Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Travel Report 68: From Pitcairn to French Polynesia, then back to Spanish Wells and on to the Abacos, Bahamas

Back to White Admiral

About our visits to the Gambier Islands, Tahiti and Moorea, then back to Spanish Wells, Bahamas with some of the pictures. For all the selected photos and captions: Picture Gallery No 68

To Mangareva
On march 7th, as Pitcairn gradually faded from view and became a memory, we settled into life aboard ‘Claymore II’. This mainly consisted of chatting and eating. Jane’s good food, fine following weather and the company of fellow Pitcairn tourists made the 36 hour journey most enjoyable. Our main memory is sitting on the rear deck, watching the birds or the sunset, discussing Pitcairn and life in general with the Norfolk islanders, Doc Carol and the intrepid traveler Yalcin from Turkey.
Diana with Carol Nicholson and Yalcin Songur on Claymore II
The mountains of Mangareva presented a dramatic vista as we motored into the big lagoon, bringing back memories of when we sailed in with our children on Red Admiral in 1979. 

Mount Duff of Mangareva, the main island in the Gambier archipelago, the most southern of French Polynesia.

The capital of the Gambier Islands may be tiny, but they have a lot of the cultivated and famous black oyster pearls, a big industry here. And  you can buy them at much reduced price compared to in Papeete if you go to a stall along the sea-side road. 
We may be older, but the palm trees and tropical flowers look just the same! We had time for a stroll along the simple, charming main street of the small village of Rikitea, and were tempted to buy a couple of souvenirs from the big selection of black pearls for which the area is famous.  At the launch to the airport, big Polynesians were loading shell necklaces onto their departing relatives, and feeling sorry for the foreigners with no loved ones to say goodbye, put one round our necks too! 


The ukuleles come out on the half hour ferry trip from Rikitea to the airport island across the lagoon of Mangareva.

After a long wait at the airport we were finally on the plane to Tahiti, but not very happy as we realized we would miss the last evening ferry connection to Moorea, where we had booked up for two nights at a resort. The Norfolk islanders were in the same position and at Tahiti airport when we found out that they had been given free accommodation for the night, we approached Air Tahiti and were met with such service that it was almost embarrassing. Not only were we put in one of the finest resorts in Tahiti, but also given dinner, breakfast and a taxi back and forward! It was pure magic swimming in the huge swimming pool built into sand, and having dinner on the luxurious terrace in the mild tropical evening.
The next morning we were happy to leave Tahiti, which although blessed by nature with beautiful scenery and people, has been somewhat spoiled by unattractive buildings and traffic congestion. The hour and a half ferry ride between Tahiti and Moorea was a pleasure, with a balmy breeze and views of the green dramatic mountains of both islands.

Moorea

An elderly lady taxi driver gave us a running commentary on her life and her island as we motored round the sea-side road to the west side of Moorea, where we found our relatively simple resort (a lot cheaper than the one we were at in Tahiti)! It was just what we wanted for two days, a simple Polynesian thatched cottage in a flowering garden with a lovely beach, bikes, kayaks and a tropical reef just off-shore, the whole backed by the steep distinctive mountains of the island. Two days passed quickly with walking, cycling, paddling and snorkeling and just sitting by our cottage eating and watching the sun-set. We have done a lot of snorkeling in the Caribbean the past few years, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that the reef fish here in the Pacific had different patterns and colours from the ones we were used to, which made it more fascinating. !

Colourful butterfly-fish near the tail of a large, sleeping nurse shark


Our evening meal was a fine buffet before a local music and dance performance at a nearby, much bigger resort. The Mooreans have their own dances distinctive from the Tahitians – not that we could really tell the difference. The main message in all of Polynesia is  suggestive and erotic, and performed in a very energetic way. You need to be fit to dance in this part of the world!

Dancing the Moorean way demands flexible joints and good cardiovascular stamina - and is very erotic!

