Leaving Mangareva

Mar 29th 2013 Mangareva, Iles Gambier, French Polynesia

We are planning to leave Mangareva today, bound for the Marquesas. The forecast is for light winds, so we could wait for better , ie stronger winds, but we would need to wait quite a long time because we are generally in a system of light winds. However if we can get as far north as about 15 degr south, the wind should fill in from the east at a good strength.
Whatever , it is time to move. Not that one could not spend a lot more than 8 days at Mangareva. One could, with the right attitude, spend many weeks or months here. For example we haven’t been out to any of the other 7 islands in the group or to any of the little motu islets on the barrier reef.

What we have done is explore this main island fairly extensively by foot. Considering the loooong passage we just completed, foot exercise is highly recommended and enjoyable.

There are two small mountains on this island , both of which are pretty ascents. Yesterday morning I set off at 0545 and entered the jungle still in the dark. By the time I broke out of the forest the sun was shining on the upper slopes of Motoko, but I was relatively cool still in the shade.

From either of the summits , Motoko or Auotorini (MtDuff) one can see the entire perimeter of the island and the surrounding azure, coral strewn shallows.

Three days ago Doug and I climbed Auotorini.
Two days ago we walked several miles around the north end of the island , and cut back across to Rikitea via an ancient cross island trail.

There are coral stone ruins everywhere in the jungle. Walls , buildings, foundations,retaining walls for trails, and apparently random arches, all totally choked and engulfed by the jungle.
Some seem prehistoric, but some must date from the reign of the mad catholic priest , Pere Honore Laval. He arrived as a young man in 1834 from Valparaiso, Chile, having heard stories of a paradise with thousands of unconverted heathen in the South pacific.

Mangareva was unknown then, as it seems to be now.

Laval developed a monomaniacal reign of oppression on Mangareva over his forty year tenure and is blamed for reducing the population from thousands to a few hundred. Overwork and disease are cited as the main causes of the increased death rate.

That era persists in the form of the enormous cathedral in the main village with seating for hundreds. There is a ruin of a nunnery and a monastery in the jungle.
But today , Good Friday, a large crowd appeared on the coral-stone quay in their going-to-church Easter finery and carried a huge wooden cross from there to the cathedral. The Polynesian hymn singing is beautiful.

The economy is dominated by Black Pearl culture and there are some obviously wealthy citizens. The lagoon to the west is pretty much full of oyster culture farms. It is intense and apparently lucrative.
We went into a shop this afternoon and met a local woman who explained that she and her husband have a condo in La Vegas and go there 4 times per year , for gambling.
There are several merchants who are happy to exchange US dollars for Fr Poly Francs at a good rate , about 90 fr per dollar.

The air is a few degrees below body temperature, as is the seawater. There is an abundance of fruit on the trees. There is very little bad weather. The air and water are clean. The traffic is tolerable. The cost of living is high but not out of sight.
Why would one leave? How much of ease and perfection can I take? Well, not much apparently. Like about a week for me , perhaps more for Doug. We’ve walked , paddled, hiked. We haven’t learned the language , which is still commonly spoken.
But after only a week people are stopping Doug to ask him where his ‘brother ‘ is. A woman called us over this morning and said she was glad to see we’d made it down from the mountain.
A small truck of papayas and bananas stopped by us today. Where did you get that? Doug asked. ‘It was an adventure’ was the reply. Where can we get some? Right here. 1000 fr worth of bananas and papayas was plenty.

In the bush there are feral cats, and of course rats. So perhaps that’s why there are very few birds. I heard one little passerine call up on the mountain side, but otherwise no land birds.
Why do the bush roosters and chickens thrive?

The Tattler turns out to be very common, sprinkled around the shoreline.
A small night heron with what appears to be a white phase. A medium size all dark heron.

Crested Terns, White Terns, Magnificent Frigatebirds are in the bays. I assume that just a couple of miles away on the motus we would find the Boobies, and maybe a few petrels.

