Thursday, July 4, 2013

Aukena in the Gambier Islands: A Mix of Fun, Work and Pretty Views (Part 1)

Light winds accompanied us when we left Totegegie for Aukena. We weren’t in a hurry – we had all day – so we decided to sail the two or so mile distance with just the jib out. Our speed averaged 1.5 knots, a snail’s pace. The protected water was flat and the sky was blue. It was a relaxing trip.

There are a lot of pearl farms in the lagoon and that means fields of floating buoys everywhere. We had heard the stories of people trying to avoid them and had seen some ourselves outside the channel on the trip to Taravai and from viewpoints ashore. We knew about a relatively safe route to Aukena, along an extensive shoal, but that meant going all the way back to Rikitea first and then rounding up from there, covering half of the lagoon. So, we made one attempt to cut in and sail a straight line to our destination. While we observed floats on either side of us, our intended track looked and proved to be clear. For the most part. Once we were halfway or so, we spotted yet another big area of pearl farm floats. Were they connected? Was there a way around them? Would we be able to see the reefs, while avoiding floats and turning into the sun? Would we get yelled at? We didn’t wait to find out and – cautious sailors as we are – turned around. The short trip doubled in distance, and, we had to turn the engines on for the last 1.5 hours.

Carefully and slowly, we followed the long reef towards Aukena, dodging a few stray floats and coral heads. Once arrived, we easily planted ourselves in the middle of an area surrounded by reef and dropped the hook in 15 feet of water and a mostly sandy bottom. Mark and I were very excited to be in shallower water again and see the bottom. It had been a while. This is our kind of place! A quick snorkel revealed that the anchor was dug in well and that there were no coral heads within swinging room. The afternoon was spent scouting out depths for our “rudder project” and meeting a friendly local ashore, Antonio, who took care of the church grounds. He urged us to have a look around the island and hike the trail to the point.

The path was sometimes hard to follow and after dodging some low hanging tree branches and tripping over roots, we arrived at a small stone structure, looking out over the surrounding islands and some massive coral reefs in clear water. We could see parrot fish swim over the coral from 50 feet above. It was another spot with a view to behold. Afterwards, we followed the white beach for a bit and discovered some ruins in the forest. On the way back, Mark suggested the idea to clear the path if we would stay here for a while.  Antonio handed us a bunch of papayas and limes as a welcome gift before we dinghied home.

After moving Irie a couple of times and not finding the right depth for our “big” project, we moved her further east along the coast, to a big sandy area with a depth of 8-9 feet, and stabilized ourselves with two anchors. This proved to be perfect to deal with one of the rudders for which we needed to replace both bushings. Somebody would have to be able to stand on the bottom of the sea and reach up to the hull AND the 7 foot rudder needed space to come out of the boat.  Finding the right depth for all this proved to be a bit challenging. Most anchorages in the Gambier Islands are very deep and cluttered with coral.

Birgit and Christian from SV Pitufa helped us out. (Thanks again, guys!) While Christian focused on the underwater part of the job in his dive gear, Mark stayed in the engine room, Birgit helped with communications and sanding, and I spent time in and out of the water to sand and guide things. We removed the port rudder, and the two bushings, sanded the rudder post, installed two new bushings and put everything back together. The whole project went smoothly and only took about an hour. The only annoyance was the increased wind and therefore chop, which made the work underwater more difficult. In flat seas, we could have probably taken care of both rudders… :-)

Our last two days in Aukena, before the weather made staying any longer impossible again, involved a lot of exercise. More about that in the next blog.

One of the many areas with floats; you can't go through them in a boat

View from Irie at our principal anchorage in Aukena, with Akamaru and "the point" in the background

Rustic church of Aukena, with a row of papaya trees to the left

Irie anchored in Aukena, with Mount Duff on Mangareva in the background

Protected reef patches on Aukena's west coast with Akamaru behind the deep water

Parrot fish on the reef, visible from the cliff above...

One rudder removed... Birgit is sanding the post

Christian and I finish up after re-installing the rudder: Irie is complete again!

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