Recap: our routes in Gambier

The 16 nautical mile wide lagoon of Gambier is a wonderful cruising ground; shown here are our routes exploring the archipelago during our three week stay.

There are large, tall islands like Mangareva, Taravai, Akumuru. There are small pristine “motus” scattered around the reef fringe, like Tauna. There is surf in the south, and lots of anchorages and coral reef.

The wind does switch a lot in the autumn/winter, with considerable amounts of rain, which earned its name, “The Pacific North-West of the Tropics”. With its pine trees, it looks like the San Juan Islands, except a sunnier and warmer version. I bet that it is lovely in the summertime.

Pakia Tea in Taravai

Here’s a photo of the unique 53ft ” Pakia Tea” from the air, a Wharram designed catamaran. The traditional Polynesian style design has great airflow on deck for the tropics.

The rigging and cross-braces are all secured with traditional rope seizing. Adding a modern flair is the huge solar array that sits on two roofs, making it the first all-electric vessel we’ve seen in our trip: the boat is propelled by twin electric engines, run by a large lithium battery.

The owners are from Austria: Tom and Sonja (along with five year old son Keanu) who previously taught marine biology, and now welcome guests on their boat (

Tom helped us get setup with the excellent “Open CPN” navigation software, along with Satellite Overlays, which are super helpful for navigating in shallow coastlines.

We buddy boated with them from the Galapagos to Gambier; although Aldebaran stopped in Pitcairn, and Pakia Tea stopped in Easter Island. Now it was time to say farewell; perhaps we’ll reconnect in the Tuamotos a few months down the line!

Last night in Gambier

After three weeks in Gambier, it was time to say farewell. The storm was forecast to clear tonight. We should head north to the Marquesas, and make the best use of the strong SE “maramu” wind.

We took the SUPs to the beach in the morning. Onemea Bay, on the west side of Taravai, has an incredible variety of plants growing right up to the waters edge. The light drizzle continued but we were keen to exercise and explore; then we secured the boat for our 7 day passage to Fatu Hiva.

Dinner was “burrito potluck” at Tom & Sonja’s catamaran, “Pakia Tea”. It is a 53ft Wharram catamaran, a Polynesian style open air boat with an enclosed navigation station. Their living quarters are accessed through hatches in the spacious outriggers. At anchor, they use well-designed biminis for wind & rain protection around their huge outdoor table.

The last gasps of the storm blew with 30 knot squalls, flogging the tough bimini above us. When the homemade tortillas ran out, we shared Ecuadorian rum and heard their stories of wild anchorages in the Indian Ocean (they had sailed the boat west from Thailand, where they purchased and fixed it up).

We have been buddy boating with Pakia Tea for a few months since Galapagos, and now we’ll split ways. They plan to be in Tuamotos a few months, so we may see them there after we visit the Marquesas.

Photo: The dinner table at Pakia Tea (pronounced Teh-ah). Keanu, their five year old son, is illuminated at the head of the dinner table; so we called him “King-anu”, to his great delight.

Guestbook Art: Cruising Sailboats

By Deena.
Herve and Valerie of Taravai shared their guestbook with us – a sacred compilation of drawings, paintings, collages, letters, and photos from dozens of visiting sailboat over the years. Each boat filled in one or two pages capturing their personalities. The Aldebaran crew was excited to look through and recognize entries from many of the boats they’ve met along their journey. Herve and Valerie ’s book is so special that we were nervous to borrow it for the night, but they insisted, so we could take our time with it and fill in the very last page! Back at the boat, we put our creative heads together, broke out the colored pencils, and marked Aldebaran’s visit expressing our gratitude for the wonderful memories we shared together on Taravai.

Photo: Our entry in the Herve & Valerie’s guestbook

Artisans of Gambier

By Deena. Almost every woman we have gotten to know on the islands is a talented artist. Their raw materials are the free treasures that are in abundance everywhere we go: different colors and grains of sand, myriads shells, sea urchin spines, seeds, palm and pandanus leaves, and pearls. We continue to be inspired by the creations of the local women; and we are in danger of arriving home weighed down by too many shell necklaces.

