Looking for Elin

We knew that the lone sailor Daniel and his boat Elin were probably anchored somewhere inside Kauehi Atoll so one evening we left Fakarava at last light and sailed overnight to reach the pass at Kauehi (Arikitamiro Pass) for the morning slack tide. The entire trip was hard on the wind and passing squalls had us turning loops and sailing zigzags. We were glad to enter the lagoon and ghost along on the remains of the dieing breeze.

Elin and Artemis in the wilderness

It was a challenge to find a tiny white hulled boat amongst the pure white beaches that fringe the lagoon but we guessed the right area and eventually found Elin alone in the south east corner and anchored nearby. Daniel soon joined us for a drink and dinner and didn’t seem unhappy that we had interrupted his hermit like existence in his uninhabited corner of the world. We refilled his water tank from our watermaker and Heidi fed him exotic Artemis menus. In return he provided us with coconuts, hours of interesting conversation and helped us turn our anchor chain round. A real win-win situation.

On the reef we found an off road trail that we guessed would eventually lead to the village of Tearavero so the next day we assembled our bikes and followed the track. It wound through the palm trees before crossing to the wild, ocean pummeled side of the reef and then back to the turquoise coloured lagoon. The ground was full of coconuts, palm fronds and scurrying crabs as well as coral outcrops and huge crab holes. We were happy to eventually reach the concrete roads in the “city”.

We stopped at the shop to buy carrots but couldn’t resist a beautiful, locally made pearl and mother of pearl necklace. Next we visited the town hall to register with the villages one policeman and look for a bit of Internet. We found a tiny bit but, as the policeman confirmed, it was a satellite connection and impossibly slow. A visit to the church and cycle out to the airport concluded the “tourist stuff” and then we headed back home.

We passed a very well kept garden and asked Edouard – the owner – if he had any vegetables to sell. He gave us a chinese cucumber and a papaya but insisted “no money”. His main cash crop are flowers, that he sells to be used in sun cream, and his small pearl farm – now we knew where the pearls in the necklace came from.

Back at the anchorage we converted the chinese cucumber in to a meal and invited Daniel over for another evening of sun down drinks, dinner and philosophy.

And today after five days “in the wilderness” we plan on taking the afternoon tide and heading back downwind with more great memories of amazing places and interesting people.

Our bike route is at Alltrails

International life

We speak German and English but here in French Polynesia they speak French and Polynesian so we are learning French.

I was testing Heidi and asked “nine?” to which she answered “non!”. I said “no” so she looked at me and said “of course nein is non” to which I answered no “nine is neuf.” Totally correctly she exclaimed “bien sur!” and pointed out that “neuf is nine”. Perhaps three languages in one conversation is too many.

We had some shopping delivered from Tahiti and logged in to our online banking to pay the nice lady. We used her IBAN but the bank wouldn’t allow us to pay local money (XPF) so we used EUR. The next day there was an answer from the bank saying EUR for an XPF account even with IBAN wouldn’t work. Strangely a neighbouring boat managed to pay USD and it arrived as XPF. This is too complicated. We have delegated it to the kids.

Here, palm weaving is high tech!

And don’t even get us started on clearing in to a country with closed borders that we are not officially in even when we are there.

Coral Island Yoga

I had managed to avoid yoga for over fifty years. I was convinced it was only really for Real monks who had trained since birth or neurotic housewives “trying to find themselves” between the shopping and the kids.

The two of us, Heidi and I, were anchored in the beautiful Pacific atoll of Tahanea hiding from Covid and the world in general. We were busy harvesting coconuts and enjoying the aquarium below our boat. Real stress was when two sets of neighboring crews turned up together for a coffee and coconut cake. Life was good!

And then Aimee let drop, at a dinner party, that she was a yoga instructor who was just “drifting through” on her way from teaching in Mexico to New Zealand. Not surprisingly every one wanted to “give it a try” and Heidi convinced me that it probably wouldn’t kill me and there was a tiny chance that I may enjoy it.


The next day we students were arranged in a half circle around Aimee in the most stunning location that has ever been the scene of a yoga lesson. A sand spit of white coral sand, fronted by the azure blue lagoon and backed by swaying palms. The sky was deep blue from horizon to horizon and in the background we had the music of the Pacific swell in the distance crashing on to the reef. We were relaxed even before we experienced the first of Aimee’s signature smiles.

