Friday, June 17, 2011

Bora and Bora - last stop in French Polynesia

We briefly stopped by a performance of local dancing by children from many schools on the island. Quite liked this picture of Mom and a little one. Wearing flowers in the hair is very common throughout FP.

Bora Bora – they liked it so much they named it twice (sorry!). BB is about 130 miles from Moorea, hence a morning departure makes sense. It took us about 25 hours and, wait for it, we finally had proper trade winds – about 15 knots with Ainia on a broad reach most of the time with only the genoa up and poled out with the spinnaker pole. It was a very pleasant and relaxing sail and hopefully will be only the first of many as we head west north of 20°S.

Along with Moorea, BB is the ‘face’ of French Polynesia in magazines, movies and the like. It is certainly beautiful with gorgeous water and a lovely crag in the center of the island, but to our mind it has been spoiled by tourism. The people seem to verge on surliness and you know things are not good when the woman in the tourist information office is not friendly and helpful. This is not to say that everyone is unpleasant, but there were enough people here were that it leaves a bad feeling. Perhaps it is because this is a place for very high end tourists with virtually all hotels having the over-the-water-bungalows that rent for $1000+ a night. The locals may just be tired of being nice to tourists that their natural friendliness is lost.

Bora Bora is like most of the Society Islands (western French Polynesia) - mountains in the middle, a reef and motus around the outside and a protected lagoon in between. Here we are entering the only pass into BB. It is deep and wide enough the cruise ships enter.

The full moon came up over the mountain at the anchorage at the BBYC.

We did not do much here. Went to a supposedly famous cruisers’ hangout for dinner. Bloody Mary’s is certainly not that at all. Eight of us went from the anchorage and we were the only sailors there. Everyone else was from the hotels (we shared our shuttle bus with folks from the Four Seasons. BM’s was very expensive (some entrees were more than $40) and very formulaic – perhaps the tipoff was that they sold many t-shirts advertising themselves. The food was OK at best and one of our may have had a touch of food poisoning.

Some of the famous people who have eaten at Bloody Mary's. They did not ask us our names - perhaps they already knew. Hope they get the spelling right.

Speaking of supposedly famous cruiser spots, we took a mooring at the Bora Bora Yacht Club which is not a YC at all but another restaurant. They are being remodelled for an opening with new management so the moorings were free which was nice since anchoring in BB is hard since the water is very deep in most spots.

Tomorrow (June 17th) we are leaving for Suvarov which is about 700 miles from here. We have been waiting for some wind for a few days but the pressure gradient was killed by a very deep low (965 mb – yikes!!) that is passing far to the south of us. There will be some wind building in the next days (to 20 knots) but also swells from the south that may be in the 17 foot range. We hope to do an end run around the worst of these but may have to motor tomorrow to get a good start.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


  • Here are a bunch of topics that I have missed along the way Spending – Our May spending was about $3700. Three things contributed to this large amount – we stayed in a marina in Papeete for more than two weeks. This was partly for convenience as we had many errands to run in town and partly because anchoring is not easy since most areas for anchoring have been filled with moorings. We also had to spend quite a bit of money on fixing things from our knockdown – a new solar panel, stanchion, and bimini repair. Finally, shopping was superb at the hypermarche, but it was not cheap.

Also, it has been brought to my attention that boat parts worth about $2000 that were brought to Ecuador by our friend Ian were not listed in the expense summary. I will try to update that when possible. We have ordered some things to be delivered to American Samoa because it is easy (no customs for stuff from the US) and cheap for shipping.

  • Peru election – Of course everyone has been following this with great anticipation, but just in case you have not, I learned that you cannot pick favourites based on how many signs they have. In the first round of the election, the leaders were Ollanta (a former general who is quite populist in his views) and Keiko (daughter of former president, and now convict, Alberto Fujimori). I am using first names here because that is how they ran for election. In the runoff election between these two, Ollanta won narrowly so Peru now continues the trend in South America toward populist leaders (see Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil). Ollanta says he is more like Lula da Silva in Brazil than Cesar Chavez who is the boogeyman who gets linked to all of these left-wing leaders.
  • Boil on my leg – A visit to the new and impressive hospital in Papeete gave me more information about what I had – a staph infection of the skin that got serious wherever there was a break in the skin e.g. insect bite or scratch. By the time I got to the hospital I had three lesions – the one that started it all coming from Easter Island and two others also on the same leg plus one on my arm that was just getting started. The very nice and competent doctors and nurse cleaned everything out (thanks for the nitrous to distract me from the digging) and sent me to the pharmacie with a long list of things to buy. The two smaller lesions healed within about 10 days but the original one is still thereafter 10 weeks although the opening now is quite tiny.

