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!

Which Boat for Cruising?

Actually this blog was posted by me (Alex) – not Sarah as the website would suggest.

 

Disclaimer: Most of pictures in this post were taken by me (Alex), which means that they will naturally not come up to the stadards exibited in any of our other blog posts. You can probably pick out the one that was taken by Sarah.

 

I am sometimes asked “what kind of boat should I get to go cruising?” I like this question, because, like most men, it makes me feel good to have someone confide in me that they value my opinion and consider me an expert on a particular topic. I also like this question because it allows me to discuss boats. At length. One could be forgiven for thinking that I might occasionally want to talk about something other than boats given that I live on one, work on one, spend 95%+ of my time on one and 95%+ of my brainpower thinking about them. But it’s a funny thing – whenever cruisers get together for a reparte of some sort, all the men talk about their boats (or more specifically, the problems that they have with their boats) and all the women talk about…………. well, i’m not really sure actually.

 

So, when posed with this question I get a treat – I get to launch into a diatribe of long-winded opinions (and their supporting evidence), explanations and reasons why one boat or another is more or less suitable for this sort of thing. I get to discuss hydrodynamics, aerodynamics, stability characteristics, sailing performance characteristics, comfort characteristics both at sea and at anchor, ease-of-handling, sail plans, rigging considerations, ground tackle, power management, self-steering, ballast ratios, construction materials. In short, I could (and would, given the opportunity) go on for days……… and days………. and days. But the stark truth is that absolutely none of this matters one jot. Not to mention the fact that the boat I would describe simply couldn’t exist  (I’d like a fast, lightweight catamaran with minimal windage made from thick plate steel and with an angle of vanishing stability of 180 degrees) the smorgasbord of designs and types that DO go cruising, very successfully, safely and comfortably means that, to be quite honest, all of my opinions are of absolutely no value whatsoever.

Here is a classic production cruising yacht. I'm not sure specifically what make or model it is, but it's about 46ish feet long, monohull, made from GRP.

Production cruising yacht. I’m not sure specifically what make or model but it’s about 48ish feet long, monohull, made from GRP. Very shiny.

 

 

Aluminium monohull. Centreboard model. This boat came from the Atlantic via Patagonia, the straights of Magellan, Chile etc.

Allures 44. Aluminium construction. Centreboard model. This boat came from the Atlantic via Patagonia, the straights of Magellan, Chile etc.

 

 

'Prati', owned by our friends Carlos and Madeline. About 46 feet in length. This is the second boat that we know of to have come up from the bottom of the world. Lightweight modern catamaran with dagger boards and no keels. Foam sandwich construction. Not exactly what you'd call a classic cape-horner but again, they managed just fine.

‘Prati’, owned by our friends Carlos and Madeline. About 42 feet in length. This is the second boat that we know of to have come up from the bottom of the world. Lightweight modern catamaran with dagger boards and no keels. Foam sandwich construction. Not exactly what you’d call a classic cape-horner but they managed just fine, and came around the wrong way too! From Spain.

 

 

'Vagabond', owned by our friends Carine and Medi. 32 feet in length. Monohull. Steel construction. From France via the Panama Canal.

‘Vagabond’, owned by our friends Carine and Medi. 32 feet in length. Monohull. Steel construction. From France via the Panama Canal.

 

'El Nido'. Lightweight modern catamaram. Looks racy with those reverse-bows. From Belgium. Owned by Olivia and David who are cruising with their two young daughters. We've kindly been invited to spend a couple of days aboard with them while we take a cruise back to the island of Akamaru. Since the tides are no longer springs we can't get Bob into the anchorage there at the moment so we'll leave her in Rikitea and jump-ship.

‘El Nido’. Lightweight modern catamaram. Looks racy with those reverse-bows. From Belgium. Owned by Olivia and David who are cruising with their two young daughters. We’ve kindly been invited to spend a couple of days aboard with them while we take a cruise back to the island of Akamaru. Since the tides are no longer springs we can’t get Bob into the anchorage there at the moment so we’ll leave her in Rikitea and jump-ship.

