Where in the South Pacific are we now?
Where in the South Pacific are we now?
The Tuomotu Archipelago. 76 atolls (including the second largest in the world- Rangiroa) form what is also known as “The Dangerous Archipelago”. The largest group of low coral atolls in the world, there are 21 atolls with passes that allow entrance into the lagoons, ten that have two passes or entrances, and the remainder have no pass. A few remain impassable due to past French nuclear testing. Super basic geology concept- volcanic action under the sea bed pushes upward creating mountains (like the Marqueses) and over time a reef forms around the nutrient rich mountain (like the Society’s) and then the mountains slowly slip back into the sea, leaving the continually growing reef with an inner lagoon (like the Tuomotus). There you have it, a oversimplified geological explanation in one long run on sentence! So, atolls are basically rings of land, with lagoons inside. The rings of land from the total atolls is the equivalent of 726 sq km and yet the protected lagoon waters inside the reef/land is the equivalent of 6,000 sq km. The entire Tuomotus Archipelago lies within a 20,000 km2 area of the great Pacific Ocean. The land masses may only rise a few meters above sea level whereby they only become visible from about ten miles away in good lighting. Hence the nickname of “Dangerous Archipelago”. Currents through the narrow passes at times can be 6-7kn speed in to or out of the pass. This requires a strong engine and faith or patience and waiting until the couple times a day that the water is slack or the strong currents aren’t moving in or out of the narrow passes. The currents and sudden storms can make travel very difficult between the atolls, and wreckages from times past can be visible on many atolls. The most famous wreck of course, is Kon Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl’s attempt to prove that Peruvian Indians could have done the same 7,000 km sail by raft several centuries before, which ran aground on Raroia atoll in 1947. (There is a movie about his trip that you can look up on the internet or if you are old school- read about it!) Atolls are sunken islands with a ring of reef remaining around the lagoon. This reef can be only a few feet above water and sometimes hidden by tides making it very difficult to visualize and often accurate charts for the South Pacific aren’t complete. Or accurate. Some are unbroken reefs, others appear as little islets known as motus. Often these motus are named and individually/family owned and farmed for copra (dried coconut) from the coconut palms that are able to sustain life in this harsh sand and coral conditions with little soil and long periods of little to no rain. Including the Gambiers Archipelago which consists of five islands and 18 islets, the population was last noted at 16,880 persons. The Tuomotans do not have the luxury of overflowing fruit trees or root vegetables like that of the neighboring Marquesas Archipelago. (Some entrepreneurial Tuomotans have started container gardens.) There are no mountains for wild pigs or goats to roam and be hunted for food. And yes, dogs will occasionally show up on the table here. The Coconut Palm is a life source for the atolls as at maturity in eight years, it will produce 50 nuts per year for up to 60 years if not hurricane ravaged or overcrowded. To the visitor, it has aesthetic value. To the Tuomotan, it can provide shade, water of the green coconut and the white meat of the brown coconut for food. The oldest nuts are removed of the hard meat, then dried to be sold as copra which will in turn be pressed to extract coconut oil for many other uses so the copra provides an income. The nut’s hard inner shell can be made into useful cups or for firewood. The smoke from the burning husks is an effective mosquito repellent. The coconut tree leaves can be used to thatch roofs or woven into baskets. Even the trunk can provide timber for building or furniture. To the untrained eye, we see just the ethereal swaying palm tree that tells us we are living the ideal life! The Tuomotus most recent notable lifestyle change came with the advent of the cultured black pearl industry (which then led to the over harvesting of the Pinctada margaritifera or giant blacklipped oyster) which thrived in the Tuomotu lagoons. Tahitian legend says that Te Ufi (the black lipped pearl oyster) was the daughter of the spirits of coral and of sand, having received a gift from each fish in the lagoon. Te Ufi was presented to mankind by Oro, the god of peace and war, giving the iridescence of the Tahitian pearls. According to scientists however, the type of oyster and the water composition will determine the colors in the pearls. Pearl farming is typically done in the Tuomotus and Gambiers, with the Gambiers being the predominant producer now. Several of the Tuomotus atolls still farm the oysters and the desired pearls, the buoys often difficult to see in the waves until you come up on them. The black buoys are the worst to visualize against any wave motion as they blend in, the bright pink, orange and red are easier to see. Usually set out in deeper water, the sailor must take care to not get the prop (propeller) tangled in the semi floating nets or outstretching lines as well as the variant changes of water color indicating a shallow area or unsuspecting reef rising from the deep. UNESCO World Heritage site has classified several atolls as part of a Biosphere Reserve due to the significant diversities they represent. These atolls are Fakarava, Kauehi, Niau, Raraka, Taou, and Taiaro. SCUBA is often done with the correct current in the passes for experiences with the abundant shark and sea life.
Note: New in this blog- occasional yellow commentary are actual texts sent out using the Iridium Go.
Video added (YouTube link) – Click where it says to “click here”.
Welcome to the Tuomotus!
KAUEHI Atoll (August 2018)
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! It is our one year anniversary since we untied the lines at the docks of Tacoma! At times, it doesn’t feel like the year has passed quickly at all. The funny thing about sailing is without the daily grind and multitasking schedule it is much easier to sit back and enjoy the time more. (It also means a bit of short term memory loss as every day we find ourselves asking what day is it? What time is it?) I think I stopped wearing a watch soon after California. Or was it Oregon? Gosh, it might have been the day after I left work! Regardless, I am amazed it has been a year so maybe it has gone too quickly! John still wears his watch so I just annoy him by asking what time is it frequently! To say this adventure has been quite an experience is an understatement. I have learned quite a bit and and have gained so much more confidence as I am sure John would agree that he has as well. Sometimes it is still hard to imagine that we are here, like this, on a sailboat, like so many others are doing. Cruising full time. It’s not just for pirates anymore. Single handers, couples, and families, occasionally just groups of friends, from various nationalities, have common ground, or in this case, common water. Families are cruising, making use of online or homeschool curriculums, augmenting their children’s education with travel. Others have decided that less is more, and are willing to learn how to make the water their home. No, it is not for everyone but for some, it is everything.
What do you mean Predictwind shows us stopped in the middle of the ocean?!? I can assure you, we are not just bobbing around in the middle of the Pacific! There is a Marine Traffic Site that may give a better location for us as I understand. Technology, right? We entered French Polynesia in the Marquesas Archipelago and spent almost two months in Hiva Oa, Fatu Hiva and Nuku Hiva, three of the six inhabited Marquesas islands. The younger of the volcanic islands, green and lush like Jurassic Park, filled with uru (breadfruit), pamplemousse, mangoes, papaya and so much more. We had rain but we also had rolling anchorages as there was no reef system to break the waves. Now, 400+ miles away, we have travelled to the Tuomotos Archipelago. This archipelago is vastly different than the last. These are atolls and the very basic idea is that these are older volcanic islands that have sunk back into the sea as a part of the cycle. The reef is left to surround the lagoon of crystalline water in every possible shade of blue, cutting the rolling action of the ocean. So strange- you have this thin body of land that has little rise above sea level. It is arid, dry and coconuts are the only trees to grow abundantly. There are no fruit trees as they need fresh water, a commodity that is hard to find here throughout the year. The locals use cisterns for catching fresh rain water which doesn’t seem to happen very often. This is why having a water maker or a water catchment system is necessary for sailboats. The Tuomotans don’t have an abundance of water to spare. The trees grow in windswept pattern. The land is somewhat circular, some have false passes (you think you can go through but can’t as the reef really isn’t separated t allow passage through and sits below water level). Many of the most visited atolls have one or two actual passes that are best traversed during a slack tide as some are so narrow that with the wind against the current can be dangerous for a sailboat. Once inside the atoll, it can still be very deep- 200 feet or more, but not like the 4000 feet depth we just came from, outside the atoll. It is like a protected lake…inside the ocean. Each atoll has some mass and trees that give better protection than others for wind or storms. Sometimes it is a particular side of the atoll that gives protection, depending upon wind direction, you move to the lee side. It can easily be thirty miles across the atoll to that protected side! Inside the lagoon however, are the bommies. These are coral reef-heads that come right up to the water surface, often just inches below the waterline making them difficult to see and dangerous to boats who might not see them and run into them. This could do serious damage to the keel or the hull of the boat. There are ideal times to move throughout the atolls, with the sun not completely overhead but rather at an angle, allowing the color variations in the water can be spotted a little easier. It is recommended to have someone out on the bow to keep a sharp look out for these bommies. Their color difference can be very subtle until you are close, perhaps, too close. Blues. All of the variations of the color blue can be seen here. With the white sand (or pink!) motus and green palm trees breaking up the colors, the intensity heightens. I have never seen so many shades of blue in the water and sky. I still can’t believe I am here!
