Did someone say there is a party!?!?

The wonderful hospitality of the residence of Hao

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My humans are terrible! No sooner do we arrive in Hao, and they are off partying. No self control these two. I am left behind on the boat with a mess from the passage, piles of laundry and repairs all left incomplete. My paws may be good at typing out the blog, but useless with a wrench. Do not ask about the teeth holes in the laundry. So it will all have to wait while the humans go off.


LE FARE PONIGA 20 ANS
The local high school/polytechnic colleges threw a 2 day event to celebrate their 20 years of service to the community. They provide free education and boarding for students from the Gambier Islands and all the atolls south of Rangiora. The government also pays for the transportation of the students between the school and their home islands/atolls. Because the distances are great, many of the islands only accessible by boat, many trips difficult/dangerous, the students stay at the school for 3 month periods before going home for holiday breaks. With students ranging from 11 to 28 yrs old, away from parents for 3 months at a time, the administrators and teachers here have a intimate job that can run 24/7. The school has been lucky enough to continually attract and employ gifted teachers and the school has been very successful. A good enough reason to throw a party!
What would you do if a couple of diesel smelling cruisers , who do not speak a stitch of French, Tahitian or Tuamotu, crashed your party? Well they did not only invite us in, but made us their special guests. What great hearts of warmth and generosity. It was certainly worth braving a ‘little’ stormy weather to have made the event.

The wonderful teachers and students were happy to tour us around their school and show us the different programs they offer.

We got to see a traditional ground oven

We were invited for lunch as their guest

So we would not be late for any of the events, the head master lent us bicycles.

Back to the school for the night time entertainment.

The students and teachers put on a fabulous show

The next day we cycled back to join the sporting events.

The students were very kind to try and teach us a few new tricks

Back again in the evening for more music and dancing

What celebration is complete with out a cake. The kids were very excited

And so were the cruisers

Special thanks to all the teachers and students that made our visit so special

WHIT SUNDAY
The humans have been away for two days and two nights. Time to get to work on the boat. But no! Apparently there is another party planned on the town peir. This one to celebrate Whit Sunday. Do they have nothing better to do on this atoll then throw parties?

**VIDEOS to follow of school and Whit Sunday fun.

FINALLY SOMETHING GETTING DONE
I was getting a little lonely there. The humans always off having fun without me. Finally they are back on the boat getting things sorted. They still manage to let themselves get distracted, even here in the harbor. New boats arriving and needing help to get into the tiny harbor. The atoll of Hao has never had more than 3-4 cruising boats visit them at any one time. The count at the moment is 17 boats. 11 of those in the tiny harbor. With the advent of better charts and more cruising way points and information the southern islands and atolls of French Polynesia have become more and more popular with cruisers looking for a path ‘less travelled’. But now these areas are getting ‘very’ travelled this season!?!

The protected harbor 15 minutes walk north of the main village is also a draw for vessels. There are only a tiny handful of places you can find ‘all round’ weather protection in the Tuamotu atolls. As the winds shift around boats normally shift anchorages with to get a little protection from the nearest motu. But if a boat wants to ‘stay put’ to complete repairs or be short crew, all round protection is nice. As ‘news’ about this free harbor mooring has spread cruisers have made it a destination to aim for. It was not our plan to utilize the habour, but we are glad it is here now that we have the auto helm to repair. There are a couple of other boats that have one of their crew members flying home for a quick visit or parts run. There is a small plane that flies to Tahiti once a week.
Some boats are remaining because….you guessed it….more parties!

We squeezed into the tiny harbour….just

Our cruisers visiting the atolls tied up to the protective harbour wall

HAEVA
It is Haeva time in French Polynesia. Every island/atoll will be throwing parties to celebrate. The largest be held at the capital in Tahiti. We hear tickets for the popular events sell out there months in advance. Even if you can not get to Tahiti, no fear, every island and atoll will be pulling out ‘ all the stops’ to put a party on for the community.
The Heva starts in Hao in just a few weeks. The local community has been preparing for the celebrations all year. We have seen one local dance group practice every night beside the harbor. Every school, church group, small community, community group and age group will have been working on entertainment or a presentation. Temporary ‘take out’ food vendor structures are being erected all around the main village square by the pier. The locals are very excited about the 3 weeks of nightly food and celebrations to come.
You have to understand. The main village of Hao has NO restaurant, no bar, no disco, no movie cinema and no theatre. For three weeks every family will descend on the main village square to buy takeout food, enjoy some entertainment and socialize for a couple of hours in the evening. Bliss for the inhabitants here, great fun for the humans to be able to participate. No fun for me, as I get left behind again.
The humans have to party less and work on the boat more!

HOW NOT TO GET TO HOA

FIRST

I have to apologies. You have not gotten many blog updates from us because of communication problems. The available internet in this part of French Polynesia has been slow, intermittent or out of commission in many of the areas we have visited.

