Landfall; Rikitea, Mangareva, Gambier Islands
We have finally arrived somewhere that has a proper anchorage, somewhere where we can anchor in still waters, and somewhere that we can set foot on dirt. We had been 32 days at sea (including one night in that very uncomfortable anchorage at Easter Island). Unfortunately we had to pass on a landing at Pitcairn as a swell from the NE was rolling into the northerly anchorages making them a rather rolly proposition but the deciding factor was that the wind was from the north too. A northerly wind makes both of the landing bays a lee-shore (a lee shore means that the wind is blowing towards the land and if anything goes wrong with your manoeuvring, your engine, or your anchor drags you will be blown ashore); we don’t like lee shores.
The weather on arrival at Pitcairn was actually very nice. We arrived in Bounty Bay just before dawn and sat there drifting waiting for the Sun to rise so that we could assess the landing situation. The Pitcairners were expecting us as they had been forewarned by the Pacific Seafarers ham radio net and called us on the VHF radio to see what our intentions were. When we said we would prefer to carry on they admitted that conditions had been “a bit yucky” for several days.
After taking photos of the island we sheeted in and cracked on with our journey enjoying good sailing to the Gambier Islands covering 308 miles at an average speed of 5.5 knots. We arrived just too late in the day to make it in through one of the reef passes and on to Rikitea (the biggest village in the group on the island of Mangareva) before darkness. As this was our first experience of coral reef passes and navigating in areas with corral heads etc. we decided to hang offshore and go in the next day with plenty of time and daylight to use. As it was the western pass that we chose to use (less swell on that side of the island that day) is well marked and very easy. The depth shallows from a couple of thousand metres to 9m in a very short distance and you go from being in deep ocean coloured water to being able to clearly see the bottom in no time at all. There were a couple of shallow spots on the intricate approach to Rikitea that left us, high-latitude sailors, amazed at the clarity of the water, the intensity of the light and being able to clearly see the bottom gliding by just under our keel.
Our friends Janneke and Wietze from the boat “Anna Caroline” were already in Rikitea having arrived a month or so back and they were able to give us some hints on the good anchoring spots. Later they helped us with the entrance formalities at the Gendarmerie, showed us the shops and introduced us to some of the crew on the other yachts at anchor. Mark, came over from a catamaran and gave us a bag of fruit; bananas, pamplemouse, mangos, lemons etc.. We had arrived, we were melting, it was warm, we rigged the insect nets, and had a “picadita” cheese, salami, pickles of course a baguette, a sneaky gin and tonic and some wine to celebrate.
The baguette was bought locally, a gift from Janneke and Wietze, all of the rest we brought with us. We quickly learnt that the baguettes are cheap (65 Polynesian Francs), and more or less everything else is very expensive. Fruit is free or can be bartered for if you pick it yourself after asking the owner of the tree for permission.
Friday was Good Friday and we went ashore to join the Stations of the Cross procession. More or less the whole population of the island was there. The procession started at the town jetty with prayers and then wound its way to the cathedral with the usual 14 stations and singing in between. What the prayers and singing were about I could not tell you as the language was all Mangarevan or French – We are struggling with that aspect of this part of the world.
We will stay here for a few weeks, explore the archipelago, try to learn something of the culture and history, chill out and enjoy life. We have already been signed up to give a little presentation to some of the other cruisers on sailing in Patagonia and Antarctica; which is wild, distant, and exotic to them.