14:58.179S 147:38.173W Delays and overstays!!

Hamble Warrior
Jamie Hickman
Sun 10 Dec 2023 22:52

1st November 2023

We left Tahiti just before 11am on the 30th October and had a very uncomfortable two night passage.

As we lifted our anchor we had a large turtle watching us getting all our anchor gear back on-board; then later as we negotiated our way out of the large reef surrounding Pape'ete, getting radio clearance from the port control to pass through the restricted area we had dolphins joining us to see us on our way. I took both of these to be an auspicious sign of a good passage. I was so wrong.

Despite taking the sea sickness medication (Stugeron) that I now take if we are expecting rough conditions I still had one of the worst passages I have ever had aboard Hamble Warrior. The medication ensured that I wasn't actually physically sick but the conditions were so unpleasant that I was nauseous and lethargic for much of the trip. For most of that first day out I was of little use. After I had helped Jamie get the sails up and set, I spent most of that first day and first night curled up in a ball sleeping. Jamie covered most of the night watch himself taking short naps with an alarm set to wake him at 15min intervals. I finally make an appearance again in the log book early the next morning when I took what was usually my favourite; the dawn watch. Reading back my notes from the log book it's clear how miserable I was...

0700 - 31st October (wind East F5/6)
"Had an uncomfortable and unhappy night. Not enjoying this point of sail or the conditions. It's horrible. It makes me sad that I can't enjoy and participate properly and that I hate it so much. Even my morning watch; usually my favourite part, is marred by feeling sick, lethargic and even scared. Happy Halloween Magpie; these are your monsters"

An hour later I was clearly feeling more positive and wrote in the 8am log...

0800 - 31st October (wind East F5/6) "...conditions have moderated a little; feels a little more comfortable now and I have settled on deck with my book (The Last Voyage of The Lucette). Reading about other people's sea-sickness seems to have helped my own!! Jamie is below and hopefully getting some decent rest..."

That was the very worst of the conditions behind us but it continued to be a bumpy and unpleasant trip with strong winds and an uncomfortable sea state.

That night we approached the western end of Rangiroa; the second biggest atoll in the world. Not wanting to arrive at the pass too early the next morning we hove-to in the lee of the atoll for a few hours which gave us both a rest; a chance to eat dinner and give Jamie an opportunity to catch up on a little more sleep. For those unfamiliar with sailboats, hoving-to means that you back the headsail on the opposite tack to the mainsail so irrespective of the wind or conditions the boat pretty much stops dead. We drifted just a couple of miles for the next few hours and I enjoyed a spectacular Halloween full moon and a brief respite from the stomach churning sailing conditions.

We got sailing again just before midnight and sailed along the atoll through the night to reach the west pass in time for slack tide to enter at daybreak. We had quite a long motor inside the lagoon to the anchorage and village where we found it to be a popular spot with many boats already at anchor between the tiny harbour and the now familiar-looking row of over water bungalows that seem to be a ubiquitous feature of every luxury resort in this part of the world. 

We carefully studied the seabed as best we could in the clear but deep waters of the lagoon and tried to pick a patch of sand to drop our anchor away from any coral bommies. We dropped the anchor with fenders to buoy the chain every 10 metres and keep it off the seabed so as to protect the coral and not snag our chain. Despite our efforts when Jamie went into the water with a snorkel mask to check our work he found us too close to a coral head. We lifted everything back on-board and started the whole process again. Eventually we had our anchor down and set and a very exhausted Captain Jamie took straight to his bunk to get some sleep. Despite being quite mentally exhausted I seemed to have surplus energy; no doubt a result of finally being in flat water and not feeling sick for the first time in days! I set about tidying up the boat and cleaning the mess that had been made from the rough passage. We had taken on several boarding waves in the rough conditions and one such had worked it's way under the dinghy on deck where we had left the deck hatches open for ventilation; the result had been a wave flooding the galley and we had a lot of stuff to dry. Whilst Jamie slept deeply I took clothes; bedding and towels up and hung them on deck to dry and air; I cleaned the galley and the cockpit and tidied the saloon which had stuff scattered everywhere. In the next few days my laundry bucket would see several loads of washing but for now I just wanted to dry everything and air the boat so that we could rest properly. Once the boat was looking a little more tidy, I jumped into the clear cool water and it was the most delicious feeling in the world.

We planned to stay a few days in Rangiroa and ended up staying for a month! Not only was it difficult to pick an onward weather window; and every opportunity to stay I jumped on because the trip here had been so miserable; but also we did fall for Rangiroa the way we fall for everywhere we go.

By far the largest of the Tuamotus atolls and the nearest to The Society Islands, Rangiroa is a very popular destination for both cruise ships and visiting tourists wanting to dive and snorkel. We saw many of both during our time in Rangiroa. Between the visiting cruise ships and the large "Kia Ora" luxury resort, most visitors have their needs met in terms of dining out but we did find two snack Restaurants on the quayside; a bakery and small magasin near the port; and if we cycled the length of the motu (5 miles) there were several more magasins and snacks at the village at the other end of the island.

