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Shangri-La  Tahiti  Frenchpolynesia  Rangiroa  Rangi  Panama  

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Last Days In Rangi

By Shangri-La - Published August 01, 2008 - Viewed 3044 times

The boys and I are anchored off a jetty in Rangiroa, familiarly called Rangi (ran-ghee) by the French people living here. There’s a small restaurant overlooking the lagoon at the foot of the jetty where we tie the dinghy when we go ashore. It’s Rangi’s water-based link to the outside world, where the cruise ships disembark their passengers, where water taxis pick up people to bring to neighboring motus, where the inter-island cargo ship loads and unloads goods. Both of my cruising guides indicate this is the best anchorage, and people ashore keep telling us that come May, June, July, there’ll be anywhere up to 15 sailboats anchored here at a time, jostling for space.

Normally, Rangiroa is crawling with other boats. We had the atoll almost all to ourselves

Even though Rangiroa is the most visited atoll in the Tuamotus, we’re calling in at a time of the year when we can feel like nobody ever stops here. For two weeks, we’ve been all alone, the only sailboat. Well, all alone except for the cruise ships. We lost count, but I think six different floating hotels have pulled in on mornings, out in the afternoons.

It has been a good anchorage, pretty snugly protected by the motu, which was why I chose Rangi’s lagoon over some of the other neighboring atolls where anchorages described in the cruising guides face too much fetch for comfort. The prevailing winds here swings from northeast to southeast, and the way the motu curves around just inside Tiputa Pass, it forms a bight that’s further protected from southeast winds by a sandbank. After needing bow and stern anchors to cut back on all the rolling in the Marquesan anchorages, it’s been a really nice change to swing on one hook, sit flat, have the wind scoops work.


Rangiroa has given Tania and the boys time
to relax, hang out, read books, and play

The main motu in Rangiroa is 12 kilometers long and one main taxi works the one main road. We’re at one end; at the other is the main village of Avatoru, a bunch of houses and pensions clustered around the bank, pharmacy, and post office. Unless the taxi comes by first and still has an empty seat, I hitch-hike in every couple of days and get updates on the upcoming French Polynesian elections from the drivers.

Apparently, a move toward independence from France has been one party’s platform and after something like 120 years of being a French protectorate, the potential of separation is provoking many heated debates. Very entertaining, especially for an outsider such as myself who is quite pleased to be able to offer opinions on this election instead of the circus that is ramping up back home. I don’t know how many times the kids have heard how glad I am to be missing all the spin and talk, and how sorry I am that it won’t be over yet when, god and weather-willing, I return home. Even though we are only 200 miles from Tahiti, the end of my journey with Shangri La, I still can’t bring myself to say “when I get home” without asking for blessings from the universe. It won’t be a done deal until that front door slides shut behind me and I’m surrounded by the smell of wood and tiles and home that bears no resemblance to the ever-present hints of diesel, bilge, salt, and fires ashore. Not that Shangri La’s world stinks, or anything like that, but I can’t remember what my house smells like anymore.


It will be hard to say goodbye to the boys,
especially now that they’ve become such awesome mates aboard

About seven kilometers from the anchorage, there’s a restaurant with internet service, and from there I’ve been able to catch up, keep in touch, make plans for the future. I have only one month left with the boys and home-based obligations back in Vermont are already making themselves known. .

Nobody back home wants to hear how hot we get in Rangiroa. Instead, in all my communications, I keep repeating myself, telling everyone how, for the first time since Curacao, I’m feeling relaxed, finally really enjoying myself with the boys. The weather has been good and all the locals keep reassuring me the trade winds and squalls aren’t going anywhere, and nobody is worried about the cyclonic activity that is taking place much further west. So, I’ve been reading real books while manuals have been staying in the manuals box, and the electricity, engine, and sails keep working. I feel knowledgeable and on top of things, and am also keeping a step ahead of the rust. All this and more in such a peaceful and beautiful anchorage reminds me daily of why I wanted to take my boys sailing in the first place.


