Arrival in Raroia, Tuomotus

Tue 19 May 2015 21:00
16:02.701S 142:28.2330W
2300 Tues, 17 May UTC
1300 Local time
We had a beautiful sail from Ua Pou in the Marquesas.  Breeze from the East to N. East all the way giving us a comfortable beam reach. Weather fine, sea calm: Lovesail loved it and went speeding along.  We even caught a wahoo – our first – which Bungles reeled in in expert fashion. Half way along our journey we decided to alter our destination to Raroia which is further East than Makemo but also a bit closer, so our journey only took 4 days and 3 nights to get here, arriving off the atoll at near midday.  We had calculated low water at about 2pm and hoped to be able to enter the pass into the atoll at around that time.  As it was, we found only a mild current of about 2-3 knots outgoing and good sea conditions so we headed in without waiting.  All hands on deck to watch for coral bommies waiting to rip the keel off Lovesail.  In the event, all went without a hitch and we found ourselves in a well buoyed channel leading us to the anchorage off a small village.  We found a nice sandy spot in about 10 metres and dropped anchor.  Hurrah! Arrival in our first atoll! 
Bungles and wahoo:
In the pass:
So what’s it like?  Azure water over coral and sand.  Palm trees covering the motu and a small village ashore. Fortunately there is also a new dock, making going ashore a very easy matter.  We are on the western side of the atoll so the wind is blowing across the atoll, bringing a small chop with it but basically this is a calm anchorage.  Looking to the East we can see more motus lying on the far side of the atoll, some 10-12 miles away.  In between, nothing.  Well, nearly nothing.  We can see masses of floats clustered together here and there which are related to either fishing or pearl farming.  There are three pearl farms on this atoll but we have yet to discover the process of farming.  In any event, it’s obvious that this farming is an important economic activity for the inhabitants.  The guide book says there are 50 inhabitants, but in fact there must be about 200.  We chose to come to this atoll believing that it would be little developed and little visited, neither of which turns out to be accurate.  Not that there are any hotels here, but there is the  buoyed channel, with lights on the buoys for those wishing to enter by night (!), a new dock, a primary school, an airport (totally unexpected) which is served with a once a week flight by Air Tahiti with a good sized ATR, concrete roads, street lights (solar powered), mobile phone signal (but no wifi hotspot), a post office and a municipal authority with a mairie. There are two shops.  We’ve only visited one so far and that  had quite a reasonable selection of essentials plus frozen meat, fish and veg.  I haven’t yet seen evidence of a medical centre but, apart from that, this place has all the structure of a little town.  It’s not clear what happens on the other motus and we are unlikely to visit any since navigating in the lagoon is a bit hazardous, but two of the pearl farms are out there and there are the ubiquitous coconut palms for copra.  The sea water is clean and clear – it has to be or the pearl farms would not thrive – and, naturally, full of beautiful fish – and sharks.  On arrival there was one other yacht an anchor – Lavinda, flying a Norwegian flag. This is significant because Raroia has a claim to fame: it was here that Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki expedition reached its finale, with the raft being washed up on the eastward reef.  Apparently there is some sort of monument over there.  We were then joined the next day by a german boat, Sabir, as expected since we had made contact with them by VHF on the passage and knew that they were headed in the same direction.  Finally, for now, a fourth yacht, Let It Go, arrived yesterday – a catamaran with french/canadian family on board whom we had met some weeks ago in Atuona.  Now four yachts doesn’t seem like a crowd – it isn’t – but neither is it the deserted island which only sees a handful of yacht visitors every year.  No matter, it’s absolutely beautiful here.
