Thursday, July 25, 2013

Quick Stop at Akamaru, Gambier Islands

After sitting stationary in Rikitea for three weeks, Mark and I decided to move to a different anchorage again, here in the Gambier islands. Heavy winds were predicted for almost a week to come, but we braved the windy and choppy lagoon to motor over to Akamaru, the only “big” island we had not visited yet. The last stretch, we followed Bertrand, a friendly local Frenchman, who guided us through the clusters of coral until we reached the anchorage. Irie settled in 6.5 feet of clear, relatively shallow water, a depth we like!

After lunch it was off to the island of Akamaru by dinghy. We explored a small beach and jumped ashore near “the village”, where about eight houses are spread out and three or four families live full-time. The church was charming and pretty and the grounds around it, once again, very well-kept. We hung out with a couple of friendly and healthy dogs and met a local family. My French is getting better! After a stroll through the neighborhood, we stopped at Bertrand’s houseboat on the way back to Irie and had a chat with his family. His daughters are in school in Rikitea where they learn to carve pearls and shells. The designs and the work are amazing, but unfortunately, only one of the shells was finished and it was not for sale.

Unbeknownst to us, it was already 5:30pm and extreme low tide. While the sun set, we saw 4.2 feet on our depth meter. Irie has a draft of 3.5 feet. We had never been anchored in water as shallow as this and normally would not be too worried, being anchored in good holding sand, but around us were a few small coral heads. Usually those are not a problem either, unless you have less than a foot under the keels and some of these corals are over a foot high… It was too late to move, so we hoped the wind wouldn’t shift too much at night, which it was not supposed to do, but you really never know around here. We didn’t sleep too well and heard grinding sounds during the night. Luckily, it was only our anchor chain rubbing over some coral pieces on the bottom.

As is always the case, the tide rose and around midnight it was very high. The reefs that usually protect this anchorage were overflown by higher than normal waves and the big swell made its way into our anchorage. For about four hours, Irie bounced back and forth, left and right (here we were, in a washing machine again, at anchor!), preventing any sleep. The following morning, we climbed the small island neighboring Akamaru and reached the cross on the top for a beautiful view. We had to hurry back, because the tide was rising again and our dinghy did not have a lot of room, where we pulled it up. I already got swamped on the way in, trying to keep the dinghy, and Mark, from flipping over or running into the rocks. On hands and feet, we slid back down the steep hill, using clumps of grass and mostly trustworthy rocks to slow us down. Back at the water’s edge, we timed it right, launched the dinghy into the swirling water, jumped in, grabbed the oars (peddles) and propelled ourselves into deeper and safer water, before starting the outboard engine. A dry escape, this time!

Back on Irie, she was rockin’ and rollin’ again. The protection from the heavy winds was OK, but the boat movements were very annoying, for almost half of the day. During low tide, it was dead calm, but then we had other worries. After some hemming and hawing, certain about another night of little sleep, Mark and I decided to use the relatively clear skies to move again. The two options based on the predicted weather forecast were: back to the protected, but gusty west coast of Taravai (12 miles away, mostly downwind) or back to the spot where we worked on our rudder in Aukena (5.5 miles away, half downwind and half upwind). We chose the second option, sailing towards Rikitea under the jib (experiencing a little hick-up when one of the winches broke) and then motoring into 22 knots of wind and choppy seas along hard-to-see pearl farm floats to Aukena. There, we were happily welcomed by a quiet, flat and peaceful anchorage. That comfy situation  lasted  all of 15 hours… This is the Gambier after all!

Approaching Akamaru, motoring along the breaking reef. The waves were pretty big, but no white caps (yet). The wind was building.

The well-kept grounds around the church

Eglise NĂ´tre-Dame-de-la Paix (built in 1841) on Akamaru

Stroller for the 5 and 1-year old kids of a friendly local couple

In only 4.5 feet of water, this small rock might cause a problem. Luckily, we cleared it.

Climbing the hill to the cross on the little island NW of Akamaru

Two baby goats along the way to the hill top

View of Akamaru and the many coral heads from the hill

View of Mangareva (and Mount Duff) and the reef we followed in with Irie

On the steep way down, we leaned backwards and used our hands and feet to descend. Notice Irie in shallow water at the top of the photo.

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