The Tuamotus Islands
Today is Thursday, June 02, 2005. It's also my sister’s birthday! We arrived in the Tuamotus (two-moe-twos) later than expected: Saturday evening on May 21st, just over one week after leaving the Marquesas.
The passage was one of the most trying for us both as we had very little wind, many squalls and unpleasant motions. When there was wind it was so variable we wanted to scream, and sometimes did!!! Let me give you an idea of conditions. We would watch for any increase in wind. By the time we set the sails for a good course the winds would die and we’d have to lower them. A bit later the wind would increase, we’d put out a sail and the wind would die. Better yet, the squall would move over us and dump a bunch of rain in between variance in wind!!! One night on passage we had NO wind and the seas were sloppy. We basically decided to throw out the flopper-stopper (a device usually used at anchor to calm motion) and turn on the anchor light! I stood watch while bobbing around endlessly. I guess I can no long say that you can't “anchor” during a passage!!! It was pretty pathetic!!!
Ironically, the day after we arrived at Kauehi (Kah-wee-hee) a system came through for a week with winds ranging from 25 to 40 knots regularly. We also had frequent rain. We were very thankful for our secure and calm anchorage. Despite the weather we had the calmest anchorage since leaving our slip in San Diego!!!
When we arrived at Kauehi there were only two other boats there. We met a French Canadian couple who proved to be very helpful with their French speaking abilities! Our new friends took us ashore to meet some of the locals. While walking on the “main” road, a dirt road, one of their new friends, Havah, was driving by in one of few cars on the island. We're still not quite sure why vehicles are needed on this atoll. She invited us to get in her car for a ride back to her home. Her little boy (3 or 4 years old) sat in the back with Sam and me. He was whining before we got in the car and this increased when we looked at him! I just happened to have a hot wheels car in my backpack and handed it to him. He grabbed it from me and then turned his back on us to look out the window. As neither Sam nor I speak French, Tuamotan or Tahitian it was a bit difficult to communicate with him. None the less when he looked at me I put out my hand as to say, “If you don’t want it, you can give it back.” He again turned his back on us and started playing with the car. When we got to his home he continued to play with it. I tell ya, kids are the same no matter where you go!!! When we arrived at Havah’s home she invited us to sit down at a table on her patio. She brought out a lot of “imperfect” black pearls to trade with. Black pearl farming is the source of income for the Tuamotans on Kauehi. It was fun and interesting to look at all the variety of pearls.
The rest of our time in Kauehi was spent taking some walks, looking for shells, and mainly hiding out in our boat away from the high winds and rain. A week after arriving in Kauehi, with sun now shining and calmer winds, we moved to another motu where there was no village. Our friends on Mystic Rhythms came with us and we were the only two boats in this “undesignated” anchorage. Sam and I sail the 8 miles upwind, anchorage to anchorage. This is quite an accomplishment for us considering there are many reefs to watch for which are not indicated on any maps. I spent the entire time on the bowsprit watching for surfacing reefs. We could be in 90 feet of water and suddenly have a reef surfacing!!! Hence the need for sunlight in order to identify these hazards. En route to the anchorage we saw a huge sea turtle! He was bigger than me!!! He was camouflaged and I thought he was a small reef!!!
At our new anchorage we went ashore and walked across the motu from the lagoon to ocean side. I went shelling, my newest passion, while Sam sat and read Pillars of the Earth, a 1000 page Ken Follett novel I got him into that I now can't get him to put down!!! We also took our dinghy in search of one of the reefs to snorkel on. The visibility was great and we saw many fish and white-tipped reef sharks.
Tuesday, May 31st, we moved to yet another anchorage next to the only pass into Kauehi. We sailed from anchor to anchor again. It's quite an accomplishment and requires different skills than using the engine. One little secret that sailors rarely divulge is that they use their engines A LOT. We've been surprised at how much the cruisers use their engines. It has been rewarding acquiring the skills to sail the passages in stead of motoring when the winds become light or on the nose.
When we arrived at the new anchorage we were the only boat there. I swam ashore to look for shells and then we took our dinghy to another reef to snorkel. We again saw many fish, as well as black tip and white tip reef sharks.
