Alex’s Photo Picks from the Last Two Years

As you are probably aware Sarah and I have been in Thailand for the last 6 weeks or so, bar a one-week side-trip to Cambodia for the sake of getting our Thai visas renewed inexpensively. It’s been wonderful spending time with Sarah’s parents and exploring places by land. There have also been moments of nostalgia. I’ve spent this morning looking through our photographs for the last two years and there are a few that really stand out for one reason or another, so I thought I’d share them with you here. Many of them you will have seen before but there are a few that we either didn’t have (because they were taken by someone else and we only acquired them later on) or which didn’t fit in with the subject matter of whatever blog post we were writing at the time.

We’ve had so many incredible experiences that it was hard to cut down my selection (it’s probably still a little long- sorry about that). There are also one or two that I would have liked to have included here – some videos from the first passage from Bermuda to St. Maarten – but which I don’t have access to at the moment because they are on an ipod that I left in New Zealand. I will post these later; they give some insight into my mental state during that passage and why I don’t think I’m well-suited to single-handed sailing.

So, without further ado, in chronological order:



Leaving the Las Perlas Islands on the way to Galapagos we caught our first fish of the voyage! Unfortunately, something else got there before I could pull it in…………….



This view was a welcome one –  making landfall at Pitcairn Island after three weeks at sea. At the time we assumed that this view heralded an opportunity for a rest. Little did we know we’d soon be trundling off to Mangareva at full tilt on an emergency medical evacuation!



Pitcairn’s reputation for less-than-ideal anchorage conditions is not ill-deserved. We woke up one morning during our second visit to the island and were excited to see another yacht in the vicinity. AIS identified them as S/V Maya. We hailed them on the radio but for some reason they seemed reluctant to stop by for a visit, so they sailed on without anchoring. These pictures of Bob taken by Asma give some inkling as to why they may have decided on that course of action, and why they sounded so baffled on the radio when we told them that we were comfortably re-anchored at Bounty Bay. We have since become very good friends with Herbert and Asma and have laughed merrily over our first encounter with one another. Apparently Asma turned to Herbert and said “I’m sure they were very nice people but now they must be dead, so we’ll never know!”

You can just see Bob’s mast beyond the breaking wave 🙂


And here we are nonchalantly raising the anchor:

OK, that was a lie. It wasn’t nonchalant at all. I couldn’t actually stand on the foredeck so I had to do everything braced against the pulpit railing and supported on one knee. Despite my best efforts to control things, the windlass and bow roller came under tremendous load as the anchor was torn from the sand by the rise of a particularly large swell. There are other pictures of the situation above where you can only see the boom and the tops of our heads, but I like this one because you can at least see that there is a boat in there somewhere!



Now we move on to the Gambier Islands. Below is the stunning view from the peak of Mount Duff. You can see the capital town of Rikitea in the bottom left. The tiny strip of land in the upper right of the photograph is the airport island. The Gambier Islands were truly spectacular. Sarah and I have already discussed that if we were to do a similar trip again we would prefer to sail direct to Marquesas from the Galapagos Islands and then head South to spend the bulk of the cyclone season here in the Gambiers instead of the other way around.




Provisioning in the Gambier Islands was sparse. Being Bermudian, I have a physiological NEED for mayonnaise. So, we decided to try to make it. Below is one of the earlier attempts. Since it wasn’t working by hand-power alone I decided to try an electric whisk………. which we don’t have. So, we improvised!

Note the not-remotely-mayonnaisish gloop in the jar in my left hand. I was not a happy bunny, as you may be able to tell. Fortunately, later attempts were much more successful.



A typical afternoon scene from the island of Taravai, where we ended up spending the majority of our time in the Gambiers. Complete with grumpy, sneaky horse who attempted to steal lunch, dinner, or rum whenever possible. The problem with being a horse is that one struggles to be inconspicuous, but Dior put in a good effort and was sometimes successful.




We spent a day clearing away the brush from beneath the coconut palms, and made several big fires to dispose of it:



Unfortunately the heat of the fires produced an unforeseen hazard – spider rain. It literally began raining spiders as they leapt from the trees to the ground. This one landed on Jesse, and Sarah somehow managed to convince him to remain motionless for long enough to snap this shot. He wasn’t taking his eyes off it though, and was poised for some quick action in the event that it should have decided to make a run for it upwards!