Over the course of the next few weeks we cycled the length of the motu and back a few times. We discovered a nice snack that served good food and cold beers in the village at the far end of the motu which we visited twice. We also found that the best magasin ("Maeva") for buying fresh produce was located in the village at the far end of the motu. On the day before we finally departed Rangiroa we took one last cycle the length of the motu to Maeva with our 13kg gas bottle strapped to the back of Jamie's bicycle. We stopped at every magasin and the gas station on our way but each was out of gas. Eventually it was Maeva; the very furthest of all the magasins, which had a replacement bottle we 
could swop our empty one for. The full bottle weighed 25kgs and we had to strap it carefully onto Jamie's pannier before we set off back. Fortunately we were less than halfway back to the port when our lovely friend from "Suzanne Excursions" pulled over and picked us up. We had been speaking to her on the dock as we prepared to go on our gas hunting mission and as she passed us on our way back she stopped and helped us load our bikes and gas bottle into the back of her open backed minivan and kindly drove us the remaining few miles back to the port.

We had found such kindness in many of the locals that we met in Rangiroa. On our first trip ashore for our customary "Friday night drinks" we had found a little spot to settle on the quayside with a couple of cold beers when a young man came out of one of the snacks ("Snack Puna" which was later to become a favourite of ours) and invited us to join him and his friends. They were seated in the snack drinking rum and playing music; singing along to ukuleles, drums in the beautiful melodic tones that Polynesian men are so gifted with. Our friend introduced himself as "Chris" although we gathered that wasn't his given name but rather the name he gave for ease as his American and European guests struggled to pronounce his Polynesian name. Chris worked on the tour boats taking the islands visitors out to the reef and the "Blue Lagoon" on day trips. It transpired that most of his friends worked in the same business and over the following weeks we would see them all regularly picking up and dropping off tours at the quayside and flying past Hamble Warrior on their way to the Kia Ora Resort with their guests on-board. There was not many days that passed after that first evening ashore when we didn't get hailed by the shout of a "Maggy! Maggy!" or a "Jemi!" from someone either on the quay or from a passing tourboat. We would often hang out with these guys either down by the quay or off the little beach behind the quay where there was a nice little spot to sit off a rustic wooden pier; ideal for watching the sunset. This became a favourite hang out for us. On one occasion we watched from this spot as a group of local spear-fishermen brought ashore their large catch and stood at the pier gutting and filleting it whilst the sharks swam around their feet. The fishermen threw fish entrails to the sharks and even petted them affectionately as they swam at their feet. It was like watching a man and his dog to see the affectionate behaviour pass between them! Whilst watching the fishermen the owner of the "Pension" behind us was cooking fish on an open fire he had prepared. From the fire he took a whole "Uru" (breadfruit) that he had been roasting in the flames and as he peeled it he gave us chunks of it to try. We have loved breadfruit since we first tasted it in Grenada but this is the first time we had tried it roasted in this way; it was absolutely delicious; hot, smokey and delicious!

We ended up drinking rum with our friend Chris again that night and whilst we chatted and drank he wove me a headdress from coconut palms; a little trick that they do for the day trippers who always disembark the tour boats with hand woven hats and bags; souvenirs from their day out. Chris was keen to see Hamble Warrior and we were fast running out of rum so we took him back to the boat with us in our rowing dinghy which he was delighted with. Like many Polynesian men Chris had a Vaa'a (outrigger canoe) that he paddled at rapid speeds around the bay; he was keen to try rowing the dinghy but Jamie was reluctant to hand over his oars and Chris had to settle for being a passenger for a change! Once onboard he continued to be delighted with the differences between our vessel and the small fast power-boats he spent his days working on. He was also delighted to meet Meep although sadly Meep showed himself - and us - up quite badly when he picked this night to pluck a small gull from the bow and bring it back to the cockpit like some kind of welcome gift for our unsuspecting guest. Fortunately we managed to prize the gull; shocked but still very much alive, from his clutches and set it free. After which Meep was sent to bed. We enjoyed a couple of hours showing Chris Hamble Warrior; talking boats and drinking rum before depositing him back on the quayside!

We would drink with the "boysies" as we called them and on occasion we would play music on our little JBL speaker. A memorable occasion was when we left the beach for the shelter of the little wooden hut on the quayside one evening; it had started raining so we had moved undercover and had our music playing with our dance playlist which included our favourite recent additions from South America and the West Indies as well as some old classics like Snoop and Dre. As the evening went on more and more of the local youngsters congregated on the little open hut; smoking and drinking, each greeted us warmly and seemed to approve of the music. I commented to Jamie that it was a full moon and technically we were hosting a full moon party! As is usually the way here the gathering was men only but as we took to the dinghy to row back to the boat there was a small group of quite young women waiting on the quayside. As we climbed in and untied the boat they were giggling and asking if they could go to the boat with us. I feigned total ignorance pretending I couldn't understand what they were asking. As we rowed away Jamie asked me what they had been saying; "I've no idea" I replied; "I think they were probably speaking Polynesian"!!!!

