Gorgeous summer weather

In the past two weeks the weather has shown once more that the Gambier are just the most pleasant place during the cyclone season. A convergence zone has been sitting west of us, bringing lows with nasty weather to the Cooks, the Societies, the Australs and even the Tuamotus. While the poor people there sit in strong winds and pouring rain we’ve had perfect summer weather here.

We’ve used this calm period with blue skies, light breezes and almost no swell to explore a corner of the Gambier archipelago that we’ve never managed to visit before: the islets Kamaka, Makaroa and Manui in the southern part of the lagoon. As the barrier reef is submerged in the South the swell that comes up from the South each time a low passes by in the roaring 40s and screaming 50s makes it almost unhindered into the lagoon. Therefore landing on these black, volcanic islets is only possible during really calm periods.

On the way South we anchored off Makaroa and went diving on the pristine reef in crystal clear waters. Later on we spent two days anchored in front of the only sandy beach in the area on the biggest of the islets, Kamaka, and took the dinghy over to Manui for another beautiful dive. Our friends on SY Pakia Tea are marine biologists and dive masters, so it was great to go diving together with them and hear their opinion of the coral here, that seem to be weakened by recent El Nino periods, but still in comparatively good shape.

All three islets are uninhabited (the owner of Kamaka, who lived there has died recently and the other two islets are too rugged to attract settlers) and there have recently been efforts to get rid of rats and goats to make them more attractive as nesting colonies again. We were really happy to see white terns, noddies, tropic birds, frigate birds, herons, but also red-footed and even brown boobies roosting on the rocks and shrubs. In the evenings when the birds come home and settle down for the night the jungle sounds of so many species sounded over to the anchorage. It’s simply wonderful to find such a wilderness just a few miles from the main town Rikitea :-)


New article in Ocean7 magazine

Birgit Hackl: Brillen für die Salomonen, OCEAN7 01 (Jänner/Februar) 2018, p. 40–43


Article on Fishing in All-at-Sea magazine

Birgit Hackl: Simple Fishing and Canning Tips, All At Sea Caribbean, January 2018, p. 28–32. Free download from allatsea.net.


Searching for the leak

When we were just outside the southern barrier reef outside the Gambier archipelago yesterday (all sails up, going 6 knots, 2 fishing lures out), suddenly the water alarm in the bilge went off. Rip out the floorboards–stick a finger in the brew–taste–freshwater–ooofff. So no immediate danger, but still not great to have the bilge full of water. We sailed up through the Southeastern barrier reef and almost without changing course straight to the beautiful motu Tauna on the eastern barrier reef.

On top of the usual clean-up (store sails away, desalt the boat, etc.) we had to empty the bilge before we could open a bottle of bubbly and have some celebration tapas.

This morning the search for the leak in our freshwater system continued. We cleaned the whole bilge thoroughly, looking at dry and wet chambers, trying to figure out where the culprit was. First we suspected the watermaker, but then it became clear that the area of the aluminium tank (yep, the one we spent a few weeks repairing last year) was wetter than the rest. We considered taking the saloon bench out and opening the water tank, but fortunately it ocurred to us first, to check the vent line that comes up from the tank. It ends in a storage locker and behold–some things in there were wet. Our main storage compartment (filled up with a cubic metre of cans) is underneath that locker, so we emptied this one as well and dried everything in there. Now we keep checking for drops and hope that we’ve found the leak… What a way to spend the first day in a pretty, turquoise new anchorage ;-)



The day before yesterday the northwesterly died down and then the wind set in again from the east instead of the promised southeast, so we’ve been fighting as close-hauled as it gets to hold our course to the Gambier. A rough end to a pleasant passage–we should arrive early afternoon.



Usually we dread too little wind on passages, because that means rolling in confused seas and flapping seas. This time though, wind and seas gradually calmed down together, so this morning Pitufa is gliding over flat seas in only 8 knots of breeze. It’s sunny, no clouds in the sky and the sea has this peculiar shade of blue that is so dark it almost looks purple (for some reason we only see that colour south of 20 degrees S).

Yesterday we were slowly sailing under similar conditions when we caught an 1.5 m male Mahi-Mahi: 5 o’clock in the afternoon with a boat speed of only 3.5 knots–so much for the often claimed theory that fish bite at dusk or dawn when the lure is trolled fast.
It took us an hour to butcher the poor guy on the aft deck (we needed a hammer to get the knife through the backbone, yuck) and today I’ll spend some more hours of processing the steaks into boneless, skinless chunks that last about 1 week in the fridge (covered in soy sauce). We might manage to eat about half of the fish during the next week and the with the other half we’ll make glass preserves in the pressure cooker tonight.