Lovesail at anchor and night falls over the motu:
m_DSC02467  m_DSC02475
As I write this, we have already been here a couple of days and explored a bit.  In the shop, we fell into conversation with the proprietress – a Tahitian lady called Vaea, married to a frenchman. One thing led to another and Elizabeth was invited to return in the afternoon for a cooking lesson on how to make the local “bread” called ipo, made from flour and coconut milk, then boiled.  As might be expected, it turns out like a dumpling.  This is then eaten with a local sauce called mitihue made from shredded coconut meat, water, garlic and a small crab added to the mixture to aid the fermentation.  We have yet to taste this delicacy, but it was recommended to us as being delicious.  We shall see. Anyway, the cooking lesson didn’t materialise since the principal instructor, Collette could not be found.  She was off practising her tamure dancing in preparation for the celebrations surrounding Mother’s Day at the end of the month.  Instead an afternoon was spent chatting about this and that, sitting around a table belonging to Maeve, the daughter of the doyenne of the community, and Vaea.  Maeve told wonderful stories about the origins of the settlers of the island in the Tapa Tapa style.  This is story telling with lots of hand gestures and a song-like rhythm.  Then the subject drifted to the pearl farms – “Oh yes” says Maeve, Vaea’s friend, “I used to work in the pearl industry in Papeete” and she still works part time here, she inserts the seeds into the shells.  Vaea’s daughter is studying in Australia and working on a thesis concerning the benefits of rearing pearl shells in a stress-free environment, playing them nice music and stroking them from time to time.  This, she believes will result in bigger and better quality pearls.  The results of her research should be interesting.  We all became good friends as the afternoon progressed and Vaea disappeared for a few minutes before returning with a bag of black pearls. She then insisted on giving Elizabeth four of these as a gift of friendship.  We politely refused.  It was unthinkable that we should accept such a generous present.  A gift of a coconut would have been more normal or acceptable.  She continued to insist.  We continued to refuse until it began to appear that we were rejecting her friendship.  So Elizabeth now has these pearls.  This is an example of the extreme generosity of the people here.  It happened also in Ua Pou: we were driven 45 minutes to the town there, mainly to search for petrol.  Fortunately we located a supply and returned with another 45 minute journey.  When I enquired the cost of the “taxi” service I was told they would accept no payment, even though they had used their own petrol and lots of time most kindly to meet our needs.  “We want you to have a good memory of our island and its people” they explained.  Well we do.  What a lesson for us all.
Needless to say Elizabeth has been baking cakes and cookies to give as reciprocal gifts to these three lovely ladies.
Elizabeth with Vaea and Collette (Maeve’s niece) and a palm-frond basket of nou nou (germinated coconut)
The black pearls
Lucy with Maeve and  “bread”
Boat stuff: no sooner had we laid our anchor than the chain became caught around a bommie lying below the surface.  We had been told of the risks of this and the way to deal with it: attach floats approximately every 10 metres of chain so that the chain is suspended in the water just above the surrounding bommies.  Of course the final length of chain leading to the anchor should lie on the sea bed.  In this fashion, the boat may swing freely without the chain snagging on the coral.  Putting this into practice was a bit of an effort but we got there in the end.  Next time we will know what we are doing and it should go more smoothly.
Prop anode: One of our anodes had seriously dissolved and needed replacement.   This is normally done when the boat is out of the water, but Bungles and Lucy bravely set about the task of removing the prop and fitting the new anode simply diving down one breath after another.  Phew, what a task but, like the true heroes that they are, it is done and the engine now protected from destruction by electrolysis.
Prop anodes, old and new:
Kite stuff: Bungles has been able to repair his kite using the parts that were finally delivered to Niku Hiva and launch the kite.  Hurrah! We were so happy to see him having a good time on the kite board, even if the wind was insufficient.  His activity brought out the local sportsmen and now he is well in with the a group of five brothers who also have a kite between them - a brotherhood indeed.
Last night we invited all the other yotties in the atoll over to Lovesail for a sundowner:
A German couple,  lots of fun, very friendly.  They come from northern Germany, on the Baltic, and have run/owned restaurants.  They are headed for the Bay of Islands in New Zealand and aim to start a restaurant there. Ten years ago there were sailing around the Atlantic and had to abandon and scuttle their yacht in mid-ocean after they broke their mast and lost the ability to steer. They were picked up by an English couple in a traditional wooden fishing boat from Cornwall sailing to New Zealand, the Bay of Islands where they now live.
A Norwegian couple  with a nice twinkle, from Stavanger and sailing around the World.
A French family from Vancouver with an 18 year old son.  They have been at sea for 3 years already, having started in Vancouver. The son has been completing his education by distance learning and will go to college next year.  The parents are also restaurateurs. The invitation was for 5pm (the sun sets at 5:30) At 9:30 the last ones returned to their boat. Luckily we had enough cold beer to last that time, but we now have a sack full of empties!
As you can see, it’s busy, busy on Lovesail and no surprise that the blog gets set aside.  So much to write about.  We’ll be here a little longer before moving on.