During a sail from Taravai to Rikitea to pick up some supplies, David from S/V El Nido got this shot of Bob. Sarah particularly likes it because if you zoom in on us in the cockpit you can see a lovely bit of impromptu romance 🙂



Finally for the Gambier Islands, a beautiful shot of Bob lying to a home-made mooring on the South Coast of Taravai, on a wonderfully calm evening.




We both love this shot, taken during a hike in Marquesas. We are on the island of Tahuata. In the distance is the big island of Hiva ‘Oa, and between the two runs the Ha’ava, or Bordelais Channel.



In Nuku Hiva Sarah took a few dance classes in the local style, and was honoured to be invited (well…… to be honest it was more of an instruction than an invitation!) to perform with the dance troupe in front of a crowd of a couple of hundred people. Here she is in her dance regalia.



Better yet, for the first time we are now able to offer you a video from one of the performances (yay for fast internet!). Along with some other cruisers and the troupe of local girls she performed two dances, of which this was the final section of the second. I apologise for the shoddy standard of the work on this one. The reason for it is that Sarah is dancing and I have been tasked with capturing the moment. The sound is particularly poor, because it seems I had my finger over the microphone for most of the performance.

Sarah has stipulated that I must make it clear to you here that she only had two days to learn both of the dances, and wishes it to be formally noted that she is opposed to the publishing of this movie in the first place. Ah well, win some lose some. For the greater good, here it is:



This spectacular waterfall is located on the island of Fatu Hiva. We were fortunate that it hadn’t rained for a little while when we visited. If it had we would not have been able to get anywhere near it. It was a beautifully refreshing swim after a hot hike.




Down to the Tuamotu Archipelago now, to the uninhabited atoll of Tahanea. Sarah snapped this beautiful shot of a yacht that was anchored astern of us as a small squall came through. I love the misty effect caused by the rain pelting down onto the surface of the sea, and the yawing and slight heeling of the boat as the first gust of wind hits.




The squalls soon passed, and we sailed across the lagoon accompanied by a pod of dolphins to a spot known as ‘7 reef’. It was probably the most spectacular spot that Bob has ever anchored. When this shot was taken we had nipped over to a motu about a mile from the anchorage to collect coconuts, and stopped off on this spit of sand for a snorkel. Bob is just out of frame to the right.



The diving at the South Pass of the atoll of Fakarava was the most spectacular we have done. The site is famous for having a particularly high density of sharks – a sign of a healthy reef ecosystem.



This shot of a friendly rooster in Rarotonga cracks me up every time. Doesn’t it look photo-shopped? I promise it’s not!



Leaving Niue we were a little nervous, as the rigging had just broken and been repaired for the second time. As we came out from behind the island we were greeted by a large black cloud. Fortunately we managed to outrun the worst of it and were treated to this beautiful backdrop:



A day of ‘racing’ with our friends Rick and Jasna aboard their boat ‘Calypso’. At the pre-race skipper’s meeting Rick warned the other skippers that anyone overhauling Calypso was liable to be mooned. One skipper complained and implied that his children would be psychologically damaged by such an experience. Rick responded that he was terribly sorry but he could not afford to be discriminatory and that for moral reasons he was obliged to treat everyone equally. Fortunately for the family with the delicately-dispositioned children they were out of range, but these guys, one of whom was our friend Asma, ended up in an unfortunate tacking battle with us and were subjected to the view not once, but several times. We were dubbed ‘Team Los Culos Blancos’ (why Spanish I have no idea – we were in Tonga!) and awarded a special prize at the prizegiving! Let’s face it though, we weren’t going to win prizes for anything else……….



At the ‘Coral Garden’ in Tonga we met this incredibly brazen anemonefish. Perhaps a male guarding the eggs, it had no qualms about challenging a creature many, many times it’s own size. I was not intimidated……….. but then I did swim away, so I’m pretty sure he’ll chalk that up as anemonefish 1, biguglyungainlything 0. Fair enough.



Also in Tonga: Sarah must have taken a hundred shots of the fruit bats trying to get a really good one. I think she managed it with this:



And finally! Videos can never do justice to actual, real-life experiences but I really like this one. It is a short video of a swim-through at a reef in South Minerva. We spent hours exploring these channels and caves. It was the best snorkelling either of us have ever done. Here’s a small taster of why:


Finally, just a quick note to say that we will (I promise!) do one or two blogs soon about our travels in Thailand and Cambodia. Until then, stay warm and enjoy yourselves!

