World ARC Day 92-108 April 10th to April 18th to April 25th The Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia
Steve and Lynda Cooke
Sun 8 May 2016 23:13
World ARC Day 92-108 April 10th to April 25th The Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia
After three days and three nights of sailing South West from The Marquesas, we sighted some coconut palms ahead on the port bow. The Tuamotus were ahead; a chain of atolls, spread from South East to North West across our path towards Tahiti, all part of French Polynesia.
The weather was good, with the trade winds giving a steady 15 to 20 knots from behind, but some serious squalls at times which were easy to spot during the day, but needed the help of the radar to see the torrential rain coming out of the big clouds at night. We got caught in only one big blow, which was a testament to the watch keeping of both the watches, Steve and Lynda, and Peter and Karen.
In times past, the Islands were a huge hazard to sailing ships with the charts full of wrecks marked on every approach to the passes. With the advent of satellite navigation and better charts, they are not the 'dangerous islands' any more, and the tiny entrances and shallow coral reefs are well marked; the tides and times of rushing inflows and outflows can be calculated to allow access into places that were at best difficult, and worst downright perilous. 4,000 metre depths shoot up to zero within half a mile of the islands. Not all have entrances, but all have a central lagoon, the whole middle is filled with coral and fish, with all kinds of sharks swimming round, and shoals of fish of every description and colour swimming inside a totally protected reef. Once you have managed to enter through the coral from the swell and rollers of the open Pacific Ocean, is a paradise on earth.
Timing the arrival Wednesday 13th just before 10am we cautiously sailed into the atoll making our way to the NE corner. Once anchored and settled with our spot we took the dinghy to a nearby cafe next to the reef with a red sunshade and a friendly wave from Do Over our friends Paula and Dan plus children unfortunately they were just closing after lunch so we ventured to the only other cafe a creperie in another delightful setting overlooking the azure lagoon.
Thursday was spent catching up with bits and bobs always seems to be something on a boat and managed to get wifi at a local family's home/business for yachties.
Friday we were up on the dinghy dock to be whisked off to the local pearl farm run by an elderly German man and his Polynesian wife. After being shown how the manufactured shell is placed into the oyster for the pearl to form around it. We all preferred the “keshe” which is the non-round naturally formed pearl that is formed after the oyster rejects the man made sphere. After gifts were purchased, it was home to Nina towing the dinghy from Blue Summit, as they had some outboard issues. Kate remarked she would like 24 hours with no boat maintenance issues, wouldn't we all!
That evening we had finally managed to meet our lovely friends from Corango for dinner despite Vicky, Peter's wife, being under the weather and our Peter under the weather too. We managed to eat and drink their share though!
Saturday morning we motored down to the south of the Island, inside the lagoon. A 40 NM trip and got onto a mooring buoy donated by our Australian mates on Koza.
WOWSA it was awesome as a world Unesco site awaited us with endless delights both around Nina and just a snorkel away. It was like being in a 3d TV with the friendliest tropical fish who had no qualms about seeing funny humans oggling at them. We went across to a small dive resort at Tetamanu which could fit us in for the buffet lunch with local cuisine although the vibrant blue/green parrot fish was not so appealing served up on the plate especially as there can be some serious side effects from eating coral fish.
Monday Steve and Lynda did the drift snorkle through the entrance of the lagoon, and it was so amazing that, true to form, Steve insisted it was done again. Meanwhile Karen and Peter went exploring the settlement with the church built from coral in 1874 and fab views of the corals and fishes – even a humungous blue Napolean wrasse drifting by along with the pretty picasso trigger fish, and of course the black tipped reef sharks and ubiquitous parrot fish.
Changing our plans in search of medical help for Peter who was still wobbly, we sailed back to north Fakarava – nurse out of antibiotics but doctor Dan from Do Over helped out and Peter's tummy troubles improved rapidly. Karen loved Peter's new slimline look but not the way to lose weight! That night we had all just got to bed when Nina gave out loud crunching noises and started to pitch weirdly – the anchor chain had got caught round a coral bombie in gusts of 26 knots. Life jackets on, head torches out, clipped on, out we all went to try to release it, otherwise Nina felt like she would split in half! Fortunately over the space of 2 hours, the objective was achieved and by midnight we motored off safely to a spare buoy. Steve was relieved as at one point he was close to releasing the chain and anchor as an offering to Neptune.
