Sunset in Bora Bora. Can't beat that as an opening entry. To our
starboard side an accordion is serenading the harbour with Irish
shanties. To the front a parrot on a South African boat is whistling his
own tune, apparently holding a conversation with Andy who has just put
down his guitar. To port, a deep orange sun is rapidly falling towards
the horizon. Dusk happens quickly near the equator.
The day has been gentle. In the morning we decided to not move somewhere
else, as we intended, but rather to spend the next couple of days
preparing ourselves and the boat for sea. The former requires rest,
laughter, and provisioning. The latter an array of odd jobs. So it was
that in the morning Andy wrote some overdue emails while I washed our
latest bag of stinking clothes, and the dishes. We had pizza for lunch,
made on a base of wholemeal chappattis originally prepared for a curry
two nights ago. In the afternoon I hitched a lift to town on a friend's
zodiac and Andy stayed behind to work on the sails,- our jib needs
patching. A couple of hours later, when I returned, he was happily
reading his book, the same cup of tea by his right elbow, where I placed
it before leaving. And so, we relax.
For the first couple of days in a place I always wonder what we're doing
there, how long we'll stay, and where we're going next. In other words,
point-seeking. Not long after, maybe two or three days in, time and
purpose start to dissolve and we return to the very pleasant, and
present, state of existence.
Today is a particularly slow day. We spent last night on a seriously
beautiful and comfortable boat called Jenny (sv-jenny.no), our hosts Jan
and Ellie. On first entry the boat feels grand, but an inviting and warm
grand, like my grandmothers Kensington flat. The things I notice?
Crystal glasses and a drinks cabinet, even on a monohull that will by
necessity keel. They work by virtue of an almost invisible shelf, half
way up each glass or bottle, with made- to- measure holes for each
article. A large and welcoming sofa with three sides and soft suede-like
blue covers that I found myself stroking all evening. A very large
square galley, the corner cupboard a fridge, so deep you have to reach
into it, and restaurant-size four burner stove, so heavy that pots stay
on it, horizontally, just through it's gimbled mount – no need for extra
brackets or hoops when the boat leans over. The bedroom has two
entrances, one for each side of the bed. Very civilised. One access
corridor to the bedroom houses a pantry and washing machine, the other a
clean and home-like toilet, complete with large shiny mirror, wooden
toilet seat, taps that gush fresh water, and space around the sink for
potions and lotions. In addition to the king size double bedroom,
galley, and spacious living room, the boat has two guest rooms, each
with two bunks and en-suite bathroom. And he made it all himself.
Jan and Ellie are Norwegian and used to both work in the oil industry.
For ten years, while their daughter was a teenager, Jan designed and
built the boat, almost all by hand and everything to a very high
standard of finish. Her hull has three layers,- wood, fibreglass, and
kevlar, so she's also incredibly strong, and has lovely lines. That
means she's nice to look at.
Of course, the occupants of a boat, especially if they are also its
designers, are what provide the essence, and we've had some great times
with this couple since arriving in Bora Bora. These include a lobster
dinner on board Jenny, an afternoon snorkeling with sting rays, and last
night: movie night. Phantom of the Opera in full surround sound, spread
out on the suede sofa, the central table ladened with more bread and
fine cheese than even I could finish. And bottles of red wine. Which
explains why today is slow.
At the other end of the spectrum, or a possible spectrum, is a boat
called Little Qwin (www.littleqwin.blogspot.com
<http://www.littleqwin.blogspot.com>), currently anchored in the same
bay as Zephyrus and Jenny, and home to Alexandrej and Angeliqa.
The boat is Swedish flagged, he is from the Ukraine, she from northern
Russia. He from the Black Sea, she from the White Sea. Living on a boat
the same size as Zephyrus (but much fuller) for the last eleven years.
