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Date: 22 Jun 2012 21:48:36
Title: Tuamotu's - Raroia

Lat 16:04.16S
Lon 142:21.58W


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We have arrived in the Tuamotu's! A chain of 78 coral atolls, each one made up of strings of palm strewn islands, sitting on a reef circling around a central lagoon. Much anticipated by all, and highly recommended by those who have gone before us. Most yachts travelling from the Marquesas to Tahiti, take a fairly standard route through this island archipelago, stopping at one or maybe two atolls in the northern end of the chain. It is known as the "Dangerous Archipelago" due to the historically uncharted areas, low lying reefs and lack of navigation markers. However the charting is now pretty good for most of the atolls, and after recommendations from friends about how amazing this island chain was, we have chosen to spend 3 weeks exploring this island chain, and hence are taking a slightly off the beaten track route through them. Our plan is Raroia-Makemo-Tahanea-Fakarava-Tahiti. Try google mapping that on satellite image mode and you will get an idea of where we are.

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The sail from Nuku Hiva (last stop in the Marquesas) was pretty tiring and we were glad to get here. 4 days of upwind sailing was quite unprecedented on the trip so far! We had good wind all the way which was great for our speed but not so good for sleeping, especially for Arch and I in the front cabin, with the hull slamming into waves continuously throughout the night. Needless to say the line of palm clad islands we awoke to on the 4th day was a very welcome sight. Raroia was the landing site for the Kon Tiki raft - those crazy Norwegian boys who crossed from Peru on a wooden raft that I mentioned in a previous blog.

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All of the atolls have only one or two passes into them, and you have to time your entry/exit into the atoll very carefully as the currents can be very strong (up to 8 or 9 knots at full flow). We weren't really sure what the tide would be doing when we arrived as we forgot to download the tide tables for the area before we left Nuku Hiva (doh!) but when we arrived we could see the current was outgoing, and most importantly, in the same direction as the wind. Wind against tide in these narrow passes can create 6ft standing waves (or so the book says...) We entered without any problems, despite the squall that descended on us as we got into the atoll - not great timing and there may have been a little disagreement over whether we should have just waited for the squall to pass before attempting to enter our first atoll, but we got inside and dropped the anchor off the village with no problems.

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There are only about 80 people living on this atoll, and there is only one village, and a pearl farm across the other side of the atoll which we visited a few days later. It's a beautiful place, and really does feel incredibly remote - until the supply ship arrived, which was huge and made me feel a bit foolish for being worried about getting through the pass! We must be in French territory because on the back of the supply ship was a little Peugeot 205! There was no crane on the dock and the water around it is too shallow for such a large ship, so they ferry the the car and all the other supplies ashore by smaller motor boats.

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We spent one night anchored by the village and then made our way across the lagoon, avoiding the many coral bommies - great for snorkelling around, not so good for a yacht. We anchored opposite a tiny island on the other side of the lagoon and spent 3 days very happily snorkelling, kitesurfing, and beach combing. The weather has been mostly sunny but we have had a few squalls come through. I don't think we've ever felt so remote and we really did get a sense that we were in the middle of absolutely nowhere - there was no one on any of the nearby islands except for hermit crabs and a few birds. We had a campfire on the beach one night, and this time we remembered the marshmallows, whilst another night it poured with rain all evening so we had our first indoor meal in 4 months!

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The Pearl farm

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Jamie's kitesurfing has come on in leaps and bounds and is now off on his own, needing only the occasional rescue to avoid pearl farm buoys or disappearing into the distance downwind. My kiting is a little slower to develop but I am apparently on the edge of cracking it (I think I have been at this stage for at least 2 years but anyway...). Archie is loving it as always. Dad watches and performs emergency dinghy rescues for the rest of us!

Jamie gets going with his new 10m kite

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Archie kiting

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The snorkelling and diving here is incredible. The water is very clear and visibility is often over 20 metres. There are sharks everywhere. You literally cannot be in the water for more than 2 minutes without seeing one - mostly black tip reef sharks but we did see a few nurse sharks yesterday when we dived the pass, which was awesome - with an incoming tide we jumped in on the outside of the pass and drifted with the current over the coral and surrounded by at least 30 sharks and thousands of fish, all at 3 knots! It felt like we were flying through an aquarium was such an amazing experience! More of this on other atolls we hope. We have also snorkelled around some of the many coral bommies, with differing results - much of the coral on the smaller ones is dead, and was badly affected by the coral bleaching that resulted from El Nino about 8 years ago. But on the larger bommies and in the pass it covered the seabed and was a myriad of colour and home for thousands of fish.

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I am currently on night watch at 4.20am as we make the overnight passage to Makemo, our next destination. There is no wind so we are chugging our way across the 80 mile passage. We might have internet access in Makemo briefly so hopefully I can send this off....

Rainbow across the pass into Raroia

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