I was able to get you simple updates via the Single Sideband radio, but it started following suit. Slow, intermittent and now out of commission. I have the humans tracking down the source of the fault. Our SSB radio is vital in getting weather forecasts while we are cruising these areas.

WHAT HAVE YOU MISSED ABOARD SPIRIT OF ARGO?

For starters we left the Gambier Islands.

With winter setting in we thought it would be a good idea to start to head north through the Tuamotus and warmer waters. Remember the southern hemisphere has opposite seasons to the northern hemisphere. We are quite a ways south, which means it is cooler. The atolls of the Tuamotus, to our north, ‘seemed’ to be getting better weather than we were down in the south.

Speaking of weather, that is what we needed. Good weather for a 4 day passage 500nm to the first of the accessible atolls, Hao. On top of that we had to time our arrival in good day light and slack current in the one pass that allows, not only us to enter inside, but the passage of the entire atolls water with rise and fall of the tides. Many vessels were looking to head north with us. All looking for the ‘Goldilocks’ weather window. No stormy winds, but enough wind to sail all the way. Good luck on that one!

You know the luck my humans have.

So of course they chose the WRONG window for the passage. It was not ALL their fault. Weather prediction is just that…a prediction. Just because the forecast says ’20-25 knots easing’ does not mean you are going to get that. We left the Gambier with a 3m swell and 20-25 knots of wind that quickly built, and built and built. And then the heavens opened up, and it rained and rained and rained. The weather, thankfully, came up from astern and eased back down the following day.

160nm/day turned to 130nm/day and then the winds died. Our chances of reaching the atoll in 3 days died with it. Thankfully there was a positive current pushing us north, as the fluttering sails were doing little. The wind filled back in the following day, but then we needed to slow down so we would reach the pass the following day in good light and slack current on the pass.

Of course the SSB radio died completely on the trip. It had been ‘warning’ us it was ‘on the way out’ for a while. In the rough weather one of the humans managed to ‘rip’ a wooden handrail clean off. It must have been ‘ready to go’. The old girl is 40 yrs old this year! Easily fixable. The auto helm was the final victim. Remarkably it held up very well in the rough seas, but died just 15 nm miles from the pass entrance into Hoa atoll on a calm sunny day.

Repair time!
So the humans luck has turned around. They have landed in one of the few atolls with a protected boat harbor. It is a tiny abandon military harbor from back when the French were testing nuclear bombs on the atolls to the south. There were a few cruising boats tied around the outside, but the humans were able to snorkel down into the harbours 3-4m depth to find an old mooring block to tie onto.
With protection from any incoming weather, the humans can focus on getting repairs completed so we can get on our way again.
BUT HOLD YOUR HORSES! Did someone say ‘PARTY’?!?!

We sailed from the island of Taravai, in the Gambier Islands of the South to the atolls of Hao, in the Tuamotus

We had the sailing vessel Rhapsody for company at the start of our journey north.

A rare opportunity for us the share images of sailing in the Pacific

They were also kind enough to take pictures of us. There is Spirit of Argo rushing along at 8 knots under a poled out Genoa alone.

Disappearing behind a wave

Forty eight hours later and we had barely enough wind to keep the sails full

We had the atolls of Hao in our sights on the forth day

The pass is at the far north end of the atoll

We squeezed into the small boat harbour just north of town

Our cruisers visiting the atolls tied up to the protective harbour wall

 

PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW

It is time to say farewell to the lovely group of islands and reef motus that make up the Gambier Archipelago. It is time for us to spread our winds (sails in our case) and move onto new adventures.

There are still many places we would have liked to explore here, many hikes we would like to have done, but that gives an incentive to return. The shorter days and cooler nights mean ‘winter’ is coming to this tropical paradise and we are going to chase the warmer, more settled weather, north through the Tuamotus. The Tuamotu atolls are also a sailors play ground for water sports, especially diving. We saw only 3 of the atolls that make up this group the last time we passed through. We have many more to explore and delight in as we make our way back north to Tahiti for Christmas.

HIGH LIGHTS AND LOW LIGHTS OF THE GAMBIER ISLANDS

H. The islands and motu are all very close together once you sail down here. None are more than a couple of hours sail apart. This makes it easy to explore and move anchorages when the weather changes.

L. The months we were visiting the weather varied almost weekly. One week of sun, followed by one week of rain. One week of winds, followed by one week of no wind at all. You just have to go out exploring when the weather is good and get on with boat jobs when the weather is foul.

H. The climate. We left the summer heat and humidity of the Society Islands behind when we sailed 1000nm south east to the Gambiers. The days were still hot and sunny, but the evenings were finally cool enough you did not need a fan to sleep.

L. Stay into the winter and you will find the water temperature starts to drop and you need a thermal top, even a wet suit, if you want to spend a lot of time snorkeling. Also, a fleece in the evenings, when a southeasterly blow brings colder air.

