A day in the life of …

We were talking to friends in Germany and mentioned that we had “finished work for today”. The lady laughed and said “Your life is a holiday. What work do you have?”

Well the last two days we have been anchored in a bay off Tahiti so we wake up late, have fun and eventually manage to drag ourselves in to the cockpit where a negligee clad Heidi serves brunch which takes us through to midday. A few hours of sunbathing, swimming and WhatsApps and it is time for afternoon coffee with the neighboring boat before we all dress in casual smart clothes to visit the yacht club for a sun downer followed by an evening meal on their terrace.

In our dreams!

The day begins with a coffee and French lesson to get the brain working. Yesterday was lequel, laquelle, lesquelles and today s, ss, c & ç so a great way to wake up. The following breakfast is normally combined with a planning conference when we agree “the plan”. Yesterday was meant to be easy with a quick change of the motor and gear oil and food resupply.

Run the engine to get the oil warm and fluid and then extract the oil with the suction pump, twist off the oil filter, new filter on and refill back to the correct level. Easy! It would have been if the suction pump had not developed an air leak, the filter wasn’t on so tight and the spare filter wasn’t the wrong size. But no problem. You can seal an air hole temporarily with an oily tissue, the shop at the end of town can order a new filter from Papeete and they also had a better filter removal tool than our current one. Today the engine oil is changed and now we just need to find some one that sells 20W gear oil.

Shopping began with a stock taking, checking that those items we believe we have agreed with the actual contents of our lockers. The food is all below the seats in the saloon so dismantle everything, empty the cupboards and count. Once we were sure of what we have it was easy to create the “big shopping list” for the next three months.

With all the bags we owned, we took the dinghy across to the marina and walked in to town and to the supermarket to fill two trolleys. Shopping is also good for the brain. If one tin of beef costs 483 francs but you can buy a pack of three for 1456 francs, which is cheaper and is 0.7 kg of milk powder for 634 or 0.8 for 712 better value? Good that we had paid attention in mathematics forty-five years ago.

changing the brushes

Luckily a local friend had agreed to drive us from supermarket to marina so we “only” had to carry the shopping to the dinghy, ferry it back to the boat, lift it onboard, sort, store and document it all. And on the second day it was just a case of buying diesel, gas and oil.

The sun down drinks really happened. They were mixed by Heidi on board and followed by home made hot dogs with a fried aubergine relish and special yogurt sauce. Who needs a yacht club when we can prepare food like this onboard?

And did I mention that at some point during the two days we also dismounted the anchor winch motor to replace the brushes? Or that we found that the leak in the front cabin is from the holding tank?

Real Recycling

We all know about recycling. Don’t worry about how much plastic or other rubbish we buy. As long as we separate it when we throw it away, then we can feel good and be sure that we are “saving the planet”.

But maybe it is better to buy stuff that you can recycle yourself.

Long ago I received a “Jons Adventures” T-Shirt to wear as part of the official team at the bike fair. It was a good quality T-shirt in a nice bright yellow with a discrete logo and was long one of my favorite post-biking outfits. Three years ago it became my smart “shore going” T-shirt and was worn all the time on land.

Eventually, after a few years, there were a few small food stains around the stomach area and a small hole on the neck so it became my “on board” T-shirt; still OK to have on when unexpected visitors dropped in but to be changed before going anywhere.

As the holes grew and the stains increased it became a working shirt, ideal for crawling in to anchor lockers or greasing winches. This is not an easy life for a shirt and the descent to general rag was rapid.

As a rag the cloth continued to be used daily for everything from holding a nearly dead fish to being wrapped around a rope to prevent rubbing. The holes slowly grew, the areas of whole material reduced and the color bleached out until the day we needed a “bike rag” to clean the mountain bikes.

And today, after over seven years, the “T-shirt” is still going strong in its sixth “re-cycle”.

A friend on a neighboring boat makes bags out of used sail canvas. As soon as we saw these, we knew that this was a type of recycling that we needed so ordered a bag with our logo on it. Now we can use “old sails” to go shopping and enjoy the smiles of the stall holders when we say “pas de plastique merci“.

Time out in Tikihau

After your first Covid injection you have to wait three weeks for the second. The thought of 21 days in Tahiti was not that appealing so we decided to head north to the coral atoll of Tikihau.

There is a lot of sky on the reef

The wind was against us as always so we tacked to the end of Tahiti before heading hard on the wind the 170 miles to Tikihau. Sail changes kept us fit and occupied as squalls continuously descended on us. A front crossed over us and provided five hours of uninterrupted excitement with wind from every direction and loads of rain.

We reached the pass in to the lagoon on a rising tide but still fought a strong outgoing current to enter the small opening. Once inside we followed the marked fairway before heading off through the coral boms to anchor near a luxury hotel. Our depth meter stopped working so we found a sandy patch, guessed the depth, swam to the anchor to see it was set and subsequently checked the depth with the lead line. It worked for Captain Cook and it worked for us.

