Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Pity to Leave Maupiti

On our way out of French Polynesia, we stopped at the island of Maupiti. Maupiti is arguably the most stunning of the Society Islands; given the chance, I would return in a heartbeat. Although we had tried to arrange a longer stay on this island, the weather did not cooperate; so we were only able to make the briefest of stops. Our agent told us that most yachts call at Maupiti on their way out of French Polynesia, but that we should only stay a day or two if we chose to do that. As it turned out, our choice was to leave Maupiti just 24 hours after our arrival or be trapped there for a week, unable to exit the pass due to weather conditions. Personally, I would have loved to get “stuck” in Maupiti’s dazzling sapphire lagoon for a week; but since our visas were expired, we reluctantly hoisted the anchor and exited through the pass.  


Maupiti's anchorage and entrance channel:  Silhouette is at the far left
What makes Maupiti such a difficult place to visit is its narrow, reef-bracketed, south-facing pass (Onoiau Pass). When we finally did get a weather window to leave Bora Bora and enter the pass, we had ideal conditions:  winds less than ten knots blowing out of the east. Even with these ideal conditions, surf was breaking on either side of the pass and we could see the coralline shelf of the reef it was breaking on rising above the water. With any kind of wind or swell from the south, it was easy to see that this pass could be treacherous. Although we’d read much about the difficulty of the sinuous, winding channel into the lagoon prior to our visit, we found the channel well marked and navigation straightforward. Once you are past the entrance, the rest of the channel is not difficult. However, it is essential to use the first two sets of range markers to line up your entry into and through the pass.

Passing through the entrance channel at mid-day, we were led into Maupiti’s breathtaking lagoon. We were awed by the variety of colors and the dramatic basalt outcroppings looming above the anchorage. We anchored off the town of Vaiea, a picturesque town with a tidy seawall running its entire length. It looked as if every family must own their own small boat, because the seawall was punctuated with boat slings and small craft.

Basalt outcrop with sea wall and small craft at base
In the late afternoon, we took a walk through town. We immediately noticed the cleanliness of the village, along with the apparent pride people took in their gardens and landscaping. Everyone in Maupiti seemed happy and busy, and we were given a friendly greeting by all those we passed. I truly would have loved to stay longer and gotten to know the local people here.

Since I was newly arrived and shy about asking people permission to take their photos, I took more mental pictures than actual photos. I didn’t take a photo of the six or so young men with big grins hanging off a fork lift that was careening towards the dock, where a supply ship from Tahiti was being offloaded.  

Offload  complete:  ready to cast off lines

I also didn’t photograph the happy kids riding a bicycle in a totem of three:  the youngest child seated on the handlebars; the oldest child pedaling the bike; and a child in between the ages of the other two standing on the seat behind the pedaler. Of course, none of them wore a helmet as they rode down the town’s main street shining with smiles.

Frangipani perfumes the air with a scent you can smell from the anchorage
I also observed with pleasure some women who were selling bread from the open bed of a pickup truck. They had about a dozen trays of bread in rectangular baking pans instead of loaf pans. The bread looked like some sort of sweet bread---possibly coconut bread. As one woman drove the truck through town, she, another woman in the cab, and the woman riding in the truck bed cried out to their neighbors. If a neighbor wanted to buy bread, she hurried out when she heard the calls of the women in the truck. Sometimes, the bread pan was simply turned over into waiting upheld palms; other times, the bread was released onto a tray or platter a woman had carried out with her. The bread pans remained with the bakers. I really wanted to buy some bread, but I had brought nothing to carry it in. Since we were still touring the town, I decided not to march around town with a loaf of bread in my upturned palms.

From time to time along the street, we noticed what appeared to be communal fresh water taps. Reminiscent of a community well in the center of town, these spigots were instead placed at intervals throughout the neighborhood. We concluded that not all the homes had running water, although the city itself was plumbed. We also noticed gravestones and memorial plaques located in peoples’ front yards. Home burial is practiced in Maupiti, where family members are buried on the land they grew up on, which is passed down from generation to generation. 

White frangipani
When we returned to the boat, I could no longer resist the pull of the jade green water and headed off for a swim towards the motu. 

