Saturday 25 July 2015

Goodbye Bora Bora ! Thanks for everything !

Saturday July 25th 2015

It's hard to leave you Bora Bora !

Matthew is really getting the hang of wake boarding now !

It is rumoured to be the most beautiful island in the world and, from my still limited experience. I have to agree. The thing that is so special in Bora Bora has got to be the water, it is exceptionally beautiful! No where else have we ever been surrounded by so many shades of blue. My eyes have been filled with images and colours which I hope to carry with me everyday, for the rest of my life.

The view from our cockpit !

A colourful feeding frenzy

Its easy to see Amelie's bottom in the clear waters !

We feel so grateful that we were on a boat to experience Bora Bora, as we have been able to circumnavigate the island (as best we can with all the reefs surrounding it) and experience all of the best anchorages and best views. Sometimes we anchored off exotic looking resorts (one of which being the Exclusive St Regis resort, featured in the Movie ‘Couples’Retreat’)...right in front of the little over-the-water cabana’s. When we park ourselves in between these and the imposing and now famous rock formations, at first I felt a bit badly, about perhaps blocking the views from their $800/night rooms, but then, I look at it as a Amelie  provides a nice backdrop to their sun set pictures!  Well, except when I have laundry hanging on the lines !)

The view from my bathroom in the morning !

It is difficult for all of us to leave French Polynesia. Personally, I had very few expectations about it before we arrived not having done much reading about it, all I had was some general, preconceived ideas of what the various places offered visitors. Now, as we get ready to pull anchor one last time, we leave with our hearts filled to the brim with love for these very special islands, its people, culture and beauty perhaps with a little luck, we will be able to return some day.

Meg says that it is like paddling in the sky



We weren’t sure exactly when our departure date was going to be, having to be out of FP by the end of the month. The wind forecast is forcing us to leave this week (on the 28, 29th or 30th). I guess that is the part of this lifestyle, we have to go when the wind calls us, we have to say goodbye to a few cherished friends whom we  hope to catch up with later on perhaps in Tonga or even New Zealand, but if not, just like with all of our other traveling friends we have said goodbye to in the last year, we will cherish the good times we have shared and live with the certainty that our paths will cross again, some time in the future.


Meghan On Amelie (Written in August 2015)

This past month, we were lucky enough to have our three great friends, Olivia, Alexis and Sonia, stay on board with us for 2 weeks!  With them, we explored the rest of the Society Islands and I'm pretty sure they had a great time because I know that we sure had a blast!  I think I would have to say that those two weeks were my favourite days this summer vacation. Moorea: Stingray City and More Dancing

We had heard the last time we were in Moorea that there was a sandy, shallow spot called Stingray City where you could feed wild stingrays!  Unfortunately, there was a great big resort right in front of it and starting at about nine in the morning, big boats full of tourists come to feed the stingrays throughout the day and of course, being a bigger group with more sardines, the stingrays would all go to them.  Fortunately, we are very used to this kind of thing so we know ways around it.  The simplest solution is: go at 8:00 am instead of 9:00.

I guess I was so excited about the thought of feeding rays that I never really clicked that these were the kinds of rays that could sting people.  When we got there, it was my mom that was the brave one.  The moment she got in, because we were the first ones that day and the only ones there, at least six stingrays surrounded her instantly, not afraid of her at all (most probably because they get fed everyday by people)!  Thankfully, since I was the second one in, some of them stayed with my mom but no less than three also came to me.  Your heart really starts to beat when they start to shimmy up you so it is "easier" for you to put the sardine in their mouth!  The number one phrase I used in the first ten minutes when my adrenaline rush would not stop was most probably, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh" in a Miss Piggy voice!   But after those first ten minutes, you realize that as long as you don't grab them by the tail or try to strangle them, they aren't going to sting you.  For me, the coolest part was when I saw the mouth (which looked really funny and unique) open and then when they ate the sardine out of my hand, they sucked it up like a vacuum!  Yes, sometimes, they would accidentally bite your finger too but it didn't hurt and it just made the whole experience even more memorable.  So yes, even though it was a bit nerve racking at first for everyone, I think we all had an awesome time! Our guests also got to see some real Polynesian dancing.  In fact, the show was at the same hotel and the dancers were the same dancers as we saw at the Pacific Puddle Jump party (see my last blog to hear about the party)!  At the end, our friends were invited to dance too and they did actually pretty good! Huahine (pronounced hoo-ah-hee-nee)

I thought Ua Pou (wa-poo) in the Marquesas was the most unusual name of a place I had ever been to but maybe now Ua Pou and Huahine are tied!

