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escapade sailing

life on the ocean

Makemo

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19th January

It was only 185 miles from Ahe to Makemo, but upwind for a day and night, dodging squalls and taking every lift we could find in the variable breeze.

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We were happy to reel in a fat yellowfin tuna, who supplied us with a few tasty meals.

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That night we saw ‘moonbows’ in the dark sky, full rainbows between the clouds, with distinct bands of colour in the moonlight.  Never seen that before.

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So we arrived in Makemo on 20th January and liked it immediately.

I have long dreamed of getting lost in the Tuamotus for a few weeks and this was really what I had in mind.

Another atoll, a huge lagoon enclosed by reef and islets (motus).

But this atoll is mainly deserted, all the residents live in the village, so the rest of the lagoon is pretty wild.

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Our Go-To Motu

We shot in through the NW pass and eyeballed our way 8 miles to Punaruku, a motu with a beautiful spit of sand and reef to protect us from the prevailing trades.

Our kind of neighbourhood.  A short dinghy ride to the nearest bommie, healthy coral, clear water and lots of big fish, great snorkelling, spearfishing, no ciguatera.

No phone signal, no internet.  We didn’t see another boat, or human being, for a week.  Just us and the four black-tip reef sharks constantly circling the boat, hoping I would have another fish to clean and throw them a few snacks.

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We can hear the Pacific waves thundering on to the reef on the ocean side of the motu.  On this side, the water is flat and breezy.

Another magic wind-foiling playground.  Every day I levitate on my addictive cushion of air.  Gliding, meditating, balancing the forces beneath my feet, hands and harness hook.  Watching the coral heads beneath as I fly over.  One morning I find myself staring at the deck of my board, it looks strange.  It’s bone dry. It’s been a while since I left the surface.

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After a few days we start to think about the rest of the world, we haven’t seen a soul, not even a plane across our patch of sky.

No contact, no news.  We wonder how that Brexit idea might be going, what Trump might be up to, that world seems far away.  There may have been a zombie apocalypse.

Things got weird one night when we watched a red moon rise over our motu.  No light pollution here.  The dark moon was rendered like a planet in a 3D sci-fi film.  A total lunar eclipse.

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The Curious Grouper

I am spending lots of time in the water, stalking, diving and shooting fish.  It’s still hit and miss, but I am tuning in to the different fish on these reefs, spotting the camouflaged targets sitting quietly under a coral ledge, recognising the way a grouper swims across the sandy seabed between coral heads.  Or the big bump-head parrotfish, so distracted by the bit of reef he is chewing that there’s a chance to approach from above without him noticing.

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There are several types of grouper here, my favourite is also called a ‘coral trout’ I think.  It seems to be able to change colour, at depth it appears to have a stripy camouflage,

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and at the surface is a beautiful red colour with blue spots.

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Then there is the Marbled Grouper, looking similar to the Nassau Grouper we were shooting with a pole spear in the Bahamas a few years ago.

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They share an unfortunate (for them) behaviour, which makes them the species most likely to be in my frying pan tonight.

When I first arrive at a new fishing spot, a likely looking patch of reef, I anchor the dinghy and snorkel round the area, checking for targets and sharkiness.

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Almost all of the Makemo atoll is uninhabited and we are living in some rarely-visited spots.  It seems these fish may not have seen a diver with a speargun before, and when I first spot one of my favourite groupers, he will often be watching me very intently.  Sometimes emerging from a coral cave to get a better look, or even pausing in open water to hang stationary and let his curiosity get the better of him.  I dive down to the seabed close to him, but never looking at him or swimming directly towards him.  Having reached the bottom I’ll hold on to a rock and slowly turn to where I think he was, and almost always, he still is!

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Fascinated by me and not afraid, or perhaps he is defending his territory.  He does not recognise the threat of a double band spear gun when he sees one.  Now we have full eye contact, he will continue to gulp and stare, inches from my spear tip, his pectoral fins working alternately as I disengage the safety catch with my thumb and plan tonight’s recipe.

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That exact scenario has played out many times and provided many delicious dinners.

The next stage is a rapid ascent, then a brisk swim to the dinghy with the speared fish held above the surface, sometimes pursued by a shark or two.

Compared with catching a fish by trolling a lure from the surface, this seems so much more intimate.

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It’s also more efficient.  I can select the species of fish I want to eat, and the portion size.

But I have to find him, get down (literally) to his level, out of my comfortable surface environment, picking the moment, waiting outside the grouper’s cave, predicting his behaviour and holding my breath.  It seems the grouper has pretty good odds, and he would have, but for that moment of curiosity.

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Anchoring in coral.

(Room to swing a cat?)

Dropping a hook in the Tuamotus can be a bit more complex than our usual technique.

Ideally we nose our way in to shallow water, lower the anchor 2 or 3 metres to the bottom and watch it disappear into white sand as I gently pull it back with both engines to bury it.  We attach our snubbing bridle, swing on a 15 or 20m scope and don’t give it another thought unless a real hoolie blows up.

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Not here. The water tends to be too deep or too shallow.  The lagoon bottom comes up steeply from 20 or 30 metres to a reef or beach, so we are looking for the occasional spot where a shelf of sand offers us a likely place to put the hook and enough room to swing a full circle.  Even the most reliable looking trade winds here can suddenly die or reverse, so that patch of shallow reef way upwind is suddenly just under our rudders.

It’s so hard to gauge those distances accurately from the deck.  So now I swim each time to check it, counting strokes from transoms to anchor, then swimming the same number of strokes from anchor towards any surrounding hazards, checking we have the radius we need.

Another of Moitessier’s old tips.  Simple and effective.

The next problem is the coral rocks, boulders and pinnacles.  Most of these sandy patches are dotted with old coral growth, of all shapes and sizes.  As a boat swings to her anchor the chain inevitably becomes wound around numerous rock structures, which can be tricky to untangle, sometimes involving one of us in the water directing the other at the helm as we drive the boat around, unhooking each loop of this cat’s cradle.  Not easy if it’s blowing.

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It’s also dangerous if the chain you think you are riding to is actually stuck on the rocks, leaving you with a much shorter scope than planned. Wind or swell can create shock-loads on that length of chain. (See Easter Island post for details).

So our new technique is to float the chain. We float two of our big fenders along the chain, clipped on to it with snap shackles on deck as the chain pays out.

The first at say 15m then another at 25m with a total scope of 40m, in 8m depth. It can work really well, with the chain suspended above all the potential snagging rocks.  It if blows hard the boat will pull back, straightening the chain and temporarily sinking the fenders.

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Another recent addition was a third fender attached to the crown of an anchor with a long (depth of water) line.

If (when) the tip of the hook lodges itself under a rock, we can pull it out from that end, whereas pulling on the chain would only dig it in harder.

I think our anchor is 25 kg. It’s hard to pick it up on deck, and almost impossible to move if I dive 10m down to it.  But swimming at the surface, I can use my buoyancy and the anchor’s reduced apparent weight in the water to great effect, pulling up on the line and moving it from a rocky patch to a nice bit of white sand.

It’s a good trick, but every time we put another line in the water, I worry about an unforeseen side effect. It’s another rope to tangle, or wrap around a prop.

This was a good one.  A black cloud approached and the wind died, the boat sat on top of her buoyed loops of chain and tangled them in the snubbing bridle. The bridle somehow rode over the fender buoying the anchor line.  Then the rainstorm started with wind from the opposite direction, the boat pulled back to the new breeze and the bridle pulled on the line attached to the crown of the anchor.  Pulled it out of the sand!  It seems so unlikely, but if it can happen it probably will, so we won’t be attaching that line again.

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Cyclone Season

We’re not even supposed to be here.  This archipelago is technically at risk of a cyclone, though they are rare this far east.

The plan was to be in the Marquesas by now, closer to the equator and a safer bet for this season, which lasts until April.

We are still trying to get there, but the wind’s blowing the wrong way.

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More guests!

We don’t generally have many visitors.  All those long seasons of lotus eating and navel gazing in the Caribbean, the guest cabin was hardly used.

This year we’re fully booked!

Our next rendezvous is in Marquesas with Cyril and Kirstin, friends from London who are coming to sail with us.  But we’re not there.

There’s an airstrip on Makemo, so we re-arrange to meet them here.  I think they’ll like it.

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Ahe

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Sorry this has taken so long.  We have been out in the atolls.  Fantastic nature around us, reefs, fish, birds, and a complete lack of internet.  Now we’re back online for the first time in weeks so here’s the first of the updates…

 

26th December 2018

Land ahoy!  We sight the tops of the coconut trees at lunchtime, only eight miles out.

I have known about Ahe for many years.

The sailing legend Bernard Moitessier came to live here with his young family in the 1970s.

After a life of amazing sailing feats, he loaded his steel ketch ‘Joshua’ with a ton of topsoil and sailed off to Ahe to plant a garden and live a simple life.

He wrote of his love for the atoll and inspired a generation of Frenchmen to sail away to the coconuts.

Now I am finally here to see it too.

 

Outside the pass we assess conditions, we have read that the tide flows in and out at up to 6kts, kicking up overfalls and making the pass dangerous to enter.

It doesn’t look bad from out here, we drop sails and start both engines.  These passes are spectacular. The clear ocean water flowing in over the reef, impressive surf peeling down both sides towards us, then the instant transition from open Pacific to enclosed lagoon.  We are in, with eye-searing turquoise shallows on all sides.

You can only really navigate in here by eye, with the sun well overhead to see reefs, but it will be 4pm by the time we get to the village, that’s a bit late.