Irresistible
At the top of the steep sand slope where the water changed from blue to jade, the water was less than waist high. I could stand and rest whenever I wanted. As I swam along this shallow area (I had brought my snorkeling mask), I could see hundreds of hermit crabs scuttling along the sandy bottom.  

Our friends from Oyaragh had arrived in Maupiti one day before us. The next morning, we joined them and two of the crew from Big Fish for a hike up to Maupiti’s highest point, the summit of Mt. Teurafaatiu. We were all looking forward to great views of the pass and lagoon. The hike was steep and hot, but---although it contained some roped sections---it was much shorter and less challenging than our climb of Mt. Pahia on Bora Bora. 


Here we are part way to the top


Feasting on a blue-green palette:  the open ocean extending to the horizon, the barrier reef, and Maupiti's shallow lagoon


Cloud shadow over the lagoon


Patrick leads the way on a roped section of the hike


Soon we were all at the top enjoying the beautiful views. 

Crews from Oyaragh, Big Fish, and Silhouette on top of Mt. Teurafaatiu

View from the summit 
Plastics in the environment:  On both Bora Bora and Maupiti, we saw interesting uses of plastic on hiking trails. Clusters of empty plastic bottles were used as trail markers on Mt. Pahia, while on Mt. Teurafaatiu, plastics were incorporated into an informal summit flag:


One man's garbage is another man's art? Plastics are a known endocrine disruptor.

View from the summit 2

A close-up of Onoiau Pass:  the blue gap between the white surf at the end of the snaky entrance channel.

Colors to die for:  reef patterns in the lagoon

Of course our last day in French Polynesia had to include a hibiscus!

The starting point for this hike is on the left side of the main road, a quarter mile or less from the church. Look for some wide cement steps that lead to the beginning of the trail. The trail basically follows the ridge, and there is cover from vegetation most of the way.

After we returned from the hike, Patrick and I stowed the boat and got ready to get under way. We had hoped to stay one more day and visit the manta ray “cleaning station” in the lagoon, where small fish swim in and out of the manta’s great basket strainer feeding apparatus, picking off bits of food. I had also wanted to walk around the entire island, a trip which reportedly takes only three hours. However, the latest weather report showed the wind both increasing and shifting to the southeast, which would make it dangerous or impossible to exit the pass. Winds in the 20-25 knot range were forecast, and the pass would not be navigable for close to another week. As we exited the pass at 3:00 p.m., the winds had already begun to shift to the southeast.

The picture below shows the surf breaking to port as we exited the pass. The opening is just 150' wide at this point, and the surf was breaking the same to starboard. There is zero room for error here even during the "ideal" weather conditions. 

Surf breaking over the reef as we exit the 150' wide pass

Passage to Niue


We had a gentle start to the next leg of our journey, the 1,034 mile passage from Maupiti to Niue. This was to be our longest passage since the voyage from the Galápagos to the Marquesas in late May/early June. We watched the lovely isle of Maupiti fade in our wake and enjoyed a sunset supper in the cockpit. The weather was so calm, we even allowed ourselves a glass of wine.

Leaving Maupiti behind

By the wee hours of the next morning, the forecasted winds had arrived. When I awoke to replace Patrick on watch, I found him hand steering in winds between 25 and 30 knots. We continued to hand steer while we reduced sail. The wind blew a steady 25 to 30 knots for the next 24 hours and we ran under stays’l alone. When the wind fell below 25 knots, we put up a double-reefed main with the stays’l, and when it fell below 20 knots, we dropped the stays’l and raised the headsail. 

Big swells rushing off for an appointment with other latitudes

A much better day:  the wind is down to 20 knots
I had taken an unexpected dip in the salt water when I slipped getting into the dinghy prior to leaving Maupiti. After two days at sea in high winds, my salt-filled hair was so matted, it was "almost dreadlocked."


Self-portrait with almost dreadlocks
I find it amazing that after twelve years, my face still shows the residual effects of a Bell's palsy---particularly when I'm tired, as during interrupted sleep patterns created by watches. If you first cover the left side of my face with a piece of paper, and then cover the right side, it's like seeing two different people. The right half of my face still has a dead expression and a lopsided smile. I guess we have to embrace who we are though; thus, the self-portrait:  paralyzed features, dreadlocks, and all. 

