Join MERA and her crew around the world through this blog. Welcome to a discovery trip where you can feel the salty sea, hear the waves, watch the sunrise, know the taste of the great sea …
Join MERA and her crew around the world through this blog. Welcome to a discovery trip where you can feel the salty sea, hear the waves, watch the sunrise, know the taste of the great sea …
MERA’s young crew had varying degrees of sailing experience, but all contributed willingly and with good spirits. Galley skills were especially appreciated: French crewmember Chris baked cakes and cookies, and Michelle had crewed for four months aboard a fishing boat, and could prepare nourishing meals in any weather.
Fijian waters are notorious for strong currents, a multitude of coral reefs, and unreliable sea charts. We approached in darkness through the eastern outer islands, and anchored the next night outside Vuda marina, on the western side of the main island of Viti Levu, while waiting for arrival clearance.
The paperwork for clearing in to Fiji is especially demanding, and it was good to have internet-based help from home to prepare some of the many arrival forms.
On arrival we were given a warm welcome by the Vuda marina staff, who greeted us with a local song of welcome.
The Vuda marina has a circular harbor basin, with a narrow approach. During cyclone season the marina entrance is closed, and the boats within the basin are moored Mediterranean style*, with chains instead of mooring lines; all yachts’ bows are fastened to the base of the common mooring buoy in the center of the harbor basin.
* Mediterranean style: the yacht is moored with its stern (rather than the bow) toward the dock
An even more secure cyclone strategy, is to bury the yacht’s hull in the sand:
While waiting for our permit to cruise among the other islands, we were told that we could sail to Malolo island, a popular destination a short way from Vuda. We took the opportunity on the way over to swim and surf in the waves of the passage, and joined other sailors at the barbecue hut.
(Upon being visited by customs and immigration, it turned out that we had received faulty information about Malolo being a permissible visit–but we would not be fined, as long as we immediately returned to Vuda.)
After returning and clearing in, we took a provisioning trip to the town of Lautoka, a rather drab town about an hour’s drive north of Vuda.
Another evening we heard of a party at the nearby Saweni beach, and hired a taxi to travel there‑‑but returned without finding the gathering, as the driver refused to take us to such a remote and reputedly dangerous location.
We hoped to make the crossing from Fiji to New Zealand mid‑October, as soon as we found a favorable weather window. This passage of roughly 1000 nautical miles is notorious for periods of very strong winds and up to 10‑meter seas–so for the first time Espen hired a professional weather router for the advance planning and for ongoing information during the passage.
While we were waiting for favorable weather, we spent a week cruising among the islands of Waya, Naviti, Drawaqa, the Blue Lagoon on Nacula island, and Sawa‑i‑Lau, with their beautiful and plentiful anchorages.
We snorkelled, explored caves and grottoes, and hiked up to local mountaintops.
When visiting the more remote Fijian islands, it is customary to observe the “sevu-sevu” ceremony where visitors offer the village chieftain a gift of dried kava, in order to obtain his permission to visit the island and its waters.
We were accompanied to the chieftain’s reception platform by an island resident bearing traditional weaponry.
Fijians are proud of their history as cannibals; other weapons were designed to paralyze their victims, so that they could be transported live, thereby keeping their “meat” fresh!
The island lifestyle was very relaxed, and villagers could sometimes be found napping just outside of their dwellings.
After several days cruising among the islands, we returned to Vuda to prepare for the passage to New Zealand…and to join in on a birthday celebration!
On October 17 MERA at last departed for New Zealand, together with about 20 other yachts. The forecast was for 25‑35 knot SE‑NE winds, with 3‑4 meter seas for the first four days, after which the wind was predicted to drop.
Normally a vessel of MERA’s size would use one week for this passage. Our weather router suggested that we sail a westward curve in order to encounter less wind, but once we were out in open waters, we found that the conditions were good enough to manage a direct course toward New Zealand. Despite the bumpy, splashy seas, we found that these were in fact ideal conditions for a classic Swan 48!
As all the hatches had to remain closed during the passage, it became unbearably warm belowdecks during the first days, with 40 C temperatures making it difficult to sleep. After awhile the winds and seas decreased, and after four days’ sail the decks remained dry and we could sense cooler winds blowing from the south. Strange after almost one and a half years dressed in sandals and shorts, to re-experience the sensation of being refreshed by a cooling breeze!
MERA arrived at Opua in the northeastern Bay of Islands after five days and 20 hours at sea, at the same time with boat number two from our Vuda departure group. Our average daily distance was more than 200 nautical miles during the first part of the passage, and we motored only 20 hours during the entire trip.
After a good night’s uninterrupted sleep, we set about washing down a salty MERA and her equipment.
The Bay of Islands met our expectations…but a homesick Espen found that the beautiful scenery of Paradise Bay, Waipiro Bay and Robinson Island could still not compare with the charm of the Norwegian archipelago!
