Old friends and new

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Sun 8 Jul 2018 19:08

It was time to leave Fakarava. We checked our emails and one was from our old friends Jackie and Juliette on Cachoeira, it read “Leaving Gambier, heading straight for Fakarava. Will you still be there?”

Franco always has work to do, I hadn’t finished editing one of Franco’s books and, more pressing, we still hadn’t found what was causing Caramor’s intermittent black-outs. Every now and then, the lights would go out and everything electric would stop working. At the same time, 20 amps would be sucked out of the batteries, a light would come on on the bilge pump switch and the high water bilge alarm would whine (not the normal sound) even though the bilge was bone dry. 

Every time it happened we took apart yet another component of Caramor’s electrical system hoping to isolate the fault. Each time, we would have no problem for a week or so and then it would happen again!

Fakarava was a nice place to be so we decided to stay and get stuck into some serious work while waiting for Jackie and Juliette. We could always go for a quick snorkel in the afternoon to cool down.

One morning, while sipping coffee in the cockpit, we watched a dinghy motor past. The occupants looked rather like Mikael and Lena, a Swedish couple we met in Valdivia who were also heading for French Polynesia. After they returned to their boat, we called them up on the radio. Mikael answered, at first he wasn’t sure who we were so he asked us a few questions and concluded:

“Ah, the coin is falling, you are the British boat!”

They came over for (more) coffee and we agreed to meet for sundowners the day after next. They told us that Heinz, a German solo sailor we had also met in Valdivia was here in Fakarava, he had followed them all the way!

“He’s like a remora fish,” I joked, but Lena and Mikael no longer thought it was funny.

Our position on the mooring buoy closest to the pass meant that anyone going diving or snorkelling in the South Pass motored past Caramor on the way there and on the way back. The crews from ‘Alondra’ and ‘Manna’ that we had seen before at Rotoava stopped off for coffee. 

Edith and Ken of ‘Alondra’ are Canadian, they spent several seasons working as biologists in South Georgia and belong to the very small group of people who have had the privilege to sail right round the island. Now, many years later, they are cruising the South Pacific with their children, making the most of the years before secondary school.

Julie and Curtis from ‘Manna’ sailed down to Mexico from Alaska before crossing to the Marquesas. They told us that there was a man on the shore who bakes pizzas if you can muster 10 people. The cost per head is the equivalent to US$25, which is fairly reasonable in French Polynesia. A pizza night sounded fun but we didn’t have much hope of finding eight other pizza munchers.

That night on the VHF radio, we heard ‘Sandra’ trying to arrange a pizza night for 7, she needed three more, so we gate crashed.

The night turned out to be a family affair. We had expected to meet seven strangers, instead three of the diners were Lena, Mikael and Heinz and the other four were from Switzerland! The company was excellent, the pizzas passable but we weren’t impressed by our host’s social skills; at 8pm he appeared in his pyjamas and made it clear we were expected to leave.

In Tetamanu, the small village by the dive centre, we were leaving our kayaks on the beach and met Anni. He is retired but still does a bit of copra (coconut bashing to make oil) and lives in a green house with his wife who works at the dive centre restaurant. He told us his nickname in Tahitian, it means ‘puffed up ball’. At first his French was very rusty, which didn’t matter, as he uses gestures to great effect to explain himself. Soon, the words started coming back but if anything it made communication more difficult. He was telling us about some very big fellows from another island. 

“You’re fairly big yourself!” I said. 

“No,no,” he protested. “I don’t drink anything near as much!”

We were confused, maybe a ‘big fellow’ in Polynesia means ‘a heavy drinker’.

He told us stories about living in Papeete and riding Harley Davidson motorbikes. We asked him about his tattoos, mostly words written on his belly and around his neck. 

“Bad,” he said grinning. “Very bad.” In his gang days he would drink heavily and fall asleep and his ‘friends’ tattooed him. He imitated a drunken slumbering man waking because of the pain of the tattoo needles. We were in stitches. 

“Tomorrow, come for coconuts!” He invited.

