Teenager

Last night was bloody awful. The wind decided to be a truculent teenager and do whatever it fancied ignoring the weather bods who work for the Met Office or the ECMWF or the GFS. Don’t concern yourselves if these letters don’t mean anything. I’d never heard of them before we started this trip. 

They are different global weather models offering computer generated forecasts of weather data. When they all align, this is generally good news as there is an consistent pattern meaning the likelihood of the weather forecast being accurate Is high. 

Conversely, if the forecasts are significantly different, it can a bit of a lottery so pick the forecast you fancy and cross your fingers. Usually that’s the ECMWF for us. 

Back to last night. We were securely anchored pointed nicely into the shore, protected by the coconut trees and with no fetch. The truculent uninvited teenager turned up about midnight and our position altered as we swung 180 degrees with the change in wind direction leaving us facing out to sea, with the wind freshening and the waves travelling 13 miles across the atoll. It was bouncy. 

The anchor was good and secure so we weren’t concerned about dragging but the comfort levels were dismal. Grace is big and heavy. Even so, we pitched up and down for a good few hours. We were both up. I did the washing up. Dave cleared away some kiting gear. We both read and tried to ignore the discomfort. Eventually about 4am the wind dropped and we were able to enter the land of nod. 

By morning the wind had disappeared completely. We motored 14 miles up the atoll, making water as we travelled and anchored, nicely tucked in behind a small reef. Unsurprisingly, it’s been a leisurely day. We snorkelled the reef and encountered lots of small fish…..angel fish, shiny blue ones, goat fish, unicorn fish and the ‘toon army’ fish. (That one has black and white stripes). Only one shark spotted. 

I finished scrubbing the hull on the starboard side. This unfortunately means there’s still a whole side to scrub. Essentially underwater cleaning with a scrubbing brush. While holding your breath. It’s knackering! I understand why many boats have scuba kit. Lightweights. 

Guess this means Grace will be skewing to port as the starboard side will slide through the water easier than the port side. I did buy 2 new scrubbing brushes though so Mr Savage can join in. 

Pig

We’re sat outside at the Rotarava Grill in Fakarava having a plate of food with Holly, Jarne and Holly’s mum. The conversation rolls and we’re absorbed in each other’s company. 

All of sudden two fulsome arms envelope me and a smacker of a kiss lands on my right cheek. Woah, what’s going on! I turn to my right and it’s Alise, the Tahitian woman who runs the little restaurant at Harifa at the south of Fakarava. If you remember from a previous post, her mother was a Parker, so we are officially cousins, Parker being my maiden name. 

Alise is dressed up to nines on a night out with her husband and she’s had a couple of sherbets. She’s beaming the biggest of smiles and is plainly delighted to see me. We have a chat about how she’s been in Tahiti and when she’ll be back home at the south of the atoll. Forget social distancing and Covid, when you see a family member, rules are out of the window!

We are now anchored down at Harifa with around 10 other boats. Many kiters base themselves here as the wind angle is often favourable. Dave is now one of these kiters. He’s making good progress  and getting upwind on occasion. With less major wipeouts. And Alise is home. Word went out, ‘they’re killing a pig’ and there’ll be a hog roast. 

Last night as the sun was going down about 20 of us gathered on the beach. The pig was on a spit and had been roasting for over 9 hours. Boy it looked great. Maybe not if you’re a veggie but to us carnivores, I knew this was going to taste great. And so it did.

The pigs on the property roam free under the coconut trees. At present there are many many piglets snuffling around joined by half a dozen cats, one little kitty, a black and white spotted puppy and two young woofers. One of the woofers, the leggy brown one, tags along on walks around the moto. He’s a great companion, independent but he also checks where you are and waits patiently if you stop for some reason. He likes the gang to be together.