 

'Argo'. Another very racy-looking boat with her open transom and what looks like a code-zero on a furler up forward. Monohull. About 42 feet in length.

‘Argo’. Another very racy-looking boat with her open transom and what looks like a code-zero on a furler up forward. Monohull. About 44 feet in length.

 

 

Here we have 'Mangaia' in the foreground and Sparrow in the background. Mangaia is no longer actively cruising. A french couple own her and sailed here a few years ago. They liked it so much that they stayed. We haven't met them, but our friends John and Jesse are house-sitting for them on Taravai while they are away. Mangaia is steel, ketch-rigged, monohull with a moderate draft, about 44 feet in length.

Here we have ‘Mangaia’ in the foreground and Sparrow in the background. Mangaia is no longer actively cruising. A French couple own her and sailed her here a few years ago. They liked it so much that they stayed. We haven’t met them, but our friends John and Jesse are house-sitting for them on Taravai while they are away. Mangaia is steel, ketch-rigged, monohull with a moderate draft, about 44 feet in length.

 

 

Here's a close-up of 'Sparrow', owned by John and Jesse. She's a contessa-26. 26 feet in length. GRP construction built in 1973. John and Jesse have sailed her here over the last two years from England. She will set sail in a week or so bound for New Zealand.

Here’s a close-up of ‘Sparrow’, owned by John and Jesse. She’s a contessa-26. 26 feet in length. GRP construction built in 1973. John and Jesse have sailed her here over the last two years from England. She will set sail in a week or so bound for New Zealand.

 

 

Finally, here are four boats: Sparrow in the foreground, followed by Mangaia, then Bob and finally Ohana, owned by our friend Chris, from New Zealand. 55 feet long, foam-sandwich construction but with fixed 'keels' this time rather than dagger-boards. He has just departed Gambier bound for Galapagos, via Pitcairn and Easter Island if the winds allow. We might be a little biased but we think Bob is the best-looking of the bunch :-)

Finally, here are four boats: Sparrow in the foreground, followed by Mangaia, then Bob and finally Ohana. Ohana is owned by our friend Chris. Catamaran. 55 feet long, foam-sandwich construction but with fixed ‘keels’ this time rather than dagger-boards. From New Zealand. The photograph is a little deceiving – Ohana is in fact a good 150 metres or so further away from the photographer than Sparrow. We might be a little biased but we think Bob is the best-looking of the bunch 🙂

 

So basically, if you’re wondering what boat you should go cruising in the answer is: the boat that you already own, or the one that you can reasonably afford.

Mangareva

Having arrived in Mangareva on the morning of July 13th we dropped the anchor in 60-feet of water in the first properly-sheltered harbour since the Galapagos Islands. Things have changed here since my last visit 13 years ago aboard the Barque Picton Castle. Gone are the locals paddling out with bags of black pearls to trade for cheap rum and T-shirts. Gone are the roads made from beach sand and sea shells, and gone are the deserted anchorages. Now the roads are paved, the pearls are sold in a shop and the local boats are well-built out of aluminium and sport brand new powerful outboard engines of several hundred horsepower. Thanks to the pearl industry, the Gambier Islands are one of the most affluent areas in French Polynesia. They now have a supply ship every 3 weeks and can buy the things that they need, so the custom of trading has become an antiquated practice. The Polynesian spirit is still alive and well however. Everyone we pass on the streets (or zooming past us on their scooters) says ‘bonjour’ with a smile. The fruit trees are all owned by someone, but we are told that if you ask to buy some fruit from someone they will invariably offer it to you free of charge. Indeed, while paddling in our dinghy the other day a pearl boat came zooming up to us and the skipper began telling us in rapid French to help ourselves to the coconuts and that he had some bananas and lemons.

