Our first island in the Tuaomotos turned out to be small kite boarding mecca. With a small and wonderfully social fleet of six boats (all in Amanu waiting for a weather window to sail to the Gamblers), the thing to do whilst waiting was kite boarding. The reef around the atoll stops the waves and yet the wind can come straight over it which makes for perfect kite boarding conditions.
Even the kite boarding instructors had come down from Fakarava to Anaho for the ‘down season’ and to enjoy the winds. Russell managed to get another lesson in and rent some gear and joined in the colourful fun.
We even had Hugo playing with a small foil kite from the dinghy and paddle board. It seems to be the sport for cruisers and a great motivator for all the kids to finish school promptly so they can go kiting and foiling.
It’s a stunning atoll with crystal clear water and coconut palm trees growing on the coral fringes of the atoll. A great place to swim and explore and catch fish!
We found a great weather window (with the wind and strength in the right direction) and left on the 500 nautical mile passage to Amanu from the Gambiers. We timed our leaving for our estimated arrival time to ensure we could sail through the atoll entrance passage at Amanu in daylight. The tides can reach 6-7ktns at the entrance, so you have to time arriving and leaving carefully to avoid ending up on the coral.
Once we were sailing we found the wind speeds, and thus our boat speed, higher than predicted which left us in a typical sailing predicament. Do we sail slower to get there at the right predicted time? But sailing slowly goes against the grain with me, you never know when the wind might drop, or how good the forecast is for the middle of nowhere in the first place. So we pressed on and decided we would worry about it nearer our destination. Trying to time an arrival four days out is not easy, there are too many variables at play. Two days in to our passage and our speeds were still averaging 7-8ktns so we could even arrive a night early at that rate, or miss it and have to wait outside the atoll for 12 hours to get in…only time and the wind would tell and the wind was due to drop. We held our breath, put the full sails out and kept going. We had had 38ktns of wind overnight and as we are goose-winged, (downwind sailing sail position), with a polled out genoa and preventers on the main sail, it’s a lot of ropes to deal with to try and reef the sails in a hurry.
The passage was quite rolly with 2.5m swell which knocked us around a bit but not enough to stop boat-school or baking. We certainly have a good excuse for any poor handwriting for the boys though!
We saw very little whilst sailing, no whales or dolphins and only the very occasional oceanic bird. We wondered what the damage is for all the nuclear testing France did in all the Pacific islands around here is? We sailed past many small islands and atolls where they did testing with most of them are marked as ‘do not stop’ at as a result of the testing. Maybe they nukked all the oceanic life too, it’s a very quiet ocean. Or maybe it’s just big and empty too, I don’t know but it does seem weird.
Unbelievably we managed to arrive at Amanu a night early and with 40 minutes to spare till slack tide. We motored past the pass and looked at the crashing rollers on either side, it’s definitely one of the more challenging and narrow passes to get through! We successfully got through the ‘dog-leg’ pass with four knots of water gushing us through and this was supposedly slack tide, maybe not!
We motored across the atoll and met up with a fleet of six boats all waiting for a weather window to sail to the Gambiers. Amongst them were two family boats including a family we’d spent the previous Christmas with at Bequia in the Caribbean (S/y Due South). The boys were delighted to have friends to play with and to explore the island atolls with seven boys and one girl it was a great gang to play with!
We were lucky with timing as the New Year turns out to be a pearl harvesting time from the fourth of January for two weeks. Our wonderful friends aboard S/y Sugar Shack kindly arranged for us, s/y Major Tom and Auntie to visit a small family pearl farm and we watched them harvest the pearls, seed them again for another growth and then re-attach to the growing sheets. It was fascinating to watch.
The oysters have to be two years old before they seed them and they leave them to grow a pearl for around 18 months (cleaning and checking them regularly inbetween). The more light they get, the more colours on the pearl.
Each oyster can be used 2-3 times before they are discarded and the shells sent to China for use as mother-of-pearl items. In return China send rope and pearl bouys apparently, not money. Rather a good deal for China it seems. The market seems to have bottomed out for pearls apparently so the farmers were a little despondent at their fate and costs.
