Tracey Messinger - Around Bora Bora

Clockwise circumnavigation of Bora Bora island

23.3 km (14.5 miles)

9 hours, 42 minutes on 14 October 2019

Observed and documented by Seti Afoa

First documented swim around Bora Bora

Contents

Swimmer

  • Name: Tracey Messinger
  • Gender: female
  • Age on swim date: 49
  • Nationality: New Zealand
  • Resides: Whangarei

Support Personnel

  • Tinorua Samuel - pilot
  • Richard Messinger - swim captain
  • Leana Gallo-Morice - 2nd observer
  • Seti Afoa - observer, kayaker

Escort Vessel: private leisure craft (Sofitel private island, Bora Bora)


Swim Parameters

  • Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
  • Equipment used: Swim cap, goggles, swim ears, swimsuit (above knee)

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: Bora Bora Lagoon, South Pacific Ocean
  • Route Type: circumnavigation
  • Start & Finish Location: Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island (Pitiuu Uta) (-16.539033, -151.728161)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 23.3 km (14.5 miles)

Swim Data

  • Start: 14 October 2019, 06:19 (Pacific/Tahiti, UTC-10).
  • Finish: 14 October 2019, 16:02
  • Elapsed: 9 hours, 42 minutes, 50 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (C) 28 29
Air Temp (C) 22 24

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 10 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Speed Plot

Nutrition: Every 30 min: Hi-5 gels, coke, water, electrolytes, eskimos


Observer Log

Download PDF


Narrative

by Tracey Messinger

July 27th 2016, My husband and I celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary on Bora Bora. Snorkelling with Sharks and Stingray in the morning followed by a jetski tour around the island in the afternoon. It was best day of my life and around the time of this photograph I decided Bora Bora would be an amazing place to swim around.

At that time I had been ocean swimming for 4 years, my furthest swim being 4.6km in Auckland Harbour (NZ). From this point almost imperceptibly, events took a course that moved me into the domain of marathon swimming. An invite in April 2017 to join a relay team for a 20km charity swim (yeah sure it’s only 5km) turned into a trio of us swimming 12.5km into a 20knot gusting 40knot head wind and a 2 metre swell (none of us could face sitting on the boat). The field had to be stopped after 4 1/2hrs at 12.5 km, however, I had certainly received a good baptism into the world of marathon swimming.

  • July 2017 1st Marathon swim 10km Pacific Open Water Challenge - Samoa
  • May 2018 Scilly Swim Challenge – UK
  • April 2019 Chopper Swim Challenge Auckland 20km – Solo

That is the brief history of my marathon swimming experience prior to flying to Tahiti. Seti Afoa of Samoa Events this year added a Tahiti Tour to his event schedule. The tour included an opportunity to swim from Tahiti Nui – Moorea (21.2km) this was to be my final training swim prior to Bora Bora. A group of 4 swimmers including myself then headed to Bora Bora to test the water for a future potential circumnavigation event to be added to the Tahiti series.

Risk Assessment – Planned and Lessons Learned

My main concern for the swim was the possibility of a shark encounter. Having previously snorkeled with blacktip reef sharks and lemon sharks in Bora Bora I knew they shouldn’t be a threat but I wanted to be prepared for an encounter. Whilst staying on Moorea we went on a shark snorkeling tour and I moved away from the group to get comfortable with being with black tips by myself. In the event as I swam along my first big drop off on the south west of the island I was greeted by the amazing sight of 4 majestic mantra ray. Roughly 15 minutes later movement at 1’oclock approximately 10 metres away caught my eye I paused mid stroke and, in a flash, a large black tip 1.4 -1.5 m advanced faced up to me 2.5 – 3 metres away took a sharp left turn and swam away. Heart rate elevated I shouted to Seti on the kayak ‘Large Black Tip’ and said to my self: “stay calm and just keep swimming”. My final wildlife encounter (other than the thousands of fishes) was a turtle swimming along the drop off on the western most point opposite the pass.

Having ‘hooned’ around Bora Bora on a Jetski back in 2016 I was also very aware that boat and jetski traffic would be a bigger risk to swimmer safety. This concern was echoed by the boat crews who supported the Bora Bora swims. They stated that it is never publicised but there has been significant incidence of swimmer injury and even death because of boat and jetski traffic. Their sentiment was that tourists were almost considered to be disposable assets in this regard. (You have been warned). To this end the pilots that supported my swim and a tandem attempt on Saturday 12th October did everything in their control to place their boats between the swimmer and any boat traffic when the need arose.

Coral Reefs: A kayak escort is essential for navigating the coral reef system on the North East coast and for swimmer visibility when away from the boat. The tidal variance from high to low tide is only 300mm and from just above the water the kayaker is more able to pick a safe route through the reef than the swimmer. Brushing up on sculling technique to keep hands elbows and feet away from the coral is highly recommended. We also followed the boat lane around Matira Point as it proved too shallow to take any shortcut across.

