Jody returned to Tahiti a few days before the start of the latest Epic. By then I’d had a few days to scope out the paragliding scene, which is nothing short of spectacular. There’s a local club, with a couple dozen local pilots who welcomed me into their family with big smiles and a generous show of hospitality. An easy, though bumpy 15 minute ride up a ridge just outside of Papeete takes you to launch, which overlooks neighboring Moorea, several world-famous surf breaks, and miles of barrier reef, which from altitude is spectacular. The thermals start firing about 10 a.m. each day and incredibly the site provides year-round flying. We had a week before our next group, which was enough time for me to get in three superb flights and Jody to get one on a near-perfect day.
I could have stayed in Tahiti for weeks longer, but our horizon lay south to an area which by what few accounts I could find, sounded as spectacular as Tahiti, but without any of its drawbacks- namely people. The Austral islands are French Polynesia’s 5th group, one of the most remote and least visited areas of the vast Pacific ocean. Raivavae would be our destination, some 400 miles SSE of Tahiti which my cruising guide claimed was the most scenic of any island in the South Pacific. Remote, scenic, no tourists, lots of wind- sounded promising.
Our group for the next 14 days arrived on Saturday, the boys who taught us dirty clubs a year ago in Los Roques. Dirty clubs has become the gamestay of the expedition. Each game, a combination of luck and skill has a forfeit that the loser must do. These range from something quite benign, like a swim to a nearby island, to something quite comical like singing from the top of the mast, to something not very pleasant. Like getting tattooed. The forfeit on our first game, not long after Rawleigh, Doug, Gerry and Craig arrived was just that. The next time we cross a tatoo artist I will be the not-so-proud owner of a jack of clubs tattoo. Stay tuned to the Captain’s logs for proof that I serve my loss.
We spent the weekend exploring Tahiti and visiting the local kite spot on the NW coast, which provided for a memorable 5 mile downwinder alongside Discovery, always a favorite of our guests. I imagine the locals were pretty blown away when we pulled in and anchored, launched everyone off the boat, then followed them down the coast. The benefits of kiting off a catamaran with a crew at your disposal are certainly enviable. We invited a fellow Best rider, Franz Heymann who I’d met over the weekend. As Franz had been following these logs since we launched a year and a half ago, we were psyched to show him what it’s all about.
With the winds shifting to NE on Tuesday, a perfect direction for heading south we laid plans to depart from nearby Moorea, which gave us a day and a half to explore. On arrival, an easy 12 mile sail from Tahiti the winds picked up to a solid 20 knots. We repeated another 5 mile downwinder, again with Discovery on the kiters heels, although this time they were able to ride down the inside of the barrier reef as the crew and I took the boat around the outside. What a place to kite- the sun setting over the remarkable backdrop of Moorea, majrestic Tahiti in the distance. It was my turn to be envious. Note to self- teach Lars to run this boat ASAP! I want to play too!
We left Moorea the next afternoon. With some luck we’d make it to Raivavae in just over 2 days. Heading SSE in this part of the world is not usually an easy endeavor and while I wouldn’t call the passage easy, it certainly wasn’t hard. Much of it a dead-calm motor, more of it a pleasant sail, and the last 6 hours a beat dead into the wind as a deep low arrived. We filled our days with dirty clubs and the evenings with star gazing. We made landfall at 0300, 56 hours after departure. With everyone asleep we motored quietly under a black sky to a peaceful anchorage where I did what I always do after a landfall- collapse.
The winds have only been one thing since our arrival- unpredictable. Raivavae, being just south of the Tropic of Capricorn gets blasted by the tradewinds, but is also near enough the roaring 40’s that low pressure systems come through frequently, and sometimes with punishing force. So our days, as is so often the case would be dictated by the winds.
When they were light the cards were dealt, when it was strong we’d kite til either our bodies or the light would give out. On our second to last day the boys hit the water for a final 2 and a half hour session which took them from one tip of the island to the other. Discovery sailed out in front, once again leading the way in a place that has never been kited. How many of these spots have we pioneered just in the past year? Once again we share the water with only ourselves and the fish.