Photos of our 5th Gambier visit

Cyclone season 17/18 in the Gambier archipelago

Even though it was our 5th visit to the Gambier Islands we still found plenty of new things to explore over and under water and had a good time revisiting friends and places.

(48 photos)


Getting started in Tahiti

We arrived last night at Pt. Venus, were invited for pancakes this morning on SY L’avenir (thanks a lot!!), sailed down to Marina Taina at noon, had our new gennaker delivered in the afternoon (incredible, only 4 days after it was sent from Hongkong…), did some provisioning afterwards, organised a propeller repair for next week and reserved a rental car (it took us 1.5 hours to get through the form and payment with our wobbly internet). What a day! Let’s hope things keep going as smoothly ;-)


Steady progress

We are steadily sailing along. Because we’re sailing downwind, Pitufa rolls quite a bit, even though the waves aren’t that high. Still no fish, but we have two lures out. If the conditions remain like this, we should reach Tahiti tomorrow evening. Fortunately the anchorage behind the northern cape of Pt. Venus is wide open, so we don’t have to worry about pass times or arrival in daylight. 136 nm to go.


Yes, no, maybe, why not…

It turned out our decision to stay was a wise one–another boat who did set out had squalls with 40 knots… This morning it was still squally, but according to the forecast we’d have to leave or get fickle winds on Wednesday (which was supposed to be a good day to leave…). We wrangled a bit with the pros and cons, but in the end we motored across the lagoon against a howling squall (poor Leeloo got seasick still in the lagoon), made it through the pass in good conditions and once we were out the sky brightened and we’ve been sailing steadily all day long. Leeloo’s already up and snacking again. Two lures out, still no fish, 260nm (out of 290) to go!


Postponed departure

This morning we were ready to leave, but then we got the latest weather forecast and started to struggle with the decision: instead of steady winds we’d have a squally night followed by light winds for a day… In the end we decided to stay for another two days and set out with hopefully more settled weather on Wednesday. In the meantime we’ve sailed down to the little bird island in the lagoon, where we’re now bouncing in winds from the NE (and not E as predicted). We see it as preparation for the passage ;-)


Good-bye Tahanea

Today we are getting Pitufa into passage-mode–always an tedious job after an extended period in a lagoon. Big jobs like washing and storing the kayak, getting the dinghy on deck and preparing poles for a downwind-course are obvious, but there’s dozens of other tiny chores like declattering cupboards, baking bread, baking cake as a passage-treat, wiping the floors, (we sleep on a mattress on the floor during passages), preparing fishing gear, cleaning the cat’s toilet etc. etc. Additionally Christian’s servicing a genoa winch, to make sure everything will run smoothly.

We are reluctant to leave our favourite atoll, especially as we’ll have to deal with orders, repairs and shopping in Tahiti and then a haul-out in Raiatea. We’ll leave tomorrow morning as the forecast promises steady southeasterlies. 290 nm to go!



We have moved on to the westernmost anchorage on the southside of Tahanea to check out the last of the three bird-motu clusters. Fortunately this spot remains untouched, boobies are circling the two little motus and preparing for the next nesting season. Only few palmtrees grow here, so apparently they weren’t worth making copra here.

A long white sand-bank stretches out from the motu towards the anchorage and we used to collect shells on the snow-white sands. Yesterday we collected 6 buckets of plastic rubbish and burned it. Of course that’s not even a measurable part of the plastic wave that suffocates the Pacific, but that’s all we could do for the moment. If everybody started with themselves and did as much as they can do (even if it’s just a little bit) the world would be a better place.
Another advantage: I have quite sore muscles on my thighs and bum today from all that bending down to pick up rubbish, so protecting the environment’s good for a trim figure!


Destruction of bird motus in Tahanea

Last year we were already worried about the fact that some locals moved over from the neighbouring atoll of Faaite to Tahanea, which had been uninhabited for a while with only some remains of old houses still visible. We could immediately see the difference in wildlife and observed fewer birds on the untouched motus on the Southwestern side.

We were alarmed enough to get an appointment with the mayor of Faaite, tried to convince him to protect these few and tiny motus in the South that were still free of rats, covered in natural shrubs and home for a small colony of extremely rare masked boobies and slightly more brown boobies (both of them groundbreeding and therefore easy prey for humans, rats and dogs). We argued that the commune of Faaite could make money by preserving the motus for future eco-tourists, that it would great to preserve some nature for future generations, that they could install moorings to compensate the families with that income for the loss of some copra money and even offered to donate our chain for that etc. We got nods and smiles, but nothing else.
Then we contacted wildlife protection organisations in Tahiti (Te Mana o te Moana, SOP Manu), but were told that there was nothing they could do.

Just now we have returned to the SW side of Tahanea and found our worst fears come true. We talked to a father with his sons who just arrived with a local boat filled up with gear (camping stuff, copra bags–plenty of hiding spaces for rats…) and who told us that they had just spent one month ‘cleaning’ two of the bigger bird motus (meaning cutting away the shrubs) for copra production. They stay here for a few months, make 5 tons of copra on motus all around the atoll (a huge amount of work) and were proud that they get 140.000 CPF (1.400 dollars) per ton. The southern motus only make up a small percentage of the harvest, but let’s assume that they make 1 ton of copra on the 3 birdmotus in the South. That’s 1.400 Dollars for the destruction of 3 of the few remaining masked booby colonies in French Polynesia.