We have read that it’s possible to moor at Kamoka, Patrick’s pearl farm, close to the pass.

We call Patrick who directs us and says he will come out to meet us in his boat.

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Kamoka

The pearl farm is a huge network of floating buoys holding up the system of ropes on which the pearl bearing oysters are grown. We find our way through that and Patrick leads us to a huge plastic hoop and ties us to it.  A redundant bit of pearling gear, which is securely moored to the reef.

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We survey the scene. Patrick’s motu has several shacks for farm workers, plus his lovely breezy headquarters built on stilts over a coral head.

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Patrick was here in the 1970s and sailed into Ahe with Moitessier on Joshua.  We hear stories of the old days, sailing cargoes of fish to Papeete and the pearl farm Patrick developed here.

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He has had plenty of adventures and been shipwrecked on the reefs.  He built an outrageous aluminium catamaran with an unstayed solid wing rig, which he sailed with his family and single-handed for thousands of miles across the Pacific. It now sits moored at Kamoka.

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I think it would be reasonable to call Patrick slightly eccentric.  He is great company.  We are joined by his friends Claude and Marie on their catamaran Vahine, and Patrick’s daughter and grand daughter.

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Patrick takes me spearfishing at the pass, my first time in these waters.  He tells me there is no ciguatera here “You can shoot everything”.  I shoot a few fish and swim quickly with them to the anchored boat, the sharks are getting interested.

We returned with grouper, parrot fish and soldier fish, which were cooked whole on Patrick’s smoker for supper.

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Before we left Ahe, Patrick had supplied us with homegrown pearls, homegrown aloe vera, pieces of local art, a hanging basket made from a fishing buoy, and plenty of good stories.

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Coco Perle

Next stop was the Coco Perle Lodge on the northern side of the atoll.

Here we meet up with our friends Edward, Annabelle and family on the catamaran Mirage.

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Coco Perle is a fishing lodge, a kind of bucket-list stop for keen anglers who travel from everywhere to fish here.

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Owner Franck invites us on a fishing trip with his guests.

5am start. Franck’s open aluminium fishing boat speeds back to the pass and we start to troll lures from rods and outriggers. We are soon joined by a couple of yellow-fin tuna.

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Then it’s time for a local style of deep water fishing I hadn’t seen before.  Bottom fishing with rod, line, weight and a baited hook, same as we do in Guernsey, drop the weight until you touch the bottom, wind up a few turns to clear the rocks and wait for a bite. But here the weight is 1kg and water is 250m deep!

Franck is hunting for certain species that only live at great depth, and are very good to eat.  He plays the braided line by hand and when a fish bites, he strikes to engage the hook, then pushes a button on the reel. The electric motor roars and the powered reel winds up the catch from 250m down, at two metres per second!

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Back at the lodge, his wife Janine cooks up a fishy feast every night and we ate so well.

 

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Escapade and Mirage sat off the Coco Perle Lodge for days.  The New Year came.  The murmur of ocean surf breaking just other side of the motu, but we’re in a lake.

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A soft breeze in the mornings for my foiling practice, slowly improving.  Levitating on the lightest zephyr, the foil so quiet I can hear the wind breathing over the sail.

 

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More fishing

Benoit arrived for a few days, an expert spear-fisherman and regular visitor.  He shoots fish all day, towing a small raft for the catch, and delivers the haul to Janine’s kitchen.  Edward and I joined him for a marathon spearfishing session lasting several hours.  We shot so many fish and the skin on my chest was raw from reloading the speargun.  Benoit knows all the species, their behaviour, which are best to eat and how best to catch them.  His free-diving is impressive, lying motionless at 15m waiting for his target to swim close enough for a shot.  He also explains the shark risks in Ahe, we see mainly black tip and white tip reef sharks, up to about 5 feet long.

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They can be inquisitive but are generally timid and will not approach a diver, but things can change quickly if you are dealing with a bleeding, struggling fish on your spear.  The sharks pick up the vibration and the scent of blood and arrive very quickly.  We aim to get a speared fish to the surface and into the raft as fast as possible.  We dive in rotation, one hunting, one towing the raft and the third on shark look-out, reloaded and ready to dive if necessary.  If there’s a problem retrieving the speared fish (spear tip stuck in rock), the sharks may get a snack.  They will sometimes chase the shot fish (and diver) to the surface, good to have someone watching.  Occasionally the bigger grey sharks appear.

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They are less timid, and also territorial, so if you shoot a fish on their patch they will try to take it from you. They may then come back to bite you, for trespassing.  The day before this trip Benoit had run into a big grey while diving alone.  The shark took not only his speared fish and the spear, but also the whole gun, and disappeared into the depths with it all.  So Benoit had to borrow a gun for today.

And he’s the expert.

 

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Visitors!

Our friends Jon and Charlotte are coming to visit us from Australia. We have arranged to meet in the Marquesas, but those islands are 500 miles NE of us and the wind is blowing solidly from that direction, so one day we gave up on waiting for a fair wind and diverted them to Ahe.  No big deal, (except that they were really looking forward to their holiday in the Marquesas) there are two flights a week from Papeete to the little airstrip on Ahe.

So one morning their plane lands and our old friends are here with us in the wilds for a week.  Along with a new supply of fresh fruit and veg flown in from Tahiti.

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We all had a ball, snorkelling in shark-infested waters, spear-fishing (I shot my first octopus, delicious.)

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And we made music. Jamming with Dawn on ukelele and Jon on Ed’s guitar.

Charlotte and I joined in with percussion, then there were our four part harmonies under the stars, can you imagine the late night sounds across the lagoon..

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We explored the motus, an ancient forest, collected tasty sea-snails from the reef flats, trekked across Ed’s motu wearing coconut helmets (designed to aid survival in case of a direct hit on head from a tall coconut palm).

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On a visit to Ahe’s village of Tenukupara, we were approached by a young lad on a bike who challenged the four of us to a game of beach football against his ‘équipe’.

After a quick limber-up, we trotted out onto the huge sandy football pitch in the village.  Our opponents arrived, some small enough to run through our legs, followed by every other child in the village to support them.

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They donated one player to us and a five-a-side contest was underway.  Our guest player had a great left foot and she became our main attacking strength, while we ran up and down the pitch in the soft sand and hot sun which proved a real test for our stamina.  I was eventually given a ‘carte rouge’ for picking up a particularly troublesome seven year old who was between me and the ball.  I think the final score was 5-4 to the Ahe kids, but team Escapade were badly in need of a cold drink and a lie down by then.

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So a week of music, seafood, snorkeling, sunsets, stargazing, SUP-yoga and lots and lots of laughs.

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All over too soon, we waved Jon and Charlotte off again on the little plane to Tahiti and home to Melbourne. A la prochaine!

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It was time for us to go too.  The wind direction looked good for an overnight sail to our next atoll, Makemo.

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Tahiti to Tikehau

 

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Tahiti

2nd December 2018

Back to the boat.  I always feel we have neglected the boat when we’re away, although she was well looked after, with Jemima boat-sitting part of the time we were gone.  This is the first time we have left Escapade afloat, on a mooring.  I nervously check all the systems, pumps, engines, watermaker, instruments, everything comes back to life.  Phew.  Last few items on the ‘to-do’ list then we can sail away to the islands.

Tahiti is hot now, high summer, it’s also wet season, so it’s pretty steamy.  We are keen to escape to a breezy anchorage.

But first, we are provisioning like never before, with the possibility of five months on board before we see anything like the Carrefour in Tahiti again.

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Our research tells us not to expect much in the way of groceries in the Marquesas and Tuamotus, so we are filling the boat with goodies this week.

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500 teabags

Multiple dinghy-fulls of French epicerie.  It goes on a bit, then there’s a Sunday 5am trip to the main produce market of the week in Pape’ete, fruit and veg stalls bursting out of the covered market into the surrounding streets.

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We load up with fresh stuff straight from the local farms, hard green tomatoes, avos and papayas that should last for weeks.  Finally we’re ready to leave, pay for the mooring, fill the fuel tanks and get away, can’t wait.

Then we realise the depth sounder has suddenly stopped working.  But it was fine two days ago!  Turn it off and turn it on again, even that doesn’t work.

We find a Furuno dealer in Tahiti and call him, he may have a spare transducer, have to check.  This could turn into a long delay, we can’t leave without a working sounder, he may have to ship the part in from Japan, get it through customs, Christmas is coming, we could be stuck for weeks!  Finally he calls back.  He has found one of our model in stock.  We go straight to his office in Pape’ete to grab the transducer and back to the boat to try it.  It works!  Great, that means we can leave at first light tomorrow.

13th December 2018

We drop the mooring lines and slip away.  Escapade has been in captivity here outside Marina Taina for 4 months.

Out through the pass at Pape’ete and away.

I just love this feeling at the beginning of a new season. Self sufficiency, the boat stuffed with everything we need and 5 months ahead of us to play with, whole new archipelagos to explore. I am dancing round the boat.

 

I had suggested to Dawn that we first visit Tetiaroa, only 30 miles away.

It was the location for the 1960 film ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, starring Marlon Brando who fell in love with the South Seas dream whilst filming there.

Brando came back and bought the island in 1966 and now there is a 5* resort ‘The Brando’, where movie stars still fly in for lavish birthday parties.

Apparently Barack Obama checked in for a month to write his memoirs and do a bit of kiteboarding in the lagoon.

Anyway I kind of hinted that we might stop there for dinner as a birthday treat for Dawn, but I hadn’t done the research very well.

It’s an atoll without a pass, so you can’t sail in.

