16:03.639S 145:37.203W Sleeping sharks and talking cats

Hamble Warrior
Jamie Hickman
Sun 10 Dec 2023 23:42

29th November 2023

We unpicked our anchor and departed Rangiroa early on the 29th after a month in these waters.

We exited the pass shortly after 7am just as the first of the day's tour boats and dive vessels were blasting across the lagoon.

Out in open water we started to tack our way against easterly winds towards the eastern islands of the Tuamotus archipelago. 

To my relief despite being an upwind sail we enjoyed a much more comfortable passage than our last upwind sail to Rangiroa. The sea state was more tempered and I was not troubled with the motion sickness that plagued me on our trip from Tahiti. For most of the daylight hours of that first day at sea we were sailing along the outer reef of Rangiroa. This being the second biggest atoll in the world we were sailing in its lee for many miles.

After our first 12 hours at sea tacking we had made good just 27nm towards our intended destination. Such is the nature of upwind sailing that to make good a mile in the right direction you must sail perhaps 2.5. However we were pleased with our progress and were now out amongst the other atolls tacking between them and as darkness fell we were treated to a clear starry sky and later a fulsome moon to light our way. Jamie took the first night watch whilst I went below for some sleep and at 
1.30am he called me on deck to help him tack after which I stayed on watch whilst he got a few hours of sleep himself. We had a peaceful and comfortable night until shortly before 5am. Jamie had once more taken watch and I had just settled below to get some more sleep when a big squall loomed on the horizon. Jamie called me back on deck and we reefed down the sails readying ourselves for what was to come. It was a lovely squall with the winds backing and rising to force 6 in strength. It passed through and we tacked the boat again and took the second reef out of the main but remained vigilant as there appeared more were coming.

After 24 hours we had made good 61nm and were pleased with our progress. The second day was slightly trickier in terms of picking the best course through the atolls. We found ourselves enjoying a comfortable run down the back of Toau atoll but as we attempted to round the bottom of the atoll through the Fakarava Channel we encountered fiercely strong counter-currents that we struggled to beat against. It was clear this particular route had been a mistake but too late to correct it now; we battled on eventually turning on the motor to give us the extra punch we needed to sail against the current. Having finally motor-sailed through the channel we decided to amend our plans and rather than sail on to Kauehi which was only 30nm or so further on but would require sailing much farther; we would instead put in to Fakarava. We arrived at the pass well timed with the slack tide and motored through the lagoon to the large anchorage off the small pretty town fringed with white sand-coral beaches and towering coconut palms. We dropped and set our anchor with the chain buoyed to keep it off the coral; festooned the side-decks with everything that had been drenched during the squalls we had endured during the last couple of days, ate a hearty breakfast of pancakes and then fell into bed for a good long sleep.

We enjoyed a lazy day on-board and went ashore late afternoon to see what The buzz was in Fakarava. We landed our dinghy at the port and had a look in the well-stocked magasin at the fuel station there. After which we walked through the small town and found a second very well stocked Magasin which also served as the town bakery and had a good selection of tinned and fresh items as well as fresh bread and cold drinks. This was to become our shop of choice whilst we were in Fakarava and the little gang of young men that ran it were always very friendly.

We continued walking on down the single main road past the beautiful church and an interesting memorial with an information board talking about holding the French government accountable for the nuclear testing they carried out in these islands during the 
1960s. This is the first such reference that we have seen to this although we were aware of these events; it was interesting to read these notices and see such an unambiguous call for reparations for the Polynesian people in the wake of such an abuse of their islands and disregard for their lives and livelihoods.

We found a small beach looking out across the anchorage and celebrated Friday night; and our arrival in Fakarava, with a drink and some music whilst we watched the boats at anchor. This little spot was to become our landing spot for the dinghy over the next week. Provided we navigated our way ashore during daylight to allow us to weave between the coral heads we could row a short direct route and pull our dinghy up onto this small beach an easy walking distance from the bakery.

That Sunday we did just that and landed on the small beach before setting off along the long straight road through the atoll to find a snack that we had read sold fish dishes for our Sunday lunch. We walked for approximately 45 minutes through the town and out along the straight road passing a luxury resort until we found the snack located in a small estate in the grounds of a pension with beautiful bungalows set in a picturesquely landscaped garden and overlooking a particularly shallow part of the lagoon where exotic fish and small sharks could be spotted in the clear water below the decking of the snack.

