s/y Nine of Cups
Iles Gambier
2009
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Some Gambier History...
Originally settled from the Marquesas <1100AD
In 1797, Captain James Wilson of the London Missionary Society's ship Duff named the group for English Admiral James Gambier, a hero of
the Napoleonic wars who had helped to organize and fund the expedition.
France annexed the group in 1881.
Zealot missionary priest, Father Honore Laval, arrived in 1834 and  ruthlessly "converted" the islanders to Catholicism, pressed them into
service building huge buildings and triumphal arches and managed to decimate the population from 9,000 to 500 before he was removed in
1871, tried for murder and declared insane.
Gambier Facts:

Iles Gambier are the southeastern most islands in French
Polynesia and are comprised of a group of about ten volcanically-
formed islands and numerous small  islets within a coral barrier reef.
Capital: Rikitea, on the island of Mangareva
Population:  ~1,000
Currency: Cour de Franc Pacifique (CFP) 85cfp= $1US
Language: French and Mangarevan
Time: -9 GMT
High point: Mount Duff (482 M)
Guides: Lonely Planet South Pacific, Moon Tahiti, Charlie's
Charts
The island of
Mangareva  ("Floating
Mountain") was so
named by the its original
Polynesian inhabitants
for the mountain that
rises 482M from the
sea (Mt. Duff).
The short 3-1/2 day passage from Pitcairn  to the
Gambiers (378 nm) was not a very pleasant one.
Winds of 30-35 knots with seas to 20' and heavy
rains, made the ride blustery and downright
uncomfortable for two days, followed by no wind
and contrary wind... all soon forgotten once we
were in French Polynesia. We sighted the islands
about 30 miles out. We entered the reef  through
the Southeast Pass then picked our way carefully  
through the reef to the anchorage off  Rikitea on
the island of Mangareva. To the right, land ho!
The rugged outline of the Gambier Islands in sight.
We took a bearing on the island of
Kamaka and used it to find the cut
through the reef to the lagoon.
We maneuvered our way through the slalom of
red/green markers and reefs to the anchorage just
off the little (and only) village of Rikitea.
In 1837, the seaman Armand Mauruc,
wanting to trade under the Gambier national
flag, convinced King Maputeoa to adopt a
national flag. The four blue stars in the
corners of the flag represent the islands of
Mangareva, Taravai, Aukena and Akamaru,
whereas the central white star represents the
isolated islet of Temoe. Blue stands for the
ocean and white for purity and evangelization
of the archipelago, which had already started
in 1837.
Rain, rain, rain. It seemed we had one
cloudburst after another for days on end.
The first couple of days gave us the
chance to do chores and just enjoy being
at anchor. More chores developed than
we'd planned, however. The forward
head broke and needed repair; the
alternator was not putting out enough
amps and when David removed it to
investigate, he found that an engine
support, hidden by the alternator, had
sheared in half. The head got fixed (two
days...required all new hoses and clamps,
plus a pump rebuild). David fabricated a
reinforcement for the support to last till
we get to Pape'ete and then,
miraculously, the sun came out!
A Gambier welcome complete with tikis!
Everyone smiles and says "bonjour".
A view of the anchorage from the coast road.
How lush can you get? That's the island
of Aukena in the distance.
The steeple of the small chapel by the cemetery to
the left. A view of the chapel above and the
cemetery to the right.
The island is abounding in fruit trees including
pamplemousse(grapefruit) which we found
during our walk. Mostly we picked windfall.
With all the flowers and fruit, butterflies  
like the blue moon above were everywhere.
Wasps and bees were especially plentiful,
especially on the boat near the ripening
bananas. They weren't aggressive, but more a
nuisance. No stings reported by the crew (yet!).
Above, we met up with Danish friends, Kim
and Kiersten  ("Sol") whom we had previously
met in Puerto Montt. We're toasting Wolfgang
Kirsten of Patagonia Net fame with a bottle of
wine he provided to them to be shared with
the last of the Chilean Net folks (lucky us!).
A remnant of Pere Laval, Cathedral St.
Michel overlooks the town. It is in very
poor condition and can no longer be used.
This is the largest church/cathedral in all of
French Polynesia.
It seems to rain a lot here and in buckets when it
comes down. When a clear, sunny day appears,
we're anxious to get ashore and hike. One day we
hiked up Mt. Duff and to the Belvedere Lookout.
The views were spectacular; the crew was
exhausted and sore...an Ibuprofen night!
With the island's population of ~1,000 people,
there are only 4 or 5 magazins (mini-marts) like
the one pictured above. Prices on "luxury" items
are quite high (1-ltr Coke $5US, variety pack
of Kelloggs cereal $10US), but on subsidized
staples (e.g. flour, rice, sugar), quite reasonable.
Eggs are at a premium, however, at 75 cents
each and fresh veggies are like gold.
