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escapade sailing

life on the ocean

Full boat in Fiji

Waves.

Our anchor is hooked in to a narrow strip of sand just inside the outer reef.

A four minute ride in the dinghy gets us to Namotu. 

Today we tied up to a mooring in the pass and paddled across to the Namotu Left.

A storied surf break mainly enjoyed by guests on Namotu island.

The waves are head high and peeling down the reef in regular sets.

Nobody else is there, except a passing pod of pilot whales.

Me and my very happy crew enjoy the moment, too good to last.

If it’s good here, you don’t get it to yourself for long. 

We are joined by a few of the Namotu crew.  There always seems to be a friendly vibe in the water and there are certainly plenty of waves to go round.

We surf until sunset.  All smiles back on the boat that night.

The Escapade take-over.

I am adjusting to this new way of living on the boat.

Escapade has been our little private bubble for so long.  

Just Dawn and I, with the occasional guest or two, barely enough to ruffle our usual routine.

But this is very different, we are six on board now, that’s a full boat.

Auriane arrived from France to be reunited with Bryan, and Wyatt flew in from US with even more boardbags, full of new gear to be photographed.

So there’s no longer any point in me even trying to keep everything neat and tidy, or impose any kind of normality.

It’s chaos. 

Surfboards everywhere. 

Escapade is bristling with foiling gear, every locker overflowing. 

I cannot walk anywhere around the deck without stepping over hydrofoils, wings, pumps and boardbags.

The guardrails are festooned with drying boardshorts, bikinis and towels.

The saloon is full of cameras, housings, bags, drones. So the inverter is on all day keeping all those batteries charged.

The dinghy has been re-purposed as a full-time tow vehicle.  Pulling foil boards into perfect waves.  

It’s fine, I am letting it all wash over me, it’s only for a week or so.

Then there’s the provisioning.

We stocked up at a supermarket in Denarau before heading out to the reefs.

While I was filling a cart with fresh fruits, veg and salad to last a week, the boys were busy with their own essentials.

Wyatt’s cart contained hundreds of bottles of beer and enough bags of processed snacks and junk food to fill a cabin.

His finishing touch was three freshly baked 26” pizzas to go.

Like I said, it’s all fine. it’s just washing right over me.

On the plus side, I am riding some beautiful waves on all kinds of boards and foils.

The waves here are superb.

Within a couple of miles the outer reef features three passes, the two tiny islands of Tavarua and Namotu, and a cluster of world class surf breaks.

Once we worked out a spot to anchor Escapade within an easy dinghy ride of all that, nobody wanted to leave.

It’s a sandbank just inside the reef, quite exposed, but in settled weather we can stay out here for days. Trying to be at the right surf spots at the right state of each tide.

Taking care of business.

For two weeks Escapade has been the mobile base for a photoshoot.

The crew are working through all of the new Slingshot gear, ticking off photos and video required for each product, lining up the right combination of gear for the day’s conditions.

If the wind and waves are up, they are at it all day long, it’s relentless.  Riding, shooting, changing foils, wings, lenses, drones, back out for more. 

Then hoping for the magic light of sunset for a few last action shots.

I’m impressed with their work rate, but I also get recruited. First to deliver them and the boat to the selected location for the day, but also to ride the gear and ferry the crew around in the dinghy.  I seem to have a full time job, how did that happen?

The Foil Garden

A favourite spot is on the inside of Wilkes Passage, a wave that starts as a fast right hand wall and then bends around and reforms for half a mile over shallow sand and coral, now known as ‘The Foil Garden’. 

This morning I was being towed in to glassy waves.

Long foilable walls wrapping in over sand and coral, no wind, nobody else here, very beautiful.

I’ve been asked to ride a new foil board as everyone else seems to be busy.  Bryan driving, Eric shooting from the water, Wyatt filming with his drone from the mothership.

Bryan tows me behind Escapade’s dinghy, he puts me into position on the approaching swell, I whip in to the wave face and drop the rope.

Some of the rides were ridiculously long, flying down the wall, straight past Eric who is swimming with his housing, into the inside section then turning left and right as the wave reforms across the beautiful reef.  It just goes on and on.  I towed Bryan into one and chased him in the dinghy for half a mile, we estimated it as a 5 minute ride!

Finally we dinghy back to Escapade, as we are tying up there is a bit of panic, the drone batteries are running out. Wyatt has brought it back to the boat, but he can’t see it, so he can’t land it.  He thinks his drone is right above our mast. We are all looking up, no drone.

Then Eric sees it.  Half a mile away is one other catamaran, anchored while the crew go surfing. The drone is above their mast…

Great flying Wyatt, but wrong boat!

Eric and I jump in the dinghy and speed over there in time to see the batteries finally die, the drone falls out of the sky and crash-lands gently in their lazyjacks, like a fly in a spider’s web.

But we’re not out of the woods yet.  The two women on board had been sunbathing naked and they are not at all happy about this invasion of their privacy.  

We assure them that Wyatt was far too busy panicking to be taking photos of them.  The drone is returned to its pilot.

The photo embargo.

Hundreds of images are being edited and filed on board every night, amazing shots of the crew performing on all the new gear.

I have also been photographed winging and wind-foiling in waves.  Spectacular photos, but here’s the thing, I can’t put them on the blog!

All these new products are under wraps until they launch in September, so the only ones I can post are of my gear.

Once again I am very grateful to Eric for the superb photography, so at least I have something I’m allowed to put on the blog!

Eric also had a long portrait session with this juvenile brown booby who stowed away on our solar panel.  The bird seemed to enjoy posing for the close-ups.

Sevusevu

One rainy day the team took a break from filming and we all went inland to the local market.   

Lots of local produce and whole hall full of kava. Kava is the mildly narcotic root consumed here for ritual and recreational purposes.

We bought some to present to our hosts, we have a lunch date with our new friend Kula.

She has invited us to her family home where her mother Mere is cooking for us.

The whole family greet us and we sit on coconut mats beneath a tin roof as the rain falls into the mud all around us.

Brothers, uncles, and in-laws join us, they all have houses on the family land. 

I present the bundle of kava root to the grandfather. the ‘headman’ of the family.

This is the ritual of Sevusevu, after which we will be officially welcome in this family.

He starts the ceremony with some chanting and clapping, then the family joining in.  At this point it all seemed quite solemn, but it soon became much more jolly as the ground kava root was mixed in the bowl by hand and the first coconut cup of muddy looking water was offered for me to drink.

I had to choose between a ‘high tide’ or ‘low tide’ serving, so naturally I ended up with a good half pint, to be downed in one, with some more clapping.

The cup was refilled and offered in turn to one of our crew and one of the family, until everyone had drunk a few times.

The taste was earthy but not unpleasant. We thought maybe a hint of aniseed.

The mood was very convivial as we all sat on the floor, eating, chatting and drinking kava.

I could not really describe the effect the drink had on me, except that I was happy and relaxed, eventually we all felt our mouths going a bit numb.

We learned about their life on the land handed down to them through the generations, growing their fruit and vegetables as their grandparents did, although this generation also have jobs in the restaurants and hotels of Port Denarau.  The whole experience was so warm and friendly, I know we haven’t been here long but we all feel that the Fijian people are the most welcoming we have encountered anywhere.

The next day I was very tired all day, a condition I described as ‘long kava’.

More waves.

The rain passed and it was back to our routine.  One morning we anchored just inside another stretch of reef which produces breathtaking surf.

We sat and watched as pro surfers charged huge barrelling waves and winced at the horrific looking wipe outs.

Cloudbreak.  Definitely not for me. Bryan and Eric are up for the challenge.  They bravely paddled out, caught their first Cloudbreak rides and came back unharmed. 

Namotu Left is more my cup of tea.  A sensible take off for a goofy-foot, long satisfying rides without too much stress. The other day I surfed it for hours with just a few paddleboarders and the resident pod of spinner dolphins who put on a great aerial show for us between sets.

We have been in Fiji for three weeks and the swell has not stopped.  

Now finally the size and period is dropping, the photoshoot is over, Wyatt has flown off with fully loaded hard drives.

It was great fun Wyatt come back sometime!  

We have a few things to fix in port while we re-provision and plan our next bit of island hopping…

The Sacred Isles

Half of the Mamanuca islands are currently out of bounds as they have been leased to a TV company producing the Survivor show.