Provisions arrive on Wednesday. The boat will be in and we have stuff ordered. We’ll go back north, 28 miles ish to meet it. Dave has been investigating getting new batteries shipped from Tahiti but stocks are out of the ones we want. August, suppliers say. Lithium is all the rage these days. But sourcing them for a sensible price requires time, and all the ancillary charging parts will add up. Plus the whole battery area will need re-engineering. So we’ll stick with what we have, lead acids. The ones we currently have were installed in Goole by Dave with much help from Phil in the winter / spring of 2011 /12 so they’ve done pretty well. It’s a big bank, 900aH for you techies. 

And finally a bit of an update for getting home. We have contacted four yards about getting hauled out. Two have offered a definitive no. We are on a waiting list for the other two. There is a ‘log jam’ in yards here. People hauled their boats when Covid hit and went home. They haven’t been able to get back meaning there is no space. The pacific does not have a plethora of options for haul out. 

International flights are looking slightly more possible. Another american airline is reinstating flights and air travel from France is resuming too. We’re hoping this easing will allow folk to get back to Tahiti  and get their boats in the water. Meaning space for the likes of us to haul. This may be an aspiration rather than a concrete plan. If you know anyone with a boat on the hard in Raiatea tell them to get their backside on a plane and get it shifted please.

Tahiti Trip

Sorry folks! After being absent for a few months, I’m on a bit of a diatribe run. More epistles from the end of my fingers as I tippy tap my latest thoughts on our boaty happenings. I’m confident normal service will resume with a post every two weeks or so in the very near future. So in the words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t panic”

A quick location update. We left Gambier, planning to make landfall at Hao, a 460 mile trip.  But we had good wind so decided to just keep going to Fakarava, an extra 300 miles away. We sailed the whole way, averaging over 6 knots which pleased us, came in the pass at the north end of Fakarava in the dark and anchored off the village around midnight. 

Fakarava delivered internet, lettuce and Holly’s mum. Holly is a good buddy and her mum flew in from the States for a 10 day visit. She brought with her an A4 file detailing numerous covid tests, permissions to enter and leave French Polynesia from the High Commission, proof of vaccination and other gubbins. She said travelling is indeed possible but not straightforward and each compulsory covid test takes quids from your wallet. Doesn’t make it a particularly appealing prospect.

Dave and I tagged along for some activities (we were invited!) and a top top time was had. We dived south pass a couple of times again, went cycling, ate out once and had cocktails at a local pension which, more importantly had a table tennis table. Jarne and I abandoned our drinks as competitive table tennis was much more absorbing. Jarne, a lovely lovely Belgian guy who has just had his 30th birthday asked me how old I was, after I’d beaten him twice. 55 I proudly said. 

On the bike ride, Holly decided she would fly with her mum to Tahiti the following day for a bit of city fun and her words ‘a fancy ladies day’. Her mum had a day to kill in Papeete before boarding a flight to LA. “You should come” they said. So I did! 

It’s only just over an hour on the plane and we had two nights in town. The majority of my time was spent trying to tick boaty items off my extensive shopping list. We did find time for dinner out at the food trucks, a lunch meet in the market and pina coladas at happy hour. Holly and her Mum did have a “fancy ladies” day. They both arrived for drinks with glamorous pearl jewellery. Very gorgeous. I didn’t show them my fuel pump purchase. 

And finally here’s a little bit of blatant marketing. Like all marketing, feel free to ignore it.  Let’s face it, most of it should be ignored or not even be allowed to see the light of day. 

  1. Check out wind hippy sailing on you tube. That’s Holly. Sailing a 27’ boat from Maine, USA solo. She’s one of a kind….in a very nice way.😀
  2. Check out Shed Radio. www.Mixcloud.com/shed_radio/ This is my very good chum Mr Robert Knowles Esq. from Matlock who during lockdown started up a radio show from his shed. There’s about 7 shows uploaded all of them spanking and worth a listen. We like to listen so we can hear his cheery derbyshire tones.