Preparation

I coach myself and for 20 weeks prior to the Tahiti trip I followed my own adaption of The Swim Smooth Rottnest Channel training program – logging and average of 23km – 25km per week. The main consideration being recovery as I was going to be swimming 2 ultra-marathons in 8 days. I always regarded the Tahiti Nui – Moorea swim to be my final training swim for Bora Bora.

I am usually quite OCD in my preparation for things, however, I have experience of swimming in the pacific islands. I, therefore, knew that I would have to take a far more relaxed approach to the swim and allow things to happen in ‘island time’. The fishing boat crews who supported the Tahiti Nui – Moorea swim had put Seti Afoa (my observer) in touch with a fishing family in Bora Bora. A boat and crew was arranged for 6am Monday 14th October, however, at 7.30pm Sunday 13th October Seti informed me that the boat had pulled out with no explanation and were not answering his calls. Welcome to the Pacific.

Leana Gallo – Morice, my second observer and recorder came to the rescue persuading Samuel Tinorua to be my pilot for the following day. Most boats appear not to have navigation lights. Fishermen and ‘boaties’ opting not to navigate the shallow reef systems outside of daylight hours. First light was at 5.30am so the plan was to be ready to start swimming as soon as the boat arrived at Sofitel Private Island.

The Swim

I started swimming at 6.19am in good conditions very slight wind, no chop and imperceptible swell coming towards me from over the outer reef. Leana makes no comment on the conditions throughout the swim because the perception on the boat was that conditions were good throughout. Around the point that I encountered the manta rays and shark we were in the lee of the island and for 20 minutes conditions were in fact perfect. No wind and any perceivable swell was coming from the reef behind. The wonders of swimming around an island with an intricate reef system, however, give the swimmer and the kayaker a different perspective to those sat on a boat.

The pass on the western side of the outer reef has been created by freshwater flowing down from the mountains in the region of the island’s capital – Vaitape and also the settlement of Fa’anui. This leads to an interesting mix of currents and cross winds as the fresh water and deep lagoon waters funnel their way around the island to the pass. Vaitape is also the main port so boat traffic can be heavy in this area. The swimmers on the Saturday attempt had a turbulent time in this area. In eventuality I didn’t find the currents to be that bad at this point. Wind was not a factor across Fa’anui Bay where there is potential for strong gusts through the valley between the mountains. I also train in a harbour so am very comfortable with changing currents, it could also be that we struck lucky and caught the tides at the right time in this area on this occasion.

As we rounded the North Western point of the island and I had my wonderful turtle encounter things were about to change. Seti on the kayak indicated for me to move out from the reef, but I was stubborn and happy to be hugging the drop off as we rounded the point. My reasoning was I perceived a strong current further out as water was pushing around and flowing to the pass. Also to be fair the reefs on the points are the swimmers reward for making it across each bay and I was happily sightseeing with my turtle. Seti was kayaking into a head wind and the current and at this point got a temporary tow from the boat. We switched from me feeding from the kayak to feeding from the boat, from the next feed which was around halfway, which turned out to be in front of Marlon Brando’s house.

The 11- 13km home was always going to be into the wind and southerly swell. The stretch from the Northern tip to the reef system was to be the longest of the day with a cluster of palm trees taunting me on a point that never seemed to get nearer. This reef, when I reached it also wasn’t as rewarding. The boat had to leave us and take a 3km detour around the outside. Seti picked a route through on the kayak and I followed often only being able to scull as I needed to keep everything, ‘sucked in and tucked in’ to avoid the coral. The remaining swim was quite uneventful. It was a matter of digging in against the wind and swell and observing the changing aspect of the mountain peak as we continued our clockwise journey back to our island starting point.

Would I recommend this swim?

Absolutely. A challenging, scenic swim around a paradise island who could ask for more.

What would I do differently?

Retrospectively with the same forecast prevailing South Easterly wind and southerly swell, I would start from a point on the North of the island. I would then swim counterclockwise, with the northern swells that feed out of the pass. From Vaitape onwards the swim would be against the southern swell that feeds up to the pass. As a circumnavigation swim there will always be a section that has to be against the swell. The swimmer would, however, be in the Lee of the island at this point and early in the morning there would be lighter boat traffic in the area. A big push around the shallow Matira Point should then reward the swimmer with the swell and wind behind or at least on their right shoulder as they head back north along the Eastern side of the island for home.

I look forward to hearing of many other Bora Bora swimming adventures in the future.

Acknowledgments:

Huge thanks to my fantastic crew without whom none of it would have happened:

  • Pilot: Samuel Tinorua
  • Lead Observer / Kayaker: Seti Afoa
  • Swim Captain: Richard Messinger
  • 2nd Observer / recorder: Leana Gallo-Morice


Photos

Click to enlarge.


Video

Tracey Messinger - Around Bora Bora from MSF on Vimeo.


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