It’s been four years since our friend Monty last came sailing on Escapade, island hopping in the Caribbean.
Now he’s flying in from France to Fakarava to join us for a few weeks in the atolls.
The boat is moored in front of Matthieu and Agnès’s place, they give us a lift to the little airport to meet Monty’s morning flight from Tahiti.
Later they are hosting sundowner drinks on the beach under a tree.
Monty is adjusting to his new environment and ready for a cold beer.
What he doesn’t know is that his old friends Rob and Ailar have just arrived from London on this afternoon’s flight, slipped into disguise and are now pretending to be Matthieu’s staff. Monty suspects nothing.
Monty was at school with Rob, but he doesn’t recognise his old classmate as Rob limps about sporting a beard and a big straw hat, raking up leaves and pushing a wheelbarrow around.
The beers are slammed down on the table by a stroppy blonde girl who storms off (Ailar in a wig). Monty raises an eyebrow but I quickly distract him with talk of my new speargun. He is starting to feel that something’s not right (we have pulled this trick on him before) but out here? In the Tuomotus? Surely nobody would go to such lengths to surprise him? But he looks again at the lame gardener and the unbelievable truth slowly emerges, he’s been had again.
So now we are 5! That’s a full boat. We sail south inside the atoll while everyone settles in.
Old friends catching up and minds adjusting from long-haul speed to Escapade pace.
The trusty cedar lure produced this blue jack.
First stop is Hirifa. We watch the anchor dig into white sand and float in a turquoise pool 2m deep.
We swim ashore to find Laiza’s restaurant.
A beach hut surrounded by her cats, kittens, dogs, puppies, pigs and piglets. Jemima would love this.
Laiza was born and bred in Fakarava, living on a remote beach 30 miles (by boat) from the village.
Our fish lunch is followed by an invitation to the petanque court.
Laiza and family are experts in the accurate ballistic shots which scatter the opposition boules amongst the piglets.
Health and Safety
Monty spent decades in the Alps working in ski patrol and mountain rescue. All that experience means he is ever alert to a whiff of danger. He likes to cast his eye over my hare-brained schemes and point out any risks or hazards I may have overlooked. So I was very pleased to have him along on my fishing trips, in charge of shark safety.
He was issued with Dawn’s pole-spear, we agree he will tow the dinghy close to me while I hunt, then he’ll stay in the water to fend off any inquisitive sharks until the bleeding fish and I are safely back in the dinghy. Simple.
On our first outing, I slipped in to the water by the reef and noted a pair of grey sharks beneath the boat. Good thing I brought Monty along. He joins me in the water, but before I have had time to load my speargun, he has assessed the risk. I look up see that he’s now monitoring the situation, in dripping mask and fins, whilst sitting back in the drifting dinghy.
But you get used to swimming with sharks. Once Rob joined us, we soon worked out a slick 3 man procedure and brought plenty of fish back from our spearing expeditions.
The sharks here must be used to spearfishing too, they are very quick to move in on a target. Even if no sharks are in sight and the fish is cleanly shot, you have only a few seconds to get your catch into the boat before they arrive to take it from you. We had a few fish devoured while ascending, arriving at the dinghy with nothing to show but teeth marks on the spear. On one occasion I shot a good sized grouper, dinner for 5. I raced to the surface and handed the line to Rob who hauled the fish and spear in towards the boat. A grey shark broke the surface next to us and devoured most of the grouper, leaving only it’s severed head on the spear. So no fish for us, but plenty of adrenaline all round.
We snorkelled drifts through the famous South Pass and into the beautiful coral gardens.
Stopped at Manihi’s lovely motu with its very welcome special feature: a wood fired pizza oven!
Then sailed up to town for supplies and on to the North Pass for another spectacular drift.
Quite sharky though…
From there it was a 20 mile sail out through the North Pass to the next atoll, Toau.
At the southern end of the uninhabited lagoon we found our next Shangri-La.
Clear water, live coral, fish for dinner swimming under the boat, beautiful sandbanks, flocks of nesting noddies, and no boats or buildings in sight.
The toys came out of the locker.
Dawn started training for the next Tow-in season on Maui.
Rob and Ailar went to explore the tiny sand island nearby.
Shady breeze under the coconut trees, we decided it was a perfect spot for lunch the next day.
A fire was built from coconuts and driftwood and a grouper was roasted on the beach.
The feast was served on paddleboard for a table. Cold bottles of Hinano in the shade.
But there was no wind at all that day, so it was just the five of us for lunch, but we were joined by a few thousand flies.
We swam home.
Beauty everywhere, skies, motus, underwater worlds, moonlit nights and good times.