Thursday, May 31, 2012


Eight days flew by at this beautiful atoll. We motorsailed through the center pass against 3 knots of ebb current. It was easy to avoid the turbulence by favoring the eastern side of the pass, where there was plenty of depth. Once inside, we turned left and anchored just before the east pass in 20 feet of sand with widely spaced coral bommies. We dinghied over to the east pass and explored the church and other buildings there, unoccupied except during the copra harvest season. Tahanea is a "nature reserve" and has no permanent inhabitants. Unfortunately, someone had abandoned a very lonely kitty here, who was desperate for some human attention and followed us all around. Our principal mission here was collecting 40 liters of water to top off our tanks. By the time we had done this, the current had gone slack and we went out to snorkel the relatively small east pass. This was the 3rd pass we had snorkeled, and was my favorite so far - good coral, plenty of fish, and great viz with the fresh water streaming in from the open sea. When we got back to the boat, it was bouncing in a lively manner from the freshening easterly wind, so we decided to up anchor and motor 6 miles to the eastern fringe of the atoll, where there were about a dozen yachts already anchored. We found shelter next to a small motu, and dropped the hook into 15' of sand. Again we were lucky that the bommies were widely spaced, so we didn't need to buoy the chain to keep it out of coral. We spent 2 days here, beachwalking and exploring the foreshore of the outer reef. Gardenias and other flowering shrubs and trees wafted their pleasant scent over the boat. We collected enough blossoms to contruct a few leis, for even more perfume onboard. The snorkeling was not great here, so after 2 days we were ready to head back to the pass. This time we anchored west of the main pass, joining Skimmer (whom we had met in Raroia), Knotty Lady, Super Ted, and Victory. Here there was enough coral on the bottom to require us to buoy our chain. But the holding and shelter were excellent here, and combined with the nearby passes and a great atoll to explore on foot and by kayak, this quickly became our new "favorite anchorage" in the Tuamotus. Shortly after we arrived, the Swiss yacht Leysin showed up. We had first met Jacky and Catherine on Nuku Hiva, and had crossed paths twice since then. Despite the language barrier, we enjoyed hanging out with them. Over the next few days we snorkeled all 3 of the passes together. Eventually, two other Mexico boats arrived - Buena Vista, whom we knew fairly well, and Blue Rodeo, whom we had only met once before. Thanks to Mark and Anne for generously sharing their dinghy and compressor. Diving the passes instead of snorkeling them was a real highlight for us! After 6 days of great fun here, we decided we had to move along if we wanted to see any of the other atolls. It was time for another short overnight passage.