For those who are planning to go off cruising, I would suggest that you talk to your doctor about what to do about such infections. There was an American boat at the marina with a crew with similar infections – I think it may be a tropical thing. I used an oral antibiotic designed for skin infections, a topical antiseptic and a dermatological soap. BTW, the cost for the treatment at the hospital was less than $50 (and involved two doctors and a nurse, in total for more than an hour). Supplies at the pharmacy were something like $130. I shudder to think how much it would have been in the US.

· Hood-design – I had a question (sorry for the delay) about how our Hood-designed and Bristol-built boat has done so far. Overall I would give it an A rating. It is remarkably strong and resilient. I suspect that our knockdown might have been worse and damage much more with a lesser boat. I am very appreciative of the 17 tonnes+ of displacement we have. It makes the boat more comfortable both at sea and at anchor. We have been experiencing another maramu wind at Moorea for the past few days with winds gusting above 40 knots at time. There is a Saga 43 (nice boat, but fairly light) anchored here and it gets thrown around in the gusts and heels at least 15° at anchor.

The centerboard configuration has been helpful and it gives us three advantages I think. We can get into shallower spots (more of an issue in the Bahamas than here where anchorages can be 80 feet deep and more), on those rare occasions where you need to point it is great, and most often, when reaching it allows easy control of weather helm which is essential with vane steering.

Complaints? The bow could be a bit higher and fuller which might keep the deck drier. It is common to have lots of water on deck. Having to rely only on the deck drains means that more water comes before the previous wave has drained – the high toe rail (a very nice feature for putting your weight against) also does keep the water on board. I would like interior construction that would make it easier to access tanks, wiring, etc. Too much stuff is built-in and not easily accessible.

12 things about French Polynesia

  • French Polynesia is huge more than 1000 miles from Gambier Islands in the SE to Bora Bora in the NW. It is big enough for there to be significant differences from one area to another.
  • There is enormous variety, both of landforms and settlement here. The variety of landforms can attributed to the fact that FP has examples of all of the stages of atoll formation according to the theory developed by Charles Darwin (yes, he did study things other than evolution). According to his theory, which is generally accepted, you need two conditions to exist. The first is a volcanic eruption sufficiently powerful to reach the surface. This is not a trivial requirement since the water is typically something like 13,000’ feet deep. We passed one volcanic cone on the way to Tahiti from the Gambiers which was a perfect cone about 1400’ above the water, but almost 15,000’ high in total – sort of like Mt. Fuji set on the sea bed. Volcanic islands are not very good to visit by boat because they lack protected anchorages – Easter and Pitcairn being good examples.

The next stage in the process is the growth of coral in the shallower water along the edge of the volcanic mountain – which requires water shallow enough for the sun to penetrate and warm enough for coral. The result is the gradual creation of an outlying reef with a lagoon in between the reef and mountain. If there are navigable passes through the reef you have an ideal situation with a protected waterway behind the reef and many possibilities for anchoring. Tahiti and the other Society Islands of western FP are magnificent examples of this. The Gambier Islands and Moorea are slight variations on this stage since what is above water are edges of a huge volcanic crater rather than the entire volcano. In the Gambiers, the islands you see are parts of the entire crater. In Moorea you see only the southern edge of the crater (see photos)

As time passes, small islands called motus can develop along the reef. Motus will rarely be more than a couple of feet above sea level but do provide an alternative place to live (or to anchor behind).

Given enough time though, the volcano will erode away or subside below sea level leaving only the reef, the motus, and the lagoon. Again a navigable pass is needed before these islands, called atolls, are much use to cruisers. The Tuamotus are atolls, ranging in size from less than one mile to more than 70 miles across. The lagoons of atolls are often jammed with coral heads that come close to the surface meaning that navigation can be tricky..

Settlement patterns also vary greatly. Tahiti is very, very busy with quite serious traffic issues while Mangareva is so sleepy you have to keep checking your pulse to see if you are still alive. The only traffic issues were when half a dozen pickups and scooters would converge on the boulangerie to pick up hot baguettes at 5 pm. Moorea and most other large islands are somewhere in between.

