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The Circle Closes At Arue

By Shangri-La - Published August 15, 2008 - Viewed 3065 times

August 15, 2008
Tahiti, French Polynesia
149° 25 W 17° 22 S

The Circle Closes At Arue
By Tania Aebi

It is 5:00 AM, and we are off Tahiti, hove-to under the flashing light beckoning from Point Venus 10 miles away. Its beam is slowly fading with the rising sun, and purplish mountains are emerging from the dark. Soon we’ll be able to discern the actual physical shape of the lighthouse itself. The wind is dying, blocked by the big island, and I want to motor along the barrier reef to the pass leading to the anchorage off Taina Marina in full daylight, which is why we’re waiting.

We await the purplish mountains to emerge in the dark.

Nicholas is curled up in his cabin, dead to the world, and Sam is sitting across from me at the salon table, playing a computer game. He insisted on standing my last watch, giving me a few extra hours of sleep, but I’m way too restless. Instead, between trips up on deck to make sure there isn’t some horribly strong current pushing us reefward at perilous speeds, I write my final log entry. This is it for me, the end of my last passage with the boys and Shangri La. Though I can slow down the boat, the clock keeps ticking.

We’ve got almost three weeks before the boys’ father arrives, enough time for Nicholas to finish up his home-schooling program and for us to send everything off to their teachers. Enough time to clean and make sure everything is working. Maybe even a little too much.


Nicholas and Sam, in our final days of sailing together

We’d been in a bit of a yank to get to Tahiti in time for the arrival of some friends, but yesterday, we got an email saying they had to cancel because of a sudden death in the family. I keep thinking how we could have spent one more week in Rangiroa, perhaps even getting up enough nerve to take a chance with the weather and drop in on neighboring Tikehau. Alas, we didn’t, and here we are. Maybe now we’ll have enough time to try and convince my sister to come on a last-minute visit with her kids.

It was pretty hard to haul anchor in Rangiroa. It’s almost as if the work and worry and long passages all had to happen just to earn this most gorgeous and safe anchorage off the empty Kia Ora Hotel. Laying in bed while early morning squalls blew through and Shangri La tugged at her holding anchor, I’d think about all we’d already done, all we were doing, all that still needed to be done, all we wouldn’t be able to do.


We enjoyed our last snorkels in Rangiroa

The kids felt it, too. They were behaving gentler, more helpful and engaged than ever, and the three of us colluded in postponing departure. Emotionally, it was extremely difficult to decide the time had come to leave our little slice of paradise and head for the crowded lagoons of Tahiti, the commercial, political and social epicenter of all French Polynesia. We all knew it signaled the end for me, and for the boys, the end of their beginning.

Physically, it wasn’t easy to leave either. You never just pull up the anchor and go. First, you have to clean and organize everything below, put away all the dishes, then go up on deck. There, you have to take down bathing suits, t-shirts, towels, laundry lines and the windscoop, remove the sail cover, clean up the decks, put away all the snorkeling gear and flipflops, lash down all kinds of stuff, stow the rest below, organize the cockpit, set up the self-steering, lift the dinghy on deck, clean its bottom, lash it down as well, undo the anchor chain snub, get the engine going. All this can be pretty sweaty labor in the tropics, so then you have to take a last dip before actually bringing in the anchor.


Even at anchor, there was always work to do, but in Rangiroa, surrounded by paradise, we enjoyed it more.

And irrationally, based on nothing more scientific than my own neuroses, there was one other little worry that had been nagging me. At one point during the Pacific crossing, in anticipation of future passages, I’d been looking at the pilot charts and flipping ahead in the Nautical Almanac. There, with great consternation, I’d found that on February 7, the sun’s declination would be directly overhead at the same time as a total annular eclipse and no moon. I’d sworn up and down there was no way we’d be at sea on February 6, 7, or 8, thereby avoiding any celestially-inspired potential trouble.

However, on February 2, I let the boys sign up for a last drift dive, where they got to stroke and tickle the tummy of a dolphin that was in touch with her inner cat. On February 3, they went on a last, last dive, where they saw mating turtles, before we visited for the last, last time our little sandbank snorkeling reef.