Artemis at anchor

At anchor we found the Austrian sailing boat Mikado with Nicole and Georg on board. They have decided to take a break from sailing and go back to work so we were happy to help by taking excess food and herbs off their hands. Nicole admitted that, like other sailors we know, she feels trapped in Polynesia, frustrated at the inability to continue their voyage and homesick. Paradise is not always a South Sea Island. We shared a few drinks and a meal with them before they headed off to a yard to haul Mikado out and fly home.

We sailed across the reef looking for the isle of Eden. Here a religious cult have their community far from the “rest of the world”. The village was closed because of Covid but on the beach a man sold us succulent, fresh vegetables and herbs all grown on this tiny palm island. The next island belongs to the 74 year old Frenchman “Claud”. He is at anchor off the beach and uses the island as his base for sailing trips to Alaska and Antarctica. Claude has been sailing for forty years, has travelled the world but still insists that he only speaks French.

The wind turned so we once again crossed the stunning blue waters inside the atoll keeping a permanent watch for the coral boms and pinnacles that crop up without warning and that can rip the bottom off your boat. With the sun over your shoulder they shine like underwater lights but when it is overcast or the sun is in front of you, then they can be hard to identify and Heidi has to stand at the bow watching carefully.

As I write this we are anchored off the tiny village. We walked all round town in a few hours yesterday including visiting the airport just after the last house. The people are friendly, the shops have no eggs and everyone hides in the shade. A traditional Tuamotus village.

And tomorrow we plan on heading back to the city after our “holiday”.

Pandemic in Polynesia

Today we received an email saying

It is great reading your blog – what a fantastic trip and I am sure you must be thinking what timing compared a pandemics and lock downs in the populated parts of the world !  Have you seen much impact on your travels because of COVID or are you pretty much missing it ?

Until now, we have tried to avoid too much Covid-19 or Corona or pandemic or whatever in our blogs. It appears to be all the rest of the world writes about so we don’t need to add to the flood of negative news spewing out of the media and Internet. But just this once.

Our current plan is to sail round the world. We had thought we would now be in New Zealand cycling the 3000 kilometre trail from north to south. Polynesia was going to be where we would visit a few islands and atolls to get a flavor before continuing on downwind. But instead, because of border closures further west, we have now been here almost a year and it appears we will be staying a while longer. So yes, the pandemic has massively impacted our travel plans.

Our “refugee pass”. Thank you Hiva Oa!

But it is equally true that we arrived in the perfect place at the correct time. French Polynesia spent most of last March and April in lockdown. We were at sea for 54 days so missed the whole affair and were declared “virus free” on arrival during the last days of April. The border was officially closed so we spent a few months in “official limbo”; we could not clear in to the country but were allowed to stay and move freely among the hundreds of islands. Sort of high end refugees.

Continue reading “Pandemic in Polynesia”

Cycling Tahiti-Iti

When we told the neighbours that we were off to explore Tahiti-Iti with our bikes they commented “We have bikes on board and should use them but they are so much work to assemble.” They were correct on both counts. You should really use your bikes to see the islands you visit and yes it is a bit of work. Needless to say while we enjoyed two days exploring the island they remained on board, sweated in the heat and missed the fun.

Tahiti-Iti is the small, less populated half of Tahiti. Far from Papeete life is a little slower here and it has more the feeling of the outer islands. We are currently anchored in the lagoon so can start and end each day with a swim in clear refreshing water. Just across from us are some houses with gardens running down to the sea so we asked at one house if we could leave our dinghy at their dock and assemble our bikes there. No problem! (of course – this is Polynesia)

Continue reading “Cycling Tahiti-Iti”

500 miles against the wind.

“Normal sailors” – at least the sailors we know who claim to be normal – don’t sail against the wind. They wait for the wind to change and then cruise down wind to their destination.

But we were in Rurutu in the Austral Islands, three hundred miles south of Tahiti. The weather forecast was for very strong winds the following week and the small, badly protected harbour was not the place to be. The wind was from the north – directly against us – but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

Continue reading “500 miles against the wind.”

Mountain biking Rurutu

Hardly anybody has even heard of the Austral Islands and Rurutu is not a place you read about in mountain bike magazines. The islands are so hard to visit that it is a wonder any tourists arrive at all. If you have crossed the Pacific andreached Tahiti, you still have to take another flight south before you are finally in the Austral islands. Unsurprisingly most people who make it don’t have mountain bikes or the time to explore.

But! If you have a sailing boat and if you have two mountain bikes on board, then Rurutu is “the” bike destination in the south Pacific.

Having sailed overnight from Tubuai, we visited the local mayor’s office and asked if they had a mountain bike map. No! But they do have a map of all the 4×4 tracks and paths which served our purpose.

The first day we met Terry who we knew from Tubuai. He showed us a cave hidden deep in the forest and together we crawled through a tiny opening to explore the hidden world of stalactites and stalagmites. Terry had a plane to catch so we left him and continued around the island.

Rurutu, like all the other Pacific islands, was formed when a volcano erupted and rose above the ocean. As it slowly sank back in to the sea a coral reef developed around the shore. A later upheaval pushed the island back up and the reef became mighty cliffs all around the island. It is all very impressive and the result is many caves in the coral cliffs and steep roads to cycle up and down. The tour round the island is only 36km but has 800 meters of climbing. And that in the middle of the tropical summer.

