Summit a mountain, endure a gale, and hitchhike to church

***SORRY FOR THE BLOG DELAY…our computer died, and it has taken us a while to get a new one, so we can continue posting our South Pacific tales!***

June 2016

I’m sweating but not hot. Dewy foliage tickles my bare arms, and my trousers, which are too long, are now damply limp and heavy from the knees down. It’s a beautiful, blue-sky morning to scale Mount Hiro. –Jessie

King of the hill
We are a pack of five cruisers from three sailboats, remarkably all American-flagged, determined to summit Mount Hiro, the highest peak on Raivavae. Sailboats Pau Hana and Tamata are the first Americans we’ve met since departing the Galápagos three months ago! Our new friends crossed the Pacific last season and weathered cyclone season in New Zealand. They’re now completing their second season in the South Pacific. We’ve only seen a fraction of this magical part of the earth and are coming to realize that years could be spent exploring this corner of paradise. Lexi and Martin on s/v Pau Hana hail from Montana and are sailing for Hawaii this season, the next phase in their Pacific loop. Australian-born Matt and Kate, from the east coast of the US, on s/v Tamata will land in Australia this fall, as we hope to do.

We hitchhiked to the southeast side of the island, near Vairu, where a few locals had told us to begin our ascent. We followed a path behind the church with a red roof and then through someone’s yard, before disappearing into the forest. The trail became steep almost immediately, as we clamored over damp earth and clung to plastic tubing wound from tree-to-tree to balance ourselves as we climbed. The muted colors beneath the shade of the canopy burst into an explosion of color as we stepped into the dewy sunlight, where the trail offered a vista across the entire southeastern flank of the island. We climbed further, our appetites whet by the beauty that seemed to increase proportionally with the altitude.We reached the summit of Mount Hiro an hour later, climbing the last 20 meters one foot in front of the other, up an overgrown path that led to a grassy clearing atop one of the bony vertebrate that etched the sky.

We stared down the island’s dramatic spine, of one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever beheld. Raivavae is an emerald stone set in a halo of sapphire, a slowly sinking giant safeguarded by a barrier reef that is both delicate and fiercely strong.

Sharing the panorama with our cruising comrades made the experience all the more fun, and we planted our bums on the earth for a picnic, before making our way down.

We’d heard there was a trail that wound down the northern face of the mountain. Keen to not retrace our steps, we decided to try to find it. We stumbled upon a tribe of goats with egg noodle horns and had quite the adventure making our way down the mountain. We could see the church at Anatonu below us, supposedly where the trail should spit us out, if we could find it. Between us and the safety of the town 1,400 feet below, however, was a jumble of bramble that towered higher than our heads and a series of sheer cliffs we’d be unlikely to see until we were on the verge of toppling over the edge of one! We separated into groups to try to find the trail and rapidly lost sight of one another and the ability to communicate by voice due to the density of the foliage around us. I was anxious (okay, I was a little scared) as we tramped and slid through the mess of foliage, and I was very glad I was wearing long pants. An hour later, our group managed to reconvene and emerge from the shade of the forest into the warm sunlight. We found a magasin that sold ice cream bars (a real treat in a remote place) to celebrate our safe descent. We had successfully conquered Mount Hiro!

The morning sun is rising behind a swathe of ashen clouds, lighting up the world but not in a cheery way. For the last 60 hours, we’ve been bound to the boat, while heavy north, northwest, and now southwest winds have careened through the anchorage. –Jessie

Riding out a gale on the hook
At times winds dropped to the upper teens, but for the most part, for two and a half days, our anemometer was pegged in the mid- to upper-20s, with gusts to 38 knots! Encircled by a healthy coral reef on one side and volcanic peaks on the other, the anchorage off Rairu is the safest space of water in a 500-mile radius! We were thankful to be tucked in the lee of the reef, which protected us from the raging seas beyond.

When the gale struck, there were only the three of us remaining at Raivavae—Red Thread, Pau Hana, and Tamata. After sailing nearly 2,500 nautical miles with Mike and Gill on s/v Romano, our paths diverged when they departed several days before the storm arrived, bound for Raiatea, a four-day sail away. Romano was in need of repairs after damage she incurred during the big gales on the way to the Gambier Islands and the passage to Raivavae.