Harvesting the pearls was a whole family affair and we met brothers, friends and the children of the owner, all with jobs to do. The oysters can only survive 1.5 hours out of the water so there are various basic manual jobs to be done in a rather relaxed sequence.
We were warmly welcomed and watched the process — with our boys in awe of the shiny shells and the magnificent pearls they were retrieving. This small farm (yes it is as small as it looks in the photos, about double the size of a garden shed) produces over 100,000 pearls in one year and there are loads of these farms scattered all around the Gambiers, others much larger.
Not all pearls make the cut and many are classified as “junk” pearls, unable to be sold. Although to me the “junk pearls” do seem to be the ones with character and individuality, rather than a perfect sphere. All the pearls grown in the Gambiers are a myriad of colours with a base of the distinctive grey-metallic Pacific hue. It made a great ‘school trip’ for the boys and we all enjoyed learning something about pearls. We even got to eat some of the pearl ‘meat’ (looks like a scallop to me), although I’m not sure it was to Felix’s taste judging by this face!
From the retired or discarded oysters the boys were able to have a go and find the tiny pearls which they kept much to their amazement and the worker’s hilarity.
A great outing in stunning surroundings and another highlight to our adventure. Big thanks to s/y Sugar Shack for kindly arranging it all.
With an eight day good weather window we headed to the outer south eastern edges of the Gambier atoll to anchor off the white beaches in Tauna and Kaukau and snorkel in the stunning reef. As promised the outer edges of the atoll were picture postcard and we basked on the white sand beaches, swam in the stunning coral and crystal clear water.
These places are good weather only anchorages with precious little protection and coral everywhere.
Sailing there, avoiding the pearl farm bouy’s, underwater ropes and coral bommies is quite an adventure, but well worth it. Anchoring here is a new skill to us as you need to float your chain to avoid damaging the reef. We use fenders and spare pearl bouys (which you find discarded everywhere) to float the chain at 5m intervals. We’ve used a mixture of clips and rope to attach them to the chain and it was surprisingly easy to do with no prior experience or instruction. Light winds, good visibility with the sun directly overhead and a sheltered anchorage helps!
We celebrated New Year with a bbq on the beach on an uninhabited island and toasted friends and family afar.
New Year is a time of decisions and as most countries west of us are still closed due to COVID-19 with no sight of any change in the months ahead — we will end our sailing adventure in Tahiti and ship our boat home to Southampton, UK. We have to make that decision now to book a space and pay the deposit in time for the seasonal shipping in May 2021. It’s a sad decision but we do want to stop and see the islands of Cook, Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu on the way to New Zealand/ Australia but as all of them are closed to yachts including our intended end point – there is no point in sailing west from Tahiti. We will still head to the Society Islands and Bora Bora before we ship home though. They are open and we are not missing them! What we do from May till July/August when we plan to go go home is still to be decided, but some sort of land adventure on the way back in countries that are open is the vague plan so far…any suggestions please let us know!
We wish everyone a very Happy New Year and we look forward to seeing friends and family again in 2021 as we pick up our working lives and careers again in the UK. We still have an exciting seven months left in our adventure so it’s not over yet!
The much awaited monthly delivery ship arrived in the Gambiers late on Christmas Eve which meant unloading on Christmas Day and not the scheduled Christmas Eve.
The ship arriving is such an event here that church was cancelled on Christmas Day as the whole island congregates and works at the dock to receive their packages and deliveries.
(We joined a Christmas Eve church service instead which was packed in their impressive coral decorated cathedral. The singing in the Polynesian islands is amazing and if you have an opportunity to attend a church service on one of the islands do, it’s an amazing musical experience, even if you can’t understand a word.)
But back to the dock on Christmas Day…to our western eyes it all looked rather chaotic and haphazard but apparently this delivery was well organised!
