Tuesday, August 17th, 2010
As we sailed away from the lee of Pitcairn Island, we had one new face aboard – David Brown, a young man who grew up on Pitcairn and is the grandson of Pitcairn legend Len. David will join us for a while to see some of the South Pacific and see what he can learn from the ship including some navigation. It’s winter in the South Pacific so he’s feeling the cold (we’re mostly in shorts and a long sleeve shirt during the day, with long pants and maybe a sweater or jacket on night watches – average daytime temperature here is about 20 degrees, which, after the heat of the Caribbean and Panama, seems a bit chilly), but so are we, so he fits right in with the crew and is learning quickly. Looks like he grew up here.
We had a sort of quiet 3-day passage from Pitcairn to Mangareva in great sailing conditions. There was plenty of work going on, especially to get the small boats ready for expeditions. The new sailing rig and sails for the longboat were completed just in time. However, there was a general sense of deflation on board -what the Captain would describe as a “Pitcairn hangover”. Not a literal hangover, nothing to do with booze, just a necessary period of recovery after an incredible visit and the tough moment when we had to say goodbye, no one wants to say goodbye at Pitcairn.
We approached the Gambier Islands from the northwest, slowing down a bit overnight so that we could pilot into the lagoon with good overhead daylight. We had four reef passes to go through in order to get from the open ocean to the very protected anchorage off the town of Rikitea on the main island of Mangareva. Using all navigation tools available to us, including the chart plotter, GPS, paper charts, radar, bearings, range markers, buoys, depth sounder, lead line, a lookout aloft to spot the colour changes in the water that mark the shallow reefs, as well as the Captain’s local knowledge, we came in under power as the Captain carefully piloted the ship in. The Captain says this is one of the most protected anchorages in the South Pacific, but the basin, with reefs and land as the perimeter, is small for a vessel our size. On two mornings during our stay we heaved up the anchor to reposition it after the wind shifted overnight and we swung around on our anchor chain.
As the Captain and I went ashore to clear the ship in with the Gendarmes, the Chief Mate put the crew to work cleaning topsides. By the time we had all forms filled out, all passports stamped and we were ready to return to the ship, there was a huge visible difference. The ship looked great, all four of our small boats, including the longboat, the skiff, our dory Sea Never Dry and our second skiff, were in the water alongside the ship, ready to go for the next day’s expedition. The crew were divided into four watches here, allowing each person the opportunity to participate in two overnight sailing expedition to the neighbouring island of Akamaru.
Mangareva is an extremely pretty, small island with a population of about 800. In years gone by the population may have been as much as 2,500. While there is no way for visitors to withdraw money on the island, our crew found a family who does laundry, a decent wifi signal at the anchorage (believe it or not!) and a few small shops and one restaurant. And being French, of course there was a ‘boulangerie’ producing delightful long thin baguettes, the famous French bread. Every morning and afternoon the bakery opened and folks crowded around for their loaves of bread and so did our crew. We also found people who were happy to see us, many remembered the ship from our last visit here five years ago. Many were generous, inviting different crew members in for a meal or a drink, giving us fresh fruit and vegetables. The island itself is beautiful, with small homes along the coast and up the mountainside, each with a well-tended garden in front. The Catholic cathedral, built by driven missionaries to the area in the early 1800s at enormous cost to the island in material, lives and gardening put aside, was under massive repair, a three-year project to fix the roof, but the religious community is still quite active, with a three-day spiritual retreat under way over the weekend we were there.
Perhaps the most stunningly beautiful part of the Gambier Islands is the sea within the lagoon. The shallow water is a light turquoise blue, the colour you imagine when you think of tropical paradise. The water is a darker indigo blue in the deep sections and kind of jade green over the very shallow reefs. At low tide, the jagged edges of the reefs stick up just above the surface of the water. These waters are home to the oysters that make the black pearls Mangareva is famous for, but more on that to follow…