Donald Crowhurst – a true sailing icon

mercyFifty years and gallons of ink have passed since the first Golden Globe Single Handed Around the World Race and to coincide with this anniversary, Hollywood is releasing a film about one of the competitors and a personal hero of mine – the little known and often overlooked sailor Donald Crowhurst.  The film is not on release yet, so it is not possible to predict how the LA movie industry will portray this often maligned sailor, so before they get their say, I would like mine.

I have never been much of a hero worshiper.  I remember watching Superman as a kid and being singularly unimpressed – what courage does it take to stand up to a bullet if you know it is going to bounce harmlessly off your oversized red pants?  What courage is required to leap between buildings if you know that you can just fly off into the sunset if you cock it up?  I feel a similar ambivalence towards the sailing supermen.  The Moitessiers and Knox-Johnsons of the world seem to have been blessed with superpowers and a mental robustness that are not granted to the rest of us.  There is no doubt that they are great adventurers and sailors, but I have always been more interested in what the ordinary guy like myself can do – not what is achievable by the physically and mentally gifted.

One’s relationship with supermen is always doomed to a, ‘well it’s OK for you’ type of passivity, but when you meet somebody ordinary who is living an extraordinary life, your thoughts are likely to be more inspirational.

‘Well if they can do it’ we think to ourselves, ‘why not me?’

Yes, I have lead and continue to lead, an adventurous life but those people that have inspired me were not supermen, but ordinary, human, fallible beings. Of course, when one is surfing the edges of what is achievable by ordinary men and women, there is a danger that we may drift into the arena of the over-confident and overestimate our own abilities or (perhaps less forgivably) underestimate the dangers that face us. We may bite off more than we can chew.

We are amply assisted in this process by the ‘just do it’ mentality of the advertising world and the ‘you go girl’ attitude of the philosophically challenged who seem to dwell in increasingly regrettable numbers on social media.  With growing  predictability, nearly every sailing blog carries this quote from Mark Twain.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Apart from being an extraordinarily long winded and prescient way of repeating the rather banal Nike mantra, the implication of course is that you will regret inaction more than action and (by extension) that whatever you do you won’t regret.

This is singularly untrue on an ocean that is largely indifferent to your plans for self-actualisation.  There are thousands of people who have put to sea without experience on unsuitable boats who deeply regret it.  Many carry the heavy burden of guilt and sorrow for the lost lives of loved ones and crew, even more have been bankrupted or traumatised by the experience. Innumerable relationships have been destroyed.

 Donald Crowhurst on board the Teignmouth Electron. The boat was discovered unmanned in July 1969. Photograph: Eric Tall/Getty Images

Donald Crowhurst on board the Teignmouth Electron. Photograph: Eric Tall/Getty Images

Sometimes then, the world needs a different type of hero – one that shows our fallibility, not adds to our over-confidence. Donald Crowhurst was such a man – unassuming, quiet and utterly ordinary. One of the entrants in the original Golden Globe Single Handed Around the world Race in 1968, the inexperienced Crowhurst set off on a wholly inappropriate, untested boat and paid the ultimate price.

As the entrants prepared for the race, legendary sailor Bernard Moitessier (a genuine superman if there ever was one) commented that,

 “Anyone who attempts this for any other reason than the joy of it, will get his neck broken.”

And he was right.  Donald Crowhurst, a weekend sailor at best, was no lover of the sea. He wanted to be special. He wanted the same type of accolades that had so recently been bestowed upon Sir Francis Chichester, he wanted to make a name for himself and to promote his fledgling electronic navigation company.  He was certainly not inspired by the pure joy of being ‘out there’. When it became obvious that all his hi-tech gizmos were not going to be any substitute for a strong boat and the increasingly undervalued asset of hard-won experience, rather than give up (and face bankruptcy) he decided to cheat by hanging out in the South Atlantic and waiting several months for the fleet to sail around the world, whereupon he would quietly slip in behind the tail-end charlie and return to the UK. Perhaps not to a hero’s welcome, but a respectable showing nevertheless.

