Tue 5 Jul 2011 20:13
Thank goodness the passage up to Amanu was totally uneventfull as it is our first experience of the Tuamotu, which are notoriously dangerous waters for sailors. In past centuries they've been refered to as 'The Dangerous Archiupligo', as getting in and out of the atolls, given everything we've read, is not something to be messed with. Getting through the pass is only really possible at slack water and as every tide table seems to give an extremely different reading we are all at a loss and it was reading about all these dangers that I nearly backed out of adventuring in at all, after our trip down to Gambier. But now well rested we feel ready for a new challange.
I have to say I was completely impossibly ignorant what an atoll or motus was, it just sounded exotic... certainly not treacherous.
We arrived at the Amanu entrance (pass) spot on low water which should have meant current squishing rapidly out of the Lagoon. We felt rather smug seeing our Scandinavian armada friends ahead of us, as they had left 24 hrs before us and we had been trying to slow down sailing on only half the gib for the last 18hrs. The feeling of smug didn't last long whilst we watched the vikings whizz through 4 hrs before our estimated stack water. So an hour after they shot through we were at the pass and powering through with our hearts in our mouths . Luckily it wasn't a drama, just due caution looking for more accurate tide tables required in furture.
But of course we've felt smug for about 1 minute, which is a disallowed sailors emotion, and the minute we're into this treacherous atoll the weather breaks and visablity is reduced to nothing. Not recommended conditions for sailing over a uncharted coral studded lagoon. So we have to seek refuge and hope the anchor will hold till the squall passes. Hello Atoll Sailing...........
We had a rendevous with our new Viking friends to celebrate Swedish midsummers on the beach. Sadly the flowers in the hair where a little thin on the ground, first impressions of the shore based atoll where not a delight, just a wasteland of dead grey coral, with palm trees a-plenty. White beaches, which on closer inspection need shoes to walk on as the coral hasn't brocken down so it sharp and threatening.
But the party was fabulous,we love the guys on 'Nightmare' they have the most fantastic 'can do it' attitude so come night full we're sitting around a fire cooking and eating fish. Apparently there is no ciguatera in this atoll, but Colin and I where far to sceptical and kept to our own catch. The weather held off just long enough for us to eat and much to Z &C delight the hand holding dancing around the camp fire, singing about little frogs. The rocket song nearly saw an end to Cosmo as he launched himself into the fire but all was saved and happy happy children we did have. The following day all where alive and kicking so maybe, perhaps this really is a miricle lagoon. Cig' chat last night relayed stories that is all started in Gambier or maybe had something to do with the French Nuclear Testing in the atolls between Gambier and Amanu. Another interesting factor seems to be that pearl farming stopped about 7yr ago and cit disappear 3 year ago. In Gambier the Cig' is still alive and killing.
The following day the Vikings left us to fend for ourselves and enjoy Coconut/copra school with Michelle (local Polywhatnot chappie) and his girlfriend a Polynesian name we just can't pronounce. The whole atoll is financed by the sale of Copra given there is no other plant that could possible survive, It's no big surprise. Pearl farming came to an end 7 years ago after the massive drop in pearl prices back in the 90's. So off to School we went, again the Polynesian gift giving continues it's course so dispite living in a leaning shack on stilts with no doors and only a matress on legs for a bed, our lovely host has woven me a handbag for fish, me, I think it's tres chic and would be happy to be carrying it along the pavements of Chelsea.
Cosmo and daddy try their hand at cocnut bashing
ps. Copra, for those of you like us who are unsure is the dried inside of a coconut, which is mostly used for pharmacuticals and beauty products
Porthole with a view
This Moto (a motu is one of the islands that form part of the fringing reef of a lagoon) is not a rich one and the double of Copra prices in the last year means 'life is - sweet as a Coconut'. Still, Colin and I are astounded by the versatilaty of the coconut it is the magic source of all things good.
Cigal - miniature lobster without antenae or claws, just very tasty. Went night fishing for these critters on the reef with Michel. Another scary reef experience - knee deep in crashing surf right on the edge of the reef, with only a headtorch in the pitch black. Walking over a very uneven shelf of sharp and dangerous coral.
We're keen to make a move from the rather desicated place we are anchored, so to the village on the West side of the lagoon we go. We wiggle our way in, feeling like we don't actually want to look at the tight squeeze but Colin successfully navigates us in to the inner lagoon. I would not do half the stuff Colin suggests, sometimes I think he's a lunatic other times a bold adventurer. But whilst sizing up of the entrance Colin is given red 3 snapper from a chap who just happens to be passing. Fish obviously isn't a problem here as by lunchtime the following day we have our copra friends swing by with half a tuna for us. Sashumi for tea for us yippeeee, even the children have started to get excited about raw fish.