This is the main (and almost only) street in Rikitea, the only town in the Gambiers with a permanent population. This might be rush hour or perhaps not ... it was very hard to tell

  • Great beauty – The photos of Moorea show this wonderfully. We never got tired of looking at the crag in the middle of the island. It looked different depending on the light and the weather.
Anchorages don't get much prettier than this one at Opunohu Bay, Moorea. The peak in the back looks different depending on the weather and time of day.

Could not see the pot of gold but I know it was there somewhere.

Sunsets are so spectacular it is too easy to take them for granted.

Bruce and our friend Marina at the Belevdere overlooking Opunohu Bay on the left and Cook's Bay on the right. We are anchored just behind the left edge of the mountain behind the reef in the lagoon - and yes, we did walk here. While the eastern bay is named after Captain Cook, he di dactually anchor in Opunohu.

Bruce and Marina (and June with the camera) enjoyed the special ice creams made at the FP agricultural college half way up the mountain in Moorea. They are made from fruits (and flowers) grown at the college. Vanilla, made from actual vanilla pods, was wonderful as were the others we tried. Unfortunately they were out of gardenia ice cream.

  • Weather – I now know the name of the kind of storm that knocked us down coming here. It is a maramu (like the model of Amel sailboat) or possibly a super maramu. We also had one of these pass over us at anchor in Moorea. It seems to start with an occluded front spinning north from one of the nasty lows in the Roaring 40s. This is accompanied by one of the very big highs that exist between the southern lows. These highs, often above 1035 mb extend quite far north (to 20°S or even a bit further north). The result is a very steep pressure gradient. The worst part of the system are the winds from the south but you can get winds from other directions as well. For someone from the continental part of the northern hemisphere it is a revelation to find that high pressure cells can generate very nasty winds – where we are from, highs bring settled weather and little wind.

  • This is such an expensive place in which to live. Other than baguettes, some cheeses, and solar panels we found no bargains here at all. The poverty rate is very high and it is easy to understand why. We walked down a back street in Moorea and found a large number of people living in shacks made of corrugated iron. At the same time the Porsche and BMW dealers seem healthy in Tahiti where there were people living on the street. You sense considerable resentment among poorer people and wonder how this might play out in the years to come.
Every evening in a park on the water in downtown Papeete, Tahiti about 20 rulottes (vans) pull in and set up tables, chairs, and cooking equipment. It is good place to have dinner ($12 to $20 for a large plate of seafood, steak, etc) on an island where restaurants are very expensive. It attracts many locals and some tourists.
  • Currency – The unit of currency here is the French Polynesian France (CFP) which is worth a bit more than one cent. The result is that you quickly get used to large numbers of francs for everything. Since the exchange rate is about 85 francs to the dollar and most people find it hard to divide by 85 in their heads, you tend to divide by 100 and then add a bit more than 10% to the result –e.g. the banana split costs 950 francs, divide by 100 is 9.50 and add a dollar – it costs about $10.50 – and June decided she did not really want it after all.

The money here is also very large. The photo shows the largest FP bill – 10,000 francs or something over $110 compared in size to a US bill. It is too big for a standard North American wallet for sure. The silver coin (actually made of aluminum) is 50 francs – get a few of those in your pocket and you walk with a list.

  • The economy is in very bad shape in FP. The two significant foreign exchange earners are tourism and cultured pearl production, both of which are dependent on a healthy world economy since no one really ‘needs’ a pearl necklace or a costly holiday in a distant spot. And holidays here can be very costly indeed. The specialty here are the resorts with individual bungalows over the water. Very nice, but very expensive with prices starting at about 80,000 francs a night, not including meals. This works out to almost US$1000/night and there are some that are much pricier – one on Taha’a is listed in Lonely Planet as starting at 104,000 francs (about $1200/night). With meals, the cost could be well over $1500 a night for a couple and FP’s traditional markets – Western Europe, US, and Japan all have bad economies.

Even if tourism and pearl farming were healthy one wonders how much FP would depend on subsidies from France. I suspect that there are more than a few folks in Paris who would love it if FP did go ahead with full independence (there is quite a bit support for the idea).


Pearls before they reach the world market. These were being sold by a man in Mangareva who buys them from the pearl growers and sells them to foreign buyers. He had a bucket full of pearls in the kitchen he uses to prepare food for the air flights that come to Managareva three times in every two weeks. The pearls vary enormously in quality, shape, colour and size - and price. His pearls ranged from about $10 to one large (17 mm), golden one at close to $2000. There are lots of poor quality pearls to be had very cheaply (a bottle of rum for a cup full). These ones will never be sold commercially. If they do not meet minimum quality standards they are ground to powder.

