The Tuamotus

Michael Hughes and Ger White
Sat 1 May 2010 17:56
We arrived in the Tuamotus--at an atoll called Makemo--on 27th April. The lagoon inside the atoll is big--about 25 miles by 5 miles--and is protected on one side by a series of low lying islands--sand and palm trees--with coral reefs between the islands--and a long and complete coral reef on the other side over which the waves from the ocean crash spectacularly--but the lagoon remains beautifully calm. There are 2 small passes into the lagoon, through which water--tidal and from the crashing waves--flows at up to 8 knots. It flows out for about 9 hours out of 12, and in for 3.You can onlysafely enter around slack water. Away from the passes, there are no currents to speak of.
The lagoon is generally about 20 metres deep--beautiful shades of blue--but is punctuated with coral heads which come vertically up from the seabed like mushrooms and lie just below the surface. Depth sounders are as useless as the charts here--it goes from 20 metres to zero within a second--it's eyeball navigation and only contemplated with the sun high and someone aloft to spot the coral heads well before you reach them.
So we spent our first few days on the atoll anchored off the village--a few hundred people--very friendly--all bonjours and bon soirs and wanting to chat--French improving rapidly! The village has 3 small stores and 3 restaurants so we've had our french bread every morning and eaten well in the evenings ashore. First night there were only 2 yachts in the anchorage--ourselved and Bionic, another Blue Water Rally boat that sailed from the Marquesas with us--lovely Spanish couple, so the 4 of us dined out that evening. The following day 3 more BWR boats arrived--Spirit of Nina, Peregrina and Natibou--English, American and Swedish respectively--so we organised a table for 12 ashore --and the following evening, Miss Tippy arrived--a family with 3 children--so it was 17 for dinner in the 3rd restaurant--very simple, big tressle table etc--good dinner and turned into a karaoke evening.
But it was getting crowded, so yesterday we travelled some 22 miles north-west within the lagoon to a remote anchorage off uninhabited sandy islands within the chain--pretty much to the other end of the atoll--and this morning I look out on low lying islands of sand and palm trees, can hear the crashing of the waves on the other side of the islands--we'll go ashore to take a look after breakfast all is well. I can also look at the other 3 boats that joined us on the trip--Natibou, Bionic and Spirit of Nina.
We travelled in convoy along the same path--I agreed to lead if Natibou gave me a couple of his crew--Hans had his brother (Swedish) and sister-in-law with him for 3 weeks--so we led with first Jan and later Ger sitting high up on the mast crosstrees looking out for coral heads as we weaved our way through the dangers--which from high up are easily seen well in advance. And the 3 other boats followed along the same track. All worked well and we're now in this splendid anchorage.  They all came across to us last evening for drinks and craic--10 people in all--and tonight we're all invited to Spirit of Nina for a "bring your own meat" barbecue--steaks from the freezer for us.
From here we are only 8 miles from the other pass to the atoll--so we will leave by that route when we go--whenever that is--and perhaps someone else will take the lead boat risk!!
Goodness, life is tough. This place is indescribably beautiful. From the boat we can snorkel around coral heads surrounded by reef fish--I did so yesterday to check there were no heads with insufficient water near our boat--it's an awesome world down there.