We couldn’t find anywhere to anchor and the two ‘Brando’ moorings were being pounded by a big swell.

We had to sail on by. (Tetiaroa, no fun atoll!)

So that birthday treat was cancelled, and replaced by two days and nights at sea. Sailing to windward!

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But it’s great to be out here! Testing ourselves again.

The uncaring eternal ocean.

The outrageous southern night sky at sea.

Andromeda rising, a multi-colour flashing disco light. Galaxies and planets, a meteor shower, all new to me again after a few months with no night watches.

I think it’s healthy to have some extended starlight exposure and a long solo watch allows plenty of time for reflection.  Restores perspective.

We’re sailing for the Tuamotus. An archipelago 1000 miles long, hundreds of low lying atolls with coconut palms as their highest point. Before GPS it was known as The Dangerous Archipelago, as so many vessels were lost on reefs spotted too late.

The old Polynesians navigated these waters without instruments, reading their distance from an atoll in the interference patterns in the waves which had refracted round it, the flight patterns of the white fairy terns, who don’t stray further than 15 miles from land, and spotting the green sky, reflecting the colour of the lagoon up onto the base of white clouds above.

15th December 2018

Our first green cloud and fairy tern were above Tikehau. (Pronounced T.K.O, and it is a total-knock-out of an atoll).

We came here by accident really, we were getting a bit bored with the long beat up to Rangiroa, and there was Tikehau, the pass just a few miles to leeward, a tempting detour.  We ran off downwind, shot through the technicolour pass and into the calm lagoon.

Time to rest up after two nights at sea and prepare to celebrate Dawn’s birthday!

 

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19th December 2018

Here we are in the Tikehau atoll. Our first Tuamotu. If you could see us on Google Earth and zoom out, we’re in a blue lagoon about 12 miles across, studded with a few tiny islets and coral heads. The lagoon is surrounded by reef, along which are set a string of tiny islands, ‘Motus’, forming a complete circle except for one pass, deep enough to sail through. Inside the atoll the water is about 15m deep, beyond the reef is the vast Pacific, deep blue, and 3000m deep. We are in a calm lake in the middle of the ocean, anchored off a perfect coconut fringed motu. Black-tip reef sharks cruise by the boat.

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It’s a pretty remote spot, but we are living well. We only left Tahiti a week ago, so the boat is still groaning with fine French foods. Today’s cheeseboard features a ripe Tomme de Savoie and a slightly sweaty Comte (Thinking of you Monty).  And of course the cellar is well stocked.  But the bad news is that we have just eaten the last of the lettuce.

The chartplotter shows a marked channel from the pass to the village of Tuherahera.  Beyond that the interior of the atoll is a blank screen. No depths, no rocks, nothing. About 100 square miles of uncharted lagoon.  But really, you navigate here by eye anyway, as long as the sun is high so you can see the rocks and coral heads just below the surface, chart or no chart.  So off we went to explore, dodging the reefs to our first stop at ‘L’Ile D’Eden’.  A motu that has been run by a Christian sect since the 90s, following the teachings of their Taiwanese prophet, returning to a simple life and growing their own food in a little island paradise.

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We dropped the hook and went to visit.

Three families live on the island, including seven lucky children running wild. We were shown around by Paul from Malaysia and Sheila from Tahiti, the local Tom and Barbara Good, who tend the organic farm.

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We picked acerola cherries and mulberries from the orchards, cut lettuce and chinese leaves in the garden, they are growing bananas, papayas, dragon fruit, lemons, every kind of salad leaf, spinach, bok-choy, radishes, herbs, vegetables, ginseng, vanilla, pigs, chickens and bees.

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The animals eat coconuts and produce meat, eggs and fertiliser.  The growing areas are spaced between plantings of casuarina and moringa bushes whose roots replenish nitrates in the soil.

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There is also a hothouse for drying out delicious sea salt.  A remarkable project, given that so little is grown anywhere else in the Tuamotus, except coconuts. Mainly because there is no soil, unless you create your own, as they have done here.

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The motu is a dot of sand surrounded by salt water.  They collect rainwater and have recently installed a few solar panels.

Paul explained that the coconut trees are still at the heart of it all. The only way they can grow bananas for example, is to dig a huge pit in the sand and fill it with coconut husks and compost before planting.  Coconut husks are the fuel for all cooking. They can feed the livestock on shredded coconut leaves and meat from the nuts. The also drink the water from the nuts, squeeze the ‘lait de coco’ from the meat then produce coconut oil by cold fermentation.

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Paul told me he does most of the work himself, tending the farm which would easily produce enough food for 50 or more people.  They take their boat to the nearest village each week to sell surplus produce. He also has time for a bit of fishing and spear-fishing. I think they have a healthy diet!

We left in our dinghy, gratefully loaded with fresh cut greens, berries, radishes, eggs, dark honey from the coconut flowers, bunches of moringa leaves and basil.

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Out into the deserted lagoon again.

Three miles away lies the Motu Puarua (Poo Ah Roo Ah) a nesting spot for Brown Boobies, Black Noddies and Fairy Terns.

It sits surrounded by its own reef, with a plateau of shallow water and white sand to dig your anchor in to.

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Just us, the birds and the fish, in a shimmering turquoise halo around the motu. Bath-warm water.

We anchored thinking it could be a good spot for lunch. Still here five days later.

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21st December 2018

A huge full moon and the longest day, the Austral summer solstice, a good time to be on passage, short moon-lit nights, but we’re not ready to leave.

The magic is strong here and we feel like leaving the anchor buried for a few more days.

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So that solstice gives us daylight from 0500 to 1900.  The trades seem to bless this part of the lagoon with a constant breeze, 10-15kts. All day, every day.

Not enough for regular windsurfing, but on a hydrofoil…

 

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Yes new toys on the boat, I brought a foiling board with me from Maui, and the toy locker is now enhanced with a big bag of Slingshot foils. (Thanks Casey)

So I am zooming around the motu, faster than windspeed, surprising all the birds.

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Probably the first circumnavigation of Puarua by windfoil.  Birds flying along side, sharks darting beneath, slaloming between coral heads and turtles, another foiling heaven.

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We take a paddle board in to explore the island and scrump some coconuts. Across the reef flats, where a coral is growing in large circular formations, but bright purple.

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Or through polarised lenses, shocking pink.

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Reef sharks patrol the shallows.

Ashore there are roaming crabs, nesting pairs of white fairy terns, but the place belongs to the Black Noddies.

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There are thousands of them!

Every tree is decorated with a dozen nests, a Noddy sitting on an egg in each one.  All squawking their heads off.

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Then the occasional ball of white feathers sitting in its nest. A red-footed booby chick, like a big white fluffy muppet, about a foot tall!

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So our quick detour to Tikehau distracted us for 10 days, time to move on again.

 

On Christmas morning we sailed back out through the pass and the palms of Tikehau slipped back in to the sea astern.

Back on the deep blue for the two day trip to the next atoll…

Ahe.

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The Hawaii Diary

 

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Sorry for the long gap between updates.  It’s a combination of lack of internet and writer’s block.

Mainly the latter, but I know what caused the blockage.

A good friend of ours died in September.  A friendship forged in teenage years that survived in to our fifties.

It was suicide.

This was a huge shock and really shook up our lives in lots of ways.

In the last few months I have written my notes for the blog as usual but I just didn’t know whether to write about Nick’s death, or how to, or how not to.

So the notes all stayed unfinished.

After the funeral in New Zealand we spent two months in Hawaii and I surfed my way through the trauma.  I had some extraordinary experiences and wrote about them.  But it really didn’t feel right to be having a good time when my old mate had just died.  His fiancee told me this is called ‘survivor guilt’.  It comes after the first haze of shock, disbelief, anger, pain.  Life goes on, Nick’s not here, and perhaps we’re starting to get used to the idea that we will never get used to it.

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Nick – 1986-ish

 

Four months have passed now and it’s time to unblock and start blogging again.  I’m getting complaints about the lack of updates.

We’re back on Escapade by the way, in the Tuamotus, and we have found some internet!  So here are the edited notes and photos of Hawaii.

Life is still pretty amazing, on and off the boat.  Sailing to new atolls, learning new ways to ride boards.  Nick would have loved it.

 

3rd October 2018

Back to Maui

It was that time of year again, Dawn’s role with the International Windsurf Tour requires her to be in Hawaii organising the Aloha Classic, the grand finale of the wavesailing tour.  It’s a full time job for her during October, preparing for the contest which runs during the first half of November.

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So that left me with quite a bit of free time in windsurf heaven. I tried to keep busy..

There was plenty of action on the North shore, riders arriving from everywhere to train for the contest, the world’s best windsurfers, the daily session at Ho’okipa.

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There were also weeks of beautiful South swell, unusual for October, but well worth the drive to the South facing beaches.  Warm, glassy surf on my 9’ longboard. Sitting out the back with the turtles, looking inland at steep green valleys, rainbows and sunsets.  It has to be good for you.

Dawn’s folks came out to see what keeps us coming back to Maui. We showed them around the North Shore, sent them on the famous ‘Road to Hana’ and 3000m up to the summit of Haleakala.  It’s a spectacular place.

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The Hydrofoil Revolution

If you stick around Maui long enough the next board sport will be invented before your eyes.

Maui was where performance windsurfing started in the 1980s. It’s where kiting developed, tow-in surfing, stand-up paddling, downwind paddling. Now all of the above have been re-invented, on hydrofoils.  Everything is ‘on foils’ these days, from Americas Cup boats to surfboards. I got involved..

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Wind-foiling:

I started sailing a windsurfer fitted with a hydrofoil on Maui last year.

