Sunday, November 2, 2014

In Sympathy with Bligh...

We'd clung to our anchor listening to the wind howl for a week in Bora Bora before we left. Then 24 hours out our breeze petered out to the occasional puff. Somehow in these conditions Impetuous manages to carry on in the right direction, but when we got down to one knot, we knew we were doing more harm to the sails than we were making headway. We cast a look around on the chart and spied Maupihaa (also known as Mopelia). We snuck into this atoll through the skinniest pass yet; it was only 18m across! 24 hours later the wind had returned so after a walk ashore we returned to sea.

The next morning Ruth's fever started. To this day we're not sure what it was, but she spent the next four days in bed shivering. Prior to leaving Bora Bora, we'd spoken to an English couple who had raved about the beauty of Aitutaki. 'How much do you draw?' they asked, '5ft7ish', 'oh you're lucky, you can get in'. It's funny how we, as sailors are happy to shoehorn our precious homes into a space that we just don't fit. If you were reversing into a parking space that was 10cm smaller than your car, your onlookers would never say, 'ah, a little scrape, you'll get in, you might have to climb out the boot!'. Duncan swam out the kedge anchor 4 times to drag us in through that pass and over the sandbar. Ruth struggled to steer and winch but once we were in, she was back to bed and feeling awful.

Lieutenant William Bligh left Portsmouth in December 1787 bound for Tahiti. After 30days battling mountainous seas and headwinds off Cape Horn they were forced to abandon this route and sail the other way around the world to get to their destination. They stopped at the Cape of Good Hope, Van Diemen's land (Tasmania) then stayed low below New Zealand to use favourable winds before looping round to Tahiti. His wooden sailing ship 'the Bounty' was small for the time; 85ft long 220 tons rated as a Cutter (though it had three masts) and she carried a crew of 46. Their voyage's purpose was to collect hundreds of breadfruit plants in order to transplant these to the Caribbean as an efficient food for slaves there.

Bligh steered his men through this very trying voyage with little apparent difficulty until he encountered a storm off Aitutaki. In sympathy with Bligh, as we dragged ourselves over that sand and coral our engine gave the most horrific knock. It made all manner of odd noises, ran away with itself and then died. Our concerns were heightened by the fact that we were being blown onto shallower water but luckily we were still stuck fast. After our fourth kedge we finally felt the boat even out as she found a little water under her keel. We tentatively started the engine and it gently muttered us into a spot where we could drop our anchor.

As far as we can tell, the problems that led to the mutiny of Bligh's crew lay in the fact that the men had a very good time on Tahiti. When they left, they were now facing another arduous slog of a journey in order to return to England where life was far from easy. Many of them had found lovers and made good friends in the garden of paradise that was Tahiti, and it was more than a wrench to give this life up.

We spent the next day troubleshooting the engine; Ruth from the bed with manual in hand, Duncan at the spanners end. In the background we were forever bumping the bottom, re-anchoring as the tide changed and the wind shifted and howled all the way round the compass. Still unsure what was wrong with Pip we were then Blighted once again when Duncan started to shake and sweat. We'd been there almost a week before we felt we could step ashore.

Aitutaki is indeed a beautiful island. It's hard to describe why, when it clearly lacks the iconic grandeur of Bora Bora, but the lagoon is shallow and brightly coloured whereas the island is verdant, luxurious and is populated by Maori descended Polynesian people who are endearing and delightful.

This photo was taken from climbing up the water tanks up top of the island.  That's why you see corrugated steel. This is just another beautiful tree full of the ear held flowers...

We'd struggled in the society islands to find much in the way of fruit and vegetables. This seemed in disparity to the lushness that was in evidence wherever you looked. Aitutaki was therefore a new kind of playground. When we walked away from the town we found trees rich with breadfruit, grapefruit, limes and chillis. In the petrol store they sold tomatoes cheaply, which were the most sumptuous we've tasted.

Bligh's crew mutineered off Tofua in the kingdom of Tonga, but the rumblings of discontent began off Aitutaki. Pip hasn't murmured any discontent since we left, and we're both now back to full health. Our sail to Tonga was beautifully peaceful and breezy. We'd been spectacularly unsuccessful with fishing ever since the Tuamotus so when we caught two good sized MahiMahi the day before we arrived we were delighted.

1 comment:

Mike Wagoner said...

Very good to see that Ruth made in through the four days. That was a bit scary to read knowing that four days is a long time to be really sick - more like the flu that we are all currently receiving shots for (here in the States). Glad you are all back to good health. Mike & Ruby