Surprisingly, at least for me, there was no chanting of mantras in ancient languages, no bowing our heads to the ground and we weren’t expected to wear flowing robes. Maybe I have been watching the wrong films! Instead there was a confident, smiling, lady who explained exactly what we were to do, demonstrated everything and offered alternatives for those of us “over forty”. No matter what we actually achieved, she praised our efforts and gently suggested improvements. The lesson was instructive and (I admit) great fun.

Of course I watched Aimee and thought that what she was demonstrating was impossible and of course I stretched things I haven’t stretched in years but she ensured that I didn’t stretch too far and after each exercise that I managed to return to my normal shape. Aimee’s love of yoga was infectious so the next day, and the next ten days, we returned for more.

As we followed the trade winds West, we moved from beach to beach but all ensured that we were anchored off the same reef as Aimee so that at half past three we were all ready for the next lesson. With us all telling others about our amazing instructor, the class grew and one afternoon there were eleven nationalities present following Aimee’s clear commands – they have to be clear when almost everyone only has English as a second language.

Tomorrow it appears that our routes part so it will be our last session with Aimee but she has prepared us an “instruction manual” to follow so that even when we are alone at sea or on a far way, uninhabited island we can still enjoy “Yoga with Aimee”. 

We are hooked. Thank you!

Our instructor – Aimee Norton-Taylor – can be contacted at amaysnt@hotmail.com

Anchoring amongst the coral

In sailing school you learn to anchor as follows:

  • Choose a suitable location
  • Drop the anchor
  • Pull back to check it is holding
  • Take some bearings to fix your position and hoist the anchor ball
Searching for coral and pearl farm lines

In the Tuamotos anchoring is more of an experience:

  • Check all the charts you have and satellite imagery and read any and all pilot books, guides and reports you can get your hands on.
  • Check the weather very carefully paying particular attention to the wind direction.
  • When you reach the atoll, hope the current through the pass agrees with your calculations.
  • Place a coral spotter in the bow and head slowly to your planned location avoiding the coral heads.
  • Look for a patch of sand with no coral
  • Drop the anchor so it holds
  • Jump in the sea to check the location and if there is too much coral try again – keep telling yourself that sharks don’t eat human.
  • Let out chain affixing buoys to the chain to keep it “floating” above the coral.
  • Attach a long “spring line” to the anchor chain to add elasticity
  • Snub the chain and spring line to your cleats.
  • Set the anchor watch.
  • Pull back to set the anchor while some one is in the water checking the situation under water – sharks are OK; really!
  • Drink a coffee with a shot of rum.

Maybe not surprisingly, once the anchor is in, we stay a few days.

On a distant atoll

Tahanea atoll was just going to be an overnight stop but we changed the plan again – something we are incredibly good at – and sailed to the far east corner of the reef and anchored in the most beautiful location we have yet visited in these coral islands. We are anchored on a clear sandy ledge just deep enough for Artemis. The picture book reef, with palms and white beach, protects us from the ocean swell but lets the wind through to cool us and drive the wind generator.

We were three boats at anchor with Nomad and Off2C nearby so invited “everyone” over for dinner. The main course was to be curry with coconut so we spent the day collecting, husking and scraping out coconuts to make milk. Luckily the Nomads had the necessary tools and knowledge so we learned quickly and the curry tasted tropical. In the afternoon Bella also dropped anchor so it was eight of us for dinner which was a bit tight but great fun. Heidi spent almost the entire evening in the companion way serving food and drinks and ensuring everyone had all they desired.

Coconuts at sundown

During dinner we discovered that Aimee from Off2C was a yoga teacher so the following day, in the afternoon, we had our first yoga lesson on the beach. Neill was “only along for the ride” but also enjoyed it immensely so since then it has been yoga every afternoon with sundown drinks to follow. No fitness studio will ever compare to a sandy beach with ocean waves crashing on to the reef while the wind rustles the palms. And you will have to look a long way to find such a patient and good teacher as Aimee.

Yoga outside the studio

We were planning on moving on today but didn’t quite make it so today’s plan is now tomorrow’s. We’ll see what happens.

Tahanea Atoll

Who hasn’t dreamed of an uninhabited coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific? A ring of living coral and waving palm trees encircling a transparent blue lagoon. And floating gently at anchor a tiny sailing boat, alone under the blue blue sky.

Here we are. At Tahenea living the dream. Artemis is anchored in her own bay far from the rest of the world. The reef keeps the breakers at bay and the minimal wind leaves the surface mirror flat so that we can glance at the “aquarium” we are floating on. We look down and see fish floating past the coral boms below us.

The passes through the reef. (photo by seenomaden.at)

In the night the full moon is so bright that we can still see the sea floor fifteen meters below us.

