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!

The wall of sharks

After leaving Tahanea, we made our way to Fakarava about 40 miles to the north-west. Fakarava is different from all the atolls we’ve visited in the Tuamotus so far. We entered through the south pass and arrived to an area completely set up for tourists. There are no shops, only a few B&Bs, restaurants and dives shops. Although the area had a bit of a ‘holiday resort’ feel to it, I absolutely loved it here. The people are really used to tourists so of course are incredibly friendly, welcoming and helpful – and SPOKE ENGLISH! Despite this, all the buildings still had a local Polynesian feel about them. They were built in such a way to make the most of the surroundings and were absolutely immaculate. This atoll is a marine reserve where fishing is restricted, so the coral reefs and associated species were out of this world. The south pass (being narrow, long and deep) is home to an abundance of different fish species which you would struggle to see in such abundance anywhere else. It reminded me a little of visiting Disneyland as a child, everything is amazing and perfectly placed for the enjoyment of their guests. Even the sharks would come right up to your boat when anchoring, like they too were welcoming us to the area.

The centre-hub of Tetamanu

Some of the guest houses at the Tetamanu Pension. Mum I think you would love it here. Perhaps a future holiday destination when we make our millions and can afford the flights?

Fakarava is famous for scuba diving, in particular for its ‘wall of sharks’ dive along the south pass. It seemed to me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we decided to fork out some dosh and do a dive with the local company run by the Tetamanu Pension. I would recommend this company to anyone – it’s a combined dive shop, B&B and restaurant run by a wonderful couple who made us feel incredibly welcome. So for my 8th scuba dive ever I decided to do the infamous ‘wall of sharks’, despite my initial trepidation. The dive boat dropped us off at one end of the pass and we were able to let the current take us effortlessly back towards the dive shop. The pass is blanketed with a multitude of colourful branching and boulder corals, providing shelter to a wealth of fish species. Hundreds of bigeyes, snappers, groupers and tuna lined the pass. All swimming effortlessly upstream, appearing suspended and motionless in the water just waiting for the current to languidly push an unsuspecting prey victim into their mouths. Swimming in the same manner was literally hundreds of sharks, which of course was the true spectacle of the dive and gives a real meaning to the name ‘wall of sharks’. Most were grey sharks and whitetip reef sharks, but we knew that other species of shark weren’t far away. The dive shop offer other packages which take you further into the deep blue and allow you to see dolphins and large oceanic sharks such as Silvertips! I think I’ll save that one for a future date however. Even the terrace of the dive shop restaurant stretches out into the water where tonnes of blacktip reef sharks circle waiting for scraps of food to be discarded by the restaurant customers. If you’re feeling daring, you can even go for a snorkel with them if you’re the thrill-seeking type.

A small selection of the grey sharks we saw during the ‘wall of sharks’ scuba dive

Alex with a slightly terrifying backdrop

Blacktip reef shark cruising along

Blacktip reef sharks racing for food scraps near the restaurant at Tetamanu Pension

We briefly visited some of the other areas of Fakarava, including a 5 year old ‘yacht facility’ located half way up the east side of the atoll. The area is owned by a young couple who operate a small B&B and various yacht services such as wifi, mooring buoys, good meals, beers and a skilled helping hand to any boat problem. The main village in the north is home to some 2000 inhabitants. Despite the large population (well, large in comparison to other atoll in the Tuamotus), shops are still expensive and understocked unless the supply ship has just landed.

We left Fakarava about a week ago and we’re now currently in Tahiti waiting for Alex’s mum to arrive for her visit in a few days time – the days can’t go by fast enough. We’ve been here for just over a day and already we’ve enjoyed a McDonalds and been shopping at the Carrefour – the best selection of food I’ve seen in well over a year! Tahiti might not be as picturesque as our previous destinations, but I’m certainly enjoying the development and access to amenities. I’ve been craving people, shops, bars, restaurants and general development for quite some time now. Although I wouldn’t admit it to other cruisers, Tahiti has always been at the top of my ‘must visit’ list and I feel more at home right now than I have in a long, long time.