2021 started in busy boat mode but interspersed with beach barbecues, happy hours and suppers on board Amelie. The long list of passage making projects gradually got ticked off with Stephen discovering a hidden talent, using a sewing machine, kindly loaned by Paul on El Mundo together with his wonderful instruction.
Amelie’s tired and quite frankly, disgraceful looking dinghy cover got a new lease of life. The two boys repaired and reinforced weakened areas and further more improved the cover by making an extension to cover the engine. The sewing bug has made such an impact on Stephen that he is now requesting one for his birthday! He will be taking up knitting and crochet next!
We had some fantastic news early in January, Tom and Katie have spent ten months finalising the adoption of Oscar, our grandson. Following a fantastic whatsapp call with the happy parents we learnt that the final process had been completed and Oscar William Gratton is now legally part of the family, even though he always was.
Debbie had her biannual workout by hauling Stephen up the mast to perform a rigging check and replacing our dim anchor light, which was mistaken as a distant star by a crew member on a neighbouring boat. We are now the proud owners of a donated automatic anchor light which is the brightest in the anchorage.
Wally the hydrogenerator was rewired by Paul and now performs brilliantly. A new switch for the oven/grill was installed with rewiring by Paul, no thanks to Force 10 who were sadly lacking in their after care service. We feel we have a safer cooker which is functioning well.
Defrosting the freezer happens twice a year and we always hold our breath when we switch it back on again. After Kevin (NHYS) and Stephen’s mammoth work last July, both compressors fired up immediately and the cooling plates frosted quickly. Overnight the internal freezer temperature plummeted to -20 degrees Celsius. Huge celebratory shout was emitted from the skipper’s vocal cords.
We celebrated Stephen’s birthday firstly by breakfast in the Parisian style boulangerie in town, sampling the wonderful pastries with strong espressos and freshly squeezed orange juice. After a quiet afternoon for the birthday boy, Paul joined us for cocktails on the aft deck and then a hugely rich supper cooked by the first mate. The three of us could barely move afterwards. Thanks to whatsapp we've also celebrated the birthdays of three of our four grandchildren, Fraser (2), Oscar(1) and Elizabeth (3). Charlotte will be six during our passage.
Amelie became a teenager on the 4th of March and we are hoping that we do not have any teenage tantrums on our long passage!
The following day started late and slowly with the arrival of a high pressure system hovering over the Society Islands bringing constant lightning and thunder. At times the wind would gust violently up to almost 40 knots with Amelie pirouetting on her anchor chain, the snubber straining. It got worse with further nasty weather and a couple of fork lighting strikes being too close for comfort, only 300 metres away. The claps of thunder made the boat shudder and the crew kept their bodies away from everything metal. Unfortunately El Mundo and Amelie received a field surge from one of the strikes and issues occurred on both vessels. Amelie’s wind anemometer stopped working, just when we thought all of our major systems were ready for a long passage. Another trip up the mast was required to retrieve the wind vane and Paul took over the diagnostics with his considerable knowledge of electronics. After disassembly, the diagnosis was that the receiver was still working but sadly the transmitting infra red LED was fried. Stephen recalled that he had a defunct remote control (in his man drawer) from a long gone DVD player. Debbie will never complain about his hoarding habits in the future. Paul removed the infra red LED and after various other technical stuff replaced the failed one in the wind vane and hey presto, we now have wind speed and direction again. Later that afternoon the sun came out, the wind died, sea flattened and it was as if the storm had been a figment of our imagination. One good thing about these storms……Amelie gets a good freshwater wash.
In the anchorage we are regularly visited by up to four large black tipped reef sharks, something to do with the odd bits of meat fat and fish skin thrown into the water during food prep. They slowly swim around the boat followed by the skittish Remoras. Most of the day the Remoras stay in the shade of the hull only venturing out when the sharks arrive or when there is movement in the water from organic debris. We've discovered that these opportunists are not fond of cigar ash or vegetable matter and fruit skins!
Rugby season restarted and the avid fan on board regularly set his alarm to unhealthy times during the early hours to watch the many games. Often Debbie would wake up, make tea, potter around the boat doing the odd chore and Stephen would be unaware of her presence. Earphones are a must on board Amelie.
