Manihi to Tuao

Boundless 1
Richard Clennett
Mon 23 May 2011 12:00
15.48.S    146.09 W

We spent 5 very enjoyable days at Manihi. Every day was busy and there was a lot of socialising between boats which was fun. We learnt a lot about the Tuamotus in particular and the Pacific in general. Several boats had already done a circuit to NZ and AUS and were doing  the same trip again but a different route. The pirate issue heading towards Suez, has many making alternative plans to sail via South Africa or considering shipping their boats from the Maldives to Suez, which is now an option.
10 of us had a great dinner at the resort, transported across the lagoon by Fernando (baker, pearl farmer, fisherman and head of the Mormon church) in his fast workboat. The following night we went again to the resort, this time with Roger and Marion from Marionette IV, both in our own dinghies (so we had back up if needed) - a much slower process weaving our way through the markers across the lagoon in the dark than travelling with Fernando! Roger and Marion are on their way home to Adelaide to complete a 10 year circumnavigation. We met them briefly in Grenada last year as we were heading home and we have several Aus cruising friends in common. They are great company! We had a delicious smorgasboard and watched some local dancing, with the four of us joining in for some added hilarity!
One afternoon on an incoming tide we went out in the dinghy with a few of our neighbours in their dinghies and learnt about snorkeling in through the pass (holding the dinghy ropes and bringing it with us) - quite exhilirating! Many fish, some dull coral, sharks asleep on the sand on the bottom, and us travelling at about 5 knots over the top of it all! The water was not very clear and  we are told other passes are much better - we hope to test a few!  We went through twice and then rescued three people who had somehow washed into a disused pearl farm and were quite frightened - hauled the two women on board our dinghy while Mark got his dinghy free.......a little scratched and but all ok, so clearly steering as you go and clambering back into the dinghy before shallow water is reached and the current increases are important!
Fernando delivered 200 litres of diesel to the boat and helped transfer it - no duty free fuel out here, but necessary to ensure we get to Papeete under any conditions! Another afternoon we went with Fernando, one of his family and Roger and Marion to his pearl farm. With Fernando, Roger and Richard snorkeled down about a metre or so to untie a string of oysters each (Fernando free dives easily to 80 feet!) and brought them back to the boat. After we had a selection of different aged oysters, we went in to Fernando's motu (island) and the boys opened five oysters each - which Marion and I had chosen. From the five oysters, we retrieved 4 black pearls (reasonable size but with some "character" - ie not perfect!)  which we were able to keep. A demonstration of how the pearls are seeded followed, while a shell full of oyster sashimi was prepared for us to take back to our boats. The photo shows Fernando sharing an octopus tentacle (just out of the water) with Roger - don't know that he wants to try that again!
On friday, a lunch ashore with the group was organised at Fernando's bakery (a BBQ being vetoed due to the ferocious mosquitos ashore) several boats were ready to move on, and two others had joined us!  Listening to all the stories, places visited, miles sailed and years away we again came away feeling like "babes in the woods" comparatively but realising that we were really now out here among them!
We have found the people thus far in French Polynesia to be delightful - friendly, always happy, very willing to help, proud and respectful. The island people all seem to be comparatively (and I'm thinking of the Caribbean islands here...) well off and prosperous, I suppose infrastructure, fishing and tourism keep them going - their houses and gardens are all tidy, no rubbish anywhere (except for dog poo..).The children are all well educated and go off to school in Papeete from the islands for high school. Fernando has five children, three with degrees!
Before leaving Mahini on saturday we visited the motu of Xavier Michel - he is retired from the French Navy, his last post to command  the French Pacific Navy and Air forces. Xavier is a great help to cruisers and on request emails tide times and any other information. He also runs an HF Sailamail base and is first response to any distress calls in this area. He has built a lovely home, separate radio station and an open air chapel on the motu. His aim is to become totally ecological and self sufficient. He runs his enormous gel battery bank with energy from the sun, sea and wind and has many varieties of fruit and vegetables growing. A charming man whose wife continues to work as a lawyer in Papeete and they share time between the two places.
We departed Manihi after waiting for low water slack tide and sailed south overnight, 80 miles to Toau - trying to keep our boatspeed down so we would arrive at daybreak. Tricky as there were several squalls overnight with associated stronger breeze!
Gaston and Valentine own a motu on the NW rim of this atoll and have laid several moorings in a "blind pass" - one that is not a true pass into the lagoon as there is a coral rim preventing this.The anchorage is well marked and tides do not influence arrival and departure here. Gaston saw us dropping sail outside at 6.30am and guided us in to a mooring. We joined he and Valentine, a Finnish couple and an Austrian couple from the two other boats here for a delicious home cooked meal ashore last night. Snorkeling is on the agenda for this afternoon and then another meal ashore tonight. There is no mobile phone or internet here.Tomorrow we will head to Fakarava for our last atoll visit before sailing 200 odd miles to Papeete. We can understand why cruisers spend an extended time in this area.