We have to stay 2 miles offshore so we don’t ruin the castaway illusion.  

So we sail past those and arrive in the Sacred Isles, said to be the birthplace of all Fijian culture.

Another spectacular stop for the night.  Next morning a breeze blows through. The photoshoot is over but the guys can’t resist this backdrop, so once again we are foiling round the anchorage for the cameras.

Waya

Now we have left the Mamanucas to the south and arrive at the first of the Yasawas, which stretch for another 50 miles to the north. The island of Waya has a few villages, no roads and some impressive rock spires.  

We anchor off a little resort and swim in to reserve a table for dinner.  At some point a hike was mentioned. The girls are keen. I have decided that walking up and down hills is just not my thing.  Having recovered from the ordeal of the Three Peaks Race a few years ago I vowed not to do any more of that.  But somehow I keep getting roped in to these things.  I endured an arduous descent from the top of Bequia in January which reminded me that it’s bad for my knees, but now here I am again on a ‘sporty 2 hour hike’.  Will I never learn?

Well, yes of course the views from the top are stunning, but Eric could send a drone up for that while I drink coffee on the boat.

Anyway it was more like 4 hours.

Tokatokanu Passage

Next stop is a few islands North, a famous dive site to watch manta rays feeding in the current.  We eventually find a peaceful spot to anchor for the night.  Next morning we are in the dinghy for the 3 minute ride to the pass, one hour before high water, nobody else there.  Did we get the timing wrong?

We jump in anyway, into the most beautiful underwater world that any of us have seen for a long time.  A blizzard of little fish all around us, multicoloured corals, starfish and the whole cast of reef fish.  The healthiest looking reef I have seen since the uninhabited Tuamotus.  It’s like jumping in to a different reality.  

As we drift along the pass with the dinghy, we come to a deeper chasm where the tide is running fast. Out of the gloom, a giant white form appears, flying towards us. 

The biggest manta I have seen.  It is clearly feeding in the fast flowing current, such size and grace so close, our presence is tolerated as we all swim together for several minutes before the manta performs a last banking turn and fades away into the blue.  

Back to Cloudbreak

It’s windy.  Solid 20 knots as we anchor inside the reef.  Feels like we’re way out at sea. Three miles from the main island, a mile from Tavarua island, but just a 5 minutes from Cloudbreak on a windsurf board.  What an anchorage!  It looks quiet, a few surfers and a couple of kites.  Bryan and Eric rig wing foil gear, I rig my battered old 4.7 windsurf sail.  Comfortably powered as I approach the wave, I very cautiously start feeling my way around.  It’s not huge but still a powerful break and a bit daunting. I’m trying to be on the last wave of the set and not taking any risks.  After a few rides I start to get more confident. Dropping in deeper and later, the wave sucking up over the shallow reef but just peeling.  Predictable, so it seems easy to stay out of trouble.  The surfers and kites have had their session, so now it’s just us.  Bryan and Eric picking off any wave they want on the foil boards.  A pretty special time for me.  Windsurfing Cloudbreak!  Dropping in to perfect waves with Escapade anchored just there beyond the whitewater.  It feels like the whole of my windsurfing life and my Escapade life have perfectly aligned in this moment with this crew.

Windy season

When we arrived in Fiji mid April it was hot and steamy, lots of rain and thunder, not much wind.

One morning in May we woke up and it had all changed.  Winter’s here!  The air is cooler, I’m sleeping better, and the trades are blowing. 

Wind every day.  We take advantage of the empty Namotu Left.  Too windy for surfing, so we sail it.  This time,  just us and resident kite-legend Ben Wilson.

What a great windsurfing wave, I savoured every turn.

Time to go

It’s great to have some crew around when it’s time to pack up the boat.  We are all moving on.  Wyatt’s already scoring waves in Baja.  Eric and Delia are returning to Mexico.  Bryan and Auriane are leaving for France. 

We all feel the real world crowding back in after our long stay in the Escapade bubble.  I’m so grateful to my crew for getting me across that big chunk of the South Pacific. 

I am missing my wife and looking forward to seeing Guernsey after so many months away.

Escapade is gleaming inside and out, safely tied up in the inner harbour at Vuda Point.  Another chapter over. 

Thanks once again to Eric for all the beautiful images.

More at www.ericduranphoto.com

Next stop Fiji

So finally we are on our way.

We have been planning and preparing for this moment since 5th February.

That was when we saw the email from Tahiti customs office giving us the deadline to leave by end March.

Well we did it. Escapade is ready for sea, fully crewed and provisioned.

As we pass the last coconut trees of Scilly, I haul down the courtesy flag for French Polynesia and we point our bows west across the wide Pacific.

It’s actually a relief to leave civilisation behind, the end of that to-do list.  Now it’s just us and the sea.

Did you know that the Pacific Ocean is bigger than all the land on Earth?

Flying through the Cook Islands

Escapade is fast in these conditions. 20kts of wind behind her and a smooth 2m swell to surf down.

We are eating up the miles, boat speed in double figures, when the bows point downhill she’s surfing at up to 18kts.

We slow down a bit for the hours of darkness. 

It’s a beautiful starry night again, we are zooming westward through the Cooks.

Suwarow to the north, Palmerston to the south, I have long wanted to visit both of those atolls, but the borders are still closed, so on we go.

Our 4th day at sea is dawning. It’s been a fun passage so far.  The crew are keeping busy with cooking and eating, the occasional excitement of a fish strike.  Everyone settling in to the rhythm of night watches and lazy days at sea in great sailing weather.

We are covering well over 200 miles each day, very satisfying progress to plot on our paper chart every day.

I had slightly forgotten what an incredible sailing boat this is. Just give her some breeze and she will give you the miles, effortlessly.

Having Bryan on board brings some new aspects to life on passage, feisty Mexican cooking and afternoon beer-pong sessions, for example.

Storm

Black squall clouds often form in the tradewinds.  We watch them pass us by, sometimes dodging round one, sometimes copping a direct hit.

No big deal, usually a shift and a cold blast of wind, a few minutes of heavy rain, then it passes and normal service is resumed.

Today’s squall was not like that. We got lost in it for hours and couldn’t find our way out!  Wind from all directions, incredible rainfall, terrifying thunder and lightning crashing directly overhead.  This was no isolated squall but a major weather system covering a vast area.  

We eventually emerged into a brighter sky and limped cautiously westward again under reefed sails.

Across the Samoa Basin, towards Tonga, where Polynesia blends in to Melanesia.

Then the wind dies and we are becalmed.

Time for our Halfway Party. (Postponed from yesterday due to storm).

I get a bit frustrated when we have to use an engine.  This boat needs so little wind, with the new Code D and a full main we can make great progress with 7 or 8 kts of breeze.  But I have set a minimum boat speed of 6 kts, because we still have a way to go.  So it’s on with the infernal combustion engines.

The International Date Line

The Date Line is supposed to be at 180W (or E) of Greenwich.  But down here it seems to have been moved to W172 30 00, presumably to include Tonga on the Eastern side of the line.  As we approached the line we were motoring on a calm sea, so we counted down the seconds of longitude and jumped off the boat to swim across the Date Line. We swam from from Saturday afternoon straight into Sunday afternoon. That was a quick weekend!.  Then back on the boat for another mini celebration. (Any excuse). I have now swum across the Equator and the Date Line!

Becalmed

I decided to sleep up on the trampoline, we are motoring across a calm sea under the beautiful stars, and I’m as far as possible from the engine noise.

Around 0200 I’m dreaming of wind, but it’s not a dream, I have been woken by a cool 10kt breeze blowing my bed sheets around. Delia is on watch, she helps me hoist the main and soon we are sailing.  A few hours later I wake again to the sound of quiet progress under sail.  Bliss.

But the wind is very light and unreliable, eventually becoming an emphatic calm. Not a ripple on the glassy surface, just a long groundswell from the cyclone far to our SW.

We motor on, into jaw-dropping sunsets.  The calm is a disaster for sailing, but what an extraordinary place to be.  

The nights are mesmerising. 

I’m sleeping on deck, bioluminescent bow waves like neon under the trampoline.

The milky way reflected on the surface of the open ocean?  Hard to believe.  Golden moonsets, meteor showers.

Each morning before dawn, the planets rise in a vertical line astern: Saturn, Mars, Venus and Jupiter.

