The Fakarava Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago
For Holly Martin, 28, the ocean is her frontier at present, and her voyages are not on the starship Enterprise, but on her 27-foot-long Grinde sailboat, the SV Gecko (built in Denmark in 1983). She departed last fall from Round Pond Harbor on the Pemaquid Peninsula, with the goal of sailing alone around the world. She is now in Tahiti, the center of French Polynesia, in the middle of the vast Pacific. Others have boldly circumnavigated on solo missions before—the first was Joshua Slocum, who completed his trip in the years 1895 to 1898. It remains an unusual and remarkable feat, however, involving many unknowns. In Holly’s case, the coronavirus epidemic was one such unanticipated occurrence, and it has affected what ports are open and where she can resupply. She has resourcefully kept on, and along the way she has definitely had the opportunity to explore different countries and terrains. En route, she has shared impressions with those of us back on land in Maine. Sometimes we’ve gotten updates directly by cell phone and sometimes via her mother, expert sailor Jaja Martin, who is in occasional touch with Holly via a Garmin inReach, a two-way satellite communicator. This month, Jaja brings us the following news of Holly’s epic trip.
Holly is enjoying French Polynesia because there’s no COVID on any of the archipelagos. It isn’t necessary to wear masks in public or sanitize hands periodically, and the locals are all friendly and welcoming. “It’s very normal,” Holly says. “I’m thinking of staying in French Polynesia for the cyclone season instead of sailing to New Zealand where COVID mitigation procedures will be a part of life.” She’s currently on Fakarava Atoll in the Tuamotus Islands. It’s pure paradise with turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and swaying palms that are laden with coconuts for the taking.
This is the perfect season for cruising the Pacific. It is winter, and the trade winds are predominantly mild and consistent. As summer approaches (December in the Southern Hemisphere) the cyclone season will start up. At that point, boaters will be looking for a safe place to weather out the season. So, Holly still has some time to decide whether she will head for New Zealand or remain in French Polynesia. There are so many pros and cons of each decision.
One of the deciding factors of whether Holly will continue on to New Zealand or stay put is the availability of boat parts. Although her boat is holding up quite well (it’s a bullet proof boat!), there are some modifications that she’d like to make in order to make it more comfortable. Working on her boat would be a lot easier in New Zealand, but she can always put off the modifications for another season. There is nothing pressing that she has to accomplish to her boat to keep it safe, so she’s in a good position to remain in French Polynesia if she decides to do that.
Holly is meeting up with many of the same sailing people, or “cruisers,” that she knew in Panama. This is a common experience. There is always group that is crossing the Pacific at approximately the same time, and there are logical islands to stop on, so there is a good chance to see some of the same boats along the way. It is usually different cruisers at each stop, and it’s always nice to see the familiar faces in the mix. Sometimes, cruisers decide to sail in tandem, but they usually say “bye” to each other when they leave an island, and they don’t keep in contact during their passage. Then, they meet up at the destination, if their timing has been about the same.
Holly’s catching fish, snorkeling, beach combing, and meeting locals-all exactly what she loves.
There are 75 atolls in the Tuamotus Islands archipelago, which gives a great opportunity to explore. Holly is excited to visit several of the more remote areas. She’s catching fish, snorkeling, beach combing, and meeting locals—all exactly what she loves best.
She was able to provision fairly well in Panama before leaving for the Pacific, and now, where she is, there are places to buy food along the way. All the major islands in French Polynesia have outdoor street markets selling fresh produce, and there are supermarkets in all the major settlements. The only downside is that the prices in the supermarkets are fairly steep. Luckily, Holly loves fresh fish (which she can catch) and the local fruits. Yum!