We became friendly with the little gang that ran "Snack Puna" after being introduced on that first evening by Chris and his friends. We ate in there on a few occasions as a weekend treat and enjoyed their wonderful Poisson Cru; Steak and chips and grilled tuna as well as their ice cold Hinano Beers. The owner was always very generous with us and we always enjoyed our time in this lovely little spot where we could look across the anchorage at Hamble Warrior and watch the comings and goings of the little port.

Another favourite pastime late afternoon was to walk the short distance to the pass out of the reef. If we visited here at ebb tide when the pass was at it's most lively as the water flowed out of the lagoon we would be treated to a spectacular display by the many dolphins that frequented this spot. This was their time to feed and play and we could sit on the wall overlooking the pass and watch as they leapt about energetically in the surf.

The marine life in the Tuamotus is world renowned and snorkeling and diving this area is very popular. We took our kayak and paddled out to the tiny coral island just inside the pass off a very popular snorkeling spot called "The Aquarium". It was an incredible spot to snorkel; and aptly named as we literally found ourselves snorkeling in shallow waters amongst stunning coral and hundreds of different varieties of tropical fish. It was absolutely breathtaking.

The underwater activity was worthy of Attenborough but on land it was the many dogs of Rangiroa that provided endless entertainment; both good and bad. Amongst them both strays and pets; it was impossible to tell one from the other as the many dogs just milled around the quayside; some occasionally called by name and others occasionally shooed away. We soon named them; "Chris' dog" (because Chris claimed it was his dog although we never saw any real evidence this was the case), "bitey dog" who would come over and be very affectionate and then start gently biting in a very Meep like way; she never bit with any malice and only me as I was the one that petted her but Jamie wasn't impressed and she became known as bitey dog after that. Less savoury still was "Pissy dog"; again it was me that courted this unsavoury attention by petting her but she sidled over to me when I was sitting on the quayside one afternoon watching the tour boats disgorge their passengers and she just casually lifted her leg and pissed up my back!! Despite being horrified at this disgusting behaviour we did note that she literally pissed on everything she passed. After that we were very cautious when "pissy dog" was about. Then there was my favourite; lovely pregnant dog, she was genuinely affectionate and would come over for cuddles and pet. I patted her little fat belly and felt tiny kicks coming from inside. She neither bit me nor pissed on me... she was perfect!

Back in the water, sharks were a regular sighting during our time in Rangiroa. We often saw them swimming off the beaches and would also see them swimming under the boat. It took a little getting used to but we learned to trust our instincts a bit and soon realised they weren't a threat to us. My first true leap of faith came when I went in the water to clean the waterline not long after we had first arrived. Again the hull had become heavily fouled during our latter time in the Society Islands and was due a good scrub. Jamie had taken on the task of finishing stitching our headsail which we now desperately needed to put back on before we set sail again having concluded that the old headsail we had been managing with was on its last legs. Jamie set up a work station for himself on deck with a tarpaulin cover to protect him from the sun then he spent most of 2 days under his little tent stitching the sail; first by machine but eventually by hand, stitch by stitch. Whilst he did this I jumped into the water and started scrubbing the hull, as I did I noticed the small black-finned sharks in the deep water far below me circling around. I stopped scrubbing and climbed back on-board pretty quickly. Whilst Jamie carried on stitching away I scanned the water looking for sharks; occasionally one or two would swim to the surface or cruise past. I was getting increasingly frustrated at being kept from my task; eventually I decided I would just have to be brave; these being the same small sharks that the spear-fishermen petted off the beach. Well fed on the many fish of the lagoon; surely they weren't going to be interested in me. I got back into the water and set about cleaning the boot stripe along the waterline; working methodically to turn it back from green to white. I refused to look down at whatever was in the water below me. Eventually I forgot completely about what else might be in the water and was happily scrubbing away for hours getting Hamble Warrior looking respectable once more.

After 2 days Jamie had the headsail ready to bend on and we waited for a calm to take off the old headsail and replace it. With this done we were ready to set sail at the first weather window. However we had to wait quite a while before a suitable one presented itself.

Infact, it was still a couple of weeks before we set off again; in the meantime we re-anchored Hamble Warrior having got very close to a large patch of coral bommies with a change of wind direction. We moved a little further out and reset in a clear patch. This new spot served us well over the coming fortnight although with strong south-easterly winds which blew for several days bringing a fetch across the lagoon and making the boats on the anchorage roll uncomfortably as 
the swell hit us side-on we did deploy our kedge anchor from the stern to hold us bow-on to the waves and make us a slightly more comfortable "hobby horse" rather than rolling from side to side throwing us around like peas in a can! These conditions lasted just a few days but we met cruisers ashore who had taken rooms in the local "pension" rather than stay on-board their boats during those days!

Eventually we had a reasonable forecast that would allow us to make a little more progress towards our destination so we readied the boat for a multi-night passage. We cooked up plenty of meals to keep us going if conditions proved too rough to spend time in the galley; we strapped down everything that could move (except Meep!) and we finally lifted our anchor and after a month in Rangiroa waved a fond farewell. We exited through the pass that we had sat and watched in full flood bubbling with porpoises and passed the last of the tour boats on our way out.

Rangiroa had been an unexpected gem. We would miss her dearly.