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.

Amanu

The excitement of spotting two small red eyes on the reef at night should not be understated. We were on a lobster hunt. The party numbered three. Armed with torches, walking poles for balance and a bucket for booty, the expedition crossed the moto and headed to the outer reef in the dark.

We’d gleaned that no moon was important and ideally calm conditions would help with the hunt. 7pm on the beach was start time. We crossed from the lagoon side to the outer reef, maybe 300 meters. Then the fun and games started. Wading parallel to the shore in knee deep ocean, we shone our head torches into the water looking for two small red eyes reflecting back.  Such evidence necessitated carefully plunging a gloved hand into the water to grab the critter before it swam off. 

We’d been splodging about for maybe 10 minutes when a shriek went up “I’ve got one!”.  Carla, a brit with a true hunter gatherer spirit made the score 1-0 to the humans. After that we knew what we were looking for and over the course of the next 1.5 hours, we purloined another two and three got away. The final score was 3-3. Dave picked up one and  I spied two but didn’t manage to perfectly grab either so they both got away. Grrr. Next time …. we’ll be off to the reef again. Fingers crossed for a cricket score this time!

As we were at sea for Christmas, we engineered Christmas Dinner for 29th December in Amanu which we shared with Holly and Jarne. We exchanged a few gifts, enjoyed a champagne toast then indulged in a fine feast. Dave and I both agreed it was a lovely celebration with good friends in a remarkable place. 

On New Years Eve, six boat crews gathered on a remote beach at the north of atoll, 12 miles from the village.  Amanu with a population of 100 ish people, currently has no Covid. All the boats had been isolated in different places so coming together was not a worry.  Six kids and ten adults pitched in with wood collecting for the fire, games of boules and then a BBQ. The consensus was to celebrate Vancouver New Year. Most folks on boats are up with the daylight and in bed early. It starts getting light about 4.30am here and is dark by 6.30pm. Vancouver New Year was 10pm local time. That felt like staying up late.

The Hunter Gatherer buzz has extended to octopus, groupers, a type of fish, coconuts, top shells and crabs. (To offer perspective however I am sat here with a cup of Earl Grey and a slice of chocolate cake). We’ve been off grid for a well over a couple of weeks now. It’s likely we’ll be here for at least a couple more too until we get a weather window to head towards the Gambiers, 450 miles SE from here.  

In the meantime, it’s an extraordinary place here. There’s currently no reason rush and the delivery boat apparently comes in next week. That’ll cause excitement .

Loads of photos here. We have only had sporadic 2G comms for three weeks but today we got up at 4am to use the WiFi at the Marie which is open to all before 7am. Enjoy!

Happy Christmas

Have a great, if somewhat restricted Christmas. wherever you are.

We will be at sea for the Christmas period heading east as the north wind doth blow. That’s helpful for us.
Big hugs, much love and here’s looking forward to a less crazy 2021.

Thanks for blog watching. 🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄⛵️🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

Cap

My favourite baseball cap is no longer in my possession. It didn’t quite make it to its first birthday. 24th December. 

The scene of its loss. Fakarava lagoon. Approximately midday. Sailing south, close hauled, 18 to 20 knots of breeze, occasional rain showers. A slight heel but the joy of sailing in the lagoon is often  little fetch and very small waves unlike the open ocean. It makes for speedy progress. 

The cap came into my life last Christmas Eve at Disneyland in Florida. A little logo of Kermit. The words, `hi ho’. A souvenir from a crazy pre COVID day where the world and his wife were in Florida. Social distancing would have been impossible. Although the words social distancing had never crossed my consciousness before. 

As items of clothing go, this cap has had its fair share of use. Everyday for several hours here in the Pacific. And the Bahamas, Jamaica and Panama before that. It’s an essential item to check as we leave the boat…..wallet, phone, lock, water, cap. But I will no longer be sporting Kermit. A gust, a shriek, a panic, a loss. 

The package saga shows no sign of progressing. So we retraced our track down to Harifa in the south. Not far, maybe 27 miles. We were rewarded with a full on thunderstorm, hammering rain and lightening filling the skies. Meteo France announced today there were over 5000 lightening strikes around the Tuamotus over a period of about 36 hours. That’s stick shaking territory.

In other news, I renovated my failing flip flops. Dave said the glue probably cost more than a new pair. So! They are now have a vibrant purple neoprene top.  What’s the “4R” mantra these days…refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, I vaguely recall? We aren’t perfect by any means here but lots of our stuff does get 4R’d. My holey silicon bread tray had been chopped up and the material will be reused to fill a gap on the outboard. The reclaimed plastic clips on a failed rucksack have been sewn into the newly made cockpit sun shade (free material from another boaty bod) and all plastic pots, such as mayonnaise jars go into a bag for future use to hold varnish or acetone or something similar. 

Accidentally loosing a cap overboard does constitute littering though. I have an aspiration that some lucky soul will fish it out of the sea and maybe the next time we are in the village, I spot someone sporting Kermit and I’ll smile knowing that cap’s previous.