We enjoyed a delicious fish lunch; Jamie had his fish "Beignet" served with fries… "fish n chips" to us Brits! I had mine served as a "tartare" which was large chunks of raw fish that had been pressed with pieces of fresh tomatoes and cucumber; chilled and served with a drizzle of sweet sauce. It was very tasty! We weren't allowed to linger long after our lunch as the ladies who ran the snack were keen to close. So we started off in the direction of home. We were nearly back on the edge of the town when we approached the luxury "Havaiki" resort and decided to finish the afternoon off with a drink at their bar. We walked through the beautiful resort and found the bar down on the beach. The bar was named the "Le Snack du Requin Dormeur" or "the sleeping shark bar". We ordered a bottle of cold white wine and were told we could take a seat in the water if we wished. There at in the shallows off the beach were located a row of little tables covered in broad thatched umbrellas and with stools high enough to allow you to sit with your feet dangling into the cool clear crisp water of the lagoon whilst enjoying your drink. What an absolutely idyllic way to pass a Sunday afternoon; drinking cold white wine with our feet dangling in the lagoon. It wasn't long before we met the bar's namesake, as a particularly large shark slunk it's way across the lagoon casually sweeping past our table. He certainly wasn't sleeping today!! I climbed up onto the wooden pier overlooking the reef to get a better look and managed to take a few photographs of the shark as he wove between the tables; at one point startling the occupant of a neighbouring table by brushing against his leg making him jump several feet in the air and swear colourfully in French!

Whether it was the same shark doing circuits or a second shark of equally impressive size we were treated to several passings as this impressive creature cruised the lagoon. We also had several brightly coloured tropical fish playing around our feet which all added to the feeling of sitting in a giant aquarium!

From our spot in the resort we could see right across to the town anchorage where our old friend the cruise and supply ship "Aranui 5" was laying at anchor for the day; we could also see Hamble Warrior bobbing in the clear waters. Soon it was time to start making our way back after a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

The following day we had plans to take a late exit through the pass and continue our journey east once more. We took the dinghy ashore in the morning to get a few fresh provisions ahead of our trip and by the time we returned to Hamble Warrior we were both feeling very under the weather. As the day wore on we felt worse and worse with depleted energy levels; high temperatures and aching heads and bodies. It was obvious we had come down with some kind of flu-type bug; or a covid variation of some sort or other. Feeling how we did it seemed unwise to put to sea and instead we took to our bunks.

We were ill for most of that week; spending the next few days entirely on-board; taking it in turns to heat a little soup or make hot tea depending on who had sufficient energy for such a seemingly gargantuan task.

Slowly as the week wore on we started to feel a little better and our energy levels began to return to normal.

By Friday we were able to function properly once again and decided it was time to get moving. We decided to take a days sail through the flat waters of the lagoon down to the anchorage in the south of the atoll which would position us conveniently for our onward passage and also put us in a better protected spot for some incoming foul winds due to blow later in the weekend which would make the town anchorage uncomfortable.

We had a wonderful day sailing through the reef. Occasionally across the more narrow spits of the atoll where the vegetation was sparse we could see the rolling ocean on the other side; but for us we were cruising along on mirror-flat water with the wind puffing us along from abeam. The lagoon is largely uncharterted water and with only some channels marked with navigation aids; therefore I positioned myself at the highest point on the deck; sitting atop the upturned dinghy, from where I got a good view ahead to spot any shallows or coral bommies early on. Eyeball navigation is the only way to safely navigate these lagoons despite having satellite images to help us spot large shallows and coral patches. So it was a pleasure to sit in the sunshine as we sailed along on the breeze watching the water ahead for the tell-tale signs of any obstacles; which could be clearly identified by the changing colour of the water.

The weather stayed fair through the day right until we approached the anchorage at the southern end of the atoll, at which point we became ensconced in mist and rain as a wide-reaching squall made the anchorage ahead of us disappear. We slowed our pace to allow the squall to pass and then picked our spot to drop anchor.

When we had lifted our anchor that morning, the electric buttons that control our anchor windlass had failed and Jamie had needed to quickly rewire them to ensure that the button which lifted the anchor cable was working. This had meant sacrificing the "drop" button for the time being and so in a reversal of our usual roles Jamie went forward and dropped the anchor using the manual clutch whilst I remained on the helm using the engine to guide our drop.

By the time we had our anchor set, the foul weather had passed through and we were able to appreciate the beauty of the spot we were in. Clear water; a wide-sweeping sandy beach fringed with coconut palms. Absolutely beautiful. We took a dinghy trip ashore to walk along the beach and enjoy our customary Friday night drinks with our feet in the sand. We were astonished to meet three very gregarious and very talkative cats ashore whom we promised to return and visit with cat treats the following day. We are already in love with this special little spot.