Bad weather with intermittent rain storms ensued so lunches with friends, movies and facebook kept us entertained whilst waiting for the lows from Tahiti to blow over. We tried to leave on 21 April but yet another coral bombie got in Nina's way, with the anchor chain slipping and anchor well and truly stuck. Too deep to release by snorkelling, we had just asked for help from the local dive company when once again Dan from Do Over kindly dived down to sort the problem – our hero again! The tides wait for no man so another night in Fakarava.
22 April Timing our exit from Fakarava and entrance to the next atoll north, Toau was indeed deserted – we were totally alone with no signs of any boats and only 3 abandoned huts on the sandy shoreline. On arrival, Lynda and Steve happily snorkelled over to check the anchor chain which was hooked again on a coral bombie.. EEK...shark alert – 3 big ones mosied on up from the depths behind Lyn. She turned towards them “for a look” but then made for a rapid but calm swim back to the back when one decided to eyeball her getting ever closer. That was the end of our swimming round the boat – after that it was floating about in the shallows of the shore where the baby reef sharks were quite skittish.
The island of Fakarava is a protected UNESCO biosphere site, so the locals come to Toau to spear fish for their catches, so consequently the behaviour of the fish is very different in the atoll of Toau. The fish are much more timid towards our approach, and the sharks are much more aggressive.
Next day the girls packed lunch, boys the BBQ and dinghy, setting up a picnic on shore at a conveniently located abandoned hut with table and bench. Picture the scene – NO ONE or thing in sight, gentle ripples across the crystalline shallows, tropical fish and pink corals glistening vibrantly, steak and chicken just on the barbie, beers and wine glasses just filled (ice-cold too|) … hummmmm ...peace perfect peace…. Or so we thought when a motor boat appears on the horizon. It's getting closer and closer….will they anchor near us or just looking? Yep, guy jumps out to set his anchor just 10 yards from us. Worse was yet to come as out pops a little boy who spent the entire time blowing bubbles and screeching around our dinghy and rope. They were actually a friendly, local family of 6 on a day's outing from Fakarava. Well that is until some spear fishermen were spotted snorkelling towards us with a small bucket-like skiff. Three tattooed teenage boys surfaced with some 40 fish in the skiff; they were the rest of the family!! All joined in the gutting of the emerald green parrot fish, orange-spine unicorns and groupers, which they confirmed was destined to be their dinner. Of course the shallows became a bloodied mess of guts and brains which then attracted the sharks and bigger fish. It entertained us all afternoon – another great day in paradise.
24 April we motored further south east on Toau in search of Alcedo as we had a plan to meet up on Toau but they must have left as we had been delayed in Fakarava. By this time, anchoring in coral and sand was a major preoccupation – Steve got in to check the chain was fine on arrival but quickly changed his mind when 5 huge reef sharks appeared at the back end of the boat right next to the steps just as he jumped in– they were far too close, and thankfully he valued his limbs more than the anchor chain!! Their behaviour was much more inquisitive, to the point of menacing, compared to those in Fakarava. We put it down to the spear fishing which was allowed here but not in Fakarava. The sharks associate us with food!
We had the anchorage completely to ourselves. We were the only boat anchored off the deserted beach, with an abandoned hut on the shore, azure sea, and miles of deserted beach and coconut trees, as far as the eye could see. A real get away from it all deserted paradise! fish (and sharks) filling the water, coral visible down to the bottom through the crystal clear sea.
We loved the Tuamoto Islands. Beautiful, beautiful unspoilt coral atolls, with a few spots of man-made habitation for provisions, restaurants and wi-fi. Perfect.
25 April we up anchored (yes – yet another wrap round a coral bombie but we had predicted this so as not to miss the timed exit). Sharks were circling again and when Karen and Lyn saw the anchor fender disappearing down into the depths after a shark had swum right up to it, they thought the sharks had acquired a new toy for their playground. However it was only the fender rope also getting wrapped round coral and it eventually bobbed back up. Oh the joys of a marina mooring…. Skipper Steve had once again successfully judged the exit with minimal “stopper” waves through the narrow pass, out back into the South Pacific for a 2 day sail to Papeete in Tahiti. Well..... not quite a sail … 1-6 knots of wind so Nina motored with just enough diesel to get us there. The adventure again was dodging the squalls and trying to keep cool out of the sun – nearly 40 degrees in the cabin – yet we still managed home baked scones each morning for brekkies. Yumm yumm. Fish still eluding our hooks though they seem to like taking a bite. Mark – we keep trying!