Back to the developed world – Tahiti and Rarotonga

I appear to have had a complete lack of discipline and motivation when it comes to keeping my blog posts up-to-date over the past few months, for this I apologise. Upon arriving in Tahiti back in May I spent most of my time totally overcome by all the development and I was very pre-occupied enjoying all the supermarkets, fast food joints, restaurants, shops and bars. It had been 14 months since I had been in a city and I think I went a little stir crazy from the metropolis.

Sooooo many cars!

Soooo much food!

Mmmmm McDonalds!

Cool beers in the sunset

As built-up as it was, Tahiti certainly had its own natural beauty and the island had wonderful snorkelling, trekking and points of interest to visit. If you’re a cruising sailor thinking of bypassing Tahiti because it’s ‘too developed’ I think you would be missing out.

This was our evening view of Moorea from Bob where we were anchored at Taina Mariner in Tahiti

After a few rigging problems we had to sort out in our final weeks in French Polynesia, we finally made it to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and have been enjoying a fabulous week in this bustling, scenic, ENGLISH-speaking island! As communication is no longer a problem, we’ve managed to get more done in one week here than in one month in French Polynesia. We managed to get a temporary driving licence and rent a scooter; do a circuit of the island; play mini golf; do a cross-island trek; visit the whale & wildlife centre; find our favourite bars across the island and get a whole host of boat jobs done. We even helped with a mountain rescue!

I say a ‘mountain rescue’ but it wasn’t quite that dramatic, although it was close to being a very serious event for the lady involved. Towards the end of our hike across we caught up with a lady and her husband. They were obviously making slow progress and the lady was frequently falling over and said she felt very weak in her legs. They asked if we had any snacks we could give them in the hope that some sugar would give her some energy. Unfortunately we didn’t, but we knew there were a number of people also doing the trek who weren’t far behind them and who might be able to help. Despite their predicament they seemed in good spirits so we bid them farewell and moved on.  Further down the path we came across some coconut trees, so being a Good Samaritan Alex decided to run back to the couple with some coconut in the hope that it might help. It turned out that other people had passed them and had also given various fruits and energy bars to the lady, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to be helping. Now, the lady had almost lost the use of her legs entirely and was going completely hysterical – it was starting to get dark, the track was very difficult in places and she was, understandably, very scared.

Alex offered to get help and immediately came running back to the car park where I was waiting with the scooter. The couple were only 20 minutes from the end of the trek, but in her condition it was just impossible for her to make any progress. Moreover, the car park itself was still some way up the mountain and there was no phone signal there and they didn’t have any transport waiting for them even if they could get back to the car park. So we sped down the road on our little scooter to an area with more people and found a lovely local gentleman who called the police and mountain rescue service for us. Alex and I waited at the entrance for the various teams to show up. It took a nail-biting 45 minutes before the police eventually showed up and we made our way back up to the car park and to the entrance of the trek, but we were still waiting for the extraction team. By now it was well over an hour since Alex had left the couple and it was almost dark. Just then, we heard voices coming from the darkness of the trail and the police went to investigate. Thankfully it turned out to be the lady and her husband reaching the end of the trek. She was covered in mud and seemed a little ‘off’ – almost like she was drunk and not thinking clearly, but at least she appeared to have regained the use of her legs. It turned out that 5 minutes after Alex had left them she started to go delirious, speaking incomprehensible German and Latin and foaming at the mouth before going completely unconscious for a further 50 minutes! Her husband must have been going out of his mind with worry. Then, out of nowhere, she suddenly regained consciousness and had an unexpected burst of energy and was able to finish the trek in not much time at all.

She was obviously feeling much better and it’s wonderful that she could make it down the mountain without help from an extraction team. Perhaps it was a mineral deficiency, or perhaps extreme exhaustion, but she was on the up and that’s what was important. Despite the extreme events that had just happened to her, despite the fact that she still didn’t seem completely coherent and despite everybody’s strong recommendations the couple refused to go to the hospital to get checked out. We waved them goodbye as the police drove them back to their hotel where I sincerely hope she was able to eat something, get a nice hot bath and a long restful sleep. Hopefully she is now happy and healthy and was back to her normal self the following day, although I would have felt much better if she had been checkout out by a medical professional at the hospital.

Alex was absolutely amazing throughout this whole ordeal. He was calm, efficient and very professional. He clearly still remembers all of his medical first responder training and it gives me a lot of confidence to know that I am in the best possible hands if we ever have an emergency (which fingers crossed we never will).

So, after an exciting week we are now ready to leave Rarotonga for Palmerston (a secluded atoll with only 50 or so inhabitants). We’ll be leaving today with the hope of arriving in 2 days time and will update you on our adventures as soon as we can.