Entrance for the supply boat. Looks large? Well its not....
The village is a world apart from Riketea, like the motu over the lagoon it's bleak and a little ramshakle. We're pretty quickly surounded by little folk so we introduce our child's Ice-break game of 'stuck in the mud' and it's an instant hit. The old girls interchange between chasing around and weaving palm crowns, balls, wraps for us, then wander off to find sweet smelling frangipane and hibiscus flowers.
It's Tuesday and the girls have invited us to their end of year fete, which would be fabulous but we're not really sure we're invited.... we'll fined the Professor tomorrow. Walking back to the lagoon still more flowers and Z is given her first pet in the shape of a Geko, perfect boat companion as they eat unwanted bugs.
Wednesday and we meet the Head Master, we've already met his very very mischievious daughter but he's not quite what we expected. Extremely nice french-polynesian family but the tatoos are bountiful, you wouldn't find them heading up Oakwood I suspect.... Anyway we're duely invited.
Colin and I have been astounded by the number of mangie dogs that lollop around the village, it's not the dogs that are astounding it's the lack of noise they produce. But the Professor's wife revealed the reason why, 'they eat them here'. Fish gets boring after a while I suspect and dog is like their Sheep or Goat. This particular local delicacy we will not be sampling for fear of contracting mange, if nothing else.......
Like any good school sports day or fete, the rain decends at just the wrong moment and doesn't relent so we're forced inside the municiple building. The Dancing is a delight from the 8 and unders but the theatre of the old kids is proud, professional and terrible impressive. Apres le dance it's excessive sweetie time and our children are immediatley included. Once lunch arrives it's time to leave.cg The children here are really lovely and incredibly respectful and polite so much Children in Britain could learn from. But not sure we're keen to stay for lunch, allegedly it's lamb .....
Simon the 'Directeur' and family, weighed down with shell necklaces as parting gifts
Colin goes off to visit the island's power station which is 3 x 40hp diseil engines There are some new solar panels, batteries and charger, all reminding Colin of the old Invensys days in Bognor Regis.
Once our French friends from the Gambier arrive in the village, and once we're all a bit sick of having our boats besiged by children on school holidays from 6am onwards, we head north of the island navigating up to what's known as the Belly Button of the Motu, a coral star shaped formation. Stop for lunch and a snorkel. Apparently you havnt visited Amanu till you have been to the nombrille. . . so we've done it.
s/v Tereva under the weight of children
Phillipe on s/v Tereva looking for coral on our passage North
We put Cosmo up the mast to look for coral heads , or, is it to get him out of the the way for a few minutes?
Tranquil days, watching sharks meander past in the totally still water.
Whats wrong with this photo? Amazed answers on a postcard please..
2 days of perfect weather, then in the middle of the night (as always) the weather turns and we have to re-anchor as we've dragged between two coral heads. Again our sixth sense has been good to us and we are up just as Phillip is shining a torch at us.
The next day we sail down the East side of the atoll to find a solid anchorage where the coral heads are few and put bouys in place on the anchor chain to keep it suspended over the sand, before the weather hits.
And when it hits it hits, we are boat bound for the next four days which is good for school but our nights sleep are seriously disturbed. Thankfully we've behind a small motu of palm trees which buffers the constant 30-35 milehr winds and saves us a little heart ach when on the 4 night we're woken to 50+ knots. Colin has put a anchor alarm on high alert with a horn that sound like an american goods train coming in to Grand central Station so for the 4 night we're battered by storms it also feels like we're in urbarn hell as well. So sweet dreams are as remote as the atoll we've stranded in.
Colin starts making shell jewellery
By day 4 our cabin fever is starting to hit fever pitch so Colin makes his daily dive on the anchor, which hasn't moved an inch contary to what the 'grand central station' alarm tells us each night. He discovers there is a rather tasty fish lurking under the boat so armed with spear gun he swims down to retreave lunch. Gutted and filleted we get the good bit and hang the head out to relieve our bordom and watch the Sharks come in. It takes minutes before we spot the first shark and then a few minutes after that we spot the second, but these guy are shy and cautious so over the course of a few hours they hover around never quite getting up enough courage to attach the head but not giving up either. At one stage we have 5 of the bruts circling the boat. The excersise was rather heart warming as we now know that sharks are curious but not goash, at least not in this atoll.
We've finally had enough and feel it's time to gather our courage and head for the pass, so with all our senses on high alert we head out two hours before high tide, and get spat out through the pass at 11knots. But condition on the lee of the island are good so all is calm whilst we hoist the sails and head towards a new Atoll 'Makemo' and our next adventure.