We were very happy when we got to show our guests a less common and populated anchorage and village.  We took a nice walk through this tiny village and then on the way back, we walked along the rocks and dead coral since it was low tide.

Also, the two girls and I made a message in a bottle that we threw overboard on our way to the next island, Bora Bora.  We wrote the message in both English and French (which was a good summer French class) and we wrote: who we were, where we were from, where we threw the bottle and how the people could get in contact with us! 

I'm not sure if any of you heard the story of what happened last time I made a message in a bottle.  It was when I was nine years old and we were chartering a boat in the British Virgin Islands (northern Caribbean).  A few months after we returned home, we received an email from a french family with triplet girls living in Boston who found my bottle while they were on vacation in Puerto Rico!  They sent us a map of exactly where they found it and they took a picture of it stuck in the sand on the beach where they found it!  I didn't really realize until I was a bit older how amazingly lucky that was that they even found it so of course I am not expecting that will happen to the bottle we threw on our crossing to Bora Bora but who knows what will happen?!

Bora Bora: Bye Bye French Polynesia

Bora Bora the last place we visited in French Polynesia for both our guests and us.  It was definitely my favourite place in the Society Islands.

We got to anchor in 10 ft of water (or less) a few times in Bora Bora which was a real experience for our guests and even a rare treat for us.  Just about 50 metres off of our stern, we could just jump in the water every morning and swim with the manta rays that were right there!  Manta rays are very different from stingrays.  For one, they can't sting you (stingrays are the only types of rays with stingers).  Also, manta rays are a lot bigger than any other ray.  The biggest one we saw had about a 10 foot wing span but they can even get bigger than that! Fortunately, our guests got to spend their last day in paradise at anchor in the beautiful shallow water.  Olivia, Sonia and Alexis, if you are reading this, we want you to know that you really brought us joy and we had an awesome, awesome time with you girls! After they left, we still stayed around Bora Bora for a couple more weeks and we explored the island just a little bit more!

After re-stocked up on food and finding a good weather window, we left the island of Bora Bora and the beauty of French Polynesia.  We had been in French Polynesia for the past three months (about a month in each archipelago) and it was far better than my expectations (if you want to know more about our French Polynesian experience, read our blogs we wrote in the past three months). Since we are not European (since French Polynesia is governed by France, anybody with European passports is allowed to stay for as long as they want), we only had a three month policy and the wind was telling us to leave anyways so we are now on a miniature island called Niue but you will have to wait for a few weeks to find out about Niue and the Cook Islands.Thanks for tuning once more into "Meghan On Amelie"! 


Friday 17 July 2015

The Society Islands. Tahiti, Moorea, Huahini and Bora Bora

Friday July 17th 2015

Bora Bora

It has been a few weeks since our last posting and I'm happy to report that there's been lots of activity onboard Amelie to tell you all about!

In Tahiti, we welcomed our visiting crew: Sonia, Alexis and Olivia Lambrinoudis from Calgary. They came onboard Amelie on July 1st, (Canada Day !), bringing with them lots of goodies from home, including a brand new Canadian flag for the transom!  It was so nice to see friendships picking up right where they left off as 15 months of separation just melted away in seconds!  

Olivia and Meghan in Tahiti

On top of all the great “stuff” the girls brought with them, they also brought much laughter and good times. We appreciated their enthusiasm and willingness to try new things. It was their first time on a sailboat and during their two week visit we took them on three separate crossings (including one overnight). They embraced the whole experience; the seasickness, the heat, living with constant sticky/salty skin, and more than a few wet and wild dinghy rides! They made us a couple of special suppers and deserts too! Our two weeks together just flew by and before we knew it, we were standing on the dock in Bora Bora waving goodbye as the shuttle took them across the Bay towards the airport! We will miss them very much !  

Moorea: More Dancing and,  breakfast with the Stingrays !!!

After leaving Tahiti, our first stop was Moorea where we enjoyed sharing a great dance performance with our guests.The girls were pulled up from their seats to join in the fun and got an impromptu lesson from the dancers. The next day we set out to find “Sting Ray City”, a place just south of where we were anchored which was rumoured to have many stingrays which you could feed. At 7:00 am, armed with cameras and tins of sardines, we set out to find them. 

After a 20 minute ride, we found a mooring ball in a shallow sandy area. There was no doubt that we were at the right spot when our dinghy was surrounded by stingrays, attracted by the sound of our outboard motor, they clearly were used to this and they came hungry ! 