“The Pacific Northwest of the Tropics”

By Deena.

We woke up in Onemea Bay to the sound of light rain. We had moved to this bay, on the western side of Taravai, to weather out a storm.

It was a windy, chilly morning with a broad gray sky, and dark green pine trees dotted the mountains in front of us. Our only clue that we were not off the coast of Seattle – that we were still in the tropics – were the palm trees on the water’s edge. Otherwise it was just like a drizzly morning in the Puget Sound! So we started to call our temporary home “The Pacific Northwest of the Tropics”

Not much to do in the rain, so it was time for arts and crafts in the cozy cockpit of Aldebaran. I took out my watercolors and started to paint what was the ‘opposite of a still life’, since my subject was always in motion, or rather, I was always in motion. The gusts of wind were slowly spinning our boat around, and every few minutes I caught different glimpses of our 360 degree view. Each time we turned past the portion of our vista with the island’s edge, I added to my painting.

Photo: Watercolor of Onemea Bay by Deena.

View from Taravai’s Ridge

The large distant island is Mangareva with the prominent Mt. Mokoto (which we hiked at the beginning of our stay in Gambier).

Notice: from this vantage point you can see the maze of channels in the anchorage. Contrary to expectation, the sand is usually deeper, light green; while the coral reefs are shallower, dark blue.

The beach at the “village” of Taravai is out of view on the left side. The islet on the right side shelters the anchorage from the southerly wind; but a lot of wind chop enters with the “Marumu” (sp?) storm wind from the ESE. The opposite side of the island offers better protection for that wind, which we went to shortly after our hike (you can see the first dark clouds rolling in).

The splendid island of Taravai, part deux

After the friendly but “indifferent” feel of Rikitea’s inhabitants – busy from the daily work of pearl farming – the warm welcome in Taravai couldn’t have been nicer.

“Yes, yes! They do work too much!” laughed Valerie, after they waved us enthusiastically to land our skiff on the beach next to a coconut tree, in front of their home. “Here we have more time,” she said.

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The splendid island of Taravai, part 1

The anchorage in Taravai is like a storybook painting, the kind you might say, “wow, this artist had some imagination to make this up… pity it’s not real. ”

Picture this: the sun rises over the impressive peaks of Mangareva to the east. It lights up the scattered islets, each ringed by turquoise and blue. They butt up against Taravai’s steep green slopes, which like a dragon’s spine, is an undulating mass of trees ranging from edgy pines to lush mango; with accents of flowers and vertical rock. At the base of this spectacle of Nature lies a big white church spire, sticking out of the palm trees, right next to the beach!

After our scare with the coral, though, we waited before exploring the island: it was time to get shipshape. Laundry was done with buckets of rainwater from the last storm; sails stowed; gear organized. Finally we headed to shore.

We only made it 100 feet from the sand: to the house of Herve and Valerie, one of only two families that permanently live on Taravai.

Photo: Taravai island’s eastern coast near the main anchorage with the Church of Saint Gabriel (shot with the Honey Bee)

Snorkeling the False Pass, final part trois

By Spencer.

The underwater seascape on my journey back from the False Pass towards Aldebaran was filled with pockets of sand peppered between coral heads. Most of the coral was showing signs of bleaching on the lagoon side; however there were numerous colonies thriving.

One that caught my eye in particular was a small white coral sitting alone in the sand. I dove down the twenty some odd feet and anchored myself to the sea floor with my camera ready for action. The coral head was a refuge for tiny black and white striped fish. First they were timid of their giant visitor but with patience they emerged from the branches of coral to swim in circles around their home which was glimmering in rainbows of the refracted sunlight from the world above.

