Our time in the Gambiers was something of a mixed experience. I had wanted to get off the beaten track and to explore somewhere that chances are I would not find myself again, and this spot was certainly all that and more. It was far from what I had imagined as well, reminding me far more of New Zealand than my visions of French Polynesia. Pine and wattle trees covering the mountainous landscape and the air had that cozy afternoon chill to it, just right for a jumper as you sat on the bow with the faint smell of wood fires drifting out from the village. The people here were amazingly friendly, but I also got the feeling they didn’t quite know what to make of the people that came here on yachts. Like so many other places off the beaten path though, the path is steadily becoming more worn, from the reports this was a fairly busy season here with up to ten or so yachts in the anchorage at times. I met some amazing local families that invited me into their homes, showed me amazing hospitality and loaded me with gifts of fruit and even pearls when I left. In most places all you had to do was stop and chat and ask and you would be laden down with grapefruit, papaya, bananas, and if you were lucky breadfruit. It was a funny thing with the breadfruit, though the trees were loaded with them and many fell to the ground to rot, most people were a bit reluctant to part with them, I did manage to get a couple though, which were awesome, been years since I had breadfruit and brought back some great memories of childhood. Also got a chance to have a look at some pearl farms out there and was great to see how they do things compared to Australia. Spent an amazing day out diving and spearfishing with a family that owned a farm and was great chatting to them about the different methods used and how they went about setting up their farms. The black pearls are amazing, and the family I went out with showed me pictures of some that were deep blue or dark greens that I think were more beautiful than the white ones I worked with in Australia, these are left to grow for longer before harvest, and the results are spectacular. ,
It was pretty late in the season so we knew we weren’t going to get great weather for the trip North, or at least the first few days until we got a bit further up, but nothing we couldn’t handle. There would be three of us on board for the trip up as one of the guys we met on the island of Teravai needed a lift back to Tahiti and an extra pair of hands would make the watches a bit easier anyways. I had been meaning to try having two crew for a passage and this fell into place quite nicely. With wind blowing around 25 - 30 knots we pulled anchor and made our way out of the anchorage, it was quite slow and hard going just getting out to the little anchorage as it was a fight directly upwind for the first little bit but once around the channel markers we fell off the wind and we made our way out through the pass and out into deeper water. There were dark clouds all around and squalls and heavy rain would come through one after the other, with three reefs in the main and the small jib we bashed our way off towards the North West. It was time to get sailing again; I was ready to explore somewhere new. It always takes a couple days to get used to the motion of the boat again and to jump straight out of shelter and into the large confused sea that greeted us soon had a few of the crew looking a bit green. We were expecting two days of this before reaching the lighter winds to the north, and its was certainly lively to say the least. Waves would crash over the rail and half fill the cockpit, far more water in there than anything I had experienced before, and very soon we found where any and every leak on board was. Kuhela handled it all in here stride though and as we made miles to the north it slowly got better. It actually calmed off a bit earlier than expected and about a day or so later we were blessed with perfect fifteen knot winds on a beam reach and making great speed towards our next destination, Fakarava, seven hundred and fifteen miles away.
Having a third person on board made all the difference in the world and to be able to get s decent sleep in between watches was an amazing luxury. The miles seemed to melt away as we averaged speeds of six knots and as the sun slowly made its presence more known we were able to dry ourselves and Kuhela and settled into some of the best sailing of the trip so far. I think that after the long leg across the Pacific I am finally starting to learn all the little things about Kuhela that make her sail well. The moon grew fuller each night and the days would end with an amazing sunset off the port bow, with an amazing moon rising off the starboard stern. Its funny how different it felt on watch at night, almost like there wasn’t enough time to fully settle in before it was time for the next watch to take over. I would sit with a cup of coffee, write a bit, plot our course and stare at the stars for a few minutes and then it would be back to bed. The sleep was amazing though; I think it would have made a huge difference in the long crossing. With one of the most amazing sunsets of the trip so far burning its way into the horizon ahead and perfect sailing weather pushing us along we spotted the first land since we left a few days prior. The small atoll of Tepoto, just visible above the water and seemingly broken into small pieces as the land disappeared to reef and repapered soon after. There is a reason that the Tuamotos were called the dangerous atolls for many years, without proper navigation its very hard to see them unit nearly too late. Luckily though these days it’s not so much of a problem with all the technology at hand and so we threaded our way through them many atolls that dot this area.