Things are calm aboard, and life is simple. Here in Rangi, we eat, sleep, read, and play in the water

They’ve also begun settling into the life, getting into it. In Panama, they couldn’t imagine not being at a dock. Now, I have to force them ashore to take walks, to just get off the boat, or out of the water, every once in a while. In Panama, they dreaded a life without regular showers. Now, they don’t even bother to rinse off with the sun shower; they are perfectly fine with saltwater baths and hoisting the sun shower is just one extra and unnecessary step too many. In Panama, they still changed their clothes every day. Now, they wear the same t-shirt and shorts for a week straight and the laundry bag fills very slowly. They cook, they do dishes, they clean, they troubleshoot --ideal first mates. Their hair is getting long and bleached out, and with their tans, they are beginning to cultivate the look of laid back sailor-surfer dudes. My boys.

All they ever really wanted was an underwater paradise, something they only had for six days in the San Blas Islands and have been asking for ever since. Here, their dreams have finally come true. Sam has finished up with his home-schooling program, Nicholas has a little more to go, and so they work around his schedule, diving in the mornings, snorkeling in the afternoons, and in the evenings, talking up everything they’ve seen.


Finally, I’m a relaxed mom aboard, with few worries, except the ticking of the clock

Soon after we arrived here, for four mornings, they went to school to earn their PADI open-water diver certification. Since then, they’ve been doing drift dives down through Tiputa and Avatoru pass and keep coming home with excited descriptions of leopard rays, schools of barracudas, turtles, hammerhead sharks, moray eels. Yesterday, as he set up the bosun’s chair to have Sam haul him up to the first set of spreaders for a dive, Nicholas told me he thought he saw a future in becoming a dive instructor. They’ve even been able to put their new skill to work for Shangri La maintenance

In the Marquesas, I saw that the zinc anode on the propeller shaft was badly corroded and loose. So, one of the guys from the dive company here added a new one to a parts order he’d placed for himself from Tahiti, it arrived the next day, and then they loaned us some dive equipment so Sam and Nicholas could remove the old anode and install the new. Let me tell you, handing over the proper tools and watching my boys do a job for once while all I had to do was take pictures will definitely live on as one of my better memories!

The boys dove under the boat and changed the zinc. Finally, they were full crewmates, doing chores and helping with the maintenance. I was proud

Almost every day, we’ve been dinghying out to snorkel on the sandbank just inside the pass, and it is one of the most amazing underwater spectacles I’ve ever seen -- so vibrant and full of life and color. There is one brown fish that swarms en masse, this immense group of hundreds, of varying sizes, moving heavily along the sand, draping itself over coral heads and sheeting downwards like a huge glob of molasses. Watching them, their endlessly slow and deliberately contented perambulating is hypnotizing.

This amorphous blob of fish is completely unconcerned by me, our schedule, my sadness that the end to our little adventure is drawing nearer, just as I am beginning to see and enjoy the details of the big picture rather than being overwhelmed by the whole. While these fish keep going about their ponderous business, soon we’ll be hauling anchor again and heading for metropolitan Tahiti, the last port of call for me, the midway point for the boys, and where their Dad takes over the helm. In a way, this is our last hurrah. I’m proud to have gotten this far, to see how well the boys are finally adapting, and I try to savor each moment.


Sam and Nicholas have the anchorages they wanted, with plenty of beautiful reefs to explore, sealife to watch, and fish to catch

Even though some moments may have seemed dark and interminable, they passed, and more than ever I’m realizing how fast time has flown by. Six months ago, as I prepared to leave my home, this moment seemed so far away, with so many obstacles littering the path. I had to wrench myself apart from the familiar and into the unknown that has now become the familiar that, in turn, I’m thinking now, will be so hard to leave.

It seems somehow fitting. Tahiti was the place where, 21 years ago when I first traveled these same waters, only a little older than Nicholas, I finally started really appreciating and getting comfortable with life aboard. It was a turning point, the end of a beginning.





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