Now we’re threading our way through the islands of the Vavau Group in the Kingdom of Tonga.  

Still hopefully trying to set the Main and Code D at the slightest hint of a usable breeze. 

We could just about keep moving under sail but it would take another week to get to Fiji.  Those days of reefed sails and surfing down swells at 15kts seem like a distant dream now!

Fish on!

We didn’t bother with fishing if we were sailing too fast to cope with a fish fight, but even so, we must have been trolling that lure for hundreds of miles. 

There was another Mahi Mahi that got away.  I actually watched it hit the lure at very high speed with it’s huge dorsal fin out of the water.

Then there was a beautiful short-billed spearfish, who had a very lucky escape when my crew decided to release him unharmed, just as I was reaching for the wasabi.  But now no fresh fish in the galley since we finished eating the giant Mahi Mahi a week ago.  We’ve also just eaten the last Raiatea avocado.

At lunchtime Bryan muttered how he would really like some sashimi for lunch.

Almost as he said it a cloud of excited birds were spotted to port.  We changed course and headed directly for the action, which seemed to be around a long length of free floating fishing gear.  The line went screaming off the reel. Bryan did the work. 15 minutes later we struggled to haul a yellowfin tuna on to the back step with the gaff.  We could hardly lift it.  

Land Ahoy!

April 12th 14.30 we raise our first Fijian island on the western horizon.  Eight days at sea since Mopelia. Still 300 miles to our destination but now we have to concentrate a bit more.

We will pass through the reefs and islands of the Lau Group on our way to Viti Levu. 

On past a few more islands, one morning we cross the actual meridian, from 180 W to 179 E. 

So Escapade has sailed exactly halfway around the world.  Ok, it took us 8 years, but we definitely took the scenic route.

Finally we sighted the big island at dusk, Viti Levu under a giant thunderstorm which we were happy to see drift away from us as we approached land.

The bright lights of the capital Suva twinkling as night fell, by far the biggest town since Papeete.

Bula!  (Fijian for hello, welcome, cheers, etc)

Next morning we motor in through the pass within sight of several very famous surf breaks, my crew are twitching with excitement, but no surfing yet.

First we have to find our way up the creek to Port Denarau where we are greeted by a smiling group of Fijian women who come aboard to lead us through the process of covid testing, bio security clearance, customs, immigration, cruising permits, quarantine clearance and permission to disembark.

A truly charming, fun and friendly welcome to the nation of Fiji.  Bula!

We have covered around 2000 miles in very varied conditions,  a voyage well made.  The crew are still happy and I didn’t break the boat. 

Fiji courtesy flag hoisted.  Time to go ashore and sample a local beer.

On A Mission

The new crew arrived. I had told them to travel light, space on the boat is very limited.

I tried to stay calm as the baggage was dragged out of the little Raiatea airport. 

Giant triple boardbags. Surf boards, windsurf board, sails, foil boards, kite boards, hydrofoils, a quantity of wings, plus camera gear, housings, drones.

200kg of luggage piles up at the dock outside the terminal.

Two trips in my very heavily laden dinghy and it’s all on board and somehow stowed.

The davits make a good board rack.

The new team.

It all began with a conversation over a Baja Fog.

I needed to put a crew together fast. A few people who could sail, that I could live with, and were available.

Bryan solved that in a day.

Eric and Delia are from Spain,  Bryan from US, they have all been spending winters in Baja Mexico.

Eric is a water photographer who likes to swim with whales.

He and Delia are surfers, kiters, foilers, freedivers.

Delia is an experienced yachtie with lots of miles and a few Atlantic crossings in her wake.

Bryan is a cameraman and multi-watersports athlete. He’s already logged some Escapade miles.

So yes they are all keen to crew the passage, but I sense an ulterior motive.

They work as a photography team to shoot new products and create video content for watersports manufacturers.

This trip gives them the world-class backdrops of French Polynesia at one end and Fiji at the other, with the slight inconvenience of an 1800 mile ocean crossing in between.  Hence the boatload of new Slingshot foil gear, wings etc. 

Hmm, did I just get hijacked? 

Raiatea – Bora Bora – Maupiti

The next few days are busy with provisioning and last minute jobs on the list.

The new crew settle in and use every puff of breeze to get foiling photos in beautiful Polynesian water.

Then we start to sail west.

The mountains of Bora Bora just as breathtaking as I remember.  (Dawn and I sailed here in 2019, I was in bed with dengue fever.)

We sailed and foiled around the lagoon then took our ships papers to the Gendarmerie on Monday morning to do our customs and immigration clearance.

It was granted by email from Papeete that evening.  We are free to go.

We called in to Maupiti and anchored for a night. More foiling shots. 

Starting to eat our way through a huge Mahi Mahi which Bryan landed on the way in.

The next evening we left at sunset. 

First night

What a dreamy night at sea.

I had been planning this one carefully, first time sailing through the night on Escapade with my new crew.

We have done a couple of day-sails so everyone’s getting familiar with the boat, and the forecast promised a fair breeze.

The night was moonless, but brightly lit by the stars of the southern sky.

The wind blew about 13 kts on our port quarter all night long.  For Escapade that’s about 7 knots boat speed and 7 knots apparent wind. Main and jib.

That’s just enough for the hydro generator to keep the batteries comfortably charged until the solar comes back on in the morning.

Just a smooth, easy cruise under the stars.  Splitting the hours of darkness between 4 people seems like a great luxury to me.

Off watch I fell asleep listening to the symphony of creaks, bumps and gurgles that I know so well.  It’s all coming back to me now.  The rush of water past the hulls, the rig pulling us along and the comforting whirr of the hydro impellor.

Mopelia (Maupiha’a)

We sailed 100 miles and at daybreak we were off Mopelia, the farthest west you can go in French Polynesia.  A beautiful atoll which can only be entered through a tiny pass, if the swell is low.  

Hio is a Mopelia local.  In the boatyard in Raiatea he told me very clearly, if the swell is SW, when you arrive, don’t attempt the pass. If the swell is more than 1.5 metres from any direction, don’t attempt the pass.  Sail straight on to Fiji!

We slowly approached the entrance, some turbulent water outside, then the coral shelf so close on both sides as we push in against a 4kt outgoing current and breath a sigh of relief when we squeeze through, into the uncharted lagoon.

About 10 people live here farming the copra, the cash crop from the thousands of coconut palms.

Our friends in Taha’a had told us to bring some food for them and that they would really appreciate it.  There is no village here, no phone mast, no supply ship. 

So it’s a 100 mile boat ride to the nearest store. Upwind.

We dropped our hook in another dreamy turquoise swimming pool and made the most of the breeze, exploring the lagoon on wing foils.

Eric sent his drone up to maximum altitude to get these beautiful photos of the atoll.

Pretty cool to have pro photographers on the boat again, most of these amazing pics are by Eric, Thanks Eric.

The next morning we went to introduce ourselves to Carina, Hio’s sister. She has lived here full time for 8 years.

I was told that cans of corned beef are considered a very rare culinary treat here, Carina’s face beamed with a huge smile when we presented her with a few cans. 

For company she has 4 dogs, some pigs, ducks and chickens.  (Now 5 dogs, a puppy was born that night.)

We watched Popo the piglet enjoying her breakfast of uto, germinated coconut meat.  

Next we are presented with two enormous kaveu, live coconut crabs.  Carina has captured these at night in the coconut grove. They are momentarily blinded by a flashlight, then handled very carefully, the two huge claws would easily take a finger or two.  Then they have been tied up with palm fibres and fattened up, and now they are being presented to us in gratitude for the canned beef delicacies.  Would we like them?  Yes please!  

Then a discussion on how to kill and cook them.  Would we like her to cook them for us? Yes please!  Carina lights a fire of coconut husks and boils a large pan of water.  The first crab is instantly dispatched with a blade between the eyes, then boiled for 10 minutes.  There is only room in the pot for one at a time, Bryan was left in charge of the other.

High and dry on the beach is a classic local powerboat.  Timber hull and an elderly outboard.

It has been careened for repairs, hauled out by tractor on a rusty trailer.

Now it is ready to re-launch, but without the tractor.  Other family members are arriving by boat, uncles and cousins, seems like a launch party.  We are asked to lend a hand. 

The boat and trailer are heavy, the sand is soft, the day is very hot and unusually calm. And the trailer has a flat tire!