H/L. The pearl industry. Nice to see it flourishing here, but a pain changing your navigation route all the time to circle round the farm buoys. Everyone is pretty affluent, so there is no stealing from cruisers, but also no need to sell their excess fruits and veggies. They just let the fruits fall to the ground. You have to get up the courage and go ask someone if you can pick some of their fruit. There are lots of wild trees and plants once you get a little out of town. Good to learn French before coming any way.

H. There is one relatively large village in the area that has a supply ship once every 3-4 weeks from Tahiti. It has 3 well provisioned shops and a couple of restaurants. It has good phone service, a public phone and phone cards available at the post office. ‘Reasonably’ protected big harbor here, but deep (17m) and a lee shore.

L. The residence of Rikitea are very friendly, but get a lot of cruisers, so you do not get the big Polynesian welcome you get in the smaller villages. Unfortunately the village has one of the slowest internet connections, but the owner of one of the shops lets all the cruisers sit on her door step and use her internet for free.

H. It was nice to have both petrol and propane available at the shops in Rikitea. We bought both while we were here.

L. We had to buy diesel from the supply ship. A little worried about it, at first, because you have to purchase in 200 litre drums. Not so scary in the end. Another boat was happy to split a drum with us and the supply ship lends you a pump. You do need jerry cans to get it back to your boat, but we found we had to jerry can fuel in most of French Polynesia. No one in Rikitea fills foreign propane bottles. Best to buy a local bottle ($30) and valve. Then you can just swap out everywhere.

H. There is some lovely snorkeling to be had in settled weather out on the barrier reef that surrounds this group of islands and the little motus (islandettes) that string along it. Tauna motu was our favourite.

L. Most of the barrier reef is sunken, so ocean swell can sneak over it in places. You have to pick your weather and find little protected places or you will have a rolly night at these anchorages.

H. The bigger islands have rich volcanic soil, a warm climate and a long history of agriculture. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables available and ‘something’ is always in season. We left just as avocado season ended and pumpkin season started. Wild pumpkins were growing on almost every sunny hillside!

H. All the people we met in the Gambier Islands were warm, welcoming and generous to us. There is nothing I can say that could truly describe how ‘at home’ they go out of their way to make you feel. Of course Herve and Valerie, on the island of Taravae, were our favourites. The humans learned loads about Polynesian culture and traditions from them. They have also promised to take them hunting when they return. Fresh goat meat for me. Yum, yum!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YES, WE ARE BACK AGAIN

The humans know a good thing when they see it. The friendly hospitality of the locals Herve and Valerie are famous among the cruisers that make it this far south to the Gambier Islands.

Most cruisers stop into Taravai Village because they have heard that this is one of the few places you can pick up some ‘fresh’ fruit and garden vegetables before heading north into the more arid atolls of the Tuamotus.

Many cruisers come by for the Sunday potluck and BBQs that Herve and Valerie host. They have set up a large BBQ area, shaded seating, volley ball court, petanque and have a long shallow beach area for the kids to play. They always make the effort to make a few local Polynesian dishes for everyone to try.

A few cruisers stick around and become good friends. Herve and Valerie are always willing to welcome new people into their home. They enjoy learning new things from cruisers and equally teaching the cruisers a few new tricks. Hunting, fishing, foraging, how to pluck a chicken, how to make coconut milk, cooking, weaving and flower lay making are just a few skills they regularly pass on. Despite the fact that cruisers are a ‘transient’ lot, never sticking around very long, it never seems to stop them from opening their hearts and their home to everyone who stops by.

CULTURAL EXCHANGE

Herve and Valerie usually have a busy day of schooling their youngest son Ariki, gardening, hunting, fishing and maintenance. It is a Polynesian tradition to ‘drop everything’ to receive guests. For this reason my humans saved most of their visits to ashore for the late afternoons (3pm). A couple of hours to chat, squeeze in a game of petanque and watch the sun set. But they took some extra time with Herve to join him spear fishing, in his favourite spots, and to teach Valerie how to make yogurt.

Their home is also a meeting place for cruisers. Here in the Gambiers the boats have come from a large range of countries.
The mutual interest of sailing brings all these different cultures together and it is a great opportunity to exchange information. There is also a mixture experiences as some boats have been in French Polynesia for a season or two, while others have just arrived. Some individuals have electrical or engineering skills while other boats need a helping hand with a repair.

Some boats have traveled here with young children. A gathering place is good to meet other boats with children they can play with. The local schools on the islands are very welcoming and allow the cruising children to attend classes during their visits. This frees up the parents a bit during the day and gives the children a local play mates and a fabulous cultural experience.