“To buy?” I inquired.

“No! Free! This is the Gambier Islands!” He replied.

 

I had expected one or two other yachts in the anchorage but there are no less than 13 here as I write, from all over the world but with a definite bias toward France and French-speaking nations. We have made friends, and their stories often put ours to shame. Two boats that we know of have come up from Argentina, having rounded from the Atlantic contrary to the winds and currents by way of the Straits of Magellan. They hopped from port to port during periods of fine weather and though one said they would not do it again, both are very glad that they chose that route. One of these boats worked it’s way up the West side of South America only to be harassed by pirates off the coast of Ecuador. They were able to implore the assistance of a 900-foot-long freighter which contacted the Ecuadorian navy on their behalf and then motored in circles around them until the pirates in their fast boat finally gave up and sped away. Many boats have come from Europe, including two young Englishmen who have worked their way here over the last two years on their Contessa 26 – a boat that most would say is appropriate only for day sailing or perhaps a weekend at a stretch.

 

The Gambier Island Group has a rich and often unpleasant history; a distinct shame for such an otherwise idyllic place. The four main islands are Mangareva, Aukena, Taravai and Akamaru. Mangareva is the largest and most populous (about 1600), Taravai, Akamaru and Aukena have a handful of inhabitants. In the 1800’s the native population was converted to Christianity by a French missionary and literally worked to death by this man, who forced them to build churches and a cathedral on the islands. The population crashed; thousands were killed – well over half of the inhabitants I’m told, and it has never recovered. The churches on the smaller islands can still be seen today and are maintained to some extent but are not used and are often hidden in the vegetation. The cathedral, built out of coral blocks like all of the other older buildings, remains the largest cathedral in Polynesia and is the primary landmark in the town of Rikitea – the capital of the Gambier Islands.

This missionary finally left the survivors alone, but the islands were once again a site of abuse of people and nature from 1966 to 1996 when they were used as a staging base for the controversial nuclear tests conducted by the French government during this period. Apparently the locals were employed to build concrete bunkers for the officials to shelter in but were themselves packed into a building and told that the sprinklers installed on the roof would protect them from the nuclear radiation. The story of the nuclear testing (which took place on the nearby atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa) is a very dark and interesting one (all the more so for it being contemporary); I’d encourage anyone who isn’t familiar with it to do a quick google search. The French government today monitor the health of the inhabitants of the Gambier Islands, including taking hair samples and monitoring cancer rates and incidence of thyroid abnormalities as part of an on-going (but as yet unpublished) study on the effects of nuclear radiation. Don’t worry, the radiation is not a safety risk for us, although it is generally accepted that the fish and other seafood is inedible due to the high levels of radioactive contaminants that are present in the lagoon sediments.

 

The weather recently has been decidedly British. We’ve had a moderate blow over the last few days; it has been windy and rainy. Prior to this, however, was a period of bright sunshine and light winds the conclusion of which provided us with the most spectacular display of sheet lightning I think I have ever seen. We were anchored alone on the north side of Aukena Island on a shallow plateau of sand perhaps 200 feet across that rose to the convenient depth of 18 feet (from the surrounding waters of 90-feet or so) and with only one or two potentially-hittable coral heads to look out for. As night fell the clouds appeared dark and ominous. At about midnight lightning was seen in the distance and the deep sound of thunder rolled across the lagoon. I put all of our electronics into the oven in case of a strike (there’s nothing better for lightning strikes than having a 50-foot metal spike sticking up into the air!) and went back to bed. At about 2am we were awakened by blinding flashes of lightning lighting up the interior of the boat as though it were daylight. The air felt very, very odd indeed, as though all the oxygen had been sucked out of it, and the scene when we looked out across the lagoon was awesome; discharges twice per second right over our heads that would turn the clouds a bright purple colour and reveal the shape of a bolt in their midst, searing through them between one cloud and the next. The discha