Astra Blog: Tuamotus (Part 5) 20.07.08 - 23.07.08

Jeremy & Sally Paul
Sun 3 Aug 2008 18:03

Astra Blog: Tuamotus (Part 5) 20.07.08 – 23.07.08




Sunday 20.07.08


Our last stop before leaving the Tuamotus and heading for the sophisticated Society Islands was Tikehau. We decided to sail in convoy with Adventure in order that, amongst other things, they could benefit from Ash’s coral head spotting from the spreaders.


There were a number of factors to consider in choosing our departure time: the time for slack water when exiting the pass at Rangiroa; the probable conditions in the pass upon arrival at Tikehau; and the ability to spot coral heads in the lagoon (governed in part by the relative position of the sun, and hence the time of day). After careful deliberation we decided to set off at 0500. We were pottering out of the anchorage at 0515 when Adventure radioed to say that they were having problems with their anchor. It was decided that Astra should come to the rescue so we promptly made an about turn.


With both tenders onboard, it was decided that, far easier than swimming the short distance between the two yachts, Ash would leap from Astra onto Adventure as the former passed alongside the latter in a busy anchorage. It was a perfectly executed manoeuvre – it is just a shame that more people were not awake to witness it. Jeremy, concerned that time was ticking on, donned his swimming shorts and went for a swim to see if he could see the problem. Ash unable to solve the problem from the deck, joined Jeremy in the water. It soon became apparent that both chain and anchor were firmly lodged and were not going to budge without some effort. Realising that it would require dive gear to disentangle the chain from the coral head it had ensnared, Ash swam back to Astra and got the “Mini-B” (a compact diving apparatus designed for such missions). Shortly afterwards Adventure were able to up-anchor and Astra’s rescue divers were back onboard.


By 0630 we had made our way through the pass (with Adventure following closely behind) and were sailing conservatively, just using the mainsail, so as not to leave Adventure in our wake. We were lucky enough to sail in glorious conditions once more, with sufficient wind to make an effortless 7 knots and more than enough sunshine to bring about a colour change in Astra’s less swarthy crew members. Indeed, luck really was on our side as we landed a 3.5ft, 13lb bull mahi mahi. Probably our largest mahi mahi to date, he was nearly ‘the one that got away’ as he somehow slipped off the gaff onto the teak; George had to jump on the fish and try and hold him down until Ash could perform the execution. The books say that mahi mahi can jump up to 18ft out of the water when chasing prey, so they are certainly capable of putting up a good fight – particularly when they have a knife glinting at them!


At 1500, with the sun high in the sky behind us (well placed for spotting coral heads), we entered the narrow and shallow pass into Tikehau and anchored off the main village.


We all went for a wander around the village but were unable to enjoy any liquid refreshment as the one restaurant was closed for the afternoon. Undeterred, we followed the sound of some music playing and found a band rehearsing outside one of the band member’s house. They were very friendly and let us sit on their lawn while they worked their way through their repertoire. With light fading, and fatigue from the early start kicking in, we returned to Astra for a meal of  steak, caramelized onions, tomato salad, jacket potatoes and, of course, the catch of the day. Just when we thought we could manage no more the girls from Adventure popped over with some scrumptious homemade cookies to finish us off!


Monday 21.07.08


We set off reasonably early for an islet inside the atoll called Motu Puarua (also known as Bird Island). Ash returned to his familiar position up the spreaders – however on this occasion he had to help Adventure with her coral dodging as well as Astra. George baked a double batch of bread as Adventure was also suffering from a local baguette shortage.


We had not gone too far before we were tempted to drop anchor (just off the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort) and stop for a spot of snorkeling. Having enjoyed a very nice lunch stop we got back underway and motored onwards through the unchartered water of the lagoon, arriving at Bird Island about an hour before sunset. The motu is aptly named: hundreds of squawking birds filled the sky above the cricket field sized islet.


Going ashore we found an abundance of terns (both the sooty and white fairy varieties), frigate birds, and (the reason for coming) red footed boobies! Both Sally and Adventure’s Kathy have been obsessed with the pursuit of these birds since meeting their blue footed cousins in the Galapagos Islands.


The motu might have been as aptly named Crab Island: in addition to the proliferation of birds above, the Island was covered in a mobile carpet of crabs!


In the evening we had Adventure on board to watch a film together – they even arrived with some freshly popped corn, quite a treat in the middle of an atoll, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!


Tuesday 22.07.08


Sally, Oli and Kathy set off early in T/T Adventure to look for a pearl farm. Unfortunately the guide book sent them on a wild goose chase as the pearl farm was not where it was supposed to be so they returned empty handed.


At 1000 we upped anchor and headed a short distance to Motuohina, also known as Eden Isle. Here there is a pearl farm, run by a religious community. The idea of another pearl farm was not to everyone’s fancy so the initial shore party consisted of Sally (of course!), Oli (who had not yet seen a pearl farm), and George (curious as to what sort of religious community one would find on a tiny coral island in the Pacific). Fortunately, we had a radio with us to let the others know that there was more of interest to be seen than pearls: the pearl farm itself was on stilts over the water, enclosing a large aquarium in which resided, amongst other creatures, several enormous nurse sharks. George was first in to get a closer look; on seeing that he didn’t get munched he was soon joined by Charlie, Oli, and Ash. Satisfied that none of the above was being eaten, Adventure’s Tera also popped in for a few seconds to stroke one of the friendly 9ft beasts before getting out rather quickly!


After our swim with the docile sharks we were given a tour of Isle d’Eden. It is very rare for the Tuamotus, but here they not only grow their own fruit and vegetables but also produce a small surplus to sell to passing yachts. After a walk around the perfectly manicured gardens, nibbling on figs and berries as we went, we returned to Astra where we hosted the children of the community for a look around the yacht. It was a perfect opportunity to off-load several presents purchased in Panama for the impoverished children we expected to meet across the Pacific. However, these children were, one should imagine, anything but impoverished as they all had expensive looking digital cameras! Nonetheless they received gratefully the gifts of torches and plastic jewelry!


In the afternoon we motored to an area sheltered by a reef just north of Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort. Missing the sound of leather on willow, Oli, Charlie, Ash and George improvised a game of beach cricket using driftwood as bats and baby coconuts as balls. After a few exhausting overs we sat down to enjoy a cool beer next to a raging fire and watched the sunset. It was the dusk we were waiting for as we were told that then we would be able to find lobsters on the reef. Once it was getting pretty dark, all 10 of us (six from Astra and four from Adventure) set off across the reef in pursuit of dinner. Apparently it was the wrong time of the month because there were none to be found but there were enough moray eels to provide a feast should we have been so inclined!


Wednesday 23.07.08


The early birds, on this occasion Jeremy, Ash and George were up at 0600 to up anchor. We then motored to Teonai, a small sheltered pool beside the pass, with Adventure following closely. Before leaving the Tuamotus behind and heading on to Tahiti we wished to do one last drift snorkel through a pass – especially as the girls from Adventure had not done one. Hence the younger sailors on both boats let the current pull them out from the lagoon into the ocean, hopped back into the tender and repeated the drift several times. Uncharacteristically, we saw no sharks but there were plenty of pretty fish and morays to observe.


One of the recurring themes of our time in the Tuamotus was fouled anchors. It was only fitting, therefore, that as we went to up anchor for the last time we found ourselves snagged on a large coral head. Ash, who has been honing his free-diving skills, was able to swim down ten metres and free us. At 1030, after a fantastic month in the Tuamotu Archipelago we motored through the pass and turned towards Papeete, Tahiti.