May 21 – 30, 2014
Tubuai, the administrative center for the Austral Islands, is known as the “fruit bowl and veggie bin” of French Polynesia. With fertile soil and a temperate climate, the island is capable of growing carrots, potatoes, cabbage, leeks, watermelon, pineapple, and lychees. However, only some of the produce is consumed on the island. Most fruit and veggies are sent via cargo ship to the markets in Pape’ete, Tahiti. Therefore, while we had been excited about the possibility of unlimited produce, when the time came, we were only able to find a few basics at the roadside stands.
There was a lot that we should have explored while we were in Tubuai. Instead, we went into a type of hibernation mode. We were exhausted from the passage, and our land legs weren’t returning as quickly as they normally do. Also, from the time we had started cruising nearly two years prior, and up until now, our lives had been non-stop, doing passages, exploring islands and cultures, and socializing with buddy boats. While we thoroughly enjoyed absolutely all of it, we just needed to stop. We needed rest, recuperation, and some time for our family to just be together without concern for anything else. Tubuai satisfied that need for us.
Colin’s 12th birthday was two days after our arrival. We made plans to celebrate his birthday anchored near a lone, little sandy island called Motu One. This little sand mound turned into our most favorite spot, and we would have happily stayed there indefinitely. There was plenty of anchoring room with respect to coral heads and the water was gorgeous. Along with a little swimming, snorkeling, and motu exploration, the birthday celebration was a full day of junk food consumption. Justine made doughnuts for breakfast, and because we’d eaten such a late breakfast, lunch consisted solely of Doritos. Homemade pizza and birthday cake were a must for dinner.
While we did some walking on the main island, most of our exploration took place in the lagoon. As par for our norm, we explored outside the main marked channels. We spent quite a few days dodging coral bombies just to find an anchorage that was the remotest of remote.
One day, we couldn’t find a safe spot to anchor for the night, and we were running out of daylight. Therefore, we anchored near the point where the airport was located. It was a great sandy spot, but the current was strong. Using the current to our advantage, we improved our swim endurance by attempting to swim from stern to bow. My heart raced and my lungs burned, but it felt good to exert the energy.
Later that same evening, it was dark and we were winding down for the night. Suddenly, we heard a crash at the bow that vibrated the boat, and then the sound of voices. Wil turned on the deck light and went forward. As they clung to the bow of our boat in wind fetched waves, some fishermen in a small, metal boat were drunk and looking for more liquor. They only spoke in French, and Wil was having a difficult time speaking with them with his limited words. The fishermen were persistent in their quest.
Nervously, I went forward to help communicate. With an understanding of the Polynesian culture, I explained to the men that we were a family with children, and we did not have anything to drink. Suddenly, their tune changed. The guys apologized for bothering us and insisted that we take one of their meals. We declined, but they insisted. By the time they motored away, we had a freshly prepared, warm tray of food in our hands. We surely didn’t expect that outcome!
When we did find little remote spots, we felt like we had the whole world to ourselves. We swam, snorkeled, and took walks along the water’s edge. We soaked up every ounce of warmth that we’d missed.
Our anchor spot near Motu Toena was a bit tight quartered with the coral heads, and we were reminded of a valuable lesson. After an intense trek across the lagoon that required a keen eye for coral heads, as well as several sharp, last-second turns, we were looking forward to dropping the hook and relaxing. However, when we arrived at Motu Toena, swinging room between the coral heads was nearly non-existent. In order to solve our problem, we situated ourselves with respect to wind and coral heads, and ran a stern line to a tree on the shore. With both bow and stern adjusted to an appropriate scope and tightness, it appeared that we were good for the night . . . or so we thought.
That night, the wind shifted sooner than expected. Just before turning in for the night, Wil went up to check on our situation, and found that the boat was sitting next to a large coral bombie. We weren’t touching it, but it was far too close for comfort. After assessing our situation, we finally decided to ease out the stern line and shorten the anchor scope. This brought us to a comfortable distance from the coral, but now we had a shorter scope to the anchor. During the line adjustment process, a small black tip shark stopped by to see what was going on, but quickly swam away. We didn’t sleep well for the rest of the night while we listened for any signs of stronger wind. Fortunately, everything remained fine until morning, and it didn’t take us long to pull up anchor and return to a more comfortable setting.
The lesson learned? One should do their best not to place themselves in an anchoring situation where they can’t escape during the night. There was no way our recorded track would have been accurate enough to guide us out between the coral heads. If the wind had picked up, there is no way we wouldn’t have touched a bombie or few. We knew better than to do this, but we were just out to have some fun. Thank goodness we didn’t have to learn the hard way.
In hindsight, we should have stayed and explored the island of Tubuai some more. This was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we should have cherished it more. However, after 10 days of rest, we felt refreshed and ready to move north toward the Society Islands. The Australs are still far enough south of the equator where they receive stronger storms from low pressure systems, and they’re a bit cooler than the rest of French Polynesia. We were just ready to go . . . and we had a good wind to carry us.