Snippets of Taravai Life


There are the usual pests – flies, mosquitoes etc. but the biggest pest (har har) by far is the horse. It thinks it’s small and sneaky. Try to cut up vegetables for a meal outside and she’ll stick her head under your arm and try to ‘innocently’ grab a few mouthfuls. Shoo her away and she’ll retreat a few steps and pretend to be interested in something else entirely while simultaneously working her way around to your other side, as if you won’t notice a horse (of all things) attempting a flanking manoeuvre. She likes to come over when you’re sitting there having a conversation, stick her head over your shoulder and dribble a long stream of cud down your front. Or she’ll wait until you get up to go to the toilet. Either she’ll be standing directly in your way and refuse to move aside at all, or she’ll take the opportunity to wander over to your now-empty chair and drool a puddle onto it. In the dark. So that when you return from peeing and are congratulating yourself on having successfully guarded your delicate parts from mosquitoes, avoided being whacked on the head by a falling coconut and/or falling into the pig pitfall trap you then sit down in blissful ignorance having not seen the nasty smelly stagnant puddle of ooze that now occupies your seat and only notice the slight dampness in the vicinity of your hind-quarters once it has had plenty of opportunity to thoroughly soak in.

Another Taravai pest. These are centipedes and they have a nasty bite - they'll knock you out for about 6 hours. Our friend Piere was bitten on his hand recently. He nearly passed out and his hand was grossly swollen the next day. This one, fortunately, is dead :-)

Another Taravai pest. These are centipedes and they have a nasty bite – they’ll knock you out for about 6 hours. Our friend Piere was bitten on his hand recently; he nearly passed out and his hand was grossly swollen the next day. This one, fortunately, is dead 🙂




I have recently discovered that I’m not a fan of pigs. In fact I find them positively terrifying. They taste nice when baked in a ground-oven, stewed over an open fire or barbequed, but when you’ve got 3 full-grown pigs running at you aggressively because you have dared to approach the coconut they are eating (which you have just opened for them), while some people’s instinct is to shout at them and wave something pointy in their direction, mine is to put something solid (like a tree) between me, and them. Especially the large male whom we have named ‘big balls’ for obvious reasons. I suppose I could take solace from the fact that his dislike of me is not personal. He doesn’t really get along with the other pigs either – especially the piglets, which I find quite surprising considering that they are his. He likes to pick them up and throw them across the garden a good 10 or 15 feet, accompanied by the most horrendous squealing noises emanating from the piglets while they are airborne. The old adage ‘when pigs fly’ is entirely inappropriate in its usual intended context when applied to life on Taravai. Here it is an event that is realised several times daily.

The least-aggressive of the pigs, to which Sarah was able to get close enough to photograph. She's known as 'two eyes', which distinguishes her from the other female, appropriately dubbed 'one eye' for reasons that i'm sure you can guess.

The least-aggressive of the pigs, to which Sarah was able to get close enough to photograph. She’s known as ‘two eyes’, which distinguishes her from the other female, appropriately dubbed ‘one eye’ for reasons that i’m sure you can guess.



Moving House

Moving house is a nasty horrible necessity that I’m sure you have experienced at least once or twice in your life, and possibly many more times than that. At best it probably involved something along the lines of futilely attempting to cram the entire contents of your house into cardboard boxes. These sit in your hallway full of stuff that you’d really rather be using for a few days. Then you take a day off work to wait for a moving van that you’ve hired, cram the contents of your house into said van (or vans), drive to the new place and then undo all of the box work that you’ve just done over the course of the next month or so. That’s assuming you’re moving just down the road, don’t need to put anything into storage and that a wizard has magically taken care of the inevitable arguments, pleading and blackmailing that are part and parcel of having to deal with television companies, water, gas, electricity suppliers, internet and phone companies and on and on and on.

We recently helped our friends Jesse and Jack to move house. There aren’t any roads on Taravai, which means no vans, or van men to drive them. Electricity is entirely solar, water is caught on the roof, there are no phone lines, no internet and everyone has the same cooking gas cylinders so they stay where they are. Stuff still had to be packed into boxes but these were then brought out to Bob by boat and we all got an opportunity to go for a lovely relaxing sail on a beautiful sunny day with glasses of rum close at hand. The only one who didn’t enjoy the whole experience was Sparrow, the puppy, who was incredibly seasick and must have come close to dribbling away half her own body weight though she never vomited. As soon as the dinghy touched the dock she ran off into the forest and we saw neither hide nor hair of her until a very bedraggled, cold and unhappy puppy swallowed it’s pride and presented itself at the door some hours later.