My original plan , in 2010, was to sail from the Galapagos to Mangareva and stay here from April through to perhaps August, then sail to Chile.

I certainly don’t regret spending that winter in Valdivia. If we had anchored in Mangareva for 4 or 5 months perhaps some French language skills would have been added to the repertoire. The other possibilities are interesting to consider.

If I were ever again to sail from the North America mainland to French Polynesia, I would strongly consider making Mangareva my first landfall. It only adds about 400 miles to the 2800 mile trip. One does get out of the tradewind belt and the breezes are more variable, but for many other reasons it seems more attractive.

Heat and Fruit

In our quest for fresh fruit we did eventually meet Olivier, who manages the local meteorological observation station. He gave us a large bag of ripe bananas. Now most of them are drying on the cabin top. In our quest for exercise we each went for long kayak trips yesterday. It is ideal protected water paddling , smooth warm water with coral reefs , a gentle breeze , no other boat traffic to speak of. A pizza last night for dinner , which cost 1000 f or about $12. Laundry today was about $9. Beer for 1/2 l is 400 f or about $6. I’ve paid more than that in Sointula. So, prices are high but not incredible. Curare made it through their night of being hove-to off Staten Island and are now approaching the Falklands. I’m off for another paddle now that the heat of the day has abated, and then a swim. Well ,the foregoing didn’t get sent yesterday. Therefore I can add that today we were ashore early, by 7:30, and hiked up Mt Duff. It was about 1.5 very sweaty hours up and we were rewarded with really wonderful views of distant reefs , nearer lagoon coral heads, and an aerial view down onto the village of Rikitea. The enormous cathedral stood out from the other buildings. The twice monthly supply ship, the Taporo VIII, was unloading at the dock, having made it’s way in through the reefs last night. By the time we returned to sea level , the freshly delivered supplies had made it on to the shop shelves, so we could drop some more francs. A good hike. That’s it ###

