Blog updates

New Year in the outer reef and time for big decisions

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.

Stunning!

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!

Christmas barrel of diesel and the logistics of getting the contents aboard

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!

Finding your delivery…

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.

Idyllic Pacific island

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.

Photo taken above the water (it’s a clam)

We even have our Christmas lights up!! Merry Christmas everyone 🎄⛵️🎄🏝🎄⚓️💕

Church in the Gambiers

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.

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 🎄 💕⛵️⚓️🏝😎🎄💕⛵️🐬🐚🥽🐠🐟🎁

800 mile passage to Gambiers

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.

Full stalk of bananas and nets full of food

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.

Electrical storm cloud

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)!

Safely anchored

Fatu Hiva, Bay of Virgins, Marquesas Islands

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!! 😂😂

Tahuata, Marquesas Islands

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.

Ua-Pou, Marquesas Islands

To be honest, the fact that someone grows and makes delicious chocolate on this island was a bit of a draw for our itinerary. But the volcanic island was also spectacular as we approached — with vertical rock pillars soaring from the hilltops into the clouds. There must be some great climbing and hiking here too.

The small anchorage bays were less spectacular, with large waves surging against rocks and winds gusting over 30 knots. It looked like we might have to miss our chocolate excursion altogether. We sailed further down the west coast looking for a more sheltered bay. Third time lucky and we saw s/y Askari anchored in a lovely calmer bay. We joined them, in “cat bay” named by Carolyn for the sweet said cat on the beach. It was lovely to meet some Brits-turned-Aussies and we had a good few evenings exchanging notes on where to visit and admiring their pristine made-to-order Oyster yacht. The bay had a small ‘house’, outdoor ‘kitchen’ and balcony… great backdrop with our yacht anchored in the background.

A few days later when the wind and waves had died down enough we sailed back to the “chocolate bay” and hiked to ‘Manfred’s’ place, which unknown to us, was basically at the bottom of one of those rock vertical spike things. A lot further up a mountain than anticipated for little legs in search of chocolate…Upon arrival it turned out Manfred was away but luckily his wife was there and kindly got some chocolate out for us to sample. It was delicious; the richest, darkest, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate imaginable and we were pleased to be able to buy some too. Phew!

On the way back down the mountain we stopped at their waterfall which made for a perfect dip to cool off in gorgeous fresh water.

We sailed back to Cat bay for the night as it was too rough at “Manfred’s” bay. This photo is the boat ramp there!

You can imagine landing a dinghy with five people in was “interesting”! (If you are planning a visit here we used the inside of a small seawall instead, a lesser of two evils)!

Do you remember ‘Survivor’ programme from TV ages ago???

Well apparently it was set here (Hakatea, Nuka Hiva) and we are now anchored off the said palm-tree -backed white beach. The backdrop is stunning as vertiginous mountains soar all around.

Manta rays and black tip reef sharks swim around the boat and stunning shells wash up onto the beach.

Just up the valley is the worlds third highest waterfall and we did a lovely trek to see it and swim in the fresh water pools which was gorgeous.

If it all sounds too good you will be pleased to know that the beach has the most viscous sand flies known to man, so how the ‘Survivor’ contestants managed to put up with them I have no idea!

There are a few local families who live in the next bay, there are no roads or electricity and it’s a two hour strenuous hike to town. The locals have to be the friendliest on the island, kindly giving us gifts of bananas, mangoes, papayas, grapefruit, pineapples and water (and a whole heap of fruit which we have never seen or eaten before!)

Their home grown pineapples have to be the tastiest in the world and we have stocked up on ‘pamplemousse’ which is now a staple for us. The boys are great at picking them too. We baked a banana cake as a present in return which was gratefully received. Cooking seems to be mostly done in oil drums turned into bbq’s.

Our lunch restaurant

The local children come home on Fridays from their week away at school and the boys have had great fun playing with them. This photo is of a fabulous swing where you climb up a palm tree and swing into the river behind the beach. Not for the faint-hearted!

It’s been a great place to stop for a few days whilst Russell has run some repairs and we’ve progressed boat school and a school outing to the waterfall.

After ten years usage, this is the first and only 🤞repair we are making to the mainsail. That’s how good Sanders sails are! Only one batten pocket end just needed sewing up. All sorted.

Batten pocket repair

We’ve done a full lap of Nuku Hiva now exploring its stunning bays, beaches and mountains. Time to head to another island in the Marquesas. We are heading to either Ua-Pou (where they grow and make chocolate) and/or Fatu-Hiva, it depends on the wind direction. Next update when we next get WiFi…it might be awhile!

Ancient ruins, giant trees and mountain passes

To get more food we walked across the mountain, paid a local to drive us to town on the other end of the island, then back and a boat trip back to our yacht with all the groceries!

The road trip up over the mountains was spectacular, if somewhat hair-raising, as the road zigzagged periously with sections washed away and trees all over the place.

The driver stopped to show us ancient ruins on the way and we paused at the mountain peaks to admire the stunning views. This island has so much to see and it’s amazing to see the varied topography and vegetation.

The climate varies so much around the island that you can get most local fruit growing all year round. We’ve managed to hit mango season in each bay so far much to the boys relief, and there is a never ending supply of bananas and pamplemousse.