Meg and Olivia getting an impromptu dance lesson, Moorea

Meg tries out her new grass skirt

Beautiful dancer, Moorea

a dozen rays and a few reef sharks greet us (near Moorea)

Meg feeding the sting rays

Mark getting the sardines as an eager ray waits

Meg shares a moment with a sting ray

Three very hungry rays huddle around MC

Hello !

As you probably know, stingrays get their name from the long barb found on their tail. This barb is used in self defense and can be quite painful, as a friend of ours found out when she inadvertently stepped on  one while in the Galapagos. For this reason people generally tend to stay away from them. I knew all this when I jumped in, enthusiastically that morning. I also knew that if I kept my feet still on the ground I probably had very little to fear. After all, I came bearing gifts! What I was not ready for was that my enthusiasm to meet the rays was no match to THEIR enthusiasm for sardines!  As the rest of the crew watched from the dinghy I was surrounded by 3-4  rays,crowding all around me, sliding up my legs along my body  towards the surface of the water, it was surreal! Their pushing and shoving jolted me into teacher mode: ”One at a time, no pushing!”  I commanded, although it made no difference. In time all the rays got their share of the fish they came for. Things calmed down enough for the rest of the crew to jump in and try it too!  We all got plenty of 'up close' time with the rays, the rays allowing us to stroke their silky soft wings and the roughness between their eyes. I won’t lie; when I first felt their tails brush up against my leg (like sandpaper) as they passed by, I had a few chills, but was it ever worth it !  Just, Wow, so cool ! Blacktip sharks and remora fish were also present but dared not get in the way of the hungry rays, they just added to the incredible decor that surrounded us in the crystal clear water!

Because their mouths are situated on their underside....the best way to feed them is to hold the sardine FLAT on your hand underwater and wait for one to come up...and that’s when you feel the ‘vacuum cleaner- like suction’ as they quickly make the treat disappear.  Sometimes you had a younger/more eager ray come right up to you..and I mean RIGHT up to you, cimbig up your chest, mouths out of water, wings flapping on either side of you, in that casr, te best we found to do was to simply let gravity do the work, as we just let the sardines drop into their mouths.

Twice I got my finger caught in the rays mouth, luckily they don’t have teeth, but it was still a rigorous snap- like getting your finger caught in a drawer-and it leaves you quite surprised (as you can see from the look on my face in the picture below). All in all, it was an experience of a lifetime for everyone I think, leaving us with a thrilling adrenaline rush and the wonder one only feel after close encounters with wild animals. 

1- "There you go cutie". 2-"Ooooh, he's got my finger!"3- "It's Ok, it's ok..., finger's still there!"

Who-a-what now ?  Huahini !

We had quite a few opportunities for good snorkelling in Huahini, the next island we stopped at. We saw plenty of colourful fish inclusing many large anenomes, complete with clownfish (aka Nemo) darting in and out, twice we spotted a large octopus, out in the open, between the bombies, and some neat little pipefish (related to seahorse). We also saw a garden of underwater tikis carved in stone. No one knew for sure how the tikis got there. Some say they were thrown in the water by the missionaries who did not approve of them but more probably is that they were placed there more recently to attract tourists. Huahini, like all the islands of French Polynesia, was a beautiful, pristinely clean island with pleasant people and a good selection of cheese and pastries, but soon we had to pull anchor again a better known island, with a famous name was just beyond the horizon, beckoning us to her.

Sonia and Alexis

Meg, Sonia, Olivia and Alexis enjoy a dolphin visit

Meg, Olivia and Alexis prepare to drop a message in a bottle

Alexis, enjoying the clear waters near Bora Bora

Bora Bora: the legend, the reality

There are certain visions that come to mind when you hear the name, hues of light blues as far as the eye can see, white sand, grass roofed huts barely hovering over the surface of the water they stand in, yep, that’s sounds about right ! Bora Bora does not disappoint! In the sunlight, after our many days of rain, it really did offer us breathtaking views of an enormous-never ending-lagoon and a collection of all the blues I have ever dreamed of. Anchored in 10 feet of water, the shallowest we have ever dared to anchor in. We were alone and it really felt like we were in the world’s largest swimming pool. 

Unknowingly we had anchored very close to a great spot to swim with MANTA rays, it became obvious the next morning when we spied one tour boat after another stopping with a group of eager snorkelers, so we grabbed our gear and headed out towards them, it only took a tiny bit of convincing our guests that Manta rays were not going to crowd us like the sting rays had, and that they are harmless, even though they are HUGE (much larger than the sting or eagle rays we had seen so far). 