Most of the remaining passage was spent alternating between a beam or broad reach and running wing and wing downwind. The wind made frequent shifts back and forth from the east to the southeast. With the exception of one day of light air (which we took advantage of to take showers and bake bread), the wind was generally in the 15 to 20 knot range, and we made a fairly speedy passage. We were happy about our good progress because the weather was overcast, dreary, and drizzly---or downright rainy. We even experienced some lightening at night, though luckily, not at close range. The boat and our clothes constantly felt damp, and it was chilly enough that we had to break out our foul weather gear (which we thought we wouldn’t see again until our passage to New Zealand!) With the exception of the warmer daytime temperatures, I felt like I was back home in the North Pacific instead of on a dream cruise in the South Pacific.

We didn’t even attempt to fish on this passage because we were rolling in a beam swell much of the time, and neither of us felt like cleaning the fish (or the cockpit afterwards) once we’d caught it. We were also trying to start using up some of our canned food, which may or may not be confiscated in New Zealand. (At first we thought only fresh meats and produce were quarantined, but lately we’ve heard reports that they take canned meat and vegetables too---even their own canned meats and butter!---along with anything that has the potential for sprouting like dried legumes and grains.) Thus, meals on this passage took on the tone of comfort food staples such as tuna casserole, canned New Zealand corned beef and cabbage, and split pea soup with canned pork, as I made a game of trying to see how many canned foods I could work into one meal.

The wind came in fits between calms during the last 36 hours of the passage, and we did whatever it took---sailing, motoring, or motor sailing---to keep the boat moving along. We picked up a mooring buoy outside the harbor of Alofi on the island of Niue between squalls as we were nearing the end of our ninth day on passage.

Approaching Niue

Niue's limestone cliffs represent the boundaries of an upthrust former coral atoll
Alofi is not a “harbor” in the true sense of the word. It’s merely an indentation in the coastline of the island. When you are moored outside Alofi, you are basically moored at the edge of the ocean on the outside of an upthrust coral atoll. There is no sheltering barrier reef or protected lagoon. That’s why boats here have to take a mooring:  because the water next to the island is so deep. Silhouette is currently moored in 139 feet of water on a mooring provided and maintained by the Niue Yacht Club

Rainbow over Silhouette with Niue in the distance (left)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Adventures in Bora Bora

We had wanted to go directly from Moorea to Maupiti---then return to Bora Bora to check out of French Polynesia---but the weather conditions upon leaving Moorea were too poor to make it through the pass at Maupiti. Reluctantly, we headed to Bora Bora instead. We ended up having a great time on Bora Bora due to the fact that there were several crews/boats we’d met before in the anchorage. In addition to reuniting with crews from Kahia and Oyaragh, whom we'd met in Nuku Hiva and Moorea, respectively, we met the rollicking crew of Nakesa for the first time. We also finally met the crew of Morning Glory, a boat that we'd been seeing off and on since we'd shared an anchorage with them in Puerto Ayora. Last but not least, we once again ran into one of the Brothers Bruyn.  
  
Adventures on Mount Pahia

Unbeknownst to us, the cargo ship that followed Silhouette through Teavanui Pass into the Bora Bora lagoon was carrying two crew members from Double Bruyn. They had left the boat in the yard at Raitaea and were in Bora Bora for a quick visit, where they planned to stay on a friend's yacht. After securing our mooring at the Bora Bora Yacht Club and taking the dinghy in to the dock to check in, we met Paul Bruyn and Double Bruyn's most recent recurring crew member, Richard, already downing their first beers at the yacht club. We joined them for a "catch up" session, and we decided that we would all climb Mt. Pahia in two days' time.  

When they found a hiker on the mountain in bad shape three days after he set off to climb Mt. Pahia, the city of Vaitape adopted a resolution that it would prefer hikers to go up the mountain with a guide. If you are an experienced hiker who knows your limits, you can easily follow the trail without a guide. The start of the trail does not appear on any of the tourist maps of Bora Bora, and I haven’t seen any topo maps here. But if you ask around, the locals will help you find the start of the trail. 