The mood’s not great on Pitufa. Somewhere between screaming with rage and helpless crying. The fault lies with the subsidized prices the locals get for copra (even though it’s still pathetically cheap for the bonebreaking work of cutting the nuts open, peeling the flesh out and drying it). The missionaries made plantations of palmtrees on a large scale to make the locals produce copra, later on mostly church organisations took locals to uninhabited atolls to ‘clear’ the land, plant coconut trees and return yearly to harvest. They accidentally introduced rats during their raids. Therefore most of the atolls are nowadays covered in palmtrees and provide no breeding grounds for seabirds. Watching the destruction of even more motus is heartbreaking.



The sun’s just rising over the motu next to us, the outlines of a cumulus cloud on the horizon gleam like it was on fire and the silhouettes of some palm trees in the foreground pose for a south-sea paradise poster. The air is filled with a strange roaring and cackling that sounds like deer and monkeys, but of course that’s impossible here in the Tuamotus. The first birds head out towards the sea in pairs or groups and they are the source of these exotic sounds: we’ve found a big colony of red-footed boobies on the northwestern side of Tahanea!
Yesterday we motored 10 nm from the pass towards the NW side of the atoll which we hadn’t visited yet as anchoring there is only possible in very calm conditions. We passed a rock islet in the lagoon on the way (just a big rock with some shrubs on it) and were pleasantly surprised when a flock of 16 brown boobies started from there to check us out. Heading towards the barrier reef we already got our hopes up, as the motus weren’t covered in palm trees, but natural vegetation and really, when we went ashore we found red-footed boobies in all the higher trees. Many are still in their dark youngster plumage and we couldn’t see any chicks in the trees, so it must be right after the end of the nesting season.


New tenants for our flat in Austria

We are searching for new tenants for our flat in Graz. As it’s unlikely that English-speaking readers will be interested in renting it, we post the ad just on the Austrian side of the blog ;-)


Shitty days in paradise?

Usually we enjoy our internetfree life on board, but when there are problems, the dogdy communication lines can get on our nerves. We have managed to order a new lightwind sail during the passage (the folks at Hongkong Sails were extremely helpful!), we’re in touch with Spectra, because our shiny new watermaker’s already dodgy and on top of that we need new tenants for our flat in Graz, because the current ones cause tons of trouble.
Friends have a page on their blog called SDIP: Shitty Days In Paradise. Sometimes we also whinge about such SDIPs, but then we look around outside and realise that we’re complaining on a very high level…


Leisure time and chores

After a passage there’s always some work to do on the boat, but during our first 2 days in Tahanea the weather was gorgeous, sunny and calm, so we thought ‘carpe diem’ and went snorkeling instead. The W-pass was an impressive experience as always with dozens of grey reef sharks (we were actually able to watch them hunting during daytime!) and lots of tiny fishies. Unfortunately the dogtooth-tuna that are usually roaming the pass have disappeared–we hope that they’re just busy somewhere else and haven’t been caught and eaten… The state of the coral also worries us: there are much more bleached areas and algae than before summer…

Today it’s grey and rainy, just the right weather to catch up on chores. We’re already cleaned the boat, brewed a new batch of beer and now Christian’s repairing the tailing mechanism of a winch that broke on the way and I have time to catch up on emails and blog entries :-)


Back in Tahanea

Yesterday at noon we saw our last chance to catch a fish on this passage and approached yet another atoll (our fourth). We surfed close to the barrier reef in rough seas and when the waves calmed down in the shade of the atoll one of the lines finally stretched out and we hauled in a big jack. When we were in the middle of cutting up the fish, we suddenly heard a meowing right next to us–Leeloo who usually stays under deck in rough seas had climbed up to check out what we were doing. Yippieh, sashimi!

At 4 o’clock in the morning we reached Tahanea. We didn’t feel like waiting for another two hours for dawn and as the tide was just right we entered the pass under full sails. Rushing through the pitch-dark night into the atoll felt a bit eerie, despite the wide pass and our GPS tracks that we could follow. The anchor fell at 4.30 in a former anchorage and at 5 we were already sitting in the cockpit with a bottle of home-made bubbly, a late (or early) snack and then we headed for the bunk in the pink light of sunrise.



We’ve had a rather annoying night with some squalls. Lack of sleep is the main problem on a passage when only 2 people can share the nightwatches and stumbling out of the bunk in between in howling winds and pouring rain for sail changes doesn’t help. This morning it’s sunny again, so we hope for a pleasant last sailing day. 100 nm to go!



Even though we’ve had a lure out right from the start (yep, even when it was rough and we felt more than a bit queasy), we haven’t caught a fish yet. Today our course came close to two atolls and as fishing’s always best near an island we sailed along their southern and southeastern outer reefs. Edging in towards a breaking reef under sails with a high swell running makes the usually boring passage routine quite exciting.

We sailed a few miles along Nengonengo and were positively surprised to see unspoiled motus with shrubs and hardly any palmtrees (so no copra industry) and flocks of boobies that were circling us curiously. It was a cool experience, the only downside was, that no fish was interested in our two lures. We’ll keep trying, tomorrow we have some more motus along our course line.
194 nm to go!

Older posts «