Exploring the world. He first set off from the Ukraine on a bicycle but
when he reached Portugal realised he needed to sail in order to keep
exploring. She joined him in the Canary Islands. They worked there for
several years, saving some money and making the small wooden boat safe
for passage. They crossed the Atlantic and returned again to work. Then
they crossed again, worked their way up the east coast of South America
before spending several years in Panama, on both sides. Amateur
archaeologists, they discovered an ancient city. They hitchhiked up
rivers to visit native people and explore theories of past
civilisations. On the west side of Panama she worked as a Russian –
Spanish translator while he worked on the boat and sometimes took
Russian tourists on charter trips. They renovated the boat and set off
again, west, into the Pacific. They found two more cities, unknown to
current researchers, and sent videos and samples of fine spanish
porcelain to the Smithsonian in New York. They crossed to the northern
Marquesan islands in French Polynesia and once again found signs of past
civilisation thanks to notes by Thor Heyderdal (who lived there with his
wife before the first world war and many years before his more famous
Kontiki voyage on a raft from Peru).
From place to place Alex and Angeliqa hunt, gather, and create. On a
day-to-day basis they live virtually for free, she finding ways to
preserve everything that he brings home, from carrots and eggs to sheep.
One day she wanted a crocodile bag so he brought her a crocodile.
Ofcourse this meant finding the place, meeting the people, learning the
how and the where of catching and hunting, each entailing their own
She has three black pearls from Bora Bora, each with a different
history. A jeweller offered to drill holes through them for her, as a
gift, but she refused: she wants to make the objects herself. She gave
me a gift of a beautiful necklace made from the spines of a sea urchin.
She had of course collected the urchin, eaten the meat, cleaned and
prepared the needles, made the jewelry.
Andy has been helping them with some engine trouble and he returns every
time with a new story. One day every surface of the boat was covered in
corn kernels that Angeliqa had sorted, soaked, fried, and was now drying
after discovering weovils in the container. (When we found weovils in
our flour we attempted to sieve them out but finally just threw the lot
overboard and bought a new bag.) Another time she was covered in blue
paint, busy making a Kiribati flag, the back of her hand a mixing
palette. There is always work to do.
He's mad on ideas. Some that resonate with me, others that sound plain
bonkers, but the twinkle in his eye is so catching that for a moment,
just a tiny glimpse of a breath, I'll believe anything he says. Then she
gently nudges his leg or his arm, "Alexy", and tries to remind him to
come back to this world that we know. They live by Christian faith, and
their lives are proof enough that it works. Most of the boats around
here spend in a month what they haven't yet spent in six, ourselves
included, even when we're not stocking up.
Looking at video footage of them exploring jungles, living with native
tribes, discovering cities, and hunting meat, I believe again that it is
still possible to explore, and that travel has a valid purpose in
itself. That the world is not only full of mystery and beauty, but is
also an incredibly funny and weird place to be born into, and we should
There are many boats here, each with their own delights.
Fergus and Kay from County Clare, Ireland, are circumnavigating the
world in another gorgeous self-made boat, Pylades (www.pylades.net
<http://www.pylades.net>). Fergus is an architect and his eye for detail
is apparent throughout, from shape and structure to colours and
textures. Solid wood doors and central table, a comfortable and
sheltered cockpit so it's possible to watch the world all night without
getting soaked, belting out new songs and practicing poetry. The first
night that I visited them I returned to Zephyrus on a mission to dig out
the song books and serenade the stars. Like Ukrainian Alex, he's also
got a philosophy that he's capturing in a book, his ideas also
associated with religion and religions, but Fergus' from an atheistic
perspective, Alex's definitely god-driven. Both have eyes that laugh and
We have also met again with John and Jennifer from Iles de Grace
(www.sv-grace.blogspot.com ) who gave me my first opportunity to sail in
a catamaran (so horizontal!), anchor in four feet of water, and snorkel
in a surround-sound sea of fish, sparkling like multi-coloured raindrops
all around me. Climbing onto the dinghy to warm up, I wondered how it
would feel to be a fish, instantly transported into the above-water
realm, observing for the first time land, birds, and in this case a
beautiful soaring mountain.