Mt. Pahia as seen from Vaitape:  The true summit is to the right of the saddle
Be aware that climbing Pahia is more than a hike:  Scrambling is involved, and there is a short (roped) section of technical climbing near the summit. Several sections of the trail are roped; however (depending on one’s ability and the weather), the ropes are not necessary on all of the sections in which they appear. The trail would be difficult to impossible in heavy rain (especially the descent), and the saddle and summit approach would be dangerous in high winds. The entire trail is steep, and there are many slippery sections over mud or wet rock. 

Mt. Otemanu and Mt. Pahia from the island's north side
The road leading to the trail is five shops north of the Gendarmerie; and in 2012, there is an open air shop selling curios and ukeleles at this spot. The residential road leads back into the hills, and there is a sign posted on the road advising hikers not to go up the mountain without a guide. You can’t see the sign from the main road going around Bora Bora; you have to be back near the shops because the sign faces the residential cross street leading to the trail. The road dead ends at a private home; just before the house, a left turn takes you on to the trail. The lower reaches of the trail are marked with unique trail markers (clusters of empty plastic water bottles hung on trees or ribbons tied to trees); once past the lower reaches of the trail, there is only one way to go and the route is obvious.

The trail starts climbing immediately, and it isn't long before you get your first views.


Teavanui Pass and the city of Vaitape from partway up the mountain

We met some other hikers on their way down the trail----notice everyone holding on to a tree!

Once you are two-thirds of the way up Pahia's slopes, you traverse around to the back side of the mountain, traveling under a rocky ledge. 

A collection of cairns under the ledge on the traverse

We added our own to the collection
You scramble up two rock/mud gullies before ascending another steep section of trail to emerge on the first (west) summit.  From the last section of trail, we had a splendid view of Bora Bora's highest peak, Mount Otemanu. Otemanu has never been climbed, and some people have died trying. The rock on Mt. Otemanu is so crumbly that climbing aids (which are obviously necessary) pull right out.

Mount Otemanu, the barrier reef, and the lagoon

Hiking companions on Mt. Pahia:  From left, Patrick, Richard, and Paul

Mt. Otemanu and Pahia's true summit:  Pahia looks taller from this angle, but it's not
We rested and had lunch here while waiting for the mists that had come in to clear on Pahia's true (east) summit, only a few meters higher. After lunch, some of us set off to attempt the true summit. The vegetation along the saddle gave a possibly misleading feeling of security:  The ground was very spongy and may not have been altogether solid in places. 

The blue speck on the saddle is Paul and the two orange specks below him are Richard and Kirsten

After crossing the saddle and beginning the climb toward the summit, we came to a short (12-15') section of vertical rock that required climbing skills or enough upper body strength to use the rope positioned there to ascend. I didn't feel like I could climb it without the rope, and because it was exposed and it wasn't my own gear, I didn't want to put all my eggs in the rope basket. I stopped climbing at this point. Paul and Richard made it past this crux move and on to the true summit.   


Paul is above the crux move; Richard is ascending; I'm standing at the bottom of the rock face where I remained

We had a wonderful time climbing Mt. Pahia, and the views from partway up and from the top were amazing. We definitely felt the strenuous climb the next day.

Adventures With Gear

While in Bora Bora, a number of things on the boat began to fail. Our Pactor modem had recently been acting funny:  It had become more and more difficult to get a signal to receive weather reports via the radio. Thus ensued a trouble-shooting email exchange between Patrick and the US factory representative; after Patrick tried everything they suggested, our Pactor modem was officially declared “dead.” Our modem was a 20 year-old Pactor 2 modem. However, before leaving to go cruising, we got the Pactor 3 upgrade and had the unit tested at the factory. It passed all of the tests, and we were advised not to replace it because they "last a long time." Now we are told that the units can have unseen corrosion between the layers in the circuit board. We probably won’t replace the unit until we get to New Zealand; however, we can no longer receive some types of weather data, update our position, make a blog post from sea, or send and receive email from sea. As you can see, we've lost a very important member of our crew:  the communications officer!