MONO-LINGUAL

The official language of French Polynesia is French. Each archipelago of islands also has its own dialect, for example Mangeravian for the Gambier Islands. But it is the French language they binds all these islands together, all official paperwork is complete and most commerce. Unfortunately my silly humans do not speak French. No problem, they can just learn French, right? But my humans have been lazy as they keep running into cruisers, locals and professionals that speak English. In fact most people they meet can speak multiple languages. It seems that the only mono-lingual people they meet are from the ‘English’ speaking countries.

The BBQ was attended by locals, and boats from all over Europe and even Russia. Valerie, the hostess, speaks Tahitian, Mangarevian, French, English, German and even a bit of Spanish. Most of the other locals also knew a bit of English and many of the other cruisers were at least bi-lingual. The only mono-linguists in attendance were my British humans. Very embarrassing. In fact we have found, over and over, the only cruisers coming to French Polynesia who can not speak French originate from an ‘English’ speaking country. Why is that? Why are we such a lazy lot?

I will have to whip these humans into shape.

Calm weather is the best time to visit Herve and Valerie in the village of Taravai.  The surrounding reef is submerged so it offers no protection if the wind and waves.  This is the view looking out to the island of Mangareva and Mt. Duff.

It is great to visit such lovely people

Here and Valerie are always up for some fun

Do not forget their son Ariki and their dog Taravai

Everyone one gets a warm welcome from this lovely family

They even remembered that one of my humans had a birthday while they were away. Very generous.

My favourite beach is the big one on in the bay right next door.

What a wonderful place to visit.

14. May 2019 · Comments Off on Tauna motu, Gambier Archipelago, French Polynesia – A little unspoilt gem · Categories: French Polynesia

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GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL

Some times it is nice to leave the crowds behind and find a little island all to yourself. In the Gambier islands that is not too hard. There are a multitude of anchorages through out the archipelago to choose from depending on the wind direction and sea swell. Pretty little villages to visit or isolated motus on the fringe of the barrier reef. Your choice when the weather is fair. Just watch out for the pearl farms!

The cool clean tropical waters of the Gambiers produce the most colourful prized pearls in French Polynesia. Everyone is trying to ‘cash in’ on this crop and new pearl farms are going up regularly. The pearl industry is subject to government taxation, so almost all the pearls go to the main island of Tahiti to be sold. The floating buoys, to which strings of oyster cages are suspended are usually easy to pick out from a sailing vessel. It just means you have to be prepared to plan a new route when the old one gets blocked.

My humans decided to visit a motu recommended by friends in the east. Motu Tauna was only 5 nm from our previous anchorage, at Totegegie (near the airport), but there was a long shallow sand bar, pearl farms and ‘just a few’ coral outcrops to maneuver around. Thankfully we had good light to see the lagoon bottom and friends shared the last track they used (see:www.pitufa.com). As we were coming in to anchor we were surprised by a ‘giant’ green turtle surfacing in front of us. When he raised his mammoth head above the surface for a breath, he looked as surprised as us and quickly dove down.

We found a nice sandy shoal at 4m on the northern end of the motu and dropped the anchor here. 23 08.828 S 143 51.181 W. The barrier reef in front, and a shallow reef stretching into the lagoon to our south, gave us protection from the ocean swell.

MOTU TAUNA

The motu and surrounding turquoise waters are straight out of a picture postcard of the South Pacific. All the elements you come to expect. Palm trees, white sandy beaches and colourful corals in crystal clear waters. First order of business is always to take me ashore for an explore. Here we met the islands inhabitants. Nesting fairy and sooty terns and hundreds and hundreds of hermit crabs. I am not joking, hundreds! Different shapes and sizes further exaggerated by their diverse choice of shell for a home. These guys were ‘crawling all over each other’ anywhere ripe yucca fruit had fallen.

 

SHELL HUNTING

I felt sorry for the humans. They usually have a ‘no kill’ policy but they struggled here to find a shell not already occupied. The beaches here are literally alive with wonderful shells, but they are all on a ‘walk about’. Finally they discovered an uninhabited sandbank full of shells that only appeared at low tide. Problem solved and the boat is getting weighted down with their finds.

SNORKELING

Straight off the boat you have stretches of reef and a multitude of bommies to discover. The clear waters and fresh nutrients coming over the barrier reef support a large diversity of healthy coral. In turn this supports a large diversity of sea life. Majestic blue trigger fish, gentle green turtles, curious little black tip reef sharks and flaming butterfly fish are just a few of the inhabitants.

THE CHERRY ON THE TOP

In taking me for regular walks on the beach the humans did more than increase their shell collection. They noticed that the swell was not breaking on a short section of the barrier reef just east of the motu. They suspected the water might be deep enough for them to cross over to the ocean side of the reef. On a day with lighter swell they decided to paddle their kayaks over and investigate.

The water was deeper here, but not by much. About 50cm at high tide. But the reef was very narrow here, only about 10m wide. Two sand bottomed canyons were visible as light blue streaks from the surface radiating out to sea. When they jumped in with their snorkeling gear they were in for a surprise!

