Friday, July 26, 2013

Mo’orea, Society Islands, French Polynesia

The anchorage in Mo'orea.
We are presently less than 15 nautical miles from Bora Bora and with the weather conditions we are experiencing it might as well be 1000 miles away.  For the past three to four days the wind has been blowing strong…sustained winds in the mid-20s for the most part with gusts up to 35 knots not being that infrequent.  The winds have prevented us from making any significant moves going back almost a week now; though we did move from Ra’iatea last week to Taha’a.  But before all that, we were on the islands of Mo’orea and Huahine so I guess I should backtrack and describe our time on those islands.

Approcahing Mo'orea.
We left Pape’ete on July 2nd and headed for the sister island of Mo’orea.  From our mooring ball in Pape’ete (FYI…the French word for mooring ball translates to dead body) we could see Mo’orea with the sun setting behind its mountain range each night.  The roughly 20 nautical miles from Pape’ete to Cook’s Bay on Mo’orea’s north shore was a pleasant sail with relatively calm seas.  We were able to motor sail but due to the wind pretty much coming in on our nose we weren’t able to cut the motor completely and move by sail power alone.

Cook’s Bay is the eastern bay of the two large indentations on Mo’orea’s north shore that are frequented by cruisers.  It is deep both in terms of how far it cuts into the island as well as the depths found throughout the bay.  Deep bays require more chain to be let out (called scope) so that if the winds pick up, your boat will swing in a prescribed arc, hopefully avoiding dangers such as shoals, coral shelves, and, of course, other boats.  That said, we let out loads of scope and felt comfortable with the situation.  The next morning, Joe and Liz from Set Me Free, dinghied over and asked if we wanted to rent a car with them to tour the island which we readily agreed to and while Joe took care of making the reservation, Richard and I readied the boat for our departure.  You see, the wind had started to pick up a bit and we just wanted to make sure that everything was set up for any situation that might arise related to an increase of wind funneling down the mountains and into the bay.

When we finally got into the car and started driving, we actually stopped the car on the side of the road to look at our boats and, determining that the wind wasn’t too bad and that both boats seemed to have their anchors dug in, we continued on our tour of the island.

Liz and Joe from Set Me Free.  Joe's expression reflects
the general consensus about the pineapple wine.
The entire trip around the island took less than two hours and that was with stopping along the way to see the sites and visit a juice factory.  The guide books talk about seeing this juice factory and in reality, it was just a gift shop with a little bar in the back where we were able to sample pineapple wine (gross) and banana liqueur (palatable).  We also stopped at a grocery store that was near the main town and stocked up on vegetables which isn’t always easy to do.

When we got back to the boats, the configuration of boats in the bay looked slightly different but none of us really paid too much attention to it and made plans to meet up for dinner that night at a local restaurant.  Once we were seated at our table, Joe and Liz proceeded to tell us that Calico Jack talked with them when we got back from our roadtrip and informed them that 40 know winds were ripping through the bay that afternoon and that they dragged anchor which explained the slightly different configuration of boats in the bay.  Had we known that 40+ knot winds were going to be blasting through the anchorage we would not have left the boat for the entire day.  In fact, 15 knot winds were predicted and these stronger ones took everyone by surprise, from Mo’orea where we were, all the way to Pape’ete where boats broke loose from their moorings and several dinghies had to be chased down.

Friendly stingray.
From Cook’s Bay we moved over to Baie d’Opunohu and anchored in the eastern entrance of the bay with about 20 other boats.  The anchorage was behind the fringing reef that protects Mo’orea from the swells that come rolling in from the open ocean and actually resembles a roadstead anchorage like the ones we saw in Hawai’i.  The snorkeling around the anchorage was average but the big draw was the dinghy trip we took over to the western entrance of the bay where we had the opportunity to swim with and feed sting rays and sharks (okay, we didn’t actually feed the sharks, we just swam with them).  It was a forty minute dinghy ride to the shallows where the rays and sharks hang out and when we got there we dropped our dinghy anchor, hopped out and were immediately surrounded by sting rays.  And yes, these are the kind of sting rays that can hurt you if you happen to get stung by their tail barbs; but these rays are so passive and accustomed to getting fed that they are more like puppies in the water than the dangerous sea creatures that in reality they are under different circumstances.  The rays will swim right up to you and “crawl” up your chest in hopes of getting a handout.  We had bought some tins of sardines when we were in Pape’ete and brought them with us to feed the rays.  All the while black tip reef sharks are circling.  I'll try to upload the video via YouTube in the next few days as the size was prohibitive for posting here.

Richard and me at the Belvedere lookout.
While in Baie d’Opunohu, we hiked to the Belvedere, a lookout point that gives you a fantastic view of both Cook’s and d’Opunohu bays.  The bonus to this hike, which is actually all on a paved road, is that half way to the top there is an ice-cream stand so of course we had to stop on the way down (I tried the soursop and guava ice-creams and they were incredible!).  On one of our last nights in d’Opunohu, we had a potluck dinner on Lazy Bones with Mark and Megan, and also the crew of Chili Cat.  It was at this potluck that I was introduced to Tim Tams, an Australian, chocolate covered cookie, and now I am hooked!

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