TAHITI - August 2-11, in which we spend lots of money, hitch-hike for the first time in many years, get various things fixed, and generally enjoy Tahiti
After a 2-1/2 day fairly easy passage from Fakarava (the highlight of which was catching a big mahi mahi which we're still enjoying over a month later), we arrived at Tahiti on the morning of August 2. Approaching in the early dawn, the island is truly beautiful - high majestic peaks surrounded by a fringing reef enclosing many exquisite shades of blue water. We rounded the northeastern corner and entered Papeete harbor about 11 a.m. after obtaining permission over the radio from Port Control. Papeete is definitely the biggest town we've seen since Panama, with lots of boat traffic and hence the need for traffic control. Once inside the breakwater we were warmly greeted by a large school of dolphins who guided us in to the first buoy marking the passage through the inside reefs to the Taina Marina on the northwest corner of the island. We had to pass both ends of the airport runway en route, requiring further radio permission to pass each end to avoid being clipped by a plane.
We did not take a berth in the marina, but anchored nearby in about 50' of water with many dozens of other boats from all over the world. We chose this anchorage over tying up to the quay downtown (the traditional first stop for arriving yachts for many years) for several reasons - the quay has a very bad reputation for security problems, it costs a lot, and you're tied up along side a very busy 4 lane road with lots of noisy traffic. When we later went into town on "Le Truk" (the "buses" built on the backs of trucks) to clear in with Customs and Immigration, we found only 2 boats tied to the quay, one a local excursion boat, the other Bravo Charlie which we'd met in Fakarava. There seemed to be no security problems (perhaps Captain Fatty's ugly warnings about the security here brought about some improvements?) and it actually looked like it would have been a pleasant place to stay for a day or two.
We were very comfortable by the marina, where we had a safe place to tie up the dinghy, a nearby big grocery store which allowed carts to be taken back to the marina, and the services of Polynesian Yacht Services where we'd had our mail sent, and who helped us make our rigging repair and obtain various other needed bits and pieces and services. It seemed ironic that here where there were so many boats, there was no real hangout for the cruisers, and we actually did far less socializing than when in remote anchorages with far fewer boats. Although there were several boats here that we knew, most left in a day or two. Gannet was here for awhile, but Ian was busy sorting out old and new crew, and somehow we never got together.
We had heard many people complain that Tahiti was dirty, noisy, crowded and unfriendly, a necessary place to stop to get work done or parts sent in, but one that one left as soon as possible. We, however, found it to be quite a delightful stop, certainly more crowded and noisy than the islands we'd been passing through the past few months, but fairly clean, very friendly, and with many enticements. One of our favorite activities here was strolling through the huge public market downtown, full of gorgeous fruits, vegetables, fish, pastries, handicrafts, pearl and other jewelry, flowers and a delightful assortment of people. Another was hitchhiking to the Paul Gaugin Museum on the southern coast - both the hitching and the museum were treasured experiences. Our drivers went out of there way to get us to our destination, and offered interesting glimpses into life in Tahiti. The museum itself was quite lovely, with much information in English about Gaugin's life and his stays in Polynesia.
We had two new lower forward diagonal shrouds made, even though only one had broken; they insisted both should be replaced. We had a mechanic check out our strangely behaving transmission, which we feared might be a major fix - it very often would not go into forward until pushed to 1500 or 2000 rpm, and once didn't go at all. Fortunately it turned out to be a small plastic part in the shifter assembly that needed to be replaced. We installed a new jib halyard and topping lift for our woeful pole. We topped up with propane (very expensive, especially when the transport fee was added), did a lot of laundry (also very expensive), and a lot of provisioning (expensive, but not as bad as we'd feared, certainly better than in the outer islands). We had hoped that, like in the French Caribbean islands, good wine could be had reasonably, but this was not the case at all. We cringed at paying $7 for liter boxes of crappy wine that only cost us $1-2 in Panama, and could only bring ourselves to buy a few bottles of slightly nicer wine for $10 and up. There were some bargains - all through French Polynesia the stores have items marked with red price tags which are subsidized by the government - but these only included some very basic items - boxed and powdered milk, baked beans, baguettes, and a few other staples were about all we bought of these. Everything else was quite high, although in retrospect, comparable with what we were used to paying in the Virgins, except for the very expensive liquor here. It was just that after Panama and Venezuela, the prices seemed totally outrageous.