We can check weather from the internet when we're in port, but once underway, our options are limited. We will have to rely more on radio reports and reports from other cruisers than the GRIB files we've been using. On long passages, we intend to check in with the Pacific Seafarers’ Net, and they will file position reports for us. On short, one to two night passages, we probably won’t check in, so there may be a lapse of several days without an updated position report for Silhouette.

Our outboard engine for the dinghy had also been sounding funny and occasionally stalling. We determined that the float in the carburetor was probably stuck, dismantled the carburetor and got the float “unstuck,” and reassembled the engine. We thought we had the problem fixed until we were en route to the north side of the island in the dinghy to see the manta rays. The engine started stalling again. Here’s Patrick changing the spark plug in a last-ditch effort to determine the cause of the problem.



The new spark plug didn’t help, so we turned ‘round and limped back to the anchorage. Patrick replaced the carburetor (for a 6 Hp engine) with a spare (intended for a 4 Hp engine), and the problem was solved; although our speed and ability to plane were reduced.

Finally, the primary bilge pump was “sounding funny.” Removing the bilge pump to investigate the problem required disconnecting the muffler from the engine and disconnecting the prop shaft, in order to maneuver the large bilge pump out of the bilge. The good news was that the bilge pump (although having some debris stuck in its screen) was fine; the bad news was that removing it broke the old, brittle hose carrying the water from the bilge pump overboard. Patrick replaced it with some new hose and the bilge pump was good to go.

Adventures on the Dance Floor 

The Bora Bora Yacht Club held a party while we were there. I can’t even begin to describe what it was like dancing to really bad canned music with three men wearing a petite woman’s cast-off tight black T-shirts (decorated with 80’s disco themes) that exposed their midriffs. Don’t even go there. The petite woman was also present, as was the female crew member from another vessel, and moi. Let it be known that two prudent male skippers kept their distance from the nonsense and conversed about rational things until 1:30 a.m.

 

Adventures in Baie Anau  


One of the absolute best days I’ve spent cruising was snorkeling with giant manta rays on Bora Bora. Patrick and I took the dinghy to Anau (about an hour's ride in our dinghy), where the giant rays were reported to hang out. We anchored the dinghy when we saw a cluster of dive boats and snorkel tour boats and donned our snorkel gear. As I glided out over the reef and into a deep channel over a submarine canyon, I held my breath in disbelief as I spotted the first of these magnificent beasts. A giant manta ray was gliding over the canyon floor. The visibility was amazing, and we could see 30 to 50 feet below us while snorkeling.

Manta rays flying over the reef on the canyon floor


A giant manta ray:  The eyes are on the side of the head at the base of the silvery palps

Although I’d heard the term “giant manta ray,” it does not prepare you for the sheer size of these creatures. The ones we observed were anywhere from six to ten---perhaps twelve---feet from wing tip to wing tip. The immensity of their surroundings (deep canyon in a vast lagoon) made it difficult to judge their true size.

This ray's mouth is only partially open:  You cannot see the strainer-like structure inside in this view

Scuba divers along the canyon floor

Champagne-like bubbles created by scuba divers
The mantas were graceful, gentle creatures. They struck me as friendly but wary. After snorkeling with the mantas for a couple of hours, the tour boats and dive boats began to thin. Every time the boats and throngs of people disappeared (“throng” is a slight exaggeration---dive tours were small groups of 4-6; while snorkel tours had up to 20 people), the mantas would start behaving differently. While they separated into small groups and kept to the bottom when the tour boats were around, when the boats disappeared, I found myself surrounded by up to eight giant mantas at a time. The manta rays would then climb higher in the water column, spiral around each other, and sometimes swim upside down. 




Their feeding behavior was more evident when the tour boats were gone, and I could see their huge, basket strainer type mouths working the plankton in the water column. (I never did get a good picture of this.) The presence of many humans definitely affected the behavior of the manta rays, but when it was just me (Patrick had by now retired to the dinghy to warm up), the rays seemed indifferent to my presence, and it was magic. 