KAUEHI Atoll – Our passage to the Tuomotus was easy and we were joined by SV Nimbus (such a great family from Iowa!) that we met in Nuku Hiva and buddy boated with. It took us around three to four days with one day of no wind and a sea that appeared like glass as it was so flat. We stopped the boats a safe distance from each other as most everyone jumped in to swim in the deep blue sea. Not a whisper of wind marred the ocean surface. As we continued on, in the wee hours of the morning, we saw another sailboat directly ahead of us and recognized the German accent immediately! SY Ocean Maiden (Silke) was off our bow. Our timing was good as we could just make out the distant atoll as the morning skies started to light up.Our first navigated atoll!( Kauehi), our first navigated pass (Arikitamiro), and our first anchorage in the Tuomotos (Tearavero) went well. We knew from other cruisers reports and using charts that this would be a relatively easy pass and atoll. In spite of its assumed easiness, we did our planning and was very surprised at how easy it was. For any passage into lagoons, such as the Tuomotos, there is a program called “Current Guestimator”. It helps to determine current in and out of a particular pass based on time of day and is a must for the yachties. No standing waves present, our motor easily handled the pass with slightly north east cross current going out. We crossed through to the other side of the lagoon where we would find the village. Once there, we anchored near the village of Tearavero, in the middle anchorage. The white sand bottoms and few coral heads easily viewed in 25ft depths. We would eventually be joined by SV Ocean Maiden, single handed by Silke. SV Nimbus- Matt and Molly, and their three great kids; Lilly, Henry, and Avery joined us for a snorkel near the fisherman shack and later had us over for homemade pizza for dinner. The kids were completely charming and there were lots of laughs that night. They would be leaving the Tuomotus tomorrow as they worked their way to New Zealand, and we would be sad to see our new friends leave so soon.
The village is so quiet. Locals are around, busy doing stuff, occasionally a dog’s bark is heard. The dogs here just lie around with the heat. In the middle of the day, with the sun high in the sky, it feels like being in a frying pan and the aquamarine water beckons you to jump in to its protective coolness. We anchored the dinghy just off the wharf as we did not know what the supply ship schedule might be. The main road is paved and there is no trash visible! The homes are sparse yet colorful. The yards are trimmed and clean of debris. Among all the single story homes along the road, a crisp white tall church stands out.
Inside, it is bright and cheerfully painted, and welcoming. Little adornments such as a large clamshell serving to hold the Holy Water upon entrance (Catholic) as well as chandeliers made of delicately laced seashells highly contrast against old world European churches. We continued to walk along the road and walked by two small stores. Everything must be brought in by supply ship or airplane. Yes, there is a small airport landing on the far edge of the atoll. One must wonder what it would be like to live as simply and depend so much on supplies brought in. The stores have limited items, with basics such as flour, sugar, some canned goods similar to but less than Atuona or Nuku Hiva. Nutella. (Thankfully! As this is my new chocolate fix as chocolate bars are expensive and don’t withstand the heat well!) We continued on and found the cemetery. A small section that only held markers for children. A not so new raised tile grave with new adornments of a shell rosary. Surprisingly, weeds around the graves. With the street so clean, each home so tidy outside, the cemetery weeds had me pondering. If only I had a rake at least. We worked our way back to the wharf and the beach with our dinghy. A mom stood watching as her three children played by running off the end of the warm into the sparkling clear blue water, laughing and splashing before jumping out and repeating it. The kids saw us as we slowly started to motor away and sheepishly waved to us. We waved back with smiles and then it was on – they jumped on to the wharf, and holding hands, running together, the three lept into the water in unity- giving us a wonderfully scripted childhood show! Bravo!
SV Ocean Maiden, Silke arrived a day later and we enjoyed another wonderful evening of story telling on SV Blue Spirit (Brigit and Rene- Holland) before they would take off to Fakarava. She and I walked the town again, with her increasing French vocabulary, she was able to communicate better with the store owner as he showed us his container garden allowing him to sell some fresh vegetables. The mosquitos have found me. Resigned to live a life covered in the nasty chemical formula known as DEET while on land, we continued on. Workers on a house called out to us, asking if we spoke the dialect for the Tuomotus. Silke answered ‘no’ in French and I asked if anyone ‘hablar Espanol?’, which was answered with a ’Si!’ , then we laughed with them as they gave in and said they didn’t, however did know how to say yes in Spanish. It was worth an attempt as my Spanish, as little as it is, is better than my French!
We snorkeled the reef close to the village with Silke. We had many colorful little fish and of some curious black tip reef shark as well as a grey shark. It was near our boats however, that we had a few shy reef manta swim by daily. The winds are forecasted to change enough so we will adjust our anchorage accordingly. That’s what sailing entails. Even if it means leaving these precious denizens of the reef. There are only the three sailboats in the atoll as of now. Looking at wind predictions, we will move to Fakarava on Saturday. Until then, we will move to the southern most anchorage of this atoll as the palm trees will break some of the wind and there will be less fetch built up (waves). We are learning the importance of what light is best to traverse the inner lagoon and having someone on the bow to watch for pearl buoys that signify pearl farming and the line and cage suspended under the waterline. For us, the possibility of a pearl buoy line getting caught in the propeller is angst provoking. The water is super protected and crystal clear. We are tucked into the corner for protection from the winds of the next couple days.
The water lies so flat and calm here. The boat movement is hardly detectable in the lagoon as the roll was in the Marquesas without the reef to stop the ocean swell. The brightness of the white sand under the water lights up the little coral heads. Uncountable numbers of Black Tip Reef Shark glide through the coral heads.
Little soft bodied molluscs, as colorful as clowns, are always a fun find. Kauehi gave me two different ones, on top of the bommies as I snorkeled. I cannot find the pink phyllidiella in my identification book, should I consider submitting? Possibly have a sea worm named after me?!?
The continuous maintenance (as opposed to “Oh shit” repairs) happens even in such exotic places. With blue skies and perfect temperatures, John changed both filters and seems to think the ones purchased in Mexico were a better brand than those purchased in the states, and yet half the price. John is always doing something on the boat, regular maintenance, modifying for more efficient functionality and performance, and imagining and designing greater comforts. Again, in retrospect of our passage, his knowledge and capability as well this solid, well built sailboat, have made the passage safe and easy.
FAKARAVA Atoll (Ancient name- Havaiki)
Hooray! We arrived at the anchorage last night before dark. A little too close for comfort (as seems to be our norm…) as but we did not want to try and anchor just inside the pass and our timing for the slack came late in the afternoon. Remember, it’s a sailboat. They don’t move fast. More like a jog. We are jogging through the South Pacific! We came through the North Pass (Garuae Pass- the largest pass in French Polynesia) with SY Ocean Maiden sailing in behind us. We arrived at slack tide with an easy pass after a day sail that included wind on the nose and beating in at the end as we closed in to the pass. We were happy to see our friends Lynn and Dave (Aussies) on SY Moggy, a mega catamaran that they are continually updating, maintaining and doing a professional and beautiful job. What a great night sleep as again the water is so flat that movement is barely detectable. There are many bommies around us and rather than ending up with an anchor chain wrapped around one or floating the chain, we will move to one of the mooring balls available. If I haven’t said it before, bommies are small coral heads. Floating your chain by use of extra buoys between the boat and the anchor at strategic spots protects the chain from undo stress and grinding as well as the coral head from damage as the boat sways and turns. Fakarava is 30 miles from end to end making it the second largest atoll in French Polynesia and we sailed 30 miles from Kauehi to get here.