Gambier III

Did we have any eye brow raising moments in the Gambiers? Well there were a couple.

We did have a Tsunami warning. This ironically was just after my sweet bro had posted a blog for me and in true younger brother style, decided to post a cheeky eye catching title which included the word tsunami.😀  

I recall the cause being an earthquake emanating from islands near-ish to New Zealand. There is a warning system in place across the Pacific which alerts locations of potential arrival times of a tsunami wave and a predicted height. The earthquake took place around 9am in the morning and the arrival time for Gambier was predicted for something like 4.04pm with a potential wave height of 30cm. The information was surprisingly precise. 

We were anchored out on the reef by ourselves off a moto called Kouaku. The anchor was well dug in around 8m, in a sand patch. We knew there was potential for a wave surge as we’d had emails from various people including my brother!

Around 3.30pm, I turned on the depth sounder to record depths at 5 minute intervals. By 4.30pm there was no significant change and I was bored so we made the executive decision we were all okay and went for a walk on the beach. 

Nothing untoward transpired. Gambier is surrounded by an outer reef so if there was any surge, either it had dissipated by the time it reached us or the reef itself flattened the water.

Still that was our first Tsunami warming. And if I’m honest, it wasn’t something I’d ever thought about before.

We also had a corroded engine part which allowed sea water to come from the outside of the boat, into the inside of the boat. This is not a good thing! Sea water should always remain outside. It’s one of the ways to keep a boat and it’s crew happy and floating. 

We had a mad 45 minutes working out where the water was coming from with some much appreciated help from friends in the anchorage. Thankfully the corroded piece was identified and with sea cocks closed, Dave was able to engineer a plate which solved the problem the next day. 

And this section is for you techy boaty people. The bracket which supports our meaty 250 amp alternator cracked meaning we had to revert to using the 65 amp one. This is the equivalent of having to drink supermarket own brand tea bags instead of twinings earl grey, ie, unsatisfying.  

The bracket is made of stainless steel and is at least 10mm thick so we were pretty surprised to see it had fractured. We were motoring across the lagoon dodging pearl farm buoys when a horrible rattly noise grinds out from the engine bay. Well that too has had a fix, with a temporary splint made and bolted through. Fingers crossed it holds till we get to the land of welding, which may well be Tahiti. We couldn’t find anyone in Gambier who could or would weld stainless. 

That’s probably it for Gambier. We’re back in the Tuamotos. Well that’s not strictly true. The boat and Dave are in Fakarava in the Tuamotus. I hopped on a plane yesterday and am actually in Tahiti. Back tomorrow after a little city break with ‘the girls’ and an awful lot of shopping for boat things. 

Gambier II

Think about your shoe collection? Are you a closet Imelda Marcos? I was assessing my footwear collection. This was prompted by the fact that my options are mostly deteriorating or deteriorated. Glue and soles do not do well in hot climates. I have become a part time cobbler. My flip flops have been renovated twice, my walking shoes stuck back together with 5200 and my sandals have had their velcro tarted up. Last time we were with 300 miles of a shop selling anything other than cheap flip flops was October. Cobbling becomes a necessity. 

The upside of living in the tropics and on a boat is the preferred choice of footwear is none. I’m guessing, 80% of the time we live with bare feet. Always on the boat, always on other people’s boats and often if you’re going ashore to the beach, no shoes are necessary. 

The order of usage is thus:-

  1. Bare feet
  2. Flip flops 
  3. = Sandals / Walking shoes 
  4. Fins
  5. Crocs (good for walking on rough coral beaches)
  6. Proper shoes – NEVER

It’s likely to be another couple of months before we can become shoe fetishists when we get close to a full on shopping experience again. I’m hoping my repairs hold on till then.

In Gambier, my walking shoes often got priority billing and bumped temporarily up the list. As we approached from the north, my eyes lit up at green hills and if you listened very carefully there was a quiet whisper calling “climb me”.  