Sitting at dinner talking with our marine biologist friends Tom and Sonja and their son Keanu from Pakia Tea (, who sailed on a catamaran we met in Galapagos, and re-joined in Gambier, we learned that the coral in here is making a valiant effort to fight the bleaching and they are quite happy with what they saw. With luck the coral reefs will survive the warming waters and acidification caused by excess CO2 in our atmosphere.

Things you can do to help coral reefs around the world include: – Be responsible with your waste; reduce, refuse, reuse, recycle. – Support protected marine areas.
– Choose the correct type of sunscreen which won’t kill the coral, even in places like cold California there are corals which are affected by the type of sunscreen we use. Avoid oxybenzone and nano zinc (see the ingredient list). Avoid sunscreens with SPF over 30 as they usually have high chemical contents and don’t significantly improve protection.
– A great website to check out on the subject and purchase EcoConscious and Biodegradable sunscreen is

Photo: aerial view of Tarauru-Roa, the long motu that is adjacent to the False Pass. Note Aldebaran anchored on the far right side. The houses on the motu’s beach are likely related to the pearl farmers but we aren’t sure as nobody was around. Shot with Honey Bee, our DJI mavic drone, launched from the boat at anchor; it was our first time using a launchpad – two pieces of plywood – from the nets!

Snorkeling the False Pass, part deux

By Spencer.

The crystal clear blue water in the False Pass was teeming with fish and sharks. Deena, Sabrina, Kristian and I took turns dragging the dinghy behind us, as we swam around with mouths agape in our snorkels at the amount of underwater beauty.

This reef pass caught us by surprise with its drastic differences to inside of the lagoon. Big groupers and parrot fish curiously checked us out as white and black tip reef sharks meandered lazily across the reef. Sabrina also noticed a gray reef shark which had come to see what all the hubbub was about.

Looking under a coral overhang we found a sleeping nurse shark who was undisturbed by our up close and personal photos. We continued to swim through the pass gently making our way back into the lagoon. Kristian was amused to watch me as I chased a few sharks to get some fun video footage.

The reef was so healthy and beautiful outside but as we came back into the lagoon the coral started showing signs of bleaching and the amount of fish plummeted. Truly a sad sight. I decided to see if there were any surprises between the inside of the pass, and where Aldebaran was anchored; and I snorkeled alone most of the way back to the boat.


Snorkeling the False Pass, part 1

By Spencer

The weather was calm with 10 knot East winds. We anchored Aldebaran in 35’ of glassy water, surrounded by coral heads, in the lee of a very long “motu” (flat reef islet) on the far eastern side of Gambier.

The motu has a name that is a mouthful: Tarauru-Roa. It is more commonly known as ‘the False Pass south of the airport’. The gap in the reef looks like a good entrance for sailing ships; but upon closer review it is only a foot deep in places (hence, it is a ‘false pass’)

We motored the dinghy carefully through the pass to take our first swim outside of the barrier reef in Gambier. As soon as I had jumped over the side to scope it out, I was leaping halfway out of the water like a dolphin exclaiming “Holy Guacamole it’s incredible!!!!”


Aldebaran Under Sail – from the air!

Yep, this is real. No photoshop… Aldebaran is here seen under sail with Tauna motu in the background!

We were so excited about the aerial views this day – the spectacular water color and the perfect conditions – that Spencer and I took the boat sailing, while the ladies flew Honey Bee (our DJI Mavic drone) from the beach in Tauna motu.

It really captures the beauty of the place, along with our sailing chariot Aldebaran, in her full glory, like we’ve never seen before!

Aerial View of the Best Beach Day

The little Honey Bee went flying and captured some ridiculously pretty footage of our little motu,Tauna, from the air! This was the best beach day ever, on the edge of the world.

The distant mountains are the bigger islands in Gambier, like Mangareva, Taravai, and Aukena, which are all inside this huge lagoon.

Ps. We are trying to upload these pics via Satellite at best possible resolution… the satellite times out 5 or 6 times, it takes over 15 minutes, but it seems to be working… Can’t wait to share higher res images with you once we have decent wi-fi!