Pearls are a luxury good to be sure. The pendant in the front here was 225,000 francs or about $2600. In Japan or France it would be much more. A necklace of large pearls could be more than $10,000

Sorry for the poor quality of the picture, megayachts tied up at the marina in Tahiti. To give you a sense of scale, the 'small' sailboat furthest to the right is 118' long. The problem for Tahiti's economy is that there are not enough rich tourists - in yachts or coming in by plane to support the tourism infrastructure.

  • Moorea is the first place we have visited where not everyone is friendly. We have run into people who ranged from unhelpful to, in one case, holding in a lot of anger. Don’t know the source of this (economic problems?) but it came as a shock after visiting so many places and finding so many friendly, helpful people.
  • Polynesian people seem to fall into two categories – enormous or not. Most men and women over 30 are very big (not necessarily tall). In Mangareva where I visited the clinic every second day, there were many people who were much overweight and had troubles walking and even amputations (related to diabetes?). What is starting to happen with younger people though is a desire to keep their weight under control. The result is that there are lot of men and women who are remarkably fit and healthy looking and attractive – pretty much what you see in movies about the south seas. Whether these folks will put on 60 pounds when they turn 30 I don’t know, but I suspect not.
  • You see beautiful flowers growing everywhere and they are used to replace jewellery and even hats in everyday use. It is not unusual to see half a dozen women on the bus going to work with a flower stuck behind their ear. Some older women wear a sort of wreath of flowers on their head like a hat.
  • Pronouncing Polynesia words is easy, as long as you are good with vowels. I was given the advice that you need to pronounce every vowel separately so, for example, the airport in Tahiti, Faa’a, sounds sort of like you are singing a Christmas carol but have a mild speech impediment. The marina we stayed at was in a suburb called Punaauia, which is tricky enough to say when sober. When we were looking for the new hospital in Papeete, the man who gave us directions was not sure if it is was in Taone or Taaone – and finally decided it was the latter. We never learned if there also was a place called Taone.
  • They have very interesting motorboats here. They range from around 18’ to 24’ with a good-sized outboard. The interesting feature is that the driver sits at the very front of the boat, where the boat is only 3’ or so wide. They steer using a vertical tiller from this position. I surmise that this design became popular because it gives the operator the best possible view of the water and the coral heads that are so common inside the lagoons.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cost overview for 6 months

Thought I better do this before we look at May in Tahiti where we have spent quite a bit of money. Our spending from Florida to Polynesia has been (significant expenditures in brackets) Everything in $US:

November $1033 (Customs and other govt fees - $555)

December $1030 (Panama Canal costs (not including refundable deposit) - $610)

January (until we went exploring on land in Ecuador and Peru) $1558 (Food - $558 to take advantage of low prices in Panama)

On shore travel costs in late January and Early February (almost a month) $2458

Second half of February $1212 (Government fees (Galapagos) - $676; Mooring rental in Ecuador -$330 for one month)

March $2023 (Sightseeing (4 day tour in Galapagos mainly) - $913)

April $547 (Internet for the entire area of French Polynesia - $217); note that it is hard to spend money at sea or in harbours where there is not much to buy.

Categories of spending (for 6 months)

Boat maintenance - $528

Boat capital improvements - $40

Dockage, moorings - $588

Government fees - $1773! (Panama, Ecuador and Galapagos are very pricey; Gambier Islands was less than $2 (for two stamps)

Sightseeing and souvenirs - $3548 (money well spent we think for mainland tour in Ecuador and Peru and tour of Galapagos)

Food - $982 (remember the boat started off in Florida well-provisioned)

Fuel - $589

Water, garbage disposal - $36

Shore travel - $103 (local buses and, in a few place,s taxis)

Entertainment Ashore - $528 (meals and drinks ashore – you could spend a fortune on this if you wanted to)

Internet - $252 (free to cheap in many places except French Polynesia)

Miscellaneous - $761 (mainly Panama Canal fees)

Total - $9708

The only thing I resent in all this are the government fees and associated costs for mandatory agents. In Panama and Ecuador, it is a bit of a lottery who will hit you for money and how much it will be. Probably Panama is the worst with charges for customs, immigration, port captain, agriculture dept, buoys and lights, mariners’ visas, fines for not having mariners’ visas (that were not offered in the first place). These countries’ hurt themselves by making it unattractive for cruisers to visit.