TUAMOTUS

I spend a little over a month in Marquesas. Visited 3 Islands (Nuku-Hiva, Ua-Pou and Ua Huka), Ua-pou was my favorite, less cruising boats and spectacular mountain peaks around. My 500 nautical mile sailing to Makemo in Tuamotus took 8 days, much longer than I expected because very little wind. I had 3 days with almost no wind at all. Didn’t want to go by engine either because diesel can be difficult to find before Tahiti. Tho I enjoyed my singelhanded sailing and I was not in a hurry. It was actually a good time to get some more perspective of life.

Tuamotus is an archipelago of many atolls spreaded out on a 1000 miles area in a NW-SE direction. In earlier days before the GPS this was not a well visit area for cruisers because of strong current and very low atolls, which are visible only from a few miles distance. Still to enter an atoll can sometimes be exiting because the current thru the pass, and inside an atoll it’s often coral heads spread out like a mine field. It takes a good lookout from above, higher up in the rigging. Best time to enter and to travel inside a lagoon is in the middle of the day when the sun is highest and the coral heads can easily be seen. The climate is perfect, slightly cooler in the water and air and not as humid as Marquesas.

When I arrived to Makemo the ebb current in the pass was like a wild rapid. I had to wait outside for a couple of hours and wait for the tide to change and then I could enter with no problem. Inside the atoll I anchored beside the little village Pouheva which has a small airport close by. Ginni arrived by plane a few days later as planned and it was great to see her again. Stayed at same spot for a few days and then continued to the west side of the lagoon, where we took shelter from the strong wind for more than a week. A good time for some boat maintenance. During the months of July and August the wind can often be strong from SE and even inside a lagoon it can get pretty choppy. It’s important to be on a protected side during the windy days.

We left Makemo thru the west pass and headed for Fakarava 90 miles west. Entered successful the atoll thru the southpass and found a nice anchoring SW of the pass. Fakarava is the second biggest atoll in Tuamotus (after Rangoria) and it’s famous for great diving in the southpass because of many sharks and other fishes. Most of the sharks are reefsharks (white or black tipped) which is in general not dangerous for humans, especially daytime. First we went out to the pass with our kayaks and did some ”kayak snorkeling” (turn the kayak upside down with mask and snorkel) and drifted with the current back into the lagoon. Amazing to see all the colourful fishes, sharks and corals. A few days later we joined Tetemanu diving and did some scuba diving thru the pass as well. After a week we left Fakarava and sailed another 50 miles to Tahanea.

Tahanea is an uninhabited atoll and it is our favorite place so far. We went down to the SW corner and anchored behind a well protected motu (the land around an atoll, made of coral and sand, often with palm trees on it). The water was cristal clear and perfect for snorkeling. From our first experience of coconut hunting we learned that it’s harder to climb a coconut tree than you think. There’s also other methods to get the coconuts down, with long sticks etc. Lots of different crabs live on the atoll and the biggest one, the coconut crab (or Kaveu), can be over a foot wide. Their big claws have capacity to crush a rock. They are meaty and good to eat. We also catch some fish with lure, spear, and scoop-net. We heard about ”lobster walking” along the reef at night with flashlight, though never saw any. Later we realize it might just mean to walk as a lobster instead of actually look for them…

We have heard some stories about the hazards in Tuamotus, where cruisers ending up in big tidal rapids when they enter an atoll or get their anchor chain snapped off after it got snagged under a coral head. For us it seemed to be only successful, until our last night in Tahanea. We were on the way to leave the atoll next morning so we went further NW, closer to the pass and anchored beside a motu on the north side. The wind was light and from the north   so the sea was calm. We knew the wind was on the way to turn but should still be very light. A couple of hours later the wind had turned 180 degrees to the SE and increased to 15-20 knots and the swell was getting bigger. We were surrounded of coral heads but I knew we had some room to swing. Just a little bit later – BANG! the anchor had dragged and the stern hit hard on a coral head. Within seconds the engine was running and the anchor on the way up (in situations like this you don’t want to find your anchor stuck under a coral…). Luckely we manage to navigate out in the darkness, thru the worst part of corals  into deeper water without hitting anything more. Because there are even coral heads spread out in the whole lagoon, which is not marked on the chart, we turned off the engine and drifted with the wind at 2 knots towards the pass. No sleep that night… At dawn we where close to the pass but had to drift around for another couple hours to let the tide turn. We left Tahanea and the Tuamotus and sailed during 3 days to Tahiti. Later after inspection I found a few dents on the rudder and the hull but luckely without any damage on the steering or propeller. Sometimes you are glad for your choice of a metal boat.

 

 

 

 

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