This trip goes down as the windiest of the expedition to date. We picked up our new group, Mick and Denise from Australia, Luc and Dave from Canada, and Bruce also from Australia right at the airport as we were anchored directly off the tarmac. The winds had been blowing 20 knots plus during most of the days we’d had during our re-provisioning and cleaning break, and the forecast called for more consistent wind than I’d ever seen in more than 10 years of sailing. We would not be short on kiting on this one.
A quick lunch followed our new guests arrival and Bruce, Luc and Dave quickly hit the water for a down winder to a spot that somehow escaped our notice on the last trip. Raivavae is firstly spectacular, ringed with a coral reef and small motus which provide for some of the most scenic flat water riding imaginable. With winds blowing strongly out of the west and winds stronger still in our future I opted to try to get Discovery tucked behind a sand peninsula on the inside of the reef that looked from a distance to be promising, and which would give us relief from the wind chop. Once the kiters were away we pulled anchor, Lars climbed up to the first spreaders to help us navigate safely through a maze of coral heads down a couple miles to the hoped-for anchorage.
Luckily the waters inside the lagoon are magnificently clear and with a high sun we were able to safely negotiate a way through. Our reward for the effort was sizable. While it’s easy to say The Best Odyssey has taken us to some phenomenal areas to kite, this would be our best sand and shallow water stop yet. We very rarely kite spots suitable for learning- offshore conditions and plenty of coral are the norm and we aren’t shy about publicizing this fact. But on this occasion Dave, who was just learning to get up on his board would truly luck out. And for the rest of us working on free style, it doesn’t get any better.
The next day the small kites came out- Denise on a 5m, Jody on a 7m, myself on an 8m- you get the point. Honking. Bruce, Luc and I had a jump-off at sunset after a very full day on the 10m HP which in 30 knots of wind I could barely hang on to. Bruce won hands down, soaring well over 100′ more than 3 stories high. Not bad for day 2. That evening was an animated affair; plenty of stories surrounding wind, our remoteness- life in general. Why can’t it just stay this uncomplicated? Then a feast of fresh sashimi, saffron seafood paella, and home-made berry sorbet kind of drove it home- it takes more than just wind to make it this good.
The next day Jody arose much later than usual (she’s usually up with day break), owing to the previous full day of kiting and incredibly was still the first up (behind our chef team of course, who already had out a full breakfast). Even the young guns, Luc and Dave were feeling it today. In fact, for the remainder of the trip we would each go kiting almost out of guilt. Our bodies pounded and sore, but the wind relentless and you just had to go. One night Luc said, “this has got to be the greatest trip ever, no way could there be a better one.” My reply was that they are all pretty incredible, the wind being only a small factor in the overall experience. The people are a much larger component of a successful journey, but on this one we did seem to be on a lucky run. If there is a negative it’s that this far south, in the middle of winter (we’re just below the Tropic of Capricorn) the wind bites and the water is much cooler than it was up in the Societies. A shorty wet suit is required for kiting, as is a fleece in the evenings, which is not something we’re used to. The Canadians didn’t seem to mind, but Denise and Mick were hoping for a bit more “tropical”.
Opting for a change of scenery we moved Discovery around to the west side of the island on day 4 where we would spend a couple days kiting as well as exploring the island itself. Bruce, Jody and I were actually hoping the wind would ease and allow us to paraglide what would be one of the world’s most incredible ridge sites. I’d tried to gain access to the ridge previously and been turned back by thick undergrowth, but with the help of the locals, who are among the most friendly people I’ve ever come across (not only does EVERYONE say hello, most will actually come directly up and shake your hand in greeting) we found a good trail. Indeed, the flying would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but on this trip it was not to be. The winds continued to nuke, now out of the east and we needed much more tame conditions to attempt a flight. But the hike and view, as you can see- was stunning.
With the winds now out of the east it was time to head off to Tubuai, some 100 miles to the west, where we hoped to find Humpback whales, which are “in town” this time of year. We headed out at 0100, after nearly 3 weeks in Raivavae in winds that were about as unsteady as they come- gusts to 35 knots, heavy squalls, separated by periods of almost total calm. But once we cleared the lee of the island the conditions steadied and we began making good ground dead downwind under reefed main and head sail.
Bruce and Luc each did a short watch from 0400 to 0600, followed by Lars as usual on the morning watch so he could deploy all the fishing lines. By 0900 we had 4 very nice Mahi-Mahi on board (we had 4 lines out and actually landed 3 at the same time in what must have been a massive school), by 1000 we had our first of many sashimi, ceviche, carpacio, sushi…feasts over the next few days. OK, maybe this trip is charmed.
Tubuai appeared on the horizon hours before landfall, the most populous of the Austral chain with just 2,000 residents. Overcrowding is certainly not a concern in this part of the world. We saw two surfacing whales on arrival, but with winds cranking and the seas quite large stopping to check them out was not possible. One other sail boat lie at anchor off the town, which since we left Tahiti almost felt crowded. A small sand motu sat just across from us, which provided for scenic though choppy kiting the next day.
On our second to last day, another wind-filled affair we decided to have a go at finding some whales. Luc and Bruce launched off the boat with 9 M kites and we headed downwind, out through the reef, and around to the leeward side of the island where we hoped whales would be congregating in the calmer water. Bruce racked up some sweet and very entertaining runs on a beautiful left hander breaking off the reef until he snapped his bar in half, which ended up being fortuitous timing because as Lars rescued him I turned around to see three surfacing Humpbacks 200′ off our stern. For the next two hours we tried in various ways to get closer, which were mostly unsuccessful but we did get lucky at one point when they came almost right at us, then dove under the boat which I was then swimming alongside. I could hear their singing and squeaks long before I got a good glimpse of one, but not close enough to call it interacting. But just seeing the whales was award enough, and a perfect way to finish an amazing adventure.