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French Polynesia - A Cabrinha Quest

Oct 2, 2014

Author: Words and photos by Jody MacDonald

Origionally published in SBC Kiteboard magazine Issue No. 50

Cabrinha Quest

I’m trying to get a better vantage point to see Keahi de Aboitiz, but I’m having a hard time finding the right spot through all the palm trees. There are so many it feels like a maze fence. I keep looking up to make sure I’m not going to get bonked on the head with an assailing coconut, while at the same time wielding a good view to get some photos. Sure enough a coconut hits the ground 10 feet away, making a loud and stomach-churning thump in the sand—French Polynesian sand to be precise. This is French Polynesia. We are in Magellan territory.  Gauguin. HMS Bounty. Ring a bell?

Keahi De Aboitiz / Jody MacDonald photo
    The last 24 hours have involved four flights to a dinghy and finally to our boat discovery. Not just any boat, The Cabrinha Quest to be exact. The Cabrinha Quest has been here the last few months trying to find the best kitesurfing secret spots, the ones no one can get to or, more importantly, the ones that haven’t been found.  We’ve been at this a while. The last time I was here was in 2008; my partner, Gavin McClurg, was at the helm.  Now it is Seon Crockford. The faces have changed, but their salty blood is the same and the mission is as true as Polaris points north.
    Now, as I maneuver around the French Polynesian palms, French Polynesian sand and French Polynesian coconuts, I can’t help but think how these islands must have looked when the early explorers found them. “I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific—the way it actually was: the endless ocean, the infinite specks of coral we called islands, coconut palms nodding gracefully toward the ocean; reefs upon which waves broke into spray, and inner lagoons lovely beyond description,” I think to myself, remembering a piece from James A. Michener, Tales of the South Pacific.

Cabrinha Quest
    French Polynesia is made up of five main groups of islands. Tahiti is in the “Society” group and the most famous. We’re not in Tahiti. If you’ve never been here, it’s everything you can imagine and more. Not many people live here, but that’s just one of the many things that make it perfect. These aren’t the overpopulated islands of Asia that are trying to thrust their way into the modern era. Maybe your coconut water was born here, maybe your vanilla essence, but that’s about it. The very lifeblood of this place is understandably tourism. This is where a lot of the world’s honeymooners come to enjoy the view, drink Mai Tais and dream of what life would be like to live it so simply. This is my third time through this region, and every time I am more and more enchanted. On the surface it is, of course, the postcard beauty, but look a little more closely and it is the tradition, the culture here that is holding on as tightly as it can to the past. Will it lose its grip?  

Keahi De Aboitiz / Jody MacDonald photo
    I’m not going to tell you where in French Polynesia as the locals who have shown us such hospitality prefer it that way. They want to be left alone. For good reason. So I may be writing about pristine, remote kiting perfection, but I don’t want you to come here. I’m more interested in letting you know that these places still exist and to leave you with hope, because we’ve been just about anywhere a boat can go over the last decade, and sadly, there aren’t many places like this left. Because when it all comes down to it, don’t we all want to know these places still exist? And that’s precisely why the where isn’t important, it’s the why.

Cabrinha Quest iPad Navigation / Jody MacDonald photo
    When we get on-board, we immediately start looking at charts, trying to figure out our plan of attack. Except these charts aren’t the huge, paper nautical charts that you gather around and dream about exploration.  These charts are on an iPad. I feel cheated. If I’m going to explore these amazing islands, I want to feel like an explorer. Magellan didn’t have iPads, and neither did the Polynesians of the very near past, who are the most famous navigators on Earth, traveling with perfect precision between islands hundreds and hundreds of miles apart with no more than the sun and stars and swell and stories from their grandfathers to steer their course. No GPS, no compass, definitely no iPads.
    These novelty trips are beginning to lose their novelty. Over the years we’ve gotten really good at it. We have a formula that works: get picked up from the airport, an itemized list of local spots to check out; Google Earth coordinates, GPS, iPad; and head out. It’s only natural to evolve, but it was more fun when we didn’t know anything. I retreat to my cabin for something to obliterate our sense of control... wait for the adventure to begin.
    Pete Cabrinha is on-board. He’s in his element. He has spent a lifetime in these kinds of places, yet his wanderlust and kid-like curiosity infects all of us. Keahi de Aboitiz and Moona Whyte are along for the ride. Their respect and love of their boss is obvious in their dedication to their craft. We’ve got a cameraman and myself to document life on-board and off this Quest. This is just one of the stops on the five-year journey. It has everything The Cabrinha Quest expedition seeks out: vibrant culture, rugged travel, wind, waves and remoteness wide-open to discovery. And Discovery, our vessel, is uniquely equipped to take us there. So we go.   

Cabrinha SUP
    The adventure unfolds like it always does; waves lap the hull, trees sway in the breeze, huge smiles just grow and grow, stretching into perma-grins that last well past the last day of the trip. I am burnt to a crisp wading in perfectly clear, shallow water encircled with coral bommies thriving with tropical fish, taking photos of athletes who spend most of their waking days riding similar waters all around the world. But here, everything is somehow a little more special. A little more wild. A little more precious. Why? Is it the dozens of waterfalls that plunge to the sea through the jungle off our stern? Is it the smells and succulents being delivered regularly from our chef? The visiting humpback whales? Is it the laughter in the evenings as we learn to play the Ukulele with Pete? Of course, it is all of these things and more.  

Cabrinha Quest Camp Fire Pete Cabrinha / Jody MacDonald photo
    We may be using iPads to steer our course, we may be taking shortcuts. But as Pete and I laugh and sing and the days strum by with nothing but wind and sun and sea to keep us occupied, I’m rewarded constantly with the grandness and yet simplicity of this Quest. We are like the islanders around us—hanging on with everything we can to a way of life that is being bulldozed by “progress.” It is magnificent, and like all things, it can’t last forever. So I take it one day at a time. Which is the only way we ever can. 


Cabrinha Quest 2014 Itinerary
The Cabrinha Quest has been underway for just over a year. She started in the Canary Islands in Spain, then spent 6 months in the Caribbean and 6 months in the South Pacific. She is currently in Patagonia, Chile. She will be sailing the world for the next 4 years. In 2014 she will be in Chile and then head to various locations in the South Pacific.

How to book a trip
To book a trip, you must be a member of the expedition. Memberships are available. Find out more on Just like joining the best country clubs in the world, memberships don’t come cheep. They range from $19,500 to $78,000 plus annual dues, and provisioning fees.

Packing tips
The Cabrinha Quest team has been operating since 2006 and is the only known world kiteboarding expedition that exists. What should you bring to the most far flung places on Earth? “Very very little, says owner and former Captain of the Best Odyssey Gavin McClurg. “Passport, some cash and some board shorts- that’s pretty much it!”

The Cabrinha Quest

 Here is a film from a recent trip from Cabrinha Quest with Pete Cabrinha, Reo Stevens and Keahi De Aboitiz.

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