Everything is closed on Sunday but we are interested in looking around the village tomorrow, possibly find some internet and possibly, even some laundry service! YAY! We will spend the next few weeks moving around inside this atoll and explore it a little more thoroughly. The water visibility below the surface has declined somewhat, but from above, the blues are still as breathtaking. The small stores (three that we found) carry mostly the same items.
A few brands look familiar but most do not. We see brands imported primarily from New Zealand, Australia and China. They have all the basics such as flour, sugar, rice, some canned goods, butter, UHT and powdered milk, and some goodies too. The stores are the size of a moderate 7-11 store. They are called Magasin (phonetically: ma-ga-ZA’ah) and certain things fly off the shelf first such as fresh baguettes and eggs. Baguettes. A staple in everyone’s diet. Light and fluffy, and typically around 50 cents a baguette! One of the cheapest foods you can buy, IF they aren’t out of them! Many foods are subsidized and those are noted with a red price label. They are slightly cheaper but really only account for about 10-20% of what the store sells. It is typically your basics such as flour, sugar, etc. Thankfully, they do subsidize some of the meat from New Zealand but it is still expensive! Frozen solid, we will need a jig saw to make separate steaks. Don’t worry, that can happen and it will. And no, we don’t have a jig saw but he will come up with something! Obviously imported items are expensive. Here are some examples that you might be familiar with. A medium size bag of Cheetos is $7. A six pack of Hinano cans (Tahitian) beer is $17. The small cans, not the taller cans. Bottles are more expensive due to glass but if you bring your bottles back, there is a return. Some atoll villages are large enough to have a boulangerie (a bakery) and others (such as Kauehi) have baguettes brought in by cargo ship (and sometimes small cargo plane). All of the village magasins depend upon the supply ships to bring in, well, bring in everything it seems. Not all villages have a magasin, and may have to travel to the next village. We dropped $180 and didn’t even fill four average grocery bags. I still can’t figure out what we bought for that much! Fuel isn’t always available for locals, let alone cruisers on the atolls. Not all villages have ATM’s, and often if they do (and it works or has money in it), it may well be in a Post Office. We only saw a bank in Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa, and internet is often lacking in the islands. This is evident when you begin to notice that people aren’t focused on the tiny screens in front of them.
Fakarava is a larger atoll with more services. Same small stores but now you have pearl shops, pearl farms, yacht services, an airport with regularly scheduled flights to/from Tahiti and SCUBA companies. There are also now a few eateries. Again, while tasty, eating out anywhere but especially here can be pricey so we consider it a treat and limit it as often as we can. There is some wifi available, free if you buy a drink or a meal, but again, the wifi is very slow.
Hirife (southeast end of atoll) (August 29, 2018)
We arrived at the southeast corner of Fakarava today. There are to be strong winds from the SSW (south, southwest) for a few days. We stopped one night at Pakokota where there are moorings maintained by Pokokota Yacht Services. A motu with a building, moorings out front, and if you did not know any better, you wouldn’t know that this is a business or an important stopover for yacht services or those leaving their boats for extended periods of time such as cyclone season. It is a nice stopover for the travel from Rotoava to Hirife. All along the lagoon, in the distance and not necessarily along the contours of the motus, lie fields of pearl buoys.
Due diligence must be made with watchful eyes to not snag a pearl buoy or hit a just submerged coral head that rises up from the sea bed. We reached Hirife and currently, there are about 12 other boats anchored here with us. Nothing says “personality” more than a yachty anchoring! From the relaxed anchored owner to the angst anchored owner. A nearby catamaran with a French sailor has shown his disfavor of our anchoring near him, even though we weren’t even close and have moved twice to appease him. Finally, after settling quite a distance away, John dove on our anchor and proceeded to snorkel through the anchorage, also noting that the French yachty’s anchor was not only NOT set, but was resting ON TOP of a bommie! When John tried to share that information with them, the female on board the boat began yelling in French at John. We understand the dynamics of monohull and multihull turning while at anchor (they do not always move in a synchronized fashion). We certainly have no intentions of allowing any harm to our home either! So, I suppose we can look at it as they were saving us from a potential problem – their poor anchoring! We thought it through and even discussed moving farther away when another catamaran came in and anchored near the angry frenchman. It wasn’t a few minutes before we could hear the angry frenchman chastising the new catamaran for anchoring so close! He wasn’t even that close either! We can only wonder about the first catamaran and the angry frenchman. We later met the 2nd catamaran owners and heard more detail about their later conversation with him and became quick allies as we realized that it was him, not us.
Hirife (September 1-4, 2018)
SY Ocean Maiden and SY Blue Spirit were the first to arrive a few days ago. Since then, with the anticipated weather/winds from the south, the population has increased in this protected area of the South East corner of the atoll. It is calm now but 26-30 kn winds are predicted. The landscape around here reminds us of Gilligan’s Island! On the Motu are the standing remains (outer walls and some parts of a roof, of what was the first Catholic Church built out of coral in 1874. There are two above ground grave/vaults nearby. In either direction, ten minutes either way, are newer traditional buildings. One with an apparent resort/pension and the other with a possible local restaurant. The sand is salmon pink in color and winds its way out to form a spit. Even with other sailboats here, it is still quiet and peaceful. What started with only a few solitary sailboats, the population grew with the anticipated weather report. At one point in time, there were 25-26 yachts (sailboats) in an area often described as being full with 12! The little restaurant has not been open during our time here. We met our new friends from SY Lumiel, on a lovely Fountaine Pajot Bahia Catamaran and who will eventually be on their way back to Oz. We are building a growing community of friends from the land of Oz. For his birthday and Australian Father’s Day, they had us over for a wonderful Surf and Turf meal on the bar-b! John (SY Lumiel) is humorous and certainly talented at the grill, Trish had us in stitches with her story telling and of course, with her also being a nurse, it gave us more common ground other than the fact that we might be outdone in the cooking department. Interesting to note, that they also knew our friends on SY Moggy! Small cruising world. There is Kite Tuomotos here teaching kite surfing for those interested. SY Blue Spirit will be taking lessons! While it looked very interesting, we just couldn’t see the lessons cost as fitting with our cruising kitty. (A cruising kitty is the money or budget you have to fund an adventure like this.)
My bright sunny yellow kayak sets so nicely in the azure blue water. A postcard photo every time I jump in and paddle somewhere, whether to the beach or to a coral head to explore. I love my kayak. Loaded with my snorkel gear, I paddle off to spend hours looking for fish, creatures, or shells. On top of these bommies, or coral heads, I find pipefish and nudibranchs (super colorful flatworms) along with a turtle here and there, and always, always a few curious Black Tip Reef Shark. With the water so clear, little things are easy to find. I have a line from the kayak tied to me so it is always there when I am ready. Even Silke has joined me with her kayak as we explore the coral head world. I have spent hours in the kayak and snorkeling the bommies and lagoon. The Black Tip Shark are numerous but more curious than anything, apparently well fed. One day, bored as could be, I thought I would snorkel back to the boat. Just one bommie, just in case there was something super cool. I can easily talk myself into “just one more” and as I passed through the narrow space between two bommies, at not more than five feet depth, this silly 5ft Black Tip Reef Shark glides through the same pass the opposite direction. Thankfully it swam low and I swam high or we would have ran into each other nose to nose! Needless to say, we both startled each other and I don’t know which of us swam away faster! Nurse sharks are frequent with colors of tawny brown to grey. I have not seen any Lemon shark as of yet, perhaps they join the grey reef shark at the South Pass. Most of the bommies are covered with live coral, beautiful shades of yellow and purple, even some fluorescent orange.
Nudibranchs (colorful sea slugs) are easily spotted on the bommies of coral, as their bright colors of purple and yellow stand out. Little nurseries abound everywhere. I have found some small Great Moray Eels and even the smallest Black Tip Reef Shark, no bigger than an angelfish. I had to look twice to make sure I was seeing correctly.