Time for some stone-age engineering with blocks and levers and coco-tree rollers.

After about three hours of very hot work we finally float the boat and retire with a reward of fresh green coconuts to drink.  

Popo and I cool off in the lagoon.

Time for our Kaveu lunch.

What a treat!  A new crustacean to try for the first time.  They are impressive, big cumbersome creatures, yet they can easily climb a tall coconut palm. 

The crab meat is so sweet and delicious, dipped in Bryan’s lemon butter sauce.  He says it is the most memorable meal of his life.

The hot calm day ends with a sunset over a completely flat lagoon.  

Then we marvel at whole constellations reflected in the mirror surface around the boat.

I slept on the trampoline under the Southern Cross and the bright Milky Way.

Until it rained.

Departure

We spent another day exploring the motu and the lagoon, the wind is still too light to be much good for our passage.  

We anchored close to the pass, surrounded by thousands of wheeling, squawking seabirds above and a patrol of blacktip sharks below.

Next morning we weighed anchor and slipped out through that keyhole pass.  Farewell to Mopelia and to French Polynesia.

But not quite, we sail close to one more atoll, Manuae, also known as Scilly.  It is a nature reserve with no pass. This one really is the westernmost outpost of French Polynesia and probably the last land we will see for some time.

Our next port is about 1800 miles west, in Fiji.

Two Years later…

Mid February 2020 was a moment in history when everything was about to change forever, but we didn’t know it yet.

Or at least I didn’t.

I had been sailing with Bryan and Auriane, chasing swells and fish round the remote atolls of the Tuamotus, while Dawn was away in Europe.

Dawn returned to the boat and our crew flew away.

We had some good reasons to get home, so we shaped a course back toward the relative civilisation of the Society Islands.

We planned to leave Escapade on a well protected mooring while we spent a few months in Guernsey. 

Anchored off Raiatea, we started to put her to bed for the season, storing sails, pulling halyards out of the sun and clearing the decks.

We were online intermittently while we did our leisurely packing-up. 

I had been dismissing my occasional brushes with the news-cycle as media sensationalism.

One morning a phone call with a well-informed friend in Guernsey changed everything. “If you want to get home do it now”.

Within a few hours we were racing to book tickets home as borders were closing around the world.

We scrambled to finish cleaning and packing the boat, and flew home through an unbelievable new world, finally arriving at our house in Guernsey 17th March 2020. 

We would not leave for 18 months.

Escapade swung to her mooring in Baie d’Apu off the island of Taha’a, while the pandemic surged around the world.

We got to grips with life at home, rebuilt our house, tended our chickens and hosted extended visits from first my daughter and then my mother.  

Our first full Guernsey winter was a pleasant surprise, plenty of wind, swell and not too cold. I kept busy surfing, windsurfing and took up the new sport of wing foiling.  Guernsey closed her borders and remained largely Covid free.  Life was close to normal on the island, as long as you didn’t want to leave.

We were able to take quarantine-free holidays on our neighbouring islands, and the pubs stayed open while half the world was in lock down.

Escapade was due to leave French Polynesia in June 2021 at the end of her 3 year permit to remain in Tahiti waters, but the borders were closed.

The customs authorities in Papeete granted an extension to remain until end December 2021.  But that deadline was in the middle of the cyclone season, so we negotiated a further extension until end March 2022.  We were told that it would be easy to extend that again, I was hoping to wait until some more borders re-opened in the South Pacific, but then in February we were informed very clearly by Tahiti customs that the boat must leave French Polynesia by end March, no further extensions!

We happened to be in Mexico at the time, so we cut short the Baja surf trip and travelled back to Tahiti, toute suite.

Back on board

Sometimes I get a bit daunted by the complexity of our boat.  So many details that all need to work!  Sails, rigging, engines, electronics, plumbing, fridges, instruments, the list is long enough to keep me awake at night.  Well never more so than now, after two years without use. Now we have hornets nesting in our cockpit!  Actually our friend Fred had done a great job of keeping everything tidy on board, regularly cleaning and airing the boat and running the engines.  But now we faced the re-instatement of all the other stuff.  We worked our way around the boat turning things on with fingers firmly crossed.

Lights…Yes!  Fridges…Yes!  Instruments…Yes!  Autopilot…Yes!  Dinghy outboard…started first time!

It was all going so well, until we tried the watermaker, which had been left in sterilised mode. It made lots of unfamiliar noises so we turned it off quick.  Fred diagnosed the problem and we had to wait two weeks for spare parts to arrive from France. Meanwhile I had to hoist Dawn up the mast to bring down all our halyards which we had stored out of the sunlight. 

Then we started ticking jobs off a very long to-do list.  We replaced toilet pumps, valves, solenoids, engine oil and filters, engine batteries, the stack-pack sail cover, EPIRB, fire extinguishers, Dawn ran a major IT re-set with expired satellite phones and woke up the computer. I re-ran all the deck lines and running rigging. We replaced our original daggerboard lines and traveller. Then we hauled out in Raiatea and cleaned the hulls and props. Checked saildrives, oil, checked diesel tanks for signs of bacterial growth (Not much, our bio-cide was working.) Fit new adodes, re-launch, play with new Code D sail (to replace our very tired gennaker).  A thousand things to do and each day closer to our deadline to depart.  It was a very busy, sweaty couple of weeks. Then the watermaker parts arrived and with Fred’s help we fitted new membranes, high-pressure hoses, seals and put it all back together again. Fingers crossed, turn it on…Yes!

Now it really feels like the boat is ready for sea again.

But where to?

The classic sailing route across the Pacific from Tahiti is an exercise in joining the dots as you waft generally westward, because that’s the way the tradewinds blow.

I had planned to stop in Suvarow, Aitutaki and a few other of the Cook Islands, then perhaps a few days in the tiny nation of Niue before arriving in the Kingdom of Tonga to explore some of those 300 islands, perhaps freediving with the calving humpback whales in July. 

But having waited two years for those countries to re-open their borders, they are still closed.

So we now have to sail straight past all of them, to Fiji.  it’s the only country open down here, about 1800 nautical miles from Taha’a.

Remembering the dream.

A cruising yacht is a wonderful toy to have. She can take you to places and experiences that cannot be reached any other way.

The romantic notion of sailing away on my dream boat sustained me through years of working away in London.

But you have to be living and sailing on the boat for that dream to come true.

A cruising yacht stuck on the other side of the world is no fun.

And there were times in the boatyard this month when I wondered why on earth I need all this complication in my life.

Head down in a tight bilge space fixing a seawater toilet pump, for example.

But sailing away on Escapade was always my dream.

That adventure is still over the westward horizon, just like it always was, and I’m nearly ready to go again. 

Fixing the boat and remembering why this was all such a great idea, and still is. 

New Crew

Dawn is not coming with me on this trip but don’t panic!  I have a plan.

I had hoped to sail this leg with my daughter Jemima and her cousin Daisy, but they’re not available.

Monty is usually easy to press-gang, but he’s at the Winter Olympics.

So to replace Dawn on this trip, I would really need to assemble a crack team of hardened trans-ocean yachtsmen.

Well they were not available either, so Bryan’s coming!  With a couple of friends from Baja, we will be a crew of 4.

I may even get some sleep.

Back to the atolls.

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January 19th

Crew change

After a leisurely lap of the Tikehau lagoon, Dawn is leaving me for a few weeks.  We’ve been away from home since October and Dawn needs to be in Guernsey and England to see family and friends.

The problem is that it’s cyclone season here, so if a storm threatened while Dawn was away, Escapade would need to move north, and I would need a crew.

We have some volunteers!  Bryan and Auriane, friends from Maui.  They have come to help me sail the boat and are hoping to score some surfing and diving along the way.

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January 20th

After a few days at anchor, Escapade slips into holiday mode.  She is no longer an ocean-going vessel, more of a floating beach house.  All the toys are out of the lockers.  Decks strewn with windsurf gear, foils, spear-guns, paddleboard, sunshades rigged.

Then we see a forecast with a good wind direction to make some easting for the next atoll. It looks very light, but should be do-able with big sails.  We plan our departure and arrival times, hoping to arrive with good light for coral pilotage, and allowing for tidal flows in and out of the passes.

Then the boat transforms back to a passage-making craft, ready for sea.  Toys stowed, hydro-generator back on the transom, Code Zero hoisted and furled, anchor up, and off to the pass at the appointed hour.

