Twenty years ago, we did our first Share The Sail in the Sous le Vent area of French Polynesia. That trip included the islands of Raiatea, Taha’a, Huhini and Bora Bora – AKA paradise! So, when we decided to do our re-birth, what better area than that? Working with our old friend Scott Farquharson from Proteus Charters, we soon had seven boats reserved. Kewl!
We announced the event and were kinda surprised at the response. In just a couple weeks we had almost 90 people signed up. Quick calculations told us we were gonna need more boats. After a lot of negotiating we ended up getting a total of nine boats, all large catamarans.
Now, as many of you may know, getting to paradise is never an easy thing. With the airline price increases, the transportation had doubled in cost; but, everyone managed to get it arranged, and on the 28th of June, 89 people started arriving in Raiatea.
Olivier was the temporary manager at the Dream Yacht Charters base and was very helpful. But you can imagine trying to get the nine skippers and 89 people onto nine boats, as well as provisioning and making sure everyone had snorkel gear. Then there was the chart briefing. The chart briefing was fun. It was supposed to be just the skippers, but we ended up with about 75 people jammed in for the briefing.
That said, by about 2:30 p.m. the boats started to leave the docks and head out into the jade green waters of the lagoon that surrounds Raiatea and Taha’a. We spent our first night anchored behind the reef next to the pass we would use the next day to head over to the island of Huahini. We had one local skipper we had hired, as we didn’t have enough staff for all the boats. (Hey, we are a small company, remember…lol.)
The boats headed over to an anchorage next to the pass we would be leaving from the next day. The anchorage was calm, located just inside the reef, and the water was a warm 85° F. After a quick swim, we dined on cheeseburgers in paradise and had an early evening as people tried to catch up on the sleep lost in getting to Tahiti.
The sail (I use the term loosely!) from Taha’a to Huahini is about 22 miles. In the morning, the winds were light and variable as we headed out the pass. The boats left on their own time. The first left about 7:30 a.m. while the Bob Boat had a leisurely breakfast, downed a quart or two of surprisingly good coffee, and took a morning swim.
Leaving the pass, we hoisted the main and started motoring across the 22-mile gap. Surprisingly the wind did start to pick up, but only hit about 8-10 knots. We angled off to the north and hauled out the jib. We were able to make about 6-7 knots; the course was 90° off, but it felt so good to sail we just let her run for about an hour.
After we got on the right course and started motor-sailing directly to the pass we noticed the seas were huge, like over 25 feet, BUT they were almost 30 seconds apart. We barely felt them. As we approached the island reef we saw they were breaking large on the reef.
Huahini has to be one of the best places on earth for a boat, or should I say best places at sea? In any case, it is a beautiful island. As we cautiously motored around the inner reef we saw that most of our fleet was already in and anchored.
The crew on the Bob Boat split up, with the majority going ashore to take a tour of the island, while Jody and I jumped into the dingy and headed over to the Zuzana Boat. After a few minutes we headed across the entrance channel over to the Jessie Boat.
The crew on the Jessie Boat, soon nicknamed the “Babe Boat,” had Jessie, Katie, and Tabitha (my granddaughter) and her boyfriend Chris, as well as Brian and Stephanie from St. Augustine, and David & Teresa Conlon.
Why did we call it the Babe Boat, you ask? Well, when you see the photo taken on the bow, you will have your answer.
Somehow three to four hours passed, along with about a half-dozen cold beers (each). Just before sunset we were joined by the crew of the Eric Stone Boat and the Lisa & Darren Boat. We gathered on the foredeck for a photo of the group, and soon we were all heading back to our own boats for dinner and to enjoy a beautiful tropical evening at anchor in a very calm and protected lagoon.
The next day, the crossing to Huahini was about 25 miles. There was not a lot of wind, and, of course, it was on the nose. We cheated a bit by heading a little north, so we could sail for a couple more hours, and then turned and motored into the pass.
Some of the people decided to take a tour while others swam and snorkeled. Then then there were those who spent the day visiting other boats and swapping stories. With nine boats there is always plenty of variety and options for hangout areas. However, the most popular place seemed to be the Huahini Yacht Club.
The next day we had an adventuresome motor up the narrow and sometimes challenging inner reef. About halfway up to Motu Mahara, we anchored off the island and swam or dinghied ashore.
Once ashore a very nice local named Ziggy welcomed us, and soon was leading the ladies on a “Jody Walk.” Jody is notorious for long walks. He had the ladies climbing a lava-rock wall barefoot, and they all loved it. The beach was beautiful, and the snorkeling was great. We spent an hour or so on the beach, then made our way back to the boats and headed further up-island to a sleepy lagoon, where the Hotel Mahana Huahini was busy arranging for our Tahitian barbeque and Polynesian dance show.