Grey reef sharks. Not cheeky little white tip or curious little black tip sharks. Proper grey reef sharks. And not just one, two or even five. A group of between 20-30 individuals! Not since the famous ‘shark alley’ of the south pass of Fakarava have I seen so many sharks grouped together in one spot. But these guys are not ‘resting’ on the bottom, they are swimming back and forth and, instead of being safely 40m down, these sharks are 10m below you, hemmed into a tight formation by the coral sides of the gully. The humans went back several times, and every time the sharks were there doing the same odd behaviour of swimming in unison up and down the two gullies. Over and over.

The coral and other sea life in the gullies was also amazing, but you just could not stop watching this herd of sharks swimming up, swirling around and swimming back again. Just incredible and worth a visit here just to witness that. Video footage to come when ever we get hook up to the world wide web again.

Not much I can say after that. So I will leave you there, until next time.

Coming into the anchorage off the mtu Tauna

The motu has a 360′ beach front for me to run around.

The ‘sooty’ tern fledglings are high enough in the trees I do not disturb the colony

At low tide the sand bars run out to the other motu along the barrier reef

Lots of fun playing in the shallows

It is the under water world that is the real high light of a visit here

Healthy diversity of coral and fish both inside the lagoon and on the ocean side of the reef

Only a healthy reef and fish population could support so many grey reef sharks in one place.

 

10. May 2019 · Comments Off on Totegegie (Airport) Motu, the Gambier Archipelago, French Polynesia – Wanting to snorkel the false pass · Categories: French Polynesia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHERE IS TOTEGEGIE MOTU?

The group of islands called the Gambier Archipelago are surrounded by an outer barrier reef. The northern and eastern sections of this reef rise, just high enough out of the water, to form slender islands called motu. Totegegie Motu is located on the eastern side of the barrier reef and is only a 5 nm sail from the main village of Rikitea.

The main village of Rikitea is located on the high mountainous island of Mangareva. The deep volcanic valleys have rich fertile soil for growing fruits and vegetables, but there is no flat areas large enough for an airport. Totegegie is a long flat motu and a much better choice. So they built the Archipelago’s airport here and run a public ferry service back to the village.

I used this service when I got sick and the humans flew me back to Tahiti. This time I am going to visit the motu for pleasure.

SO WHAT IS THE ANCHORAGE LIKE?

Sun, sea and sand. There is a nice sandy bowl, surrounded by a shallow reef, near the south end of the motu. We anchored here and the motu gave us good protection from easterly winds of 15-20 knots. The motu is long and narrow with sandy beaches and topped with a forest of palm, pine and yucca trees. 23 5.855 S 134 52.611 W (you can cut and paste this into google earth).

There is a long gravel road running the length of the motu, from the homestead in the south end to the airport in the north. We used this to walk to the airport from the anchorage and then picked our way back along the inside beaches back. Lots of fun for shell hunters. My favourite was the big long beach right in front of anchorage. Pure white supper soft sand perfect for a terrier to dig a ‘hole to china’ in. And lots of drift wood sticks to chase. Nice to have no ‘biting’ bugs here!

The humans were more interested in snorkeling. There is a false pass at the southern tip of the motu. A shallow break in the reef where the Pacific Ocean can enter the Archipelago. This movement of water brings nutrients in and out and promotes coral growth and a greater diversity of fish. The multitude of coral heads running deep into the lagoon were very interesting, but the humans really wanted to get out, over the reef, and into the drop off on the ocean side. Finally the wind and sea swell dropped enough for them to kayak through the surf and get out into the coral canons on the ocean side. Here they were pleased to find schools of much bigger fish and their curious predators, white tip and grey reef sharks. To their pleasure they were also able to swim with a lovely big eagle ray as well.

WHAT NEXT?

We all want to use the good weather and settled winds to visit more islands and motu here in the Gambier Archipelago. Thinking we might sail south and visit the tiny motu down there?

We anchored up in a sandy bowl near the South end of the motu

Great to have my own private sandy beach at the anchorage

Lots of sun and wind out here. Great for batteries and a chance to make drinking water

Nice view of the sun setting over the island of Mangareva to the north

Exploring up the moth road to the airport

You are not supposed to enter the airport property, but there is another lovely long beach here to play on

I do love playing on the beach. Can never get enough!

07. May 2019 · Comments Off on The Village of Rikitea, on the island of Mangareva in the Archepelligo of the Gambier, French Polynesia – Hiking, churches, WiFi, supply ships and anchoring advice · Categories: French Polynesia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIKITEA

If you come to the Gambier Islands, there is no avoiding the main village of Rikitea. Situated on the largest island of the group it has the only links with the ‘outside’ world.