As we approached the pass we could see white spray flying over blue walls as they wrapped in to the reef.  It was still 2 miles away. Bryan started to twitch a bit.

As we got closer, the size and quality of the wave became clear.

There was quite an intense conference in the cockpit.  What to do?  Cancel sailing trip?  Surf today and try to leave tomorrow?  But our window in the forecast is tight. If we don’t go today we may have easterlies for another week or more.  Close to the pass now, the next set rolls in.  Bryan is starting to freak out, we are motoring straight past a dream wave and out to sea?

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I agree to a one hour delay to the passage plan.  Bryan shoves fins in his surfboard and jumps off the boat.  Paddling in to his first barrel as we slowly take Escapade back in through the pass.

That delay was the start of a frustrating trip, plagued by squalls and calms and a forecast NE wind that never materialised. We finally sailed in to Fa’aite after two nights at sea.  We eyeballed our way north through uncharted coral heads and found a turquoise spot to drop our hook off a deserted motu.  Time to rest up for a few days.

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Bryan sharpened the tip of his spear and started shooting fish around the local coral bommies.

Auriane was armed with a pole spear and they quickly adjusted to the life on the reef and the general sharkiness. Sharks are a factor in most fishing trips in these atolls.

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Foiling update

Bryan’s arrival on Escapade has ramped up the foiling level quite a bit.

He was a pro freestyle windsurfer and is now throwing moves on his foil board that I can’t even name.

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Looks like I need to up my game!

I decide I will learn to do the downwind 360.  A smooth turn carved in a full circle that takes you the wrong side of the sail and back again, but doesn’t look too dangerous.

The punishment begins.

Try, crash, waterstart, try again.

Repeat until exhausted.

The whole process of teaching this old dog a new trick moves painfully slowly.  By the end of the first day I felt like I’d been beaten up.

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The resident pro offers valuable nuggets of advice. After a few sessions still no 360, but some progress, maybe couple of 340s!

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Swell chasing

Trying to score waves on a sailing boat can be a frustrating business.  The demands of the yacht and the surfboard are not usually aligned.  We have had a few magic moments along the way but usually more by luck than any real planning.

Bryan’s first, brief encounter with a Polynesian reef pass has lit the fire.  He’s hungry for waves.

Whenever we get a whiff of internet he is scanning swell forecasts, and if we’re offline, Dawn is calling through Surfline data to the satellite phone from Guernsey.

A big storm off New Zealand is sending a long period swell our way.  Can we intercept it somewhere?  We scan the charts, studying the angles and orientation of the passes.  So many options, but we have no idea which will produce rideable waves from this swell.  And where will we anchor Escapade?  A sheltered spot within dinghy range of the waves?  We patch a plan together with best guesses and a few scraps of local knowledge gleaned from our chats with the few Tuamotans we meet.

At one point we were living by a promising forecast for Teahupoo (250 miles SW of us) and planning our movements accordingly.

Even when the swell arrives there’s still the local weather to contend with.  That has been much more of a challenge this season, the trade wind flow is ‘perturbé’ as they keep saying on the French Meteo messages.

We endured unfavourable sailing and some uncomfortable nights at anchor, but we did find some beautiful waves.

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Ok, swell forecast came true, we’re here, waves look good, boards are waxed. How do we even get out there? Strong currents through the passes, sharp coral on the reef flats.

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And once you make it out to where you think could be the right spot, you realise that the waves are sucking up that shallow water off the reef below you.  Only the biggest set waves will break far enough out.  Commitment required.

So none of it was easy.  The planning, anchoring, access, take-offs, all pretty tricky.

But we did score a few rides we won’t forget.

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Fishing update

The spearfishing has been good.  We’re back on the Tuamotus diet, rich in fish and coconuts.

Bryan shot a big parrotfish right under the boat.  I went down with a camera to see what was going on and took this shot as he was ascending with his fish.

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All of which attracted a few blacktip reef sharks.

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Fillets grilled over coconut husks for lunch.

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Next day I saw another one under the boat.

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One dive, one shot, back on the boat with the day’s catch in 5 minutes.

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Which leaves plenty of time free for foiling…

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Beach combing…

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Drift diving in the pass…

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Another shark story?

So we’re snorkelling round a nice big coral bommie, so far we have shot one parrotfish and got him safely back to the dinghy, de-speared and in the fish box. Not quite big enough for dinner.

We get back in the water to try again. It has got much more sharky, blacktips, whitetips and a big grey are excited by the kill, now all circling the scene of the crime.

There are still some good size parrotfish down there, but in deeper water now. I dive deep and hold on to a piece of coral with my gloved left hand, right hand aiming the speargun at the group of parrots, all just within range but not offering a good side-on target. I’m trying to stay motionless, but I’m running out of bottom time, need to breath. Then a massive bumphead parrotfish appears next to me and swims slowly in front of my spear. I shoot him through the
back of the head, not a kill. Spear goes straight through the fish which starts thrashing about. It’s now threaded on the dyneema line between spear and gun. I start pulling on the line to retrieve the fish but the big grey shark comes in very fast. He turns away from my fish at the last moment, but by that time I have panicked and dropped everything. Bryan was just coming down to act as shark deterrent when he sees me ascending, so he turns round and we both surface. Breathe.

Meanwhile, it’s mayhem down there. Big cloud of blood and fish scales. Lots of sharks confused by the gun and spear. The grey finally muscles in and swallows the parrotfish whole, still on the line. Now he sets off, with the spear dangling from one side of his mouth and the gun on the other, pursued by a bunch of blacktips, and me!
My spear gun is disappearing in to the big blue! I give chase at full front crawl pace on the surface as they all disappear in to deep water. Lost my gun!
Wait, a flash of yellow, the foam filled aluminium tube is slowly surfacing, line bitten through. I swim to retrieve it and there, far below is the spear, lying on a sandy bottom with the rest of the severed line. Beyond my comfortable depth but I don’t have a spare. I finally reach it, and it’s now re-threaded with a new line and working fine!
Bryan made fish tacos..

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February 15th

Thanks crew!

Dawn is back on board, Bryan and Auriane are leaving us after weeks of adventures in the Tuamotus.

It’s been great to sail with them.

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We covered hundreds of miles, a few dark nights at sea, and a nice constellation of different atolls.

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My French seems to be improving with daily use, but it has been very useful to have Auriane (who is French) to help with translation. She’s also a yogi, a PADI dive instructor, comfortable at depth and happy to be on shark watch while the spears are flying.

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Bryan is useful to have around too.  Apart from the windsurf coaching, he’s a cameraman, drone pilot and good at fixing things. (windsurf boom, speargun, satellite phone!) He loves to fish and spearfish and surf, so he fits in pretty well.

He also has special skills in Mexican cuisine so the galley has been producing delicious tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, micheladas, margaritas and the occasional Baja Fog.

So many good times, thanks for coming to help out!

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Tahaa to Tikehau

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Sorry the blog has not been updated due to lack of internet and lack of Dawn. (She’s back now.) So here’s the notes from January…

Our friend Fi arrived from Auckland to help us celebrate the turning of the new decade.

We spent a few days circumnavigating the island of Taha’a.  North wind allowed us to anchor up in the motus at the north of the lagoon.

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Another South Seas daydream, nobody there, feels far from civilisation.

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But just a mile around the corner is the very civilised Taha’a Hotel, too good to sail past.  The sort of place you could stop for a proper lunch.  So we did.

Other guests arrived by seaplane, serenaded by this chap with his ukulele.

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Jan 5th

As Fi flew back to NZ we had a wind forecast that looked good to sail East.

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These weeks in the Society Islands have been a fun start to our season, but now we are well provisioned and ready for some more exploring.

I’m keen to get back to the remote atolls of Tuamotus.

The first day at sea only took us as far as the next island.  I had forgotten how much these high mountainous islands affect the wind.

Oh well, dinner at the Huahine Yacht Club and an early start tomorrow.

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January 6th.

Alarm wakes us at 0500, first light.

Kettle on, anchor up and we slip away, hoisting the main with the sun coming up and a promising breeze.

Our first real ocean passage of the season.

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January 7th

It was all smoothish sailing until 0130 when the first black cloud blocked out the stars, then a series of squalls and a wet ride with 2nd reef pulled down.