Our crew departed for new horizons in November, after having sailed south from Opua to Whangarei Bay. MERA was due for haulout, new layers of bottom paint and some yacht TLC at the well-equipped Marsden Cove marina, as tropical temperatures and humidity had taken a hard toll on both hull and deck.
Two weeks later Espen motored upriver at high tide to the Whangarei Marina, for a bit more maintenance, as well as the opportunity for some local sightseeing.
In early December, MERA motored back downriver to Kissing Point, where she would spend the cyclone season safely tucked away at her mooring, while Espen flew home to Norway for a long-awaited reunion with family…and wintry mountain ski trips!
“By a pleasant twist of fate me and Espen met on one of the sailor’s crossroads in the South Pacific, at the harbor of Papeete on the island of Tahiti. Having just completed my first ocean crossing on a journey that took me to Panama-Galapagos-Marquesas-Tuamotus and Society Islands I faced the dilemma of whether to return back to my current base in Sydney or whether to continue my trip westwards and explore the rest of South Pacific’s wonders. I knew deep inside me that if I had let this opportunity go the possibility of regret was awaiting. -‘Always better to regret for something you’ve done than something you have not’, I told myself. Despite opportunities to cross-oceans don’t come very often in one’s life. It had to be done right now, right there.
I was delighted to be introduced to Espen and his boat “Mera”, a Nautors Swan 48’, by a fellow Italian sailor I made friends with earlier in the Marquesas Is. I always had such an appreciation for Swans that to be given the opportunity to sail and live on one for a period of time felt like a lucky coincidence.
As soon as I met Espen, I could sense that this was a sailor molded by many years of experience. His insistence for doing things properly and not cutting corners revealed a personality of discipline but also foresight of how things could go wrong if not taken care of. This wasn’t a skipper to leave matters to luck and that instilled a feeling of trust and security in all of us.
The boat itself was built at an era when yacht sailors first dared to challenge themselves by setting sail on a round the world race, in what resulted to the glorious ‘Whitbread Races’. Coming out of the design room of Sparkman & Stevens this Swan 48’ was the little sister of the Swan 65’ line that achieved the great honour to be the first boat to cross the line in the first Whitbread race. The stories and achievements of those early sailors have been the inspiration for my own sailing adventures and being able to relive how it was to sail on the teak decks of the 70’s felt like a time travel to that great era of pure sailing.
I was pleased to find in Espen a genuine passion about sailing and a man who absolutely loves his boat. Its true that this boat has received the care and attention that only few other have. Over the years Espen has spent a great deal of effort, time and funds to make Mera the boat it looks today and equip it with all the necessary systems that would make her capable for a safe and comfortable ocean cruise. There is no part or detail of the boat that Espen isn’t aware of and his connection with this boat transcends the one between man and object taking on personifying dimensions.
Newcomers were often overwhelmed about how to go around and often habits acquired from past boat experiences didn’t work the same way here but there was always a good reasoning about how things were laid out. Mera’s immaculate condition is a result of the meticulous attention that she has received.
As such we all tried our best to take care of Mera hoping she would take care of us and she more than did. Our journey took us from Tahiti with a brief stop on Moorea to Rarotonga, Palmeston atoll, Niue, Tonga, Fiji and finally New Zealand.
Unforgettable experiences such as playing with the friendly stingrays of Moorea, being welcomed by the generous locals in Rarotonga, meeting and talking to the descendants of the Marsters family on Palmerston atoll whilst trying to eat all of the ice-cream they were insisting we should finish off, diving in the underwater caves of Niue and exploring its magnificent chasms and rock formations, swimming alongside the gigantic humpback whales in Tonga, snorkeling in the magnificent waters of Fiji, surfing the gnarly breaks of tavarua island, delving in the caves of the Sawa-i-Lau after offering kava to the local chief, cruising and hiking on the majestic Bay of Islands in New Zealand are just some of the highlights of memories that will forever be etched in my memory.
I am also personally indebted to Espen for after a crew shuffle we had in Tonga he accepted onboard my new partner and her sister, whose plans came to an end after their boat hit a reef in Samoa which left them with a damaged rudder. We patiently waited for them as they embarked on a dangerous voyage to make it to Tonga. On their day of arrival Espen was keen to take Mera’s dingy out of the harbor in order to give them a warm welcome and guide them through Neiafu’s waterways. We were all delighted they made it safely and excited to continue the rest of the trip with a new crew.
Needless to mention at this point that I deeply enjoyed the trip from Tahiti to New Zealand and some of my nicest memories were shaped there. It was a nourishing experience on multiple levels. I enjoyed our Philosophical conversations over a glass of wine or beer with you Espen and I won’t forget all the new tricks of seamanship and navigation I learned from you. I wish Mera a safe return to its home in Porsgrunn where I have no doubt she will always be in good hands and for you Espen always fair winds and great adventures.