Northwesterly breeze

The northwesterly breeze keeps blowing us steadily on a comfy course towards the Gambier. Sunny skies, calm seas–we haven’t caught a fish yet, but apart from that this passage has been really perfect so far.


Comfy sailing

The wind has calmed down a bit, but we’re still sailing along with 4 knots, so we’re not complaining! 388 nm to go


Steady sailing

The wind is blowing steadily from the North, because a small low moves by west of us and has shifted the wind conveniently for us. 500 nm to go!


Leaving Rapa Iti

A weather window to sail to the Gambier has come up and we leave lovely Rapa Iti tonight. We are a bit sad, because we had such a great time here, but it’ll also be nice to sail towards warmer weather. 570 nm to go!


Photos of Rapa Iti

Rapa Iti, Austral Islands

We spent Christmas 2017 and January 2018 in Rapa Iti and fell in love with this remote gem and its lovely people. Apart from its rough weather, Rapa is a perfect cruising destination and a hikers' paradise.

(53 photos)


Better safe than sorry

The low passed by as quickly as predicted: yesterday morning we had 25 knots from the east (still calm waters even though the bay is open to the east), at noon 35 knots sustained (some chop built up, but nothing spectacular) and in the evening the wind turned southeast and calmed a bit down, but since then we’ve had gusts over the mountains, some up to 45 knots and so sudden that little waterhoses are whipped up and the dinghy was flipped over floating behind the boat on its painter–fortunately we had taken the outboard, the floorboards and the oars out…

Our preparations were more serious than the wind turned out to be, but we wanted to be on the safe side. A further benefit of taking the sails, the rain canvas, the bimini and the pitufa-banners down was that we were able to service them, repair some tears and restitch some seams. Tomorrow things should calm down enough to get everything back up–including the potted plants that sit at the moment as refugees in the saloon.


Preparing for a gale

Rapa’s a great little island with beautiful nature and wonderful people, but weather-wise it’s rather unfortunate…

It’s located outside the tropics and also outside the trade-wind belt. Variable winds prevail the whole year round which makes it somewhat difficult for sailboats to visit. In July and August the temperatures go down to 10 degrees with winter storms battering the lonely little rock.

The summer is short (only 3 months from end of December to March) and on top of that it happens to be the rainy season ;-) During these months the SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone) likes to linger over the Austral Islands and they lie in the path of troughs and depressions that move along this zone towards the Southeast.

One of these lows is predicted to pass Rapa tomorrow, so we’re preparing the boat today for strong winds. We have removed both foresails, taken the bimini down and removed some other items to reduce windage and to keep bits from taking off. We’ve already had some violent gusts over the last weeks, so the anchor should be nicely set. Each forecast predicts different wind directions (depending on how close by the system passes), but the bay is enclosed by high mountains and the entrance to the east is protected by a wide reef, so the sea should remain rather calm. The high mountains result in acceleration zones and gusts that thunder down the slopes from different directions.



Rapa Iti (the old name is Oparo) was colonised by Polynesian settlers about 1000 years ago (sources vary on that). The limited resources of the small island (Rapa is only 40 km2 big, but most of that land area is rugged and mountainous) led to conflicts among the growing population and the construction of 15 fortresses on the hilltops. When the island was discovered by Europeans in the 18th century more than 2000 people lived on the island, but with the European ships diseases and alcohol were introduced and the population dwindled to only 120 by the middle of the 19th century.

Today the population is about 500 people, but many islanders have moved to Tahiti or other bigger islands to work there. The people are proud of their history and have managed to keep a special status within the French administration. Rapa is autonomous in many areas and next to the ‘maire’ (mayor) the ‘council of 7′ (Tohitu) makes decisions where land or culture are concerned.

The remnants of the fortresses are still visible along the rim of the main caldera and well maintained paths lead to 3 of them. So far we have hiked to Morongo Uta and Tevaitahu. Only some stone walls remain, but the impressive views over the main bay and the opposite coastline are worth the effort of climbing up. At the height of the ancient Polynesian civilisation the island was deforested, later on pines and other trees and shrubs were introduced and endemic ferns have regrown as well, so nowadays the overall impression is lush and green again, even though many of the steeper slopes have remainded barren.


Happy holidays!

We wish you a merry Christmas and a healthy, interesting, and successful year 2018!

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