We sailed about 240 miles and were happy to arrive in sunny Tikehau, through the sparkling pass and into the flat lagoon.  We’re back in the Tuamotus.

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Time to brush up on all the skills we acquired here last season. Finding a sandy spot for our anchor amongst the coral heads, spearfishing and coconut scrumping.

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Bora Bora

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6th December 2019

Bora Bora.  Is it real?

I have read that Bora Bora is the most beautiful island in the world.

Her spectacular twin peaks surrounded by a glorious blue lagoon.

It’s truly gorgeous to look at as you arrive by sea, sail in through the pass and find a spot to anchor on the huge turquoise sandbanks.

But is it a real place any more?

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After the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, the US military formed a plan to control the Pacific and Bora Bora was selected as the site for a strategic supply and re-fuelling base.  A task force was despatched with 4500 troops to turn a sleepy French overseas territory into the centre of the US Pacific theatre of war.

When the ships arrived in February 1942 they found a small Polynesian population living a very simple, un-mechanised life. There were palm thatch huts, no roads, and coconut tree trunks for bridges over streams.

Within a year the US troops had built roads, defences and an airport.  The twentieth century arrived here in a rush.

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That airport is still in use today and it feeds a steady flow of tourists to the high-end resorts.  The product they consume is the Bora Bora dream island.  Over-water bungalows, incredible views of mountains and lagoon, breakfast delivered by outrigger canoe!  It’s amazing, and yours for about $3,000 a night.

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Our take on the place is a bit different. We are enjoying all the same views, but we also need to go to town, buy groceries, do some laundry, maybe find a bar with some wifi.  The ‘town’ of Vaitape is a strange place, no food market, no bars, really just a dock to welcome tourists and a strip of shops to sell them souvenirs before they are whisked away to their resorts.

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We jumped out of the dinghy to snorkel a patch of reef.

We were immediately surrounded by a cloud of colourful reef fish, swimming right up to our hands and masks.

Wow, they are very friendly!  But this is not normal behaviour.  Adjacent to the reef is a small island resort.  The guests come to snorkel with some leftover bread from the breakfast buffet and take photos of the daily feeding frenzy.  The fish population now expects every human swimmer to have some stale baguettes with them.  They don’t behave like wild fish anymore, we thought they don’t even look like normal reef fish, that high carb diet perhaps?

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Nature tainted by human activity, nothing new there.  We are missing the authentic wild reefs of the Tuamotus, but what is authentic really?  I’m sure we’re changing behaviour there too, the moment we drop anchor we have changed the neighbourhood.  The sharks soon learn to get easy snacks from the hapless spearfisherman.

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The Bora Bora lagoon is still very beautiful and we were happily surprised to find patches of reef thriving, despite proximity to the human world.

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If you like a shallow turquoise anchorage with plenty of breeze for wind-foiling, you really are spoilt for choice here.

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To celebrate Dawn’s birthday we went ashore for dinner in one of the five-star honeymoon hotels.  Our table and chairs on a glass floor with sharks swimming in the flood-lit lagoon below us.

 

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17th December 2019

 

Maupiti

 

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Another volcano breaks the horizon, 30 miles west of Bora Bora.  I read of a pristine lagoon, a tricky pass, few visiting boats.  We couldn’t resist.

An early morning start, and a weather forecast that was totally wrong, as they often are in this area.  We negotiated the dog-leg pass and found our way to the anchorage off the village.

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Something’s wrong here.  The water is murky, with great orange algal blooms flowing across the lagoon.  For the first time in weeks we can’t see our anchor in the sand.  What’s happened here?  This is one of the more remote spots in the Society Islands, no tourism and a small community, usually all the ingredients for healthy coral and spectacular diving, but in Maupiti we didn’t want to get in the water.

The answer, as well as we could understand it, is a watermelon farm on one of the motus.

The farmers are using artificial fertilisers to improve their crop, the chemicals run off into the lagoon, where they also fertilise the algae.

For now, the equilibrium has been upset and the lagoon is a sad sight.  I hope it’s reversible.

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Fever!

 

We sailed back to Bora Bora where I was bitten by the world’s most dangerous animal.

The mosquito.

I started complaining of aching joints, soon I was in my bunk with chattering teeth and a temperature.

Dr Dawn diagnosed Dengue Fever.

It’s not serious, starts with a bite from an infected mosquito and usually lasts a week.  Now as you know, I’m not one to make a fuss, but I’m very grateful that Dawn remained fit and was there to nurse me through the symptoms and mop my delirious brow.  At about the same time, the rain clouds closed in on the islands.

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I shivered and slept, the rain kept falling.

A lost week in the wet season.

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Dawn was fine. At some point she sailed us singlehandedly back to Raiatea while I was mainly horizontal.

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28th December 2019

 

Seemed a long time without sun or moon.

By the 10th day the skies finally cleared, we emerged into the sunlight to see waterfalls on the mountains.

I’m recovering my strength and the sun is shining on the end of 2019.

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The South Seas Season

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Roosters in the mango tree.

17th November 2019

Another house, another tropical garden.

We have flown south from Hawaii to Tahiti, switched hemispheres, from Maui winter to Polynesian summer.

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Now we are back in Raiatea where Escapade has been well cared for at Chantier Naval Des Iles.

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While we prepare to re-launch, we are living in a local house for a few days. A traditional faré with a thatched roof and no walls.  A sleeping platform up in the roof feels like a tree house.  The garden is festooned with local goodness: coconuts, mangos, pomegranate, avocados, bananas, pamplemousse and papayas ripening all around us.  It’s a lovely retreat when our sweaty boatyard chores are over.  The only real problem is the deafening cock-a-doodle-do which starts at around 5am. Earplugs help but it sounds like the damn bird is right next to our pillows.  Our landlord Fabrice explained that the cockerels like to climb the mango tree behind the house.  Perfect.

Anyway it’s good to be up early before the boatyard gets too warm.

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I have written before about our life in tropical boatyards, never my favourite part of a sailing season but all part of the story.

Anyway it’s so much nicer to be putting it all together again at the start of the season than packing it all away.

When we lay her up, we strip the deck of all running rigging, halyards get pulled up into the mast, so everything’s protected from UV while we’re away.

Now it all comes back out and the boat starts to look shipshape again.

With every task we are working through the transition back to boat life, thinking about the season ahead and gradually shifting back into the mind-set of living afloat.

Away from distractions and towards practicalities, problem solving and the daily routine of sailing, provisioning and fishing. Self reliance, tuning back in to the elements, the ocean miles ahead of us, it’s a big mental shift from living ashore.

While climbing up and down that boatyard ladder I sometimes question the amount of hard, sweaty work the boat demands from us, but the question always finds the same answer.  It’s a small price to pay.  This boat is our ticket to another world.  There is no other way I know to live so freely for months at a time.

So for a few more days, it’s up and down that ladder.

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Afloat.

25th November 2019

We’ve launched!  Out into the lagoon at Miri-Miri, Escapade suspended from an anchor chain again.  Floating just above white sand, while I’m wind-foiling round the neighbourhood, dodging coral heads and coconuts floating by.

Everything has woken up fine after it’s hibernation.  Engines, batteries, instruments, inverter, watermaker, outboard, windlass, it’s all working!  Our little escape pod is ready again, let’s go.

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We decide to start with a lap of Raiatea, because apart from the boatyard we really haven’t seen much of this island yet.  First trip is a gentle motor down the coast (we haven’t even got the jib out of it’s locker yet).

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We tuck back inside the reef at Passe Toamaro and anchor on another shallow sandbank.  To our right is a large mountain, really a huge cliff face. (Mt Tefatua 1017m) To our left the Pacific is breaking on the barrier reef and up ahead is a charming little motu, which I have just read was once owned by Diana Ross. (The Motown Motu?) It sits just inside another pass, where long mellow left-hand waves peel down the reef, perhaps Diana is goofy-foot longboarder?

Talking of surf, well, we really shouldn’t.  The locals have strict rules here, no photos, no social media, no surf ’business’ or journalism.  They are trying to protect their dream, but it’s tough to keep a secret spot these days, Google Earth has a lot to answer for.  Anyway the waves can get as heavy as the locals.  Look at this one I snapped as we were leaving through a pass.  Can’t remember where..

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So here we sit, in a few feet of clear calm water. Flounders and puffer fish snuffling round the anchor chain to see what snacks are stirred up for them as it rakes over the white sand seabed.