For those first arriving by boat to this southeastern corner of French Polynesia, Rikitea is where you check into the country. It is also where missionaries first landed and started the spread of Catholicism. So you will find lots of churches and missions.

Rikitea is the only village with an internet connection and the only island the monthly supply ships stop at. It is the only place in the Gambier you are going to find a bakery, shops and restaurants. But I will warn you, do not get your expectations too high, everything is a little simpler out here and ‘broad band’ speed is non-existent. To compensate they have an egg farm, so lots of very fresh eggs, and the best baguettes we have tried yet in French Polynesia.

For anyone anxious to stretch their legs, well marked trails lead up both of the islands highest peaks with views out over all the other islands in the group. For many cruisers that have just crossed the Pacific, Rikitea is a little slice of heaven to recover from the battering’s of the sea.

THE ANCHORAGE – A blessing and a curse.

The anchorage off Rikitea is well protected from the sea by a series of shallow reefs. These gives boats protection from the force of the sea swell, but does allow some wind driven chop in at high tide. The route over the reefs would be difficult to follow if it were not for the number of well placed channel markers. The channel is wide enough to get supply ships in, but is unlit at night.

The village and harbour is on the east side of the island, and the dominate winds come from the east. This means the wind blows straight into the anchorage, but the reefs block most of the swell. The wind direction may keep the bugs down, but for boaters this makes the island a lee shore. For non- boating types, this means the wind is trying to blow the boats ashore. The only thing stopping them is a small anchor and a length of chain. Not a desirable situation to be in.

Despite the perils of the anchorage boats flock here when the weather looks to turn nasty. Why you ask? Well for some it is the all round protection from waves, others the chance to fill their days with hikes and internet while the weather is foul, and for the finally lot, well they just never got around to going anywhere else in the Gambiers.

SO WHY ARE WE HERE? – We got caught by the weather when a supply ship come in.

We knew some strong winds were expected, but so was one of the those precious supply ships. We thought we could slip into port and back out before the weather hit. We would have made it too, but we were too wimpy to head out in the rainy weather that struck before the winds. ‘Oh well’ we thought ‘Looks like we will have lots of fried egg baguettes for the next few days’. With good holding and the reef for protection the anchorage should have been perfectly safe for the coming winds, but you always forget the ‘human factor’. Humans make mistakes…..but never us dogs!

For once (make a note of this) I do not have to moan about my humans mistakes. Looking at the charts, taking some advice from friends and putting a beach for me ahead of being closer to the docks, the humans decided to anchor in the furthest north end of the harbour. It is a little further to get to the dingy dock from this end of the harbour, by about 5 minutes, so not too many boats like to anchor here. But this end has a little reef sticking out that blocks the waves coming down the mouth of the channel.

At the centre of the harbour cruiser did, what cruisers do. The majority tried to anchor as close as they could to the dingy dock area. You can’t blame them. Who wants to waste precious fuel or get wet going ashore? But what happens is everyone ends up anchored too close together. When the winds get up they find themselves in a situation were they can not let out more anchor chain or are swinging into their neighbours when the wind shifts direction. Usually a combination of both.

The first big gusts hit in the early hours before dawn. We were all up like a shot to check on the anchor. From the cockpit we viewed one of our neighbours sailing by. His anchor had let go, but he was on the helm and motoring forward. He had anchored out in front of us the day before. When we ran into him later, he admitted he did not let enough anchor chain out as he ended up too close to us.

Rule #1- If you are not 100% happy with where you are anchored, re-anchor.
Rule #2- Always put out ‘more than’ enough anchor chain to take up the shock of your boat pulling on your anchor. A friend said it well ‘No use running aground with chain still in your locker’.

You would figure, by the time cruisers make it out this far, they would know how to anchor. But then again, my humans have had to ‘live and learn’ and they still make silly mistakes. As the gusting winds swooped in, as expected, more and more boats in the centre of the harbour started to drag or had to move to avoid collisions. With everyone spreading out things started to settle down. No one hurt, no one run aground and no boats damaged in the end.

So you see, even in paradise some wind and rain must fall. Stay safe out there.

Boats anchored in the harbour at Rikitea

The maze of reefs that protect the harbour. The main route through is well marked

A pleasant anchorage in calm weather

The village even has a beach and fair grounds for me to play on

There a lots of things to see and do in the village. The village cathedral is beautifully decorated inside.

A hike up the hill will bring you to the cemetery

All the wondering around makes my humans hungry. Luckily there are lots of options in town. Take out chips any one?

Feeling more adventurous, there are lots of hikes on the island and stunning view points out to the neighbouring islands.

The real excitement begins when a supply ship arrives.

Everyone in the archipelago comes to the village to collect provisions

All calm when the wind is not blowing

COMING FROM THE ISLAND OF MANGAREVA

For most cruisers and passage makers the island of Mangareva, and the village of Rikitea, is their first port of call in the Gambier Archepelago. Rikitea is the main village and the only link with ‘civilisation’ this far south in French Polynesia. It is the ‘hub’ for administration, flights to other islands, supply ships and the ONLY satellite feed for internet access.

