Friday, 12 January 2018

Gambier Islands, 12th of January

Towards Patagonia

Suntanned and refreshed after a month in the Gambier Islands, we are now ready to continue our journey. Although we are in no hurry, we have become a bit restless (especially Pekka) as we feel that we have a mission to accomplish, and that is to sail our good boat Sarema to Puerto Montt, where she will be hauled out and made ready for our Patagonian Adventure. 

We’ll leave Rikitea tomorrow and head down south to the roaring forties where we expect to find the westerly winds that will take us to Chile, where we should be within three to four weeks from now. 

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Rikitea, 7th of January

Kouaku, 31st of December

Eggs and Chicks on Motu Kouaku

After Christmas, we motored from Onemea Bay to Motu Kouaku which is a small coral islet inside the barrier reef. Motus lie only a few metres above sea level and therefore provide very little protection against wind or swell.  Since the barrier reef is mostly submerged in the south, incoming swell may make the anchorage quite uncomfortable but luckily, the weather was absolutely gorgeous, and we spent the sunny and windless days snorkelling, sun bathing, and observing white terns (Gygis alba) that nest on the motu.

Like in so many Tuamotu atolls, there is ciguatera also in the Gambier Islands. This means that the fish inside the reef carry neurotoxins that are extremely dangerous, even lethal, to humans and other mammals but quite harmless to the fish themselves and the seabirds that feed on them.

Due to ciguatera, there is no fishing inside the barrier reef, and the fish here are generally big/old and not particularly afraid of humans. Hence, the coral reefs provide an underwater world par excellence for diving and snorkelling! (Unfortunately, our so-called waterproof camera got water inside and ceased to function.)

Besides snorkelling, Kouaku was also rewarding photographing-wise because, unlike most terns, white terns lay their eggs on bare tree branches without bothering to build a nest, and their eggs and chicks of various ages were easy to spot in the thicket that covers the centre of the motu.

Because the egg does not have any protection against strong winds, it may fall off the tree, but should this happen, the tern is quick to lay another egg in its place. The chicks are more fortunate, however, as they have well developed feet with which they can hang on to their precarious home branch. 

The white tern is also known as Fairy Tern or Angel Tern and, in our opinion, the last name in particular is most appropriate for this beautiful bird!

Rikitea, 7th of January 2018

Onemea Bay, Taravai, 25th of December

Encounter with A Hermit Crab

The local sailing community assembled in the village of Taravai for Christmas and New Year but as our time in the Gambier Islands would be rather limited, we wanted to see more of our surroundings and went instead to Onemea Bay on the western side of the island to snorkel.

On Christmas Day, when walking on the beach we startled a hermit crab. We had noticed it wending its way a few metres ahead of us and when we passed it, the crab suddenly folded itself, not only its legs and antennae but also its eyes, to form a kind of suit of armour.

We stepped aside and trying not to move waited patiently till the crab felt safe again and gradually began to unfold itself. Quite understandably, the very first things that emerged were the crab’s eyes and when it saw that there was nothing to fear, the crab then unfolded the rest of its moveable parts, and continued its interrupted passage towards the waterfront.

While watching the crab slowly disappear behind a volcanic rock formation carrying its indispensable seashell home, Riitta remembered reading about an interesting way a hermit crab can find a new shell: when a crab that has grown too big for its shell finds an empty shell, it leaves its own shell and tries the vacant shell for size. If the shell is too big for the crab, it goes back into its old shell and waits by the vacant shell till another crab arrives that is the right size for the empty shell. When the newcomer moves into the bigger shell it abandons its old shell, and the other crab can now make the abandoned shell its new home. Crustaceans may be brainier than we think!

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Rikitea, Mangareva, Gambier Islands, 20th of December

Landfall in Paradise

During our more than three weeks at sea, we saw one ship, about a dozen storm-petrels, a few shearwaters, and a lone masked booby. But not a single albatross, whale, or even a dolphin! The days passed chilly and overcast with an occasional rain shower. At some point, we lost all hope of seeing the sun again - and we were supposed to be in the tropics! 

Only a few days before we arrived in the Gambier islands the temperature skyrocketed to 30+ °C, which felt absolutely marvellous. On the 16th of December, we dropped anchor in a deserted bay of the island of Taravai inside the reef. Although the island was invitingly beautiful with green hills and sandy beaches, we didn’t leave the boat until the following day. Instead, we had a hearty supper and went early to bed. It was wonderful to be able to sleep peacefully eight hours in a row after so many days of three to five hours of sleep on rolling seas. 

As is proper to an island paradise, the beach was dotted with palm trees, and behind the trees began a dense jungle home to local wildlife, in this case, three wild chickens and a rooster (as far as we could see). 

We played Robinson Crusoe and collected ripe, brown coconuts lying on the beach. From these Pekka will later make coconut milk with the traditional Polynesian method using a tool called rapakoko to scrape the inside of the coconut. The milky juice is then squeezed out of the  pulpy mass. With a machete, we also hacked down several yellow coconuts to drink.