Showers and rainbows sweep over the green mountain.

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As if all that were not enough, there is a little restaurant here with a dock to tie our dinghy to.

Might stay a day or two.

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We did.

Next stop Nao Nao, another shallow sandy anchorage under another spectacular mountain. Mt Puuhaahea. (Poo-ooh-ha-ah-hey-ah!)

We were greeted by a pod of spinner dolphin.

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These sandbanks are home to stingrays and spotted eagle rays.  Here’s one I spotted:

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Then another couple, possibly mating:

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Beautiful spots from above, but look at the markings on the underside of the wings, never seen that before:

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Foiled again

This sensation of windsurfing on a foil is still providing plenty of stimulation.

In light winds the trim is so subtle, responding to the aerofoil in my hands and the hydrofoil beneath my feet, the combined effect is still magic for me.

This unlikely flight.  Silent, efficient and so enjoyable.

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Today I was riding in very light wind, just enough to sustain flight on the foil but barely enough to get going again if I dropped back to the surface.

In this wind a conventional windsurfer would be hardly moving, certainly not planing.  It would be trapped by the forces of gravity, drag, the wetted-surface of the board and inadequate lift from the rig.  Yet I have transcended all those laws of physics and here I am flying along faster than the wind.

Like a seabird taking off, I have to flap my wings vigorously for a few seconds (full-cardio sail pumping!) and then I’m in to an effortless, low-level glide.  Enjoying the efficiency of the wings, feeling the flow over the foil surfaces.  That wetted surface is drying in the sun.

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I left the boat and foiled to windward, exploring new territory.  Out over the shallow lagoon, glaring aquamarine, slaloming between coral heads and surprising the stingrays on the sand below.  Out at the barrier reef I gybe on to the next beat, over the edge of the sandbank in to the deep channel, the water fades from turquoise to deep blue, more breeze out here, I lean in to the power and knife upwind.  On past a tree covered motu, dodging floating coconuts, I‘m a mile upwind of the boat now.  Here’s an oily-smooth patch of water, like glass, must be a current from the reef pass, it looks so strange to be sailing over a completely mirror-calm surface at this speed.  Then out through the pass, waves breaking on the shallow coral both sides, that fizzing ozoney scent in the air coming off the reef, and ahead the dark blue open ocean.

A smooth swell is swinging round the end of the reef and walling up across the pass.  I gybe on to it and let the sail go into neutral.  The foil feels the wave and I push down to keep it working as the swell sucks water up it’s face.  Trim.  I can see coral below, I’m actually not moving forward over that reef, the current is flowing out through the pass and up my wave as fast as I am trying to foil down it.  Suspended animation.  I hit the gas and glide down the wall to into deeper water as the wave wraps in to break on the reef flats.

Zoom out.  Mountains covered in jungle, ocean, reef, lagoon, Escapade anchored way downwind.  There’s nobody else here.

I am completely absorbed with the sea, the breeze and my carbon-fibre magic carpet.

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Taputapuatea

On the east coast of Raiatea is the most important site in Polynesian cultural history.

The Marae on this peninsula are believed to be the centre of the vast Polynesian migrations of the 10th century.

From here, navigators set sail in timber sailing catamarans and populated hundreds of islands across the Pacific: north to Hawaii, east to Rapa Nui and west to New Zealand.

The Hawaiian people, Maoris, Easter Islanders, plus the Tuamotuans, Marquesans, Cook Islanders, Line Islanders, can all trace their ancestry to this site. It was here that sacrifices were performed and permission was requested to sail out through the pass for each voyage.

The site is constructed of lava stones. Tall standing stones facing in from the ocean, then flat rectangular ‘paved’ areas which were the centre of ceremonies.

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Stones from here were carried on the sailing canoes to each new settlement.  Lava rocks from here have been found in all of those distant islands.

When Captain Cook was here the chiefs laid on a human sacrifice in his honour, on this very spot.  Apparently he was offered an eyeball which he duly swallowed. Nowadays you are more likely to offered a baguette from the food truck, but it is still a special and mysterious place.  Also now a UNESCO site.

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We quietly asked permission from the gods to leave through the pass for our next navigation.

Doesn’t sound too demanding, 25 miles downwind to Bora-Bora..

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Island Hopping

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8th October 2019
At this time of year, my favourite island is blessed with big ocean swells and non-stop windy days.
Yes, it was hard to leave Guernsey in October.
As summer turned to autumn we had enjoyed weeks of great conditions, the equinox, lots of energy in the air and in the water.  The tails of Atlantic hurricanes sending us wind and waves.  I was in the water every day, windsurfing, foiling, surfing, loving it.

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Photo: Pierre Bisson

But Dawn has commitments elsewhere, so with a heavy heart, I put my toys away and hung up my wetsuits.
(Won’t be needing them for a while).
The Guernsey weather forecast was still popping up on my screens as we boarded the plane, looks like another great week at home.
But after a blur of airports and timezones I looked out of the plane window at 10am today and saw the North Shore of Maui laid out below, Ho’okipa down to Kahului, the blue Pacific contrasting with triangles of white water, outer reefs breaking, that’s a good size swell even from up here.  Maybe I should have skipped the breakfast Mai-Tai.
We touch down, drive to Haiku to pick up my windsurf gear (thanks KP) and then straight to Ho’okipa.
From the plane to the waves in record time.
I’m missing another great week in Guernsey, but this will have to do..

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It was a wonderful summer in Guernsey.  The morning cycle to the beach to check conditions for the day, the changing hedgerows on my hill top running routes, spring wildflowers, summer honeysuckle, October blackberries.  I grabbed as much summertime as I could, foiling, windsurfing, racing longboards, and my new thing: open water swimming.

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Now I’m contemplating the Hawaiian seascape from my outdoor shower. I can see across the Kuau surf as far as Molokai.  Downwind paddlers and wing foilers passing by outside the reefs.  Turtles cruising the rocks.  The sea temperature is about perfect here now, no wetsuits required.

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We’re living right on the ocean, with an ever-changing view from the garden..

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Lots of water time here too, so many options!
We had every combination of wind and waves from head-high and glassy to flat and 30kts.
Most days start with a swim or surf before breakfast, then windsurfing or foiling as the wind comes up.  Ho’okipa wave-sailing sessions and maxed-out foiling coast runs down to Kanaha and back.  Every day I am thankful that my body still lets me do all this stuff.

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Photo: Casey Hauser16
Photo: Casey Hauser

Here’s those turtles hauled out at the bottom of the garden.  Easy to confuse them with the rocks..

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The Aloha Classic

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Dawn worked every day in the weeks leading up to the event.  The grand finale of the wave-sailing year, the world’s best windsurfers are all here.

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Photo: Si Crowther

This year’s a big one, a full PWA/IWT event with overall world titles to be decided, prize money, live-stream, headline sponsors Mercedes-Benz, the world is watching.

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Photo: Si Crowther

The Pacific Ocean once again played it’s part and delivered spectacular surf to Ho’okipa Beach Park.

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Photo: Si Crowther

It actually got so big I had to sneak off and go tow-surfing one day.  More about that later.
The windsurfing gladiators had to compete in huge swell and some tricky winds, sailing four-man heats to decide the best wave-riding skills and style.

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Photo: Si Crowther
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Photo: Si Crowther

The champions were crowned in the Pro Men, Women and Youth categories. (No Amateurs or Masters divisions for me this year.)

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The prize-giving ceremony featured an exhibition of vintage windsurf gear to celebrate the 50th year of the original Windsurfer board.
Early wave gear, plus some amazing custom speed boards from the 1980 Maalea speed trials.

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After the dinner, awards and speeches, the evening quickly turned in to a raging windsurf party with everyone from the teenage Japanese sailors, Maui locals, pro sailors from everywhere, PWA judges, organisers and everyone else letting their hair down to celebrate the end of another Aloha Classic and another year of wave competition.