Gambier has several well marked trails so I was very very happy to roam around the countryside, alone or with friends, collecting mangos and lemons and avocados and pamplemousse and raspberries on the way. The most populous ‘Helen Hike’ saw 17 (2 x Brits, 5 x Canadians, 7 x Kiwis, 3 x Austrians) head up a hill called Mokoto then traverse and descend the forest on a recently cleared path. Problem was the path clearing hadn’t been finished. The path abruptly ended in the middle of the woods meaning a thrashing and bashing back down to the road. Good job Tom had brought his machete along. People remember that walk! Sue and Bryan thought they’d signed up for a little gentler meandering. Apologies chums!

Kiting was the other main activity. We spent quite a bit of time out on the outer reef off a little moto called Tauna. This is where ‘kite school’ continued from Amanu. Dave was able to launch his kite off the back of either Slingshot or Due South, two expert kiting families, including kids. I was in the dinghy providing rescue services. I figured if I put the time in now, there’ll be stamps in the book that I can cash in one day. 

We spent many happy days hanging out with these families, mucking around, having beach bbq’s and when the wind died, we both had a go at wakeboarding behind one of their larger dinghies. There are pictures of Dave in action but none of me. I did get up and do some runs, honest guv. No shoes required for wakeboarding. 

Gambier

Gambiers Archipelago – Instalment 1

Da dah! Radio silence no more. I’m back in your inbox, bothering your browsing schedule after a gap of a few months. This means we have found 4G / WiFi to upload and download. The Gambiers deliver many positive superlatives, however the comms don’t make this shortlist, or the medium or long list for that matter. Crack on Elon Musk with your broadband satellites in the sky. 

We arrived in the first week in February. And left 3 months later. A longer stay than we’d imagined, extended primarily because we were able to get vaccinated while there. Impressive that a remote pacific archipelago was at that time, offering the Pfizer to visiting yachties. No cost. No questions. So thank you Gambier.

Having been away from this writing lark for a while, I’m unsure as to whether I should write a broad brush Gambian experience or pick a few stories and share them over a couple of episodes. Truth is I’m just going start writing and see where my brain takes me. 

The piccies should provide a bit of a visual impact to the kind of things we got up to here. The blues and greens of the land and seascape are intense and striking. The sand beaches brochure enhancing. It’s a crazy beautiful vista to feast your eyes on. 

What’s it like …..

In all the time we were in Gambier, we didn’t lock the boat or the tender. I definitely like living in such a world, even if this approach to security gives you the heebie-jeebies. Our experience was friendly generous locals. Giving away fruit seems to be part of the culture. I’d have a little conversation with someone and arrive back at the boat with a bag of mangos. 

To provide a balanced, more informed view of the place, the gendarmes we were told deal with around a few hundred investigations each year. When they are not stood outside their office drinking coffee and chatting which it seems fills a high proportion of their day.  Many are alcohol related…..two blokes get pissed and punch each other and domestic violence is sadly also prevalent we were told.

Approx. 1400 people live across a few islands, which are no more than about 10 miles apart. Rikitea, the village on the main island of Mangarava has a Marie, Gendarmerie, Clinic, Post Office, School, no bank or ATM and 5 small shops selling food. They all sell pretty much the same stuff.  3 of the shops are ‘hatches” in that you stand outside and ask for your items in your best french combined with vigorous pointing. The other two allow you to peruse the premises. Think Arkwright’s village shop in Cromford Derbyshire (if you know this fine establishment) as comparable for size and selection to the biggest shop called Jojo’s. No Thornbridge Ales available here though. Just Hinano lager at scary expensive prices. $3.40 for a vessel the size of a cola can. 