It's true, Bora Bora has gorgeous scenery, an azure blue lagoon,
fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities, and a great climb to the
peak. We did that one a few days ago. I was asleep, then I was in a
forest, then I was scrambling up a rock face on all fours, ascending and
descending on fairly dodgy ropes, and sweating profusely. I finally woke
up and found myself on top of a mountain, rain lashing down, hungry for
the soggy cheese and tomato sandwiches in my backpack. It made me happy
and nostalgic; instantly transported to a more familiar walking
experience for me than the humidity of the tropics. The black cloud
passed as fast as it had arrived and suddenly I was on top of Bora Bora,
French Polynesia, magnificent views all around, hot sun, looking down on
tiny specks that were boats and houses, amazed that my legs had carried
me all the way up there without too many complaints. And equally amazed
that one of the smaller dots that was a boat that was way down there was
the place we call ours.
Before I ramble further, I have a correction to make to a previous post,
the one entitled 'The busiest islands in french polynesia'. The false
information wasn't deliberate, just a sign of our lack of information
sources beyond the imagination. And maybe a lack of need for facts.
A sting ray looks like a ray like you might have seen a picture of in
school, and nothing like my previous description. It has wide flappy
grey wings, a soft grey back, a long hard tail, and a flat head with
eyes very far on each side. Behind each eye is a quite large hole
through which it breathes, and under the tail is a shorter spike that is
its sting. It is not spotted, and it does not in any way look like a
penguin, a platypus, a leopard, or a squashed bell pepper. That is a
spotted eagle ray. I only discovered this while swimming amongst about
twenty of the flat grey stinging variety, whereupon I also realised that
I have been scared of entirely the wrong species.
The grey rays look benign and gentle, and act pretty nonchalantly, but
they can bite and sting, if provoked. Still, that was hard to believe
when surrounded by them in thigh-deep water. Floating ghosts. The eagle
rays somehow look more like a biting stinging thing, but apparrantly
they don't, maybe it's just that they look more three-dimensional to me,
and so more like an animal I might encounter on land, that bites or
stings. They are definitely the coolest looking creatures anyway and
always exciting to bump into on a swim.
So, I have seen sting rays, and eagle rays. And fish and fish and fish.
The coral here goes on for such distances that I can easily swim for an
hour without getting bored. And swim I have to, rather than float, as
the water has a refreshing chill to it that becomes cold after about
twenty minutes of floating (in a bikini). By all other standards, I
guess this would be called warm water!
Snorkelling is an opportunity to discover a new world. Floating in the
outer space of warm sea today, I mused if it was a bit like cannabis:
takes a few tries to get into it, but when you do, you see the world in
a whole different light. Upon further contemplation, I think underwater
life is more amazing, and unbelievable, and more refreshing. In fact,
I'm really getting into it.
I can entirely understand why this is such a popular tourist
destination. It's accessible, stunning, has opportunities for a wide
range of fun outdoor activities, beautiful sunsets, and gentle warm
evening air. Prior to arrival I was concerned about the degree of
tourist development, and upon arrival was quite shocked by the number of
yachts as well as hotels…. but neither of these need to ruin the
experience. Indeed, they are part of the experience. Which is why,
perhaps, I started this piece by talking about some of the people we've
met here. And I'm not the only one: John Glaudeman's told me that his
latest blog (www.sv-grace.blogspot.com) also focuses on the various
sailing types he's stumbled into here. The people I have met, in this
case mainly other yachties as opposed to locals, are part of what is
memorable about this place.
Tomorrow we leave French Polynesia. We will have been here for four
months, have visited six islands and their lagoons, and relaxed into the
warm and gentle pace of cruising life in the tropics. We arrived
harrassed by weather and boat, exhausted, and full of drama. We leave in
an almost dream-like, tranquil, haze. I wish I could bottle this state
of being, to dab it on in smaller measures in the future. To remember
what it feels like to have no firm plans except to reach New Zealand
safely, to plan activities on a day-by-day basis, and always arrange to
meet people either just before, at, or after, sunset.
But, it's time to go. There are definitely other paradises we could
visit here (Maupiti and Maupihaa being the most obvious) but, like Mary
Poppins, the winds are changing, our noses are wriggling, and the sails
are ready to flap. Even I am ready to sail, keen to sail even! I still
have much to learn in that department. The early experiences of this
journey are now thankfully in the rose-tinted past, and once again I
find I want to learn how to make this boat move without getting scared.
Let's hope the winds are a bit gentler with me this time around.