Back at the ferry terminal, we immediately bumped into the group of Norfolk islanders again,  a surprise as they had to leave  a day earlier than expected (they or their travel agent had somehow got the time zone changes across the Date Line wrong), so we had their company back to Tahiti and were able to say goodbye all over again. We decided we would definitely visit Norfolk Island later this year.
In Tahiti even ferry cleaners are beautiful! With our friends from Norfolk Island -many of whom are also decendents of the Bounty Mutineers: Arthur Evans, Millie Waldon, Possum Westwood, Roib Ryan and Donna Rowlinson
  Now it was time to get back to White Admiral in Spanish Wells, a long journey with flights from Tahiti to Los Angeles, Miami, Nassau and Northern Eleuthera, then a ferry ride to Spanish Wells. We had booked the last local transport more than three months earlier, but Mr Gurney Pinder was there waiting at the airport to drive us by taxi to his ferry, across the narrow straight from Eleuthera to Spanish Wells, a little shopping in the Pinder’s Super Market before he also drove us down the water-front to White Admiral!
Back to the newly painted White Admiral shortly before sun-set.

Return to Spanish Wells and White Admiral

It was exciting to get back to White Admiral as in our absence she had been in R&B Boat Yard, where one of the owners Robert Roberts, had supervised a gang of Haitians who gave her a total paint job. We found her looking good, the top sides shining white and the decks sprinkled with grit in the paint so that it would not be so slippy. The whole job cost US$ 12.800, as opposed to the $65.000 estimate we were given in Florida! Maybe the job was a little less professional compared to what it would have been in the States, but we were very happy with it.
We spent a week on the island. Some of the time was spent on more jobs, mainly sanding and varnishing the deck (floor) inside. Stein used a borrowed orbital sander from Roberts which was very effective, but caused an enormous amount of dust to fly everywhere, and although we had tried to cover things, every surface had to be dusted and washed afterwards. Then we applied 2-3 coats of varnish, depending on how worn it looked, and were very pleased with the big improvement. Otherwise Stein had his usual list of jobs, this time including fixing a diesel leak on the portside engine, filling in old holes on the back platform (not done by the Haitians) and replacing the anchor-winch which had been removed. We did also find some time for socializing; an American Jim Bishop from Charleston, who lives here in the winter, kept his kayak just beside the jetty where our boat was tied up. It was not long before Stein was borrowing the kayak and we were invited to his home for dinner. 
Diana, Chris, Gloris, Jim and Sylvia. Gloris is Jim's neighbour and an excellent cook!

A local lady and neighbour of Jim’s, Gloris Sand, made a delicious meal for us and another Canadian couple, and we got to learn a lot more about this small community. A more charming place is difficult to find, about 1500 mostly white people live on the island in small concrete and wood houses of different pastel shades, typically they drive around in golf carts. There are few racial problems and a very low crime rate, quite different to the capital Nassau, only 30 min away by plane. The main industry is lobster fishing, and thanks to a long, beautiful beach there is also some tourism. Definitely a possible future destination!

Jim Bishop and Geir Støle -another yachty - came for dinner aboard.
We also met the first Norwegian for a long time. Most Norwegians and British who sail to the Caribbean visit the easterly islands and then go directly to the Azores, so most of the visiting yachts we saw here were Americans. A winter visitor told us that in the 28 years he has been coming here that he has never seen a Norwegian flag until he suddenly saw two of them! The other boat was ‘Strega’, from Oslo skippered by Geir Støle from Stavanger, a big friendly guy with whom we had dinner aboard both boats, with the always enjoyable sailing chat.


To the Abacos Islands
By 22nd March, all the most necessary jobs were done, clean laundry collected, food stores replenished, and with a good weather forecast, we set off for the Abacos, the island group further north where our families would be visiting us. We did not make a very elegant exit from the jetty with a rapid tidal current as one of our ropes got jammed between it and a pillar, making us do a 180 degree turn on the way out. Fortunately there were no onlookers to be amused! We followed the buoyed channel around the south and east sides of the island and out through the reef on the north coast. With a light south-easterly breeze we had a very pleasant sail through the night, going a little further than we had planned as we waited for dawn. The Abacos have an archipelago of long islands on the east side, with passages between, and just after dawn broke we sailed through the Tilloo cut into the protected sea of Abaco.  We dropped anchor just off Tahiti beach, named because of its palm trees which made it look like the South Pacific, but unfortunately most of these have been blown away in a recent hurricane. However, it is still beautiful with white powdery sand and a big shallow lagoon, the perfect place to have our families with small children come for a visit.

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