a Polynesian band serenades us, their voices strong and clear over the sound of the rain that patters against the windows.

The next morning I emerge from our cabin to find that the squalls have passed and the day has dawned still and clear, revealing Bora Bora in all her glory. At its centre a rock, nearly a thousand metres high, with two distinctive peaks, gives the island its dramatic profile. Beneath, the land slopes down to the shores of the huge lagoon that surrounds it; the water is pale blue, covering a bed of white sand. Circling the lagoon is a necklace of motus, small islets connected by the coral reef with just a single pass in the west, and beyond the deep blue of the Pacific. This is the Bora Bora we came to see.

After a day making repairs to our hydraulics, we go for dinner at Bloody Mary, a restaurant on the water, famous for its patronage by the rich and famous whose names are carved on a wooden board at the entrance. However we have become used to travelling as locals and Bloody Mary is a disappointment with poor food, slow service and with all the trappings of a venue designed by foreigners to appeal to tourists. It doesn’t work, and worse, I wake the next morning feeling sick and feverish and spend the next few days recovering from a stomach bug that keeps me in bed while Caroline, Andrew and Jeanette go on a snorkelling trip. They return at lunchtime having seen Manta rays, coral gardens and countless shoals of fish on the reef. I briefly surface to help Caroline on board, then return to my bed, cursing bloody Bloody Mary.

Andrew has rented a small pension on the waterfront for the remainder of Jeanette’s holiday and they hold a drinks party for the rally boats. From my sick bed on Juno, three hundred metres away in the lagoon, I can hear the party in full swing and through the hubbub one female American voice carries clearly across the water and even penetrates the substantial hull of Juno. It’s nice to have Jeanette with us.

We are anchored on the western side of the island where the lagoon is deep and provides access to the dock at Vaitape, the only town on the island. Yachts with a shallow draft can motor through a narrow channel to the eastern side where the lagoon is shallow and where all the posh hotels have their over-water bungalows. Makena, with her draft has made it into the lagoon, so while Andrew takes Jeannette to the airport for her flight back to London, Caroline and I take the RIB round the island to see Luc and Sarah.

The southern passage to the eastern lagoon is very shallow, maybe only a metre deep, and the only way to do it is fast, on a speedboat. When our rib is on the plane it draws less than a metre as it skims over the water, but once off the plane the prop is lower in the water and it risks hitting the coral heads that lurk in the channel. So we go full tilt through the channel, flying across the clear water, heart in mouth, occasionally disturbing rays feeding on the soft sand, hoping that we won’t hit anything. I take comfort from bigger speed-boats manned by locals, who come the other way, running the gauntlet, also at full speed. We navigate the channel and find Makena anchored in 5 metres of clear water on soft milky clay-like sand and it does look as if she has dropped anchor in our swimming pool. The water is flat calm; so clear that you can’t see the surface – only the sand on the bottom. I leave Caroline on Makena to swim with Sarah and Kai while I go in search of Luc and Victor who are on the reef snorkelling.

The eastern lagoon is huge, a vast sandy pool that I skim across on my way to the reef where I find Makena’s rib nosing through the shallow coral waters. We tie the ribs together and drop into the water.  Even compared to the crystal waters of the Tuamotos, the reef here is quite extraordinary. The water is less than two metres deep and only just covers the coral garden below. Because the reef is continually flushed with ocean water, the sea is of a clarity I have not seen before and it magnifies the bunches of coral in all their glorious colours. A black tip reef shark swims by and I start to follow, only to find that the shallow water has forced him along a channel through the coral directly towards me. Even these harmless sharks still look fearsome when they approach you head-on and I can feel my heart rate increase as he swims within feet of me before finding another route and gliding away out of sight.

We return to Juno to have dinner with Andrew who is slightly melancholy after Jeanette’s departure. J has been great fun from the moment she arrived, pale and jet lagged from the UK and I think she has returned brown, healthy and happy.  She has joined in all the ARC events, the Pearl regatta, snorkelling, swimming and partying and Andrew has definitely had a sparkle in his eye since she has been with us. He now has a secret that I will leave him to tell on another occasion – or maybe you will find it out for yourself.

Tomorrow we leave French Polynesia for Suwarrow, an uninhabited atoll in the Cook Islands, only a short hop to the northwest. In fact its seven hundred and fifty miles – yes, a short hop for your correspondent and the crew of Juno.


  1. So what's the secret? Come on, spill!
    Sorry to hear about bloody Bloody bloody, but what do you expect from bloody Bora Bora?
    Great pics, by the way.

  2. Love the descriptions & photos of the calm before the storm- literally! Another world from Year 3 classroom! Thrilled Jeannette has shared this part of the Juno adventures- your secret is tantalising,Andrew! Much love to all,Katie & Jack xoxox