Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Passage to the Gambiers

[Kyle]The morning we planned to leave Pitcairn we woke early and popped our heads outside to check that Begonia and Nemo were in their same locations. Nemo was nowhere to be found. Concerned that we had either swung some unexpected direction or dragged to a new location, We went on deck and did a full 360 to see if all of our other reference points lined up. They did.

A more detailed search with binoculars revealed Nemo already most of the way to the horizon and just about to disappear behind the cliffs to our north. I guess Chris couldn’t sleep and decided to just get on with it and leave before daybreak. He does that.

Nemo and Begonia taking the same passage (Is that a Race?)

We had our anchor stowed an hour later after having breakfast and were now in hot pursuit. They had about a ten mile head start, but we can usually sail faster than monohulls even a few feet longer than us, so I figured we could catch them by afternoon. Nemo and Begonia have almost the same waterline length.

They sailed out of range of our AIS receiver and then reappeared twenty minutes later. Ten minutes after that, they disappeared again. We would get a good gust of wind, speed up and their little icon would pop up. A few minutes later, it would reach them and they would pull away again.

I tried every trick I knew for three days and we never could close the gap. Oh, if only our Secret Weapon hadn’t blown out on the way to Easter, we could have zinged right by them without having to hardly lift a finger to adjust anything. Who am I kidding? The minute they saw our spinnaker, theirs would have gone up too, and they would have remained an unapproachable purple speck on the horizon. Chris is so competitive. {Maryanne: Someone here certainly is.. Ha!}

We had to wait until daylight to enter the pass

The winds were frustratingly less than forecast and when it became apparent that neither of us would make it there by nightfall; we both slowed down and joined up for some formation heaving-to until daybreak. In the wee hours, the running calculation that’s always going in my head told me it was time to stop going sideways and start steering under bare poles to the pass. Our getaway was so slow that I don’t think our friends realized what had happened until I called them at sunrise and said, “Hey, are you guys coming or what?”

“What.”, “You go ahead. We’ll meet you inside.”

We entered the pass on the northwest side of the Gambier group. It was straightforward, apart from the part where the depth goes REALLY fast from a zillion to 5m in just a few boat lengths. The bottom is white sand with black coral heads everywhere and it just suddenly appears out of deep blue water. The water is so clear, it looks like the depths are half of what they are. It was tempting to panic and slam the boat into reverse, but we were dead center in the channel, right between the buoys, so I decided to take a deep breath, trust the chart and press on.

The depth stayed as advertised, plus or minus a meter or so as we passed over coral heads, and then dropped back down into the featureless blue of the twenties and thirties. We were in.

We followed the marked channel as it wound its way around the island of Mangareva and occasionally passed over similar shallow patches just to keep us on our toes. On the other side, we found the well-protected anchorage of the island’s only town, Rikitea.

The anchorage is protected on two sides by high land and the rest by coral reefs skimming the surface and is accessed through a very narrow and winding channel. Between the coral are three or four large patches of sand down between fifteen and twenty meters down. These depths need a lot of swinging room and as such, there was only room for about a dozen boats to anchor without risking bumping into each other. We headed over to a big open spot behind the eleventh boat and perfectly centered in it found a float for a fish trap. Grr! Now we were on anchoring plan B: Find a spot where we are not likely to bump another boat IF the wind doesn’t shift or, if it does, hope we all swing the same direction at the same time. We squeezed between the float and another boat, erring as much as we dared on the side of the float. That got us the stink-eye from our neighbor, not so much because of the small chance we would present an actual hazard to them, but because our swinging circles overlapped. In boats, the swinging circle is effectively the boundary of personal space, so we just invaded their personal space as if we had just set up a picnic on the corner of their front lawn.

An hour or so later, Nemo came in, milled around a bit and set up a picnic on our front porch. I would have complained and sent them off, but we knew full well that they had nowhere else they could go either, so we decided to keep a real close eye on the weather for any unexpected changes and hope for the best.

After my very early morning, I had expected to run out of energy as soon as the anchor dropped, but I was still going pretty strong so I tackled the job of de-lifeboating the dinghy a day earlier than planned. This left us free to go ashore and get our inbound clearance out of the way, which would remove the onerous task from the next day’s chores.

{Maryanne: We're finally back in French Polynesia and in the tropics - water to swim in, French Baguettes, and coconuts galore!}

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