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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

French Polynesia: Gambier Islands (Mangareva)

The town of Rikitea sits on beautiful bay on the southern shore of Île Mangareva

Soon after arriving in the Gambier Islands the chef, Laurent, jumped ship onto another yacht. Rob (the captain) and Laurent had spent considerable periods of the trip from New Zealand arguing and threatening to kill each other, so it was a pleasant change to have just two of us on board as we settled into island life.

Baie de Ngatavake
Baie de Ngatavake on the less inhabited northern shore of Île Mangareva

Meeting the Other Yachties

Rikitea bay from Mont Duff
Rikitea bay from Mont Duff

That night we expanded our social circle even further by meeting some of the other yacht crews in the harbour (there were five other yachts in Rikitea harbour when we arrived). Joe and Janet from the Canadian sloop Tegan dropped by for a chat on the way to their boat; their visit soon extended into a couple of beers and a sampling of my freshly baked mango cake, of which I was rather proud. Joe and Janet were to turn out to be excellent company during our Gambier stay, and told us lots about the other yachties in the harbour. It never ceases to amaze me how the world of yachting is like an extended family, with people just striking up conversations with other yachts, and extending the warm hand of friendship to complete strangers for no other reason than the fact that they have a boat too. It's a very pleasant club, and it makes distant harbours feel like home in the space of a few days.

Initial Exploration of Mangareva

Rikitea from Mont Duff
Rikitea from Mont Duff

The next day, Friday 16th May, I explored the southeast corner of Île Mangareva, following the road to what I hoped would be a beach, but which turned out to be a dead-end in the hilly forests of the island. Undeterred, I decided to bush-bash my way to the beach, but I wasn't expecting such seriously spiky plants (it wasn't quite bush lawyer, but enough to lacerate my legs) and towering fern thickets, so after half an hour of struggling downhill towards the shore and getting Pyke-like déjà vu, I turned round, made my way back to the road, sat down and ate a couple of mangoes. The moral of the story: rainforest is a nightmare to bash through, whatever the country.

Water Catchers

Rikitea Cathedral
Rikitea Cathedral

You may wonder how yachts survive in terms of water; after all, you can envisage months' worth of food, but water? Surely it runs out?

Fixing Doris

The Frères were useful for more than water, too. Being the local school – or one of them, I should say, the other being a state school rather than a convent – they were well equipped in the workshop stakes. We visited them on Tuesday 27th May to ask them if they could complete the repairs to Doris by making a new rudder for it, and we spent an interesting morning communicating in pidgin French what we wanted, and making sure that the pupils who did the work drilled holes in the right place and knew what shape we wanted the rudder to be.

Mont Duff

Mark on top of Mont Duff
On top of Mont Duff

That afternoon saw Rob and I climb to the highest point in the Gambiers – nay, in the whole Tuamotu Archipelago. Mont Duff towers above the area to a snow-brushing height of 411m, and the climb up is something everyone who visits the Gambiers should do. We, however, managed to get our bearings completely confused, and ended up climbing the wrong mountain, Mont Mokoto, the second highest peak in the Tuamotus.

Six People and a Boat

On our way back to the quay we got talking to a new couple on the block, Laurent and Sonia from Chile, who invited us over for tea and a natter. I remember a number of things about our visit: excellent conversation, despite a language barrier (only Laurent spoke English); two adults and four kids crammed into a boat not that much larger than Zeke; wonderful ham sandwiches, fulfilling one of my most intense ocean passage fantasies; harrowing stories of the family coming through the Straits of Magellan, at the southern tip of South America; the kids showing me their homework, and the courses they had to follow by correspondence; and a delightful caramel spread that transformed toast into something special, created by simply boiling an unopened can of condensed milk in water for two hours.

Walking Round Mangareva

Colonel the dog
Colonel the dog

To alleviate the potential boredom and frustration associated with staying in the harbour and spending most of the time fixing things on the boat – our current project was to paint all the rust spots on the deck, which was pretty tedious – I decided to circumnavigate Île Mangareva by foot. The total distance looked fairly large on the map – something like 20km – but that wasn't enough to deter a tramper like me, so armed with lunch, some water and a compass, I set off on the morning of Friday 30th May for a good, long walk.

A statue of Jesus
The island is dotted with relics of Christianity

The Supply Boat

The supply boat Taporo V visits Rikitea
The supply boat Taporo visits Rikitea

On Saturday 31st May a huge boat came into port, docked, dropped off lots of containers and fuel, and left again. I only say this to highlight the supply system here: you wait for the supply ship, buy everything you can while the shops are well stocked, and then you hold out for another four weeks or so until the next one arrives.

Ships' Party

Tuesday 3rd June was party night; Richard and Gail on the schooner Jan van Gent invited everybody who was anybody to a 'bring a dessert and a musical instrument' evening, a very well attended do that saw some amazing desserts (oh, and some of my ANZAC cookies from Zeke). I took my penny whistle, on which I could play 'Molly Malone', but that was about all I could manage until Laurent fished out his guitar. I scraped together a solo performance of The Senators' 'The Girl I Adore' and Billy Bragg's 'The Man in the Iron Mask' – it was good to play a guitar after so long without one – and we all saw the wee hours in with beer and good cheer.

Come and Go

The ketch Illusion in Rikitea
The ketch Illusion in Rikitea

Sometime during our stay in Rikitea, the gorgeous yacht Illusion arrived, complete with Jim and Ami, the American couple sailing it. Joe and Janet from Tegan had met Jim and Ami in South America, and their induction into the Gambier knitting circle was swift and welcome.