The last stretch to Gambier

At 11pm, Sabrina was at the helm. Aldebaran was skimming along as though on ice skates, with the low satisfying vibration of rhythmic speed.

This was like the trade winds! Where the boat felt like a sleigh being pulled by huskies, eerily quiet over the crests of waves and pulsating with power down the troughs; creating a contact “high” from the speed and flow. Yet we were long out of the constancy of the trades, and things change quickly.

“Kristian, the gusts are now over 20 knots… We want to drop the reacher.”

Spencer and Sabrina were harnessed on the foredeck in our yellow safety lines, and rigged the 110 genoa headsail. With their headlights shining surrounded by dark ocean, they dropped the large reacher sail and hoisted the smaller genoa – the boat was back under control without any loss in speed.

At 4am I took the helm from Spencer. The wind strengthened to 25knots from the North, the wind chop was smashing regularly onto the starboard bow, and occasional cascades of water were flying down the main cabin hatch.

At first I rushed down and re-tightened the hatch, mopping up the floor. But with the growing seas, the waterfalls continued. Our leaky hatch gasket had decided to bite the bullet and now water splashed onto the cabin sole like a mischievous fountain – much to the dismay of Michael and Spencer who were sleeping a few feet away.

I surveyed the sails from the cockpit: perfect trim. Aldebaran galloped like a horse in an overgrown trail, occasionally bursting through bushes and branches without hesitation, heading home to the stable. She is a mare going to her first truly sheltered anchorage in 30 days, and she knew it was within reach.

As the darkness lifted and grey light washed over the horizon, I saw a black mass ahead: Gambier. An impressive mountain lay like a sleeping bull, its granite peaks angled like horns that cut into the air. We were at the easternmost reaches of French Polynesia –and who hasn’t dreamt of visiting this place of tropical fantasy; and especially by sailboat?

Which makes me wonder: Why should it be any more satisfying to reach this place by sailboat, after 30 days at sea, than flying in by airplane? Is it the struggle and the buildup of expectation that brings satisfaction? Or is it something else?

I stood with hands on the cockpit coaming and watched the island for a long time, growing more distinct in the dawn. Aldebaran heeled in the wild gusts, the sails quivered with power. We had left Galapagos a month prior, at 0 degrees latitude. Now we were at 23 degrees latitude. We had sailed across the entire trade wind belt – the width of America – crossed four time zones, and watched the full moon rise at the beginning of the journey and again at the end as it began its new cycle. By sailing here, we hadn’t traveled to French Polynesia; we had gone down Earth’s elemental highway and emerged on the other side. I relished in the moment as our boat got us closer and closer.

4 thoughts on “The last stretch to Gambier

  1. Kristian, Cyetta and I have enjoyed your vivid descriptions of this trip. Thank you for taking us along.

  2. Captain K–

    Not to embarrass you, but your writing is exquisite. You take after somebody else I know.

    John Mead (pal of your Dad’s.)

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