Patrick and I snorkeled with the same group of rays for two to three hours. Even though they disappeared and reappeared throughout the morning and early afternoon, we were able to recognize individuals. There was a large satiny ray with a pure dark back. There were several manta rays of varying sizes with white to silver patches on their dorsal sides. Another giant dark-backed ray was missing one of its palps. All of them were beautiful, graceful, and regal.

A satiny manta ray with a truncated palp

Two rays with white and gray markings

Free diving with a manta ray below me

I stayed in the water with the manta rays long after my camera battery died and I was thoroughly chilled. I barely explored the reef above the canyon, which---in and of itself--- was amazing. I did notice my first spotted eagle ray soaring over the canyon wall with its blunt, rat-like face. I also saw a gigantic box or porcupine fish (not sure which):  It was the biggest fish of this type I had ever seen. There was an entire school of flutemouths hovering over the canyon rim instead of just the one or two scattered individuals you usually see. The shallower you got, the clearer the water became, and the reef fish and giant clams, ever more colorful. If it hadn't been our last day in Bora Bora, I would have definitely returned to this spot again.    

 
Four manta rays on the canyon floor with a remora

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Three Anchorages in Moorea

Moorea is an island shaped sort of like manta ray. Whereas a manta ray’s eyes protrude on two long palps in front of their mouths, Moorea is incised by two long, narrow bays extending inland---Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay. The northeast and northwest corners of the island flap outward like the wingtips of a manta ray, and the rest of the island mimics a ray’s hovercraft-like body.

When we visited Moorea, we spent time in three different anchorages. First, we anchored in Cook’s Bay---ironically named, because Captain Cook never anchored there. (Cook actually anchored in neighboring Opunohu Bay.)

Cook’s Bay is a dramatic setting on a fine day:

Cook's Bay, Moorea, two days after our arrival
The day we arrived, however, we were met with a downpour moments after entering the anchorage. 

Almost the same view shortly after our arrival
The wind started to howl and continued blowing through the night, with wind speeds in the low twenties and gusts up to 26 knots in the anchorage. Although Patrick got up in the middle of the night to check on the boat and to make sure we hadn’t dragged anchor (we hadn’t moved at the time he checked), we woke up in the morning practically alongside our sister ship (which also happened to be in the anchorage.) We had dragged anchor in the wee hours of the morning without feeling it, because the anchor was simply pulled very slowly through the mud by the wind. Luckily, Dream Time had dragged too; otherwise, we might have dragged right into her!

Cook's Bay, Moorea is the type of anchorage where you think you have a good set:  until the wind blows hard, and you realize you don't. The next morning, we moved to a different part of the anchorage (away from our sister ship and we hoped, away from the fine, silty mud) and reset our anchor. Within a few minutes, we started dragging again. This time, we were located in a slot between peaks through which the wind funneled, and the wind speed was accelerated. We recorded a gust of 37 knots in this location. We pulled the anchor a third time and set it again:  We still dragged! During this time, several other boats came into the anchorage, tried to set, and left again, unable to get a good set. The only boat we noticed in the anchorage that hadn't dragged was a boat anchored on the far edge, too close to shore for most sailors' comfort. (If they had dragged, they would have ended up on the reef.)

Finally, we set a second anchor and stopped dragging.

In Cook’s Bay, we rented bicycles to tour our immediate surroundings. I hadn’t been on a bike since Isla Isabela in the Galápagos, and I was immediately suffused with the sense of independence, freedom and joy that bikes bring to their riders. 

Me and my rental bike in front of Moorea's lagoon
It took some getting used to the bike, as it had been a long time since I'd ridden a bike without gears and with pedal brakes! 

We also visited several art galleries. Our favorite was Galerie de la Baie de Cook, where we were enthralled with the work of Vanuatu-born Olivier Louzé http://louzeo.fr  . Louzé specializes in portraits of Polynesian subjects, and he has the ability to capture facial expressions brilliantly. His works exhibited in Galerie de la Baie de Cook show the artist's evolution through three distinct styles, culminating in the gorgeous style with its unique brown, olive, and ochre palette that he uses today. Louzé's paintings are exhibited in wood-with-lashing frames that he built himself which compliment his pictures. It's hard to imagine how Louzé's work could get any better; but he is still a young man, and it will be interesting to watch his style develop.

