Cyril and Kirstin are suffering from that old problem, lack of boat.
Over the last few years they have been getting interested in sailing; flotilla holidays, charters, Day-Skipper courses, now they are in that happy phase of considering what sort of boat to buy, and where they might sail with her. Reading about boats, going to boat shows, dreaming about sailing away, this phase often goes on for years, sometimes for ever. During Cyril’s research he happened upon this blog and read a bit about life on Escapade. He could relate to our experiences and felt that he almost knew us as he followed our journey. Eventually he realised that he actually did know us. We hadn’t seen each other for years when he left a funny comment on the blog and we arranged to meet up in London last year. We invited them to join us on Escapade some time and this morning, they are arriving at the airstrip in Makemo, to sail with us for a couple of weeks.
We had planned to meet in the Marquesas, but still have not had a weather window to make that trip. Cyril and Kirstin are keen to sail some ocean miles, so perhaps we can sail up there while they are on board. For now, we have the windiest and wettest weather since we arrived in the Tuamotus weeks ago. Menacing dark squall clouds appear over the coconut trees and the wind blows 30kts+ for a few minutes under each one. We are secure in our flat-water anchorage in the lee of the motu. Over the next week we visit a few different spots, each more beautiful than the next. And each with a different underwater scene. We are in the water everyday, exploring the reefs and spearfishing for our supper.
Kirstin is ‘Marine Girl’, a natural freediver, happy to disappear for hours with fins and snorkel, returning with wild pearl oysters, hoping for pearls but settling for a ceviche of raw oyster meat.
Cyril is a photographer, as you can probably tell from the upgrade in image quality on some of this post. (There’s never any photos of the photographer are there? So this is Cyril’s self portrait.)
We cross the atoll with all eyes looking out for the coral pinnacles which rise from the lagoon floor to the surface.
We check the grib forecast every day for a chance to sail NW to Marquesas, but the trades would be right on the nose. We could do it, but it would be longer and harder than it needs to be, so we’ll wait for a change in wind direction.
Eventually Dawn comes up with a plan to sail 200 miles east, to Hao, from where we would have a better angle to the Marquesas. There’s an airstrip there, so we book flights for Cyril and Kirstin to fly out of Hao next week. Then the wind goes east for a few days, so we can’t go there either!
There’s still plenty to enjoy in Makemo, we visit the village for groceries, laundry and a night out in the only restaurant.
As we load clean laundry into the tender, a family from the village are swimming in the clear water. The father is pleased to hear we are English, and tells us (in French) the latest England/Ireland rugby score. Then he says, in English, “I hope you like Makemo, I hope you stay a long time.”
The next day we sail across the lagoon to some charted sandy islands we have read about. We arrive at the spot on the chart, but the sandy islands are no longer there, washed away! We work Escapade north through the coral heads and arrive in a huge area of multi-coloured shallows, reefs and sandbars at the eastern tip of the atoll. Our kind of place.
Anchor goes down with fenders suspending the chain over pinnacles of reef. The foredeck crew are well drilled with the routine now.
Kirsten dives to check, I rig a foil, Cyril snorkels towards the beach.
Some time later he reappears, swimming back to the boat from the apparently deserted motu, having made friends with some copra farmers who were plying him with their home brew coconut hooch.
We all went to explore the sandbanks uncovered by the tide. Dawn launched the drone.
Cyril introduced us to his friends ashore.
Plot a course for Hao
Finally the forecast seemed to be cooperating with our plan. A 15kt NE breeze should allow us to lay Hao without too rough a sea to slow us down.
We moved to the anchorage by the pass for our last night in Makemo, ready to set sail early tomorrow.
First we take the opportunity to do a drift dive through the pass. The tide is flooding in, we drive out against it in the dinghy, kill the motor, quickly don snorkels and fins then jump out of the boat, holding on to the painter. It’s amazing. We are flying over the reef at about 5 kts. Clear ocean water streaming in as the atoll inhales fresh Pacific into the lagoon.
We are being squirted through the pass, swimmers and boat, past coral, feeding fish and sharks. It’s all flashing by. No swimming required. We dive down and enjoy ‘Superman’ flight over the coral heads.
The ride comes to an end in the choppy standing waves inside the pass. Big grins back in the dinghy, let’s go back out and do it again!
Plot a course for Amanu
A rare sight in the anchorage, another sailing boat! Gaia is here, we said hello to the family on board when they arrived a few days ago. That evening Didier came to see us, interested in Outremer. We spoke about our plan to sail to Hao, meet C&K’s flight to Tahiti from there, and our planned departure from there to Marquesas. Yes perfect, but don’t go to Hao, says Didier. Hao is a former French military base and is not the beautiful atoll we are looking for, but just 20 miles north is Amanu, which is only slightly inhabited, and very beautiful. Gaia has just spent a few weeks there. The local fishermen will take our passengers across to Hao to catch their plane.
Ok change of plan, 30 minutes ago we had never heard of Amanu. Now we will sail there at first light tomorrow. Thanks Didier!
A night at sea
Cyril and Kirsten were loving life in the Makemo lagoon, but this was a chance for them to log some ocean miles, so we were all excited to be bouncing out through the pass and hoisting the mainsail next morning. My temporary repair to the wind sensor mounting picked that moment to fail, so that was thrashing around the top of the mast briefly before disappearing for ever. I instantly switched to my default mental wind sensor which was reading a steady 15kts NE.
We were just about laying a course for Amanu, but it was tight, so Cyril was at the helm optimising course to every windshift. This was a big moment for C&K, their first time sailing out of sight of land! It was also to be their first night at sea, and Cyril’s first solo night watch, which he loved, dodging uninhabited atolls under the stars while we all slept.
By next morning it looked as though we were well on course and on schedule for our tidal window at the pass into the Amanu atoll. After a day and night hard on the wind and swell we were able to bear off 10 degrees and enjoy a smooth 9kt ride in for the last few hours.
Another day, another atoll. We had just finished congratulating ourselves on a well-sailed voyage and negotiating the narrow pass, then we tried to anchor.
Some days that’s a 5 minute job. This was not one of those days. Finally we managed to drop it on a sandy patch and float our buoyed chain over the surrounding coral heads. Everyone a bit tired and weathered after our night at sea. Time for lunch and a nap.
We had a couple of days to get ashore, see the tiny village and arrange for a fast fishing boat to ferry C&K to the airstrip on Hao, 20 miles away. We waved them off on a flat calm day, hoping the trip would not be too wet!
Thanks for coming you two, we had such a good time, and glad to have the extra sleep on passage.
And all the great photos!
Enjoy the boat-shopping and I look forward to crewing for you one day soon.