Monday, May 21, 2012


We left Raroia at slack tide, with only 80 miles to go to Makemo, and 15 hours until daybreak. With the nice tradewind breeze, it was very hard to slow the boat down below 5 knots, so we hove to for a couple of hours in the lee of Taenga atoll. As we approached the east pass of Makemo just after sunrise, we could see a long stream of turbulence snaking out to sea, due to a strong ebb current. We had no idea how long it would be until slack, so we decided to head in and see how strong the current was. Fortunately, the strongest current was concentrated along one side of the broad channel. By keeping to the other side, we encountered no more than a couple of knots against us, and we were soon inside the lagoon. We could see one sailboat tied to the new concrete wharf, so we approached to see what it was like. The "Tuamotus Compendium" (Soggy Paws) described the wharf as the best place to tie up near the village, so that's what we did. As we approached, we let out our stern anchor, and then, several young local men offered to take lines from the bow to steel rings on the wharf. We were soon made fast, next to the catamaran "Shibolet" from Israel. Pouheva village is the largest village in this part of the Tuamotu archipelago. We immediately headed to the bakery to buy some fresh bread. It was already closed when we got there at 8AM, but the nearby store had baguettes, croissants, and even quiche. It also had the best selection of fresh fruits and vegetables we had seen since arriving in Polynesia. We bought lettuce (from California), tomatoes, green peppers, and cucumbers. We also used the wi-fi connection to check email and update the blog. As we sat on a bench outside the store, we were surrounded by high school girls - all children in this part of Polynesia have to come to Makemo for high school. Back at the dock we did some snorkeling. It was surprisingly nice, and we saw an octopus, several pipefish, and a number of leopard flounder. We also met Henk and Marie on "Lady of the Lowlands," a capable Dutch cruiser that had come through the Beagle channel, and stopped at Easter Island and the Gambiers on the way here. They were spending several weeks at Makemo, with the philosophy that "one Tuamotu atoll is like the next." Be that as it may, we have decided to experience several of the atolls to see what they offer, and one of the reasons we wanted to visit Makemo was to sail through her lagoon to the western pass, 25 miles away. After a very nice day wandering the village, and a peaceful night tied up to the dock, we departed for a pleasant downwind sail in the placid lagoon. There were fewer coral heads than in Raroia, so that we rarely had to alter course. In the afternoon, we anchored in the lee of a long peninsula of reef, sticking out from the main reef at a right angle and providing excellent shelter from most wind directions. This part of the lagoon was fronted by a beautiful sandy beach and luxuriant groves of coconut palms. We spent 2 nights here, snorkeling the reef and hiking the beach. The reef had lots of colorful "aquarium fish" and giant clams. We met two local Paumotu men who were camped on the beach and collecting copra and coconut crabs. One of the men's faces was completely covered with tattoos, making his head appear green from a distance. I dearly wanted to photograph him, but something about their demeanor did not make us want to prolong our contact with them. Our next stop was the west pass of Makemo, which we wanted to snorkel through at slack water. The "Compendium" mentioned a nearby anchorage in a small cove lined with coral reefs. As we approached, we could see a small beach, a few shacks, and several men spearfishing on the shallow reef. A strong current ebbing through the pass made it tricky to navigate our way into the uncharted cove, but at length we found ourselves in a protected patch of water. It was a bit of work getting the anchor down without fouling the chain on high coral heads, but we managed it. The fishermen took off before we could ask about filling our water jugs, but since the village was otherwise abandoned, we decided it would be OK to help ourselves from one of the several large cisterns here. The west pass turned out to be the best snorkeling we had yet seen, as it was much narrower and shallower than the pass at Raroia. The flood current was only about 2 knots, so we had time to identify and photograph numerous fish as we drifted along the continuous carpet of living coral. Back at the boat, we decided that we weren't comfortable enough to spend the night at this anchorage, so we prepared for another overnight passage, this time only 48 miles, to Tahanea.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Raroia (full report)