North Pass, Fakarava

We are in ‘package delivery hell’ here in Fakarava. We have three which may or may not arrive. One is supposed to come on a plane this week. I spoke to someone using my best french and she said she will call back with details. Still waiting! Another, if we can get it out of customs in Tahiti, may trolley along too. The third is in the world parcel black hole which is currently Australia. Australia has been stock piling parcels for French Polynesia for the past six months. A container arrived by ship recently into Tahiti full of packages. The FP postal service have announced it will take up to three months to distribute them. That’s only 9 months for your package to arrive. Speedy ‘eh!

With this ongoing frustration, I decided the best way forward would be to do something nice to take our minds off package world. We’ve been snorkelling here but not diving. And the north and south passes into Fakarava atoll have world wide reputations in the diving community apparently.

I dug my dog eared certificate out. It’s only 22 years since I last dived. Really. Dave found his Padi Advanced Open Water card, one side showing a photograph of fresh faced youth. The date, 1995, three years before mine. 

Being so bang up to date with our qualifications, I decided a refresher dive would be a good idea. The plan initially was to do the refresher in the lagoon. Just to practice a few skills although there isn’t much to look at. However, on the day, the dive school had a boat going out to the north pass, so Sebastian suggested we tag along there and do the skills over a bit of reef there. 

Turned out to be a top idea as we got through the skills pretty quickly and then followed Sebastian as he took us a what would be a regular dive for paying punters.  The next day we went again for our ‘proper dive’, which wasn’t that different to the day before, just deeper and we spent longer underwater.

There was lots to see. Many many sharks, shoals of fish, moray eels and pretty coral. I felt like I was in a blue vista video game, drifting along with the incoming current watching lots of wildlife moving smoothly past. At one point we swam under a large shoal of fish, above which were a line of sharks. All very surreal. 

We got into the water at slack tide. By the time we got out just under an hour later, the tide was coming in so we were drifting along at what felt like quite a quick pace.  We’d probably travelled about 500m into the middle of the pass. 

I didn’t take my camera as I was too busy thinking about buoyancy and having my hands free for checking my equipment and grabbing rocks to look at things. If you want more, google diving on the north pass Fakarava. I’m sure there’s lots of videos and pictures out there in internet world.

Tennis Ball

We were taking turns looking at the moon last night though the binoculars. It was just stunning. So clear. You could see its relief, the craters, the cheese.  I kept going back just to have one last look. A couple of nights earlier, our new friend Eric, the retired Brittany dentist, had pointed out Mars and Saturn and Mercury. The night sky can look exceptional here. And it helps to have someone who can point out interesting stuff too. 

For my birthday last year, we were in the UK. Dave, my dad and I went to the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland. The show started at midnight which necessitated driving up into the forest, hoping for clear skies. We left Hexham on a clear bright night but as we drove north we could see the fog gathering over the river Tyne and by the time we arrived at 11.45pm, it was thick and claggy meaning no telescopes tonight. Oh well. We know about weather and plans and occasional disappointments, being boat dwellers. 

We had an enjoyable evening but I was sad we’d couldn’t look out into the dark skies. That was going to be the fun bit. There was however a particular story that stood out. One of the physicists / astronomers talked about the scale of the universe. Here’s my recollection of how it went. 

He showed us a photo which just looked like lots of stars. He explained it was actually many overlaid photos of just one particular area of the sky taken by the Hubble telescope built up over an extended period of time. There were 3,500 pinpricks of light in the photo. I didn’t count them. I believed him.

He explained that each of these faint pin pricks of light was a galaxy. I was able to make sense of this by reminding myself that the Milky Way is our galaxy with the sun and associated planets, Jupiter, Uranus, Pluto etc.  

He told us that each galaxy will have a minimum of 600 million stars, stars like our sun, and so far, astronomers have never found a star without at least one planet. That’s minimum by the way. The Milky Way has an estimated one hundred thousand million. Gulp.

The mind numbing bit came next. Get a friend to hold up a tennis ball up in the sky, 100m away from you. The Hubble telescope picture represented a piece of sky the same size as that tennis ball.

If my memory is correct, he said that was 1/24 millionth of the whole sky. So 3,500 galaxies in one tennis ball at 100m. Proving in no uncertain terms, it’s all pretty big out there. That’s a darned feast of stars and planets. Numbers too big by far to get my diminishing brain power to fully understand. But definitely worth thinking about occasionally. The tennis ball is a useful unit of size. 

Back in a smaller space, two delivery companies are attempting to transport a couple of packages from the States to French Polynesia. One package is in Australia, the second is in Korea. How, why? Will we ever see them? As Toyah said, “It’s a mystery”. They make take longer to get here than light does from a place far far away. Packages are dictating when we move SE down the tuamotan chain. 