Love it? Support our aerial footage and satellite internet by becoming a Patron:

The Neighborhoods of Tauna

By Deena. I am always amazed at how small areas of nature hold so many drastically different landscapes, almost like different worlds in a video game that progress as you explore, and I like to make up names for all the different areas. Here are the “neighborhoods” of Tauna, in order of my journey.

Shell-sand Beach

The beach on Tauna isn’t soft sand, it’s myraids of tiny shards of shells and coral. The first thing I did when we got to shore was pick up a beautiful shell that caught my eye and give it to Sabrina as a gift. She politely declined my gift after looking inside and showing to me: a tiny hermit crab inside! I quickly learned that many of the shells on the island are already occupied.

Non-pineapple Tree Grove

In addition to tall skinny palm trees, Tauna had trees with fruits I had never seen before, from afar they look like giant pineapples. I later learned they are pandanus trees, which apparently used to be edible but not anymore. When we saw them a few days later on Onamae, the nuts that dropped out of the fruit looked like individual kernels of corn for giants.

Hermee Hotel

A big wooden table sat in the shade of some trees, covered in hermit crabs of different sizes. Every few seconds I heard a “plonk” as one fell. Hermit crabs are either fearless or not at all smart, they just kept walking right off the table.

Abandoned Shack

There was a makeshift dilapidated shack a few meters back into the jungle with some trash inside, evidence of someone staying here in the past.

Sexy Lookout Point

At low tide, the water patterns formed a long white strip of sand about thirty meters off the coast. It was stunning, and looked like a great place to do photoshoots.

Hermee Highway

A shaded stretch of sand revealed a bustling metropolis of slowly moving shells. More hermit crabs. From tiny ones as big as a fingernail to large ones as big as a fist. The big ones are the shyest, they retreat quickly even if I’m standing a few feet away. But they can’t hide, they are too big to fully fit in their shells and their bright orange-red color stands out clearly from afar.

Lava Flats

Long slabs of black rock jut into the ocean. A closer look revealed pieces shells that seemed to have been twisted and melted. I don’t know if these were actual lava rocks, but given that this area used to be a volcano along with the petrified shells, it’s a guess.

After I completed the full circle and arrived back at Shell-sand Beach, I picked a spot to sit and wrapped my pareo around me for shade. The others had brought things to do: Spencer read his book, Sabrina and Kristian flew the drone flying. (Get ready for the incredible pictures!) I didn’t plan ahead and brought nothing, but I was content to sit quietly and look through the treasures at my feet, picking out dozens of tiny shells and shards, all unoccupied, to take home to remember my motu.

Photo: Captain Kristian walks out to Sexy Lookout Point. It only exists on low tide!

Tauna, my favorite motu

Tauna, my favorite Motu

By Deena.

After last minute chores in Rikitea (buying carrots, eggs, baguettes, calling the water maker company) we sailed across Gambier’s 15 mile wide lagoon, weaving between a handful of tall islands. We were headed for the outer fringe of the coral reef, which is occasionally submerged, and in places is peppered with little islands of sand and vegetation: these are called motus, or ‘flat reef islets’. We were looking for a little motu called Tauna (Ta-oo-nah).

Approaching Tauna was something out of a dream. Surrounding it were most incredible shades of clear blue water: teal, turquoise, cobalt. They enveloped a cluster of green palms and other foliage rising out of the small, low-lying islet. When you think of any stereotype of “paradise”, this is what you picture. We couldn’t help but all get infected with what I’ll call paradise-itis, and it felt like my trip to the islands had officially begun.

As we landed the skiff, a flock of birds flew by to welcome us, and we split up to explore at our own pace.

First flight of the Honey Bee

The sun was shining once again in Rikitea and it was time to unveil our newest friend: “Honey Bee”, our flying drone!

This amazing piece of technology – the DJI Mavic, a folding drone – was purchased with funds generously shared by our Voyage Patrons at — if you like our writings, photos, and videos, you can also become a Patron on the link above, it’s just a couple bucks per month.

