We began our latest Adventure very much in the literal calm before the storm. The forecast called for the most impressive conditions I’ve seen since sailing to Cape Horn in 2005. The ground swell was to top out at 5 and a half meters, the winds at 30 knots for most of a week. And for once the forecast was spot on. To be honest it was even a bit scary. Most boats would simply hunker down and wait it out, but we had guests coming who wanted to kite- we were going to not only be moving around in this stuff, but seeking it out! The locals said Polynesia hasn’t seen anything like it in recent history, but I couldn’t pin anyone down on how “recent” they were talking about. 20 years? More?
But back to the present. Our guests consisted of 4 repeats, owners Scott and Nashara, and their good friends Matt and Jenna who were with us for the first trip we operated in the Caribbean last year, and newbies Nate and Leslie; Hood River locals. The gang showed up bright and early on a beautiful sunny Saturday in Huahine, with no sign of the impending blow but some very odd and therefore active high level cirrus that was as easy to read as a Dr. Seuss book. This baby was going to scream.
Our chefs had a mouthwatering breakfast waiting at Discovery, then we motored around to the east side of the island hoping to spot some Humpback whales at play. They appeared, almost on cue just around from the airport. I heard a few “holy shits” and had to concur- they are certainly impressive. The gang spent the day recovering from jet lag in the lagoon we paraglided over on the trip before, but unfortunately it was too light to fly. The next morning, anticipating the strong winds to come we headed across to Tahaa, where I hoped the pass we’d had such luck on before would hold the swell on the way. There are only a few breaks in Polynesia that can hold the kind of swell that would arrive, namely Teahupoo and it was likely everything would be too big to even attempt. Just inside the pass at Tahaa on the east side is a perfect flat water spot the locals ride, so we anchored for lunch and let Nate, Scott and Matt get their first taste of kiting. The girls enjoyed a walk around a nearby island, then we headed off downwind with the kiters on our heels to the Tavaruna yacht club. Just at sunset the first squall arrived, notching the winds up to 25 knots. It would hardly fall below that for the next 7 days.
This being a “couples” trip the focus was not on kiting, which actually worked out the next few days as everything on the outside was total chaos. The pass where I got the best waves of my life last week was now a maelstrom of 20 foot waves smashing around in all directions. It was nearly impossible to kite, and totally impossible to photograph. Scott did somehow manage to rope in a couple monsters before wiping out and ejecting from his kite which quickly got eaten by the reef. So ensued a couple hours of rescues- first Scott, then his kite, then Matt, then his kite. Two kites destroyed, but no one hurt and a high-adrenaline day. The beers at the yacht club tasted awfully good that night.
Pro rider Clarissa Hempel joined us that night for three days in hopes we’d find something we could ride without getting killed. We tried the break again the next day, but now it was completely out of control. Just kiting out of the pass was a crazy roller-coaster ride where you’d practically lose the air in your kite down in the troughs, and it was blowing nearly 30 knots. We opted to let the reef get blasted on its own the next day and went for a flat water session the next. Everyone got some quality time on the water, Lars popped a nice trevally for dinner, the girls did the beach gig, the guys went fishing, Nashara bought some more pearls. Her collection now rivals a pearl distributor here- I think she’s thinking about opening a shop!
With the wind and swell still pumping, but at least easing a bit we headed downwind for Bora-Bora, high on everyone’s list to see. Almost mystical, Bora is what everyone thinks of when they picture the South Pacific. Even from a distance it is remarkable. It’s a small island whose centerpiece, a towering green buttress that explodes into the clouds on a direct angle with God, or the heavens, or the stars- you get my drift, it’s straight up; seems to dominate every view. She’s surrounded by an impressive turquoise lagoon which is then surrounded by one fantastically expensive bungalow resort after another. But somehow while Bora is clearly a honeymoon heaven for those with money to spare it still feels like Polynesia. Laid back and friendly. The winds were perfect for kiting on arrival, a wave on the outer reef probably one that solid wave kiters have only pictured in their dreams. As we entered the pass in the midst of another squall two humpback whales surfaced right in front of the boat. This to me would be something more exciting and worth watching than say organizing your day around shopping, but that’s what makes us all so interesting. Who am I to judge?
The remainder of our trip was spent doing a little bit of everything. We teamed up for a short stint with local kiter Moehau Goold and his friends at a fantastic flat water spot. We did some snorkeling; Jody and Clarissa went off on their own to do some kiting and shooting; spent 6 hours fishing offshore with Discovery in what I would class as “uncomfortable” seas in which we lost a lot more lures than we gained fish, but Matt landed a nice yellow fin that made it at least worthwhile. All the while Lars and Hannah fed us one mouth-watering meal after another, and even Nate who long ago swore off seafood became a seafood junky by the end of the trip. Rather than pounding against wind and swell everyone but Lars and I smartly decided to fly back to Tahaa on the final day. The dirty jobs, as usual go to the crew. On arrival in Raiatea we prepped Discovery to be hauled out for a quick bottom-paint job. Over the next few days Discovery and I got some alone time- a rare occasion. We replaced both seals on the sail drives; pulled cleaned and re-zinced the props; scrubbed, sanded and painted the hull; waxed all the above-water-line surfaces; changed the fuel and oil filters on both main engines and genset; and a number of other projects to keep us humming along smoothly. By Friday we were back in the water with a new solar panel arch built and installed (the old one was too flimsy) and my wallet was thinner by a large margin. I escaped back to Huahine (15 minute flight) for a short break before we ramp up with the annual Best trip on Monday. We have just over three weeks left in French Polynesia after arriving some 5 months ago. As always, new adventures on the horizon with some very exciting stops, but I’ll be sad to leave this area. She’s treated us well.