Russell went to start queuing for diesel at 6am. It wasn’t going to be the normal family Christmas Day for anyone. You have to queue to ask and then pay for a barrel of diesel, along with the rest of the islanders who want the same for their generators, cars and boats, lots of paperwork and lots and of cash later a barrel is chalked with your name on it. You then have a few hours to transfer the diesel and return the barrel. We have a small inflatable dinghy, only a 2.5 hp outboard and two 20 litre fuel cans. We were allocated 200 litres of diesel. You can do the maths, it’s a lot of trips from the dock in a dinghy to our yacht (there is no way you can move or carry a barrel!)
This is where the kindness of fellow sailing cruisers comes into its own. Despite being 6am on Christmas Day morning four yachts pooled all their diesel containers together and made a tag team of decanting diesel from the barrel in the port, carrying to the dinghy and transporting to the yacht and then pouring it in the yacht at the other end. That is a lot of lifting and carrying full 20 and 30l fuel containers from awkward heights on moving boats. Back breaking work basically. Together we managed to refuel s/y Auntie and ourselves 200 litres apiece. A huge monstrous thanks to s/y Major Tom (Swedish) and s/y Sugar Shack (USA) who spent four hours of Christmas morning helping us. It would have taken us all day on our own and the ship left by early evening! A big thanks to s/y Two Canoes (French) for lending fuel containers too.
The good news is that our Christmas wish for fuel truly came true and we have enough to keep us going for a bit.
We sang carols with s/y’s Auntie, Sugar Shack and Major Tom. Later we had Christmas drinks and our cake aboard Auntie later to celebrate. The kindness of people is what made our Christmas.
If I were to image what I though a Pacific island would look like, and the colour of the water, then this is it. What a place to spend Christmas, in the Gambiers in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Christmas lunch will be steak on the BBQ.
There is a grand total of six yachts (unfortunately no other family boats) in the Gambiers and we all spread out over the atoll. So it’s very quiet cruising over stunning water and coral. Amazing snorkelling.
We even have our Christmas lights up!! Merry Christmas everyone 🎄⛵️🎄🏝🎄⚓️💕
We visited one of the Gambier islands within the atoll reef and to anchor there you have to do some eye-ball navigation through other reefs. It’s slightly scary when these large coral ‘bommies’ rise out of nowhere. You need nerves of steel and a good communication system from the lookout on the bow, to the helm, to navigate through successfully.
We managed to get through and anchored on lovely white sand in front of the small island.
When we came to leave though it was nearly a disaster. I lifted the anchor as normal and Russell started navigating our route back out when suddenly I got the hand signals and shouts for drop the anchor NOW! I followed the instructions albeit slightly confused as I had just raised 40m+ of chain and cleaned the anchor. It turns out the engine had failed, so we were drifting into the coral with no way of direction, potential disaster and very scary. Luckily I must have found the last patch of sand to drop the anchor in and we spent a nervous next hour as Russell inspected the engine, cleaned and changed o-rings till it finally started again. Phew! Not a good time for engine failure!! To add insult to injury the winch stopped working too as we started to sail. Definitely one of those days!
I must add that the island was delightful, a grand total of six residents who beautifully look after their homes, gardens and a rather large old church.
The locals were very friendly and we traded wine and tinned meat for fresh fruit and salad. The lychees and guava they picked from their trees were amazing and so delicious. I think we will be going back there again soon. The supply boat arrives on the island once a month and we have a barrel of diesel ordered on it, so we aren’t venturing too far until the boat arrives which is due around the 24th Dec. Guess what we want for Christmas then!! We will be having a low key Christmas but will have fun anyway! We hope you have a great time too. Now I just need to see if the WiFi is strong enough to upload and send this…🤞🤞🤞Merry Christmas 🎄 💕⛵️⚓️🏝😎🎄💕⛵️🐬🐚🥽🐠🐟🎁
After meeting so many cruisers who told us how gorgeous the Gambiers were — we decided we just couldn’t miss them out. Yes, try finding them on your world atlas… roughly middle of the Pacific Ocean about 22 degrees south of the equator. That tiny dot, that’s it. Unfortunately it did mean an 800 mile passage into the wind from the Marquesas islands to get there. We waited for a good weather window and headed southeast.