But the fragile and fallible human mind had other ideas. Trapped in the South Atlantic for endless months of solitude and guilt, he eventually killed himself rather than face possible exposure.

Crowhurst reminded us that there are caveats to the idea that ‘anyone can sail around the world’.  He reminded us just how lonesome it is out there and how quickly things can go south – particularly hi-tech electronics that tend to fail at the earliest exposure to salt water.  Crowhurst believed the secret of his success would be untested technology and this philosophy was exposed in the most tragic way.

Tacita Dean, ‘Teignmouth Electron’ from the series Disappearance at Sea, 1999

Donald’s trimaran ‘Teignmouth Electron’ was found adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in 1969 / from the series Disappearance at Sea, 1999, by Tacita Dean

The death of Donald Crowhurst raised the game of those who came later – reminding thousands of sailors of the value of a sturdy, tested design and of experience gained the hard way, rather than imbibed second hand or bought at the boat show. The death of  Donald Crowhurst scared many people into doing the right thing. It is hard to estimate how many lives he saved this way. Donald Crowhurst was a brave, often maligned, example of the fragility of human nature and the vastness of the sea.  It was a message that needed to be heard, and still needs to be heard today.

In the fifty years since, Crowhurst’s lesson seems to have been increasingly drowned out by the consumerism that has taken over the marine world.  It makes good marketing sense to portray sailing around the world as simple – as long as you have the huge amounts of electronic gadgets that the salesmen are all too happy to charge to your card. And once again, people with little experience are hitting the sea with unsuitable, lightly-built boats bristling with electronic gizmos as a surrogate to seaworthiness. With increasing regularity, inappropriate boats are failing or grounding on reefs or sinking due to a combination of lack of good sea keeping and over reliance on electronic toys (see my article in the November 2017 issue of Cruising Helmsman for more detail. You can download this here)

Perhaps the most worrisome group are the ‘Bucket Listers’.  Increasingly, rich retirees with little sailing experience set off ‘around the world’ in the belief that this will give their life a meaning that it previously lacked.  That may seem like a good idea to you, but remember what Moitessier said.  The sea is completely oblivious to you and your needs.  It does not care that you feel that your life lacks meaning. Imposing your agenda on the sea is exactly the kind of hubris that got Crowhurst killed.

While I believe that we are all capable of more than we think we are, Donald Crowhurst will always remain my sailing hero because he reminds us that there are limits.  This was an important message fifty years ago and a particularly important message now in the age of Facebook where encouraging caution and preparation is too often portrayed as ‘pissing on somebody else’s dreams’.

Donald Crowhurst lost his life showing the rest of us where the line between dreams and fantasies is and his example has injected a bit of well needed reality into an increasingly sloganized narrative that was beginning to make ‘exploring the trade winds’ sound too much like an easily purchased panacea to all modern ills.

The world owes Donald Crowhurst a great debt.

Frame from the movie Deepwater

Donald Crowhurst / Frame from the movie Deepwater

 

*The film The Mercy stars Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst and goes on general release Feb 2018.

 

Further reading:

A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols 

 

The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall 

Watch:

Deep Water by Louise Ormond.  An excellent documentary with much original footage.  Notoriously publicity shy, the director has managed to involve the  Crowhurst family in the narrative which gives her portrayal a sympathy that is often lacking in other accounts. 

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Never too old

The sea gypsy community is packed with odd, interesting life stories.

There are many unusual sailors out there and this is the story of one of them.

Tilly's Birthday

It was a spring day in the Netherlands and the sun warmed the air just enough for the party to be held outdoors. It was a big day,  Granma Tilly was celebrating her 90th Birthday!

 

As life goes, Tilly now needed some help with the everyday tasks and her son Humberto decided to leave his little sailing boat El Holandes Errante at anchor in Fiji and join her in Europe. After not too long she commented:

“I know you are much happier when you are in the South Pacific. Why don’t we go there?”

“Mum, my boat is waaay too small for the both of us.”

“Well, then I will sell my house and we will buy a bigger boat!”