At sunrise there was no wind so we breakfasted in the cockpit on fresh, home made bread while enjoying the absolute stillness here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Today friends sailed up to join us briefly and take us drift snorkelling in the nearby pass through the reef. We took our dinghys out in to the ocean just as the tide turned and then jumped over the side and let the current carry us back in to the lagoon passing gently over forests of coral, multitudes of fish and the occasional shark and ray. It was so amazing that we fought our way back out again against the current and “zoomed” back in along the other side of the channel, barely skimming the coral below us. We would have done a third run but our dinghy motor could not beat the considerable current as the lagoon filled with water.

We both agree – we made the correct decision when we decided to sail away and see the world.

To the Tuamotus

From the volcanic island of Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas to the coral atoll of Raroia in the Tuamotus is only about four hundred miles heading a bit west of south through the South Pacific. Between the two is nothing but deep blue ocean, flying fish and – directly in the way – the low lieing, dangerous, coral atolls of the Isles of Disappointment.

Ideally you need good trade winds from the East to sail south but light weather to enter the atoll. You definitely need to be sure you are securely anchored in a lagoon before the next period of strong south winds. Amazingly the weather looked perfect one day, with five days until the next storm would seal our way, so we drank a coffee with the neighbours from Bengt, lifted anchor and sailed south.

At sea in the Pacific

The first day there was a little too much wind so we made great progress but bounced around on the three meter swell. With the main reefed right down and the small jib, we managed 130 miles. The second day was a little less boisterous but we still achieved over 120 miles.

Our plan was to keep well away from the coral atolls especially as we had read that the charts are wrong and the islands are not where they should be. But! The sun was shining, the sea was calmer and we had a few more hours of daylight so we changed course to sail past the larger atoll of Napuka. The islands are very low and difficult to see over the waves but nearly eight miles out Heidi sighted the palm trees and the radar confirmed that the size and shape were correct. Using satellite photos and lots of eyeball, we sailed past the reef, the church and the airstrip. We saw a few people on shore but we were too far off to wave. And the charts were definitely wrong!

The chart is definitely wrong!

The next challenge was to calculate when to arrive at the tiny passage through the reef that would allow us access in to the lagoon at Raroia. The pilot books suggest that with a wind from the East you should enter just after high tide or just before low tide but that an entry against the ebb is difficult after lots of rain, days of high swell or strong winds. There are no tide tables for Raroia so you have to extrapolate between those for the atolls of Hao and Rangiroa based on their longitudes. We had two sets of tide data on board and they disagreed massively. We sent a message to our weather router and he sent us a third time! Did I mention that there are two different time zones in the islands so you have to adjust for them as well? After a few tries I was pretty certain high tide was going to be at 2000 UTC so 1000 Tuamotos time or maybe low tide was going to be at 1130 Marquesas time – depending on which tables were correct. And all assuming it didn’t rain 🙂

Fifty miles before our destination, and against all weather predictions the wind died. We managed to drift 24 miles in the right direction and “surfed” eight miles along the front of a massive squall. Using the radar to stay just outside the rain we used the squall induced wind for two hours of midnight adventure. Finally our calculations showed that we were going to miss the tide at the passage so we started the engine.

We reached the entrance through the reef just before low tide and could see an out flowing current but, as the guides warn that sometimes the current remains out flowing for days, we headed in. On full throttle we can make 5.2 knots but we averaged 0.4 through the pass. Fifty minutes of trying to stay in the narrow corridor between the steep coral walls while inching forwards against the current was “interesting”.

Finally we entered the lagoon and “only” had to navigate the seven miles to the East side. The lagoon is strewn with coral towers that you definitely do not want to hit. We had identified these using charts and satellite images and then plotted a “hopefully safe” route. Heidi still spent the two hours on the bow identifying coral ahead and one coral tower was only avoided at the last minute as Heidi commanded “Hard to port – now!” To add to the fun there is a pearl farm and they have spread ropes and buoys around like a huge spiders web. Heidi added underwater rope identification to her list of tasks.

Finally, behind the shelter of the palm covered reef, we dropped anchor. An inspection of the surroundings with snorkel mask found coral next to the anchor and a shark swimming under the boat. The shark was OK but the coral meant re-anchoring and another swim.

We set the anchor, attached floats to the chain to keep it off the coral and drank a coffee. The forecast strong winds arrived earlier than expected but found us safely hidden in the middle of nowhere.