There are a few marine chandleries here, but they seemed very poorly stocked for the number of boats that pass through and live here. We found a few of the things we needed, but several items remained on our list.
One nice bargain for eating out was the "roulottes" - or "caravans" - mobile food trucks found all over the island, but best known where several congregate every night in a park along the quay downtown. We spent an evening in there, finding it hard to choose between the 10 or more vans offering Chinese, Polynesian, Mediteranean, and French selections, and even pizza! We arrived in the area we thought they would be about 5:15 p.m. and were surprised to find none there, but over the next 45 minutes they started pulling in, setting up tables (many with table clothes even!), stools, grills, and then we were surprised to find that it was far more like being in a restaurant than what we expected as there were even menus and waiter service. For around $10 each we had nice plates of Chinese food, then spent another $10 sharing a delightful desert crepe with ice cream and whipped cream at another van.
We did realize that we probably should have waited until we got here to get our duty-free fuel certificate. We had paid an agent in Nuku Hiva about $80 to get it, not realizing that it would be freely given us once we got here. As the certificates are only issued in Papeete, to get one anywhere else you need to use an agent. The certificate entitles one to buy diesel duty free anywhere in French Polynesia, so we thought we should get it before our first fuel purchase in Nuku Hiva, but the savings on fuel in Nuku Hiva probably didn't equal the agent's fee.
We spent a fortune on satellite phone time trying to sort out a problem with our Citicard Master Card. When Bryan went on-line to pay the bill, there was a notification that the account was blocked because it had been compromised, and that we should telephone to sort it out. After numerous calls with clerks who were almost useless, we found out that someone stole credit card data from TJMaxx, at which we had once charged something, so they were sending us new cards with a changed account number - to the Virgin Islands of course - from which we were not expecting to have mail sent for quite some time. In the meantime, until we got the new cards, we could not even find out what our outstanding balance was or pay it on-line as we usually do. Very frustrating.
Finally, after 10 days and heaven only knows how much cash out, we left Tahiti for Moorea on August. 11.
Passage from Marquesas to Tuamotus and stops at Kauehi and Fakarava, in which we swam with MANY SHARKS, found our absolute favorite snorkel spot, bought black pearls, and generally completely enjoyed the delights of French Polynesia.
We left Nuku Hiva about 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 8th for the Tuamotus, an archipelago of atolls which lie west and southwest of the Marquesas, right on the way to Tahiti. Known formerly as the "Dangerous Archipeligo" because of the many ships wrecked on its numerous reefs and hard to see islands, it was once mostly avoided by cruisers. With the advent of GPS, it has become a popular cruising area with yachts headed west, and we were delighted with what we found there. We had to make some choices, as there was no way we could visit all of the 76 atolls and islands comprising the Tuamotus, and it wasn't an easy choice as so many of them sound delightful.
An atoll is a group of small coral islands (known as motus in Polynesian), connected by fringing reef, which have built up around the ring of a sunken volcano. Not all have passes that allow a sailboat entry, and others have passes that are dangerous because of their orientation or depth, so the choice was narrowed down to about 20 atolls in the northern and central Tuamotus that were roughly along the route to Tahiti and reasonably accessible. We chose two, Kauehi and Fakarava, largely because of what our friends on Tackless II and Wild Card had written about them.
We had both been coming down with colds just before leaving Nuku Hiva, which got worse over the next few days with sinus and general aches, runny noses, coughing. (I'm writing this a month later, and while most of the cold symptoms are long gone, I'm still coughing - enough already!) Other than that it was a very pleasant 5 day passage, with relatively light winds most of the time which meant not too much strain on our jury-rigged shroud. We occasionally had to motor, but for the most part were able to cruise along at 4-6 knots. By Wednesday we realized that unless we significantly increased our speed, which did not look likely to happen, we would reach Kauhi just after dark on Thursday, not a good time for entering into an atoll pass where we had never been before, so for the next few days we under-canvassed to slow us down somewhat, and Thursday night we even had to heave to for awhile to time our entrance to the pass for the next morning. We had to time not just for good light, but also for the right time in the tide cycle, as going through a pass can be very easy at slack tide, and scarily dangerous at other times.