After a few moments of hesitation Humberto realized that she was serious. She had never stepped foot on a boat before, but now she wanted to live aboard in the South Pacific!

And so they did it. Humberto showed her a few candidates and she picked their new boat, a St. Francis 44 catamaran.

They sailed from the Caribbean through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific. Tilly’s first ocean crossing took 45 days due to no wind, but she did not complain.

Superbabica in wahoo

She experienced many new things and was suddenly getting younger by the day.
Tilly and HumbertoTilly made many new friends, both in the Sea Gypsy community and on the islands they visited.

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She adapted very well to the life on the sea, also thanks to Humberto, who made some modifications to make her life easier.

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Tilly’s elevator

See how Tilly’s cool elevator worksDSCF0108

It was interesting to listen to many of her stories, including a grounding in Tahiti when she was alone aboard. She really seems to be without a care in the world. She also explained why:

“All my life I took care of other people. Now finally someone is taking care of me. I love it.”

Tilly just recently celebrated her 91st Birthday, this time on a passage between Beveridge Reef and Tonga.  She definitely does not look one year older, maybe 20 years younger!

Tilly before and after

Tilly at 90                                            Tilly at 91

We met her and Humberto in Neiafu, Vava’u. They impressed us as happy and charismatic people, the kind of people that make our sailing community so very special.

They are now sailing around Fiji where Tilly is spending her days drinking fresh coconuts in turquoise lagoons. What a great way to live in retirement!

She made me think of one of my favourite quotes:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Hunter S.Thompson

You can follow Tilly’s and Humberto’s journey on their Youtube channel or check out Humberto’s website.

Tilly enjoying Bora Bora

Tilly enjoying life in Bora Bora

 

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Do you suffer from MIAS? A simple self-test

Are you suffering from M.I.A.S (Musical Instrument Acquisition Syndrome)?Music aboard

Already a serious illness that affects millions worldwide, MIAS sufferers who live in small spaces are doubly at risk as their increasing instrument and associated supplies (reeds, strings, manuscripts, bongs, etc) start to displace essential stores leading to malnourishment and vitamin deficiency.

So, how do you know if you are suffering from MIAS or simply have, ‘a lot of shit’.  Try this simple self-test.

Examine the formula below:

H= n+1

(where H= happiness measured in grins, and n= number of musical instruments currently owned)

If the above formula makes perfect sense to you then you are suffering from MIAS and should seek immediate medical attention or a larger boat.

Rick playing ukelele

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Moorea – Hollywood’s Backdrop

Mo'orea

Mo’orea

When I was told that Moorea was the filming location for both South Pacific and Jurassic Park, I was torn between the desire to see how a landscape could be so contradictory and the very real fear of being torn to shreds by a gay velociraptor.

Cooks Bay

Sailing into Cooks Bay

In fact the beauty of Moorea encompasses both the light-hearted musicality of the former and the dark mystery of the latter.  Wafting palms and gentle waves on the coast rise quickly into mysterious and dramatic peaks of untamed jungle. The people reflect the same contradiction as the landscape – gentle, calm and helpful. But leave your outboard on the beach (as we did) for more than 15 minutes and consider it a sacrifice to the Tiki gods whose images are still found sculpted into the rocks.

In the water with stingrays and sharks

In the water with stingrays and sharks

In our usual quest to be the slowest cruisers in the world, we have been here for nearly four months. We have explored the anchorages of the north and west and got to know some great people. We have circumnavigated the whole island on a scooter and swum with sharks and stingrays whilst having a good sticky-beak at the underwater geography too. And over time, we have come to see beyond the movie backdrop and get a real flavour of this extraordinary place that is rapidly becoming our favourite spot in the Pacific.

Kayaking around the Opunohu Bay anchorage

Kayaking around the Opunohu Bay anchorage

 

Swimming with sharks

Swimming with sharks

Underwater Tikis Moorea

Underwater Tikis

It may not be for everyone – particularly the more ‘A’ type personality – but slowing down to something assimilating the pace of life in the places you visit is the only real chance of getting even a whiff of its authentic flavour. We are glad we did.

