We've just spent the last month touring remote atolls we'd hardly heard of let alone knew how to pronounce - Kauehi, Fakarava, Rangiroa - sparsely populated from deserted to 4 to 400! Atolls are sunken volcanoes, whose edges have been built up with coral to create inner lagoons. Some can be entered through narrow passages but only at specific times, as the in/outgoing water can create huge waves and super fast currents making them dangerous. As a result they are rarely visited. Top navigating Andy!!
But oh what unbelievable gems, crystal clear water, combined with abundant marine life creating aquarium swimming opportunities. Made extra special by the incredible people who readily share their basis of life, coconuts, fish and pearls 'almost' freely with such warm openness you instantly fall into a dream like state of chilled ness. Mathieu, Agnes and baby Honey Hanavee fed us, toured us and simply shared their life on Fakarava. Gaston on Toau took us fishing, well, running full pelt, thigh deep, across coral reefs chasing parrot fish into nets, exhilaratingly bizarre. Cooked and served that night by his wife the indomitable Valentina, overlooking the lagoon, quite exceptional. Her parents settled on uninhabited Toau some forty years earlier to escape parental pressures, now with Gaston and two relatives she feeds sailors and trades fish.
We dived the Kauehi pass with live aboard dive master Gary. Big big Napoleon fish. Then tackled the Fakarava South Passage, facing the famous wall of sharks, with Eric the inattentive ever so French dive leader! Hundreds of black tip sharks thankfully just resting and cleaning their gills pointing into the current, spectacular, scary and sensually unique. Snorkelling doesn't normally make a highlight but this was one 'of a life time', flying without wings through the Rangiroa pass travelling 3 miles in almost as many minutes, across wonderful coral, huge grins, wide eyes, totally exhilarating.
So the Tuamotus, unexpected adventures, some relaxing, BBQs on deserted atolls shared with hermit crabs and a friendly chicken well just unique and unforgettable.
Now in Tahiti, soon to be joined by Tilly and boyfriend Matt to explore the Leeward Islands .... thank you for sticking with us and hope you are all well .....
We left Galapagos on 16th April and after 17 days and 3,300 miles we arrived in Fatu Hiva, one of the Marquesas islands, joining our fellow Puddle Jumpers, (the affectionate name for sailors who travel across the Pacific). The Bay of Virgins anchorage at Fatu Hiva was a stunning arrival to the Marquesas with enormous volcanic peaks soaring above us - interestingly enough the bay was originally called the Bay of Penis's but the early French catholic priests were not impressed and by adding an "I" to Verge (Penis) the more appropriate name was found (Vierge -Virgin)! The volcanic Marquesas Islands are the most easterly part of the French Polynesian archipelago.
The islands are pretty remote and the climate is very hot with lots of rain which accounts for the majestic greenery that covers the mountains. They are sparsely populated, in fact the people are often outnumbered by the chickens but the Polynesians were hugely welcoming, even inviting us to their home for lunch! After visiting a few islands the whole Oyster fleet met in Nuku Hiva, the largest island, for a major party with local dancing and food with an enthusiastic speech from the Mayor. There is no doubt that the arrival of the Oyster Fleet is a big occasion for the Islands.
Of the many highlights - having lunch with a Polynesian family, yomping up the many mountains, swimming with huge Manta Ray's, mooring in stunning anchorages (check out the photo of Ua Poh!), oh and having to queue at 5:30am to get fresh food from the market - will be the standout memories from our time in Marquesas.
So we're now over half way on our journey from The Galapagos to The Marquesas, the most Easterly of the French Polynesian Islands. In total a passage of just over 3000 miles and 18 days across the Pacific Ocean. We've had good winds and are bowling along at about 9 knots with a poled out genoa (for the sailors amongst you). We get asked a lot whether long passages are boring...weirdly enough they aren't. The first few days take a bit of settling in and everyone is a bit quiet and sleepy/grumpy as they get used to the motion of the boat and the night watches but once you're in the groove there is a gentle rhythm to the day and you'd be surprised how quickly the time goes. We fill the day with a host of activities - boat checks, reading, cooking (at a 40 degree angle), podcasts, films, crosswords, drawing (Hugh - after we confiscated his guitar), passage planning (Andy - he loves maps), exercises, night watches, Desert Island Discs and of course the obligatory daily sundowner. There's also the daily radio calls with the other Oyster World Rally yachts where news and updates are shared...from weather and fishing reports to how to fix a watermaker!
Added to all that it's just wonderful being out on the ocean, contemplating life with beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
That all said we're really looking forward to reaching the Marquesas, a remote group of islands known for their dramatic landscapes- waterfalls, canyons and towering cliffs. Lots of exploring to do after our sedentary few weeks.
Leaving Panamanian waters it was apparent this was the beginning of a step change where wildlife was now in charge. We sailed through dolphins, rays, sharks and then a mid ocean meeting of enormous numbers of pelicans floating on the surface and spontaneously dive bombing for fish.