Board and rig flying silently above the chop like a pelican in low-level glide. The wind flowing over the aerofoil of the sail and the water flowing over the hydrofoil beneath my feet, it’s a whole new sensation.

Like windsurfing re-invented, windsurfing on stilts! Flat water windsurfing feels dangerous! In 12 kts of wind!

Plus you have to re-learn it all, it was like being 15 again and learning to windsurf the first time around.

When the wind and waves are up, of course I’ll be back on the wave-riding windsurf gear, but on those light wind mornings, I was learning to fly out of gybes on the foil and trying to ride little Kanaha waves.  It may not look like much, but It’s totally absorbing.

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Stand up paddle foiling:

The next challenge. A couple of years ago I was towed behind a boat on the first SUP foil (and possibly still the only one) in Guernsey.  Now I have got round to actually paddling one in to a wave.  Quite technical!  It all happens very quickly when the wave arrives, but if you can A) get the board facing the right way, B) paddle a few quick strokes to catch the wave and C) get both feet in to position as the board takes off, the rest of it is actually pretty easy!

(Mastering A,B and C took all day.)

Pushing down with the front foot to keep the foil in the water as you hover down the face, or even a few inches of broken whitewater, which is all you need at first.

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Some of the lamest, barely surfable waves in Maui are now drawing a crowd of foiling wave riders looking for exactly that, a small mushy wave, without too much power. And these are the hard-core Maui locals more used to chasing giant waves!

One perfect afternoon the south swell was gently pumping in long, glassy, waist-high lines, softly breaking and reforming, right and left all the way from the reef to the beach. Foil heaven, I can’t imagine a better set up for the first foiling take-offs.

The locals were also levitating on tiny foiling surf boards (Kai Lenny now rides a 3’8”!) and just gliding around, banking into very stylish turns. Carving into the future. That’s how it felt, I’d just arrived in the future and all the kids are surfing on hover boards.

Then a guy showed up on an electric foil board!  Not even paddling!  Just carving up the waves like it was a sci-fi comic book.

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Surf foiling: 

I switched the 7’ sup for a tiny 5′ foiling surf board. But to make the take-off easier, my buddy Scotty towed me into my first tiny waves behind his jet ski.

Just amazing that you can ride on a wave that is hardly even there.

But that brings us to another whole new experience for me, and the most exciting thing I’ve done in a while, tow surfing.

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Towing

A few years ago we were on our way back from Pe’ahi in a boat, the big swell was breaking on the outer reefs off Sprecklesville, we stopped to watch a couple of guys towing in. The waves were big, but so perfect, and it looked easy, (we were watching Jason Polakow and Kevin Pritchard – picture above) I thought I’d like to give it a try.

Well finally I got my chance, thanks to Scotty and his massive new 4-stroke WaveRunner.

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I have never really liked jet skis.  Noisy, obnoxious machines.

But this is an impressive new toy with a 1.8L engine. That’s bigger than Dawn’s Mini. It’s been modified with a high torque impellor for whitewater and fitted out with all the safety gear for big waves.

We did lots of training laps on a small day, high speed pick-up drills to quickly extract the surfer from the impact zone.

Now we wait for the first of the real winter groundswells to arrive on the North Shore.

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8am Halloween 

It’s getting scary already.

My first time out in real waves. Here I am getting dragged behind Scotty at Spartans reef. In the straps of his Kazuma quad tow board, holding on tight as he guns the ski over the swell lines, knees working hard to soak up the bumps in the wake.

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We’re flying along with Scotty trying to position us for the approaching set. He holds up two fingers, we’ll take the second one. We turn into the trough and the big blue hill starts to catch us up, there’s almost no wind, the swell faces still have a slight texture out here, this one looks perfect but Scotty has caught a glimpse of the wave behind, he makes the ‘going round again’ hand signal, one more lap of the break. Now we climb up and over that swell and I can see the next one, Scotty points straight at it, ok, I’m in his hands! The wave is building fast as he guns the ski down the slope. I cut to the right of the wake and can feel the face smoothing out as I whip around it on the end of the rope bringing me up to the peak at high speed.

I drop the rope and dig my heels to carve the board down the face. No more ski, no Scotty, no rope, now it’s it’s just me and this wave. I start to drop. The board is slicing diagonally down the wave at speed, but the wave is changing shape in slow motion. Rearing up to its full size, the flat water out in front of the wave is erupting in large circular boils as the wave sucks water off the shallow reef. I seem to be at the top again. I’m still trying to drop down the face but never reaching the bottom, screaming down the shining blue wall that just keeps on standing up. This is pretty rad.

The Aloha Classic 2018

Meanwhile the windsurf contest was a great success. Spectacular conditions for the Pro riders, a breathtaking display of wave-riding.

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Triumph for Camille and Antoine, the super stylish riders from Guadeloupe who finished 1st and 2nd.

Dawn worked long days and nights keeping the show on the road and it all ran smoothly from first heat to closing ceremony.

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14th November, more towing… Big Wednesday 

High surf advisory, NNW 6-8’ 13 seconds. (It’s ok Mum, it was only a High Surf Advisory, not a High Surf Warning.)

That means waves on the North shores of the Hawaiian islands with 12′-16’ faces, what a windsurfer would call ‘mast-high’.

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Scotty made the early call, we’re going towing!

Once again, I had my mind blown. The waves were so perfect, and there was not a breath of wind all morning.

Today Scotty was dropping me right at the critical part of the wave, just behind the peak, letting that rope go and flying down a huge, smooth face, eventually flexing into deep carving turn off the bottom and a satisfying hack off the wall. The best surfing, by miles, I have ever done. We start with some long lefts (I’m goofy), then at the top of one he shouts at me to “Go right!” Ok there’s the biggest, longest, best backhand ride of my whole life.  Until the next one, 5 minutes later.

My confidence is growing. Slightly less intimidated by the sheer size of the waves and starting to understand what is make-able on this crazy little knife of a board.

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I said before that tow surfing looked kind of easy, and it is. There is no way I could be paddling out here (it’s half a mile offshore for one thing) but it would be so difficult to be in position, so dangerous if you were not in position, plus the take-off would be way beyond my level.

But with the ski, you are delivered to the peak early, already on your feet, with a perfect view of the wave as it builds, all you have to do is drop the rope and surf like you do in your dreams!

It was almost as though I had been training for this, although I never expected to be actually doing it.

I think that having windsurfed on waves for half my life, I’m used to going quick, and of course I’m right at home in the footstraps, I’ve just never ridden a wave this size without a rig in my hands. Maybe also drawing on some snowboard experience, pushing that front foot down the steep slope as the whitewater avalanches behind me.  And those windless weekends at Hayling Island, towing surfboards and wakeboards behind the RIB. That free-diving course was useful too..

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So you can be ready for the ride, but are you ready for the consequences?

If you’re lucky you can get wave after wave and no poundings. The further inside the reef you finish the ride, the safer you are.

But sooner or later, it is all going to catch up with you and down you go!  With a few tons of turbulent white water on top of you.

A real ‘which way is up?’ rag-doll, hold-down, rinsing.

Relax.

I see the light above and the buoyancy of my vest pops me through the top of a sea of boiling whitewater.

Breathe.

I have surfaced facing the next wave which is reaching its full height, feathering white at the top of a blue mass, far above me. The resulting explosion of water will reach me in a few seconds.

Scotty appears, grinning, at about 40 knots.

I’ve never been so pleased to see a noisy jet ski.

He stops it inches from my head, I turn away from the ski’s blinding spray, reach for the sled with my left hand, Scotty’s handbrake turn swings the sled towards me, left hand grabs sled, slide chest up on it, right hand finds a grab-handle, ‘GO!’

The ski roars away from a standing start and the wave crashes over the place we just left.

Now it’s time to hold on tight, engine blasting, blinded by spray, legs and feet planing on the water behind the sled, first in to retrieve the board, then find a way back out through the surf.

Mind fizzing with the wave I have just ridden, replaying the turns, the hold down, heart racing, white knuckles on the sled handles, radical sinus drains!

The noise stops. We’re back outside.

Scotty calmly calls over his shoulder “Great set coming JP.  Get back on the rope.”

No time to process one experience before the next, I’m just layering up my sensory overload with wave after wave.

After four hours of that I really had to spend the rest of the day in a darkened room.

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Watching the Triple Crown at Sunset Beach

Oahu: Town & Country 

28th November

After two months on Maui we connected through Honolulu on the way back to Tahiti, so we decided to stop for a few days to see a bit of Oahu.

Country:

We started our tour on the last day of the big North swell that had been closing out Maui’s north shore,

Here on Oahu it was producing world-class waves everywhere we looked.

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I was surprised at how low-key the whole area was. Apart from the WSL circus at Sunset Beach, where we watched a few heats, the North Shore seems amazingly untouched.  Green hills and beaches along the ‘Seven Mile Miracle’. The most famous waves in the world are not signposted, we parked up in a random beach park and went for a little walk, there a few yards away was a pack of about 50 surfers sitting in one spot, just off the beach.

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A set came through, two guys made it, one went right, one went left, the lip threw them both into breathtaking barrels. We’re standing in front of Pipeline!

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I don’t know what I was expecting, someone selling T-shirts maybe, but there’s nothing there, just a few coconut trees.

The waves all along this coast are way out of my league, powerful and heavy, strong currents, shallow reefs. Even if I made it out there, the pack of locals are also powerful and heavy, so I would be unlikely to catch a wave.