We ended up spending 8 days on Raroia. We never thought we would stay so long at a single atoll, but we've had a wonderful time, thanks to a local family that has befriended us and invited us into their home for several meals.
Regis and Tatiana are not typical of the residents of this remote village - both of them have traveled internationally and worked in the tourism industry. They speak excellent English, which is a big help to us. Regis has a great sense of humor, and both he and Tatiana treat us just like old friends. And they have a 9-year-old daughter, Kivahei, whom we have absolutely fallen in love with. She has won several competitions in traditional storytelling, or korero, and after our first meal at their home, we videotaped her performing one of her stories in a beautiful homemade costume. Although we could not understand very many of the words (in the Paumotu language), her movements were fluid and expressive, somewhat similar to hula.
We have explored most of the small village, and have met many of the residents, including the current mayor, Marcel, and the former mayor, George, who invited us to visit him in Papeete next month. As in the Marquesas, everything is clean and beautifully-landscaped, in welcome contrast to Mexico.
Until last night, we have anchored each night across the lagoon, 6 miles or so from the village, in order to have a more calm ride and better access to snorkeling and walking. Navigating across the uncharted lagoon requires a careful watch for coral heads and the sun behind or to the side. Fortunately it seems easy in these clear waters. We found a comfortable spot nestled near 3 small motus. We visited another small motu nearby, where Thor Heyerdahl's raft "Kon-Tiki" washed ashore in 1947, after an epic passage from the west coast of South America.
Other than that, we have taken it pretty easy while at anchor. We snorkel at least once a day, and beachwalk along the small motus near our anchorage. We have harvested a few green coconuts, and gotten better at husking them. We've done a few boat chores and a lot of reading!
On Saturday, Regis, Tatiana, and Kivahei came across the lagoon in their shiny new skiff, to take us on an excursion. We sped south along the eastern edge of the lagoon, past a pearl farm, until we came to a motu that has been in Regis' family for generations. There is nothing there now, but the family is working on "cleaning" the excess vegetation from the motu (to increase ventilation and reduce bugs) and preparing to build a small bungalow there in a few years. We helped them with piling and burning old coconut husks, and in the process we were introduced to several life stages of the coconut crab, including this vivid blue juvenile.
Regis speared 3 nice-sized grouper which we barbecued for lunch. We ate sitting in the shallow water of the lagoon, with sharksuckers and other small fish churning the waters and waiting for crumbs to fall. One of the sharksuckers bit Vicki on the finger! Early Monday, we raised anchor and crossed back to the village to greet the supply ship Kura Ora. We were able to buy a case of canned beer, for the same price as is charged in the stores on other islands (there are no stores here). It was fascinating to watch the variety of goods being unloaded, and we helped Regis ferry over a ton of supplies (including 5 55-gallon drums of gasoline) a half-mile south to his home. In the afternoon a second supply ship, the Taporo, also arrived at the village and began disgorging even more supplies. Unfortunately we were unable to purchase any of the fresh fruit and vegetables that had been brought from the Marquesas. We'll have to get by until Tahiti on the lemons and pamplemousse that we brought ourselves.
Although Regis and Tatiana's friendship is certainly genuine, they have a commercial interest in getting to know the cruisers that come this way. They have asked us many questions about their plans to offer touristic excursions and other services for cruising sailors. We helped them by buying a few pearl chokers and giving them as many gifts as we could spare from among our supplies.
Only one other boat has arrived since we've been here. A Swiss couple, Thierry and Margot, on a Whitby 42 named "Skimmer" is now anchored beside us in the lagoon. We snorkeled the pass together on Tuesday, on the last of the flood tide. The visibility was fantastic, probably 150 feet. There was one tiger shark and large schools of smaller (blacktip?) sharks. I saw a giant grouper among the abundant live coral - both (the coral and the grouper) are so rare now in most parts of the world. We tried to make a second run through the pass, but in a matter of minutes the current changed from flood to slack to ebb, carrying us out to sea. With only a small outboard to take all four of us back to the village, we decided to head inside the pass before the current got too strong (it can reach 8 knots in this pass). On the inside of the reef we saw a lot of new aquarium-sized fish, a large school of parrotfish, and a number of blacktip reef sharks, some of them swimming in mere inches of water atop the reef!
We wanted to dive the pass again on Wednesday, but the wind freshened making it a long difficult ride by dinghy. So instead we are finally moving on to a different atoll. We will do an overnight passage to Makemo, 80 miles to the SW.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


We have arrived at our first Tuamotan atoll after a rather difficult 4 day passage from Ua Pou. We have already been invited into the home of Tatiana and Regis, who speak excellent English and enjoy greeting visitors. They have invited us for lunch and allowed us to use their Internet. Later we will cross the lagoon to visit the landing site of Kon Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl's raft. We already love it here.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ua Pou

NOTE: I have no idea why the photos are so large. Apparently someone at Blogger has changed the way the program operates, and I have no time to learn how to modify my photos to fit the new system. Hopefully my readers can find a way to view them properly! After over 2 weeks of exploring Nuku Hiva, we made the easy 25nm crossing to Ua Pou, our last stop in the Marquesas. We had a very fast beam reach, passing a 45' Maracujo on the way. As we approached the main harbor, Hakahau, another boat appeared from around the NE corner. We could see at least 5 boats already at anchor, hobby-horsing in the NE swell and wind waves. We decided to change course for the W coast. Estrellita had given us a waypoint for a cove they stayed in, called Hikeu. We rounded Cape Punahu and came into the small, deep cove called Vauehi, but it was ringed by fearsome-looking rocky reefs, which were all awash in the 1.5m swell. As we left the bay, a large manta surfaced nearby. We continued S along the W coast, passing the village of Hakamaii.

In another 2 miles we came upon Hikeu, and it looked nice, so we approached and dropped the anchor in 5 fathoms. The water was milky in the cove from waves breaking along the shore, so I couldn't dive the anchor, but it seemed to be holding fine, so we relaxed and enjoyed the afternoon. Just before sunset we jumped in for a swim, then came back aboard to watch for the "Green Flash." It was a small one, but there nonetheless.

