Saturday, 25 July 2015

Goodbye Bora Bora ! It is hard to leave ! Thanks for everything !

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 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....

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.



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.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Tahiti,Moorea,Huahini and 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!  

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 ! 

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 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....climbing up your chest, mouthes out of the water, wings flapping on either side of you...In that case the best thing we found to do was to simply let gravity do the work as we just let the sardine drop into the open mouth.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....

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 became obvious the next morning when we spied one tour boat after another stopping with a group of eager we grabbed our gear and headed out towards 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). 

From the surface you can't see their 6-8 foot wing span….but they were deep !

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 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

Sending a message in a bottle

Meg trying out her new grass skirt….

For those who are curious….left pictures ( top and botttom) show the two positions of the "curls"

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!