Espen and Robin are back in New Zealand to enjoy a few weeks’ coastal sailing and sightseeing, before preparing MERA’s transport home via freighter to Southampton.
This marks the end of Espen’s round the world voyage; the time away from family grew lonely, the ocean passages felt long, and the constant need to recruit and train new crew became a burden (a worry even before departure). We have had many skilled and pleasant individuals on board–as well as a very few who were a less than optimal fit on board.
MERA will continue sailing in Scandinavia and Europe…as well as future voyages in more distant waters!
At Rarotonga we moored up in Avatiu harbor on the north side of the island. As the main island in the Cook Island group, Rarotonga is fairly developed, with several hotels and restaurants. The harbor is home to both commercial vessels and sailing yachts.
On our first evening we were invited to the harbormaster’s private farewell party for one of his staff.
We invited the crew of Canadian sailing yacht Complicite for dinner “Chez MERA” one evening, and Dan and Mauro served a three-course dinner for the nine of us! Later on in the evening, the MERA crew socialized with Complicite’s crewmates Michelle, Ariel and Camilla.
The weather next day was windy, with torrential rain and cooler temperatures (around 24C)…a good day for staying indoors and reading.
Another day Espen rented a moped and drove all the way around the island (which took only about an hour), although as at previous islands it’s also possible to hitchhike at Rarotonga. Lots of nice beaches!
Unfortunately Mauro and then Espen became ill while we were at Rarotonga, and both were bedridden with a cough and fever. Even when it came time to depart, the skipper and crew were not feeling entirely up to speed.
As luck would have it, more misfortune was in store for us: while still moored up within the relatively shallow harbor, MERA’s hull suffered some damage when the wake from a departing ship pushed a neighboring boat 4-5 meters sideways, so that they smacked into MERA. Unfortunately they hadn’t moored up adequately for the conditions at Avatiu. (We are waiting for the owner to cough up his insurance details…)
After leaving Rarotonga and sailing NW for 280 sea miles, MERA arrived two days later at Palmerston Island, a tiny place in the middle of the Pacific with crystal-clear waters, where Complicite was also anchored.
Palmerston has no airport, harbor or scheduled visits by other ships, so leaving the island by other means than private yacht can take awhile…
The local residents picked us up from our anchorage, and their boat with shallow draft was able to transport us between the shallow coral reefs. Impressive that even in the dark, they managed to find their way through the narrow passage and current.
The Palmerston residents were very hospitable, and welcomed us with cake, candy and beverages. How they manage to make a living in such a remote place, is a mystery…
We were invited to tea with the island’s teacher, who is employed on a three year contract. The students weren’t particularly interested in schoolwork, she explained. Strangely enough, she also gave the children swimming lessons, as they were not particularly good swimmers…although they knew how to dive!
While laying in bed, Espen could hear (through the hull) the whalesong between a baby whale and its mother. Palmerston also had turtle farms, where the turtles were later released into the wild. The meat tastes good, but has green fat which smells unappealing.
The shallow waters at Palmerston were full of fish and rays, as well as sharks fighting for the fish offal that gets thrown into the water. Swimming here not advised!
As our anchorage outside Palmerston offered little protection, MERA departed after a couple of days, setting course for the tiny island of Niue (280 sea miles to the SW).
We arrived near midnight, after a slow sail taking two and a half days. As was the case at Palmerston, Niue has no harbor; with no mooring buoys available, MERA hove to in the lee of the island, with the entire Pacific ocean to the west.
Going ashore at Niue is a bit of a project: due to the sea swell, our inflatable dinghy had to be hoisted ashore for each visit; this could be quite an adventure when the seas rushed up the slippery steps of the dock. Hard not to get wet!
Niue was more “civilized” than Palmerston, with a couple of places to eat out.
We rented a car in order to transport jerry cans of diesel back to the boat, and for visiting the island’s small supermarket. We also got to visit some of the local attractions, taking a swim (during a rainshower) in a cool freshwater spring which emptied into the ocean.
Mauro, Christophe, Dan & Evan
The ocean waters were especially clear at Niue, and Evan and Dan went on a diving trip, while Chris experienced a whale safari.
Tonga…where time flies!
On August 27th we departed Niue…and on the 30th, after only a two-day passage (250 sea miles), we arrived at the island of Vava’u in Tonga!
In crossing the international dateline, we had lost a day:
the local time was now 11 hours LATER than in Norway (instead of 12 hours earlier, as at Cook and Palmerston).
As MERA had made good speed on the passage, we needed to drift offshore for a couple of hours, before motoring in to the island of Vava’u and its protected bay at the town of Neiafu.
Vava’u is more developed than the other islands we’d recently visited, with waterfront restaurants and bars, as well as tiny stores with limited selections, run by the island’s Chinese residents. Evan bought fresh fish for sushi at the local market.
We spent several days in this part of Tonga, which consists of many small islands and 40 or more natural harbors. We snorkelled among the reefs, and swam in grottoes among schools of colorful fish.
