Alone Like a Rolling Stone


It is Ascension Day and Father Honoré Laval has done a great job with his torturer François Caret. In 1834 they came to the Gambiers and missionized the then still 5000 to 6000 inhabitants. After Laval's arrival, the population was rapidly reduced to 463 people when Laval's activities were stopped in 1871 from Tahiti. Caret died earlier, in October 1844. Laval had numerous buildings built in service, including nine churches and chapels, lookout towers, and even a prison. This service so depleted the population that they could not ensure their own survival. The cathedral in Rikitea is an example. With its 2000 seats, it is twice the size of the entire population of the Gambier Islands and, unfortunately, also a monument of that time. We are not particularly religious, but we want to see the way the service is held here. Together with Caroline and Paul from SY Giebateau and Tjasa from SY Mare we climb the steps to the entrance. In front of the portal we are joyfully expected and we are assigned a bench. A guitar group plays and the congregation sings along vigorously, the lyrics appearing on a screen. The songs are mostly sung in Polynesian, the service is French and partly Polynesian. The protocol is always the same, I believe this is true for the Catholic Church, worldwide. However, the songs and with what commitment they are sung is unique. Even though the church was not very crowded, many of the Polynesians here, even today, live the Catholic faith.

Taravai from Mt. Duff

But this is not the only monument of the time in which Father Laval worked here. On the island of Taravai there is another church built by him. Here live just six people. The neighboring island of Mangareva is only six nautical miles away and separated by the Northwest Pass. The entrance to the anchorage basin is a bit tricky as it is surrounded by coral sticks. SY Pitufa's waypoints help us find our way, plus there are four white buoys at the entrance to the bay.

It's Saturday and we are browsing the small stores in Rikitea to get some chicken legs subsidized by the French. Unfortunately, it's been too long since the supply ship from Tahiti was here and so only the expensive ones are available. Food is extremely expensive on the Gambiers. The chickenlegs we finally buy cost the equivalent of 20 euros. All this does not help, we need grill goods to participate in the BBQ, which takes place on Sunday on Taravai. But not only the meat, also the vegetables that have to be imported cost a lot. A kilo of potatoes costs seven euros here. I still said in Panama to Gaby, calculate generously and take rather a little more, but our provision master has not listened to me. I would have been better off taking Grandma with me, she still knew how to take care of herself, but she's no longer alive. Anyway, at noon we cross over to the other island and meet the SY Giebateau which is already there. Paul helps me through the coral sticks by driving ahead with the dinghy. We anchor at 15 meters because the shallower parts have hard coral bottom and only a thin layer of sand. There the hold is clearly worse. In the afternoon we go ashore and greet Valerie and Herve who have lived here for 16 years. Herve grew up here with his grandfather and came back at some point. The two organize a BBQ for sailors every Sunday and are incredibly open-minded and friendly. They show us their garden and we are amazed at what grows here. A lawn about four meters wide, partly bordered with stones, is the main road of the island. It leads over 200 meters to the church, which is being renovated. This is also much too large for the six inhabitants of the island. The church is approached from the sea through a monumental archway. Here Laval has once again exaggerated beyond measure. The next day the BBQ starts punctually at 12:00. In the meantime, two French and one Belgian yacht have arrived, so this event is known by all yachts sailing here. We pass the time until then by snorkeling, taking a closer look at one of the nearby coral stacks. From our Katinka it is just 50 meters. I swim straight towards a big grouper. About 1.5m tall, he looks at me with his eyes and doesn't trust me. The brown body is covered with bright blue spots. The corals here are wonderfully intact and provide a variety of fish of all sizes. Parrotfish and triggerfish can also be seen. Hundreds of small blue fish suddenly swim around me and look curiously at what I am doing here. But now it is time to come to the BBQ. The hunger would be there. Herve has already fired up the grill. In a corrugated iron hut blazes from stones surrounded, cheerfully a small fire. Two grids, one coarse and one fine-meshed, are placed over the fire and now it can start. A large table has been set up under a shady tree. Everyone has brought something and so it is a big pot luck. You have to celebrate the feasts as they fall and it becomes a fun afternoon. After dinner we play boules, where Herve turns out to be a true champion. Everyone tries to get into his team, because then he is sure of victory. In the late afternoon we say goodbye and return to the ship. Rain sets in during the night and the wind freshens up to 25 knots. Caroline and Paul come over to the Katinka in the morning in the pouring rain and we listen to the stories of the experienced crew. In the afternoon we dare to return to Rikitea. In retrospect this turns out to be a mistake. In the pass we expect up to 35 knots of wind and it takes us over an hour to get into the wind cover of Mangareva. In Rikitea we are very protected by the cover of the island, but the whole action cost us quite a lot of fuel again. Nevertheless we look back on a wonderful weekend. We made new friends and had a great time on Taravai. The island has much more to offer, which of course we don't want to miss. But we will report about that another time. Until then, we wish you, as always,fair winds and keep a stiff upper lip.