South Pass or Tetamanu (September 5, 2018)
We attempted to moor (The first mooring was taken but had concerns that their large Catamaran was over bommies, too close to shore, uncertain of their own mooring lines as well as the mooring itself, 2nd mooring occupied by 38ft monohull who did not dive on mooring ball but felt it was adequate and not concerned at this time, 3rd mooring with plastic bottle noted “Bad Mooring”, we picked up but dropped after seeing this, and moved on, 4th mooring occupied by 40+ft monohull, the three remaining buoys located in front of the the restaurant/dive shop and pass have small lines, and line only, and appear to be around a bommie for use of small watercraft) at Southpass. We motored out into 30-40ft depth and looked for sand patches to drop an anchor, even looking at area suggested to be part of UNESCO to avoid anchoring and trailing back towards the motu. Seeing nothing at this time and forecast of winds from the north/northwest, we concluded we would return to Hirife and re-evaluate the weather over the next few days. Our friends on SY Lumiel have already returned to Rotoava village, our plan was to do that AFTER South Pass when we would make use of re-provisioning, laundry, possible internet. Remember, plans are made in the sand and determined by the weather, not schedules!
Hirife (September 6, 2018)
The wind continues out of the west/north west bringing the fetch (waves) and rain storms. We are not lacking for water catchment now! Recent squalls are bringing in the rain. The boat has been like a hobby horse for a few days now. What happened to our blissful no movement condo on the water?!? Thankfully, neither of us are prone to seasickness but it does start to wear on your nerves after a few days. At least it does me! I may have a tendency to get a bit grumpy if I can’t get into the water or do something different. Our attempt to find a suitable mooring or anchorage near South Pass dismally failed, the disappointment lends to the melancholy of the constant boat motion. John assisted Silke with her chain/bommie wrap today. She was a bit tangled up. When the boat is on anchor, there is a lengthy amount of chain that leads from the boat to the anchor. Much of it lays on the sand but as wind directions change, so can the chain somewhat. In an area where small submerged coral heads (think of them as boulders of rock under the water with a lot of sand between) dot the sandy landscape, it can be easy for a chain that is held fast by an anchor, to move and wrap around a coral head. Sailors do not want to damage the coral, but they also do not want to damage their chain by having it grate against the coral or rock, or limit the movement of the boat by the decreasing the scope of the chain. Even with floating a chain by specifically spaced fenders or buoys that lift the chain above the coral heads, it is still possible. With that activity complete, he has no other task pressing his attention. Sailors these days travel with electronics. It is a pleasure when getting to know other sailors, to borrow their movie hard drives. The collection of movies adds to the evening comforts of home or during the day if he is bored. He is likely on his fifth movie of the day! At this rate, all the movies he has added to his collection will be out as quickly as his rum. Our hope is tomorrow the winds will change to come out of the north and we can find an adequate mooring ball or anchorage. We understand based on the latest compendium that the Southwest region (south west of the pass itself) is now all part of UNESCO. At one point, it seemed the 20-25 knot winds had actually subsided, and the fetch had laid down quite a bit making tomorrow quite hopeful. I say that now, as the the boat is rocking quite a bit again, the winds are howling through the rigging, and the hard patter of rain (again) is filling up our catchment system and putting fresh water in our tank. Oh, and the hatch over the bed is closed again. As it became so warm today, with some breeze, I thought the boat was a bit smelly and a good breeze from bow to stern seemed helpful for the closed up humidity. It is, and was, until the cloudburst hit and the small but fruitful hatch was forgotten, thus, once again, soaking the sheets. At least this time, it is fresh water. And it means fresh sheets as I will put on our other set, this one needing a good washing anyway. The thirty miles of fetch has the the boat rocking and bow dipping deep into the water now, thus ending our rain catchment. He remarked that it was similar to Banderas Bay days – without the rain. Or the conflict of wind to waves.
At last the weather did calm and the winds abated. We were able to move to South Pass. The mooring with a marker that stated “bad mooring” was the only one left again. John picked it up, attached our boat, and promptly dove on the mooring. Interestingly enough, there did not seem a be a problem with it. It was solid from end to end. Could someone have placed that on there to hold their mooring free of other boats? Rumor has it that there are humpback whales just outside the pass and they have even cruised inside the pass. Everyone seems to be getting nice video or views of them. There seems to be an increase of black tip reef shark here. Fakarava is part of the Unesco system with a protected reef area, and the shark dive of the pass is well known. We are excited to finally be doing some diving! South Pass is well known for its shark dive. Most of the dives in the Tuomotos are done in the passes. Cruisers typically take their dinghies and with a long lead or painter (line) and dive while pulling their dinghy above on the surface. It is important that passes are dove with the incoming current that brings clear ocean water but also so you do not drift out to sea! There are some dive operations who operate on the major atolls, with dives costing 8000-9000cpf. Current exchange rate is approximately 95-100cpf to $1usd. After snorkeling the pass a couple times, we decided to dive the pass. SY Skabenga would be our support crew, so we would not have to drag our dinghy. SY Blue Spirit (Holland) also has a diver on board – René would be joining us at depth while his lovely partner Brigit and our friends from SY Skabenga (South Africa) – Chris and Karen would snorkel above and provide our dinghy transport. The very small resort/restaurant and dive facility has protected and shallow quay where 20 or so black tip reef shark and a grouper anxiously awaiting scraps and handouts from the restaurant kitchen. We brought our dinghy in to the quay and set up out equipment here. Imagine standing in thigh deep water and having sharks mill about your legs. Once set up, we went out and dropped off just outside the pass. SY Blue Spirit joined with us and we dropped to around 70ft depth in the pass. Here we could see the wall of sharks at eye level. Sorta. They were above us and below us as well. Behind us and in front of us. Hundreds of sharks that seemed to delight in facing into the incoming current, swimming idly by, and eventually swimming back to rejoin the group and swimming outward again, making a great circle. There were Gray Sharks, White Tips and Black Tips. We had an Eagle Ray, and there was rumored Hammerhead, however we did not see one this time. The coral was healthy, and the colorful fish plentiful. While it was exciting to see all the hundreds of shark, grays, white tips, black tips, an eagle ray and assortments of fish including the Napoleon wrasses, it was seeing René’s face and excitement of diving with shark for the his first time, that made our dive! (I made a simple commemorative video for him to mark the occasion.) Once inside the pass, the waters quickly carried the divers and snorkelers through and deposited them safely upon the UNESCO reef. Over the course of a few days, we snorkeled quite a bit of the UNESCO reef as well. Huge Humphead wrasse, colorful fish and healthy coral.
Today finds us in dead calm conditions and a flat sea. We are sitting on crystal clear water with our own aquarium right underneath. Nice change to the past week and a half.
We moved to the SE corner of Fakarava to be protected from a weeks blow from the south. Then the last three days the wind shifted 180 deg to the west. That left us on a lee shore and 30 miles of fetch. Made for a hell of a rocking horse. Good thing winds were light and only 15-20 knots.
We are now at the south pass of Fakarava. Best know for drift diving and snorkeling. You take the dink out on a rising tide, jump over and drift back in. Also know for the sharks. Mainly black tip and grey reef. They leave you alone and are curious. We did two drifts yesterday and I know I say 50 different fish I’ve never seen before. All with fun crazy colors. Very LSD like.
Woke up at 6:00. The sun always comes in the large forward hatch and wakes me up. I don’t mind. Coffee on the deck to check weather and enjoy life. Plan the day “loosely”. Today beers at the restaurant deck at 11:00. (We are running low on food and no beers left) You have to get beers by 12 because the place closes from 12 to 2:30 for a break. We have linked up with people from three other boats and will then go for another snorkel drift and then maybe explore and couple lagoons. Back on one of the boats for dominoes and then Pizza ashore at 6:00. That’s a treat and you have to make reservations a day before so they have enough stuff brought from main village market.
I was thinking today I haven’t wore real shoes in over a year and can’t say as I miss them. It’s a rough life but I like it. John
SY Blue Spirit (Brigit and Rene) is leaving for Tahiti to meet friends and SY Ocean Maiden (Silke) is leaving for Tahiti to seek repairs. They will leave from here and we hope to meet up with them again. Meanwhile, SY Skabenga (Chris and Karen) will join us to see Taou before they leave for Tahiti.
