New photo album: Raivavae

Cyclone season 2020/2021 in Raivavae

We wanted to spend a few quiet months in Raivavae to work on projects and to go easy on our elderly ship's cat. We enjoyed a gorgeous summer, had fun with cruiser friends and local friends and found unexpected nature gems. An anti-cruiser campaign led by the protestant priest gave our summer a bit of a bitter after-taste. Not many sailboats make it to Raivavae so his claims they were polluting and destroying the lagoon seemed extreme. We tried our best to explain and improve relationships...

(44 photos)


Around Raiatea and Tahaa

We’ve been hanging out around Raiatea and Tahaa (the two islands share one, big lagoon) for two weeks now. The infrastructure around these islands is very convenient: 4G internet, little supermarkets everywhere that get stuff from the supply ships several times a week, but sell also local produce. The nicest way to get locally grown fruit and veg is to walk down the coastal roads: whenever somebody has too many bananas/pamplemousse/rambutan/avocados/… they just set up a table in front of their property–great to get fresh things and to have a chat.

We’ve anchored in various spots and most locals who go by with their boats give us a friendly wave. Only the NW side of Raiatea (Pr. Mirimiri) is ‘famous’ for disliking cruisers. In the muddy bay there we got chased away a few years ago ‘because we destroy the coral there’ (in mud??) and this year a boat came by out on the shelf to tell us that we were disturbing their spearfishing area (by parking there?). Two years ago a local cut the anchor chain of a cruising boat and according to the verdict of this February he was found guilty and got a fine of 50.000 CPF (approx 500 USD), because he had ‘an understandable reason’…

It’s a hot autumn here, so we’ve spent quite some time in the water. Many reefs are dead and overgrown with algae, but some coral in the shallow areas is in surprisingly good shape, despite temperatures above 30°C. There are not many fish around and the ones we see are small and skittish–there’s too much spearfishing going on. At least we’ve seen a few turtles, and they were rather relaxed, so they don’t seem to get hunted here anymore.


Hypocritical people everywhere

We quite often criticise how little untouched wilderness remains here in French Polynesia and the lack of efforts by the government and other organisations to protect the environment. We complain about locals who still hunt turtles and collect sea bird eggs and blame a lack of education and awareness.

Yesterday we read on the Austrian News that the fishermen and fisherwomen there have finally managed to get the right to shoot cormorants as they do damage to the fishery… We hypocritical Europeans are so good at knowing what other countries have to preserve: there’s a public outcry when the Indians shoot their last tigers or the Brazilians log their rainforests. But beware if a single bear sticks his furry snout over the Austrian border, or if a swan poops in a lake, or the aforementioned cormorants dare to eat fish–they immediately get the death penalty.
What are they supposed to do instead? Order a burger (from a cow that used up incredible resources being fed under quite often horrible circumstances, transported around half the world, etc.) at MacKing?
Wouldn’t it make much more sense to be happy about every wild animal that has somehow managed to adapt to the environment we have made?

The problem with humanity is that we assume that we own the planet and all other creatures are only tolerated if they are of use to us. Why don’t people grasp that we are just one of many species who are supposed to share this beautiful planet in a sustainable way?


Arriving at night

We always tell newby cruisers that it’s not a good idea to arrive at night, much wiser to time pass entries with good light.
But quite often (like yesterday) it becomes clear over the course of the day that we won’t make landfall in daylight–an arrival-bubbly and the thought of a whole night spent in a calm, comfy bed are hard to resist though…

If we know a place and have GPS tracks we usually go for creature comforts and enter at night. Last night we could have sailed all the way up to the main pass of Raiatea and follow our tracks into the lagoon and to an anchor bay from there. That would have meant several miles and hours detour though.
Instead we headed to the closest pass: charted, wide, deep and marked–piece of cake. It turned out though that those markers are not lit at night and pointing Pitufa’s bow in the pitch-black dark night towards the sound of breaking waves, just relying on the chart plotter felt a bit eery.

We made it into the lagoon without a problem (the chart info for passes and channels in the Societies is very reliable) and then slowly motored northwards with Christian on the bow with a torch, to check for buoys and other obstacles along the way. Entering the bay we saw just one anchor light, but shapes of several unlit boats all around. We carefully picked a spot, dropped the hook and by midnight we were sitting in the cockpit with a bottle of home-made bubbly and some snacks :-)

This morning we were quite surprised to see 10 other boats in the bay—-not exactly great seamanship to forget the anchor light in an area with quite some traffic… For the past two months we were just 2 sailboats in the lagoon of Raivavae–now we’ll have to adjust to the fleets here in the Societies again.


Wrong wind forecasts

The day before yesterday we were supposed to have whopping 20 knots for great sailing–and got thunderstorms and fluky winds. Yesterday we were supposed to have about 15 knots and got several hours of 30+ knots instead. Today the grib threatened with no wind and we had 15 knots all morning and still 10-12 now in the afternoon…
We can already see the silhouette of Raiatea ahead, 36 nm to go!


