We have just completed our first year at sea, it’s difficult to fathom that we have sailed almost half way around the world. I still feel like we are just practicing but here we are sitting off a palm covered atoll in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean.
We had planned to celebrate with a nice meal at the poshest hotel we could find in Rotoava the main town on the Fatarava Atoll. We had enjoyed a nice lunch there at the beach bar over looking the clear waters of the lagoon. One of the main sources of income for the whole archipelago is pearl farming, the resort farms its own pearls but the display and shop didn’t open until five so a perfect excuse to return for dinner the next day.
Wednesday started fine and calm, we set off for what is now a normal morning when we reach a bit of civilisation. Firstly find somewhere to get rid of the rubbish, Rotorava turned out, like all the Polynesian towns and villages we have visited so far, to be organised and tidy. There was a platform for rubbish, raised to stop the dogs rifling through the bags, sited conveniently next to the docks.
We walked down the Main Street, well the only street to be honest, through the town. Each house was brightly painted in a different colour and nestled in its own piece of land that was carefully tended and full of flowering plants. Leading from each roof were pipes into large water butts, the islands being just strips of coral have no source of fresh water and so every drop of rain is collected. Between the gaps of the houses and the tall pine trees that lined the road the turquoise sea sparkled invitingly. The town had a relaxed happy feel, people wandered down the street, chatted on corners, or leisurely cycled past, greeting each other and us with a wide smile and a friendly “Bonjour”. Incongruous to the sleepy atmosphere and overpowering the ever present roar of the ocean pounding the outside of the atoll, was the occasional blast of music, strangely everybody here seemed to be listening to rap.
We came to the couple of stores, the shelves were mostly empty but they did have thankfully the ubiquitous baguettes, we found potatoes and carrots, biscuits and crisps and ‘glory be’ some grapes. It is common to bump into other cruisers, everybody swaps what knowledge they have. Today it was the chef from a large motor boat, Dorethea, that we have seen in a lot of the anchorages since the Galápagos, he searched in vane for anything decent to cook with, I sent him in the direction of some fresh eggs we had found. Rick had bought the dingy to the nearest point to the store, today’s supermarket car park turned out to be a tiny sandy beach with a single post to tie the dingy up to.
A further rather hot quarter of a mile up the road bought us to the Fatarava Yacht Services office, basically just the house of an enterprising French couple, they will try to help with anything you need. They act as a postal address for letters or parcels of spares, they will do your laundry, provide you with small amounts of fuel, hire you a bicycle, book you a restaurant, the list goes on and on. We wanted their free access to the Internet, we bought tea and coffee, sat on the veranda and spent a pleasant hour catching up with the world, I posted a blog and some pictures, Rick downloaded 250 old emails and we checked an alternative weather forecast.
They also had a book exchange, you will find these in most ports of call, with the limited space onboard and restricted access to the Internet to top up on ebooks they are a highly valued commodity. Rick exchanged four books, as he put them into his bag it occurred to me that these books are doing their very own world cruise, hopping from one boat to another. What tales, besides those written in their pages, they must have to tell.
We returned to Raya and in the time it took for us to prepare lunch the hazy sunshine had disappeared and black clouds loomed on the horizon. A storm moved in, it blew around 25-35kts for about five hours. The wind was from the SE and as we were in the NE corner of the atoll we no longer had any protection and with the atoll over 25nm long, there was plenty of room for waves to form . The anchorage of boats was being battered by a short 4ft chop and monsoon levels of rain. We turned the path tracker on, on my iPad to check for any movement and switched the anchor alarm on, on the chart plotter, the anchor was holding firm. The dingy now impossible to raise onto the davits, bounced and bucked like a cork in a washing machine, we attached three lines to it and Rick had to risk life and limb to get onboard and bail it out, twice!
This weather was completely unforecast and by the way the local boats scrambled for home, I think even they were taken by surprise at its ferocity. There was no way we could leave the boat and even if we could have got into the dingy there was no way we could have motored the mile, in the sea conditions, to the hotel dingy dock for dinner. Instead we found ourselves celebrating a year at sea, huddled, damp and cold in the cockpit, anxiously watching the dingy and the yellow squiggle of our track as we swung back and forth, sipping mugs of hot tomato soup.
In fact a scene rather similar to that found during the last few days before we left Southampton. It’s a funny old world.