No matter how much my crew members seem to hate sailing at the start, after a while they get their sea legs and they fall in love at least in some measure. They fall in love with the turquoise water, freedom and unexpected (pleasant) surprises that await most days at sea. As we dropped the mooring ball in Tahaa, the weight of impending departure fell upon Crystal. While Kevin remained committed to catching his flight out, Crystal threatened multiple times to cancel. She only had five more days in paradise. We needed to squeeze in as much adventure as possible.
We escaped the Tahaa lagoon into a sunny, calm sea. A perfect ten knots of wind kissed my behind, and this could mean only one thing: Spinnaker Day! As Leslie tugged the giant sail out of its hiding cubby, Crystal declared the spinnaker to be her favorite sail. Colorful and free, I admit it is my most beautiful dress. My heart is warmed as Crystal requests that Leslie show her how to set the sail. Leslie walks Crystal through the process, shows her how to tie a bowline, and lets Crystal hoist the halyard. As Leslie lifts the sock, Crystal trims the guy line. I pick up speed to seven knots. I fly over the flat water with Grin trailing behind me, surfing across my wake. No one is sea sick, everyone is smiling. Our best day of sailing yet!
When Bora Bora comes into view, we scoot through easy but somewhat narrow pass in the reef and motor around shallow spots until we reach the anchorage recommended for excellent snorkeling. As the sun sets, my crew jumps in the water and swims over to the reef. I can see crystal clear water, colorful fish and healthy coral a safe stone’s throw away. I hover over perfect white sand.
The next morning, more snorkeling. When my crew returns, they are giddy with excitement. A local dive guide introduced them to a moray eel named Princess who likes to be fed tuna and be pet by snorkelers. Each of my crew pet her, and each reported back that she was a very fat and happy eel.
I sit and watch the view go by while my crew heads off to explore town. Maitais at the world famous Bloody Mary’s. Jimmy Buffett played there!
The next morning, a man in a yellow boat picks the crew up from my deck. One by one, my wet-suit clad crew hop onto this other boat with fins, masks and snorkels in hand. Scuba tanks are nestled into wracks here and there. I snooze in the warm sunshine and calm breeze, hoping upon hope that Crystal will finally see the manta rays she has been looking for this entire trip. This is probably her last shot.
Hours later, they return with huge grins of success. MANTAS. Amazing, beautiful, silent mantas. They materialize out of the low visibility like a wizard moving through fog. They hover over the top of divers, slowly turning on their axis like giant UFOs, then receding into the distance again. I love mantas. Everyone was on a manta high for the rest of the day. Kevin even made "manta" crackers and cheese.
Check out the ramora fish taking a ride on the belly of this manta!
We pick up anchor and head toward town to allow Crystal to explore souvenir shops, talk to the Gendarmerie regarding crew checkout, and to grab a cheeseburger in paradise. As the sun went down, I could see my crew sitting inside the yacht club eating cheeseburgers without me. Can you see me waiting patiently behind the first boat hoping they will bring leftovers?
We hear tale of being able to snorkel above the mantas if we head to the other side of the island. We motor out to sea for a few minutes to take care of my “unmentionables.” (Thank you, Captain Andrew.) We are greeted by dolphins on the way out and in. “Hello Friends!” I call as they jump and swim in my bow wake. I love those little guys. Crystal grabs her camera, and as usual they scurry off. Dolphins are just so photo shy.
Captain Andrew climbs up my mast steps and spots coral heads from as high as he dares. Leslie at the helm, I weave and dodge through coral maze and sandy shallows. I can sense the sand just four feet below my keel in places. It is all soft and white, so I'm not too worried, but the sensation of close proximity tickles. We successfully reach our first anchorage, 90 degrees out from the manta spot and nestled over pristine white sand. Across the way, the water changes its hue of blue in even stripes. The huts of the St. Regis are just to our left and I blush at the notion of being part of their $1000/night view. I feel pretty, oh so pretty….
My crew hops into Grin for another evening snorkel where they find giant blue lipped clams, beautiful coral and more and more colorful fish.
Mantas usually arrive at their cleaning stations around 9:00 a.m. But, before my crew can leave, they always have a long list of duties to complete: (1) Check the internet does it work? No. Ok. (2) Make a full breakfast. Crystal is in charge today and we are having her specialty, huevos rancheros without the tortillas. (3) Wash dishes. (4) Gather up wetsuits, booties, fins, snorkels, and masks. Put soap in the masks (to keep the fog away), find the right swimsuit...no a different swimsuit..., fill up water bottles, find the sunblock, put on the sunblock, the girls have to braid their hair, someone has lost their sunglasses. At approximately 8:40 a.m., Andrew climbs into Grin and starts Kitty. He sits and waits, silently, sitting next to me staring off at the view. At 9:10 a.m., Leslie and Crystal climb in while Kevin unties the rope. Wait a second...someone has forgotten their Go Pro SD Card. Did anyone lock the hatches? Leslie climbs out and goes below again to find the SD Card and lock the hatches. She climbs in again. It's like this every day. Sometimes they have to pack lunch snacks, too, and that adds an even higher level of scurrying around.
Finally, it seems they are ready to go at 9:30 a.m. Kitty putters off. I watch them in the distance. Jonas the Swede is already in the water, and luckily he has spotted the mantas for them. Everyone is getting better and better at free diving, and they all loved diving down and swimming just above the mantas. This is the perfect way to view their beautiful swirl of white and black on their backs. I’m a little jealous, but I am a sailboat not a submarine. So, I prefer to remain at the surface.
After snorkeling, we pick up and move further to our next anchorage. This is Crystal and Kevin’s last night on board. So, to cap off their trip, the crew makes their way into shore again to attend a Tahitian hip dancing show. I think it was this tiny gecko who suckered them into a buffet, but it’s all good. I could hear the drumming from the anchorage, and I was sure they were having a good time. Turns out, Crystal and Leslie were invited to participate. They cannot shake their hips anything like Tahitian ladies, to be sure.
The next morning, Crystal and Kevin needed to squeeze in one last experience - a swim sans coulots (or "without pants" as English speakers may say). I look down into the water and find both of them mooning me as they dove below the surface. Two naked butts, looking just like buoy markers from my angle. Honestly. We say sad goodbyes, and Grin sat just a little lower in the water as he delivered them to the airport. We keep finding little gifts Crystal and Kevin left behind. Specifically, Crystal made their "moon photo" Leslie’s desktop cover photo, and she taped a giant wad of her hair to a thank you note commemorating all the hair-tumbleweeds she has left for Andrew to clean up. Jonas the Swede misses them already.
The next day, we check out with the Gendarmerie and anchor near the pass for a quick exit. Andrew, Leslie and Jonas snorkel with stingrays then enjoy pizza aboard little Alma. The sky treats us to a beautiful rainbow and a cloud filled sunset. Bora Bora was as beautiful as promised, and a perfect end to a fantastic three months in French Polynesia. "Na Na, French Polynesia! Maruuru, Roa!"