French Polynesia 2016
Imagine - to be anchored in an uninhabited region of the remote Tuamotu atolls, to breakfast on fresh papaya
and pamplemousse, breathing pure air blown across the ocean, to swim in warm clear water amongst the sharks and other
fish, to play on the beach with your children and to come back at the end of the day, to your own home, cook a meal,
and relax in your own boat ? this is what cruising the South Pacific is all about. These are the moments we do this for.
I should add, that at present, it is several months after leaving the Tuamotus, there is torrential rain and we are tied up
in a marina in downtown Papeete waiting out a low pressure system bringing heavy swell and strong wind. We are dealing with a
broken stern tube, a leaky toilet and all suffering from some kind of tropical induced skin infection. This is the other, more
prosaic aspect of cruising, and no less significant!
Jayden sailing in the Tuamotus
Our shore camp on Makemo
The Tuamotus are a chain of around 70 coral atolls, many of which are inhabited ? though sparingly, and about 20 of which have
a navigable pass to bring a boat into. They have been known by early European navigators as 'The Dangerous Archipelago', and for
good reason. At least two (that we have heard of) of this years pacific cruising boats ended wrecked on its reefs. The current
in the passes can run to 8 knots (we saw 6 in Makemo) with steep standing waves and are often very narrow and shallow. But once you
are safely tucked inside they really are a paradise. We swam with literally dozens of sharks during a drift snorkel in Makemo ? black tip,
reef, grey and lemon sharks all mingling and circling in the waters below, as the children proved their bravery by staying in the water longer than us parents!
Black tip reef sharks
For the boys a highlight was camping out on a deserted motu with their friends Paulo and Racquel on 'Pesto'. We unloaded them in the
afternoon with a tent, some matches, food and water, a handheld VHF radio, some solar lights and a football and left them to it.
It was satisfying to watch their distant fire as we sat quietly on Pesto with a cold beer and to hear them call at 5am on the radio
to let us know the sun was coming up.
Kids beach camp
Flying the stunt kites in Makemo
But to get here takes a bit of planning. The passage from the Americas takes almost a month. So you must carry everything you are going
to need on board for that month. All the food, water, fuel, spare parts and other supplies, including liferaft and emergency bag. You can't
nip down to the corner shop if you have forgotten something. We carry 600 litres of fresh water in 2 separate tanks ? and I filled 60 litres of emergency water in extra jerricans in case one or both of our tanks developed a leak or became contaminated. I provisioned with a lot of food ? 20 kilos of rice, 10 kilos of pasta, 15 packs of Mexican tacos, 10 kilos of flour, plus dozens of onions, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, apples, bananas, and lots of citrus fruit which generally keeps well. It was a sad day when we ran out of tomatoes ? but we carry at least 100 tins of various fruit and vegetables, plus a lot of dried beans and lentils which all come in useful on such a long trip. Still, we found that right up until the last day, we were still eating fresh eggs, limes, onions, garlic and cabbage and feeling pretty healthy overall. Unfortunately we did not carry a spare alternator, and this was one thing that broke during the trip. We still had the energy coming in from our solar panels, but no extra boost to our batteries when we ran our engine. We generally have very low power requirements so it wasn't a major problem, but it did mean we couldn't
run the fridge anymore.
We sailed a total of 3700 miles from Costa Rica to Fatu Hiva in the southern Marquesas ? 29 days at sea. 29 days and nights, no stops, no
anchorages, the boat surging on and on, and the endless waves and swell. Life goes on in our little floating world ? games are played, songs
are sung, dances danced, stories are read, cakes are baked. We plot our positions daily, gradually inching westwards across the chart, adjust
the sails when needed, and sit outside for hours, watching the wave crests rise and fall, the booby birds circling and looking for a stable
place to land. The flying fish scared by our approach take off in a flock and glide for 100m or more before disappearing again beneath the surface.
We slowly say goodbye to the Pole Star and we cross the Equator. The moon completes a full cycle by the time we see land again. Time has passed.