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Budget Drone Photography or ‘Kitecam’

aerial view on anchorageWe have all admired those sweeping aerial shots that used to be the exclusive domain of professional photographers with much greater budgets than ours. With the introduction of the drone, that monopoly is admittedly being challenged at least to a certain extent. Whilst significantly cheaper than chartering a helicopter, drones are still fairly expensive and everyone we have met who owns one, has complained about reliability. This is fairly usual when a technology is in its infancy and I have no doubt that as the years roll on and the market deepens, drones will be super-reliable and virtually free with breakfast cereal.

Back in the real world of the everyday cruiser, where budgets are still a part of life, $4000 is a lot to spend on something that works only a few times.

 

However, there is a tried and tested technology that has been continuously developed for thousands of years, principally by the Chinese who invented it at about the time of the birth of Christ.  It is simple, cheap and enormous amounts of fun.

 

Welcome fellow sailors to the ‘kite-cam’

 

You will need:

1 stable kite (we add a drogue to ours, just to be safe)

A line of fishing reel

A light digital camera (waterproof!) that can be programmed to take pictures at regular intervals

A safety lanyard

A basic understanding of a photo-editing suite such as Adobe Photoshop

A helpful partner.

 

Firstly, set up your kite and test fly it without the camera to get a good feel (remember that if the kite is not flying strongly in the wind you have, it will not fly at all when you add the extra weight).

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Then bring it in and lash the camera to the frame along the central axis. Set up the camera to take a photo every 10 seconds and off you go….

Kitecam

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As you can see from the pictures, the only down side is the fishing line bisecting and spoiling the photograph.  This can be easily erased in most photo editing suites in about 2 minutes.

And there you have it – cheap aerial photography by kite-cam.  And possibly the only product from China you will ever own that was actually invented there!

kitecam on calypso

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Calypso on the Radio!

Hi tech radio comms on Calypso

Hi tech radio comms on Calypso

Hi Everyone!

We are on the air again for the launch of Boat Radio – a new internet based radio station for us grotty yachties!
 
You can hear our interview about budget sailing today at 1200GMT and again at 1600GMT, 2000GMT, 0000GMT, 0400GMT and 0800GMT.
Or you can listen  to it by clicking on the link below.

 
Cheers,.
R n J
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Happy Easter Bunnies on Board!

Despite the problems with Apocalypso,  we are smiling because of this nice Easter Surprise…

Get Real hits the topspot!

 “Get Real, Get Gone” had its best sales day on Easter Saturday and is now the No.1 best selling sailing book in the UK and No.2 in the US.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we would like to say  thanks to everyone who bought it and sent their thoughts and kind wishes.

It is a singular honour to be included in the latest Tom Cunliffe masterpiece The Complete Ocean Skipper.  Here is what he wrote:tom

To be mentioned in the same dispatches as the great Annie Hill and the pioneering Pardeys is truly an honour and has made this the most fabulous Easter!

The feedback from Amazon has been overwhelmingly positive as well. Here are a couple of the latest reviews (and these are just the recent ones!)

I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who took the time to provide such fabulous reviews. 

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

5.0 out of 5 stars  A Wonderfully Modern Take on Taking Off

on March 29, 2016

If you have read every book except this one about buying a boat and heading over the horizon, you haven’t read the best one yet. Extremely practical, and doesn’t practice the kind of willful ignorance that is so often displayed in other books of the genre regarding the seeming requirement to have a spouse who is an expert sailor and mechanic. The wonderful bonus is that it frequently really funny. You might not agree with 100% of the conclusions and recommendations, but it is clear that the authors are providing guidance based on experience and observation, not commandments.

Get thee hence and buy a copy!