We enjoyed another beautiful sunset as a group until the time we would see each other again, most likely when we all are in the Society Islands. The next day we would return to the village of Rotoava. Karen had shared with me her experience at the Havaiki Pearl farm so I was looking forward to hearing and seeing the famed Tahitian Black Pearls that the Tuomotos are known for and the buoys that we had to watch relentlessly for so as not to hit and foul our prop. We had a wonderful sail back to Roatava from South Pass, we had the colorful red/yellow A-sail up (asymmetrical sail) and it was a dreamy sail. Until the pearl buoy fields. With a nice 5.5kn speed in our sail, we received a call from Blue Spirit over the VHS, saying they were passing some pearl buoys at the same time we saw buoys! Hundreds of them. All around us. As John quickly rushed back from the bow, I turned hard to port. We apparently were surrounded! We dropped sail and motored slowly out of the area, the best we thought would be an exit. Once safely out of the labyrinth, we resumed our course. Back to the village we went. Dang. Up until that point, we had the Asymmetrical sail out (bright red and yellow) giving us a great sail with some wind off our stern. Oh well, there will be more opportunities.
We re-provisioned in the village, filling our propane tank with butane as they don’t use propane here. Six gallons of gas, beer, rum, and some food. Purchased hamburger patties and cheese to make burgers tonight with a French baguette. There were also some chicken breasts available this time and ground beef. Three medium sized bags of groceries- $175 again.
The Pearl Farm at Havaiki – On Wednesdays and Fridays, the Pearl Farm at Havaiki offers free educational programs on the business of farming the famous Pinctada margaritifera or Pearl oyster – a total of two-three years are needed for a pearl to form in a seeded oyster (using a Mississippi River shell as a nucleus grafted into the mussel coat). Who knew?! The shells are grafted typically by expert Japanese grafters, and placed back in plastic cages under the water and floated by the buoys. The cages protect the oysters from becoming food for turtles and other predators, but must be regularly cleaned of algae growth. While I have always loved pearls, I never knew how timely the process could be. Now I know and have a greater appreciation of their cultivated beauty and cannot imagine one found without it. Pearl oysters are brought to the session, and one is opened for the education session. The oyster is offered raw with a lime to anyone who is interested. If an attendee chooses, they can also pick a “lottery oyster” for $30 Euros. Whatever pearl is in there, will be cleaned and prepared as a simple cord necklace or a bracelet. Of course I did, I had to take my chances! One participant chose a shell that had no pearl. He was allowed to choose another, which was his lucky day for he had a perfect small black pearl with no noticeable imperfections. I chose one as well, and while not a perfect black pearl, my pearl is very large and I love it, especially now that I understand the work and science behind it.
Maeva to The Tomatoes- land of coconut palms and black tip reef shark nurseries!
Upon my arrival and anchoring in The Tomatoes, I was surprised to see actual shark hanging out near our boat! Not just one or two, but several! I immediately put on my “shark game face” and mentally prepared myself for battle- giving an aggressive sharkster a bop in the nose! Finally! Water that is turquoise blue and crystal clear as opposed to the darker water of most of the Marquesas. I placed my dive gloves ready for battle. I jumped in. Where did they go? Behind me. From the right. From the left. A great trick I have learned, is bring an underwater camera with you. It works like a charm for me- when I have it, I never see anything fun. But forget or leave the camera one time…. back to the sharks. They came up quickly but once they were close enough for me to focus on a great photo- they scattered! Silly black tip reef shark. As time goes on, you will find that the Atolls are actually just black tip reef shark nurseries. Period. They were novel in the beginning- I was going to make the first few into movie stars. Then the love affair ended. When I would find something else that piqued my interest, I would steady my camera for the shot only to find later a blur of a black tip body in the photo. Sometimes one would parallel me and I almost considered handing the camera over for it to have a look at what I was seeing. Whether it was close to the beach or near an inner motu, your will find a plethora of these curious and annoying creatures. The tawny nurse shark will also be there, but not in the vast numbers as compared to the black tip reef shark. I have seen all sizes of BTRS from 8 inches to 6 feet. Fakarava South Pass has hundreds there, many that come to breakfast and lunch near the pass where a restaurant throws out food scraps. Even a grouper waits there for his meal, often chasing the little shark away. Near the inner motus and the passes, we did notice more grey shark, in Fakarava they were on inner motus and in as far as Hirifa. Debbie
With a few more items from the store, we are ready to move on to our next atoll.
Passe Otugi – Orepo then Teahuroa motus – Ugh. An easy daysail, but the wind direction was not helpful as the NW wind had us slowly beating with a tack to enter in the pass. Passe Otugi. Outgoing current. 3 kn outgoing current and one meter seas made it a bit of an adventure, to say the least, for our entry. Once inside however, another story as the water seemed even clearer than Fakarava. Another fantastic weather day. Most of the weather days are awesome. Some rain is expected in the next couple of days but that will allow us to top off the water tank as we can also catch nature’s freshest water for our water tanks. We don’t mind the quick and heavy rains to help fill the tanks. One day at the sound end of Fakarava, it rained for 30 minutes and we captured 40 gallons of fresh water for our 70 gallon tank. Sitting in cockpit, coffee in hand listening to water gently slap on shore. Watching clouds slide by and the day starting again. Another movie and book reading day. Wind usually lessens in the mid afternoon so we might get off boat and walk the beach. John is frustrated and already done with snorkeling and diving here. Perhaps it is the time of year and the change of the ocean currents have changed the visibility. This was to be his unicorn and nothing seems to compare to Belize for him so his interest has sadly waned. I, however, enjoy snorkeling and shelling along the beach as often as I can. I continue to make bread with the GoSun, and while the GoSun is fantastic for solar cooking (and we are getting lots of solar now, mores than the Marquesas), my recipes seem to be a bit lacking. My bread recipes (I have tried several) do not come out light and airy like baguettes, instead they are rather dense like a pub bread or potato bread. Tasty, just not like a baguette! What is the secret?! Today is windy and overcast. Clouds and rain should leave today but wind stays for several more days. Storms way south of us have been intense this year. They spin off New Zealand and head east. We are 1000 miles north and catch the edge of them. When we have these windy days, we nestle inside and spend the time reading, watching movies, or little projects or maintenance.
Passe Tehere -Anse Amyot.
In order to come to Passe Tehere, we had to depart Passe Otugi first and sail around the atoll to Passe Tehere. This atoll has two passes but as Passe Tehere is a FALSE pass (meaning it does not open into the lagoon inside the atoll), we simply could not cross inside the atoll. We have been at Anse Amyot for several days now. The current yachties enjoyed an evening meal (pot luck) with Gaston and Valentine, owners of the motu at the popular anchorage and false pass. We are here with SY Skabenga and few other sailboats. The water clarity hasn’t been the best, maybe as the seasons are starting to change and the current direction and storms churn things up. This false pass has been popular with sailing visitors for years. Yet now, Valentine shared with us, she is getting tired of doing “cruiser meals” as there is a lot of work to be done when you don’t have the amenities that first worlds are used to and expectations might be high. There is no store here, cisterns catch water to cook and clean with, and cooking and cleaning falls on to Valentine’s shoulders. It is a little easier when lobster is in season, but it is a lot of work with cruiser’s expectations. Gaston is more interested in his farming as he has others bring in soil as they cruise through and has even planted some pamplemousse and lemon trees. His focus is less about the moorings as “cruisers don’t want to pay money- they always want to trade”. Trading with the locals seems to be more a thing of the past. At one time, there was a guest house (pension) owned and ran by a sister to either Gaston or Valentine. She left for another atoll and that is how Gaston and Valentine came to be known for the Cruisers Meals. Their own pearl farm has been non-functioning for quite some time so they do not have that for an income. They were open to having a potluck where all the cruisers would bring a side dish to share and Gaston would barbecue something from his
There is quite a bit of snorkeling here but it seems each bommie and rock has its own moray eel! It is a bit daunting to snorkel down to look closer at something, holding your breath, turning your head and seeing two eyes and those sharp jagged teeth staring you down. With so many areas with fish that are unsafe to eat due to ciguatera, I wondered if the populous eel could be eaten. Nope. It evidently it has very high levels of ciguatera! Maybe that accounts for so many of them here. A storm front is passing near by. It has been 20+kn winds for 3-4 days now.
