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!


Going bananas

We are sailing nicely along in calmer conditions, but still going fast. Of course we tried to stock up as much fresh veg and fruit as possible before we left the Gambier, but now the two stacks of green bananas have gone all yellow long before we have reached our destination. Going bananas towards the Tuamotus with 360 nm to run!



With the prediction forecasting strong winds we buckled down when we reached a bank of dark clouds yesterday. Instead of the expected 20 knots we got no wind and gusts over 35 in between with lots of lightning. Not great. We ended up motoring for a few hours to get out of that soup and finally found the northeasterlies at midnight. Now we’re sailing along nicely. 500 nm to go!


More wind

Last night the wind set in and we’re going fast and close-hauled in 15 to 20 knots now. The weatherforecast predicts rain and squalls, but it’s still sunny.


Slow start

We left the Gambier again today at noon, despite light northwesterly winds (yep, northwest is where we should actually sail). Our plan is to sail up north first and gain a headstart on a front that is supposed to arrive tomorrow with rain, squalls and northeasterly winds that should pick up and take us straight towards the Tuamotus.
655 nm to go to Tahanea (we’ll see whether the wind lasts all the way).


False start

Yesterday the weather looked squally, but the forecast seemed alright for a passage. We had already spent a day preparing the boat (it always takes us ages to get Pitufa into passage mode after such a long time), so we set out from the Gambier. We sailed out with a squall, but as soon as the black cloud had passed, it left us with no wind and we sat for an hour on the bouncy seas. Watching the stationary black clouds all around we finally gave up and sailed back to Taravai with the next squall.

It’s the first time that we’ve ever turned back after setting out for a passage, but we didn’t want to end up motoring towards the Tuamotus.


Late Summer

We’ve just spent two and a half rather frustrating weeks anchored off the main village Rikitea. When only one out of 3 internet sources shakily works from time to time (the vini spot for wifi seems to be down and the internet via mobile phone network only works occasionally) organising and ordering things becomes slightly tedious, but now we’ve got everything settled.

On the positive side: We did a few beaufitul hikes in the gorgeous late summer weather and even made it up Mt. Mokoto last week. We’ve stocked up on local produce and some imported goods when bot supply ships were here yesterday.

Now we’re ready to leave for the Tuamotus, but there’s no wind in sight on the forecast, so we’ll enjoy some more days here on the outer islands.


Gambier’s Pearl Farms Increasingly Become Navigational Hazard

In recent years, the motto in the Gambier Islands seems to be “a pearl farm for everyone.” Many new concessions were granted, and the result is clearly noticeable. Not only were existing buoy fields massively expanded, but also countless smaller installations were deployed (and still are), scattered throughout the lagoon. Some of those new installations are made by one-man companies, lacking man-power, proper material, and know-how. The outcome is badly set up buoy fields that increasingly pose a navigational hazard.

This year we encountered several fields and single lines that are only partially marked with buoys on the surface or not marked at all. Such submerged installations are not visible when approaching until the boat is already right above them and it’s too late to change course. A well-built installation is clearly marked and has the horizontal lines deep enough (around 5 m) to allow sailing over it without any danger, but that’s just in theory and we can no longer assume that. This year we saw installations with long ropes floating on the surface and submerged buoys and lines at depths dangerous for navigation. We damaged our propeller while sailing from Akamaru’s W-side to Rikitea at position 23° 09.519′ S, 134° 56.366′ W. An unmarked installation had a bundle of four buoys tied together in a depth of 1-1.5m. Those buoys first scraped along the keel and then hit the propeller (which wasn’t turning) and bent one blade.

The safest way for yachts would be to avoid buoy fields entirely. However, with not or only partially marked fields, it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other one starts. Our advice for other cruisers to avoid accidents like ours is: when you see a buoy further ahead of you, head for it and dodge it when close by. This is often safer than heading for the space between buoys, as there might be submerged parts of the installation.

I expect the situation to worsen in the next few years as the pearl-farming industry is expanding rapidly. Many new buoy fields will spring up and some of them badly done. Furthermore I expect some (smaller) entrepreneurs to lose interest in their farms, leaving their buoy fields unmaintained. So we’ll more and more have to deal with abandoned, disintegrating installations and scattered debris. Only stricter regulations could improve the situation.


Relaxed flying

Today my Mom had to start her return-journey to Austria. We anchored Pitufa just in front of the airport, took the dinghy into the little airport harbour, checked in the luggage, went all back to the boat, had lunch, went for a swim and only returned to the airport once the plane had landed. Security consists of a friendly lady asking the passenger whether they’ve packed something dangerous and there isn’t even a fence around the runway. If all airports were like this traveling by plane would be quite enjoyable ;-)

Unfortunately only the first leg to Tahiti was that relaxed, tomorrow she’ll start the 26 hour marathon via LA and Paris to Vienna…


Art gallery

Other mom’s may enjoy white, sandy beaches of the lagoon-side of motus, mine prefers the rough outer side facing the ocean. Yesterday we took a walk along eastern side of Puaumu (the motu in the north of the Gambier where we’re anchored now) where the ocean waves crash against the outer reef, which is strawn with big pieces of coral that were broken off and tossed up the shore during past storms. I felt like walking through an art gallery, with my mom marvelling at every single naturally formed sculpture (we didn’t make it far, but we enjoyed each metre ;-) .

Every piece of staghorn, table or brain coral has indeed its unique beauty and walking on the small fringe of land between the protected lagoon and the mighty ocean is a humbling experience. The amount of plastic trash that ends washed up on the reef is a bitter reminder of how little we humans cherish mother nature.


Mom’s visiting

I took the plane to Tahiti two weeks ago to pick up my Mom at the airport. After three days of intensive shopping (I hitched 10 rides in 3 days) we flew together back to the Gambier. After getting over the jetlag (a heat wave here in the Gambier didn’t exactly help with adjusting to the climate) my Mom has nicely settled in and enjoys the diverse nature of the Gambier. She spends half the day swimming in the turquoise lagoon, but somehow we can’t persuade her to stick her head under water and join the fishies snorkeling ;-)

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