Our tranquil route took us across the equator and transformation from 'Pollywog' to 'Shellback' honouring Neptune in a line-crossing ceremony at 10.30pm. Naturally the costume theme was Bunnies?!?!?! Hugh (Hefner) conducted proceedings with an original ode. Embarrassing photo includes new crew member Mike, on board for the leg to French Polynesia .
Arrival in Galapagos was to the easternmost island San Cristobal and Charles Darwin's first stop in 1835. Wildlife in Galapagos is oblivious to humans affording you with the most wonderful and entrancing closeups. Sea lions own the port lying on the pier, benches, sun beds and our boat decks if we forgot to tie the fenders across the transom. On a hike to a volcanic lava field the black iguanas basked in the sun blocking the path. Natural Selection became clearer on subsequent islands as the iguanas were either green and red, scrawny and sand coloured or portly and sand coloured depending on the land colour and quality of vegetation. Marine iguanas can stay under water for an hour in order to cool down. Land iguanas were climbing trees!
Then came the glorious birds. Our travels through the islands found us one metre away from serene Wave Albatross, male Frigate birds plumping their enormous red breasts and flapping their wings to attract a mate and the stylishly coloured Blue Footed Boobies hatching their eggs. And of course, you can't say Galapagos without thinking tortoise and they were majestic and humongous yet as if from a pre-historic time.
The Americans have the only word to describe The Galapagos...awesome! Next adventure a 20+ day passage to The Marquesas!
Reluctantly we hauled ourselves away from the San Blas and hopped the fifty miles to Shelter Bay in Panama to await our Canal transit.
As a condition of the Galapagos, Meteorite had her bottom cleaned, so we nipped to Cartegena, city one. A wonderful, chaotic, vibrant place; street traders, entertainers, super food, beautiful buildings, a lived in and loved old town, great place for Debbie's birthday.
Back to Shelter Bay or unsheltered as the wind just blew. It was a former jungle training centre for the US army so lots of old buildings deep in the jungle where you hear howler monkey's that make your heart stop.
We took a classic train ride to city two, Panama, for a few days. Also an old town very much on the up, also with some spectacular colonial buildings, bars and restaurants, but it sits next to a huge financially driven modern city, which allowed for some serious retail therapy catch up, even Andy shopped, well sort of.
Then the day came 18th March and we left ocean one to transit the Panama Canal, opened in 1914 a true wonder of the world. We joined the five other larger Oysters and rafted up in threes to enter the first of the three locks that would fill up and take us up to the lake. Awe inspiring, massive, and just incredible as you rise hundreds of feet as thousands of gallons of water rush in. We and our two crew mates Mike and Robbie from Oysters that had already transited, passed long ropes to the handlers and made ourselves fast like a cats cradle, pulling the ropes in as went up.
Then into lake Gatun for a much needed beer, spending a super peaceful evening at anchor. But awake to drama, the other five boats motor off to do the 30 miles to the down locks but our pilot doesn't turn up, we are left behind !!!
Three agonising hours later, a pilot arrives, we are off but too late to meet our mates, so we have to go through alone. We were told to more up against the lock side, as a super large tanker slides in behind us. Then we literally slipped down the side of the three locks and popped out, under the Bridge of Americas, into ocean two The Pacific. A new world and it feels like it, satisfaction, relief and expectation all rolled together and a little tearful, well the girls and of course Hugh, as a long held dream for all of us came true in the most wonderful way.
Auto helm fitted (hurray), fully loaded with strange Dutch brands and trusty Bonaire Beer and we are off to the San Blas Islands . A four day 700mile downwind sail that proved to be delightful with warm gentle trades winds.
San Blas are 350 mainly uninhabited islands 30 miles off the Panamanian coast. The Guna Indians own and run them having fled from Spanish persecution.
We headed straight for the iconic Coco Banderas a small group of islands that feature as the cover shot on the famous guide written by Eric Bauhaus. Because of their rare beauty however there can be 10 or more other yachts, however we spent the first night completely on our own, with the anchor dropped exactly on the spot Eric reckons is the best in the world. And oh my is he right, the pics speak better than words!
We moored between two islands, literally a stones throw from a Guna hut occupied by 9 of the friendliest people you could wish to meet, who supplied us with delicious lobsters. We gave them a sola powered light, such a small thing but for them a night light which became hugely treasured.
We spent five of the most idyllic days, bar b q'ing on the beaches, partying with the other Oysters who turned up, swimming and snorkelling on the reefs and just chilling. This is what we hoped this adventure would sometimes bring us and oh wow was it ever worth it.
No trip to Guna land would be complete without buying at least one Mola, a hand stitched work of art, worn on traditional garments - thanks to the best sales man ever, who used every trick, we are the proud owners of not just one but a boat full of Mola's !
All good things etc and we have now left that little bit of heaven, next stop Panama and the Canal.