Friday, August 17, 2007

Motoring to Bora Bora

There’s zero wind. We left early this morning after grabbing some free water. Getting the anchor back on deck was a piece of work. It was extremely difficult for the windlass to hoist it off the bottom and since the visibility is so clear I could see the giant coral head as I was lifting it from the depths. The boat that was anchored next to us came over to take pictures and help to free it from our anchor. I now have more respect for what that windlass can lift.

Bora Bora will be our last stop before leaving French Polynesia. Too bad – we really love it here and I’m now perfectly fluent in French. Well, it was true about the love we have for this part of Polynesia, but I can’t speak more than 3 words of French after 3 months.

Huahine was one of my favorite islands. It’s a surfer’s paradise and all our friends were there. We spent the evenings going from dinner party to cocktail party and the days snorkeling, surfing, and diving. There was of course the odd job that had to be completed. I had my rematch with the dinghy – she won again. She still leaks both air and water and I hate her more than anyone can hate an inanimate object. Then I cleared the obstruction from my bilge hose by using my dive tank as a pressure blaster. I was quite pleased with that magic trick. So much for work.

We took an archeological tour of Huahine. Apparently it rivals Easter Island for archeological significance and ruins in Polynesia. We saw many of them with our transplanted American guide Paul. He was extremely knowledgeable in multiple disciplines and gave us a wonderfully comprehensive narration of the culture, history and structures we visited. Then we ate hamburgers and French fries.

The last few islands were almost where the trip ended. On Moorea we got caught in a nasty night of 25+ knot winds while in a tiny anchorage with razor sharp coral closely surrounding Barraveigh. The wind clocked around and fortunately the anchor chain wrapped around a coral head and stuck fast. We didn’t drag and it was the wrap around the coral that saved us, because the wind shift had dislodged the anchor. I could see it laying upright on the bottom and the reef only 1 boat length away just gnashing it’s teeth. That was close and nothing but pure luck. Its amazing Barraveigh isn’t flotsam right now.

Even closer was the judgment error I made while surfing the pass near Fare on the island of Huahine. I looked down the lip of the big roller as it dumped on the shallow water beneath it, pulled back and let it roll under me. “I’ll catch the next one.” I should have, but I didn’t, and the next thing I knew I was too far inside and the waves were now breaking. I was between the reef and the wall of crashing water. “This is bad. This is not going to end well. Stay calm.” 1 minute later I was standing on the reef waiting for the next roller to break in front of me. I focused on not being thrown over or getting rolled, and when I did I protected my head at all costs. I smashed my knee into some coral. That brought searing pain that made my mind focus more than ever. “Ok, get back on the board and paddle paddle paddle. I need to make some distance before the next one comes.” I was talking myself through it, but in the back of my mind I didn’t think I had a chance. Usually these reef accidents aren’t so serious and I’m mostly concerned with my board not being damaged, but this situation developed so quickly that suddenly I was in a horribly dangerous predicament and the waves were substantially larger than my previous errors. I never thought of the board. I figured if I was lucky, I’d get away with being torn up real bad and hospitalized. I just didn’t want to be broken and drowned. If I could just stay conscious and not get my head smashed I might have a chance. Every crashing wave thrashed me on the reef like a rag doll and every lull gave me a chance to paddle north a few more yards. “There. That was the end of the set. Now go go go!” I tore into the water as hard as I could to get as much distance from me and the killing zone as possible. Once I felt safe, I took a few more paddles just to make sure I was again in the deep water of the pass. I knew I was going to live. Chris and Fielding from Barefeet had watched my struggle and were waiting in their dinghy to make sure I was safe. They hoisted me in and drove me to Barraveigh. My feet were chewed up and I had a bruise on my knee that would make me limp for the next couple days but I got off easy. And the board? Not a scratch.

I met an English sailor named Tom back in Panama, and we ran into each other again in the Galapagos. His boat was named Magic Roundabout. He was 22 years old and having the time of his life. He drowned 2 weeks ago. They found his body beneath his boat. Apparently he was spear fishing. It can happen to anyone. That, and the couple near misses I’ve had have sobered me up lately. I’m moving the needle on the meter to “very safe” and keeping it there. Sometimes it’s good to be scared.

You folks make sure you stay on the planet so we can meet again.


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