Of course, if Bob hadn’t been there the move would have entailed gradually traipsing their stuff in rucksacks along a goat path on the edge of a cliff, an hour hike each way over rough terrain and it would have taken the best part of a week. Win some, lose some. This was a win all-round I think.

Sarah, the Taravai version of a white-van-man.

Sarah, the Taravai version of a white-van-man.


A very sea-sick puppy. This was before we compounded her misery by forcing her outside on account of the fact that her drool was soaking through into our setee cushions.

A very sea-sick puppy. This was before we compounded her misery by forcing her outside on account of the fact that her drool was soaking through into our setee cushions.



Jesse and Jack have yet another animal to keep them company. Jack went for a walk along the beach the other day and found two newborn goat kids bleating away in the sand. The mother was nowhere to be seen (or heard) and they were on the verge of death so he took pity and decided to try to rear them. Sarah suggested naming the female after her and the male after me, but I’m glad that didn’t catch on because the male died the following morning and is by now shark-poop. The female is doing very well however, and has been rather unimaginatively named ‘Goatee’. Sarah, Jack and Jesse take turns to bottle-feed it powdered milk via a fuel syringe. For a 4-day-old creature it really is remarkable, and is already quite comfortable bounding up and down steps, running around the garden and trying to eat everything, including Sarah’s hair. I’m pretty sure that when I was 4 days old I couldn’t do much more than cry, poop, pee and eat. I doubt I’d figured out how to see, let alone bound. The goat does the pooing, peeing, crying and eating too, in copious quantities. Hopes are high for a healthy and happy Goatee for ever after……….. that is, until Jesse leaves Gambier and a new tenant takes over the smallholding, at which point Goatee will, without a doubt, be eaten. Such is life.


Sarah with her very needy newfound friend, Goatee.

Sarah with her very needy newfound friend, Goatee.


And finally:


A pretty standard evening at sunset. The view from Jesse and Jack's new home.

A pretty standard evening at sunset. The view from Jesse and Jack’s new home.


Goodbye Gambier

It’s been almost 3 months since we arrived in the Gambier Islands and now we’re saying our goodbyes and getting ready to leave. I’ve enjoyed visiting all the places on this trip so far, each place seems to be even better than the last. I’m absolutely in love with Taravai – the people are so wonderful and welcoming, they have really made our lives so much easier and very enjoyable. Jesse and Jack (and also John before he left) have been our friendly neighbours and made us feel right at home. Herve and Valarie and been a wealth of information about the Gambier Islands and the way of life here and the other sailors have also been wonderfully accommodating. I love the lifestyle here – it’s focused on building friendships, eating well, making the most of natural resources and being active. I love the scenery here, after nearly 3 months it still completely takes my breath away. We wake up on the boat every morning, usually there’s glorious sunshine which highlights the different colours of the reefs. We take a short dinghy ride to shore where we hang out on a farm with its own animals, fruit trees, vegetable patch, private beach and surrounded by woodland. At night, the stars fill the sky and the Milky Way is as clear as I’ve ever seen it.

We’ve made some really great friends and I’m very sad to be leaving them. The sailing community I think is one of the friendliest communities you could ever come across. Cruising around on a yacht and being constantly on the move means that you have to form friendships very quickly, otherwise you would have no friends at all!  Alex is very used to saying goodbye to his friends knowing that their friendship will remain way into the future and maybe at some point he’ll run into them once again. I, on the other hand, am very bad at saying goodbye. I’ve done this a lot over the past year and every time I do I find it exceptionally difficult and hope that I won’t have to do it again for a long time. I wasn’t expecting to make such great friends here and I’m now finding myself saying goodbye to people on a very regular basis. I suppose I’d better get used to it. On the plus side, many cruisers have the same rough plan as us so there’s a good chance we’ll see them again in the Tuamotus, Marquesas and beyond.

We leave for the Tuamotus in a few days time, to an island called Hao. From there, we’ll head to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands, possible making a few stops at some small islands on the way.

The beach on Taravai at the farm and Fatty listening to Jesse playing the guitar. Photo courtesy of Jack

The beach on Taravai at the farm and Fatty listening to Jesse playing the guitar. Photo courtesy of Jack

Alex's lunch date with Doir the horse. Another photo from Jack - thank you!

Alex’s lunch date with Doir the horse. Another photo from Jack – thank you!

Another one of Jack's photos of the woodland surrounding Taravai

Another one of Jack’s photos of the woodland surrounding Taravai