Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Visit to the Manihi Sailmail Station

One of the last things on our list before leaving Manihi was to visit Xavier Michel and the Manihi Sailmail station.

Because we didn't really arrange this ahead of time, we were most fortunate to find Xavier at home, with his VHF on, when we got back from the Blue Lagoon. We called him on Channel 16 and he answered right up, and invited us in for a visit.

Xavier is retired from the French Navy, and in his last post he was in charge of the entire Pacific for the French Navy. He didn't say so, because he is a very modest man, and we forgot to ask, but he must have been an Admiral to achieve that post. His wife is still practicing as a Maritime Lawyer in Tahiti, so they split time between their home in Tahiti and the very nice place they are building on one of the motus in Manihi.

Xavier has one of the most energy-independent places we have seen in French Polynesia (or anywhere, for that matter), and we enoyed getting the 'engineers tour'. He has a big wind generator (it looks a little light an Air Marine, but 2-3x the size), and large solar array mounted on a swiveling platform with an automatic sun tracker, AND a water generator that runs in the shallow pass next to the motu. Plus, of course, a huge bank of batteries. This has all been professionally designed and installed in and near his 'utility building'.

The utility building also houses the radio and computer equipment required for automatic operation of his Sailmail station. It was also neat and tidy. During cruising season, his station is almost constantly in use from the cruisers passing through French Polynesia, and in fact we saw a connection complete while we were standing there.

We were interested in how he had come to be involved in Sailmail. Usually these stations have arisen from some radio-friendly sailing cruiser moving ashore, but it was obvious that this was not the case here. Apparently he met Jim Corenman and a couple of the other Sailmail guys at a cocktail party in Papeete given for a sailing rally that was passing through. They were lamenting the fact that the Sailmail network really needed a station somewhere in northern French Polynesia. So Xavier said "Where do you want it?" and set about to handle the formalities. On the other side, Jim and Shea Weston helped engineer the station setup and equipment, and when all was ready, Shea flew out to Manihi with his wife and spent a couple of weeks installing and training Xavier. The result is a very reliable and important 'node' in the Sailmail network.

We also got a tour of Xavier's home and grounds. They are still putting the finishing touches on, but it's a lovely island-style home, open to the breezes, but very well constucted with many elegant touches. The island comes complete with a small chappel out by the ocean, where Xavier says he spends a few minutes each day in the evening 'clearing his mind, remembering the things that do matter, and forgetting the things that don't matter."

What a nice man! And very interesting too. We were sad that our schedule required us to move on without getting a chance to know him better. But we are hoping we might get a chance to visit with him in Papeete when we are there.

As we left, we again thanked Xavier profusely for maintaining his Sailmail station for the benefit of us cruisers.
Sherry & Dave
Headed South for French Polynesia

At 5/25/2011 8:10 PM (utc) our position was 15°48.12'S 146°09.19'W

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