At many of these islands it’s impossible to get ashore, as the ocean has hollowed out the lower portion of the rock–giving the island the shape of a broad mushroom, where the edges overhang the base of the island.
The Tongans are churchgoers, and so there is not much going on outside of religious services on a Sunday. We went on an organized trip to the botanic gardens, followed by lunch: lots of good food, including roasted suckling pig. Unfortunately, we were unable to tour the gardens, as they are closed Sundays.
MERA’s crew also attended a local party, where Tongan food was served, followed by song and dance.
Afterward, the crew were invited to partake in a kava* ceremony.
*kava (as described by Espen):
“A mildly alcoholic, bitter drink that looks like grayish water, made from powdered tree roots and served from a big plastic bowl into a small wooden bowl passed among the guests.”
Crewmember Dan was born on Tonga, and was leaving MERA to fly to Tongatapu in the southern island group to visit friends and family, before returning home to the UK to continue his studies. On Dan’s last evening in Tonga, the crew celebrated ashore with a rather”wet” night out.
Vava’u to Ha’apai to Vava’u
Even after officially checking in at Tonga, it’s necessary to check out and in again when visiting a new island group. All land in Tonga is owned by the Tongan king, and administered by the nobility (a prioritized group of Tongan residents where the title passed on through inheritance).
On MERA’s way south toward Tongatapu, we stopped in the Ha’apai island group, at the island of Pangai. Unfortunately we experienced several days with rain and wind, and with more of the same being forecast, we weren’t able to see much of the island.
Espen visited the local sailors’ bar, where he met Tony and Ken–respectively, the construction manager and project manager for the building of a new, cyclone-proof hospital.
As Espen is a “professional” in the field of building construction, he was invited to visit the site the following day:
And afterward, the project staff served Espen a fantastic Chinese lunch, prepared especially for the visiting guest!
We received news that Complicite had gone aground on a reef in Samoa and damaged her rudder, and was headed to Vava’u for repairs. MERA crewmember Mauro was interested in changing places with two of Complicite’s Canadian crew, so MERA sailed back to Vava’u again to await the crew change.
Although (or because) we had good sailing winds, MERA had to reduce sails in order to lower boatspeed to the “snail rate” of four knots, in order to avoid a nighttime arrival.
Unfortunately, Complicite experienced further difficulties with her rudder on the way south toward Vava’u, and sought shelter at Vaipoa in the northernmost Tongan islands, to wait for more favorable travel conditions.
While waiting for Complicite’s arrival, MERA visited the lagoon of Hunga Bay (SW of Vava’u island). This was originally a volcanic crater, and entry is only possible at high tide through a narrow, shallow passage. The high water level here can vary by as much as 1.5 meters.
We visited the local village at Hunga, with its population of 150 residents (and a total of five churches), before returning to Neiafu at Vava’u island.
On September 22nd, our new crewmembers Michelle (26) and her sister Ariel (18) were both on board, and MERA was en route to Fiji!
After a longer stay in the Societies, MERA sails with all new crew Christophe (French), Dan (UK), Evan (Greek) and Mauro (Italian) toward Rarotonga.
Here are Espen’s passage & arrival notes:
“Sailing for the 5th day – 2 days tacking in light wind and sea. Wind straight in the nose. All hatches open. Need air after 3 days! ETA tomorrow morning, 65 NM left. Good we did not get the weather predicted.
Happy guys on board, but one of the crew not quite well, seasickness and feels weak.
A lot colder now at 20 degrees south. Nice to be in the sun. Jackets on in the night.
Nice sail but long time…5 days: 2 downwind, 1 heavy beam reach/headwind and 2 light tacking.
Have to leave harbor Sunday because of north wind blowing straight in – dangerous! Heaving to behind island, and probably sail back to harbor monday.”
After our busy last days in Tahiti, we finally got to enjoy doing what MERA does best…
Moorea on the horizon
The Society Islands are believed to have gotten their name during Captain Cook’s 1769 voyage; one version of the story is that the name honors the Royal Society which sponsored the scientific survey; another is that Cook himself chose the name because the islands “lay contiguous to one another.”
The Windward Islands include Tahiti and Moorea, while Bora Bora is the most well known of the Leeward Islands.
Unlike the Tuamotus, these islands tend to have a hilly or mountainous center island, surrounded by a lagoon and coral reef, where the reef also consists of small islands or “motu”.
At anchor within the reef
While relaxing at anchor in a deep bay one evening, we heard a voice calling out in the darkness. Turns out a local fisherman wished to tie off to our stern, and was happy to donate the evening’s catch in return.
Moorea’s clear waters and coral reefs host stingrays, black tip sharks and other marine life, and when ashore we became island tourists.