The view from a beach bar in Rarotonga

At the whale and wildlife centre

Also at the whale and wildlife centre. Alex looks completely swamped by this old fashioned diving helmet.

This is a giant fern. This species covered the trail on our cross-island trek. Just amazing! And I thought bracken could grow to a good height!

The view from The Needle on the cross-island trek

More of the view from The Needle on the cross-island trek

Looking down on the Tropic Bird nests from above

Our friend – some of you might recognise him from Alex’s recent Facebook video. He kept us company while we ate our lunch.

Trying to get to Pitcairn

After spending 23 days crossing the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, we arrived in Pitcairn on the 6th July and managed to anchor in Bounty Bay – even though the conditions were not exactly calm. We were taken to shore in the last few hours of sunlight by a local boat and were greeted by a group of what felt like 20 people – probably about half the islands inhabitants. The weather had been so bad around the island over the past month that others boats trying to land there had to leave without setting foot on shore. I think we were the first people in a good few weeks to physically make it to land. We were lucky that the weather conditions were just about good enough to enable us to leave the boat unattended, even for only a few hours. During those few hours we were loaded up with an inane amount of fresh fruit and vegetables newly picked from one of the gardens belonging to the locals. We took back to Bob more fresh goods than our provisioning’s for a month at sea when leaving Galapagos!

Our good luck didn’t last, however, as the forecast for the following 3 days were for heavy winds and large seas. It was nothing particularly dangerous and the conditions were perfectly comfortable to sail in, but the poor anchorages on Pitcairn meant that we couldn’t anchor safely. Even if we could, we couldn’t leave the boat for fear of the anchor dragging and something going wrong. We were stuck on board for another 3 days, only able to anchor a minority of the time and being constantly vigilant of our surroundings and looking for potential problems. We even went back out to sea for the final night because of anchor troubles. Rather than head to the Gambier Islands (which would have been the easiest thing to do) we were stubborn and decided to stick around, determined to make it to Pitcairn so we could see the island properly and get to know the locals a little better.

Finally, once the low pressure system had passed and the weather calmed down, we managed to anchor very well and make it to shore – finally! What’s more, the weather for the following week was for calm winds and seas so we would be able to stay for the whole week – or so we thought! Once on shore, one of the locals picked us up on her quad bike and took us to the main square where we were asked to attend a meeting at the medical centre. It turns out that one of the islands children, an 11 year old boy named Ryan, was diagnosed with appendicitis and needed to get to Mangareva as soon as possible in order to get a plane to Tahiti. Once in Tahiti he could get further tests and his appendix removed if necessary. Pitcairn is a small island (only a couple of miles long) and is located hundreds of miles away from other inhabited areas and separated by vast expanses of Pacific Ocean. It’s one of the most remote places on the planet and issues like appendicitis, which are rarely a problem in developed countries due to easy access to operating facilities, can become a serious and life-threatening issue. We were the only vessel in the area capable of taking Ryan to Mangareva. There is no air strip here for flight transport and the only other boat heading for Pitcairn is a cruise ship due to arrive in the middle of August – far too late given Ryans condition. Appendicitis is one of those variable diseases which could be very mild and even clear up on its own, or it could deteriorate very quickly and consequently be fatal. Even with our help, it would still take at least 3 days to get Ryan to a suitable hospital where they could operate if needs be. I know a lot of Brits moan about the NHS – at least help can be with you within a matter of minutes by dialling 999. The Pitcairn islanders have no such luxury.

We prepared to set sail, well actually, motor in our case because there’s no wind forecast for the next week – not ideal as our engine is over 40 years old and is often unreliable to put it kindly. To make things even more difficult – our electric autopilot broke on the way to Pitcairn, which means the helm needs to be manned constantly when motoring (opposed to sailing which could be helmed by David – our wind vane). Still, there was no other option so we prepared to leave with Ryan, his mother (Nadine) and another islander called Andrew who could help man the helm for us. The entire community got involved in helping us prepare. Within just a few hours we had container loads of diesel delivered and decanted into the fuel tank, enough food and drink to sustain an army and heaps of well wishes. We’ve started to realise that when someone from Pitcairn asks you if you’re in need of anything – whatever you ask for you’ll get 5 times what you expect. For example, we currently have a large box of oranges and mandarins on board, a large box of passion fruit, the contents of two banana trees, 10 coconuts, grapefruits and papayas the size of my head, 35 eggs (I was expecting maybe half a dozen!), 20 packets of crisps, 5 packets of Haribo and that’s not even half of it!

