Last we wrote, we were employing new tricks to coax as much boat speed as possible from TabbyCat whilst enduring very light and fickle winds crossing the equator en route to Wallis Island. Wouldn't you know it, as soon as we got south of the equator the light airs disappeared, to be replaced by 20+ knots for the remainder of our trip. As some would put it, the winds are either too passive or too massive! Our last week at sea was spent skirting line squalls and thunderstorms, usually under reduced sail. While very bouncy at times, we endeavored to keep boat speed under 6 knots in order to limit the crashing as we launched off and over waves. Our only casualty boat-wise was a blown out clew cringle on the mainsail. That's the part that holds the sail to the rear of the boom, and it announced it's failure with an almighty bang one afternoon. As it happened, the winds picked up soon afterward, and we spent the remainder of the trip under reefed main, so it didn't affect our speed or mobility in any way.
Wallis is a tiny island about 300NW of Western Samoa and, while an independent nation, is under French protectorate status. It's only about 10 miles by 5, completely encircled by a coral ring, accessible through 4 passages only one of which is suitable for large vessels. We'd been warned to attempt the pass only at high or low slack water, and to be especially wary in heavy weather or poor visibility. The weather was truly miserable as we headed south along the island's east coast early on Saturday morning June 15th, but it magically cleared as we turned the SE corner and motor sailed uneventfully through the pass in perfect conditions at slack low tide. Being the weekend, we knew we could not check in until Monday morning, so we lay low whilst sheltering behind one of the outer islets named Faiola. The next morning we were joined by Pete & Terri on French Kiss who had left the Marshalls a few days before us, but had endured numerous equipment failures en route. A week later we were in the same anchorage when David and Kate on Snufkin arrived. An breakfast reunion, with Susan's world famous scones as centerpiece, was enjoyed by all on TabbyCat. Originally we'd envisioned enough to keep us entertained on Wallis for a week or so, and then we'd be off to Fiji. Boy were we wrong! We absolutely loved our time there. One week turned into two, three, and eventually nine before we finally drug ourselves away. The people we met were amazing, and we feel very fortunate to have had this particular experience. Everyone we encountered was exceeding friendly and generous. Most cruisers, of which there are few since it's off the "beaten track", get about by hitchhiking, and that was a great way to meet locals. In addition, we had our recumbent bikes which we used to great effect to criss-cross the island. They were also a marvelous way to break the ice and start a conversation with people. We became quite well known as "the people with the crazy bikes that you can almost sleep on while riding". Just about everyone that passed in a car gave a friendly wave or honked, while those overtaking did so slowly and respectfully. We were invited to attend a number of local ceremonies, beach parties and dinners. One particular festival on the north end of the island, celebrating St Stephens, included 50 huge pigs which had been barbecued whole in the ground for 3 days prior ......and that didn't even include those that had been prepared in advance for the luncheon to which we were invited. Lots of colorful ceremony, kava drinking, singing and dancing. It was awesome. Although the island is run by the French, and French is the official language, this was all done in the local Polynesian dialect, a mix of Samoan and Tongan. The carvings in the nearby church were wonderful, and the locals were quite happy for us to wander up a series of 6 rickety ladders to the decorated bell tower. Imagine that in the US or UK! The west side of the island is mostly uninhabited, but does have a dirt road running the length of it and includes one of the local highlights, a water filled volcano very reminiscent of Crater Lake in Oregon. In addition we also had a local TV reporter on the boat, interviewing us and the other cruisers in our anchorage for our "15 minutes". Quite the local celebrities!
We have also, FINALLY, at long last ...... been learning to kite board! We have both been wanting to have a go for some time, but the idea became firmly rooted after seeing folks screaming across the surf in BoraBora last year. We've always thought it would be an ideal addition to our water sports inventory, but just never seemed to be in the right place at the right time to get some instruction. Who would have thought that this tiny island, with zero tourist infrastructure, would be the right place? What they do have is a number of French ex-pats and government workers who are very keen on the sport, and a wonderful guy named Ben who came from France as a 10 year old and never left. He's now in his early 30's, and looks like someone straight out of a surfer magazine. In fact he is the local surfing god, and is one of only 3 people on the island who will surf the welcome wave at the entrance to the lagoon, which makes the approach for vessels so intimidating. Anyway, 5 years ago Ben decided that he wanted to learn to kite board during the windy non-surfing months, and so taught himself .... and then started the local kite board association. He took us under his wing, introduced us to his buddy Francois for great prices on new gear, and took time out to give us personal tutoring. Not only that, he gave us the run of his downstairs "man-cave" to hang out in, do internet, shower and use gear storing facilities. Of course it's right across the road from the kiting site, about a 5 minute dinghy ride from our anchorage. What a gent! Needless to say we had a total blast. Having spent some time getting to know how to fly the kite, we are now consistently water starting, making runs, and executing our first turns.
French National Day (Bastille Day) was on July 14th, Wallis National Day on July 29th, and the big party to finish up the winter holiday season was this past weekend. Lots of festivities for all events, so no shortage of things to do on the non-windy days, of which there have been very few. Average wind speeds are usually 15-20, but this year, knowing that there were beginner kite boarders on the island, the wind gods managed to produce 20-25 knots ....... perfect for our newly purchased 7.5 meter kite and twin tip board.
It was with some great reluctance that we departed Wallis a few days ago, but given the consistently high winds of late, a forecast of 15 knots for three days was too good to miss. Ben had been hoping to join us on the trip to Fiji during his 2 week break from school (he's a science teacher), but unfortunately foot surgery, and the need to keep the wound completely dry, precluded that. However we hope that he and his wife Audrey can join us at some future date.
The 2 1/5 day, 400nm passage to Fiji was uneventful and easy. We're back for our third visit, and already into project mode ....which took a back seat to kiting during our time in Wallis. Our major goal in the coming weeks is to get our new cork floor finally laid. It's also been nice to reunite with Pete on French Kiss (with whom we enjoyed way too much beer and pizza on our first night here), and Russ & Olga on Captain's Mistress, whom we got to know while in Wallis.
Will post more photos
of Wallis, kiteboarding, and all the projects we've been working on soon. `A bientot....