SY Skabenga has already left for Tahiti. We met Alan and Odille after Skabenga left. They have been cruising French Polynesia for the past 20+ years and she, a former French surgeon, practices general medicine occasionally in the Marquesas. They were a rich wealth of information and very enjoyable to converse with. Odille was able to explain the French health services involvement (or at least starting to) with increasing breastfeeding in the islands, midwives, and c-section rates. It was very enlightening. The wind direction is keeping us here longer, churning up the water making snorkeling even more difficult. Is there such a thing as “Boat Fever”? We are very ready to move on! Our plan is to go to Apataki Atoll with the next weather window.
We are still on west side of Taou. Rained all night and looks like it’s going to do the same most of today and tomorrow. Water tank filled. So was the dink. Had to put it in the water this morning at 5:00 am and bail out. I didn’t pull the drain plug last night so had asmall swimming pool hip-tied to the side of the boat.
Waiting out weather to go to Apataki. Maybe Monday or Tuesday. Short crossing but bad wind angle.
Other than that we are good. Need to replace switch in water pump this morning. That might be after coffee and pancakes though. I have all day! They put this non-marine grade micro switch at the bottom of the pump head. It collects moisture and corrodes. I have a spare head assembly and also two spare switches. So might switch heads and then rebuild other one with new switch so it’s ready as a back up.
Built a boat lift the other day for couple that runs the island. We also had nice BBQ there the other night. I also fixed on of the moorings they haven’t used in years. They are getting older and slower and there is a lot of work to this place. They have slowly been letting it get run down. Moorings are covered in corals and haven’t been upgraded in 20 years, I’m guessing, from the growth on the chain. John
APATAKI Atoll. (September 26, 2018)
Passe Pakaka- Niutahi
We sailed here yesterday morning, timing through the pass perfect so no salty wild ride in. Winds have calmed and we should have a week or more of sunny and warm to explore with. Plan is to be here at this atoll a week or so and move to various places inside the atoll. There are four wrecks charted on the reef. Not sure how big or what kind of boats so John plans to change outboard drive and oil while it is so calm, and then we will go explore them today. The details of the plan will be to move back to entrance and check out the village as well as snorkel the pass. Then sail north to the north pass and explore it before heading that pass to next atoll. Plans are always made in the sand. Meaning, they can be erased with a wave, even multiple times a day. Everything about sailing is dependent upon weather. There is a cliche which holds true – “The worst thing to have on a boat is a schedule.” Many mistakes have been made when sailors sailed in upcoming bad weather, just to be somewhere “at a scheduled time”.
Motu Rua Vahine (southern part of atoll)
Once the dingy was ready, we went to see the wreck. Must have been a good size ship at one time but the skeletal remains were not much more than an outline now. I wonder what the water must have looked like, if it was night, or what prompted them to attempt to cross here, where there is no pass. The usual black tip reef sharks are present. We left for Passe Pakakak, the pass that we came in, close to the village of Niutahi. We snorkeled the pass first before we would dive it in order to familiarize ourselves with it. We timed it to take current out on while snorkeling one side of it and then ride opposing current back from the other side. It was a good snorkel, lots of coral and fish. There was also rope, buoys and other man made crap from years of pearl farming. The quay was quiet. The village was quiet as we walked around the entire village. It wasn’t even Sunday! We went into the small magasin for John’s beer. A few island dogs roamed about, one trying to walk into the magasin nonchalantly until it was shoo-ed out. Many of the island dogs seem to be female and recently birthing pups. A large pearl farm has its operation out of a building that looks like it could have once been a beautiful hotel over the water. Some architecture of buildings still standing in the village is reminiscent of a different era and culture with curving archways.
We were walking towards a bench under a tree when I suddenly found a three-four year old boy clinging to my leg and wanting to be picked up! He didn’t beg or ask for anything other than to be picked up. His mom smiled from a distance away as she and a friend were on an outing with their kids, ranging from under one year to six years old. We shared some cookies we had and took some photos and then we all went our separate ways. The water in the quay was still just as the town seemed to be. As we moved into the end of the pass heading towards our boat, the water seemed to be swirling, no waves, but some bubbling however, mostly swirls as the current was obviously up to something. John could feel the force and pressure of the current on the dinghy and the engine effort seemed to concur. There is a small motu that I will snorkel, a fair but swimmable distance from the boat. We anticipate calm for the next couple days so we will up anchor tomorrow and head north to Passe Tehere and a motu called Roto Ava.
We snorkeled Passe Tehere as well, John still not thinking it is worth the time, effort or wear and tear to gear up for SCUBA. His disappointment of diving in the Tuomotos is evident. Perhaps Rangiroa will spark his interest again. We noticed another sailboat in the nearby area. Interestingly enough, it is one of the 2018 Puddle Jumpers from Puerto Vallarta! SV Baloo! We did not know them back in PV but may have briefly met at a PPJ meeting, but I saw their photo in the PPJ guide. We will swing by and say hello. Sitting in the cockpit watching the sun go down on another lovely day, its amazing how each sunset is as lovely as the last and yet so very different. It’s this time of evening that seems to provoke the deepest contemplations.
Things to contemplate: How many people left conventional life to sail. How much there is to know in order to sail (Safely). How many shades of blue are in the ocean and sky. How colorful fish can be and why. How people of island cultures can be happy with less (although increasing internet capabilities will change that for the younger generations as it already has). Appreciation for doing this (sailing) now versus later. The beauty of the sunset.
Roto Ava (October 1, 2018)
After snorkeling the pass again, we did a drive (dinghy) by to SV Baloo. Jean René and Susie from California, along with their young son and another companion, are following Jean René’s dream of sailing. They are planning on leaving Apataki atoll for Rangiroa tomorrow as well. Weather is almost always the first item up for discussion. Next would be timing of the pass with the expected winds. We would be in radio contact should anything arise for either of us.
Doing an overnight to Rangiroa means we will leave at sunset, during the slack tide again. Rangiroa actually means “Endless Skies” and is the world’s second largest atoll at 77km long and consisting of 240 motus (islets). The island of Tahiti would fit inside its lagoon. It is also known for its marine life. We watched spectacular sunset from cockpit as we motored out of the pass. The water bubbled and churned. Outside the pass, we have 57 miles to go and …..wind died. Really. We are now motoring because when there is not enough wind to fill the sails and in this kind of sea state, they just bang back and forth. That is hard on the rigging and sails. It is also less comfortable. If you can imagine, close your eyes and think about the wave action moving the boat like being in a washing machine on gentle cycle. Hmm.. better open your eyes, I want you to enjoy reading the blog. I don’t want you getting seasick and calling me. Regardless, where is the wind that was predicted?? The boat really does well with 15 kn of wind. She just stands up and sails like a train on rails. Very smooth and comfortable. Enjoyable really. Now, if only we had the predicted wind.
We need to get in the pass at slack tide, around 11am tomorrow. If you mis-time these passes, the current pushes into the waves and stands them up making them difficult to push through. Can get pretty ugly. This next pass has a max current of 3.92kn so if you usually do 5kn, you can either be shut down to 1kn or rocket in at 9kn. Neither is preferred because you have waves on one side or the other and won’t have control of the boat. Best to hit at slack current of +/- 1.0 kn current.
Moon is up at midnight and until then lots of stars and super cool Milky Way. Sky down here is cool and better than the northern hemisphere. Summer is coming. It has been calm the last few days and hot. We will get into the next atoll and cross to the south side, anchor and wait out three days of 20-25kn winds. Reef and palm trees cut the wind down and it is pleasant. Then hopefully back across to the pass to dive. This atoll is supposed to be the premium diving and sharks again. John
RANGIROA Atoll (Ancient name Rairo’a)
We had to sail around Arutua Atoll. It looked interesting with a temple having been noted there but with the upcoming storm systems, we wanted to be somewhere that would be perhaps better protected. Our timing was off..again. We would actually be arriving at 0500! Not 1100! Conversation between the two boats over the radio and all concurred and so it was decided that we could be able to safely pass. There was some strong current but it was incoming so there were no standing waves on the outside of the pass. Wind was negligible. Except for the middle of the inside end of the pass, it was deep and we should be fine as long as we followed the north side of the pass.