The passage started with bumpy seas and a strong opposing current but as time went by the wind changed and then stopped, completely. In fact over the seven day sail we had every configuration of wind strength and direction and associated sail set up, from fully reefed to spinnaker up, to stationary. We had limited fuel aboard so motoring straight through the lack-of-wind parts was not an option. Life took on a slower pace and we declared the KdF bakery open and made fresh bread, flapjack and a daily cake. We celebrated our halfway passage milestone with bacon and pesto pasta aka Paul’s Atlantic winning meal (rare expensive treat as you can’t really get bacon anywhere) and chocolate brownies. With 200 miles to go we had a Christmas music disco and a chess tournament. Try dancing on a moving deck in Christmas socks, how we didn’t go over the side I have no idea!
We also went through a large electrical storm for a day and night which was slightly hair raising. Seeing lightening hit the water 200 yards from your boat is rather worrying. Luckily we managed to get through it all unscathed albeit soaking wet. The windows look nice and clean now though! We also saw some amazing cloud formations, this one is massive, ~10miles high, perfect circle electrical storm cloud, that we’d unfortunately just sailed through.
We arrived in darkness in the wee small hours so drifted around till first light at 4am. The first sight of land after a long passage is always magical and add the rising sun at dawn to make a perfect welcome.
The Gambier islands are enclosed within a reef which protects it from ocean swell. We sailed slowly in, now very very low on fuel, seeing the reef very close to the boat on all sides. The channel was well marked and it was a surprise to see channel markers for once, they seem to barely exist in the Pacific. The water was stunning aquamarine and pearl farms where dotted everywhere. In fact the guide states that it’s harder to avoid the pearl farms than the coral!
Time to drop the anchor, rest and explore the land (and pearls)!
Our last island stop in the Marquesas was at the breathtaking anchorage on Fatu Hiva — named the Bay of Virgins.
Renowned for being quite windy as the wind ‘bullets’ down from the steep cliffs but the stunning scenery makes up for the hair raising gusts. The black stone cliff tops soar above lush greenery and the rocks appear to be in shapes of faces. It’s quite a dramatic place to anchor and a great place to spend a few days. We got to know the friendly locals and bought bananas, limes and oranges from their trees. There is a small shop in the tiny village and we managed to get a rare treat of ice cream to the boys delight.
We also met up with another British family boat, s/y Belladonna, and together we hiked to the waterfall.
The waterfall was impressive and it was a refreshing swim in gorgeous fresh water in the pools below.
The girls aboard s/y Belladonna had brought their violins and recorded a short video for their grandparents of them playing Christmas carols. It was great to hear them play and they did really well despite being eaten by mosquitoes!
The boys clambered over rocks, collected wood and merrily built a bonfire whilst the girls delightfully played the violins. The difference between having two girls and two boys!! 😂😂
Our first overnight sail since crossing the Pacific, and Russell kindly did it solo whilst the rest of us ‘slept’ in the rock-n-roll motion. Trying to sail at 115 degrees when the wind is coming from 115 degrees, with the current directly against you, is interesting and with wind shifts meant constant trimming the sails to suit. Maybe we should have sailed here direct from Nuku Hiva, it would have been much easier, (but then there wouldn’t have been any chocolate from Ua-Pou…)
Anyway we arrived at dawn in the most breathtaking anchorage of Hane Moe Noa bay on Tahuata island.
The water was transparent and as I let down the anchor I could watch it drop all the way down to the white sand 8m below. Perfect.
If you are passing, I recommend to stop here. It’s the picture postcard of a Pacific island beach and we had it to ourselves for the three gorgeous days we spent there. It was a delight to swim in the clear waters and see fish, turtles, manta rays and even small sharks (well spotted by Chloe). The white sand was beautiful and spotless.