The next day we called in at Brice’s beautiful house on the beach just along the coast. The waves were much smaller, I guess all the good surfers were having a day off after all that big swell.  This was my moment to surf on Oahu’s famous North Shore!

I borrowed one of Brice’s boards and joined the handful of mellow locals (mainly girls and old men actually, I know my moment when I see it).

Anyway, I made the steep drops that morning rode the perfect waves at Velzyland.  Ok small, but as Brice would say, ‘legit’.

Thanks B, I’ll try to make sure you’re home next time I visit!

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Town:

I was looking forward to seeing Honolulu and Waikiki, but the place I was looking for probably got swept away a few years ago.

I was hoping for a bit of faded Hawaiiana, mai tais in seedy tiki bars, backstreet Japanese diners, somewhere Jack Lord would hang out in the 70s.

Well that’s all long gone. Old Waikiki has been replaced by shining malls of Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, all doing a roaring trade selling this season’s winter coats even though it’s bikini weather.  It’s a bizarre place. The hotels on the strip are doing big business in Chinese weddings, a production line of stylists, photographers and limos.

Happily the famous waves of Waikiki are still gently rolling in. We rented 10’ boards and paddled out to join the fun one morning.

That’s one busy line-up!  Tourists, locals, surf lessons, SUPers with dogs on the front, even a 20’ outrigger canoe dropping in and ploughing through the break!  But it’s still wonderful, the postcard view of Diamond Head in the background.  So no backstreet bars, no sign of Jack Lord, but we had a great time.

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Back to Escapade 

2nd December

A quick hop from Honolulu to Tahiti and the start of a new sailing season.

Tuamotus update coming down the unblocked pipeline soon!

 

 

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Once the fastest man on the water, now selling the house next door to us in Kuau

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Home Sweet Home

The Society Islands

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It’s funny how the clichéd images of Polynesia are actually still quite real.

If I told you about the beautiful women with flowers behind their ears, musclebound men strumming ukuleles under coconut trees, an outrigger canoe outside every house and everyone has traditional tattoos, it would sound like a cartoon, but it’s sort of true.

Our little tour of the Society Islands took us from to Tahiti to Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Taha’a, where the sun sets over Bora Bora.

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The islands and their lagoons are all beautiful.

Yes Pape’ete is a growing cosmopolitan city and there are hotels and resorts around the islands.

But away from all that, most of the land is steep jungle.  The flat coastal areas are rural and sparsely inhabited.  It looks like a very relaxed and authentic Polynesian life, complete with ukuleles.

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In one out-of-the-way anchorage we were joined by a boy in his outrigger canoe offering us coconuts and fresh sea urchins, the barter system included the food, some francs, a t-shirt and a go on my windsurf board in exchange for a paddle in his pirogue.

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The Neighbourhood

After we have been anchored somewhere for a few days, the boat becomes part of that environment.

We often get ‘adopted’ by fish who enjoy the shade under the hulls, or the way the anchor chain moves the sand.

We have had gangs of little squid who take a liking to the water between our hulls and stay for days, there are usually scavengers competing for fish scraps going over the back and sometimes remoras who seem to want to stay attached.

Here, it is the puffer fish.  A pair of chubby, bustling puffers who seem to be feeding on whatever the chain rakes from the sand as the boat swings to the light breeze above.  Every time I look over the side, there they are, busy with the chain or resting in the shade.  They are used to my morning swims through their territory and look me in the eye as I pass.

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Further out on the flats I pass eagle rays, flapping their wings as they fly through the water, a reef shark, stingrays, the occasional turtle, nothing unusual here, we all see each other every day.  Each swimmer acknowledges the others and we adjust our course if necessary to keep a polite distance.

Drying off on deck I watch a flounder crossing the sand below, he thinks I can’t see him if he stays perfectly still.  It’s so glassy I can see his gills moving.  Eagle rays leap out of the water, but never when you have a camera in your hand.

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After a few days with these neighbours, this morning we are moving on.  The anchor comes up through the clear water and Escapade moves into the deep channel.  Mr and Mrs Puffer fish appear to be outraged.  Their shady shelter, now just a bare patch of turquoise shallows.  By tonight I’m sure they will have found another yacht, and we will have found another pair of puffer fish.

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As we approach the pass, the resident pod of dolphins are playing, they swim with us to the edge of the lagoon.

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Then outside in the open ocean a humpback whale breaches just ahead of us.  More whales blow around us as we ghost along in the lee of the island. That’s a lot of sea life this morning, and it’s still only 9am.

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Wrecked again

Back in Tahiti with Jemima, we explored the sad remains of an old trimaran sunk on its mooring, and a small plane sitting in clear water off the end of the runway, both now full of fish.

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Teahupo’o

We were watching the swell forecast for a chance to see the famous wave at Teahupo’o from the water.

When the day arrived, the WSL were running the qualifying heats for the Tahiti Pro surf contest.

The swell had come up from nothing overnight, to 2.4m at 15 seconds, which is enough to produce some very solid sets at Teahupo’o.

Forty surfers competing for one place in the actual competition starting 10th August.  Mostly local heroes and a few visiting regulars, hoping for a chance to compete with the world’s best.

Dawn had somehow foreseen all of this and made reservations for a car, accomodation and a taxi boat to the wave.  We drove down the day before and were on the dock at 9am as the morning showers passed and the sun came out to light up the show.

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Our skipper Michael arrives and we head out to the pass to join the party.

He puts us right on the shoulder of the wave, with about twenty other boats, as many jet skis, cameramen, competitors, marshals, the local  gendarme on his jetski, several men, women and children casually sitting in the water on surfboards and paddleboards, all of this just a few feet from the breaking wave.  Live commentary from the judges’ tower drifts over the floating circus, letting us and the riders know their scores for each wave.

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When the first big set arrives it is just breathtaking.  Abnormal lumps on the horizon quickly become dark lines in the water beyond where the surfers are sitting, then the first wave stands up, distorting our foreground and blocking the view of everything behind it, forming a shining dark wall which seems to hollow out the sea in front of it as a brave local lad makes the drop, fifteen feet down then pumping for height on the wall as the lip pitches above him.

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If he gets it right, his ride will be a long, deep, stand-up barrel which will spit him out a boat length from us.  If not, he will be pounded by that famous lip into the shallow water over the reef, and almost certainly have to swim under the next one or more, unless he’s lucky enough to be scooped up by the rescue ski.  From the heats I watched, I’d say the odds of a completed ride were no better than 50/50.  Compelling viewing!

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Surfing here is not about tricks, carving turns or aerials, it’s about making the drop and making the barrel or dealing with the consequences, and it gets much bigger.  All pretty terrifying.

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Airtime

So having cheated death on the shoulder of Teahupo’o, Dawn and I jumped off the mountain.

Jemima’s friend and ace pilot Jørgen invited us to fly tandem on his paraglider.

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Conditions weren’t perfect for my flight, which was lacking in breeze (run faster down the hill) and thermal lift, but by the time Dawn took off, the mountain had warmed and they were able to soar from 540m at launch up to 870m and cruise indefinitely.  Finally descending out of the clouds, over the treetops, the lagoon, and in for a soft touch-down behind the beach.  Thanks Jørgen!

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Guernsey time.

I have been on the boat for six months now, it’s time to go and catch up with our life at home.

We’re flying away and leaving Escapade on a mooring in Tahiti.  Jemima will be living on board, keeping an eye on everything, and not throwing any wild parties.

 

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Travel Scrabble on night passage

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The Turquoise Bubble

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This is it. Living in the turquoise bubble. Anchored in a huge shallow lagoon, no other boats in sight.

Swimming, windsurfing, freediving, cooking our way through the supplies.  Sharks and rays cruise by.  Days slide by.

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After a few days my brain clicks out of gear into neutral. This is it.  The languor of the lagoon.

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Some years we have lived in this bubble for months.  This year we have hardly had a chance.

Escapade has been in challenging waters.  Months of passage-making, then working through the maintenance program when we arrived in Tahiti.  Sometimes running a boat can be like having a job. That to-do list. All part of the yin and yang of boat life. After 3 weeks in Tahiti it was time to fill a chariot with fine French goodies in the giant Carrefour, load up at the fruit stand and sail away again. Enough yin, let’s go and have some yang. Find our bubble.

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Now we are living that life again, in the lagoon to the west of Huahine (Hoo-ah-hee-nay).  But it doesn’t really matter where we are; it’s more a state of mind to slide into.  It takes a while, an uninhabited horizon and a shallow-draft boat.  Here is just bright turquoise, sunshine, shimmering life on the reef, passing clouds, showers, rainbows.

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At night Escapade hovers above her moon-shadow on the glowing white sand below.  There’s steady thunder of surf when the swell is high, and when it’s not, humming silence.

It takes a while to adjust.  Let go.

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Our dock-time in Tahiti was productive, everything ticked off the urgent list.

After all those miles we had a few things to fix, and Pape’ete is a good town for fixing boats.

Everything is there. The jib went off to Tahiti Sails for a new bolt rope (Although our mid-ocean repair would have been good for a few more thousand miles).

Christophe the composite specialist designed a new solution for the windlass.  Now it’s seated on a massively reinforced panel with a heavy laminate above and below a foam core.  As well as being a master of epoxy and carbon fibre, Christophe is also a keen sports fan, he is Belgian, with strong views on English athletes.

I’m no football fan but I do enjoy all the nationalist sporting banter that gets whipped up by the World Cup.

