After four days at sea, sense of total well-being and contentment fell over me as we arrived
in Tuamotu. We passed one of the northern atolls on the lee side in light winds and enjoyed smooth blue waters under the power of our beautiful big ginnakker sail. The size of the atolls has amazed me but when you consider that they used to have a mountain in the centre of them it shouldn’t. It took us a few hours to sail past the 30km atoll of Takaroa and then another couple of hours to pass its sister atoll of Takapoto just south of her. We were continuing on into the south to the atoll of Toau which sounded lovely in the guides. One of the challenges of the Tuamotu is estimating your times so you can travel in on the slack or slightly in coming tide. Easier when you are first arriving but once inside an atoll you have to estimate and correlate your leaving time with an arrival time for the tides of the next atoll. Tricky when you don’t have accurate tide information for all of the atolls. Waves crash over the surrounding reefs causing the amount of water to be great inside the lagoons of the atolls. When the tide is going out this volume of water rushes out at a fast pace and some currents have been measured at 10 knots. As our boat only goes 9 knots maximum that means moving in the wrong direction. So you need to get your timing right. Some atolls always have an out-going current due to having narrow passes where the volume of water can’t escape easily on the out-going tide. Add in a bit of wind and big waves and passing into some atolls can be extremely perilous. We were lucky with our choice of arrival as Toau has one false pass where you can tuck in neatly and go on moorings without having to worry about the current. This was a delightfully safe and easy option for us atoll-first-timers.
While on Toau we enjoyed the hospitality of Valentine and Gaston who live on one of the motu, (one of the small islands on an atoll), during the yachting season. They had a television set up with a satellite dish where we were able to watch Germany win the world cup. It was a great game and well worth the effort. We met lots of great people there and had the added bonus of Jan and Jack, whom we’d met nine months before in Colombia, arrive in time for sundowners and nibbles on Qi. It was great to catch up. We enjoyed several meals altogether including a pot luck lunch on the day of the soccer final.
Eager to enjoy the crystal clear waters surrounding the atolls, we went for several snorkels. On the first we became acquainted with some of the local sharks. Our sense of self-preservation kicked in and although everyone had told us that they were all friendly and overfed, we felt a bit ill at ease. We included a snorkel on an internal reef with Jack and Jan where schools of colourful humped head parrot fish flourished. We also spotted several tiny sea dragons camouflaged in amongst some sea grass. It was the first time either of us had seen them. After five days we moved to a new atoll in the south called Fakarava. Everyone was telling us how the snorkelling and diving in the south pass was unsurpassed.
We entered through the wide northern pass of Fakarava on the slack of the tide. Immediately four huge pilot fish latched onto our hull as we entered the atoll. They were over 1 metre each. It was as if they were assigned to our boat as other cruisers claimed the same thing happened to them as they arrived. They do their job keeping the atoll lagoon clean by pouncing on any waste leaving the boat and devour it with gusto. We stopped in the small village in the north of the atoll and bought a few supplies and caught up with some internet. We also caught up with Thomas and Annette off Anke-Sophie whom we’d met in the Galapagos Islands, Jill and Bruce off the N.Z. flagged yacht, Daemon whom we met in Panama and Dirk and Tom off the Oz flagged yacht, Dancing Bear who we’d also met in Galapagos. It was great to see everyone again. We then headed for the south pass on a 30km internal sail to see what all the fuss was about.
We have settled in well at the anchorage in the south pass and we’re enjoying snorkelling the reef lined pass. We have a view of palm covered motu with a ring of coral sand bordering them. It’s a very tropical scene. Once again we have to gauge our timing right so that we have a drift dive/snorkel in the in-coming current. The water rushes through the pass so we aim close to slack water or just at the end of the in-coming tide. Getting washed out to sea would be … well, embarrassing to say the least.
We hooked up with Tom and Dirk for a dive through the pass. We got to see plenty of grey and black tipped reef sharks, eagle rays and an abundance of colourful reef fish and a variety of corals. We now barely give the sharks a second glance although our relationship with them seems to have changed from reluctant dwellers of the same water to mutual fascination. They are pretty curious about us and long for the ‘ping’ of a spear being released from a spear gun. Apparently you’ve got ten seconds to get your catch into a cage or out of the water before these sharks have taken a bite when spear fishing in this pass. Once again, I am pleased not to be fishing. Jet, from Australia, told us that they were spear fishing and didn’t even hit anything but the sharks had rushed to them after hearing the spear release. Apparently they don’t carry out night dives in this pass – too close to feeding time.
There was plenty to keep us enchanted in the pass. Even the shallows of the pass have a lot to offer so we have chosen just to snorkel and save our dollars or Polynesian French Francs, for deeper sites, (and for unhooking the anchor if it gets caught). The snorkelling is wonderful and we are filled with anticipation after hearing that the reefs keep getting better the further west we go. Not only are we exploring the reef but we are having plenty of kayak expeditions as well. There are quite a number of motu surrounding the anchorage and these are fun to explore. Each of the motu is separated by a shallow lagoon filled with sea cucumbers and small coral heads. I even found a cowrie shell in one hollow coral bombies. A group of friends swam in a small lagoon with a huge Napoleon fish and twelve black tipped reef sharks. Monique said she felt a little vulnerable just equipped with her bikini.
Everyone else has headed off for Papeete but we thought we would hang out here a bit longer. It is so beautiful and we love the clear water and all the wonderful activities to enjoy. The hustle and bustle of Papeete can wait a bit longer. more pics