Marinas are the natural 'home' of the roving sailor. They have secure berths, water, electricity, a bar, a cappuccino, and if you are lucky, some repair facilities and an internet connection. After a while they all get to look somewhat the same. But if you look carefully around the world you'll find a small number of much more interesting 'homes' for cruising sailors.
Bora Bora Yacht Club - yachties relaxing in places meant for yachties, which are not marinas
Some of these have been created by the sailors themselves, some are the creation of land-based individuals who see an opportunity provided by offering visiting sailors a welcome. Here are a few we have come across in our travels:
'Bora Bora Yacht Club':
It's nothing but a raggdy sand-floored hut by the lagoon, and there's no such thing as members or membership fees, but you can have a mooring ball free if you buy a drink under the typical thatched roof of the seaside bar. The secret of the Bora Bora Yacht Club, however, is to find someone like Rapa, the kindly Polynesian host and excellent cook, who runs the 'Club', so that you can bypass the expensive restaurant just behind the bar. Settled here, one can explore the rest of Bora Bora.
Bora Bora, of such a famous name, is a schizophrenic sort of place for the visiting sailor. Everywhere there are hotels, but no high-rise. The brown thatched bungalows look like fungi growing from every shoreline, clones of each other. It's gentle, but contrived. The anchorages are deep, mostly too deep to anchor comfortably, but there a mooring balls in many places, many used by locals. The restaurants are brash places but the locals are the same as Polynesians everywhere – flower behind ear, seductive tattoos, slow good natured smiles. And their island is the same – stunning aqua lagoon, plenty of new coral and coloured fish, steep rainforested cliffs rising majestically from the shore. Houses are scattered along the shoreline in dense undergrowth and lush flowering bushes and fruit trees– mangoes and breadfruit, bananas and papaya, the scent of flowers and the sweet wet smell of rotting vegetation.
The main township, however, is a ramshackle affair, dusty and sandy, car wrecks abandoned, piles of rocks left over from unfinished buildings, paint peeling with a general uncared for look – such a contrast to the cliché artificial beauty of the five star resorts.
There's nothing like returning to your own small paradise at night, on your mooring at the 'Bora Bora Yacht Club'.
'Chagos Yacht Club':
There's not even a building for the Chagos Yacht Club, located in the western Indian Ocean, but this wonderful mooring place has been gathering yachties from all the oceans of the world for decades and a few have loved it so much they have stayed for years. Only yachties can reach it, so it's much sought after. Sadly the traffic in the Indian Ocean has been decimated by attacks of Somali pirates, but how long can they last, now that the combined Navies seem to be getting the upper hand? Now the British are charging a weekly fee, but it's still a heavenly and natural spot, with marvellous coral, an unlimited supply of fish, no other habitation (except the US military base of Diego Garcia not far away) for thousands of miles - a paradies of a meeting place – and ONLY for yachties.
Middle Percy Island:
Part of the Northumberland group, 70 nautical miles south-east of Mackay on Australia's east coast, it's a stunningly beautiful place of icing-sugar beaches and wooded hilltops - a Robinson Crusoe island rising from the indigo depths of the Coral Sea. Although only a day or two's sail from the southern Whitsunday islands, the 1657-hectare paradise is rarely visited except by cruising yachts and has never been exposed to tourism.
This extraordinary stopping point, has a building specifically for yachts, but there's no name for the 'yacht club.' There is even a friendly couple, the only inhabitants, who will sell you fresh fruit and vegetables. You could write a book about this small piece of tropical paradise – in fact someone has. A plot involving hermits, castaways, madness and skullduggery in the extreme is the background, but that doesn't stop it from being a delightful experience. Passing yachts have decorated the 'yacht club' with their insignias to mark their passing, making it an emotional experience for visiting yachts who can see the remarks and dates of the passing of others.
Taravana Yacht Club:
This 'yachtie only' haven is located in the Society Islands, on the idyllic tiny island of Taha'a. All you need to do is have a drink at the bar and the mooring ball they provide for the very deep water is free.
The island lies just a short hop north inside the barrier reef from the larger island of Raiatea. As you navigate your way through the sparkling South Pacific waters to reach Taha'a, the unmistakable sweet aroma of vanilla floats gently towards you on the balmy breeze. Locally known as ‘Vanilla Island’ for its magnificent vanilla plantations, this lush-green isle is charmed by rolling mountain shapes and glistening sand beaches.
The Taravana Yacht Club is merely a bar on the shore, with a restaurant attached behind. They offer the finest haute cuisine of locally caught fresh fish and seafood delicacies, but you don't need to patronise the restaurant. Its easy to see why this tranquil spot has become a favourite haunt for the visiting yachtsman.
From here you can also take the opportunity to visit the nearby black pearl farm, where you can see up close how these unique treasures are cultured from the large Black Lip Oysters and then handcrafted into exquisite pieces of jewellery. Further around the coast towards Haamene Bay you’ll find the sea turtle reserve sanctuary where you can observe these wonderful creatures within their own natural habitats.
Direction Island, Cocos Keeling:
Set in the eastern Indian Ocean, Cocos Keeling is so strategically located it has a fascinating military history, but it's most interesting story is of the Keeling family and the bizarre lifestyle, wars and coconut plantations they set up on what were uninhabited coral atolls. The workforce of Malaysians still live on the one of the islands.
The coral atoll of Direction Island, however, is uninhabited, except for the raft of yachties who visit in droves on their way across the Indian Ocean.
It has a couple of toilets, a telephone, a roof with many tables and chairs beneath, a large barbecue pit. It is also choked with waving palm trees, like a cliché holiday advertisement, sea shell beaches, wandering sandy paths curling and twisting under the thick palm tree jungle, millions of crabs, feral chickens, and amazing coral, where one can swim among the sharks with seeming impunity.
Like Middle Percy, yachties have come to love the island so much that a tradition has developed of leaving some insignia to note that your yacht was here - a piece of driftwood, a flag, a bamboo pole, anything that will last a while, emblazoned with the name of the vessel and the date of passing.