First he assured me that British cycling star Chris Froome was cheating.  Not only with ‘le doping’ but he also has an electric motor hidden in his bike, which is how he was able to win the Tour de France.  Then we moved on to England’s prospects in the World Cup.  I left that to Dawn, whose knowledge of French and football is better than mine.  We downed tools to celebrate with a Trappist beer when Belgium beat Brazil.  The windlass installation was completed before the Belgians lost to France, so we didn’t have to deal with that, but I’m sure Christophe has a great explanation.

We added a further 30m of anchor chain to cope with some of the deep anchorages we have to deal with in the Pacific, so now the rode is 80m chain plus 50m of nylon.  That should do it.  Maybe I should carry a scuba tank too, in case I have to untangle it all.

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Our trampolines were suffering from four years of wear, UV and salt.  Dawn had brought replacements from France, but I was not relishing the task of rigging them, thinking that could be delayed until the next pitstop.  It is a notoriously long, hard job, involving hundreds meters of line, hundreds of knots, tension to be exactly equal all around.

Then one night I put my foot through the old tramp.

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Hired hands Benoit and Thomas came to the rescue, the new trampolines were expertly fitted in two days.

By chance those two days marked the start of the local wave-sailing season.  I skived off to explore a couple of reef passes offering big blue walls and side-off wind, leaving Dawn to project manage on the boat.  So good to be windsurfing on waves again.  After a couple of trips over the reef on my back, my 4.7 and shorts were added to the repairs list.

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I also found time for a couple of surf sessions on the local pass, a dinghy ride away.  These waves are really out of my league when they are working properly.  Steep drops, solid barrels with a hungry crew of locals and sailing-through surfers.  But when the swell dropped and the crew was all surfed out, I found a few gems. Small ones.

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The annual ‘Heiva’ festival was in full swing in Pape’ete, lots going on. Traditional Polynesian drumming, dancing, plus very serious outrigger canoe racing.

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We never really reach the end of the to-do list, but all the critical stuff was done, so it was time to leave port.  We also left Jemima on the dock.  After four months and 5,000 miles on Escapade, she jumped ship and is off on a quick trip to New Zealand.

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Our de-compression started in Moorea, just ten miles to the west of Tahiti.  We tucked in to a lagoon there and got stuck for a few days as a ‘Mara’amu’ blew through.  Strong SE winds, rain and big swell.

 

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Once that had passed we left at dusk, timing our passage to arrive at Huahine in daylight, not before.  We were aiming for a speed of 6 knots all night.  The breeze was a warm and soft.  We hoisted a fully reefed main and jib.  Escapade took off at 9 knots!

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We spent the night slowing her down.  At daybreak I was cutting a corner, a mile outside the barrier reef.  The huge Mara’amu swell was lifting the boat as the sets started to stand up, sweeping under us and exploding on to the reef with an impact I could feel in my chest. Close enough. We arrived at the pass and sailed through with the sun high enough to see the coral.

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The lagoon close to the island is deep blue water, then the seabed rises rapidly to a huge plateau of white sand and turquoise shallows, beyond that is the reef and open ocean.  We found a sandy spot with just enough water to float us and dropped the hook.  We’ve been here ever since.  Sliding into my daydream.  Gone Troppo.  I feel more aquatic every day.

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Long swims across the shallows, studded with coral heads further out.  When it’s really calm you can see it all just standing on the paddleboard, through a surface of glass, no snorkel needed.

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We’re not leaving this bubble until we run out of pamplemousse.

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French Polynesia

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7th June

This last leg was to take us a mere 300 miles WNW of Pitcairn, but we were tested by one more gale before we found shelter in the Gambiers.

We had been getting along very nicely, with the occasional 12kt surf, when the wind completely changed gear and started to howl.
Suddenly we were way over-canvassed, should have furled that gennaker while I had the chance.
Jemima was off watch, asleep in her bunk moments ago, now at the helm, soaked again while I prepare to pull down the third reef.  I’m shouting at her through the horizontal rain “Hold on for a moment, it’s just a squall, it won’t last!”  She considers this for a while, “No Dad just get on with it, this isn’t a squall, it’s the new weather.”  She was right, it blew for days.  Anyway we still had a gennaker up, and it was far too windy to furl it – so drop it.  After some (shouted) discussion, I released the halyard at the mast, grappled the huge billowing sail down from above and the two of us wrestled it to the trampoline in the black night using all 8 of our combined limbs.

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By morning we are in the lee of Les Iles Gambiers.
Here is a cluster of high green peaks, encircled by a barrier reef.
We pass through a gap in the reef to a lagoon about twenty miles across, enclosing the five high islands and numerous islets.

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Plenty of bays and coves to anchor in any wind direction.
A sleepy outpost of French Polynesia, still 1000 miles from the bright lights of Tahiti.
Several hundred islanders live here, almost all Polynesian, the main occupation is pearl farming.

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We anchor off the village of Rikitea and go ashore to show our passports to the Gendarme.
Ashore it feels like a big garden, extravagant fruits and flowers growing everywhere.  We are right on the Tropic of Capricorn here.  But this is France.  The tiny village boasts a church, 3 petit magasins where you can stock up on President butter, roquefort cheese and some frozen escargots, then down the lane is the boulangerie which sells fresh baguettes twice a day.  There’s a dusty petanque court in the square under the mango tree.

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But enough walking around, we’ve been up half the night, is there a bar here?  Or a restaurant?  We’ve sailed thousands of miles to get here, any chance of a shady seat and cool bière?  Not so far.
Finally at the other end of the village we find our way to ‘Snack JoJo’.  The only hostelry on the island, not only do they offer shady seats and cool bières, they will serve you steak frites or gaufres avec Nutella. Oh go on then.

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Behind the village there is a mountain, we climb up through the jungly foothills, banana groves, papayas, mango and avocado trees, pomegranates, pamplemousse, coconuts, up to the cooler air, through the casuarinas, into the pine forest, now we are eating the wild raspberries, and finally out onto the grassy summit with a booby’s eye view of the whole island and the anchorage 500m below.  Escapade sitting in a blue pool between reefs and turquoise shallows.  Back down in the village homemade goodies are being offered on the sides of the road, choux buns, beignets, meats on the grill behind the long Sunday afternoon petanque game.

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The French military built an airstrip on the barrier reef here, in the days when there were nuclear tests on the atolls to the north.  Now that airstrip gets a weekly plane from Papeete, and next week Dawn will be on it!  Time for her return to Escapade life after 5 weeks away.

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11th June
Out to the islands

After a few days anchored off the village of Rikitea, Jemima and I have climbed the mountain, cycled right round the island, joined the girls skipping team, caught up on sleep and the wind has dropped. We still have a few days before Dawn arrives, so we set off to see the smaller Iles Gambier, starting with Taravai, which is very slightly inhabited.  We find a way through the coral maze and drop the hook in a blue lagoon. There are a few little houses along the beach, smoke rising.

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We glide ashore on the paddle board and meet the locals. Hervé and Valerie live a life here that is sublimely simple.  A modest timber house, some very fertile land cleared from the jungle.
Their garden is beautifully kept, neat rows of vegetables growing, pigs, chickens and goats, a nice solar array provides electricity, huge containers hold rainwater from the roof.  Hervé shoots fish on the reef, their youngest son runs wild with his dog.  And the jungle all around provides fruit, falling from the trees.  Year-round supplies of pamplemousse, bananas, coconuts, papayas, limes and oranges, plus seasonal guavas and pomegranates, then avocados, mangoes and lychees to look forward to in summer.  We pick arabica coffee beans growing wild in the woods.

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We roam through the vegetation, past the abandoned church and the other beachfront smallholders Jean and Marcel, each living a similarly simple life.
Taravai, total population about 7 humans.

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Our next stop was the island of Aukena, where we were invited to join a party of French sailors creating a feast with islanders Bernard and Marie-Noelle, which would coincide with the day of Dawn’s arrival.
First was a quick jaunt in the bushes to find a young pig, foraging wild along the beach.  He would form the centrepiece of the Polynesian banquet that was being prepared.  We de-husked and split coconuts, drank the water, grated the meat then squeezed out the ‘lait de coco’. This was used to make a ‘poisson cru’ with fresh tuna.

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We picked limes for a ceviche of ‘Huitres de Perles’.  Bernard sacrificed a young coconut tree to provide us with a delicious heart of palm salad.
We learnt how to roast ‘uru’ (breadfruit) in the embers of the coconut husk fire. The unfortunate cochon was dispatched and expertly butchered on the beach. The meat would cook slowly for hours over the fire, the blood was prepared as ‘Boudin’, the head as ‘Paté de Tête’ and the liver and kidneys as ‘Paté de Fois’.  Very little wasted, the cats and dogs were well fed. As was the football-playing rooster.
Best of all Dawn’s flight arrived on time.  We blasted across the lagoon to pick her up in Bernard’s home-made boat and she joined the party in time for the feast.
A long lunch at the sandy table under the coconut trees, dappled sun, smoky fire, cartons of vin rouge, fluent Franglais all-round.

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That night the winter returned. Cold SE wind and rain. We decide to sail north in to warmer weather.  My jury-rigged windlass is shifting out of alignment and it’s time for a professional repair. Looks like we should sail straight to Tahiti. 888 miles.