Though remote, we have wifi on the boat! The
"Iaoranet Net" covers all the major areas of
French Polynesia except the Australs. Prices
range from about $3-$5/hour depending on
volume. You can order on line and pay with
PayPal or buy cards locally. How neat is that???
Didier "Fritz" Schmack, a German and  
former French Foreign Legionnaire, has
lived in Rikitea for 37 years. He provides
several cruiser services including use of
his washing machine and clotheslines (for
a fee or a bottle of rum), free fresh water
fill up, sells telephone cards and is the
TransOcean host (German cruising club).
While I was doing  a bottle of rum's worth of
laundry, Fritz generously allowed David to use his
workshop to fabricate a replacement engine
bracket support.
Use of his workbench, vise and electricity
made the job go much easier and faster.
Remoras swim around the boat waiting
for scraps and the jellyfish are thick.
We've not seen sharks, but we're told
there are black tip, white tip and lemon
sharks among others in the area.
A Walk Around the Island
Mangareva is the largest island in the Gambier group. The distance around is about 24 km. After being
on the boat for several days because of heavy rains and wind, it felt good to get out and stretch our
legs a bit. We were at the dinghy dock at 0730 on a bright, sunny clear morning with plenty of water
and snacks to get us through our explorations. All in all a great day, but 8 hours of walking...whew!
The dink dock is safe and secure, located at a
small pier where some of the local boats tie up as
well. Throughout the island, there are the remains
of stone houses like the one above which is
located across  from the dink dock.
The dirt road around the island was rough
and potholed...sometimes close to the water
and lined with palms and other times we
climbed up, up, up through thick forested
areas buzzing with the sound of wasps.
We didn't see too many critters about. Above
a little gecko and we also saw turquoise
iridescent whiptails which were too fast for the
camera.
A Tuamotu sandpiper (kivikivi) poses
briefly  on a rock.
A Pacific reef-heron rests on a palm frond.
A feral, tree-climbing, banana-
eating chicken referred to here as
jungle fowl.
St. Joseph's Chapel on the north side of the
island is still in use.
Beautiful man-made inner lagoon with Mt.
Duff in the background.
Foundation and wall of an old stone building is all
that remains of times gone-by. Thatch roofs have
fallen in and nature is reclaiming her own.
The island is lush and verdant, heavy with
the fragrance of flowers and fruits.  
Click
here to see more flowers of French
Polynesia.
We are blessed and fortunate to continually meet local people who are generous with
their time, their knowledge and their hospitality. These are not people who make their
living on tourists, but rather folks who genuinely seem to enjoy sharing their culture and
way of life with visitors. We are so often overwhelmed and though we try, we feel at a
loss to repay the generosity and kindnesses extended to us. Sharing these chance
encounters with others is one way of letting our new friends know just how wonderful
our experiences were ... because of them. On Mangareva, we met "Dada", a pearl
farmer. He offered to take us to his pearl farm for a tour one morning and picked us up
around 0900 on shore for a 20 minute ride via truck to a waiting launch which took us
to his pearl farm. The Australian boat "Reality"  had made the initial contact and we
were lucky enough to tag along. To the right, Dada, Vanessa, Colin and David pose
quickly before heading off in the launch to the pearl farm.
Visiting a Pearl Farm
We had seen many pearl farms from a
distance, but had no idea what they were like
inside and what the process involved.
The process is long and involved initially
starting some two years earlier raising the
oysters. Above, seeded oysters are brought
to the farm for cleaning and harvesting.
Every two months, the oysters are
hauled and cleaned. They need sunlight
to produce good, colorful pearls.
Those that will be harvested are opened
slightly with a knife and wedged open.
Dada looked like a surgeon as he prepared
to harvest a pearl. Once harvested, a good
pearl-producer can be reseeded.
Dada was infinitely patient explaining the
process while performing the delicate
procedures of harvest and reseed.
Dada extracts a beautiful black
pearl...birth of a pearl before our eyes.
Then the ultimate experience..."Do
you want to try?" asked Dada. Wow!
The results of David's efforts!
Each of us in turn had a chance to harvest
a pearl (not all that difficult) and reseed a
pearl (very, very difficult).
Pearls are the oldest known
gem and for centuries were
considered the most
valuable. The best "black
pearls" aren't really just
black in color. Viewed in
the sunlight, they are green,
blue, rose, yellow, grey and
only some are actually
black. The name black pearl
derives from the giant
black-lipped oyster
(Pinctada margaritifera)
which produce the pearls.
Colin cleans the oysters that we
tried to reseed...we were 0 for 4!
Served with lime for lunch, we
enjoyed this aspect of the oysters
immensely. Vanessa tried her
very first oyster here and loved it.
Long hours harvesting pearls make
for sore backs and necks. Vanessa is
a practicing chiropractor in the UK
and gave Dada an adjustment right
on the floor of the hut.
Once washed and/or reseeded, the oysters
are tied again into nets and put back in the
water about 3-5 meters below the surface.