In the meantime, we saw our second other vessel of the passage (the first had been a fishing trawler the first night out) about 4 p.m. on Thursday. It was a large container ship, lightly loaded, and it seemed to be taking an inordinately long time to cross our bow a few miles ahead of us. Suddenly we heard the ship calling us on the radio to explain that they were "not under command", nautical terminology for being adrift in the water. Their engines were down, and they were slowly drifting toward the Tuamotus, not at all a good place for a ship adrift. We were told they expected to have their engines going again in a few hours, but in the meantime we should stay well clear of them. When nightfall came and we finally could just barely see a small light on the ship (and it was still fairly close by) we radioed them to let them know there was a yacht behind us a ways that was not running lights, so they should keep a good lookout. The thought of a huge ship and small vulnerable yacht both without adequate lights in the same stretch of water frightened me. The yacht without lights was Happy Monster, a Dutch boat with Hans and Dory, who had radioed us the day before just before sunset to say they were a few miles ahead of us and would not be running lights at night because of low voltage. We had then cranked up the engine so we could move more quickly as we detoured around them, figuring it was better to have an unlit boat behind us than wondering all night just how far ahead of us it was. Happy Monster and the ship managed to avoid one another, as we saw Happy Monster a few days later in Kauehi, and had some nice times with them.
KAUEHI: Thursday night we reached the northeastern corner of Kauehi, leaving us all night to approach the pass on the southwestern edge, about 15 miles away. We went around the northern end, where we sailed back and forth for hours until daylight on Friday the 13th when we made our way down the western side to the pass, hoping to arrive about 10. In retrospect, we should have rounded the southern tip instead, because then we would have had the southeasterly wind behind us as we came along the western edge, and we would have avoided tacking into the wind along the miles of the western edge which were mostly submerged with few motus to aid visibility. We made it just fine, however, and made it to the pass right on schedule. A few hours before we arrived there we were delighted to hear our friends Felicity and Peter on Nadezhda on the radio as they neared the pass. We had not expected to see them, they had planned on going to a different atoll, but changed their minds when they realized the pass there was much trickier and shallower. They went through the pass here about 1-1/2 hours before we did, and bucked 5 knots of current going through. We timed it just right, and had barely one knot of current against us, then anchored just to the south of the pass with Nadezdha and a few other boats to wait for better light to cross the lagoon to the village. Waiting until just after noon put the sun behind us, making it much easier to see the numerous scattered coral heads in the lagoon. In the meantime, I went snorkeling and was wowed by the fabulous visibility, a few black-tip reef sharks, and an incredibly colorful assortment of tridacna clams set in the coral heads, as well as several new kinds of brightly-patterned fish (new to me, that is). The clams ranged in size from a few inches to a foot across the scalloped mouth, and when open a few inches they showed off their assorted vibrant colors and patterns, including green, purple, gold, brown, and a wide range of blues. Their flesh had remarkable patterns, ranging from mottled to speckled to distinct black lines against their iridescent colors.
After lunch we crossed the lagoon to the village of Teararero, where we anchored in 50' with two floats attached at intervals to our anchor chain to help hold it off the numerous coral heads below us. We really don't like to anchor in coral, it's not only bad for us, it's bad for the coral, but unfortunately in many of these designated anchorages there is no choice. We couldn't see the bottom, but even if we could, there were enough coral heads that even though we were fortunate to have the anchor land in sand, the chain crossed over several heads. The floats helped hold it above most of them, minimizing the damage and the scraping noises through the night. We put the dinghy in the water, but didn't go ashore - a quiet night and early to bed seemed far more enticing at that point.