Michael brought the drone with him to the Galapagos, but we haven’t flown it yet because we didn’t want to crash it in the middle of the ocean;-) so now we are practicing in calm conditions to get the hang of it.

Check out this aerial shot below – it’s from our very first flight over the Rikitea waterfront. The ship moored to the wharf is the “Claymore”, which brings supplies Pitcairn Island. It brings cargo from New Zealand to Gambier, and also carries passengers. We met the first mate, a very cool Kiwi named Elliot, who hooked us up with some Tui beers from NZ.

Departure for Marquesas

We are taking off today enroute to Marquesas! The passage is 7 days, 800 nautical miles, heading NNW.

Excited to head back into the reliable trade winds (Gambier’s weather has been finnicky, but the cool air has been quite lovely)

Follow our real time progress on our satellite tracker:

Many boats have been “stuck” in Gambier with north winds for weeks. We are lucky that we have a good weather window with SE winds to propel us north – although it looks like it won’t last long.

What about the insanely pretty atoll Tauna and the splendid island of Taravai that we visited the last few days? We will be sharing those remarkable memories as we are underway in our passage – enjoy!

Green Coco crew:
Kristian, Sabrina, Spencer, and Deena

Photo: shows our satellite wind forecast today. The green circle is Gambier (where we are leaving from) and the red circle is Marquesas (where we are going). This model is from , which has a basic free version for anyone to see what we use for weather forecasting out at sea.

Local Food Harvesting, à la Gambier

By Sabrina

When you go for a walk in Gambier, always bring an empty, big backpack, said Birgit, an Austrian woman from the sailboat Pitufa. There is no food at the store but youll find lots of food on the ground! she laughed.

Birgit and her boyfriend Christian have spent three seasons sailing in Gambier ( – so they know a thing or two about the unusual, and rather delightful, quest for food in eastern Polynesia: go harvest your own.

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The Curse of the Black Pearl, part deux

“The Chinese are much better at grafting the pearls than the Polynesians,” said Gabriel, who is a local Mangarevan himself. He is the son of the owner of this pearl farm. Gabriel then clarified: “They have a better work ethic than us!”

We could quickly see why the job required careful attention. Like a dentist with too many patients to see, the Chinese grafter moved the fine stainless instruments at hyperspeed. He plunged a sharp tool into the oyster’s lips to pry it open 1/2 inch.

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Then with his other hand, he jabbed a pair of long needle nose pliers into the oyster, which carried the all-important “graft”. With precision, he inserted the graft in the specific spot he wanted. Then he quickly closed the oyster, and moved to the next one, as another worker scooped up the newly grafted oyster to return it to its aquatic environment. The work has to be done fast for the oysters to survive.

The “graft” becomes the pearl. The black lipped oyster which grows almost solely in Tuamoto’s and Gambier’s lagoons turns the graft into a color similar to its shell: usually dark, but it can also have many hues of green, blue, yellow, or silver. The actual substance it secretes is called “nacre” – which is the beautifully iridescent, glossy layer you see inside the shell of bivalves.

The origin of the graft they use is unexpected. It is the bead from a mollusk shell (along with some mantle tissue) that grows in Tennessee (of all places!). Apparently, the Tennesse mollusks have the perfect “softness” for the oyster to do its job and create a black pearl from the graft.

The oysters can only be grafted once they are mature — a process which takes 2 years. When they are small, they are attached with strings, and strung around bulky ropes, which stretch vertically in the water column. The bulky rope is used to give each oyster adequate space to grow and mature. (These are all the pearl farm “floats” we have to dodge around as we sail around the bay.)

Once the oysters have grown larger, they are placed in nets, and are regularly hauled up for the cleaning of shells, to avoid parasites (larger farms use pressure washers; this family farm used old-fashioned cleaning with a knife).

After two years, the oyster is mature and can be grafted, so that it may begin producing its final prize: the black pearl.