The next morning we pulled up anchor at 6 AM and headed through the pass out to the open ocean. This can be a hair raising experience as you have to time your entrance and exit based on slack tide, ebbs, current, etc. The pass was insignificant and we had a great downwind sail flying our chute (spinnaker) the entire way. The wind was light (6-10 knots) but consistent and we were able to sail at 5.5 knots. While the pass into Kauehi was benign the pass to Fakarava was a challenge. After calculating the tides we determined the best time to make the pass was at 1 pm local time. We approached a little after 2 pm. We could see non-breaking waves where the ocean swell met the outgoing tide. We decided to sail through, prepared to turn on the engine if necessary. I was on the bowsprit while Sam was at the helm. It was an experience unlike any other. I kind of felt like I was on a ride at Disneyland. I was having a blast and Sam was very stressed! While the depth was over 30 feet, I could see the bottom! As we approached the tidal action we had a current going against us of two to three knots. While we were sailing at four knots we were only making progress one to two knots. Once getting through the hairiest part the GPS informed us we were going 0 knots. Sam said it may take some time to get completely through the countercurrent. I wasn't bothered as I was enjoying looking for sea life below me. About 15-20 minutes later the wind was becoming lighter and Sam said, “We're getting swept back into the wave zone.” Sure enough I looked up and saw that we had moved backwards!!! Sam put on the engine and we were able to make 1 knot of headway and eventually got through the pass. Sam likes to say that we did the pass two times, once under sail and a second time by motor!!!
Once inside the atoll the water was glass. We joined only one other boat off the small village at the north of the atoll. Fakarava is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotus with a length of 32 miles. The signs of civilization here are roosters crowing, a few local small power boats and people on shore. There are also some vehicles. We've heard that there is a store and post office and hope to get emails sent off as we have been unable to send or receive emails for the past month.
Tomorrow we're heading down to the southern end of Fakarava where only two families reside and there is supposed to be great snorkeling and diving!!! Then early next week, pending weather, we will sail on to Tahiti.
We hope you are all doing well. Please send us an email when you get the chance. We should have better access to email in the near future.
Sam and Sally
Written June 2nd at Fakarava, Tuamotus Island Group
We are now anchored in the South corner of the Fakarava Lagoon. It is a truly magical spot and has been one of the highlights of our journey. Sally and I both agree that we've never seen sea life like we have here in Fakarava. We have bright colorful fish swimming around the boat at all times. The coral is simply amazing. Did I mention that I've seen more sharks in a couple of days than I've seen in my whole life?
We heard about this place from another boat that left with us from Mexico. We had high expectations when coming. I’d say this place exceeded expectations. We can clearly see the anchor and chain 35 feet below on the lagoon floor. There is a little restaurant with a deck over the water. (This “restaurant” is very small and only open when its services are requested.) We can sit on this deck and watch hundreds of fish swimming by. There is a four foot Napoleon Fish that we can feed with baguettes. We also watch the sharks patrolling the lagoon. The lagoon floor is lined with brilliantly colored coral.
We scuba dived the pass into the lagoon yesterday. It was the most amazing dive we've ever done. Before we even started the dive we had a real treat. While riding in our dinghy on the way to the dive we saw the fin of a shark in the water near us and of course we had to go investigate. As we approached we all the sudden had two HUGE manta rays swim under our dinghy. Each one was bigger than our dinghy. That was quite a thrill!!! We then continued motoring out through the pass to drift dive back through it. We started in 35 feet of water well outside the entrance and let the tide carry us back into the lagoon.
The sea life was phenomenal. There were 1000’s of fish everywhere. Many were curious and would come right up to you. The coral on the ocean floor was every color in the rainbow. We had 100 foot of visibility. We saw our first shark about halfway through the dive. As we got into the middle of the pass the water got much deeper. Before we knew it we were 100 feet down and had sharks all around us. It was a wild experience.. There were easily 200-300 reef sharks within sight. They were curious but non-aggressive. Many would come close but all remained outside of touching range
We'll be heading off to Tahiti in a couple of days (weather permitting). We look forward to the internet connection and supplies that will be available in the “big city”.
Sam and Sally
Written at Fakarava, Tuamotus Island Group