 

5.0 out of 5 starsFive Stars

on March 29, 2016
Reading this book is like talking to a friend. It’s easy, commonsense, and very inspiring
 
———–

5.0 out of 5 stars Buy this book!! You will not regret it!!

on February 12, 2016

I cannot express enough how wonderful this book is! ‘Get Real and Get Gone’ should come standard with every sailboat purchased! Not only is it full of necessary, relevant and helpful information, but it is presented in a way that both newbies and veterans can learn from and understand. The pages are filled with wisdom, experience, ingenuity, passion and humor! This is the beginner (and even experienced) sailor’s bible.

Not only is the book fantastic, Rick and Jasna are wonderful too! Taking time out of there sea gypsy life to not only respond to my email but answer all my questions in detail absolutely sealed the deal for me! I hope to see many more books from these amazing people and maybe run into them on the high seas!

 

 

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Polynesian Tattoos


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The Tattoo has always been an important part  of  Polynesian culture.

As early as 1767, Captain Samuel Wallis noticed that it was;

“a universal custom among men and women to get their buttocks and the back of their thighs painted with thin black lines representing different figures”.

The word ‘tattoo’ was first used by Captain Cook. It is the phonetic transcription of the Polynesian word ‘tatau’, which means ‘to hit’. Back then, the tattoo artist used tapered animal bones or teeth, which they would tap the backs of to drive the ink under the skin.

Modern Polynesian tattoo artists may have broken that tradition (they now use an electric needle) but the designs remain steeped in tradition – each with their very own distinct meaning.

While the main purpose of tattooing is decoration, the various designs also tell specific stories or denote affiliation with certain groups. Many Polynesians also believe that tattoos can protect them from evil.

Tattooing experienced a crisis when the missionaries brought Catholicism to the islands. Suddenly the naked body had to be covered, rendering the tattoos somewhat pointless.

Today, having largely shed the repressive yoke of Catholicism, Polynesians have re-embraced this wonderfully creative aspect of their cultural heritage. 

This is particularly true in the Marquesas where it is almost impossible to find an adult Marquesan without a tattoo. Men are often tattooed on the arms, back and chest while the women tend to opt for neck, lower back and legs. The Marquesan islands of Tahuata, Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva are home to some of the best tattoo artist in Polynesia.

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As sailors and visitors to this land, we tend at first to simply watch and admire the wonderful array of inked bodies. However, after a while one starts to feel naked. When that happens, tattoo fever is never far behind.  DSC01167 DSC01166

So which one of us got the fever? 

The answer is we both did!

Rick picked a strip of typical Polynesian symbols that represents his travels across the Pacific

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Jasna told the artist (Moana Junior from Taiohae) that she loves sailing and diving. She ended up with a half fish – half boat design. 

tatoo

And so we are not naked anymore.

These will be our permanent souvenirs of the special people of the Marquesas islands which hosted us for seven unforgettable months.

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Beach umbrella for cruisers

Yoseaside-875472_1280u’ve probably never thought of including a beach umbrella on the list of desirable safety gear for your boat.

But you should, especially if you are sailing towards remote locations.

There is two very good reasons for that.

The first one is the obvious one.

 

 

Sometimes you will stop at tropical islands where you can lie in the shade of a palm tree.

Sailing French Polynesia

Rick at work in Fakarava, French Polynesia

But many other times, you will visit islands with no vegetation at all.

Caleta San Juanico in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Caleta san Juanico in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

If you are planning to lay on the beach for  more than 2 hours, you need some kind of shade to protect your skin from the tropical sun. With no trees, you need a beach umbrella.

Beach day in Toau, Tuamotu Archipelago

Beach day in Toau, Tuamotu Archipelago

Or maybe you fancy lying in the hammock but you also don’t want to get cooked by the sun.

Sailing French Polynesia

But the main reason we recommend having an umbrella on your cruising boat is that it can help you staying sane.

As we all know too well, cruising also means fixing things at anchor.

Imagine you are trying to reassemble your furling system after you finished servicing it. There is only one nut to go and you are already looking forward to that big margarita you deserve for a job well done.

rick dreamingYou fiddle with your fingers and just as you thought that the nut grabbed the tread…

…plonk!

Noooooo!!! The big unique nut fell in the water!