The next day we cycled up to a view point and then on up through the forest to the summit of the third highest mountain. The route was steep, the temperature was hot and the path not obvious. It was a challenge but the view from the summit, across the island and reefs were well worth the effort. The trail back down was steep and technical. Real mountain biking.

On the third day we took a rest from biking and instead rode local horses. We rode to the same summit as on the previous day and really felt for the horses as they carried us from sea level to above 300 meters. I can now confirm that cycling down steep, rocky tracks is definitely easier than riding down.

The next day we cycled to the highest summit and then along the summit ridge to the south end of the island. Another technical trail downhill and then two passes to get back home. The views were stunning but every local we met greeted us with “It is so hot today!” On the final climb my body gave up and I ended up pushing with no energy left. Heidi picked fruits from the forest to give me sugar but what I really needed was a day off.

After a day of lounging around, swimming and eating, we returned to the bikes and managed to cycle every trail on the map before we finally set sail back north.

Mountain biking the hills of Rurutu is a challenge. Steep uphill, technical downhill and the hot sun combine to suck the energy out of you. But it is absolutely worth it. The tracks are lonely, the views are beautiful, the people friendly and the trees are loaded with fruit.

GPS tracks:

Tubuai continued

Before we sailed to Tubuai we heard from other sailors that they had spent a month anchored off the island. We had philisophised about what you found to do for such a long time. When we finally left, after over two weeks, we could easily imagine being stuck on this beautiful island.

We cycled every track on the island with Arnaud ( chief of the gendarmes and our guide) spending three days ensuring we missed nothing. He showed us hidden temples, jungle covered ceremonial stones and unknown petroglyphs. We climbed the mountains from three sides and cycled everything you can ride a mountain bike along.

Ina & Hervé – two amazingly friendly people – fed us great food, organized a gas refill, visited us on board, told us everything about mountain life and lent us their kayaks. We paddled across the lagoon to the tiny basalt island of Motu Ofai. This is the summit of a volcano that is slowly sinking in to the reef. For us it was our private tropical island to snorkel and sunbathe on totally alone.

The president of French Polynesia visited the island so there was a sit down meal to celebrate. Our friend Mila ensured that we were invited to represent the few sailors who reach this far flung island. Mila also invited Heidi to a traditional dance lesson with some local ladies where they swayed to the sound of Meherio – the mermaid song.

GPS tracks

Rurutu generosity

We were cycling across the hills on the stunningly beautiful island of Rurutu, enjoying the gentle breeze and panoramic views across the green slopes and fringing reef. We had already passed coffee bushes, grapefruit and lemon trees and our rucksacks were full from “wilderness shopping”.

another day of generosity!

In a small village we asked three taro farmers sat under a tree where we could buy avocados. One told us to follow him as he pushed a wheelbarrow of grass and roots home. Once we reached his garden he picked and opened two coconuts for us to drink the refreshing juice. While he fed the contents of his wheelbarrow to the pigs, his wife brought us fresh bananas to eat. The farmer returned with a bag full of avocados which he tied to the back of my rucksack. He and his wife then filled Heidi’s rucksack with taro. We tried to pay. We begged to be allowed to pay but they insisted everything was a present and wished us “Bonjournee” as they waved us off.

The next day we cycled back to the farmer’s village to give his wife and him some home made chocolate cake. As we passed the village hall it began to rain but there was a party in progress. One lady gestured to us that we should come in out of the rain. The next brought us fresh coconuts to drink and others asked us where we came from and explained that the party was a celebration of traditional crafts.

The world is full of wonderful people.

Welcome to Tubuai

We had heard that the people on Tubuai are friendly and that the island is beautiful. The truth is the people are incredibly friendly and the island stunningly beautiful.

Things could have started badly as we entered the lagoon through a secondary pass and just as we passed through the reef were hit by five big waves one after another. Luckily we hit no coral but it was an exciting introduction.

We anchored off the village and took the dinghy to shore. The first person we met greeted us with “welcome to Tubuai!” We reported to the extremely friendly Gendarmes who answered all our questions as if they were the local “office de tourisme”. The internet hotspot wasn’t working but the town secretary let us use her computer during her lunch break.

The dentist fixed Neill’s teeth and invited us to his house to use his Internet and give us iced coffee and amazing dried fruits. His cousin made Heidi a floral crown and then his wife dressed her in a polynesian outfit and taught her to dance. The next day Mila – the wife – guided us to the top of the highest mountain and performed a folk song and dance on the summit.

We decided to move to the harbour wall so went and asked the Gendarmes if that was OK. They sent us to the polynesian authorities who told us the mayor was responsible. The mayor’s secretary (Mrs Internet) told us to see Adrian at another department of the polynesian government. Adrian insisted he was not the Capitaine de Port but allowed us to tie up on the quay.

So now we are “downtown”. The dentist’s family visited with all five children for pizza, gateaux de Heidi and swimming and today a french engineer and a local stopped by for coffee. A local policeman stopped for a chat and promised to return with bananas.

Just writing about Tubuai is exhausting.