The next morning we kayaked ashore to look for fruit and to stretch our legs on the dirt road, which led steeply up into the mountains. After a couple of kilometers, we came to a viewpoint which looked S over Ua Po cove and the village of Hakatao. We met a schoolteacher and his family, doing a day hike to Hakamaii for the May Day holiday.

In the afternoon, we snorkeled in the outer cove, where the underwater visibility was much better - about 50 feet. A couple of local boys were spearfishing from their pirogue in the same area. They were spearing pitifully small fish, like Achilles tangs. Sad to say, but the near-shore waters have been mostly fished out here in the Marquesas, as in most other parts of the Pacific that we have seen.

On Wednesday morning, the S swell had increased to 2m, and it was getting more and more rough at anchor, so we decided to head back over to the N side of the island. As we rounded Cape Punahu, we could tell the NE wind had either died or veered to the normal ESE direction. A huge manta ray dove under our keel, its white belly looking larger than a king-size bedsheet.

We decided to try anchoring in Hakahetau. It is not the calmest anchorage, but with a stern anchor and our flopper stopper, it was just fine. This is one of the most scenic bays in which we have ever anchored.

Landing our kayaks at the concrete wharf was interesting, to say the least. As the surge came in and out, nearly 2m of rise and fall, we had to time our exit from the kayaks and grab onto either a concrete ledge or some steel steps. We made it just fine, and hauled our boats up onto the wharf.

Hakahetau is a lovely town. All the houses are surrounded by very mature and beautiful trees - breadfruit, mango, banyan, coconut palm, pamplemousse, citron, and others that we don't yet recognize. We had hoped to meet some of the locals so that we could buy some fruit and vegetables, but the place seemed deserted. We stopped at the small museum, and then hiked a couple of km up a dirt road to a lovely waterfall.

As at Hakatea, the river water seems much cooler than the sea or the air, and is very refreshing.

After a rather rocky and rolly night, thanks to the failure of two metal pins on our Magma flopper stopper (which is only 2 years old and was quite expensive), we decided to move back to Hakahau.

When we got there, there were only 3 other boats - Wondertime, Leysin, and a huge blue Garcia that was in the process of pulling its anchor.

However, the sailboats were dwarfed by the cargo/cruise ship Aranui 3, on which we had ridden for a week last year. The arrival of the Aranui is a big deal in any Marquesan port. Everyone finds something to celebrate about its arrival!

We set out anchors fore and aft, and paddled ashore to see if we could find any of the crew that might remember us from last year.

And there was Manarii, our favorite crew of all. We weren't sure if he really remembered us, or was just returning our greetings out of politeness. Whatever, it was wonderful to see him again, and we got a local woman to snap our picture with him.

After checking in at the gendarmerie, we learned that the Aranui passengers were having lunch up the road, preceded by traditional singing and dancing. We headed up the road, and immediately ran into another crew woman we remembered from last year, Vaihere, as well as one of the shipboard naturalists, Didier. Vai kindly invited us to join them for lunch, and it was a magnificent feast - poisson cru, goat, pork, crevette, octopus, and samples of the native staples such as breadfruit, taro, and candied bananas.

And the singing and dancing was wonderful. What a treat to run into the Aranui!

The next day we were taken on a drive by a local Frenchman who retired here 7 years ago. Xavier was an English teacher, so for once conversation was not difficult. He took us on the mountainous road to the SE corner of the island, Hohoi. There was fantastic jungle along the way, and breathtaking views of the coastline.

This is not a coast that would normally be approached by boat, as it is on the windward side of the island.

Our mission for the drive was to load up on as much fresh fruit and vegetables as we could find. We bought 2 dozen pamplemousse and a couple of green cocos. We were unable to score any mangos or bananas, but a farmer in Hohoi said he would bring us some on Saturday. Once he arrives, we will be ready for our 400nm passage to the Tuamotus. Our intended landfall is Raroia, where Thor Heyerdahl landed in the Kon-Tiki raft over 50 years ago. But it all depends on wind direction and sea state. If we have to, we will crack off farther west for Makemo or Kauehi.

In any case, we probably won't have email for at least the next week or two. There is supposed to be Internet at Makemo and Fakarava, so we shall see.