After a couple of nights at anchor in Cook’s Bay, we moved to the anchorage at the east entrance of Opunohu Bay, just behind the barrier reef. This was a perfect anchorage with a sandy bottom and turquoise water. 

Shades of blue in the entrance to Opunohu Bay

Boats at anchor behind the barrier reef
Opunohu Bay, although spectacular, is on the jet ski freeway. Tourism is alive and well in the Society Islands, and cruise ships also visit this South Pacific isle.

The cruise ship Paul Gauguin in the entrance to Opunohu Bay
 I wonder what Gauguin---who went to French Polynesia seeking the "savage" and the "primitive" (according to his letters) would think about having a cruise ship named after him? 

Here is a picture of the bay without a cruise ship in the entrance:

Opunohu Bay with Mauaroa or "Shark's Tooth" to the left
Our primary reason for stopping at this anchorage was that we had heard eagle rays frequent the bay. We did see one ray under the boat but did not observe them in large numbers. Had we spent more than one night there, however, we probably would have seen more rays. The anchorage was crowded and the reef low in diversity, so the next day we moved on.

Our third anchorage in Moorea was on the west side of the entrance to Opunohu Bay, at the end of a channel outside the village of Papetoai. This was the most scenic and secluded of the three anchorages we visited in Moorea. The first night, we had the anchorage all to ourselves, although we were joined by a couple of charter catamarans on subsequent nights. The anchorage is not ideal in the respect that it is easy to end up too shallow if the wind clocks around during your stay; this should be considered when selecting your anchoring position.
 
Entrance to Opunohu Bay and Papetoai as seen from our anchorage
 
Shadow in Moorea
The third anchorage was a dinghy ride away from the area where tourist boats feed sting rays and sharks. We took our dinghy to the sand bar where the sting rays were clamoring up the bodies of tourists feeding them. We had heard that the sting rays themselves were “soft as velvet,” while their tails felt “like sandpaper.” One sting ray brushed its wing against my leg and it was, indeed, very soft. Since the sting rays are so used to being fed, they check out any boat in the area. We were lucky enough to snorkel with the sting rays without having to feed them as they made multiple passes past our dinghy. 

Sting ray

Investigating to see if Patrick has food

Underwater hovercraft:  Sting rays in tandem

I also did some snorkeling in the nearby barrier reef. The reefs in Moorea are dominated by a brown algae, Turbinata ornata, giving them an overall darker appearance than the reefs we saw in the Tuamotus. We first saw this algae detached and floating in the water, where it could have been tree blossoms. (It reminded me of big-leaf maple flowers in the Pacific northwest.) Although native to the South Pacific, Turbinata ornata seems to occupy a large area of coral reef---real estate which would otherwise be inhabited by coral---and in that way, its presence could be detrimental to the reef. A little reading informed me that it is a matter of debate as to whether this algae is considered an invasive species, and that it is highly successful in developed areas where nutrients are high. I'm guessing the algae is a native species which has invasive tendencies.

The clusters of flower-like plants on top of the coral are the algae Turbinata ornata

These tiny, colorful fish (box or puffer?) were a new species we saw in Moorea


More fish in Moorea's reef
We didn’t have great weather during most of our time in Moorea. We ended up spending two days almost entirely on the boat because it was too windy or rainy to do much outdoors. From our anchorage, we had a good view of sailboats outside the barrier reef taking advantage of the wind to enter and exit Opunohu Bay on their way to Moorea or bound for other destinations.

Outbound sailboat

In-bound sailboat

Surf coming over the barrier reef into the lagoon

We also had a nice view of August's blue moon, which Patrick captured on film.

Blue moon over Moorea
Recognizing the disturbing trend that we are having more and more weather days in which we are confined to the boat, I took advantage of the internet connection on Moorea to load up my Kindle with e-books so that I will have something to do when the wind howls and the rain falls.

Although we still didn't have the weather window necessary to enter the pass at Maupiti (our intended next destination), after seven nights in Moorea, we decided we'd rather be underway than sitting in an anchorage in unpleasant weather. We pulled up our anchor and set sail for Bora Bora, where we are currently safe and sound. 

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