... M/V Braveheart anchors at Mangareva in Rikitea harbor ...
... Radio operators hike the hills ...
... First dinner ashore ...
March 1, Saturday, mid-day: En route from Oeno to Iles Gambier, soon after cross the Tropic of Capricorn, we circle around Temoe Atoll, southeast of today's destination. Fishing lines trail off the stern. The atoll itself displays a classic south Pacific beauty: fringing reef with surf, long coral islets with coconut palms waving in the breeze, and a peaceful interior lagoon. Across the lagoon one see the opposite side of the atoll, a miniature replica of the scene in the foreground. Despite the sonar returns from fish schools below, our trolling lines remain empty a hour later. Eventually the aft crew radio to the wheelhouse "all trolling gear on board" and the on-duty watch increase propeller pitch to speed us towards home.
At 5pm local time the M/V Braveheart crosses the outer barrier reef and enters the southwest channel of Īles Gambier, a much larger 15 km diameter atoll with several interior hilly islands. Coral heads and shoals crowd the route into Rikitea harbor, and a key navigation mark has been missing for the last decade. Having entered this atoll many times over the past few years, the crew know the route and have a well-tested trail of marks and waypoints pegged into the navigation system. By 6:30pm, under a setting sun, the anchor rattles down into 17m of water, followed by 60m of chain. Neil hoists the anchor ball on the foremast. The ship settles back in the trade wind breezes and half hour later, satisfied with the location and swing, the crew puts the main engine asleep. The French courtesy flag and the yellow "Q" flag (indicating we have not cleared customs and immigration) fly amidships. We have arrived at the edge of civilization: cell phone service is present... and supper is soon ready on the aft deck.
Sunday dawns as yet another beautiful tropical day. By late morning two-thirds of the radio operators have pulled on boots and are ashore, hiking up the trails to Mount Duff and Mount Mokoto. At 441m and 425m elevation, neither peak is quickly obtained. We duck under a dense tangle of windfallen trees near the start, and pass by an old Polynesian platform of huge stone blocks, its original purpose unknown. Meadows dressed with small flowers follow, and then the trail turns upward through a forest of tall pines. Layers of old pine needles cover the occasionally slippery footing. At intervals the trail breaks out to reveal a vista of harbor and barrier reef. After a final steep, slippery segment bordered only by grasses for handholds, the hikers reach the top. Wow, what a view! Sea at all directions, the irregular outer reef, multi-colored lagoon waters, and the small town far below. We can easily pick out the ship's route yesterday afternoon, and appreciate the narrow gap over an inner bar and tortuous final approach to Rikitea. A dozen buildings on stilts pepper the bays around the island: oyster farms for cultivating black pearls. The black pearl industry forms the heart of Mangareva's economy.
The walk down goes faster, but requires care in foot placement. An hour later we are hanging over the fence at a local shop, persuading a shopkeeper in our broken French to sell us a handful of Cokes. He is closed for Sunday, but amiable enough to a quick transaction. Ah: the first taste of a cold, fizzy drink in many weeks!
Sunday evening the radio team takes the Braveheart crew out to dinner at a shoreside restaurant. Food is great, and wine and beer consumption creep upwards as toasts, speeches, and gifts presented. At 10pm we settled up with the restaurant and head back to the aft deck of the ship for some more drinks and story-telling.
Now it's Monday morning. Our passports and carnets went ashore for processing with customs and immigration, so the Q flag has been struck. Some operators have gone for a swim at a beach; others are circumnavigating the island by jeep. Tonight we assemble for a barbecue by the beach.
Tomorrow morning, Tuesday, at 9:30 we take the ferry across the lagoon to the outer islet with the airstrip, and waiting for the week's flight from Papeete. We arrive back in Tahiti in mid-afternoon, with enough time for a shower and dinner. Almost all operators fly overnight from Tahiti to Los Angeles, arriving Wednesday morning on TN022 or TN002 between 9:45 and 10:30. The team separates for flights to their home countries, ending the expedition phase of the project.