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.
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.
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.
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.