After a few days of great sailing the wind drooped off and we were left fighting our way along in five to six knots of wind, and still with two hundred miles to go. I still did not have access to weather and spoke to my mate for an update and he said that this might be the case for the rest of the way, not wanting to motor for such a distance I briefly entertained altering course for another atoll to wait for better wind, but luckily though that night the wind filled back in and we were off again. Flying the big spinnaker ahead of us as we cruised along on a great downwind run. One of the biggest issues with getting into the atolls is to time you entrance, as there are made up of a surrounding coral reef with only a maybe one or two entrances and a massive amount of water moving into and out of these entrances every turn of tide. Some of the passes can have water moving at up to seven or eight knots. Not really an option when your top speed is six. Luckily though we timed it perfectly and as we passed the atoll of Fiatee and on to Fakarava the tide was just forecast to be slowing. We pulled up just short of the pass dropped the sails and followed another yacht in. Finally it felt like I had reached French Polynesia, this is what you picture and dream about when you hear the words French Polynesia. We sailed in through the deep blue pass, surrounded by coconut tress on either side, and into the lagoon and the water changed from deep blue to turquoise, little specs of reef dotting the way ahead of us. There were a few boats there all ready in the anchorage, and one of them I knew well. I had met Eric and Alice off SV Suricat for the first time in Cuba and we had sailed lots together all through the Caribbean side of Central America, was great to see them again. Eric came out and welcomed us in and soon we were anchored up and enjoying this amazing place.
Once of the big attractions of the south pass at Fakarava is the sharks in the pass. On one count I heard of there were seven hundred, black tips, white tips and greys, all moving in the current. We had just also missed the grouper spawning that takes place once a year, with hundreds and hundreds of big grouper all congregating in this pass to create new life. It would have been amazing to see, but didn’t feel too bad as both the BBC and a French documentary team were there to film it and they missed it as well. It wasn’t more than an hour after dropping anchor that I myself was dropping into the deep blue of the pass. To feel that weightlessness again and to just fall to the bottom of the ocean and lie there is something that is a medicine for me, and it was good to get my fix. The sharks were there, not hundreds, but lots, drifting in through the pass I would come across little pockets of fifteen to twenty sharks and below, all along the bottom, were coral trout, trevally, unicorn fish and many other colorful species all making their life in this amazing little channel. I had thrown the gun in the boat as dinner was needed and had Adriano float about me in the dingy while I selected the night’s menu. It wasn’t as hectic I expected, maybe because there was no one else spearing and I managed to get a few fish before the sharks got too worked up, shot three and didn’t lose one, pretty happy with that. That night there was a BBQ on the beach and with some fresh fish contributed on our part we met some of the other cruisers that were exploring the area.
Spent the next week free diving and surfing and joined the crew of Suricat for a Scuba dive as well. It always feels a bit weird to have all the gear and the sound of the bubbles when I dive again, but to be able to just drift along with the current and stay below the surface for a while is pretty cool once in a while. We timed the current and started outside and drifted back into the lagoon, its like a free ride through an amazing aquarium and was one of the best scuba dives I've done in a long while. The amount of sharks I saw in that one dive was far more than I've seen anywhere else, and that includes spearfishing. Got back from the dive though and soon after started to feel unwell, I've had an infected but on my leg for a few weeks now and have been trying to keep it clean and let it heal up, but hard when that means staying out of the water though. Think I got a bit cold on the dive and with my body all ready struggling to fight off the infection it caught up with me, soon after my leg began to ache, I developed a fever and my glands in my groin became swollen, the same thing had happened a few weeks prior in the Gambiers as well with the other leg. I put a call out on the radio and got some antibiotics off another boat and spent the night in bed feeling horrible. Getting a serious infection in somewhere remote like this is not something I wanted, and looked like it was going to mean a few days out of the water for me.
Soon it was time to look at moving on up to the north and also for a big change on board. Kim was going to get a lift to Tahiti with some friends on another boat, so would be jumping off just as I was going to head to the North of the Pass to drop off Adriano and pick up my cousin, Adam. He had spent nearly six months on board and we had some amazing adventures and learned a lot about each other and ourselves. It was great having him on board, but he needed to go off and do his own thing, and I was stoked for him that he was off on another adventure. Having good crew along for the trip makes all the difference in the world. So we said goodbye, pulled anchor and headed north. Its amazing sailing in the lagoon, the reef blocks all the swell but you still get the wind and it doesn’t get to be much better conditions than that. We covered the miles to the north anchorage in a pleasant five hours and dropped anchor just off the little village. Felt good to be somewhere with some shops and services again and the ship was due in the next morning with some much needed fresh supplies as well.