Saturday, July 14th, Bastille Day in the French islands, although seemingly not a favorite holiday here - far more important to the French Polynesians is the month-long Heiva celebrations which encompass it. Bryan changed out the shackles on the mainsheet traveler that had almost worn through, and then we went ashore and wandered the village. We found the store of Nicole whose husband Flic has a pearl farm that Captain Fatty had told us about. Unfortunately, he was in Tahiti and not due back for several days. But Nicole invited us and the crews of the other 4 boats in the anchorage to come in that evening for a village feast honoring the holiday. We had a nice time getting to know the crews of Happy Monster, Do It, Matin Bleu, Promesa and Nadezhda, only a few of whom we'd met before - the others we'd just seen or heard on the radio. The feast included pigs which had been smoked above coals all days, poisson cru (fish marinated in lime juice then mixed with coconut milk and vegetables), and several other local specialties, and was delicious - and free! We spent the next several days alternating doing boat chores, exploring the village, snorkeling, and socializing with the other boats until Flic returned and we all went on a tour of his pearl farm.
Bryan spent time on Nadezdha trying to figure out why our new sat phone, which works just fine as a phone, does not work for email. Peter has the same system, and it appeared we had everything set right. It was finally determined that the company had sent us a bad cable to attach the phone to the computer - and this was the special cable they'd insisted we spend extra money for because the one supplied by the manufacturer with the phone was not likely to work for data. Fortunately the cable that we use to attach the radio to the computer works as a substitute - it just means we need to attach and unattach to switch between using the phone and using the radio. A new cable is promised, but as I'm writing this a month later it has not arrived, and we've already moved on from Tahiti where it's being sent - hopefully Polynesian Yacht Services will send it along as they promised. Bryan also spent some time on Do It, learning about a neat new weather forecasting product called "Fleet Codes" which we can get over the radio. He's found it very helpful.
I spent some of my time here finally trying out the recipe for frying pan bread that Judy on Valeda IV had given me in Grenada. It came out OK, but not great. One afternoon here all the cruisers got in their dinghies for a sunset raft-up and drift with an assortment of goodies to accompany our BYO drinks. Happy Monster's food contribution was frying pan bread spread with nutella, a European product that is sort of a cross between peanut butter and fudge sauce. This sparked a discussion of frying pan bread, and another example of the small world we're in - Dory on Happy Monster got the recipe from Ruth on Do It who got it from --- Judy on Valeda IV! The upshot was that Dory invited us over for lunch the next day to get lessons on making the bread. Hers was much better than mine! I have since followed her technique but never achieved quite the quality - possibly because of old flour? But it's still a welcome addition to our diet when fresh bread is unavailable.
Dory also gave me a nice other addition to our provisions: a recipe and some starter to make my own yogurt. It's hard to believe, having once made yogurt using thermometer, stove, and various insulating devices to insure proper temperature throughout procedure, that one can make fairly good yogurt in the tropics just mixing some fresh yogurt into room temperature milk and letting it sit untouched for several hours while it sets. I did this for several days, and the yogurt I made was occasionally a bit watery but generally fairly good. Once we got to Tahiti I thought I'd start using fresh store-bought yogurt for starter instead, and maybe it wouldn't be as watery - so I let the old stuff go. Alas, the only yogurt I could find in Tahiti apparently had dead cultures as it wouldn't set up at all. Fortunately, Tahiti did have powdered yogurt starter from New Zealand, which came with instructions that were a bit more complicated, involving an insulated container partially filled with boiling water into which a smaller container with the yogurt-to-be is set. Several dollars later I am once again making yogurt on board.
Flic finally returned on Wednesday, and agreed to give the 4 boats still remaining a tour of his pearl farm at 7 am the next day. It was a hectic time for him because the inspectors were coming the following Monday to start this year's harvest, but he graciously agreed to work us into his schedule when he realized we had all been waiting for days for his return. So 7 am Thursday Flic picked up the 8 of us at the store and drove us in the back of his large pickup to his pearl farm which was up near the airport. First came a lecture and short tour on the expansive grounds, then a few hours out in the boat with Flic and 2 of his workers, as they replaced some of the many floats and checked some of the lines which had gotten loose. We were able to get in and snorkel to see how things were set up. A large area of lagoon is studded with floats holding long lines underwater which hold the oysters in the various stages of their development. The babies are attached to plastic "lei" type strings, and as they get larger and have been seeded, they grow in chicken wire cages or plastic baskets hanging from the underwater lines. If a storm is coming, they need to lower all the lines to protect the oysters. It appears to be very hard work maintaining the lines and floats, as the divers must free dive quite far down, often pulling a float down with them to attach to the ropes. It amazed us to watch them quickly go down 20 or 30 feet pulling a float behind them that preferred to stay on the surface. Sometimes one worker would pull while the other one pushed the float so they could quickly get way down. They put a few cages of oysters into the boat to take back to shore, where Flic opened them, let us eat the raw oyster meat, and gave us the tiny pearls encapsulated within the oysters. These were just tiny, irregularly shaped natural pearls, not the big cultured pearls which later he would offer for sale.