Somehow we managed to fit everything on board, including the luggage of 3 people who might not be able to return to Pitcairn for another 6 weeks. So, as of about 6pm on the 11th July we’ve been motoring as fast as our fragile engine will take us heading for Mangareva. Alex is constantly on the sat phone communicating with various doctors, family members, administrators, Bermuda radio and rescue coordination organisations on top of his usual skipper duties. He’s always vigilant for problems on the boat and has also kept a close eye on Ryan, regularly checking his vital signs with his ‘advanced medical first responder’ hat on. My job seems to be hosting, cooking and generally making sure everyone feels comfortable – so far so good I think.

Everyone on board has been really wonderful and is trying to help where they can. We’ve been doing watches of 3 hours on, 9 hours off between the four adults. Ryan himself even had a go on helm – but only for a few minutes under adult supervision 🙂  Ryan is absolutely adorable and a really lovely, intelligent, friendly child. I think he sees this whole thing as one big adventure and seems really excited to be travelling on a yacht, having never been on one before. Everything is new through his eyes, he is fascinated by everything on board and is always keen to learn more. His condition is more-or-less stable although the pain in his stomach was a little worse this morning than it had been previously. Still, he never complained and seems to be taking everything in his stride.

We got a call from the rescue station in Papeete yesterday who arranged for a merchant ship (Taporo VIII) to meet us at sea. They met us this morning at about 7am (120 miles from Mangareva) and picked up Ryan and Nadine. The ship can travel at twice the speed of Bob so will be able to get Ryan to land much quicker than we could. His condition, whilst worse than the previous day, was still stable and not yet progressed to anything serious. If his condition remains stable, he will get a commercial flight to Tahiti on Saturday where he can be properly treated. If he does deteriorate, then it’s possible to arrange for an air ambulance to take him to Tahiti sooner. I’m keeping all my fingers and toes crossed that he feels better and he gets to a good hospital as soon as physically possible.

For now, the three of us will continue to head for Mangareva. We would love to go back to Pitcairn but we have some work to do to the boat. Moreover, we could do with a proper rest having essentially been at sea for over a month now. Once we get to the secure anchorages of Mangareva, we can sleep through the whole night without the need to wake up every few hours to check on things.  It will be a very well deserved rest, particularly for Alex who has been going non-stop since leaving Galapagos on 13th June.

We hope to head back to Pitcairn in the next few weeks if the winds allow. Hopefully the third and final attempt to get back there will be a success! We’ve travelled thousands of miles to get here after all and I want to truly visit this island that I’ve heard so much about. Until then, we have the pleasure of Andrew’s company on board and as he knows Mangareva quite well, I’m looking forward to him showing us around.

—Update 17th July—

Ryan’s condition remained stable and he flew out to Tahiti on Saturday with Nadine and Andrew. He seemed well and everyone was in good spirits. He’ll now be able to get the medical attention he needs and I hope to hear from them soon.

Meanwhile, we’ve been enjoying a week of celebrations in Mangareva for the Bastille festivities (Charline I was thinking of you!). There is normally internet here but it’s currently down and has been for about a week, probably due to the public holiday. Once it’s back up I’ll try and post some photos from our recent exploits.

Update from Bob!

Hello all,

This morning at first light, 1515UTC, we successfully transferred Ryan and his mother Nadine to the merchant vessel Taporo VIII in order to expedite Ryan’s arrival in Mangareva. At that time our position was 23 47S, 132 57W, about 120 miles from Mangareva and 180 miles from Pitcairn. After some discussion we have decided ourselves to continue on to Mangareva rather than returning to Pitcairn as we could use a rest in a secure anchorage. We hope to return to Pitcairn at some point in the next few weeks if weather conditions promise to be conducive to that.

On board now we have me, Sarah and also Andrew, the Pitcairn Islander who came with us to help stand watches. I have re-installed the wind vane auxiliary rudder (which i removed prior to departure in order to be able to motor at higher speed) and we are finally under sail with the wind vane once again doing the hard work. We hope to arrive in Mangareva some time tomorrow afternoon if all goes well and the wind gods are kind. Ryan and his mother should arrive there this evening at about 9pm and, if his condition does not deteriorate rapidly, will catch the commercial flight to Tahiti on Saturday. If it does deteriorate however, once in Mangareva they have the option of dispatching an air-ambulance to take him to Tahiti sooner. When he left us this morning Ryan was experiencing more pain than yesterday but his appendicitis (if indeed that is what he has!) had not yet progressed to the acute stage, so things are looking good for him.

All is well. Sarah is taking a well-needed nap, I’ve just had one and now I’m having a glass of rum 🙂

Hope all’s well with you guys!

Lots of love