It has been said that swimming with Mantas really is like dancing a ballet, if you can imagine these graceful and strangely alien looking beauties as they slowly glide below you. Dark and mysterious, it was a real privilege to swim with them, again, and THIS time, we got to really watch them, at our leisure as the visibility was terrific. I found it fascinating to see them unroll their “curls” to form a gateway to their mouth below (the curls are usually rolled above their heads). They do this when they are feeding, it seems they do this in order to gently corral little fish into their large mouthes as we saw many venturing in. We loved this experience so much we got up even earlier the next morning to do it all over again, and this time, we got there before the arrival of the zillions of tour boats! 

From our arrival in Marquesas a few months ago, to the secluded Tuamotus and now the exciting Society Islands, we have truly enjoyed French Polynesia, even more than we had thought we would, it is not hard to see why some sailor stay for many seasons, our 90 day permit will expire at the end of this month and soon we will be headed towards Tonga.Until then, we are sending you big hugs from the four of us here onboard AmelieIV

Meg and Manta

Meg and Manta

Meg swims with two huge mantas (7 foot wing span)

A huge Manta Ray, Bora Bora

'Dancing' with the Mantas

Mother daughter fun

The totem at the Bloody Mary restaurant, Bora Bora

Our dinner at Bloody Mary Restaurant, Bora Bora

Bora Bora feels like the clearest of swimming pools

Crystal clear water allows us to see our anchor chain and anchor!

Clown Fish Bora Bora

Monday 6 July 2015

Meghan On Amelie-June 2015

Io Orana from Tahiti!  In the past month, we have made it to the two other archipelagos in French Polynesia: the Tuamotus and the Society Islands (this last one being where the island of Tahiti is).  We have only been here and Moorea in the Society Islands but are looking forward to seeing the rest of them in a few weeks.  But first, let’s start at the departure from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus. 

The trip over to the Tuamotus was not really that fun.  No wait, let me rephrase that: the trip over to the Tuamotus was THE worst crossing I have ever done!  We were going almost straight upwind (which is uncomfortable all by itself) and there were big waves that kept crashing over the railings (and the railings are still about seven feet above the waterline!) and caused a lot of rolling.  It’s funny how I went 20 days without seasickness at all (which I am VERY grateful for) but then I had 3 days of constant uncomfortableness!  It was the first time we couldn’t do school on a crossing.  At night, there was no chance we could bring the computer up top to watch a movie because it would get splashed and we would get too seasick by doing anything but talking anyways. In the end, it was surely worth it though!  In fact, I would have crossed a 10 day crossing like that if it meant I would get to see the Tuamotus!

Raroia (pronounced ra-roya)
Our first stop in the Tuamotus, which we had to extend our stay in because it was pretty hard to leave a place like that!  The motu (island) we were anchored in front of was completely natural and uninhabited except for a small pearl farm factory which maybe meant about five people stayed on the islands on monthly cycles. The best part was we and two of our other friends were the only boats in the anchorage for at least 3 days! There was a small town of about 100 people or less on the main motu in Raroia but from our anchorage, you could still just barely see it on the horizon. 
Raroia (taken with a GoPro camera that we attached to a kite!)
It was a wide open bay so we thought it would be a really great place to play with all our water sports.  We took out our wakeboard, our Australian friends had two optimist sailboats and our other American friends had a windsurfer.  It just so happened that the father on one of our Australian friends’ boats used to be a kids windsurfing instructor so one day, we all went to the beach and he gave us all a lesson.  I definitely don’t have the hang of it yet but for the ten seconds I was up and sailing, I found windsurfing really, really fun! 

While we were snorkeling in Raroia, we caught sight of some clams which looked like they would have some meat in them so we collected a few.  It turns out that there wasn’t just meat in those clams, there were pearls too!  Now, don’t go crazy or anything because these aren’t round and so it’s not like they’re worth $1000 or anything but they’re still quite pretty and it was super fun to make a discovery like that all on our own!

At night, it was just like being out at sea again except we weren’t moving so it was a more comfortable place to star gaze. One night, we had a little potluck among us and our friends. Both of our friends brought the fish they had caught on the crossing over from the Marquesas (wahoo and mahi mahi) and we went on shore and caught some land crabs which we mixed into a salad type meal and we all ate together then played and watched a movie under the stars. 

Makemo (pronounced ma-ka-moh)
The town in Makemo was a bit larger than the main one in Raroia but I would only say by a several hundred people.  It was actually one of the cleanest, most beautiful towns I have seen on this trip.  It is the first village I have been to where even right at the dinghy dock, the water is clear as day like a swimming pool!

Fakarava (pronounced fa-kah-ray-vah)
Little paradise resort huts near the ocean in Fakarava
Fakarava was quite a bit more crowded and more touristic than the other Tuamotus islands we had visited but still a lot of things to do and see! 