Basically, as I understand the process (all this was coming to us in French with Bryan and a few others translating intermittently) baby oysters are first grown to a certain size, then brought in to shore to be seeded by griffeurs, specialists who travel from farm to farm to do the all important work of seeding and harvesting the pearls. Flic's griffeurs are Chinese, as are most of those working now. There are also Japanese and a few Polynesians who do this work, but Flic says the Chinese have the best success at obtaining good pearls from their work. A good oyster can be seeded 3-5 times as it grows, producing bigger and bigger pearls each time, from larger and larger seeds. The seeds are perfectly round balls made from oyster shells from Mississippi, where apparently the oyster shells are thicker, and thus make better seeds. The griffeurs use special tools to implant the seeds, and later to take out the pearls and replant new seeds.
Upon our return to shore we were fed a nice snack of cool coconut water straight from the shell, delicious warm coconut bread and boiled speckled bird eggs. This was totally unexpected, and I suspect was partly gracious Polynesian hospitality but also so that we wouldn't be hungry and in a rush to get back to the boats for lunch, but instead be happy to spend some time being tempted to buy pearls, because the last phase of the tour was to sit around a table as bags of pearls were poured out for us to peruse. These were not perfect or even high quality pearls - those all go to market and command very high prices. Instead, these were very interesting oddball pearls with either marks or gauges, strange shapes or strange markings, but many were quite beautiful nonetheless, and the prices were far less than the fancy jewelry stores in Tahiti. The government licenses pearl sellers, and supposedly only pearls of high quality are permitted to be sold, and then come accompanied with a certificate of authenticity. Rumor has it that Customs will seize any they find aboard boats that do not have certificates, but we decided to take a chance and bought several interesting ones which we understand will be good for trading in the islands to the west. Fatty said he was trading $5 pearls in Tonga for carvings priced at $75! I bought one lovely greenish pearl (they are called "black" pearls, but actually come in a variety of shades from light to eggplant to green to blue to gray) and had it mounted on a mother-of-pearl base for a lovely necklace. The other dozen or so I bought I may later have set, or will try to trade them. Once we got to Tahiti, we discovered that dozens (maybe hundreds?) of vendors sell imperfect pearls in the big public market and elsewhere, but at prices somewhat higher than we paid in Kauehi. It struck me as rather hypocritical for the government to seize pearls and fine the owners while at the same time renting space in the market to numerous dealers who openly sell these "illegal" pearls!
The snorkeling by the village was quite delightful - numerous colorful clams imbedded in healthy delicate coral heads, a variety of stunningly colorful fish, and a few eels and sharks that had no interest in us. There are many, many huge groupers that look like wonderful eating, but the fish poison ciguatera is very common in Pacific atolls so we are not tempted to try to catch them. Nicole at the store gave us some "rabbit" fish which made very good eating filleted and sautéed.
We left the anchorage by the village on Friday morning after a tough time trying to clean the water line - it is unbelievable the black gunk which coats the boot stripe. We went across the lagoon to spend a few days anchored by a small motu, only temporarily inhabited by a family making copra. We stayed a few days longer than planned because the weather got rainy and overcast and windy, not ideal conditions for navigating across the lagoon to the pass. Here we snorkeled and walked the oceanside reef and generally lazed. Zazoo showed up a few days later, and we had a delightful few hours on the beach with them and Happy Monster before leaving for our next atoll, Fakarava.