Early February, the FPI borders closed down to tourists and mariners in order to curb the spread of this wretched pandemic. We now need permission to leave paradise in March, with our agent suggesting that we sail to Tahiti to check out, the last thing we want to do. However we have requested to exit FPI from Raiatea, after filling out the necessary form for DPAM and regular emails to Claudio in the Tahiti office. When we say the necessary form, it could not be a simple pages document unzipped from Claudio’s email but had to be the exact PDF copy printed in colour, filled out by hand, signed, scanned and returned. This process took two weeks. To ensure we could complete the formalities of customs and immigration, here in Raiatea, we had to visit the Gendarmerie to check that they were still doing this. We were assured by a very helpful English speaking Gendarme that this was entirely possible provided they had three clear working days notice. Hurrah, no visit to Tahiti necessary.
Consistently we have managed to find fabulous French duck in most of the supermarkets and Stephen spent several days preparing Duck Confit for our journey. Debbie meanwhile prepared several dishes for the freezer, sorted through our “winter” and wet weather clothes, rewashing and airing them for the latter half of the journey and life on land in the USA. Perplexed, Debbie realised her lack of land clothes was because she had left a wardrobe full of stuff with Jaz, way back in November 2019, including her favourite, warm boots. Hopefully some surprises for her when she eventually gets back to London and Jaz and Liam will get back some storage space.
Sadly Gordon the Gecko and his tiny mate perished on Amelie before we departed. Gordon had become more brazen and skittered around us whilst in the cockpit, so his presence will be missed. Debbie was concerned how he was going to survive when we got to colder climes. They both had a sea burial.
Paul, Mirjana & Stephen.
The inevitable parting of the ways of El Mundo and Amelie happened sooner than we had expected. Paul, alone on the boat was missing hisfamily back in Slovenia and the restrictions on flying in and out of FPI hastened his departure. Stephen helped him refuel and we made a farewell from the fuel dock, watching our friend sail into the blue horizon with heavy hearts. The El Mundos have become very special friends of ours and we already miss them greatly.
El Mundo’s spot was replaced by a German couple, Helmut and Yvonne, a lovely, vibrant couple who spend half the year on their catamaran, “Don't let me sink”. We enjoyed many evenings with them having fun and enjoying lively conversations. We bumped into Jaye and Irwin in town and spent some time with them before we left. Michael from Peregrine was in the neighbourhood and we caught up with him several times. Raiatea proved to be very sociable the entire time we were there.
Naturally we like Amelie to be in near perfect condition before a long passage and this culminated with her being lifted by the new 50 ton lift in the Raiatea Carenage so her bottom could be power washed, the anodes checked and greasing the through hole fittings. This is quite a stressful manoeuvre for us, watching our home dangled in slings and hauled up on the hard, hoping nothing untoward will happen to her. The anchorage outside this boatyard is beautiful with many liveaboards on their boats. As we entered the anchoring field we were greeted with waves and smiles with uninterrupted views of Bora Bora. We have fallen in love with Raiatea and Taha’a.
From reading local news reports and Facebook updates from other cruisers we are aware of a certain push back by the locals towards the sailing fraternity. We have to say our own experience has been nothing but congenial and we've had no adverse reactions to our presence. For us our return to FPI has been a great extended experience in paradise. We've met many friendly locals and enjoyed the company of some like minded fellow cruisers. We hope this doesn't change.
Debbie found a quote from James Norman Hall (1952) which conjures up the spirit of the French Polynesian Islands,
“ ‘Robert Louis’ Stevenson said that one’s first tropical island landfall touches a virginity of sense. So it does, and the tenth or the fifteenth. The purity of perception is not lost by repetition of the experience. There is a magic about these islands that is time-defying, that loses nothing of its power however long continued one’s association with them may be”.
We are fortunate that we travel to and live in many different, beautiful and culturally eclectic places but we have discovered that the people we meet make the place special. During our three years here, we've made many friends from all walks of life, individuals who have had a huge impact on us and enriched our lives. Some have left the islands and some remain but our memories and future plans include them all.