The sun was just starting to rise behind us as we entered Passe Tiputa. We were barely to the entrance when we had five or six dolphin surfing off our bow wake. What a nice welcoming committee! The water was moving and so were we, there were less waves noticeable on the inside of the atoll as we quickly moved through the pass. It is this incoming current that the dolphins are known to love, play, and feed in.
We anchored off the village to spend a night and to get things sorted. Of course, finding a magasin for a baguette would be nice as well. Tiputa pass is famous for its diving and there are six dive operations in this village! Just inside the atoll is a motu referred to as “The Aquarium” and is heralded to be quite the snorkeling and dive site as well. This too would have to wait as we prepared ourselves for a trip across the atoll to The Blue Lagoon and the lava flats of Rofaaulti.
The Blue Lagoon. Would love to tell you more but we didn’t see it. We sailed across the atoll to find ourselves in a large bommie field and as we slowly moved through, occasionally seeing 1.6ft under our keel (yes, I said 1.6ft!) we gave up looking for an anchorage and moved on to the lava flats.
Sometimes plans change like that. Remember earlier when I said plans were made in the sand? We did find great holding by Rofaaulti. We would spend the next few days here before the winds would be coming in. It is quiet here. We are the only sailboat around. There appears to be a pension (a place that rents out) on one of the motus but we rarely see any people here. The water is calm, the holding is sand and our anchor is set well. I love having my kayak out in this crystalline water but I am also able to take it into some channels created by the lava flows.
I can almost reach the ocean side via the water that helps feed the lagoon. We have both taken time to walk to the beach on the “outside” of the Motu. Ocean waves crash with a thunderous roar and epic momentum. Here the reef seems to extend for several meters at a half to one meter of water. I have found small eels poking their heads out as I slosh by in the water. The beach is mountainous with bleached shells pummeled by the waves as they begin the process back down to sand. It is so quiet here. With nothing of note, just calm and warm days dotted with snorkeling, it truly is a respite above all. Yes, even above the quiet villages. Remember what I said about weather dictating our location? We decided to move back to Tiputa Pass for the protection from the next weather system. John went forward to the hoist the anchor while I drove the boat forward and periodically stacked chain. We had just started the process when I heard him yell something undetectable, and poking my head around the dodger, he came back and said there’s a manta.
Oh seriously? Now? When we are leaving? I gave a look that was the best puppy dog eyes I could make. Yes, grab the mask/snorkel, grab the fins and don’t forget the camera. I was off the boat in less than three minutes, kicking fast to where I anticipated he would be, seeing nothing. Cursing into my snorkel, I heard the dinghy fast approaching. “Over there”. Well then, that helps! I changed direction and kicked hard. Finally I found myself above him as he swooped this way and that way. Not the least bit concerned about my presence, certainly he had no idea how hard I kicked to find him in spite of my heavy breathing, he continued his graceful feeding dance. John jumped in to have a look as well, as soon the ray decided it needed a new venue. This ray looks somewhat different than the past rays. After my 30 minute Ray (manta ray, that is) Delay, we returned to the boat and resumed lifting the anchor lifting process. Delighted with our eleventh hour find, setting sails seemed much more fun. This would prove to be a fantastic five to six hour sail as we crossed 24 miles back to the village. The wind was picking up and we held a lovely 15-18kn wind and sped back around 5.5-6kn. Set the sails once and that was it, the rest was a walk in the park as it was so easy. This gave me a chance to look up and determine that the particular manta we saw was a Devil Ray. One of the three types of manta rays.
Passe de Tiputa – Otetou. (10/6/18) We haven’t moved in awhile. Have you noticed on the PredictWind site? We have been waiting out weather system and it just doesn’t want to leave. We are in a protected anchorage, on a mooring, but it is still rolly. We are tucked in a little closer to the village so it does not seem as bad for us but we do watch as some of the outer sailboats masts are swaying quite a bit. Some rain this morning and caught some rainwater but we need more rain to fill tanks. Sure we can always make with water maker if we need to but it takes all day and uses power. Why do that when we can make use of solar on sunny days and catching rain on rainy days. Cloudy and cooler this morning, which is not at all unpleasant. In fact, it is a nice change. A dinghy ride to the other pass yesterday was rough and long, more so for John as he had to drive back in the dinghy, against the wind and waves. He dropped me off at the quay and I walked through that end of the village and explored on land a bit. There were a couple small stores and Gaugin Pearls is also here. This is where they have a large pearl farm and advertise that they offer duty free pearls here at this store. There were some incredibly magnificent pearls. Loose pearls or beautiful settings. Some of the price tags indicated that they certainly have some of the most beautiful pearls and I would likely not be able to afford the duty on those, even if they weren’t duty free. At the entrance is a 50ft ketch sitting perfectly upright on its keel on a motu. It appears they had some issues and are quite likely stranded there as it is not a place to ground your boat intentionally. Can you imagine, looking out at your home, lodged on coral and unable to move it? Unless we can find out if this is the true story, we can only surmise. Armchair sailing. Of course, you know what happens when you assume, and I have learned quite a bit when playing that game. We have spent almost two weeks here in Rangiroa alone. Also advertised for its diving, the water visibility has been poor during our time here as reported by several divers. We dinghied through the pass when the wind wasn’t whipping it up and John snorkeled it several times but just didn’t see it worthwhile to dive it. With the dinghy during the incoming current, at least we could ride along side the dolphins as they played in the current. Just inside the atoll, a shallow area rises up in the center and forces boats to either side to continue into the atoll. This motu is known as “The Aquarium” and is noted for its snorkeling and diving. Several buoys are located at the far end for dive boats or private dinghies to tie up to. I have spent several various days snorkeling the area, noting a very large Gray shark below me. There is also a Tiger shark that is known to come in and frequent the area as well. I did not see that one. I also learned the force of the current as I misjudged the time and as I was snorkeling too close to the pass end of the aquarium when the current was heading out. Obviously, it ended well but that too, was a learned lesson!
Saturday. With the exception of the ‘boom boom’ bass of the Polynesian music ashore, all is silent aboard SV Bella Nave. More quiet than usual. The weather system’s lasting effects of wind and fetch have abated. The previous night still held a determined swell, the kind that can catapult one from a sound peaceful sleep on to the cold wooden sole of the boat. Now the water is calm, movement of the boat is bare detectable. The clock continues to tick.
Start the clock. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It started 48 hours ago. Our ER friend would always say to to start the clock whenever he ate something adventurous that may carry a hint of digestive risk. Read Anthony Bourdain’s stories and one may never eat out again but where is the reality in that? Whether it is raw oysters on the half shell, sushi, or ceviche and aguachile from the Latin American countries, to Poisson Cru or Tartare de Thon of the Pacific, there is always that one possibility. Within 24 hours, if you were still feeling great, you won. It’s part of the adventure to try cultural foods, and when makes your mouth and stomach sing out in harmony of the taste you offered, you do it again. And you restart the clock.
Poisson Cru of the Pacific is typically made with raw tuna, a fish that is considered ‘safe’ from the menace of ciguatera toxins. The constantly changing species afflicted and variances from lagoon to lagoon make it challenging to determine ‘safe’. Relying on the word of a local is helpful but certainly no guarantee as they have to eat, often what s available, and as it can take time for the toxins to build up with successive ingestion of afflicted fish, one never knows when the “hit” may come. Tuna is typically pelagic or ocean going, meaning less risk. Poisson Cru uses the raw tuna, sometimes chemically cooked with the acids of lime juice similar to Ceviche. It then swims in a coconut milk pool with various vegetables making it cool and refreshing as it is served cold.