FAKARAVA: Tuesday, July 24th found us weighing anchor at 6:30 am to make it to the pass by 7:30, which meant crossing a corner of the lagoon with Bryan posted forward and partway up the mast to watch for coral heads, in the less than brilliant light. The way was fairly clear fortunately, and we made it through the pass with only a knot or so of current, to find gentle seas outside and about 15 knots of wind which gave us a very pleasant 5 hour beam reach sail to Fakarava, the second largest atoll in the Tuamotus, about 10 miles wide by 30 miles long. Just after noon we entered the northern pass, very wide and deep, but with the strongest pass current we'd experienced, about 1-1/2 knots, no problem. We've been very good (or just lucky?) with our timing of the passes and have never run into the 4, 5 and 6 knot currents some of our friends have encountered.
Another hour or so later we were anchored off the village of Rotoava in the northeastern corner of the atoll, where we stayed for two days. Amazingly, there were no boats here that we knew, only one mega yacht and a few French catamarans. The village is small, maybe 300 people, but has an airport, several pensions and a resort, an infirmary, a very fancy complex of government buildings, and several small restaurants, and two rather pathetic stores, but no gas station. We tried for days to get gasoline for our dinghy, the two stores kept directing us to the other, and saying something about the supply ship coming in, which we didn't quite understand. We thought they meant they wouldn't have fuel available until after the ship came in, but what they really meant was that we should go to the ship to purchase it. We didn't figure this out until the ship had left. We had assumed that one only got gas from the ship by the barrel-full, and only if one had pre-ordered, but apparently when the mayor got the gasoline concession, the stores stopped selling it, instead someone on the ship dispensed fuel from barrels at quay-side in small quantities, while most of the locals ordered barrels which they kept at home. Thursday morning, after walking all over town with our fuel jugs to find there was none available until next Wednesday's ship, we were feeling rather desperate. We stopped at the infirmary to get my blood pressure checked (it's been marginally high, and the gauge I had to check it went kaput) and while waiting there with our fuel jugs, a nice lady offered to help us out. I stayed to get my BP checked (it was fine, much better than when I'd been in the States, and I'd even been negligent about taking my water pills for awhile), while the lady drove Bryan to her house about 10 miles away, where she started siphoning gas from her barrel, until Bryan insisted he do the dastardly sucking. She refused to take any money for the 3-1/2 gallons she gave us. Amazing.
We rented bikes for a half day on Wednesday and explored the village and aways out into the countryside. We discovered a pizzeria for lunch, and a pearl farm/boutique/pension run by a very personable young German man and his Polynesian wife, and just had to buy a few more pearls - 13 for about $6 each, much smaller than the ones than I'd bought in Kauehi for $10-20 each.
After getting our gas on Thursday, and a few basic provisions which were about all this village had to offer (they seem to have very little interest in fresh vegetables here), we set off south through the lagoon. There is a marked channel, but you still need to keep a good eye open because the pearl farm floats and lines sometimes extend into the channel, and occasionally some coral as well. We stopped mid-afternoon a little more than midway down to anchor for the night, all by ourselves for the first time since Las Perlas islands in Panama. We snorkeled and saw a huge moray eel and several gorgeous fish.
We awoke on Friday to gray and rainy skies, but they cleared up enough by around 10 that we upped anchor to proceed on to the village of Tetamanu next to the southern pass out of the atoll. On the way we tried to raise our friend Tom on Mokisha who was anchored down there to ask a few questions about the navigation, but ended up speaking instead to Greg on Bravo Charlie instead when Tom wasn't by his radio. We had not met Greg, but the boat name sounded very familiar. It was only later when I opened my computer to read Gwen of Tackless II's account of Fakarava, that I realized she had mentioned him. Gwen had written a wonderful article for Cruising World magazine about drift diving and snorkeling through the southern pass on Fakarava with dozens of sharks, and had mentioned doing it with the crew of Bravo Charlie, who so loved this atoll that they had come back year after year with their boat from Hawaii to spend time here. Another small world story - we end up anchored here with Mokisha and Bravo Charlie - both good friends of Gwen and Don from years ago!