I liked going into Jojo’s as the women who serve always greet me. “Bonjour Helene, ca va?” I shared some photos of Cromford with them one day when it was quiet so they are my buddies now. Jojo’s is the one place we could pick up a modicum of internet. We perch outside round the back staring at screens trying to sort out life’s intricacies that only be done electronically. It was often a fruitless escapade.  I have no idea what’s happening in the Archers. 7th February was the last time I downloaded radio. (Dave thinks this a good thing!)

We discovered an online shopping facility based in Tahiti which will put your order on the boat.  There are two delivery boats that visit Gambier, both on an approximate 3 week cycle. We’ll give that a go we thought. Prices were certainly cheaper but more importantly, there was a much greater choice. Internet food shopping – should be straightforward. Dream on. The internet here rules or rather it doesn’t. It took us several attempts over 3 days to select our items and put them in a virtual basket. That was the easy bit. Actually paying for a selection of cheese and half a dozen bottles of wine was like trying to find a picture of Putin with a shirt on. Tricky.

The shopping site transferred us to a bank payment site and then came the spinning wheel of gloom. There just weren’t enough electrons to make this happened. 5 minutes later, the process crashed, took us back to the shopping site where the helpful software had wiped our basket so there’s 3 days of work spinning away in the ether. 

There’s a deadline of 12 lunchtime tomorrow to get our order accepted, paid for and lined up for the ship. We’re back at square one. And friends ask what we do all day. 😀

In the end, we used the sat phone to ring the UK and chat to Dave’s brother who was able to use our credit card details to satisfy the cheese order. Bloody complicated.

I’m happy to say our order did arrive. We milled around on the dock for three hours as containers and forklifts and barrels etc were unloaded by crane. But it was all there and the wine is being rationed according.

So next time your internet is a little slow at home and you have to wait 14 more nano seconds than normal to look at dancing cats or read the latest Laura Kunsberg article, imagine Gambier. 

That’s it for instalment 1. Non sure how many there’ll be. Keep tuned. 

SHARK ATTACK! WHIRLPOOL! TORNADO! UFOS! PIRATES!*

Adventures come in many sizes. Us setting off on our sailing trip from the UK back in July 2016 marked the start of a fairly big adventure. Often though it’s the micro adventures that provide most pleasure.

We’d spent all morning trying to sort out an online food order through a website in Tahiti. Here in the Gambiers (we sailed for four days and nights from Amanu in the Tuamotus to get here) the internet / data is transparent. See through. Fickle. Lacking substance. Miso soup like.

But we managed patiently to get a “shopping cart” together only for the technology to fall over when it came to the payment bit, loosing in the process all the items from the cart. Rude word. We started the process again. There’s a deadline to get the order in “the system” before 1pm local time. We started this pursuit at 8am. At 12.45pm, we press the payment button again. The spinning wheel of gloom and doom appears. After 10 minutes, we get a message which says “Hey suckers! You’ve spent all morning trying to order cheese from Papeete but, guess what, it’s not happening. You’re never getting these 5 hours back. Let me say it again, suckers!”

I decided a walk was in order for an hour or so. I headed out of the village to explore a new bit of the island. I passed a class from the local school flying drones. It was a fine reminder to me not to assume what kind of lives other people live. Don’t judge Helen just because we’re on a remote island in the Pacific. They had a big 42 inch telly set up under a terraced wooden gazebo to be able to watch the footage they’d taken from up high.

I slip from high end tech to low tech living. There’s a shack next to the beach, built of wood from the forest, salvaged sheets on the roof. A fire burns in an oil drum. The path I’m walking seems to disappear so I ask if it’s okay to pass. A BIG Tahitian man lounging in the sea, his body covered in tattoos smiles broadly and say yes yes yes.

I’m wearing flip flops and the path is not so defined and really requires different footwear so I turn back. It’s then I get engaged in a french / english / pointing conversation with this man and his wife. They both ooze warmth and joy. He says we have little or no money, we fish, we grow fruit. He’d previously worked the pearl farms which are extensive here. The pearls are the reason the Gambiers have a financial wealth that other areas of French Polynesian do not have.

