33 years young: Birthday bliss in Bora Bora

July 2016

“Today is my 33rd birthday, and my greatest gift is a wildly good sail with my love. We are absolutely racing between these islands!”
-Jessie, logbook, 12 July 2016

We raced across the stretch of water that separates the Taha’a and Raiatea, tickled to fly full sails in 12 knots of breeze beneath cotton candy clouds and excited to return to Bora Bora, where we planned to go ashore and celebrate my birthday. Thirty-three was my “Red Thread” birthday—my age matched her hull number—which somehow gave the birthday an extra dose of special.

I was exuberant, a dog whose head was hanging out the car window barreling down the street, my long ponytail dancing behind my cheek-to-cheek grin. I was wearing my favorite bikini and insisted on helming as if I was racing until we furled the sail to make room for my bum beside the giant “33”!We set our anchor off the town of Vaitape in 85 feet of water, our deepest anchorage since Hanga Roa at Easter Island and then the good captain plied me with fancy tropical cocktails for the remainder of the afternoon. Katya from s/v Sarita made me a tiara of wire and beads, each quadrant representing one of the four seasons, and that evening, we went ashore with the crews of s/v Sarita and s/v Prince Diamond to celebrate at Maikai restaurant.

Maikai marina anchorage waypoint: 16°30’.077S  151°45’.239W

How shallow is too shallow
The next morning, we weighed anchor and ran the watermaker as we caravanned around the northern coast of Bora Bora with the Saritas. We were bound for the southeastern corner of the lagoon and there was only one way to get there. The southeastern anchorage between Motu Piti Aau and the main island is visited by fewer boats than the other anchorages, as it requires careful navigation through poorly charted water to get there and no more than a 2-meter draft to clear the sandbars.

I stood watch in my familiar roost on the bow, sighting for coral bommies and sandbanks. Over dozens of anchorages, Neil and I have perfected hand signals to communicate water depth and to indicate shapes and contours below the surface, so little chatter was necessary as we navigated past over-water bungalows and tiptoed our way to tropical seclusion.Even clear water can be deceiving when traversing a seemingly endless plain of pristine sand. Red Thread drafts just a foot less than Sarita, a Hallberg Rassy 46, but our friends found themselves perched upon a sandbank; stuck! We dropped our anchor, leapt aboard Miss Sassy, and raced toward them, keen to see if we could be of any help. Neil donned mask ‘n snorkel and dove beneath their boat to take a closer look. Soon, a local boat with more horsepower came to their aid and pulled them off. When your boat is your house, I suspect such moments accelerate the heart to a bit quicker pace. It could have just easily been us and if our keel was any deeper!

s/v Sarita at anchor at Motu Piti Aau, surrounded by coral bommies and the most beautiful water we’ve ever seen.

Motu Piti Aau anchorage waypoint: 16°31’.896S  151°42’.356W

Paradise unrivaled
The next few days were a blur of morning snorkels, afternoon naps, and evenings of games and over-imbibing with the Saritas. Neil dove beneath the boat, pressed his feet into the sand beneath Red Thread and pressed the palms of his hands against her keel. Less than 6 feet of water separated our 15-ton boat from the seafloor. In Bora Bora you can anchor in these shallow conditions because its unique location in (quite nearly) the dead center of the southern Pacific Ocean means there’s almost no tidal change (typically less than 12 inches). I went up the bosun’s chair to snap a few photos, images of a tropical dreamscape that will be seared into my mind for the rest of my days. We snorkeled with dozens of blacktip reef sharks and scuba dove with Richard and Jude from Sarita. Some of the corals were bleached or dead, but we found pockets of magic and many, many varieties of colorful fish. Cruising life certainly has its share of stresses, even if they look different than those of land life (…stormsrepairsgrueling passages…), but our days anchored off Motu Piti Aau were devoid of worry.

We were in paradise.

One evening after board games and too much wine and whiskey, we found ourselves skinny dipping in the warm water, floating beneath a gown embroidered with a million sequins, as the bosom of the moon shone across the lagoon. In a few days’ time, the moon would be full. Bare before the heavens, giggling and laughing in the shallow lagoon, I felt as if every care I’d ever shouldered had dissolved in the saltwater. I was in every way alive and drunk with happiness.

Beautifully, beautifully free.


A teen in the tropics
My birth was not the only one to be celebrated in Bora Bora. Two cancerians completed trips around the sun in some of the most magical waters on earth. Just shy of a week after I turned 33, after a few days at Motu Piti Aau and a night’s stay off Motu Toopua, Katya from s/v Sarita officially became a teenager. Her artistic skills, full-grown wit, and taste in music all imply she was born in an entirely different decade, but she was indeed 13! Back to Bloody Mary’s we went to celebrate with their family and new friends from the sailboat s/v Enough. Geoff and Miriam have two boys a few years younger than Katya and had his parents aboard for a visit. Once again, we were spoiled for choice when it came to our meal. This time I ate buttery melt-in-your mouth parrotfish and Neil got tuna. I’m still drooling…

Motu Toopua anchorage waypoint: 16°31’.458S  151°46’.356W

A ticking clock
Between our initial days with our friends from the US and gallivanting with the Saritas after we returned from Raiatea and Taha’a, we had enjoyed more time in Bora Bora than we expected. A part of me itched to move on, to visit a lesser-known island off the beaten path, somewhere most people have never heard of. Another part of me wondered if we would ever again find a place with such spectacular water, and I longed to just stay put. In any case, we couldn’t linger even if we wanted to. Time on our 90-day French Polynesian visa—the standard issue for US citizens in French Polynesia (unless you obtain a longer one before arriving)—was rapidly dwindling. Time to gear up to leave the country…

Passage perks
Point of departure: Hurepeti Bay, Taha’a, Society Islands of French Polynesia – 07/12/16
Point of arrival: Maikai Marina anchorage, Bora Bora, Society Islands of French Polynesia – 07/12/16
Distance traveled: 24 nautical miles
Total time: 4 hours
        Engine roaring: 1.3 hours
        Sails soaring: 2.7 hours (68%)
Average speed: 6.1 knots

5 thoughts on “33 years young: Birthday bliss in Bora Bora

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