On our third day we weighed anchor and reluctantly headed for the village of Rikitea, on the island of Mangareva, to obtain customs clearance. On the way, we remembered that we had discarded our too worn-out French courtesy flag a few years ago, and had forgotten to buy a new one in its stead. This did not present a problem, however, as we used the Dutch courtesy flag, after a few minor alterations, as a substitute!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, 22nd of November

Frigate Birds, Tortoises and Iguanas

Magnificent Frigate Bird (chick)

A visit to the Galapagos Islands is a dream to come true for anyone who is interested in nature. And not only because of the islands’ wildlife but also because of their history i.e. Charles Darwin! 

Magnificent Frigate Bird (juvenile)

Magnificent Frigate Bird (adult male)

We did a day trip to Seymour Norte, an island north of Santa Cruz, which is home to sea lions, marine and land iguanas, and several populations of marine birds, magnificent frigate birds and blue-footed boobies in particular. 

The land iguanas were transferred there from Baltra Island back in the 1930’s to save the species from extinction. 

While Pekka spent most of the week doing maintenance work on our good boat Sarema, Riitta wandered the streets of Ayora taking care not to step on the marine iguanas basking on the pavement. 

She also payed a visit to the Centro de Crianza de Tortugas Fausto Llerena, a breeding center for giant tortoises. There one has an opportunity to observe part of the program that has saved both Galapagos tortoises and other endangered endemic species.

Due to the extremely heavy swell in the bay of Puerto Ayora, we were forced to shorten our stay in Santa Cruz to a little more than a week. We did try to make our life more tolerable by dropping a stern anchor to keep the bow towards the swell but when a water taxi cut our anchor line, we had had enough of the roller coaster conditions in the anchorage, and were more than happy to continue our voyage towards French Polynesia. 

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos 18th of November

Headwinds and Boobies

Six weeks and two days after leaving Bellingham we dropped anchor in Academia Bay, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands. During our rather tiring leg, the so-called prevailing winds that were first supposed to come from the northwest and then, further south, from the south-southwest never materialised but instead we were forced to push against southeasterlies most of the time. The strange thing here is that according to statistics, there should be NO southeasterlies in this area at this time of the year (or ever)!  So what has made the winds change their direction - climate change, global warming or…(actually, Pekka blames Donald Trump!)?

Fishing-wise we were equally unlucky. During the six weeks at sea we managed to catch only two fish, one bonito and the other we couldn’t identify. In between and after the two fish, we lost a total of four lures, and about a week ago when reeling in a BIG and beautiful mahi-mahi (dorado), first our one and only sturdy fishing rod (130 lb = n. 60 kg) broke and then the line (100 lb = n. 45 kg) snapped. Thenceforth, no more fishing!

But to counterbalance all this, we were extremely lucky with bird watching! Boobies, in particular, both brown (Sula leugocaster) and red-footed (Sula sula) visited Sarema frequently, and some of them even spent the night aboard making use of either our dinghy or the now motionless wind generator. The most peculiar visitor, however, was a somewhat ragged and weary looking red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) that spent two days with us and then disappeared. We think, and hope, that the little fellow moved to a nearby fishing vessel as, at the time, we were more than 200 miles from the coast. 

Although, initially, we had no intention of coming here, we can’t really complain as it is difficult to imagine a more interesting place for a pair of wildlife enthusiasts than the Galapagos Islands!

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Bahia Tortugas, 21st of October

A Detour to Mexico

To our great disappointment everything did not go as planned. After about a week at sea we were hit by a storm (50+ knots) that caused quite a bit of havoc aboard our good boat Sarema: the wind shield canvas was ripped apart on both sides of the cockpit; the newly repaired genoa was torn; Webasto got water through the exhaust pipe and stopped working; the wind generator lost one of its wings and had to be lassoed to stop it rotating uncontrollably (by Pekka, a natural-born cowboy!); china broke when a breaking wave tilted the boat abruptly and the sink emptied its contents on the floor (first time ever!); the inner forestay lower Norseman terminal became loose, and we had to take the sail down, remove all the parts and tie the forestay to the pulpit. And when we hoisted the SEABRAKE (Model GP30L), designed ‘for when the going gets rough’, there was nothing but a mere thimble left of the brake!  

The worst thing is that while heaving to we got a rope around our propeller. As a result, instead of heading for French Polynesia we are currently on our way to Bahia Tortugas where we’ll get the rope removed, repair the torn sail properly, and either reinstall the inner forestay or store it for good. We still have about 400 nm to go, and the anemometer reading is about six and falling. Thank God we are in no hurry!

On the 19th of October, we sailed into Bahia Tortugas aka Bahia San Bartolome, Baja California Sur. Once inside the bay, the wind coming from behind Mount Bartolome began to abate and we had to resort to our emergency plan: Pekka had spent the previous day constructing a rack on the swimming platform for the outboard engine which was now taken into use. 

With the help of the little wind there was left and the outboard engine, we slowly motor-sailed further towards the head of the bay and finally dropped anchor in front of the small village of Turtle Bay. We’ll stay here for a few days to repair at least some of the damage caused by the storm, and then continue our voyage hopefully under more favourable circumstances!