Athanor Expedition

Our exploration of land and sea

Raiatea - Final stop in French Polynesia

After reading our last blog post, my dear friend Tracy (Wenatchee) commented that it left her with a pit in her stomach. When I queried her, she said, “I think I’m wondering if you’ve changed.” Her comment has had me thinking a lot about whether/how I’ve changed over the past year+. I asked Rob to think about it too.

Our overnight sail from Papeete to Raiatea was one of the best we’ve had in the past year. It didn’t start that way, however. We came out of the harbor to decent winds, and “confused seas.” We put the sails out and, seemingly within 30 seconds, a squall we thought would pass behind us was instead all over us – clocking 33 knots of wind. S—t! Totally caught us off guard. Rob used all of his might to get the headsail furled in and we started forereaching into the wind-driven swells. We were safe – just pissed. Thankfully, the squall passed, with no others behind it, and off we went!

As I came on watch at 10p.m., the skies were clear and the stars were out. We had our full main up and our genoa pole’d out for a nice downwind sail. I saw a fellow sailboat, one we knew, on the chart plotter – sailing towards Papeete. This big ‘ol ocean felt familiar and smaller tonight. I noticed a light on the horizon. I thought it was a freighter – no AIS identifier showing on the chart plotter – hmmm. It was a ways off, so I didn’t worry about it too much. The next time I turned my head; I saw that the freighter was actually an enormous, nearly full moon, rising on the horizon. For the next hour, I sat and stared at the moon, and the stars and planets around it – as we sailed along at 6 knots in calm seas. I thought about Tracy’s question. I have changed – in so many ways, the depth of which I cannot fully imagine right now. But for starters, I don’t believe I’ve ever sat for that length of time to watch a moon rise, and definitely never with a 360-degree view.

We approached Raiatea feeling a sense of melancholy. The island was brilliant green, with the reef surrounding it. This was the only island we’d be visiting where we knew we wouldn’t be doing much exploring. We had 10 days of serious work to decommission Athanor for her summer stay here. We made our way through the pass and around the island to the marina. Based on recommendations from fellow cruisers who have decommissioned their boat many times over the years, we rented a cottage in town – nice to get off the boat at the end of a long, sweaty day.

That night, the owner of the cottage gave us a lift to town for dinner – both of us taking note that we’d have plenty of time on the way back to walk off our dinner! We had a great meal and began our long walk to our cottage. We were tired, and complaining about the walk. Poor us. LOL.

As we walked, Rob heard drumming and singing – a familiar sound to us now. Around the corner we came upon a group of 40 adults and kids, practicing a dance. As we stood on the sidewalk watching, 1-2-3 people waved us into the yard. We sheepishly walked in, not wanting to disturb. I really wanted to pull out my phone to film them, but I resisted. I just wanted to be in the moment. They were all so beautiful – every shape/size/age – even the little girls had mastered that incredible swing of the hips! As the practice concluded, the owner of the dance studio came up to chat with us. He asked us where we were from, and shared that this group was heading to the U.S. shortly to perform in San Diego and Las Vegas. And it gets better…they guided us out of our chairs to join hands in a singing circle of thanks. Of course we didn’t know the words, but we did what one always does when you don’t know the words – mouth “watermelon, watermelon!” They were also celebrating a birthday and we were welcomed – in fact they insisted – that we stay and join them. An hour later, we made our “not so long walk” home – feeling blessed beyond words.

Over the course of the next week, we were up by 5:30, out the door by 7a.m., back at noon for lunch (and a siesta), then back to the boat for another several hours. It was essentially moving out of an apartment – all food had to go; everything (from the cupboards to the bilge) had to be scrubbed and wiped down with vinegar/water; sails had to come off; water tanks drained; engine oil changed, lines washed and stowed; clothes washed and sealed in vacuum bags – the list goes on. Rob also worked with a local mechanic to drop and inspect our rudder, and to get dimensions for two new rudder bearings that we’ll have machined while in the US.

Even though the work was not fun, it was a cathartic experience for us. Each of us – separately and together – had time to reflect on how this year+ has changed us. And, even here – in a dirty, dusty boatyard, we continued to warmed by the wonderful people we met day in/day out (see separate post “Boatyard John for more).

Yesterday, I cried as we left Athanor at the boatyard. She has been a loyal companion – our home - for over a year now. She’s carried us over 7,500 miles since we left Seattle last September.

This morning, we hopped a puddle jumper from Raiatea to Papeete. As our small plane flew over Huahine and Moorea, I had a very different vantage point of waters we had recently sailed. I spotted the blue/green reefs surrounding the islands. I noticed the natural breaks in the reef allowing boats to anchor. I envied the sailboats enroute.

Tomorrow, we will be in the states by dinnertime.

As you might imagine, our range of emotions are running high. We’ve missed our friends and family and can’t wait to hug our kids. We feel incredibly blessed that we had the opportunity – and the courage - to make this journey happen. We have fallen in love with this part of the world, and are sad to say so long. We’ll be back.

Once we’re settled in Seattle, we’ll write and let you know how re-entry is going! Thank you all for coming along with us – it’s been fun to share the highs – and lows – of our adventure.


Susan & Rob
S/V Athanor