We have travelled thousands of miles, and yet we haven't even left home.
Mid ocean solitude
Fatu Hiva is truly a magical place to arrive after being at sea for a long time. This is where Thor Heyerdahl lived with his wife for a time, and
where he got the inspiration for the Kon-Tiki expedition. Green and lush, sheer cliffs guide you into a small bay. There were 5 other cruising
boats when we dropped anchor (this is a popular place) ? from France, Germany, USA, Ireland and Australia. Jayden immediately wanted his sailing
dinghy in the water ? so he could get to shore and run! We sat in the cockpit and watched him happily racing up and down the beach, with 'Sparrowhawk'
tied to the small concrete jetty.
Landfall in Fatu Hiva
Exploring on land in Fatu Hiva
The Marquesas are majestic islands, rising steeply from the ocean ? the opposite of the low-lying Tuamotus, and about 8 degrees south of the equator.
After heavy rain, waterfalls burst out from all over the hills, gushing down to the valleys below. The people are tattooed and warrier-like, yet kind
and welcoming. We were offered rides when we walked on shore, and invited to an island feast in Tahuata with several other cruising friends.
Jungle walk in Nuku Hiva
Polynesian picnic, Tahuata
Jayden with a Tiki in Nuku Hiva
Towering peaks of Nuku Hiva
Jayden swimming with a manta ray in Nuku Hiva
After the wild landscapes of the Marquesas and the Tuamotus we set sail for Tahiti ? the island of dreams that has inspired a score of sailors
to head out into the ocean for a south sea paradise. We were guided in by the Point Venus lighthouse ? located on the northwestern cape next
to the bay where Captain Cook landed to watch the transit of Venus in 1769, and where Bligh and the crew of the Bounty spent several weeks before the
crew later mutinied.
Sailing into Tahiti
Papeete is a modern, busy bustling city with a laid back Pacific vibe, and the rest of the island is quiet and unspoilt. Callan, Mitch and Henry
joined us from Australia to surf for 3 weeks in Tahiti and Moorea. From Taapuna, to Maraa, Vairao and Teahupoo and on to Haapiti, it was an active
trip with great waves and a few reef tattoos to take home for the lads.
Boys in a tree, Tahiti
Dylan and Jayden sailing their El Toro dinghy
Then with Santo (who sailed with us in Indonesia on 'Moet'), Alex and Sebastiaan we sailed from Tahiti to Moorea, Huahine, Tahaa and Raiatea - the
more populated and more visited islands of French Polynesia. We ate conch and sea urchin for dinner, accidentally caught a shark on our fishing line
(which we released), kited, windsurfed and snorkelled in the lagoons, and watched as Alex skilfully flew his drone around each anchorage. The drone photos
here are thanks to Alex! Mike and Jessica joined us in Raiatea and we visited tiny motus, hiked in Tahaa, dinghied up a jungle river and sailed in the Huahine
lagoon with a mix of tropical sun and rain.
Sangvind sailing in Huahine
Sailing in Huahine
Crew of Sangvind
Sunset in Moorea
Windsurfing in Tahaa
Jayden windsurfing Huahine
Jayden and some friendly fish
Since we all have European passports (at least our UK ones are still good for now) we decided not to rush, and to spend a year here in French Polynesia.
We have had several off-seasons in the Pacific before on 'Moet' (in Fiji, New Caledonia, Tonga and Papua New Guinea), and knew to expect a lot of heat and
a lot of rain. It's mid-January now and so far has not been so bad. My Dad and his wife Margaret visited in November and we were pretty lucky with the
weather ? cycling, snorkelling and paddleboarding in Huahine ? not to mention numerous evenings at the Yacht Club's Happy Hour.
We are hoping to visit the Tuamotus for a few more weeks before heading back to Huahine ? in many ways our favourite island in the Societies. And
in April, we take to the ocean again and head west to Niue and beyond!
With Dad in Huahine
Sylvia and the boys, Tahaa