Because I got sick, and had to fly back to Tahiti for treatment, our sail boat Spirit of Argo has been anchored off the village for a few weeks. One of the monthly supply ships has just visited so the humans stocked up on a few perishables. The recent Cultural Festival had left the village stripped of essentials such as toilet paper, propane and petrol (gasoline). Most people have their own gardens, and trade with neighbours, but they do import frozen meats, cheeses, potatoes, onions, cabbage and surprisingly a few fruits. Apples, Florida oranges and red grapes are the most popular.

While I rested aboard the humans got into the queues (line ups) outside the many vendors that had closed for a day to take in and organize their stock. Boats had come in from the outer islands and pearl farms with their long lists of month long inventory. When the humans got to the counter they shared their wish list with the attendant who ran around to the stock room behind and weighed out the produce.

All stocked up and with light winds predicted for the next week the humans thought it would be a good opportunity to visit some of the smaller islands and tiny motu surrounding Mangareva.

VISITING THE VILLAGE OF TARAVAI IS NOT EASY

One of the places on the humans ‘bucket list’ for the Gambier was the homestead of Herve and Valerie in the abandon village of Taravai. Friends (Edd and Judi from s/v Clair de Lune) had visited here and raved how lovely the family was. They are very hospitable to cruisers, in a true Polynesian tradition, and even host a BBQ on Sunday afternoons where everyone is welcome.

We had visited the protected west and south coast anchorages of the island of Taravai, but the village is on the more exposed east coast so the humans had to wait for gentle winds to visit here. Navigating into the village anchorage is also challenging. The lagoon out front is surrounded by a protective submerged reef with an unmarked twisting passage at the south end that shallows to 3.2m. To find your way in you can copy the route from the blog of s/v Pitufa or call Herve on VHF channel 77 and he will jump in his skiff and lead you in.

The east coast of the island of Taravai is only a short one hour sail away from the main anchorage of Rikitea, but it does have it’s hazards. Pearl farm oyster nets. The famous black pearl farmers of the Gambiers try to utilize as much of the protected, but flowing, waters as they can. You must keep a watch at all times for the sting of floating buoys that hold up these nets. The nets and the cables that join them are very damaging to props and rudders. There are a couple of strings of oyster nets on the direct route from Rikitea, but easily avoided.

THE VILLAGE OF TARAVAI

A gradual decline in the popularity of traditional living has meant many young people have left the Gambier Islands for paying jobs else where. The French Government provides the resources for home schooling for families in outlying islands, but any higher education must be taken on the main islands. College and University students have to go to school in Tahiti. In the light of these changes the entire population of the island of Taravai has dropped to seven. One couple live on the south end of the island and the rest in the old village. Herve and Valerie are the only family remaining here. One of their young son’s still lives with them, but the older son is staying with his Grandmother in Tahiti while he completes his high school education.

As people have abandon the island the jungle and mangroves have quickly taken over. Herve does his best to keep the old church grounds cleared and planted with flowering shubs and plants. Unfortunately, with out a congregation, there is not the money or labour to replace the failing roof beams of the large old church. Soon it will be nothing more than a shell with stained glass windows.

But you come to the village of Taravai, not for the nostalgia of Catholicism, but for the Polynesian hospitality of Herve and Valerie.

HERVE AND VALERIE

Having cruisers drop anchor on your door step, traipsing around your property and often pinching from your garden, is not to all the locals taste. As more and more boats visit these outlying communities their traditional Polynesian hospitality becomes tarnished. Herve and Valerie have decided to reverse that trend and INVITE cruisers to visit them.

They grow fruits and vegetables, raise pigs and hunt for goats. All of which they sell. They use the money to up keep their property and the abandon church grounds. Their family has owned the land for many generations and they are determined to try and keep it for the extended family and their sons. Valerie earns the family extra money by completing traditional paintings and individually stylized portraits. Not only is she a great artist, but she completes all her work utilizing the local coloured sand. What extra money they earn they use for schooling their eldest son and hosting Sunday BBQs for the cruising community.

Their Sunday BBQs are not to be missed. They pull out all the stops to make sure the Cruisers have fun, opening their home and hearts. They set up a shaded table area, a big BBQ pit, volley court and lawn bowls. The cruisers are invited to bring what they can for a pot luck, but Herve and Valerie make lots of extra dishes so people can sample local fish and meats. Very gracious hosts they do their best to meet each person, as they arrive, and get everyone up and participating.

In fact Herve and Valerie are just as gracious any day of the week. If you come to their home they will drop everything they are doing and rush out to meet you in true traditional Polynesian style. It is always best if you can wait until after 3pm, when the school and work day is over, to visit. At this time of day the worst of the afternoon heat has burnt off but you have time to visit their garden. They are also free to sit and chat with you as the sun goes down.