I explained that my husband Dave was on our boat doing some chores. My new tattooed friend said you must both come back, bring Dave, let’s get some photographs. I was presented with a carrier bag full of mangos and bananas. It’s what happens here. Generosity and sharing appear to be an essential part of the culture. We will go back. I’ll take some cake or cookies. I’m looking forward to another ‘collision” with this kind uncomplicated couple.

And a quick word about the Gambiers. They are beautiful islands. A mix of reefs, clear water and hills with paths to walk. We’ve been here 6 days now and will be here at least a month. We walked the outer edge of the main island, Mangareva, about 20km on road and tracks. There are a couple of small peaks to tackle too, Mount Duff and Mount Mokoto. Not particularly high at 430ish meters above sea level. I’m looking forward to the great views both offer of the whole archipelago.

Thankfully the hideous lightening storm we came though one night to get here is long forgotten. Don’t put one of these on your Christmas list.

Footnote…I wrote this about 2 weeks ago. Haven’t been able to upload it or any piccies. For an explanation, see above!! Sending it to the UK for help. Piccies will follow, sometime.

*(headline created by pesky brother after being asked to submit post due to lack of pacific interweb access)

Kite Surfing

Dave had found a new way to (a) spend money and (b) hurt himself. Kite Surfing. That is a slightly mean comment as I too may have a go in the future but I want to fully understand and see the number of face plants, drags and splats during a beginners session before committing. Financially and physically! 

He’s been wanting to learn for a while. There 4 boats here on Amanu who are out everyday from the back of their boats once the wind is above about 12 knots. More importantly when you’re a complete beginner, there is a kite instructor. Adrian is french, thin and accomplished. He singlehandedly sailed his 28’ monohull from Marseille. Crossing both the Atlantic and the Pacific he left his boat to sail itself while he went kite surfing in the middle of the ocean. Confident that he could kite surf back to his boat and get back on. 

His aspiration was to see another sail boat on the horizon, get his kit sorted, kite surf over, maybe jumping over their cockpit for a bit of fun and a full on shock factor. I have to say, if we’d seen a bloke kite surfing in the middle of the pacific, 1000 odd miles from land, I’d have been slightly aghast.

Adrian runs his kite school from his boat. He’s a cool dude, rips about on his foil board occasionally leaping 20 feet in the air then landing like a noisy feather. I’m expecting Dave to need a couple more lessons before he’s a member of the Kiting Red Arrows. Maybe three!?

We have met Henri from the island. His wife runs the school here. She has a sexy bobble hat.  It might be 29 or 30C out there in the midday sun but a blue woolly with brown pom-pom works well for her. I had worked out the french in my head to ask about it but then thought again and it was best to say nothing. We also met the mayor who at 18 was the youngest mayor in the whole of France and its overseas territories. He’s now in his third term at the grand old age of 28. He’s a sweet guy, smiles lots and patiently tolerates my improving french. 

The boat came in. The last time we bought freshies was before Christmas. The selection was not vast but we got potatoes, apples, oranges, aubergines and carrots. Plus eggs. The boat had no beer. Some ripples of disappointment from the captain! 

This morning, we snorkelled the pass into the atoll. We were maybe 10 minutes too late as the tide had just started to come in. Still, we followed the edge of the reef into the body of the atoll and saw two lovely two spotted eagle rays and several chunky white tipped sharks plus loads of fishies. We’ve done a fair bit of snorkelling recently, at Horseshoe Reef where we are currently anchored and at Star Reef in the middle of the atoll. 

We’ve heard Star Reef being described as the navel of the atoll. Each atoll has it own naval and holds special associations among the locals. There’s no land, just coral and on the south side an area just about big enough for two boats to anchor carefully in sand. You learn to carefully drop your anchor to avoid the ‘coral bommies’ and then float the chain with fenders to keep it off the coral. Stuff you don’t need to know in Hull.