Panama to Gambier: The Longest Passage
Part I: Getting there
We left Panama on March 23rd after preparing and provisioning Shenemere for the longest passage we will make from North America. As Jimmy Cornell says it really is a “plan for the worst, hope for the best” sort of passage. We were planning for 30-40 days at sea and we happily completed the passage in 31 days. It was a sailing event and we had to work for most of the miles. Goofy variable winds ranging from 1- 25 knots, swells from “pond flat” to 2 meters, close hauled, close reach, beam reach, broad reach and running (we had it all)!
We kept busy working the constantly changing sail configurations. It was a lot of up and down work on deck. We would pole out the jib for a downwind tack only to have to haul the cruising spinnaker out, reef and unreef the main while always trimming the sails. Chafe, is a killer. We had to keep checking and protecting against chafe where the lines would rub.
It was fabulous sailing until we hit the “doldrums” 7 days out from Gambier. We took the opportunity to replenish our fresh water supplies by making water with our Rainmaker and Adrien and Pierre took a few swims while we bobbed around. Normally we would tick over the engine however, we were leaking coolant in the coolant header tank and wanted to conserve what was left of the tank to be able to safely motor into the pass.
Also, we had to keep a vigilant eye out for squalls and for the random fishing boat. As usual it happened at night; we found ourselves surrounded by a group of Asian long-liner fishing boats.
A.K.A. Fishing Vessel “Net Hung Lo”
Our Equator Crossing Party: Neptune, Pirate, Mermaid and Sailor Celebrate
These birds stayed with us for a few days catching fish in the morning and lazing carefree during the days
I gave them a poor guest rating because they left poop on the deck
31 days at sea moving, leaning, lurching and pounding sometimes made basic tasks Herculean events
Gambier was a sight to beholden!
Part II: Apprehension
As we approach Gambier I wonder how the years will affect my memories this remote atoll Martin and I sailed into 21 years ago on Topaz by way of Easter Island and Pitcairn Island.
Back in the day it was just the two of us on a 33 ft sailboat. No refrigeration, only paper charts for navigation and just enough money for the Pacific sailing season and to get to New Zealand. Night watches stargazing contemplating our insignificance in the universe and dreaming of the future.
Now it is us plus my daughter and Pierre our French crew on a 51 ft boat. Refrigeration is great because we can keep the 30 lb. tunas we caught along the way. We have electronic charts but still mull over the paper charts. We still worry about money. Marvel at the enormity of the night sky while reflecting more on the past.
Part III: GAMBIER
Gambier is the stuff that dreams are made of…unique place, with the combination of turquoise waters, healthy reefs, colorful hills and mountains and pretty beaches.
That was day one. And all I can say about the next 7 days is I am so grateful we were in a secure lagoon comfortably on anchor because the weather deteriorated… strong winds and cold rain for a week. Other boats were not so fortunate and got stuck out at sea in 4 meter swells.
It was a rough couple of days as a low pressure system went past
Pierre and Adrien staying positive
In 1998 Gambier had just opened up from being a “Restricted Nuclear Testing Area” and only 7-10 boats visited the island. We were told that this year the island will be visited by over 100 boats. The population has doubled from its original 700 inhabitants.
The capital Rikitea offers many great hikes with amazing views and you can follow a paved road around most of the island. The people are friendly and gave us fruits when we asked for bananas and breadfruit from their yards.
Gambier benefits greatly from all the French subsidies. Unsubsidized food is painfully expensive.
Tobasco: $9.80 Bag of chips: $$7.50 Mayo: $$$14.50
There are a few shops in the village with a variety of merchandise but not much in the way of fruits or vegetables.
We managed to collect for free Pamplemousse (massive grapefruit), bananas, breadfruit (cooked tastes like potatoes) and were given a few eggplants.
The most important part of each day started at 4:00-5:00 AM when the local baker opened his doors to distribute fresh baguettes $.70 each and chocolate croissants on the weekend. If you arrived after 5:30 AM you would be “Pain” less.
I used 9 bags of flour baking my way across 4031 mile passage so, I made sure “someone” was up and ashore in the morning to get the bread. When we were ready to leave Gambier I tried to find flour to replenish my provisions and they didn’t sell it and there wasn’t any processed bread in the shops either so the baker is really the mayor of this village.
The supply ship visits the island on an irregular schedule; no one quite sure when it would be back. So, when the ship came in we made a plan to split the purchase of a barrel of diesel with Elizabeth and Garth on Irwinish and shared the work of decanting the 200 liters into 10 jerrycans and transporting back to the boats
Martin and Fritz united after 21 years
Fritz the German lives in the blue house at the northern end of the anchorage. He came to Gambier 30 years ago after spending 15 years in the French Foreign Legion. He tells us he is French but his heart will always be German. Fritz has 6 Polynesian daughters with names like Marie, Alise and Heldagard. He now runs an open house for yachties. Fritz operates the only “bar” in Rikitea (his fridge) and when we visited him back in 1998 he was playing German “schlager” music full volume and non-stop and welcomed us into his home for dinner, supplied us with water and hot showers.
When we visited Fritz this time he was so excited to have the company. Now Fritz is 79 years old and likes to receive visitors in the morning to share his rum and coffee.
He was really happy for the visit and before we left he insisted on giving us German sausages, bacon, breadfruit, grapefruit and bananas; we are very grateful again for his hospitality
Fritz has been keeping a log of all the yachties that have ever visited him; he pulled out the original log book and there we were on the 2nd page!
My memory of the Cathedral was a bit more glamorous however no less impressive this time.
I attended the Sunday morning service to take in the sights and “record” the magical Polynesian music…and pray
The Cathedral stands as a monument to a shameful time in history when Honore Laval, a Jesuit priest in 1834 converted and dominated Maputeoa. He set stringent rules and forced the locals to erect the coral stone church. In the process he caused the death of over 5,000 people, eliminated the will of the people to survive and destroyed an entire culture!
Oyster Farming is the primary income on Gambier
We didn’t get to visit an oyster farm this time however, we did visit a local artist carving oyster shells and pearls. Stunning
Local Holiday / Fitness Day Event included “sports competitions” ping-pong, Petanque, volleyball, relay race and a tug of war with canoes
Martin, Adrien, Pierre and Garth hiked up Mount Duff, also called Auorotini in the Mangarevan language- Elevation 441 meters of steep mud trails and strong winds
Newly erected statue in town
Now off to Fakarava in the Tuamotu island group 740 miles NW