The evening was magical for all who attended. Eighty-six people arrived after anchoring in the picture-perfect lagoon. The food was beyond compare, and the show was excellent, with local dancers showing us the dances that have been a part of their society for hundreds of years.
The Mahana was the perfect location for this event. The meal was so far above what we expected as to be almost ludicrous. There were so many Polynesian specialties you couldn’t fit them on the plate. The tropical drinks were plentiful. After dinner they brought out a group of local Polynesian dancers to entertain us. The dancers were great; the sounds of the Polynesian drums filled the building and wafted out over the lagoon to those who were anchored out.
The next day we wound our way out of the tight channel to the opening and made our way about 22 miles to the Island of Taha’a. Taha’a sits just north of Raiatea and is one of the least visited but most beautiful islands in the group. It is the only island that you can circumnavigate without ever leaving the lagoon. We carefully negotiated our way around the island avoiding the numerous reefs and settled on a pristine anchorage where the water was such a bright aqua that just looking at it made it hard to focus on anchoring.
That afternoon and evening, people visited between boats, swam, snorkeled, and enjoyed the warm clear waters. On the Bob Boat we dined on fresh sashimi, sushi, and seared tuna steaks. We had a great mix of people from all over the US and Canada who spent the evening under the stars and getting to know each other.
The next morning some boats left early for the crossing to the magical island of Bora Bora. We spent the whole evening overlooking the island just 23 miles away, and watched the sun set behind one of the most treasured islands in the world.
In the morning the boats gathered and started on the crossing to Bora Bora. Now, I gotta tell ya, leaving the western pass out of Taha’a is a true religious experience. Without a visible landmark you get to negotiate between a green and a red buoy. (And in Tahiti, it’s “Red Wrong Returning,” or “Green Right Returning”.) Once you pass between the buoys, you then get to guess the correct direction to miss the 13- to 15-foot breaking seas on both sides of you.
Okay, there are those who have done this who will say, “What an idiot, there are bearing markers on the island you can line up.” To these doubters I should add, we left during a squall and couldn’t see over 100 feet. Add to that 10- to 12-foot rollers were pushing us out the pass, and you will get a small idea of the true fun we were having. But, somehow, all nine boats made it, and we were soon in a 20-mile washing machine with some of the most mixed up seas and little to no wind. What fun!
It was rocky and rolly as we motored with our mainsail up to try and level the boat. But, being a catamaran, the motion was kinda fun, rocking side-to-side while rocking forward-and-aft. Still, we all managed to make it through the channel without puking, and we were soon anchored in a beautiful lagoon. Here, the crew of the Bob Boat dove in and swam to where one of the hotels was doing a shark feed, and we were surrounded with sharks and rays. It was a great afternoon.
In the morning we motored around the small island and over to where Bloody Mary’s is located. After a quick trip to the town docks to re-provision (gotta get more rum!), we headed over to Bloody Mary’s to tie up at their dock, so we wouldn’t have to stumble too far after the party. We have been going to Bloody Mary’s for almost 25 years now, and it is our favorite place on the islands. They have four moorings for guests, so we had to split up, with some cruiser at anchor and others on the moorings.
The night was magical. The weather was perfect. And the people at Bloody Mary’s bent over backwards to make this one grand event. At 5:30 p.m., the bar was invaded by 86 of us. At 6:00 p.m., the music starring Eric Stone started. The drinks were good, and the food was great. It was buffet style, with more food than anyone could eat (even me!).
Many of the people in our group were in Tahiti for the first time, and this was their first time seeing the Southern Cross constellation. So, when Eric started to play “Southern Cross,” the sand dance floor was packed with barefoot cruisers in their finest aloha shirts and tropical dresses.
Twenty-five years ago, Jody and I sailed in and met Craig, who runs Bloody Mary’s. This is the fourth time we have brought a group in for a party there. But this year, we were surprised to meet the original owner, who started Bloody Mary’s 43 years ago.
There are no words to describe how great this party was. We had the perfect weather, the perfect group of cruisers, and Eric Stone Live filling the large palapa-style restaurant with tropical sounds.
There were at least a dozen after-parties going late into the night aboard the various boats of the fleet. Midnight skinny dipping was involved, but as we all know, what happens in Bora Bora never happened.
In the morning the four boats that were on the seven-day Share The Sail headed back to Taha’a and Raiatea, while the remaining boats, on the ten-day event, did a little shopping in town. We then headed around to the pass and the backside of Bora Bora. One couple on the Bob Boat had reservations at the Four Seasons Hotel on the reef off Bora Bora, so we decided this would be a good place to anchor and spend the night. If it’s good enough for the Four Seasons, I guess we could hang awhile, right?
