Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Taravai is one of the islands in the Gambiers group. It is only about 6 miles from the main harbor of Rikitea, but being away from the main harbor, it is quite tranquil.

The primary harbor in Taravai is in front of an old church. But in the prevailing ESE wind conditions, that seemed to be pretty exposed to us, and there were already 4-5 boats anchored there. So we opted to follow the advice of another cruiser, and work our way into the uncharted south bay.

Chart of Southern Half of Taravai
Our tracks are in red

You will find little about these 'uncharted' areas in cruising guides. Even detailed S Pacific cruising guidebooks tend only to have a page or two at most on this entire archipeligo. Navigation is done by reading the color of the water, so our travel between islands is limited to 10 AM to 3 PM or so, moving with the sun behind your back in order for us to properly "read" the bottom. Dark blue is friendly and light blue is fine. Tourquise can be tricky as depth depends on water clarity. The water is getting thin as tourquise turns green and then to tan/yellow in sand, or brown over a reef. You don't go there!

We went on a day with good sun and it was easy to work our way into the bay. The trickiest spot was at 23-10.059S / 135-02.596W. Before this and after this, it was pretty easy. Though the water clarity in the bay is not very good, so proceed carefully.

Soggy Paws in the Bay at Taravai

We found a beautiful bay with a nice beach, and good protection from almost 270 degrees, plus pretty good protection for the 'open' sectur, due to the reef. We spent about 4 days there. If you work your way into the bay, there is one anchor spot in about 25-35 feet of water, good sand bottom, and enough swinging room (23-09.606S / 135-02.217W). Since that spot was occupied, we anchored a little further out, in about 40-45' and a few coral heads. We eventually had 6 boats in the bay, with adequate room for a couple more.

Denise et Eduard

While there, we went ashore and met Eduard and Denise living in a nice home on a lovely bay.
Eduard was born on Taravai, had gone off and worked in Hao as a welder on the French Navy base, and was now back on his family 'farm' for good. They are living nicely off the property, keeping pigs and ducks, and growing pretty much everything they might need.

Eduard's Awesome Solar System

They do have a few of the modern comforts--a very large solar array, a refrigerator and freezer, and satellite TV. From their house, they can't quite get cell phone coverage from the tower in Rikitea, but we could get it from where we were anchored in the bay.

They were very generous with us with their fruits and vegetables--giving us armfuls of pampelmouse, lemons, papayas, eggplant and coconuts.

Lunch with Denise and Eduard

One day we had a 'potluck' ashore with them. They had cooked a couple of canard (ducks) in the traditional polynesian 'rock oven', and also made a big pot of 'Poisson Cru'. Poisson Cru is a polynesian dish that consists of raw fish, chopped onions and such, in a coconut milk broth. It is sweetish and coconutty, but otherwise somewhat like a South American ceviche. We and the crew from Visions brought in desert and drinks for everyone (and an old pack of cigarettes for Eduard, which was much appreciated).

Poisson Cru

As we sat digesting our meal, we asked Eduard, in our broken French, about fishing. What lures did he use, and where were the best fish. This led to a 'fishing expedition' on Soggy Paws the next day.

Planning our Fishing Expedition

We loaded Eduard and Denise and the crew from Visions on Soggy Paws, and set out for the SW reef. We trailed 3 fishing lines, with all the right color lures, out the pass and around the reef, and back in through the reef at the north end of Taravai. We had nary a nibble.

Eduard Pilots Us Out Through the Reef

Gram (Visions) and Mike (Infini) Tend the Lines

Eduard had tried to tell us the day before that the time (moon/wind/currents) wasn't right. But we had fun anyway. And we got a chance to run down the west side of Taravai and explore a little. Again, the reefs are numerous, but accurately plotted on the Maxsea CM93 charts, and easily navigated with good light.

We re-entered the south bay at 23-09.720S / 135-03.627W and proceeded carefully back to our anchor spot without incident.

Denise and Eduard on Soggy Paws

A few days later, we did anchor in front of the church at Taravai. When we had been anchored in the south bay, we had dinghied around to the church and met Valerie and Herve on the north side of the church, and another guy on the south side of the church. They were both selling fruits and veggies to cruisers.

The Church at Taravai

Some Ruins Near the Church

Bill (Visions) and Sherry with Valerie

Dave especially wanted to visit Valerie again, because they had some really nice avocados. On our way out of Rikitea to stage for leaving the next day, we made a pitstop in the 'main' Taravai anchorage. We didn't know the way, so we just approached with a direct frontal assualt (with the wind at our backs and the sun in our eyes--a bad combination. We managed to cross the reef safely with a minium depth of about 10'. Once across the reef, it was deep and easy to navigate to a safe anchor spot. Though this anchorage seemed exposed, there really is pretty good protection from the offshore reef.

The proper entry is around 23-08.957S / 135-01.119W, where there are a couple of pearl bouys marking a 'channel'. From this point, you proceed carefuly NW around the prominent reef to your left, watching out for isolated coral to your right. Good light is mandatory. Our anchor spot was 23-08.751S / 135-01.499W in 45 feet sand.

Our final anchorage in Taravai was a bay on the NW side, where we staged to leave. This bay has great protection from the prevailing easterlies, with good 270 degree protection from N - E - SW. We anchored at 23-08.564W / 135-02.803W in 45'. With this anchorage, we completed a complete circumnavigation of Taravai.

In all, the Gambiers were worth more than the month we spent there, but with winter coming on (in the Southern Hemisphere) it was time to be headed north.

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