And finally, I met a local family when I was out on a bike ride a couple of days ago. We had a smiley disjointed mismatched french / english conversation. Football teams have on many occasions during our travels provided a useful way of talking geography and where we are from. Usually locals will be familiar with Man United or Liverpool. This guy. The first team he mentioned completely unprompted, Newcastle. I’ll just repeat that. Newcastle. He’s now my friend for life. 

Maggie’s Handbag

My mind was wandering as I took myself off for a little paddle board trip up the atoll yesterday. Remember. Always go upwind to start so coming home is easier. (I won’t go into wind shifts here thank you very much!)  But if you go further than what your breakfast fuel tank holds, coming back, even with the wind behind, is a real effort, only remedied by instant gorging on cheese and crackers.

It was a beautiful day. The rhythm I set for paddling required no conscious thought, letting my mind meander off to other places. 

My teeny tiny world just feels lighter this week. The news that a vaccine for COVID is on the near horizon and the election shenanigans in the USA delivering a hopeful result, means I’m much more optimistic for the future. I projected forward to a year from now and felt much more positive about what footprint us humans will be leaving behind. It won’t be a perfect shape. I do believe it will be a better shape. For most people.

I then replayed some history that is solely age related. There were a whole heap of opportunities and possibilities that came into Dave and I’s life, purely because we were born in a certain era. Here’s a non exhaustive random list.

  1. Grants for further education 
  2. Housing benefit so as a student, if you’re rent was more than £12.50 (I think) a week, you could claim the overspend back from Maggie’s handbag. Plus if you weren’t living in you digs during the holidays, that money came back too. Nice. 
  3. Unemployment benefit – dole money. You could sign on in the holidays
  4. The introduction of budget airlines – £1.99 flights to Dublin Prague Geneva etc
  5. Explosion of travel possibilities further afield  – fly for 6 hours for reasonable money and be in a totally different culture
  6. No major wars that have seriously impacted us
  7. Buying a house for sensible money, like £30k or £40k and with the housing boom, be able to watch it double or triple in value
  8. The speed and development of technology. What’s happened since the mid 90’s is astounding
  9. Full size chocolate bars. A penguin or an orange / mint  club from your Granny were of the appropriate size and thickness
  10. The beauty that is the NHS. I’ve had my fair share of money from this ‘free at the point of entry’ institution. Thank you!
  11. The export of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
  12. The fact you can start drawing down on your personal pension at 55. We like this now we’re old

Do I have something deep and meaningful to say to summarise these thoughts? No not really. I’ll just continue on with my happy little life knowing I have had some ups and downs, but the up’s do come out seriously on top. 

And on a boaty note, the ship comes in on Wednesday. There hasn’t been one for two weeks. There could be fresh provisions. That’s an up. And after that a new atoll, further east – Tahanea or Makemo or Ile d’Hao. A bit more geography research folks.😀 Happy Saturday. 

Testing Testing

Dave’s olfactory senses are working just fine. If you’re struggling to find a COVID test, we accidentally invented one as I do believe a loss of smell can be one of the symptoms. 

The test is relatively simple to set up and administer. Buy some cans of beer in Carrefour in Papeete, Tahiti. (The shop and the location are actually irrelevant but it gives a sense of place to the story). Stack them carefully in a cupboard then sail 250 miles to windward. The boat will inevitably heel so dislodging can happen. 

I guess the sight equivalent would be having an eagle eye. Well Dave has an eagle nose.

He went down below into the cabin about 10.30 in the morning. I was in the cockpit keeping an eye on things. In reality there wasn’t very much to keep an eye on. The Pacific is pretty devoid of other boats once you get a handful of miles off shore. Just occasional birdies and sealife. 

Five minutes later he’s back up on deck with a can of beer in his hand. Hmmm. The beer police aka me, are alerted. We don’t drink on passage. Well we had a snifter crossing the equator and one on Christmas Day on our way to the Cape Verde islands. Having a chilled glass of white wine on arriving after days at sea is one of life’s little luxuries and something to look forward to.

‘Hello, hello, hello, what’s going on here?” The beer police are an inquisitive bunch. The defence made their case. Like a bloodhound, Dave reported to being drawn to a cupboard as a particularly familiar smell was emanating from its interior. Escaping beer. The cans had dislodged slightly and one of them had punctured necessitating immediate drinking. ‘I had no choice, me lord, but to drink it then and there.”

So that’s the test. A man with a nuanced beery nose will sniff out an open can at 20 paces. Hopefully proving an absence of Covid. 

We left Tahiti in the Society Islands, after just under 3 weeks there with a working fridge / freezer plus a boatload of stuff for the next few months. We had a couple of nights on Moorea, an island 15 miles north of Tahiti. The Society Islands combine the hills of the Marquesas with the atoll reefs of the Tuamotus. They make for popular tourist destinations and are much busier than what we’ve previously been use to.

Moorea has great trails to walk and we squeezed in one before our sail back east to Fakarava in the Tuamotus. Currently we’re anchored at Harifa. A fine sheltered spot in the SE corner of the atoll. We plan to spend at least a week here decompressing after the shock of city living.