Annoying weather

We got a mixed bag of thunderstorm, no wind and lots of wind. 194 to go


Fast sailing

The wind set in with a squall last afternoon and we got the gennaker down just in time. Now we’re steadily sailing along in 15 to 20 knots from the SE and a few squalls around. 320 to go!


Goodbye Raivavae

The weather forecast suggested that we should wait another day, but a fresh breeze from the SSE tempted us to leave Raivavae last evening. We set out doing 6 knots in 16-18 knots, yippieh! Two hours later the wind died down to less than 10 knots and we slowed down to 3 knots.
Now the gennaker is flying and we’re waiting for the wind to set in.

It’s the first time that just the two of us are sailing…

410 nm (out of 470) to go to Raiatea!


Translation FAQ

Somehow I assumed that everybody has better internet than we and would have no prob just letting a google translator do the translation of our info sheet for them ;-)
As people have been asking, I’ll simply put the translation of the link below into this blog here:

Don’t you like sailboats?
You’re not alone, many people would like to chase them out of their lagoons.

But why?
Traditionally the reception in French Polynesia was warm and welcoming, but this has changed recently. We think that lack of information and false information are responsible for that.

As cruisers and visitors we would like to present our point of view here:

Why don’t you go back home?
The sailboats are our floating homes. Many cruisers are retired, others want to give their kids a chance to see the worlds, others (like we) simply live and work on their boats.

Why do you stay in French Polynesia?
Because we love Polynesia! The people are friendly, nature’s gorgeous, the culture is really interesting and the climate pleasant.

Why are there more sailboats here now?
Because of Covid most borders are closed and sailboats have nowhere to go.

Is it true that you destroy the coral?
No, that’s not true. We anchor in sand and put floats on our chain to avoid touching coral.

Are you responsible for pollution?
We would never throw rubbish into the sea or on the beaches. We use the sun and the wind as energy sources. We love and protect nature!

Do you bring rats and other pests to the motu?
Sailboats are small and it’s very unlikely that we would not notice such blind passengers. Big freighters and fishing boats carry such pests…

Don’t you pay for your stay here?
We contribute lots of money to the Polynesian economy. We buy spare parts for our boats, we use the haul-out facilities, we provision on a large scale, we rent cars, go to snacks and restaurants and pay for medical expenses.
Different than other tourists we spend money in local mini-markets and buy local fruit, veg, fish, souvenirs, etc.

Do you consume local resources for free?
Many cruisers take nothing from nature. We don’t hunt or fish in lagoons. We only appreciate nature and hunt with our cameras.

Is it true that sailboats bring Covid?
The passage to French Poly from Mexico/Panama/Chile/etc. takes at least 3 weeks, that’s a long quarantine. Most sailboats have been here for a long time. Our life-style means that we are quite often isolated ‘in quarantine’ on our boats, so we are less exposed and less at risk than other people.
When we sail between islands we keep a voluntary quarantine to avoid spreading the virus.

Why are there so many negative news about sailboats on the television/in newspapers/on facebook?
There are influential people in Tahiti who would like to get rid of sailboats to build a hotel complex in the area of the Marina Taina anchorage. They use the media and social networks for their own means. They also turn away attention from their own faults (sewage in the lagoons, no recycling, polluting industries, herbicides and pesticides in the rivers, etc.) by blaming cruisers for everything that goes wrong. It’s unfair and dangerous to incite fears and aggressions against a minority that’s vulnerable, simply because they have a different life-style. We hope that the Polynesians will look through those lies.


Anti-cruiser campaign and our reaction to it

We decided to spend the cyclone season on an quiet, friendly little island to get away from the anti-cruiser hostilities in Tahiti and the Society Islands. Unfortunately it turns out that even here in Raivavae a campaign against cruisers is going on…
Ironically enough it’s the environmental organisation (who should be our friends as fellow protectors of nature) and the protestant priest (who would be supposed to love his fellow humans instead of inciting fears and prejudices) are leading the propaganda which is full of false information and lies.

They claim that sailboats pollute, destroy coral, spread pests and Covid…

In response to this we have composed a little FAQ in French (download pdf) to counter those rumours and to present our point of view. We have put up this sheet at shop windows, talked to the mayor and other influential people.

If you are in a location where cruisers are defamed and attacked you may want to download and spread this info sheet (in French) or write something similar to show your side of the story.


Leeloo 2000–2021

Our little ship’s cat died last week.

I still hear her everywhere and see her everywhere. Our day was so full of cat rituals: sunbathing and petting session in the morning, making sure she ate a few bites every few hours, waking her during the day so she’d be tired at night, sitting out in the cockpit during the evenings to ‘air’ the cat, then down to the saloon for ‘couchtime’–she’d already hop on the sofa and wait for us to get cuddled from both sides while we were watching some telly series. We’ve never been on the boat without her (just a few weekends when we had the boat in Croatia, but we always took her along for sailing holidays) and now Pitufa feels horribly empty without her.

She was right in the centre of our lives for a long time. Keeping the cat safe and happy was a priority for 21 years: our choice of houses/flats in Austria, Sweden and the Uk, the decision to go cruising instead of other forms of travelling, the destinations we could sail to, the fact that we could never leave her alone with the boat, our itinerary to keep her ‘cool’and comfy–it’s become second nature to see the world through her eyes, what she’d like and dislike.