Makemo Atoll

Long ago Makemo was headquarters for the french atomic weapon tests in the Pacific and the concrete buildings from then are still standing. Nowadays Makemo Atoll is a quiet backwater, a tiny coral dot in the middle of the Pacific.

We entered the atoll through the passage in the reef and anchored off the village. First stop was, of course, the bakery to buy our baguettes. Everything else we planned on buying was “sold out” until a few days later when a supply ship arrived.

Anchored just off the reef

We arrived just in time for Bastille Day so there was a week of sport and dancing competitions between the different parts of the village. One day we had five local kids on board from the “blue team” so after that we were official “blue team” fans.

Strangely the anchorage turned out to be a “german nest”. We meet the occasional german boat but seldom more than two in one place. After watching the dancing we were sat in a bar – seventeen sailors and only two who didn’t speak german.

With strong winds forecast, we all moved to the south east corner of the Atoll and anchored in paradise. Clear turquoise water, coral formations under water, coconuts to eat on land and a friendly hermit on the beach. The wind blows continuously which keeps us cool and we make more than enough electricity and fresh water with solar and the wind generator. We have been giving water away to boats with no water maker. Once Heidi managed to connect to the nearest mobile phone mast by hauling a router up the mast, we had everything we needed.

Under Artemis is like an aquarium.

I no longer remember when we arrived, I don’t know how long we have been here and I have no idea when we will leave. At the moment we are enjoying life beyond the end of nowhere.

The UA-Pou chocolate man

Manfred Drechsler fled East Germany in his mother’s arms when he was six months old. As an adult he left Germany for French Polynesia and a new life as a helicopter pilot. Then he moved to the mountains of Ua-Pou and began producing chocolate from home grown cocoa.

The “chocolate man of Ua-Pou” doesn’t advertise. He doesn’t need to as news of his amazing chocolate spreads amongst cruisers like a virus. We heard about him while anchored in Nuku Hiva and set off to search for the chocolate that even swiss cruisers admit “is something special”. Some one pointed out the correct anchorage on our charts and, once on land, a local pointed us up the track and told us to continue until we heard the dogs. The track wound ever upwards through the jungle but finally we reached a garden, rang the gong and were answered by barking dogs.

Manfred works like a drug dealer. He started by giving us free samples during a conversation about his exciting life and only then did he sell us the “stuff”. The chocolate is unbelievably good and has nothing to do with anything you ever buy in a shop. It is an absolute taste sensation. Everything is grown on his farm, water is piped from the mountains and the electricity is made with solar and a water generator. We were impressed.

We left not only with chocolate; Manfred also gave us a whole bag of fresh fruit from his garden and a tip to try pickling some of the green star fruit. It was a heavy load that we carried back to the boat but our fruit shelf now looks amazing. And the chocolate is buried in the fridge for special moments.

In to the lost city

In the Vaipo valley on the island of Nuku Hiva there is a huge waterfall. The valley is only accessible by boat and cut off from the surrounding areas by huge vertical cliffs. Heidi commented that it looks like the land that time forgot.

Having anchored in the bay, we paddled the dinghy to the beach, towed it up the river at low tide and moored it to an overhanging palm tree. We took the main path through the immaculate village of Hakaui and exchanged greetings with all those we met. A fully tattooed local asked how we liked his valley and, when we gave a positive answer, presented us with a grapefruit from his garden.

Once out of the village, we followed the remains of a substantial track some three meters wide. This was raised above the surroundings and lined with large stones. At one point we had to ford the river but, despite stories from other sailors, nothing bit us. As we continued through the jungle we were continually passing ruins and the foundations of houses. At one point we passed an area that looked like the ceremonial areas we knew from elsewhere. The impenetrable jungle was obviously hiding a lost city. Heidi was in Indiana Jones mode, dreaming of lost diamonds and head hunters.

At one point we saw the waterfall across the valley cascading many hundreds of meters down the vertical cliff. Down by the river we lost the path and spent half an hour clambering over moss covered ruins and under huge trees before returning to the river. On our second attempt we realised that the fallen tree was actually the bridge and crossed it to find the path continued on the far side. Up close, the waterfall was less impressive as you could see less of it but the gorge was stunning in its size and steepness.

Back in the village we learned that before the missionaries arrived, “with their god and their diseases”, there had been 20 000 people living in the valley which explained all the ruins. The city had extended from the river up to the temples which was the reason for the “main highway” that we had followed. A local lady proudly explained how her ancestors had lived here before the Europeans decimated the islands.

Another exciting day and further proof that a boat gets you to unbelievable places that you would otherwise never see.