Fair weather dinghy mooring
Local juice factory
Tour boats at the motu
Easy days in Huahine
From Moorea we had a relaxed overnight sail to Huahine, one of the Leeward Islands. Huahine’s main town Fare provided a safe anchorage, with a short dinghy ride for provisioning…as well as the local sailor’s bar.
We spent a day touring by dinghy to the island’s coral garden (by way of an abandoned coconut grove), as well as visiting a pearl farm.
Raiatea and Taha’a
As all of the Leeward Islands are no more than a day’s sail from one to another, our next stop was Raiatea, the second largest of the Society Islands, laying within the same surrounding reef as its quiet northern neighbor Taha’a (“Ta Ha AAH”).
We stopped first at the main town of Uturoa for provisioning, and while there decided to hike the trail to the Three Waterfalls. Or at least that was the plan…
Turns out that certain essential turns on this trail are a well-kept secret…
for all but locally familiar guides.
After our strenuous efforts, we decided to move on to lower key Taha’a, with its dramatic sunset view of neighboring Bora Bora.
Changing Times in Bora Bora
Although Bora Bora’s marine life may not be as varied as it once was, its beautiful surrounding lagoon (and the name alone) draw visitors from around the world. Transportation from the airport to the central town of Vaitape, is not by anything so mundane as a taxi or bus…but rather a highly snazzy “Navette” (catamaran).
We anchored behind an island within the lagoon, well in advance of the arrival of Espen & Robin’s daughter Maya (the “M” in “MERA”), who would be joining us for the following two weeks.
At this point Steffan and Jacob made the decision to leave the crew–Steffan for time ashore and further passage sailing, and Jacob for another crew opportunity. So the hardcore “MER” crew decided to distract ourselves with Bora Bora’s annual Heiva festival, featuring traditional Polynesian dance, drums and outrigger canoeing competitions.
This was also one of the more rigorous parts of the journey, demanding great concentration and skill. We had various ways of preparing ourselves both physically and mentally…
In retrospect, it seems that we might have needed a slightly different skill set.
Nearly all of Bora Bora’s beaches are private, belonging to exclusive resorts; however we managed to navigate our way close to Matira beach (the only public beach on the island), in time for skipper Espen’s birthday celebration!
The MER crew then returned to the relaxed waters of the Raiatea/Taha’a lagoon.
One of Polynesia’s export products is vanilla. From our mooring in Hurepiti Bay we departed on an excellent day’s botanical and vanilla tour with our host and guide Noah.
We also learned a great deal about the local infrastructure…
Baguette mailbox (yes, seriously!)
From here we also had dinghy access to a beautiful local beach, as well as the coral gardens between nearby motus.
Noah was kind enough to lend us the use of his speedy Wifi (a treat ranking right up there with freshwater showers, for cruising sailors in this part of the world).
Yet all too soon the time came for Maya and Robin to return to Norway;
MERA departs Taha’a for the return trip to Bora Bora and its exotic airport…
further adventures to come!
The new crew formation had to be given an name: ESMERALDA
Sverker, with sailing yacht
MERA, on a
From Marquesas to Tuamotus, there is about 450 miles. On the way we passed a few islands called Disappointment Islands, where we did not stop. After 3 nights, we arrived early morning to the atoll Raroia.
An atoll is a string of islands around the edges of an old mountain that has been consumed by the ocean. Some atolls are complete, ie covering 360 degrees with reefs or islands, whereas other atolls have one or two passages, or openings to let boats go from outside to inside. Due to tidal changes, these passes have a strong current either pushing water in or out of the atoll in a 6 hour cycle. The strong current, up to 6 knots, can in combination with the wind create choppy waters. Sometimes with 3 meter high standing waves. Similar to what you can see in rivers. Hence, the smoothest way to enter or exit an atoll is during high or low tide when the water is more or less flat. This meant that more than once we came in too early to enter an atoll and had to slow down and wait for the right tide before entering.
Going through a pass.
It’s important to time the passes correctly,ideally the tide is going the direction you are and so is the wind. Here’s what a pass looks like when wind is against the current.
Compared to Marquesas, the Tuamotus are much drier (though it rained every now and then), and with much less fertile soil. Much of the land is finely crushed coral. From all the fruit that we were spoiled with in Marquesas, in Tuamotus we only found the coconut tree. The Tuamotus does not have any mountains and are in general only a few meters high. The standard picture of a South Pacific dream island. What you do not see on those pictures of white sandy beaches, with over hanging coconut trees, is that the white sand is most often small pieces of coral. Not so nice to walk on without sandals.
The view from the mast, Fakarava.
Snorkeling with black tip sharks.
This is the atoll that Norwegian adventurer/scientist Thor Heyerdal arrived at, or crashed into, after crossing over from South America back in 1947(?) in the Kontiki. Thor tried to prove that Polynesia could have been populated by migration from South America. While successfully showing that this could have been the case, later DNA analysis proved that migration came from the west.