Because of the shallow reefs in the Tuamotus, we have to find a way to get into the bay without hitting the reefs.  Now that the Tuamotus are on the charts, French Polynesia has set up markers for us forming a channel (which we call passes) so we can safely enter into the bay.  We snorkeled a few of the passes in the other Tuamotus islands but the southern Fakarava pass was something very special and out of the ordinary.  

We found out that the Fakarava southern pass was actually a UNESCO Heritage Site! In fact, there was at least one film team collecting underwater footage for a new Disney Nature movie there!  There was also a charter catamaran that was filming footage for a  documentary about kite surfing and we saw a kite surfer who was probably going to be in that movie!

Actually, it was after we snorkeled and dove the pass that I found out it was a UNESCO Heritage Site.  I was also glad to hear that fishing was prohibited in that channel because we got the chance to see lots more fish and sharks that way!

I have never seen sharks like I have in the Tuamotus.  Since Galapagos, we have seen more sharks snorkeling than we had before but that still only meant at the most one shark a snorkel. In the Tuamotus, there were at least five each snorkel! They were only black tip or white tip reef sharks that were 4-6 feet so still “adrenaline rush” big but not dangerous. The Tuamotus sharks though, were extra curious about humans. You would see them in the distance and then you’d see them coming closer and closer and they would just stay close to you for about five seconds and then, they’d swim away. I’m telling you, even though some were smaller than me and I knew I’d win in a battle between them and me, my heart was pounding and I was holding my breath for those five seconds. I wasn’t really scared of them though (I actually found them really cool), I just had a few moments where I wondered if I may be under estimating their intentions! I guess it is just the knowledge that bigger sharks can and have killed people is a little bit of a scary thought. 
A black tip reef shark
When we were diving, there were so many more sharks.  I am talking about dozens and dozens of them!  Because they were just in front of us and swimming with each other not us, it was less nerve racking.  There were baby sharks swimming with their parents, pregnant sharks, big sharks, little sharks galore!  There were even silver tip sharks which have the white dorsal fin, as well as the side fins too. 

For those of you who were wondering, I will be making a video on diving and snorkeling all of that, probably as one video of all the South Pacific (or maybe I will do separate videos?) but due to sketchy internet here, I will have to post it in New Zealand most probably.  Also here are some pictures of diving and snorkeling throughout the Tuamotus:

Pacific Puddle Jump Party!
There is this organization called the Pacific Puddle Jump and it is for any boat leaving North America who is going to the South Pacific who would like any extra, helpful information.  We joined the organization and I’m glad we did because we also ended up being able to make it to this really great party they had organized just for the Pacific Puddle Jump members!

Moorea was our next stop after Fakarava and our first stop in the Society Islands and it’s where the party happened.  On the Saturday night, we had a nice dinner and then there was a special surprise at the end.  Some professional French Polynesian dancers (men and women) performed traditional French Polynesian dancing for us! 

I was very excited because I had seen some of the dances in the Marquesas and they were breath taking so I really wanted to see some more.  These dances were actually a lot better than the ones we saw in the Marquesas though.  The ones we saw in the Marquesas were vibrant but they weren’t as powerful and strong as this one. The women’s dances were always elegant and beautiful but don’t be fooled by that because they could move fast and energetically when they needed to!  Especially, their hips! I have no idea how much practice it would take to be able to move your hips that fast for so long without throwing up!  The men’s dances were spectacular too but very different from the women’s.  Their main focus of the dance was to get it out there that they were strong, powerful warriors that will cut you to pieces if you say the wrong thing!  No seriously, there were some dances with machete throwing!  The dances were incredible because it was so amazing to see that even hundreds of years later, people still do the traditional dancing of their culture and they are still so proud of it!

The next day, it was sports day!  The main sport was canoe racing where each team had a six person traditional Polynesian canoe (each canoe had two locals) with an outrigger. Plus the canoes were so prettily decorated with flowers and everything!  Team Amelie came in third out of fifth place in our heat!  Later, there was a kids canoeing race where I teamed up with the kids from two other boats made we made it fourth out of fifth place! Later that day, there were more activities like obstacle course racing and a sarong styling demonstration. All in all, it was an awesome party!

Now, we are here in Papeete (pronounced pa-pay-tay), the main city of Tahiti and we are enjoying the spoils of the city again: buses, malls, big grocery stores and all that. We also rented a car to tour the island and so here are a few glimpses of the nature part of Tahiti to end it off.  After this, we will be making our way through the Society Islands but that is next month so nana or bye bye for now!