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Downwind sailing at last!  Easy 200+ mile days.  Blue skies, moonlit nights, fresh fish suppers.
We are back to a crew of 3, so the night-watches are shorter, everyone gets plenty of sleep , all nice and easy as Escapade eats up the miles.
Our course skirts the southern western Tuamotus, a huge archipelago of atols.  These are low motus and reefs, hard to see from even a few miles off, and a worry to be sailing close to at night.  There is a long history of shipwrecks in these waters.  It looks like we will pass within a few miles of one.  I zoom in on the chartplotter, there is no detail and I’m suspicious of the charting.  We have seen significant off-set in other remote places, is this atol where the chart says it is?  My pilot book says palm trees make a great radar target.  I turn on the scanner and there it is, a bright orange blip 5 miles away, a stand of coconut trees on the atol, exactly where it should be.
Very reassuring, imagine sailing these waters with just a sextant and dead reckoning…

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The fourth day saw dark squall clouds, but not much wind. I left the afternoon Scrabble game to walk around the boat and see if the wind was returning.
As I scan the horizon, there right next to us is a very big whale, swimming alongside and looking us over.
It is so unexpected and exciting.
Our resident marine mammal expert identified our visitor as a Sei whale, second in size only to a Blue whale.

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The next night we are counting down the miles, looks like a perfectly timed landfall at first light. Dawn will be on watch.

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26th June

I wake at 7am to an overwhelming view of the island of Tahiti.  Not a distant peak on the horizon but a huge 3D tropical mountain range right in front of me.
Dawn is drinking tea at the helm, still in her warm night-watch outfit.

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We are sailing close in, smells of land, wet earth, woodsmoke.
Along the coast we pass Teahupo’o.  Clouds of salt spray hanging over the reef.

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We sail up the west coast, enter the lagoon and steer through the busy anchorage off of Marina Taina to a quiet patch of pale green water over white sand.
Now we are swinging on the hook in a turquoise pool with a ridiculously scenic view.  Glassy surf is peeling over reef, beyond that is deep blue, then the green peaks of the island of Moorea.

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On our starboard side are a row of palm thatched bungalows on stilts over the water, honeymoon suites at the Intercontinental Tahiti, each boasting a postcard view of the lagoon and Moorea, except that now there’s a big grey catamaran in the foreground.

A few days relaxing, time for laundry, the next to-do list, and the return to this civilisation, the one with internet, and good pizza.

 

Pitcairn Island

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So after ten long days and nights battling contrary winds and seas, we raise the green peak of Pitcairn on a Sunday morning.
As we sail closer we can see swell surging around the dark cliffs and off-lying rocks, shrouded in a mist of spray.
Above are coconut trees, sprouting from sheer rock walls, and the houses of Adamstown, overlooking Bounty Bay.
Barely even a bay!  Open sea with some protection from south winds, but the island is small enough for the south swell to bend all the way round.

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We pass the anchored supply ship ‘Claymore’ and drop our hook in to a patch of sand 12m down.  I dive in the crystal clear water to check the anchor is well buried, hoping to spot the wreck of the Bounty.
Just as we are finishing off the Sunday Pancakes, the VHF crackles to life and welcomes us to Pitcairn, suggesting we dinghy ashore.
We motor through breaking waves and handbrake-turn in to the tiny dock.  Our welcoming committee is ready to hoist our dinghy ashore with their trusty, rusty old crane.

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We are greeted with smiles and beaded leis.  The dinghy is set down in the middle of the wharf and we all board quad bikes to ride up the ‘Hill of Difficulty’ in to Adamstown. There we deal with formalities in the charming town square, meet the magistrate, get the Pitcairn stamp in our passports and arrangements are made for lunch to be cooked for us down the lane.  We discuss provisioning from the one store, which will be open tomorrow.

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We had been talking in the square about what livestock there is on the island.  Jemima and I have been living on vegetables and the occasional fish.  There are some goats here, maybe we could find some meat to take with us?
Our host for lunch is a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian, as are half of the people we have met so far.
As I am tucking in to my dessert, the phone is passed to me. “It’s Dave, for you”
Dave killed his goat yesterday and wondered if we would like a leg.  Word gets around fast here.
After lunch another quad bike takes us up the steep muddy hill to Dave’s house to do the goat deal.

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The Population of Pitcairn is currently about 50 people.
We met all of them that afternoon.  The supply ship is the island’s only connection to the rest of the world.  She arrives four times a year, bringing all the island’s imports from New Zealand.  She happens to be leaving tonight, taking some passengers with her, islanders and visitors.  It is the only way to leave Pitcairn and the arrival and departure of the Claymore is a big occasion.  The whole population arrives down at the harbour that afternoon.

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The longboat is launched, loaded with fresh island produce for the journey, the few passengers, plus half the islanders who are just along for the boat ride to the ship and back.  It’s a great social occasion, young and old arriving on a variety of quad bikes, many with homemade plywood biminis against rain and sun.  We are introduced to the everyone.  The shopkeeper, who will supply us with fresh fruit and veggies, the manager of the museum, who will open it for us tomorrow, and whose hens are laying.  Dave shows up with the consignment of free-range goat meat.  All the islanders say hello and recommend the sights we must see while we’re here.

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Almost all the residents are descended from the mutineers of the Bounty and their Tahitian wives.  We wandered through the graveyard which contains the handful of  surnames which arrived here on the Bounty in 1790.  The mutineers intended to disappear from the face of the earth, and they succeeded, sinking the evidence and remaining completely undiscovered here for twenty years.  It’s still a pretty good place to disappear to.

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I wrote about how much I enjoyed the remoteness of Easter Island, but Pitcairn is on another level of away-from-it-all.  Easter Island has an airport with regular flights to Chile and Tahiti. (Aviation trivia: the Easter Island runway was extended by NASA as a possible emergency landing for space shuttles.  The Air France Concorde used to land there!)
No airstrip here on Pitcairn, if you want to leave the island, the ship calls four times a year.  I think that really shapes the character of the island in a different way.  There is such a strong charm to Pitcairn.  It’s beautiful, fertile, everything grows here.  On our hikes we are picking fruit everywhere.  Wild pomegranates on the roadside, citrus falling everywhere, papayas, passion fruit, a coconut, the rucksacks are full.

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One hike takes us up and over high country, deserted green lanes through the thick jungle, shaking ripe bananas from a tree for a snack, then down to the western point where there’s an Olympic length rock-pool to swim in, with a slight risk of being swept out to sea if a big wave crashes in.

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Pitcairn is no better a refuge for passing yachts than Easter Island, we looked over a cliff to another of the listed anchorages, known as ‘Down Rope Bay’, because the only way to get from the cliff to your boat is down the rope.  Sketchy place to leave a boat, but possibly an unridden surf spot.

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After a long day exploring, we found ourselves at the island’s only pub.  Now one of my favourite bars in the world.  It’s also a sort of museum of curiosities.  As I sipped my cold beer, the first artefact was slid across the table to me.  A rusty ship’s nail through an ancient piece of timber, a relic of the Bounty.  Next comes the skull of a tropic bird, a fossilised piece of genuine pterodactyl shit, the bar owner’s thumb, in a jar, (accidentally amputated a couple of weeks before while gardening with a sharp machete), old scrimshawed teeth of a spermwhale, in which shots of tequila are about to be served, a new hand-carved wooden replacement thumb (so that he can continue to strum his collection of ukuleles), all this while singing along to vintage Suzi Quattro videos playing above the bar.  We could have stayed all night, but we were late for our arranged dinghy craning at the bottom of the ‘Hill of Difficulty’ so we had to leave.  Be sure to call in if you’re ever passing that way.

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The island shop is a gem, way down here in the South Pacific, so far from everywhere, a well-stocked village store where you can buy a jar of Branston Pickle!
We loaded up with English treats to supplement our mainly Panamanian larder, while fresh produce was being cut and picked for us in the gardens up the hill.

We would have loved to stay longer, but once again the weather forecast urged us to leave the anchorage in Bounty Bay and put to sea. We were grateful to have been granted the few days we had.  It’s a magic island and we were made so welcome.

Just 300 miles to sail now to Les Iles Gambiers, French Polynesia…

 

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Easter Island, between a rock and a hard place.

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21st May:

The Rock

The Original Polynesian name for this island is Te Pito o te Henua, ‘The Navel of the World’.
A sticky-out button in the huge round belly of the Pacific.
Then a passing Dutch navigator caught sight of it on Easter Sunday 1771 and named it Easter Island, while the islanders were still blissfully unaware of Easter.
That name stuck and now the Chilean governors call it ‘Isla de Pascua’, while the islanders prefer the name Rapa Nui.
Lots of names for a volcanic rock about 10 miles across, in the middle of nowhere.  Looks a bit like Alderney from the sea.

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I really like that remote outpost feel.  Having recovered from the trauma of our windlass episode, we were ready to explore. There’s only one settlement at Hanga Roa.  The wind blew the right way for us to be able to anchor there, so we took the dinghy in through the town surf break (timing!) and tied up in the tiny keyhole harbour with the local fishing boats.  We cleared in and wandered through a green and pleasant village, a blend of Chilean and Polynesian styles and a bit of a hippie vibe.  We found some fresh local produce for our next voyage, sampled the huge Chilean style ‘empanadas’ and looked forward to returning for more, but next day the wind changed, so we had to move again.

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We are keen to be ashore and stretch our legs, but it’s not easy!  The Port Capitan says the boat must be manned at all times, ready to leave at short notice.

The wind was forecast to start NW, soon backing W and rising to 30 kts. We chose Anakena beach, a bit exposed to the NW but should be fine, well sheltered once it goes round to W.
But it never did!  We sat on the hook all night with the boat rocking in the very lumpy onshore chop.  I had snorkelled over to the anchor earlier, it was buried in white sand, so I knew we were ok, but the motion made it impossible to sleep.