The anchor on Mera is always providing a safe stay, with the boat firmly connected to the bottom. But when the anchor winch breaks down when the anchor is at 20 meter depth, the chain is quickly converted from safety line to a dog leash. This happened to us in Raroia, as we planned to sail across to the Kontiki island. After spending a couple of hours dismantling, swapping oil and hammering here and there, we again got the winch to work, but we were delayed 24 hours. Which was no problem as our schedule had lots of slack. We also sensed a great deal of satisfaction: it is said that happiness comes from facing problems that you can handle.
Throughout the Tuamotus islands, we had tremendously good diving. Think aquarium, but add many many more fish. Including black tip sharks and stingrays. Initially, we had a lot of respect (=we did not dare to dive) for the sharks and the suckerfish. The latter as we had heard they could suck on to your more delicate parts of your body. But once we gotten wooden sticks we felt we were able to defend ourselves, and had no problems diving.. although these wooden sticks certainly only made us feel safer versus actually being safer.
On Makemo, we made friends with the “local” Mormon preachers (a guy from South Carolina and his side kick from Tahiti) and with the French lady who was running the local boulangerie. Seemingly successful as she had a Harley Davidson motor cycle, that she could run up and down the 10 km asphalted road of Makemo. She kindly let us borrow two bicycles to do the round trip down to the airport.
In one of the atolls, we found Eva and Tapio. Back in 1973, Eva promised Tapio that she would join him on a circumnavigation. Exactly one circumnavigation. Hence, they have been en route for the last 40+ years. When they came to French Polynesia, 9 years ago, they started to realise that they did not want to bring their boat back to Finland, much better to have it in the South Pacific. This conclusion was reinforced a year ago, when they spent three winter months back home, and counted a total of 3 minutes of sun shine. Though 70 years old, while in South Pacific, they feel young.
Raroia, Makemo, Fakarava, Toau, Apataki, Rangiroa. For most tourists that we met, they had come to the far end of the world, for us it was just one step closer to civilization (Tahiti!). About every second atoll we visited was inhabited, also meaning they usually had an air strip and a local shop, while the other half was uninhabited.
In Fakarava, Esmeralda was joined by Jacob, calling for a new crew acronym:
“JES we can!” (Jacob, Espen, Sverker)
Jacob joined the crew in Fakarava after spending six weeks backpacking in Indonesia and two weeks in New Zealand. He is from the US, grew up in Florida and spend the last eight years in Boston for school and work as a software engineer.
Life slows way down.
On a day trip with the dinghy.
That looks like a nice island to visit.
Taking the mast apart
A few weeks ago the crew started noticing ball bearings falling on the deck, a sailors bad omen. Espen and Sverker hypothesized that there was a problem with the main furler. While in Fakarava we confirmed this was the source of the issue after spending a day taking the main sail down and partially taking apart the furler. Espen sent Robin messages over SSB radio with details for the parts we need.
Our favorite anchorage in the Tuamotus was at Toau’s false pass (a pass that’s not deep enough to go all the way through) in the north east corner. Except for one night, we were the only people there. Right as we arrived we saw black tip sharks “playing” in the water in front of us splashing around inviting us to join. Well we did a few hours later after gathering our bravery and shark pokers. We were rewarded with a family of ten spotted sea ray, 10-15m visibility, black tip sharks that kept their distance, and an incredible labrynth of shallow coral.
We read on deck all morning, then again all afternoon.
There are a few ways the crew can contact home, Stefan has an IridiumGo and Jacob has a Garmin InReach both of which send text messages and our location to family and friends, and the IridiumGo can do fancy weather routing and forecasting. Espen’s SSB radio can send emails, it even works as a radio! A fun activity is scrolling around on the amateur radio stations, Jacob and Espen got lucky one time and found some Americans discussion their favorite type of lawn chairs.
Espen’s vintage FM and VHF radios.
One of Jacob’s first observations, coming aboard Mera, was that the legacy crew members were nagging each other as an old married couple.
After leaving the last atoll, Rangiroa, we had a 36 hour passage down to Tahiti. Though initially we had rather weak winds, it luckily picked up saving us from spending an additional night rolling around. We arrived in Papetee just as the sun was setting over Moorea and with an hour to spare Espen officially checked the boat and crew into French Polynesia.
Night watch in a squall.
Wow. We are in Tahiti! That’s nice! In Tahiti the JES-we can crew was joined by Stefan, forcing us to again change the acronym, this time to:
JESS – we can.
Stefan joined us after crossing the Pacific on another boat and before that Belgium via Thailand where he’s lived for the last twenty years.
We arrived in this new mountainous paradise after a 30 something hour sail from Rangiroa. Jacob was excited for his first passage, Sverker luckily had all squalls on his watches, and Espen was excited to raise the cruising spinnaker.
We sailed down from Papetee to Mara’a then Taravao. We went for a sunset snorkel, Stefan tried his luck at fishing although we are still waiting for the 100lb tuna. We’ll have to find some better bait than stale bread. We hiked to a small waterfall.