We love the Polynesian hospitality….and wish you were here to enjoy it with us!

Exploring the abandon village of Taravai

The church is still standing. But for how long?

The sea wall leading out to an earthen betty

Spirit of Argo anchored in the village harbour.

All the visiting cruisers enjoying Herve and Valerie’s hospitality

Ariki. Here and Valerie’s son loves the fun and games

Here is in shades and base ball cap. Valerie has a hat on and a flower behind her ear.

View of My Duff in the morning sun rise

The Gambier Islands

LEADING UP TO THE FESTIVAL

Wow, it has been a mad week for the crew of Spirit of Argo.
At the start of the week I was recovering from a pneumothorax aboard s/V Clair de Luna off Tahiti, in the Society Islands.  Then I had the madness of a flight back to the island of Rikitea, in the Gambier Islands 1000nm southeast.  The rest of the week has been filled with the activities of Rikitea’s first Cultural Festival.
You all know about my ‘near death’ experience and all the remarkable people that helped to save me.  Special thanks to Edd and Judi for putting me up in Tahiti until I was strong enough to fly back.  I have hinted how my human almost did not get me on the plane back to the Gambier Islands, but I will save that story for anouther time.  I am just grateful I made it back and every day I get stronger and fitter.
You would think that the humans would whisk me off to a nice beach to recover, but alas no.  They wanted to remain at the Gambier’s largest village to attend the islands first Cultural Festival.

The main village in the Gambler is Riketea on the island of Mangareva.

 

 

 

PREPARATIONS FOR THE FESTIVAL

The village of Rikitea had been working hard for months in preparation to host the 4 day festival and it’s visiting participants.  The festival was planned for the Easter holidays so the closed schools could be used as dormitories.  Cooking facilities were set up beside the fair grounds to feed everyone, including the audience.  No small feat!

The fair grounds themselves were completely transformed.  Tasteful substantial wooden structures were built around a main arena to house arts and crafts venders, flushing bathrooms and the dignitaries seating area front and centre.  Temporary tents were set up for change rooms and to shade the food, dispensers and diners for the many meals provided.  Multiple areas were set up for the musicians and singers, but the main stage was the sand filled central dancing area.

THE FESTIVAL ACTIVITIES

The festival started with a parade through town to the grand opening of the new fair grounds.  Participants came from all the archipelagos.  We were fortunate to have visited many of the  islands represented on our travels so far .  The exceptions were Hao, an atoll in the southern Tuamotus, we hope to visit as we head north out of the Gambiers.  And Tubuai, in the much harder to visit Austral Islands situated in the extreme southwest of French Polynesia.

The dancing group from Hiva Oa, Marquesas, were especially popular with the women.  Even the grand mothers would swoon as the muscular men paraded by in their grass skirts.  I will do my best to down load at least one picture.  You will have to be patient for enough internet to send the dance video.  But I am confident you all have a good imagination!

The next 3 nights were filled with hours of music and dancing.  Two or three groups representing their islands talents a night.  A mixture of visually stunning choreography, story telling and silly fun.   Dangerous fire routines, spectacular costume changes and the hillarious costume failures.

A huge lunch buffet was put on for everyone, including the audience, every day. The scale of the corodination was amazingly done with the ever present Polynesian smile and helpfulness.  We got to try lots of new dishes and our fill of poisson  cru.

We attended the final days closing ceremony expecting a load of boring speeches and gift giving, but found it was instead a ‘all hands aboard’ dance party and one of French Polynesia’s famous underground oven bakes.  All the participants got back into costume, put on a short routine and then got the audience up to do it with them.  Culminating in everyone up on the ‘dance floor’ dancing to the beat of the drums.  With their appetites stimulated each participant provided a ground oven baked delight from thier home island.  Wrapped in carefully crafted banana leaf parcels, different meats were slow cooked, with traditional vegetables, in underground pits.  The roasted dishes were served up with a range of fish and other vegetables side dishes.  A real feast to finish off!

 

If Rikitea plan to make this an annual event, I can see it becoming very very popular.  I am glad we got to see it in it’s most intimate form.  Wish you were there to enjoy it with us.

 

 

 

 

Lots of boats anchored up in the harbour for the festival

The festival started with a parade through the village

Everyone is happy to be here. Some of the dancers in the parade through village.

The opening ceremonies at the nicely laid out fair grounds

Great dancing! Hopefully get a video loaded for you.

Even the kids joined in

Amazing music to support the dancers and in individual performances.

A great feast was provided for everyone free. A great chance to try different local foods.

Local recycled plates.

Everyone gets into the festive mood!

Dressing up with flowers in their hair

A great way to unite communities as far away as Tahiti and even Hiva Oa, way up north in the Marquesas.