David helps out tying oysters for their return
trip to the water. We returned to the boat
late in the day, exhilarated and overwhelmed
with our experience and the generosity
extended to us by Dada.
Pearls in history and myth...
  • In Hindu culture, pearls were associated with the
    Moon and were symbols of love and purity. Hindu
    texts say that Krishna discovered the first pearl which
    he presented to his daughter on her wedding day.
  • Christianity also adopted the pearl as a symbol of
    purity. For example, pearls are often associated with
    brides and weddings. Pearls are also said to symbolize
    tears, to provide love and fertility, to symbolize purity,
    and to ward off evil.
  • The ancient Chinese believed that pearls were
    conceived in the brains of dragons. In imperial China,
    the natural black pearl was regarded as a symbol of
    wisdom. As such, it was guarded between the teeth of
    a dragon, which had to be slain before the pearl could
    be taken.
  • Reportedly, Cleopatra dissolved a single pearl in a
    glass of wine and drank it, simply to win a wager with
    Marc Anthony that she could consume the wealth of
    an entire country in just one meal.
A "ladybug"-like beetle seemed innocuous enough, but the centipede above packs quite
the wallop of a bite we're told.
The colors of pearls
have sometimes
been associated
with certain
qualities: black or
gold with wealth,
blue with love,
white with purity
and pink with
success.
The sound of drums...
We had heard drumming on several evenings and asked Dada about it. He said that
many members of the community, including him and his wife Raruna, were involved
in a local dancing troupe that were practicing for a traditional dance presentation in
Tahiti in June. We went and watched the practice several times. Intricate,
complicated moves performed with precision. When we heard drumming one early
afternoon however, we didn't know what it meant and Vanessa and I went ashore to
investigate.
The drumming this time signified a sad day on the island. Dada explained that two older residents, a sister and brother, had died within hours of
each other. The drumming was a call to the community signalling the funeral Mass. The dancers and priest waited for the caskets and then
accompanied them solemnly into the makeshift church for the Mass celebration.
Even the tiniest little girl had a
pandanus grass skirt.
Later, we chanced upon the grave in the
cemetery covered in flowers and pandanus
skirts worn by the dancers during the funeral.
We found an excellent
website for identifying
birds in French
Polynesia and finding
out their local names.
Click here to link to
the
Orinthological
Society of Polynesia
"MANU".
After nearly three weeks here, it's time to move
on. Finally, a weather window with S/SE/ESE
winds forecast and we plan to take advantage of
it. Saying goodbye is always hard, but we
hugged Dada goodbye and made the rounds of
the cruisers we'd met. Time to go...or is it? We
moved out of the anchorage at Rikitea and
positioned ourselves off the little island of Taravai
planning an early departure the next morning. No
sooner were we anchored, than a handsome
fellow zoomed out in his skiff and suggested a
better place to anchor and an invitation to visit to
his home, meet his family and take on some fresh
fruit . How could we pass that up?
At the store... For cruisers following in our wake,
here's some idea of food availability and costs in Rikitea.
Prices are approximate and in US$.
Olive oil (.5L): $18                Small bag chips: $2.50
UHT milk (ltr): $1.25            Cocktail Peanuts: $2.50
Flour (1kg): $1.65                 Pork & Beans: $1.00
Eggs (each): 75 cents            Tomato sauce(8oz): $1.45
NZ cheese (8oz): $1.75        Cigarettes (pack/20): $8.50
Potatoes (kg): $1.75             Beer (.5L): $3.50
Carrots (kg): $3.50               Canned ham (1 lb): $9.50
Cabbage (kg): $4.50             Box wine (ltr): $10
Tomatoes (kg): $8.50            Bottle wine (750ml): $15
Brown sugar(kg): $4.50         Fresh bread: $4.50/loaf
White sugar(kg): $1.65          Pan au chocolat(ea): $1.65
NZ Butter(500g): $2.50        Nescafe coffee: $7.50
                                       (170gram)
Mangareva - 23S06.85 / 134W58.07
Our next stop...Archipel des Tuamotus...the
Dangerous Islands! Come with us by clicking
here.  Remember we don't always have internet
so updating subsequent web pages may take
awhile. Please note, however, that we now use  
 
Sailblogs which we try to update regularly at sea.
Taravai - 23S08.94 / 135W01.32
Lovely St. Gabriel's church on approach to Taravai.
Valerie & Herve Tuihani were our friendly
hosts while visiting Taravai. True to his word,
Herve gave us lots of pamplemousse,
banana, limes, avocadoes, oranges and even
sweet pototoes from his garden. We so
enjoyed their company, we invited them
aboard Cups for pizza that night.
Six year old, Alan, displays his coconut-
hull, palm-sailed boat. Valerie home
schools him and she's doing a good job.
He can read, write and speaks both
French and English quite fluently.
St. Gabriel's looked much better than the
cathedral in Rikitea. In fact, Herve was its
caretaker and did a splendid job.