They didn’t have Poisson Cru at Chez Lili 48 hours ago. They did have Tartare Thon au le mangue or Tuna Raw with mango. Very tasty, filling, fresh, light and not heavy the way beef steaks can be. Start the clock. John said he refused to eat anything raw unless there were a doctor or hospital close by. It was tasty! The next day, we took a dingy ride to the other pass where he would drop me off to wander the street, which actually consists of 12 km of road from one pass to the other. The village is very spread out. Using my right thumb, I found that it was useful in catching a couple rides, eventually to Chez Lili where there is internet (if you can be gracious enough to call it that) and John would pick me up. We decided we could either get a bottle of whiskey and a jar of Nutella or lunch at Chez Lili. The troop was divided as you already know who voted for which option. We had lunch at Chez Lili (I won or so I thought!) but alas, no Poisson Cru today either! Disappointed I fell back on the other tasty Tartare Thon agin. Restart the clock.
As I said earlier, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Within 3 hours, my hand was played and the cards not in my favor. I do not believe it is Ciguatera based on hallmark symptoms yet I suppose I could have had a light brush with it. Digestive nature symptoms are manageable now but oh so fatiguing. I have nursed the same cup of noodles all day. And slept. John asked me this afternoon when I was able to stay awake long enough to hold a four minute conversation if I wanted some raw tuna to eat. He is compassionate like that. If it is Poisson Cru, then yes, in a heartbeat. Well, maybe in a few days… to start the clock. Debbie
As we wait out the heavy weather systems and look for favorable winds to continue our trip through the Tuomotos, we are privy to “Cruise Ship Fever”. There are currently three large cruise ships anchored off of the anchorage where we are at. We saw the first one when we sailed in from the other side of the atoll. Then a Norwegian of some sort. And a live aboard dive boat. It is times like this (when the cruise ships arrive) that the sleepy little village festoons itself with colorful pop up event tents on the wharf, tables with colorful clothes host local merchandise from hand painted pareos, to pearl jewelry and items carved from bone. The cruise ships send over people carrier after people carrier loaded with those ready to get off the ship, walk on land, visit an island village, and of course- offload some of that heavy cash in their wallet. The wharf is now wall to wall people even though Gaugin Pearls vans shuttle potential customers off to their shop. Remember, there are only a couple small stores that sell “touristy” items or handicrafts. Yet the quay has ten or more tables, each of different vendors/crafters! From pareos to pearls, and more pearls, this is the cruise ship dream. There is music playing from a live group, traditional island music, and our favorite snack, Snack Lili is filled with customers. Service is even slower than usual, and of course, internet speed is barely at a crawl as all the little screens light up. Even in as remote places as this, we just can’t go without being connected.
Sorry, had to have The Poisson Cru one last time before leaving. That clock started was a win!
We left (up at 0430) and in pass at 0520. John wanted to be in pass at 0530 so we were just barely there in time to be ten minutes early (his German clock) but saw another beautiful sunrise as we cruised through. He is mastering this timing of the pass thing that is crucial in the Tuomotos. All the difference between smart and stupid or safe and dangerous.
38 miles to the next pass. Doesn’t seem far unless you are “walking quickly” as Sailing is often referred to! Our speed varies anywhere from 4-5.5 nautical miles per hour. So average 5 and we are looking at almost 8 hours of travel! The tricky part is that ‘timing of the passes’. The currents can rip through these tiny entrances up to 5kn, or even more. Your journey must include the timing of the pass you are leaving as well as the next pass you plan on entering! And passes can be on various sides of the atoll making the wind and waves another important factor. That is a very cursory explanation without boring you or Pops into the next nap.
We have heard that Tikehau is beautiful and has Manta Rays! It will also be out last atoll here in the Tuomotos Archipelago. The intention is to stay a few days and then we will passage for two overnights onward to Papeete, Tahiti. Preferably being there before the next storm system arrives. We are starting in their summer. While the Tuomotos Atolls are interesting, they are losing our attention (someone in particular whose name I won’t mention as I wouldn’t say my own name) and the Society Islands are sounding very appealing by other cruising buddies already there. We also look forward to meeting up with our cruising buddies.
Papeete is a necessary stopover instead of a desired destination for cruisers. It has a large grocery chain called Carrefour for re-provisioning as well as chandleries for necessary repairs. You know, “Sailing: fixing and repairing your boat in exotic places!”. Without invoking Murphy’s Law, in retrospect (and current!), John’s understanding of sailing and mechanics, preparation of our boat peppered with good karma has us being in much better shape/condition than other cruisers we have met. That is important when you consider how harsh the sea environment can be under normal conditions?
Passe Tuheiava. Our last atoll. The Pink Sand Atoll. It is the atoll closest to Tahiti. Named as the richest in fish world-wide by Jacques Cousteau, the pass here is known for its hammerheads and grey sharks. Tikehau is smaller and seems to have more marked rocks and shallow spots but…..they also have resident reef mantas! It also cuts off another 8 hours from the trip to Tahiti rather than leaving from Rangiroa. Hmmm… it seems we have good reason to make the stop here! We arrived to the pass in time for a very slight current in and immediately dropped anchor near another sailboat already anchored on the inside of the pass. When it is light again tomorrow, we will move to the village to anchor and find locate the Motu we were told about, the one where the 3-5 reef mantas feed regularly. This will also give us time to step off the boat and explore the village. The village seems smaller than Rangiroa but also more upscale by looks of homes, resorts an pensions. Rather a boutique atoll. Two small magasins, one boulangerie (closed), one airport, and 3-4 dive operations listing the three passes that they dive here. A few resorts. Such is life in the atolls. It is hot, but comfortable as we meandered the road that makes a large circle around the village on the motu.
Paaie motu– located approximately a mile from the village, towards the center of the lagoon- we snorkeled endlessly along one side of the motu which was rather oblong in shape and contained a vacant pearl farm. Nothing. As we snorkeled back to the dingy we saw dive/snorkel boat on the next buoy. He pointed over the Motu from where we were. Tired but anxious to see what we came here for, we snorkeled over the Motu shallows and saw other snorkelers in the water.
As John swam towards them, I looked to my left to see the most beautiful black and white face and wide mouth of a Reef Manta. Graceful. Gentle. Clearly nonplussed about my presence. Following behind it came another manta. Larger, gliding effortlessly in its underwater flight, circling around. This dance went on several times when the John and the other snorkelers manta swam over to join the other two mantas. It was like Christmas at Macy’s as the crowd swept in around me. John being a much better swimmer and free diver took the GoPro down and behind a bommie. Then his keen eye with the camera caught the music in motion as the Reef Mantas swept over the bommie near by, uncaring of his presence. This went on a few more times and when John was thoroughly winded from free diving and staying still as a mouse, we left as well. It is experiences such as this that we enjoy so much and our love of the water. As this would be our final atoll in the Tuomotos Archipelago, or the “Dangerous Archipelago” before moving on to the Societies. What a fabulous way to mark the ending of the Tuomotus.
We are preparing to be underway again, now to Tahiti. Land of milk and honey. Or land of large box grocery stores and faster internet (sort of). Papeete. Famous in songs such as Southern Cross by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. It will be a 36-48 hour underway, and we will be leaving at sunset when the pass is calm. It is a bit of a mixed bag to be leaving the Tuomotu Archipelago. We have enjoyed and experienced several but only a tenth of what is here. While they generally have the same characteristics, we have had unique experiences at each and all have been enjoyable. While I hate to see this part end, knowing we will not likely pass this way again (never say never!) I am also feeling ready to move on.
So much for timing again. The wind in our favor, the outgoing tide and our engine power, had us shooting out of the pass around 8kn! Woot! Just outside the pass, one reef in the main sail and a full genoa went up. The engine was cut. The bliss of the silent motor and the perfect wind. Our speed was still over 6-7kn! Yeah, we will take that all day long. And we did. As a matter of fact, all night long! Sit back, kick back, and enjoy what would be our best sail to date. In fact, the wind held so perfectly, we sailed through the night and through the next day, arriving early evening or more than six hours early from our anticipated time. Too late and dark to traverse inside the lagoon to the anchorage. Point Venus, Tahiti. Society Islands. We are here!