Jacob and Sverker hitchhiked into Tahiti’s center, fortunately it was a national holiday which meant lots of Tahitian’s we’re in the area otherwise the 20km 4×4 trail would have made for a long hike to the midpoint. They made sandwiches on the side of a river and went for a swim to cool off.
The hitchhikers seat.
Sverker leaving and Robin arriving
We lost a guest flag this week with Sverker’s leaving after four months on board, with MERA he’s crossed the Pacific, seen the Panama canal, sailed the south seas, and is living proof that you only need two pair of underwear (three if you want a new pair for the flight home). So, farewell Sverker!
Espen and Robin from a 4×4 tour the crew took across Tahiti.
And the main engine exhaust.
And the freezer.
And provisioning for a few weeks.. MERA’s crew and captain have done a lot to get her ship shape before leaving Tahiti!
Don’t drop it!
There’s 96 bottles of beer in the transom, take one down pass it around..
Espen whispering to the muffler, “you will stop leaking exhaust!” It listened. Of course.
Our lines are coming up in a few hours for the half day sail over to Moorea, a moment that feels disproportionately large to the crew. Espen pointed out, we have completed a season’s worth of repairs in one week, getting to Moorea means our hard work paid off and the adventure continues.
We are in Hiva Oa, officially in the south pacific! Islands far out in the middle of the ocean. We again met up with most of the World ARC fleet, who had arrived a couple of days ahead of us, filling up the anchor bay in Hiva Oa.
A change in plans
We said farewell to Violetta in Hiva Oa after a successful passage across the Pacific while Ola, Sverker, and Espen cruised the islands towards Noku Hiva.
Garden of paradise
The Marquesas islands are very fertile. Droves of lime, mango, bananas, coconut and other fruit were almost polluting the streets and pathways. Simply too much crop for the inhabitants to take care of. Kind of like my apple trees back home, but 365 days a year.
The best food for seafood lovers is Poisson Cru in Coconut milk. Raw fish in lime and coconut milk, ingredients in abundance in Polynesia. Polynesian sushi.
The world’s most sold car
Just outside Hiva Oa, there is a giant copy of the most sold car ever: the candy car Ahlgrens Bilar. Somebody should advice Ahlgrens to make their next commercial on Hiva Oa.
In Marquesas you do not need to try to hitch hike. On several occasions, Ole and Sverker while walking down the road, were stopped by car drivers (often female), asking where we were going, and whether they could offer a drive. Most often, we turned them down, as our legs needed some exercise after the 18 days crossing.
Gaugain and Brel
Famous French and Belgian artists have spent considerable time on these islands. Hence there was a museum.
Most islands had a church, but alternative worships were also present.
Can be tiresome.
Ole and Sverker went on long hikes in the hills of the Marquesas. On one of those hikes, they passed a Pomplemousse tree (sweet grapefruit) in the wild, and Sverker said: “Too bad we did not bring a large bag to collect some fruit”. During the next km, guess what was found? Yes a jute bag, just ready to be filled with 20 kg of fruit. It was duly filled on the return leg of the hike. And kept the boat with a good source of vitamin C until half way thru Tuamotus islands.
Beautiful sand beaches
Not many, but squeezed in between the rocky shores, there were very nice sand beaches, not seldom combined with a small river mouth. Meaning you could choose between salt water and fresh water swimming
Lost sun glasses
On returning with the dingy to the anchored Mera a dark evening, Sverker by accident lost his sun glasses from the bow of the boat. Making a cross on the boat where the glasses were lost😊, he started diving the next day to find them on 8 meters depth. After 2 hours he gave up. Happiness does not come from trying to solve problems you cannot handle. ☹
The water problem
Sailing around the world, one of the problems to address is how to get fresh water. Many boats, like Mera, are equipped with water makers, making fresh water from sea water using a reversed osmosis technique. In one anchorage we found the German yacht SuAn, who solved the water problem by collecting rain water. Pennies from heaven?
Not since the San Blas islands of Caribbean side of Panama, have we had the pleasure of collecting coconuts on the beach. Sverker handled the peeling, drilling, smashing and carving.
Incidents per year
With 2 persons coming from IT background aboard Mera, it was natural to discuss the number of incidents per hour etc. But we soon found out that in the relaxed life style of the Marquesas, the correct measure here would be number of incidents per year. Perhaps a handful.
Hike to the water fall
Nuku Hiva has the highest water fall of all French Polynesia. To get there, you go by boat to a remote beach, and hike up a river for about 2 hours to reach the bottom of the fall. There we found a fantastic natural pool, with a strong shower. As recommended by some ARC members: when the locals ask you, on the way up, whether you want dinner on the way down, just say yes. And we had a good meal made from local ingredients, except for the Chinese rice. Memorable.
