Like most cruisers (and almost-cruisers) these days, we spent hours on YouTube before we left, watching people just like us finding paradise. Amateur videos full of epic drone shots of the boat on some remote tropical island in mirror-like water, surrounded by healthy coral structures and sandy islands dotted with palm trees, the sun always sinking into the sea in a thousand colors. Usually, these videos got me excited about leaving and showed me a new place I definitely wanted to visit.
Sometimes, when the days were particularly dark and grey in Seattle, when the boat projects kept stacking up, when it felt like we’d never actually leave, I had to turn off the YouTube videos. In those moments, they just made me jealous and impatient. When do I get to be there?!
About a week after we arrived in the Gambiers, after we had done the paperwork shuffle, caught up on sleep and restocked our egg supply in town, we motored to the northwest corner of the archipelago in light winds and under sunny skies. In contrast to the steep double peak on Mangareva island, the northwest corner is protected only by the barrier reef and a few low lying motus (the local name for small islands). I had my eye on one of these motus, one only big enough to host three palm trees and looked simply idyllic. So, we motored right off the edge of the chart and slowly, carefully, picked our way towards paradise.
Many of the lagoons inside these coral-lined atolls are dotted with raised coral structures called bommies, each one its own city of underwater life. They reach up from the depths suddenly, with no warning, each one a beautiful but menacing hazard to our sensitive fiberglass hull. They are often missing from digital charts, but with the sun high and the seas calm, they are easy to spot against the turquoise water and navigation by sight is straightforward. I stand on the bow and point while John steers Halcyon, keeping her hull in the bright blue patches between bommies.
We reached my 3-palm motu after about an hour of this bommie navigation and dropped the anchor in the clearest water I have ever seen. I could easily see the anchor find the sandy bottom 35 feet below us. With the anchor well set in sand and the chain hanging away from the coral, we promptly jumped in and snorkeled over the bommies and across the shallow reef separating us from the deep blue ocean. We walked around our little 3-palm island, stopping to watch hermit crabs clamoring over coconuts, then swam back to the boat. I was in heaven. But it wasn’t until that evening that I got truly giddy.
John flew the drone at sunset that night while I peered over his shoulder. And there it was – a bird’s eye view of paradise, with Halcyon sitting square in the middle. Everything was there – the 20 shades of blue, the coral structures, the sandy islands, the palm trees, even the sunset colors. That’s when I got giddy. We found it! We sailed right into a youtube video, and it’s even better than I imagined.
We spent about a week in that particular paradise. Then we stopped through town for fresh bread and Pamplemousses and more eggs (always more eggs) before setting off again to explore the next paradise. We got to repeat this pattern for about a month.
By the end of May, the weather began to turn. Heavy southeast winds became more common, the water temperature dropped and the air followed suit. Evenings found us in long sleeves and warm hats, watching the weather for a good window to say goodbye to the Gambiers and sail north, back into the dependably warm tropical belt.
We found our weather window in the middle of June, a few weeks later than we expected, but I had no complaints about spending the extra time in the Gambiers. It was paradise.