In a house in Europe with a vet to help with her aches, a pet shop to supply her with different brands and flavours every day (even though we brought bags full of expensive food from Austria and ordered a big package from the US last year she just sniffed the cans I still have left, not enough variety on the menu…) and an extra room (preferably sound proof to give us some rest at night) we could probably have nursed her for another year. Or she may have had a stroke next week–we’ll never know.
On the other hand if we had stayed in Europe we would have both worked long hours, she would have spent most of the days alone at home instead of having us constantly around, she would have long starved without me around to coax her into into eating tiny morsels during the day, she might have been run over by a car years ago–who knows what could or would have been.

I just keep telling myself that she got more love and attention over the last 21 years than 99% of all other cats on the globe and probably most children as well (given the fact that kids grow up and move out at some point). She filled our days with joy, love and purrs in return. Brrrreeeow, mrrrrah, meeep, she had a whole array of little sounds and I can’t believe I’ll never hear her again. She turned high maintenance towards the end, but she gave us so much during her long life.

Leeloo leaves a gaping cat-shaped hole in our lives.


Book recommendation ‘Plunge’

Our good friend Liesbet has published a book about her life as a cruiser, nomad and citizen of the earth. Check out her adventures on


South Pacific Convergence Zone Weather

The Austral islands are notorious for unstable, bad weather and during a La Niña phase (as we have this year) it’s supposed to be even cooler and rainier than usually. We therefore had rather low expectations weatherwise when we sailed to Raivavae at the beginning of December. We mainly wanted to keep our elderly cat ‘cool’ (she suffers in hot temperatures) and quietly work most of the time anyway.

We were extremely surprised by the stable, sunny summer weather we got for most of December and all of January. Of course we enjoyed this brilliant summer, but it turned out it was too hot for the sea: due to water temperatures around 30 degrees we noticed some severe bleaching in the few live coral bommies here in the lagoon. Staghorn and elkhorn coral lost their symbiotic algae and turned from a healthy light brown/beige to white and light pastel colours. Marine biologists told us that coral can survive just on what its polyps catch for about 3 weeks, if the symbiotic algae (that produces sugar for the coral) hasn’t come back by then the coral dies…

The weather’s changed now: the SPCZ is hanging across the Pacific and pointing straight towards us, there’s a low moving by right now and another 3 are scheduled according to the weather forecast. If you open e.g. ‘windy.com’ and look at the South Pacific you see a line from Samoa down to the Austral islands without wind – that’s the SPCZ. Whirly lows build up along that instable area and head along it southeastwards. If there’s enough energy in the atmosphere or if a few of them coincide they have potential to form cyclones. That’s the super-simplified explanation–if you’re interested in more info check out Christian’s article about South Pacific weather patterns. There’s a link to the article at https://www.pitufa.at/weather-fp/

We’re in a nice, protected anchorage and prepared for heavy gusts. The dinghy’s in the water (usually we store it hanging alongside the hull overnight, but it could slam against Pitufa during gusts), the outboard engine up on the railing and tied down, just like oars and all other possibly volatile objects. Ideal weather to work on our laptops.

Hopefully the cooler temperatures aren’t coming too late for the coral though. We’ll check when the weather’s settled down again.

PS: Our blog automatically picks a random photo for each entry and for the fb page–don’t assume we’re crazy if it happens to be a sunny one ;-)


Update on the covid situation and travel restrictions in the South Pacific

After an intial lockdown between March and July 2020, French Polynesia opened its borders and Covid arrived here shortly after. Ironically a local Politician brought the Virus back from France–presumably from some conference about avoiding the spreading of Covid… The Polynesians seemed very orderly and determined to hold the virus at bay, but in the end it got out of control with many cases in Tahiti and the Societies and a few on outer islands. Ironically a festivity of the ‘gendarmes’ was the source of the first cluster…

The opening of borders had been mainly due to pressure of the tourism industry: not many tourists arrived, but in the end all other businesses suffered from the measures to limit the consequences of the opening and arrival of the virus (nightly curfew, social distancing, etc.). With the spreading of the new mutations France decided to close the borders of its overseas territories again. Since the beginning of February 2021 flights to and from Fr. Poly are only allowed with ‘compelling reasons’.

The situation of cruisers in the South Pacific remains difficult. Apart from Fiji (entry is possible with a negative test and after quarantine), all countries remain closed. Only citizens of the respective states are allowed to travel home, but still have to undergo a lengthy quarantine (New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, etc.). For us Europeans Fr. Poly represents a little piece of Europe, but our 3 years here expire in October (after 3 years we’d have to import the boat).

We therefore have the choice to either pay import tax here or leave and sail to Fiji. We wanted to visit Fiji anyway, but sitting out a cyclone season there means taking quite severe risk… 2021 is bringing tricky decisions for us.


Article on alternative energy aboard

Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer: Green Cruising with a Mix of alternative energy sources, All At Sea Caribbean, February 2021, p. 42–46. Download the whole magazine for free

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