No margarita for you, I am afraid.nomargarita

Instead you win a very frustrating day of walking around dusty streets in search of a miracle or maybe a long night of internet research to try and find someone who can ship a replacement part to the middle of the Pacific for less than 100$ in less than a month.

I am sure this happened to anyone who has been cruising for some time. Whether you are working on the rigging or on the outboard, there is the risk of losing something in the drink.

But there is no need for all this frustration, the solution is simple.

You need an umbrella!

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We bought this one in Mexico for about 3$ and this is what we achieved:

  1. Many more beach days and no sunburns.
  2. No more nervous breakdowns during deck projects.
  3. Every time a bolt or a screw falls in it, we feel so pleased with ourselves, we decide we deserve a double margarita!

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Paradise WiFi: 5 Cheapest Internet Cafes In French Polynesia

Communication with the outside world can often be a problem in French Polynesia.

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The phone coverage is very poor on most islands and the internet connection is even worse. Prepaid internet is very expensive – too expensive for us. That’s why we appreciate so much these 5 places where you can get internet almost for free.

1. SNACK VAEKI, best known as CHEZ HENRI (Henri’s place) – Nuku Hiva

nuku hiva 2015 055Henri is a legend. At his place you can type away your emails while a group of locals sing lovely Polynesian tunes accompanied by ukuleles and  the chickens peck your feet. When you get hungry, you get up, pick a banana or two from the stash hanging all around you. This is a meeting point for all the cruisers arriving across the Pacific and in the high season is always packed with cruisers. That’s why the internet can be quite slow.  If you need a better connection for downloading or to call your mum on Skype, you have to go there at 5 am. You will be surprised to find Chez Henri already full of locals eating fish for breakfast.

Sooner or later, you will end op at Henri’s place and when you do, make sure you order a fresh mango juice. They are unbeatable and Henri doesn’t mind if you put your own tot of rum in it as he doesn’t have a licence for alcohol.

Chez Henri, Taiohae, Nuku Hiva

Snack Vaeki, Taiohae, Nuku Hiva

2. FAKARAVA YACHT SERVICES

10349889_1564531757156952_4933985239705112304_nAldric and Stephanie are ex-cruisers who moved to this little piece of paradise and started a business dedicated to cruisers. They offer free internet connection if you buy a coffee or a juice, but they also rent bikes and take care of your laundry. If you need anything else, just ask. Their couch is very comfortable and their espresso the best in Polynesia, no question.

Fakarava Yacht Services

Fakarava Yacht Services

3. VAITAHU under the pamplemousse tree by the only shop in town

Vaitahu on the island of Tahuata is a very lovely town, well worth a visit. In town you will find a beautiful church, a museum, a post office, lots of nice locals and a little shop/bakery. This is also a wi-fi spot and there is a nice table where you can sit in the shade of a big tree. If you buy something from the shop you can ask for the password, but don’t expect a fast connection!  What you can expect is a big smile and helpful attitude from the French guy who owns the store.

Vaitahu, Tahuata, Marquesas

Vaitahu, Tahuata, Marquesas

4. ATUONA, HIVA OA (only off season)

Sandra runs Hiva Oa Yacht Services and offers internet connection inside/in front of/behind her office. The price is quite high in season (April to August), but in the low season drops to almost nothing. With the Alfa we managed to get her internet aboard as well, but only because we were anchored very close by. In the high season, the internet cafe in town is a cheaper choice and they make great pancakes too!

Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas

Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas

5. CARREFOUR TARAVAO, TAHITI

The only place we found in Tahiti where the internet was fast and free was in the big Carrefour in Taravao (between Tahiti Iti and Tahiti Nui). They have tables with chairs and very fast internet. You can buy a drink or a snack but it is not compulsory.

I am sure there are many more “secret” spots and if you know of any, please let us know, so we can add them to our list.

p.s. I was not sure if writing this post was a really good idea… secret spots are usually great only until they are discovered. But to be fair, the amount of yachts that go through these spots every year is so small, I hardly can see them getting too crowded…

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