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By morning it has blown out, we are sitting off the beautiful Anakena beach, a row of Moai statues and a coconut grove beckon us ashore.  It’s all calm apart from a bit of surf breaking on the beach.  This is our moment!  We launch the dinghy and go in to explore.  There is a sketchy stone dock where I drop Jemima but can’t leave the dinghy.  I tie up to a fisherman’s mooring in the bay and swim ashore.  We hike around the headland, pay our respects to the Moai and find a great lunch in a Polynesian hut on the beach.  We would like to see a bit more, there are horses to rent here, some good hiking and surfing, might stay another week!

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But it wasn’t to be.
The new forecast is for more NW wind and a big S swell.  The worst combination!
We decided we couldn’t manage another of those nights with no shelter from the NW, so we’re off to sea again.
First we have to clear out with the authorities.
The Chilean Armada launch came alongside us off Hanga Roa.  Mauritzio leapt aboard, followed by his drug detecting hound.  A handsome Belgian Shepherd in an Armada uniform with a handle, so he could be passed across between boats.

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He had a good sniff around, our passports were stamped, and we set off to make the most of the fair wind before the NW set in.  We are aiming for the island of Pitcairn, 1100 miles to the NW!

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24th May:

The Hard Place

That northwesterly wind started to blow the next day, up to 25 knots with an uncomfortable sea building.  The following day it was gusting 35 knots.
Escapade can sail to windward, and she can handle plenty of wind.
But to windward, in big breaking seas with a gale from the wrong direction, is not her favourite!
We just had to slow her right down to reduce the strain on boat, rig and crew.  Three reefs, no jib, climbing over endless steep blue hills.  We’re in the northern part of a huge low pressure system that should pass to the east.

Over the next few days we came to realise that the low pressure was not moving!  We were in a massive weather system with no way out.  Ideally I would bear away and run off downwind, given the sea room.  Much more comfortable sailing, but we’d end up at Cape Horn!  We have to get west, the low has to move eventually, so we endure.  We are still managing to cook, eat, laugh and sleep, although sometimes with difficulty.

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Every day we get an updated forecast via satphone, nothing but headwinds!  We are working hard to make some ground to the west, tacking on shifts, trying to ease a path across the waves.  The red track on the plotter screen tells a sorry tale of days and nights of frustrating sailing.  I’m still reading about Charles Darwin’s voyage in the Beagle, which he hated.  He has this to say about sailing upwind: “This zigzag manner of proceeding is very grievous”. I hear you Charles.

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Finally after seven days and nights, the low moves below us, seas subside and we emerge into the centre of the high pressure that was behind the low.  We shake out the reefs, enjoy the sun, and are actually sailing in the right direction at last.
Then we are becalmed.
We swim behind the boat, scrape a thick layer of sea salt from the cockpit cushions and dine outside for the first time this week.
A welcome respite from constant motion.

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Now we are only 300 miles from Pitcairn Island, but on our route is the tiny speck of Ducie Island, so we call in there for lunch.

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Ducie is really an atoll, a sunken volcano with a beautiful lagoon within. The charts mark a ‘boat pass’ through the reef, but the surf was enormous as we passed, and nowhere to anchor, so we left the fish and birds in peace and sailed on to the west.  Pitcairn is just over that horizon now.

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The rock, the windlass and the Russians.

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Sorry for the long silence.

I have been offline for weeks. I sent the last update to Dawn by satellite phone when we arrived in Easter Island, but text only, Dawn improvised some images.
So now Dawn is back on board, we have all arrived in Tahiti, internet is firing, we will now post the blog updates that were written over the last month or so.
(We have also added the missing photos to that last post https://escapadesailing.com/2018/05/23/galapagos-to-easter-island/.)

Starting with this harrowing tale, when Jemima and I had just arrived in Easter Island..

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Easter Island 20th May
Fouled anchor, rocky lee shore, surf pounding, wind rising, no windlass.
Well we do have a windlass, but it’s not where it ought to be.
Usually we look forward to a landfall at the end of a long passage, a chance to rest up, catch up on sleep, stretch your legs, and relax at anchor for a few days.
Easter Island at this time of year is a bit different.  Trying to be anchored anywhere here is far more stressful than being at sea!
The island is a speck in the middle of the Pacific, and while Dawn is basking in the sunny Guernsey springtime, winter is fast approaching down here.  Deep low pressure systems come spinning along the roaring forties and we feel the effects as they pass.  Big swells and the wind clocking round, blowing from a different direction every few hours.
The island is the top of a large volcano and almost all her shores are steep dark cliffs with waves smashing away, continuing the erosion of millennia.
There are a handful of possible anchorages, but usually only one option for the weather of any given moment.  So we have to be very aware of what’s coming next and be ready to move to a different spot at any time.  Then there’s the depth.  In the Caribbean we would regularly anchor in one or two metres of water, here 20 metres is normal.  Any closer in and you could be picked up by a breaking wave!  I don’t like that, it’s too deep for me to go down and check the holding, or sort out any foul hooking.
So our first refuge was Hotu Iti, with it’s breathtaking surf scenery and dark stone statues lining the shore.  After our first night at anchor we woke facing the open sea, the wind had switched direction in the night and was now building from the south. Time to look for shelter on the north shore. There is one other yacht here, the Lady Mary with a Russian family living on board.  She’s a well-travelled looking ketch. Andrey came by in the dinghy with his 7 year old daughter, to welcome us and throw us a coconut.  He has been here for a week already, after a 21 day passage from Galapagos.  I tell him him my plan and he advises on the next anchorage.
So off we go, up with the hook.  We haul up about 5 metres of chain and it stops dead.  Strange.  Try again, win a bit more chain, then it won’t budge.  Chain runs back out under load.  We motor slowly to where we think the anchor is, to break it out.  We seem to be stuck.  I engage the lock on the windlass to stop the chain running off again while we think about it.  A large swell arrives, lifting the boat as it passes.  There is a tremendous bang and rattling of chain.  Jemima says “It’s broken”.

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I go to the foredeck and cannot believe the carnage.  The massive windlass has pulled it’s mountings through the deck and flown forward in a shower of splintered fibreglass.  Loose wiring hangs from the wreckage and the weight of the boat on the chain is now pulling the windlass along the deck and off the boat.  I unlock it and slacken the gypsy with a winch handle, chain runs out and we re-attach the bridle.  We’re safe again for a moment.
Actually we’re both in shock!  This looks serious.  How will we get that hook up now?  The SW wind is building and we need to leave.  The hook seems to be stuck fast on something.  We can’t contact anyone on VHF from this remote spot on the wrong side of the volcano.  I propose we let all the rode go, buoy the bitter-end and sail to Hanga Roa to find a diver who could come and retrieve it for us.  I could rig the spare anchor, but could we ever get it up again without a windlass?  In these deep waters with wind tugging at the boat?  Should we go to sea and come back for it when the weather relents?  Leave it there and sail to Tahiti to buy a new anchor?
It happens to be Sunday morning, so while we are pondering our position, Jemima whips up a batch of banana pancakes.  Well you have to eat.

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She also suggests that our new Russian friend may have scuba gear on board.  “He looks the type”.
Well breakfasted, I return to the wreckage and tidy up a bit.  The windlass is (was) attached to the deck with four big studs which are now a bit bent.  I remove the nuts and what’s left of the backing plates and lift it back into position.  There is a large wood pad laminated into the deck for the windlass to sit on and the wood seems to have rotted, so when it ripped out there was actually not too much damage.  I think I could knock up some beefy new backing plates and bolt it back in.

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Then there’s the dangling electrics, four wires have been yanked right out of their connections in a junction box below the windlass.  I’m sure I could re-connect, but there are four different colour wires on each end and no clue which attaches to which.  I am crammed into the chain locker, trying to work it out, when I happen to turn over the cover of the junction box.  Inside is a hand-written message from the Outremer technician who installed it: “RED = UP,  BLUE = DOWN”. Merci beaucoup!
The other two wires must be for the chain counter, which we can live without.
Ten minutes later the windlass is working again!  Now we just need those re-inforcements to fix it back to the boat.  I am eyeing up a wooden chopping board.
Andrey comes back with both of his daughters and I show him my project.  Within moments he is back from Lady Mary with a big chunk of marine ply and 10mm drill bits.
Best of all, he DOES have scuba gear and will dive to see what the problem is with the anchor.
Remember this is the only other sailing boat within thousands of miles!  We are so grateful to our new neighbours.
Jemima wriggles in to the locker and cuts paper templates.  I spend a few hours sawing and drilling plywood pads, then screw it all back together with big penny washers under the nuts.  We carefully hoist a foot of chain.  Seems fine. We’re back in business.

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Andrey pulls on his scuba gear and soon reports that our change of direction in the night has wrapped the chain right around a huge old coral head, so we are effectively chained to a 4 metre high pillar of rock.  That would do it!
Now we begin the waltz around the bay, Jemima dropping slack chain and taking up, with directions from Andrey in the water, his wife Marina and daughters handling a line around the anchor, all in the freshening wind.  Finally the chain and hook is all back on deck, the new windlass installation passed its first test. I’m not sure how we would have managed without our Russian friends.  They dinghy back to the Lady Mary.  Marina has made a borscht for their dinner.  We supply them with a bottle of wine.

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We motor round to the north shore to find our new spot for the night.  A race against darkness!  The sun has set, we can just see a sandy patch and drop the anchor in 7 metres of clear water in the last glimmer of dusk.
What a day.
As Dawn left us in Galapagos, her parting words were “Don’t break anything!”.
So far we have put a 20 foot rip in our only jib and yanked the windlass clean out of the deck.
She’s not even been gone two weeks!
Still 2,300 miles to Tahiti…

 

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