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In the bay off Rikitea village on Mangareva in les Iles Gambier. On an island of human life in the Pacific we walked around, gently swaying , maybe even staggering a bit. After the weeks on the boat always heaving, never walking – the muscles forget and atrophy , and the inner ear compensates for what is no longer happening. We went to the Gendarmerie where we were quickly and simply entered officially into French Polynesia , a sort of ‘overseas country’ of France. Doug’s french language skills ease the way. There was no discussion : no questions therefore no answers, about the ‘bond’ for non-EU visitors to French Poly. We did explain that we are planning to sail to Hawaii from here. The gendarme explained that , should we desire, we are free to visit the other islands of Fr Poly that may be on our planned route. We expect to accept his kind offer and we plan to visit at least Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas, perhaps we will also visit Hiva Oa or the grand metropolis of Nuku Hiva. A form was mailed to Papeete, as it is for every visiting yacht, but we were not privy as to the contents. They will be waiting a long time in Papeete if they are thinking we will drop by there to post a bond. One thousand miles downwind? No chance. We managed to sail the 200 metres along the road , close-reaching, to the post office. A presentation of $100 US yielded 8,500 Fr Poly francs for us to carry away and spend. There is no bank here. We ordered 4 brioche for the next morning from the little bakery. After a walk around the little village, a look at the big stone cathedral built under the tyranny of Pere Laval, we ran with a following breeze to the cafe that serves COLD HINANO. Two half litre bottles of the beer , a lunch each of fish , fries , and salad and Doug was about $60 poorer. Well worth it! Tacking against a brisk headwind back along the mainroad to where we had beached the dinghy, we sat on a log on the beach , and were still. A planned swim off the boat was delayed a bit as we peered overside at the hundreds of drifting 3″ jellyfish. They hadn’t been there 2 hrs previously. Turned out to be completely harmless , not even a whisper of a sting, just a little gentle massage as one stroked through them. Three hours later they were gone. We celebrated our arrival with a few beverages in the cockpit , as the sun set and the warm evening darkened. Toasting good luck and conviviality. I discovered some falafel mix aboard and that was really good ( thanks, mer), and there is lots more. I think often of our previous trip through Fr Poly in 1988. It seems the same. Fragrant , warm , romantic, perfumed flowers in the hedgerows, benign, friendly. Children calling , roosters crowing, woodsmoke, terns fluttering delicately. And the earlier trip in 1974, a little younger, but it seems the same. Delusional of course. In the evening several locals were out in the bay paddling their lightweight fiberglass outrigger canoes. One came by to chat , and he turned out to be the local island doctor. About 0500 hrs this morning a serious rainshower interrupted our sleep; dreams of rain became prickles of cold water on my face through the open hatch. We caught another 20 l of water. This morning we returned ashore and went to the medical clinic where Dr.Jean-Michel was able to show us around. He was Ok talking about medical issues , but he really came alive talking about flying. It seems that he would really like to be a commercial pilot. He has all his licenses and training. He has worked most recently in Liberia and has been on Manfareva only a month. On Mangareva there is occasional dengue , no malaria , lots of diabetes, occasional filariasis, integrated psychotics. We pressed on to pick up the pre-ordered brioche,pretty good, and walked on over the hill to the other side of the island. We found the Mangareva traverse trail, took it , and returned to the bay of Rikitea in time to pick up the 30 eggs we’d paid for earlier. 1,800 francs, about $20. At the crest of the trail where it crossed the spine of the island an old stonework and plaster tunnel went for 15′ from one side to the other. Was this too a remnant of Pere Laval’s epoch? There was graffiti from the 1800’s inside the tunnel on the plaster, was it real? Yesterday on the little beach nearby I saw a small shorebird , which I think turned out to be a Wandering Tattler. It is listed on the birdlist for the Marquesas, and the pictures in the W N.A and the Chile birdbooks look like what I saw. The Fairy (White)Terns are always fluttering around and seem to roost in the forest. On our walk today I saw a medium sized all dark heron , behaving in a heron-like fashion in the shallows. Pacific Reef Heron is listed in the Marquesas list, but I have no illustration aboard with me. The pizza place is to re-open tonight , so we might indulge. There is an agricult fair tomorrow. The ship comes in on tuesday. We do not need any fuel. Water is not a problem. We are still on our first propane tank, which has lasted over 2 months so far. I had an email from Brian and Dorothy on Tagish. They have just arrived in Barbados after a long sail from St Helena in the S Atlantic. They took 33 days to sail 3600 miles , the same dimensions as the trip we’ve just completed. Yesterday afternoon I spoke with Peter W6DEI on 14347 at 0100 hrs. He made contact with Geoff and Linda on Curare as did I. Curare had been anchored in Puerto Vancouver at the SE extremity of Isla de los Estados (Staten Island) which forms the southern shore of the Straits of Lemaire. It is a lonely and forbidding place. A north wind arose and started to blow over the neck of land from Puerto Cook , and directly into their anchorage with huge, water-lifting ferocity. They had to leave all their anchors and shore line to get to sea quickly. Unimaginable. But I guess it was that, or end up pounding on the rocks at the end of the world. When we were talking on the radio to them they were hove-to in 40 or 50 knots off the south shore of Staten Island. He said they had alternated between being afraid and terrified all day. They were hoping to hang on until the wind abates , then return to the anchorage to recover their gear. Perhaps I’ll find out their fate today. No, no , no,no, thank-you very much indeed. They just want to sail to the Falklands, but they are getting a real spanking before they even get to sea. I wish them very good luck, and I don’t wish I was there. Over that. Time to roll over the side and swim. There is internet here but it is not really easy for us to access and it is not particularly high speed, therefore I am not going to spend hours sweating in a close room trying to upload hundreds of photos. ###

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