We were grateful to have other boats to check-in with once or twice a day via our VHF radios. We griped about the conditions, discussed the new gribs we’d downloaded through our SSBs, and updated one another on whatever movies we’ve watched and projects completed to pass the hours of confinement. Pau Hana began the gale tied alongside the town’s main wharf. It was forecast that the winds would shift to west-northwest, so they anticipated protection from the bulky cement block. Unfortunately, the winds didn’t shift as forecast, which left Pau Hana bucking like a wild bronco against the wharf! Matt from Tamata buzzed by to snag Neil, and the two of the zipped to shore to help Pau Hana get off the wharf and out into the anchorage. Matt used the force of their beefy 15hp outboard to push the 35-foot boat off the wharf and while Lexi helmed, Neil threw off their dock lines and Martin freed the kedge anchor that was helping to keep them from grinding so hard against the dock. It was a gripping scene, which I caught on video from the comfort of our blustery but protected cockpit.

Faith in the islands
The anecdote for cabin fever is the sensation of dirt beneath one’s feet, and when the storm abated at last, we wasted no time getting back ashore. The island was making a special imprint on our hearts, and we got into a routine of paying for a couple hours of WIFI to upload videos and blogs from the prior months, sending emails to family, and…dare I say it…start looking for jobs in Australia, a nation that was still thousands of miles away. I submitted my first application for a university faculty job amid a flurry of anxiety and emotions.

Then we hitchhiked to church.

We’re not religious ourselves, but learning about the faiths and traditions of others is a treasure of travel. Our visit coincided with a major religious gathering on Raivavae, in which Protestants from neighboring islands of Rurutu, Tubuai, and Rapa had endured multiday trips at sea or flights to converge on the island and celebrate their faith. It was an impressive manifestation of devoutness, especially given that most of the islanders come from meager means.

Congregation members from each of the three main villages on Raivavae (i.e., Anatonu, Rairu, and Vairu) wore a specific color and tropical pattern, as did the individuals who traveled from each of the neighboring islands.

Bolts upon bolts of fabric had been ordered a year in advance, so that dresses in assorted styles and button-down shirts could be sewn for each attendee. And the hats.

Oh, the hats!

The women from Rurutu were smug about theirs, which they had woven meticulously by hand. The women from Raivavae preferred grandeur over subtlety, and some of their hats that looked like colorful antlers! Others donned a crown of fresh flowers.

It was a vibrant sight to behold, and I was glad I’d worn my locally woven hat to the service (thank you, Neil for the early birthday gift!), though I would have fit in better had I jazzed it up a bit! We found a front-row seat upstairs on a balcony that overlooked the sermon below. The alter was an amalgamation of palm fronds, mother of pearl, seashells, and hibiscus, and the body and blood of Christ were represented by coconut water and taro. The pastor was a woman.

The singing was in Polynesian and accompanied by the strumming of 10 furious ukuleles. The voices were spirited, even joyful, a stark contrast to the reverence so often encouraged in other church services. One woman danced between the pews, her arms outstretched and her voice echoing into the rafters!

It was fantastic, and we didn’t need to understand a damn thing that was said to appreciate what a special experience we were sharing with a community that had charmed us.

8 thoughts on “Summit a mountain, endure a gale, and hitchhike to church

  1. Thanks for the latest bit of blog, loved the pictures, those hats are something else! I’m on the hard in Whangarei getting the mast put back on after re-rigging. Melinda, from Dallas, my new crew arrives next Friday and David, my son arrives on the 5th April so we should get off for Fiji about mid month after a major refurbish. How are you guys fitting in to city life, I hope it’s all working out well living and job wise. All the best Mike

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

    • How exciting to head back to Fiji! We’re quite envious and hope it’s a good season for you! We also hope you enjoy the time with your son – it’s a precious thing to be able to enjoy such a long period together now that he’s grown. Neil and I both wish we could have shared such an experience with our dads. We’re settling in…though we’re not fully there yet. This is a fantastic city, but we’re sure missing the warm water and community of cruisers. Much love to you, Mike!


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