The next morning Caramor suffered a serious black-out so we spent the morning changing the main switch. The next time we saw Anni, he had prepared a wheelbarrow of green coconuts for us. It was bliss! We hadn’t come empty handed, I’d baked sultana swirls and he was delighted. 

After that, every time we passed his house, a wheelbarrow of coconuts was waiting for us. Once, he was on his way out with a friend, he said to Franco:

“The machete is there, you’ll be ok?” 

Franco took a swipe and ended up covered in coconut water. Anni’s daughter walked out of the house and took over. She was a machete wielding pro.

Anni had mentioned a friend from Honolulu. We met them both a few days later at the dive centre. The friend, even bigger than Anni, told us his life story: 

“I am Annabelle’s* brother. My family is from a small atoll nearby. When I was born, there were no health facilities on our island, I was a sickly and weak baby and my parents didn’t think I would survive. They abandoned me on the ocean shore, hoping the sea would take me soon. An aunty was visiting from Hawaï, with her husband, a doctor. They heard a baby crying and went to investigate and found me on the beach. They decided to adopt me and took me back to Honolulu. A few years ago, I decided to come looking for my family. By the grace of God, my parents were still alive and I now visit every year.”

A fast RIB surfed to a halt next to Caramor. 

“We’re Stephen and Debbie from ‘Amelie’. Do you want to come for sundowners at 4pm?”

Amelie was the other Ocean Cruising Club boat in the anchorage. Franco had briefly met Stephen when we were anchored in the north but our diving had taken up a lot of time and we hadn’t got round to inviting Amelie’s crew.

Sometimes you meet someone and it just feels right, we got on like a house on fire with Debbie and Stephen. After the sundowners, we stayed for dinner, and it was very late by the time we got back to Caramor. 

The next morning Stephen offered us water (Amelie has a large water maker) and we gladly accepted as we were starting to run low on nice tasting water. Water makers are magic, turning foul sea water into delicious drinking water, but they are expensive and require a fair bit of maintenance. All our water bottles were full so Stephen made us coffee and Debbie dug out some crunchy biscuits. ‘Crunchy’ is something we all get excited by, in this climate where everything goes soggy within minutes. You buy a French baguette and by the time you are out of the shop it has wilted. At this precise moment, Cachoeira arrived. Once anchored, Stephen dinghied over and invited them over for coffee.

As Jackie and Juliette stepped aboard Amelie, Debbie introduced herself, or so she thought:

“Bonjour, je t’aime, Debbie.”

Juliette nodded politely, if she had thought the welcome was a little forward, she didn’t show it. 

“Bonjour, je t’aime, Debbie.” Jackie was delighted, it isn’t every day that another beautiful woman declares her love for him. 

Suddenly Debbie realised what she had been saying: 

“Sorry, I mean I am Debbie. I still love you but it wasn’t what I had meant to say.”

Franco and I are nominating her for a ‘diplomat of the year’ award for making a ‘significant contribution to Franco-British relations.’

All six of us spent a lot of time together over the next three days, snorkelling, playing a card game called ‘Dixit’, drinking coffee and eating good food. Together we sailed over to Hirifa, a very sheltered anchorage in the south-east corner of the atoll.

There, an American couple were organising a Fourth of July party which involved a roast pig. Debbie and Stephen decided to stay for the feast while Cachoeira and Caramor sailed north back to Rotoava as we were running low on fresh food. Light head winds and a lagoon as smooth as a baby’s bottom, Caramor was in her element and we raced ahead. 

Our plan was to spend a couple of days with Jackie and Juliette then to head for Tahiti. It was a case of that old Jewish joke: “How do you make God laugh? You tell him your plans.” When we checked the forecast there was no wind for days. 

We’ve made the most of it; we’ve eaten ice-cream, sorted out Caramor’s electrical problem (cleaned the negative wires that attach to the engine block, removed two bilge switches, a control panel switch and changed the main switch and a 12V plug), done a lot of Pesda Press work, enjoyed a fun evening with Delphine, Yann and Tom, our dive instructors from Dive Spirit and shared good time with Jackie and Juliette.

  • Annabelle and Sané run the holiday village and dive centre at the south pass.

P.S. No photos. Sorry. We have a software problem.