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Big Swell
 
The swell forecasts are pretty accurate, ocean buoys sense the swell on it’s way.  It’s coming, nothing can stop it.  There is a real sense of anticipation on the North shore of Maui as the swell approaches.
This is the first winter swell of the season.  Surfers and windsurfers are focussed, discussing how big it will be, will Ho’okipa be rideable? Whether Pe’ahi (Jaws) will be breaking?  Preparing gear, refuelling skis.  At sunset there’s still no sign of the new swell, but I wake in the night to the roar of surf on the reef in front of the house.  At first light the whole seascape is unrecognisable, reefs and channels where I have been surfing and playing on foils, are now the impact zone for giant walls barrelling on to the reef.
The air is heavy with a thick mist, spray hanging above the white water.  Yesterday I paddled out there on my longboard!  Today no chance, surfers watch the ocean’s power from the beach, the huge waves rear up, you can imagine riding one, but how could you ever paddle out?  Today most surfers will only be mind-surfing those waves, it’s just too dangerous to be out there.
Unless you have a jet-ski.

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Or a friend with a ski!
In big waves a ski changes everything.
You can get out there, get waves and (most important!) get rescued from the impact zone.
The ski is the ticket to another realm of big waves that most people will just never ride.
The skills required to even paddle out from the beach, plus the danger of being caught in the wrong place by a big set, mean that most will not attempt it.
I would be terrified paddling around out there, not being able to move fast enough to get out of trouble, a sitting duck..

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But if you’re lucky enough to be on the ski, you can enjoy the incredible scenes as the sets roll in, perfect blue walls with glassy faces.
Pick the wave you want and get on to it early, using the speed of the ski to position yourself, drop the rope and ride.
It really is cheating.
Once again, I am so grateful to Scotty for pulling me into (and out of) some of the most intense rides of my life.
The next week there was another swell, bigger.  More nervous anticipation, another fitful night, waking to the thunder of the surf.  The house is shaking!
Back on the ski, Outer Sprecklesville, it’s bigger, and still building.  The sets are pulsing in, we are in a quick rotation, wave after wave, I am taking rights and riding big beautiful walls to the inside where the wave closes out and Scotty picks me up before we zoom straight out for the next one.
Then I make a mistake,  I’m too deep and can’t make the next section, in fact I can’t get past the main peak, It rears up all around me and I have nowhere to go.
The lip is crashing down from a long way up, this looks bad. I jump off the board and submit to the consequences of this game.  First I am thrown violently down, stay calm, I move into a foetal pose and cover my head with my hands, then I am thrown violently over again, then pushed down. It gets dark.  Then the water is white and still turbulent but my float vest brings me up.  I surface in a huge field of brilliant white, fizzing water, Scotty appears on the ski but he’s shaking his head, we don’t have time for the pick-up, the next wave is here.
This is worse.  I am right in front of the peak, bobbing around at the foot of a towering wave which is about to unload itself on top of me.  I wish I was somewhere else. Take a breath.
Boom!
So that happened, I was fine, in one way it was a confidence booster, that was surely the worst pounding that I could get?
It’s a mind game.
Yes I survived it, but yes, that wave could also have crushed me.
Next we try up the coast and get a few smaller waves at Kuau, right outside our house.

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Dawn was there taking these shots on our lawn.
I find that most tow sessions for me follow a pattern of mental states. I generally start with nervous anxiety, (How big is it? Can I handle it?) Then I get a few rides and start to relax and enjoy it.  Next I get spaced out on adrenaline and just want more and more waves.  Then at some point I have a moment of clarity, possibly I’m starting to get tired, or maybe when I realise the only other people out here are world-class watermen and professional athletes, all decades younger than me. (What the hell am I doing here?).  That moment came early today, the swell was much bigger this afternoon and still on the rise, I had that ‘pushing my luck’ sensation and called it a day.
Got away with it.
Again.

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Time to move on again, we pack up our Maui life and say farewell to all our friends there.
Thanks for everything we had an amazing time.
Dawn needs a holiday!

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It’s time to go back to Escapade.

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Thanks to the following photographers:
Pierre Bisson
Fishbowl Diaries
Jimmie Hepp
Casey Hauser
John Carter
Si Crowther
Dawn Pooley

The Blind Pass

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We sailed north from Fakarava to Toau again, but this time to the ‘Anse Amyot’ on the north side of the atoll.

It’s looks like a wide open pass into the lagoon, but there’s no way through the shallow reef across the inside, so it’s really just a dead end between two motus.

A ‘faux passe’, or as we would say in English, a cul de sac.

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It offers perfect shelter, a calm anchorage surrounded by 350º of coral.

And it’s another lovely coral garden, with good spearfishing along the reefs outside, which drop from a sunny 7m plateau, down a wall to the spooky dark blue depths of 200m or so.

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Ashore the motu is run by Gaston and Valentin (Laiza’s older sister).

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Here they are growing breadfruit, pamplemousse and some vegetables, planting coconut groves and running a little restaurant whenever there are a few cruising yachts to feed.

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We ate our first ‘varo’. A strange sort of lobster that lives in the sand and snares its prey with vicious, needle-like claws before dragging it down into the burrow to be devoured.

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Gaston is a master at hauling them out once they get their claws in to his fish bait.  He cooked one in butter for us, sweet and delicious.

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He also reaches into dark sandy tunnels deep in the jungle and pulls out ‘kaveo’, coconut crabs.

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Laiza is a devout Christian and Gaston built her a tiny chapel on the motu.  Every Sunday at 10.00 she conducts her own service, accompanying herself on the ukulele.

The motu also boasts a standard French payphone installed 2005.

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On a tour of their motu, Valentin pointed out the charred remains of a coconut palm struck by lightning.  A leafless black stump.  That night, Dawn and I both lay awake thinking of that tree as an electrical storm raged for hours.  Our carbon mast reaching into the stormy night above us…

The computers were safe in the oven and the water tanks were full by morning.

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Finally the weather cleared and it was time to sail away from the Tuamotus.  After four months of exploration we have visited eight atolls, there are about eighty more!  Fi took this photo from the plane window on the way in to Fakarava, somewhere over the atolls.

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That sandy plateau looks like a promising anchorage!  Wonder where it is, I’ll search on Google Earth.  The Tuamotus keep inspiring.

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I have owned three spearguns now, I bought the first one in Guernsey where I failed to shoot a bass.  It scored us a few meals in the Caribbean before I donated it to a Guna indian on a San Blas island.  His need was greater.

I bought the smaller one in Panama last year and it has worked very well.  It had two bands (one broke) and is a good, short-range ‘grouper gun’.

The gold one is my new upgrade, custom made for me by Marc Alexander in Fakarava and a pretty good hit-rate so far! I’m still keeping it simple, no reel of line to get tangled in, and my technique is improving, we have eaten a lot of speared fish this season.

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Return to The Society Islands

We covered the 230 miles to Tahiti in 24hrs. Sailing a fast broad reach under full main and gennaker all day, replaced that with the jib for the hours of darkness, and were double reefed by morning, trying to slow Escapade down so we could arrive in daylight.  I woke to see the green mountains of Tahiti again. Mountains! After so long in the two-dimensional atolls, where nothing is higher than a coconut palm.

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Then the towering spires of Moorea!

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Back to a favourite anchorage at Ha’apiti.

From here I can monitor the number of surfers at the pass, picking my moment to dinghy over and score a few waves when it’s not busy.

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An afternoon session with just one other surfer. A long-standing French resident who reckons he surfs Ha’apiti 300 days of each year. That’s pretty consistent for the local break! And he doesn’t own a wetsuit. The other 65 days he says there are ‘too many waves’. (It gets swell from several directions, sometimes all at once.) But if that happens, he has a few other spots nearby to choose from.

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So then one last night at sea, up to Huahine, across to Taha’a, and finally to our haul-out spot in Raiatea. Time to reflect at the end of another magic season.

We were in the Tuamotus from December to April.

It can be challenging, remote atolls, few supplies, no internet, but they are usually the most appealing! This year we were living further from civilization and closer to nature, for longer, than anywhere but mid ocean (which the Tuamotus are!)

Living with the reefs, the fish and those sharks, every day. “Full immersion” in the turquoise bubble.

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Fish out of water

Now Escapade is up in the yard and we have moved into a little house while we do the sweaty ‘yard work’. Preparing her for another hibernation while we have a Guernsey summer.

 An illustrious neighbour in the boatyard: Tamata, Bernard Moitessier’s last boat.

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From the house we can see yachts anchored in the lagoon.

It’s very hot ashore! There’s no breeze, and lots of mosquitos. I haven’t seen the sun set or the moon rise since we moved off the boat. I’m feeling disconnected from my element already.

It’s so much nicer to be out there looking in to the island, than being ashore looking out to sea.

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