In the last days in Rangiroa, we savored the time together in a quiet anchorage, all to ourselves

But, that was a Sunday and shops were closed. So, we had to stick around on February 4 to get some fresh baguettes, and then, oh yeah, have a last, last dinner with a Californian couple who’d been diving with and befriending the boys. All this meant we didn’t leave until February 5, which had to happen because of the friends who were supposed to be meeting us on the 9th, which has us making landfall today, on the much maligned and dreaded February 7. I’ve been okay with it, though. Always good at justifying things, I finally decided the celestial convergences could also be good for the weather, and from what I see dawning outside right now, it couldn’t be better.

Navigationally, we had to have everything ready to go so as to be heading out of Tiputa Pass by 11:30. Local knowledge had declared this to be the slack water, the window when we wouldn’t be fighting an incoming flood of six knots or more on top of a headwind. Shangri La’s engine wouldn’t have a fighting chance against that. Nor did we want to go crashing out through ebb waves bucked up by the opposing wind. Tide tables and lunar activity-based projections didn’t really work here, but the dive-boat operators who took loads of divers out to float the pass knew exactly when we should leave. And, we listened.

I’ll always remember the swarms of fish on the sandbanks of Rangiroa

We rounded the bight, cut between the mainland and the sandbank where we’d spent many hours of memorable snorkeling, and painlessly headed out the pass at exactly 11:30. At 12:00, the engine was off and we were sailing, following the barrier reef around the western tip of the atoll, before turning to head between Rangiroa and Tikehau, course set for Tahiti’s northwest coast.

The clouds were puffy, the wind was blowing a perfect 15 knots, the skies were piercingly blue, and it looked like our last passage would be ideal, that we’d be arriving by the next evening, too late to make landfall and so, we’d have to hang out offshore until the following morning.


Finally, we did what had to be done. We upped the anchor and set sail for Tahiti

I kept a couple of reefs in the main and a shortened jib so we wouldn’t go too fast while the boys staked out their stations below and began new books. But then, the sun set, and behind it, the wind started shifting and the first of many squalls roared over us. My hands are still raw from the night of yanking on lines, reefing and unreefing sails, tightening the boom preventer, until the boys relieved me.

On the way to Rangiroa, we’d started a new night-watch schedule. Originally, Sam had been on from 2000-2400, I until 0400, and Nicholas until 0800. Four hours was a long time to stay awake, especially for me. And, Nicholas’ watch always seemed to end two hours early at 0600, when I’d be up for the day anyway.

So, now, Sam is on until 2300, I until 0200, Nicholas until 0500. Then, I take over again for the last few hours before everyone gets up. Much better. It’s a more equitable arrangement and just another thing we figured out late in the game. By now, the boys are also adept enough to monitor the course, and adjust the sails and self-steering accordingly, and I don’t feel the need anymore to get up every 30 minutes to check on things.


Sam in front of the verdant mountains of Tahiti

Because of the weather, for the past 180 miles, and for the umpteenth time since the Caribbean, I’ve been transported back to my youth. This time, I’ve been revisiting my first Tahitian approach in 1986. I remember similar gray, unsettled weather right after bypassing the Tuamotus. I remember gusty squalls, oily calms, an interminable delay, and a sense of urgency because the weather was causing me to miss a flight home to see my dying mother. Today, though, it’s almost as if the ornery skies and fluky winds purposefully conspired to get us here just on time, not too early, not too late. On his watch, Nicholas kept an excellent course, constantly aiming for Point Venus, and here we are.

I look at the large-scale chart of Tahiti with Xs marking our approach, full of mixed feelings. For some reason, I keep thinking about last night when I took down the spinnaker pole and stowed it, how I won’t be doing that again. But, it’s hard for melancholy to get too solid a footing in the face of such beauty. Tahiti’s striking peaks are fully visible, shimmering in early morning light. Neighboring Moorea’s, too. The stunning sight is quite a validating confirmation of the fact that we’re here, that I’ve done what I set out to do with my boys.


Here I am, 22 years later, making landfall again at the anchorage called Arue

In celebration, the unsettled weather of the past 36 hours has been replaced by puffy, little clouds, a faint breeze ruffling the flat waters. The smell of fires and vegetation waft over the water. I can see the mist and hear the rumble of the Pacific breaking on the reef off Arue, the anchorage where I spent four months 22 years ago. Nicholas has just woken up. I’ll get him to come outside so we can take a picture of the three of us in front of our last landfall together. Then, I’ll turn on the engine. Maeva, the island is calling. Welcome. Welcome back. It’s time to head in.


Tania is a proud mom, bringing her boat and boys in for a joyous landfall in Tahiti. In the next log, she hands the boat and boys over to their dad. Stay tuned.














 





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