Its funny how plans can change literally overnight sometimes. Adriano got off to catch his flight just as I got a message from Adam saying he could not get a flight out of Tahiti to meet me for about a week. I also saw the doctor in town and he advised to stay out of the water, my outboard was in serious need of repair, and looking at the weather there was a really good weather window to get to Tahiti in the next few days. So after weighing it all up I decided to make the trip to Tahiti solo and finish my all too brief time in the Tuamotos. I really am disappointed about not getting to explore this area more, it was one of the main reasons I wanted to sail here, there are so many amazing atolls and huge amounts of great diving and surf to be had. My time stuck in the Gambiers had taken up half of my available time in French Polynesia and without an outboard and not being able to dive or surf out here too, well it just didn’t fall into place unfortunately, sometimes things just don’t go to plan. I will have to come back one day to do it properly. I felt good about the decision though, and it felt great to be just Kuhela and I again for a while after so long with people on board. I also managed to get hold of some vegetables in town and paid $25 for three carrots, three green peppers, two small eggplants, six tomatoes, and a cabbage, best $25 I have ever spent. I have been craving fresh veggies, I have literally been dreaming of them. So after a giant salad for dinner I awoke in the morning and pulled anchor for Tahiti.
The feeling of being out at sea alone with Kuhela is amazing. I motored out through the pass, set the sails and sailed just off the reef, where the water drops away from ten foot to three hundred only about fifty meters off shore, fishing the drop off with the hope of some fresh fish for the trip over, the fish had other ideas unfortunately though. Wind was 10 – 15 knots on a beam reach and made great time as I headed towards Tahiti. It has really begun to sink in as to how much I learned about Kuhela and how to sail her on the crossing. On the passage from Gambiers, and even out here now, I have a much greater understanding of what to do and what makes her go. Glad to see I'm taking some lessons on board. The wind stayed constant all day and we cruised along at 6 knots with a bright, clear sky overhead and perfect sailing weather. The day passed quickly as I busied myself with small jobs and the many minor things on board necessary for a smooth trip and soon enough the sun as sinking into the sea again and in the darkness we sailed on. The moon was late rising and it was a black night, I came up to have a look around after one quick snooze and could hardly see my hand stretched out ahead of me, the sky was a bit overcast but still the starts shone through, millions of twinkling lights overhead. I had noticed two really bright stars closely aligned for the last few weeks and had found out there were Venus and Jupiter, and it had been about 2000 years since they had last aligned like this, quite spectacular.
The following day the wind came up a bit more and I put a couple reefs in and the motion on board was a little less comfortable with the building swell, but still a brilliant day on the water. They say never turn your back on the sea, and it does have a wicked sense of humor, one wave caught us at just the right angle and sent a shower of water up and into the hatch I had forgotten to close and drenched the couches and a few other things inside, just after I washed everything in Fakarava too. My fault I guess, and wont be happening anytime again soon. The wind later in the day had trouble making up its mind and would blow for a bit and then drop off, only to pick up again half an hour later. Took a little bit of adjusting the sails to find the optimal setting that would stop them from flapping in the lighter air, but we figured it out, another lesson from the crossing. There were a few other boats around on their way to Tahiti, I could hear them on the radio, and a couple times I did spy one out on the horizon, but mostly the ocean was mine, just the way I like it. Just before sunset I noticed a smudge on the horizon and there she was, Tahtiti, still 70 NM away but visible with its high mountains, the island looked amazing bathed in the colors of the setting sun. Got a bit less sleep that night with the shifty wind and knowing there were boats around but wasn’t too bad and did manage to get some rest in the end. I timed my trip perfectly and the rising sun caught me just as I was coming around the Northern tip of the island. I sailed on past point Venus, where Captain Cook set up his observation point to view this planet, and Tahiti was truly awe inspiring with the Large mountains in the background and the way they changed with the light. They looked like huge mounds of crumpled green paper, just like I used to make in my model building as a child, the shadows falling and accentuating every fold and crack.
I was here, I had sailed to Tahiti, even saying that sounds amazing, and rightly so, it is an amazing place with so much history and beauty in the place as well as the people. I called up the port captain for permission to enter the harbor and was greeted by the most friendly official I have ever come across, a fitting welcoming to a place know for hospitality. I decided to go into the marina, as there were a few jobs I needed to do and also to give Kuhela a good wash down and get all the salt off her, this would probably be the last marina I'm in before New Zealand. It felt great to be somewhere with people and activity again (though I know I may think differently in a week) and the new marina is right on the waterfront in the main area of town. I tied up and got settled in a bit and sent a message to my cousin Adam that I had arrived, he had gotten in a couple days prior and soon enough he was down the boat and was really good to catch up. I am stoked to have him on board, and I have also gotten word that my best mate Joe would also be joining us for the rest of the trip. To have crew sorted, and not just any crew, but good mates on board is a dream come true for me. Adam has some great plans for things to film and will be bringing out some videos as we go along. Going to be great to see what he comes up with. We will spend a week or so in Tahiti getting a few things sorted out, and enjoying meals of fresh vegies, before heading to our next stop in the Society Islands, Riatea. I am really excited to see what comes out of the rest of the trip and to get to share it with mates, continue to learn and grow, and score some waves and have some fun. Life is good.