That night, being the Fourth of July, the barbeques were all busy turning out burgers and hot dogs. The night was as beautiful as it could get, with little-to-no clouds and millions of stars overhead, including the Southern Cross. We all got a kick out of Jeff and Debbie’s kids, who kept texting photos from the Boston fireworks.
Early the next day the crew loaded into the dinghy and headed across the reef to the dive spot where giant bat rays were known to hang out. They were huge, some as big as ten feet across.
A little later we headed over the shallows and up to the last anchorage in Bora Bora for some swimming, snorkeling, and diving. We pulled into the most beautiful clear water we had seen this trip. It was only about six feet deep, but a few yards away you could stand in four feet of crystal clear water.
While there, the originator of the Spectra Water Maker system, XXXX, kayaked over to say hi. He’d sold the company to Katadyne a couple years earlier and was now cruising on their custom trimaran (is this the company’s trimaran or the dude’s?). They were anchored less than 50 feet behind us. How’s that for a small world?
The crews of the Outpost fleet all loaded into dinghies to motor around to the outside of the reef for some more snorkeling, and to see the eagle rays. Meanwhile, Dorothy and I stayed aboard and had bat rays and huge fishes surrounding the boat while we fed them bread. It was a truly magical spot. As a matter of fact, the snorkeling at the backside of the reef was the best anyone had ever seen, and there were a lot of experienced cruisers who have dove all over the world, and they all agreed: This had to be the most beautiful anchorage and snorkeling anywhere. Period!
In the morning, it was time to head to see more of paradise. We motored around to the Bora Bora Yacht Club to spend the night there. We reserved a table on the dock at the club and dinghied in for a good meal… or so we thought.
For some reason, which we still have not figured out, the normal meal time we expected, about an hour, quadrupled. After watching a great sunset, we were pretty much ignored all evening. As cruising is a vocation that takes patience, we were pretty much okay with it all, but we did notice that table after table would come in, get served, finish, and leave while we waited.
The next day we sailed (motored actually) out the pass, and made our way back to the island of Taha’a. We found a decent anchorage near the Coral Gardens, which Captain Zuzana said was some of the best snorkeling she’d seen, and soon her point was proven. It was truly beautiful.
That night was Debbie’s birthday on our boat. We’d known about it before leaving the states, so Jody packed candles and paper plates with a birthday theme and brought them with us. In town she bought one vanilla and one chocolate pound cake, and while no one was looking she piled one on top of the other, with a layer of Nutella between them, and then frosted them with chocolate frosting. That night we toasted Debbie’s birthday in style. Once again, a magical evening.
The snorkeling was so good that when we awoke the next day we decided to go out again before we pulled up anchor. Next, we planned to sail out the pass, and south the an(??) inlet on Raiatea, where there was to be a dance competition in a small village on the western coast.
We decided to use the inside passage and, using just our gennaker, sailed between reefs following the red buoys on the island side and staying inside the green buoys to the outside. There were some passes that were pretty narrow, but that made it all the more exciting. It took less than an hour to make the four miles from where we anchored off Taha’a to the anchorage on the west side of Raiatea.
As we approached the anchorage we saw the Jeff Boat and the Tom Boat on moorings and slid into a mooring nearby. As the sun set, the drums started and the bay was filled with the sounds of Polynesian drums. It was surreal.
By nightfall there were four boats moored, and the crews went ashore to see the “dance-off” for the island of Raiatea. Each island had a dance-off to choose the best dancers from that island. Then the winners from each island move on to find the best from each island group like the Society Islands, Tuamotu’s, Marquesas, etc. The winner of this contest will move on to the world championships in San Diego, California!
Sitting under the stars aboard our catamaran, hearing the drums, and looking up at the Southern Cross was about as good as it could get!
But all good things must come to an end (why is that?), and in the morning we all headed out to return the boats on the northern coast of Raiatea. Fueling and unloading took only an hour or so, and soon everyone was heading in multiple directions. Some were staying a few days in Raiatea, some (like me and Jody) had to get back ASAP so we could get this issue put to bed, and others flew to Moorea, Papeete or back to Bora Bora to extend their time in the area.
It was hard to say goodbye. Many of the people from this event have participated before in our Share the Sails – we even had people who were at our very first one, twenty years ago, right here in the most beautiful cruising area on earth, the Society Islands of French Polynesia.
Our next event is in the British Virgin Islands. Join us, won’t you?