Hiva Oa, Tahuata, Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou
Towards the end of the stay in Marquesas, Ole flew back home to Norway. While Espen and Sverker started planning for the next leg, down to Tuamotus.
Leaving one paradise, headed for another.
Proud and innocent, we set off for the 3000 mile passage from Galapagos to Hiva Oa in Marquesas, French Polynesia, South Pacific. Little did we know what was ahead…
A day after leaving Galapagos, the wind died out, and we had to use the iron main sail (you know, the one with 100 hp) for almost 2 days until we came across the no wind doldrum belt usually prevailing around the equator. After this, we had good wind for the remainder of the passage.
Sverker’s appetite, as usual, went down on the open ocean. However after 7 days he really started to become tired and reserved. Violetta, keeping a perhaps motherly eye on the crew, recognized the issue and convinced Sverker to try her special Blueberry oat porridge. As an obedient boy, he ate up despite lack of appetite. A couple of hours later, Sverker was back on track.
No catching up World ARC
Every day, we tuned into the short wave radio, for the World ARC update. They had left Galapagos a few days ahead of us, and though initially, it seemed we were catching up with their laggards (going thru the doldrums that we still had ahead), after some time we realized we would not catch up.
Ole had bought a brand new, made in Finland, 15 cm lure for the fishing rod in Galapagos. Witin a few minutes something really heavy was on the hook, but just a few seconds later, the line snapped. It had been bitten off close to the lure. So now, a big fish, with a big mouth and sharp teeth is swimming around with a wooden Finish lure, hook and all. Lucky to still be alive. And we were lucky not having to try to bring aboard, what in our minds became a monster fish. Despite continuous trying, we got no other fish on the hook during the passage.
We knew we would have no internet connection, apart from Espen’s short wave radio modem, which could transmit text emails. But we did not know how frustrating it can be not to be able to Google answers to questions, discussions and disputes. One crew member asked “Anybody knows if you can take the subway from San Fransisco airport all the way to the Oakland airport on the other side of the Bay?” Another crew, who had lived in SF answered: “There is no subway in SF, only trams and buses. I lived there and sailed the Bay. There is no subway tunnel on the charts”. With Google, the discussion would have been concluded instantly. But we had all the time in the world to discuss this for a couple of hours. Not settled until we reached Hiva Oa. Other unsolvable riddles included: “Did BeeGees come from Australia?”
Living in our little bubble, we were unaware of the business of the outside world. Had Trump said something controversial again? Well, that we kind of assumed. Would have been more strange if he had suddenly turned into a normal politician. Whatever that is.
We constantly watched out for that imaginary floating Walmart, holding all our innermost dreams. But we never saw it, despite the sun going anti clock wise. So, we had to bake our own bread.
Being stuck out in the middle of the ocean for almost 3 weeks can be tough psychologically. Some crew members got more home sick than others. Captain was aware of the problem, and kindly offered the satellite telephone so that crew had the opportunity to talk to their next of kin.
No overnight stops
When on a long passage, you sail 24/7. Day as well as night.
If something breaks, you either fix it yourself, or wait until you get to your destination.
We were sharing the 20 sqm(?) of indoor space. In lighter wind, we found refuge and solitude on the forward deck.
Some crew members had pre loadad their e-readers with novels etc, while others relied on an older technology whereby ink was used on thin sheets of pulp material. The sheets bound together into inch-thick piles. Actually works without electricity, provided there is sunshine. But they use some type of permanent ink, meaning the thin sheets cannot be reused.
No garbage disposal
Though provisioning and storage provided a headache, a larger problem was how to handle the non-biological waste material. Espen had learned from a french crew how to cut plastic waste into thin sheets and put these into empty bottles, thereby preventing bad smell. Remaining crew was not overly enthusiastic about this excessive cutting, but a solution was reached when someone realised it was easier to use empty Pringle-boxes with their large opening.
No cooling off
Going thru the doldrums, at least Sverker was able to use the swimming rope (see blog post on Passage to Galapagos) when the boat was making less than 4 knots. But after that we made good speed. In high waves. Meaning impossible to use the swimming rope. Cool night shifts saved the day.
But a lot of fun
No boring moments. A good 4 hour shift schedule that kept everyone on a rotation. And a good meal&cleaning schedule masterminded by Violetta. So we got routine, a clean boat, meals on time and chewed off average some 170 miles per day. When there was still 1000 or 2000 miles to go, the daily mileage did not mean so much. But when we came in less than 500 miles to go, we slowly began to realise that all good things will come to an end.
Land ohoy! As the sun rose we saw the grand island of Hive Oa in the Marquesas of French Polynesia. Truly South Pacific! After anchoring, getting the dingy ashore, the crew almost climbed each other to get some steady land under our feet. Feeling tired of being a prisoner of the boat for sooo long. And on the hunt for wifi.
In Hiva Oa, at 139 degrees west, Mera has reached 41% of the longitude goal.