Tetamanu Village was once the main village of the atoll, but is now largely abandoned except for two delightful pensions and a few families - no stores, and certainly no gas stations! After getting anchored and stopping to chat with Bravo Charlie and Mokisha, we dinghied ashore, pulling the dinghy up on the beach by the abandoned jail After a short walk to the pass and to check out one of the pensions, we snorkeled off the beach by the dinghy, and discovered that if we went too far out, we would be suddenly caught up in a wicked current coming around from the pass. We had Tom from Mokisha over for drinks and to pick his brain about how one snorkels the pass. He offered to go with us the next morning. His wife Colleen, whom we had met in Nuku Hiva, was away for a couple of weeks for her parent's 50th anniversary, so he was batching it.
Saturday morning we awoke to strong winds - 25-30 knots much of the time, but Tom was game to try the pass, so off we went mid-morning with our two dinghies. It was here, drifting through the pass on the incoming tide, that we had the best snorkeling experiences EVER! It was so incredibly beautiful that we went again every day for 4 days, and sometimes twice per day. We dinghied a bit more than half way out the pass, temporarily tied up to a mooring buoy while we got our gear on, then jumped over and held on to lines attached to the dinghy while the current took us back through the pass, around the corner and all the way back to the boat, perhaps a mile in total. Along the side of the pass the current was fairly slow, but as we reached the corner it sped up and sling-shotted us forward for awhile until we swam our way into a slow area closer to shore and gently drifted again until we once more hit strong current. All along the way, except a small patch off the beach, the bottom was fully carpeted with an array of colorful mostly healthy delicate corals in a wide array of patterns, shapes and colors: blue, purple, mauve, pink, yellow, tan, and brown. We saw more healthy coral here than we had seen anywhere and the abundance and variety of fish was astounding. Lots of sharks, mostly smallish black-tipped reef sharks, roamed the bottom and occasionally swam up and along side us, but were never the least bit aggressive. On a typical drift we probably saw 30-40 sharks. We also saw for the first time napoleon wrasses, very large green fish with blunt heads that remind one of wise old men. Among my favorite fish were a deep purple parrot fish, an incredible variety of butterfly fish, and unicorn fish.
On shore, a few small motus down from the pass is a charming pension of thatched bungalows set among the trees. We met Manihi Salmon and his wife Tila, who had lived there for 27 years as they built their home and eventually the pension while raising their now grown family. About 6 years ago, with their children grown and gone, they turned it into a pension. Built mostly of local materials, the bungalows which each a little different and each quite charming. Built-in beds, shelves and benches were lovingly decorated with fresh flowers, walls were adorned with beautifully crafted shell rimmed mirrors, and each bungalow had a bathroom set a little way apart via a roofless walled pathway with outdoor shower. Manihi gave some "rabbit" fish they'd caught that morning to us and the two other crews who had gone ashore with us to meet him, which made a delicious dinner.
A few days after our arrival, our friends on Zazoo arrived. They are a delightful family composed of Ben, from England, who is a professional diver on oil rigs, his Brazilian wife Rose Angela, and two young sons Luke and Joshua, with whom we've spent many pleasant times. We took Ben through the pass, and were at first disconcerted when he disappeared altogether for awhile, until we've finally spot him again, 40 or 50' under water. The man is like a fish. He free dives to 50 or 60', and can stay underwater for ages. He heard there were dogtooth tuna outside the pass, and was eager to try his hand at spear fishing for some, despite being told by Manihi that it was very difficult. While he went off in his kayak to look for the tuna (which he was disappointed not to find), I took Rose Angela and the boys by dinghy up the atoll a bit to a few uninhabited motus known for their pink sand, where the kids had fun squeezing water out of baby sea cucumbers, and Rose Angela and I searched for shells. When it was time to leave Fakarava, Ben graciously free dove 45' down to place our anchor on top of the coral head it was hanging over so that we could pick it up easily. It was sad leaving them in Fakarava as we're not sure we'll see them again, and we'll miss them.
It was quite windy most of our stay in Fakarava, causing us to stay longer than we'd originally anticipated, but loving every minute of it. Finally on July 31 the winds dropped down a bit and the seas became less boisterous, so we departed through the pass about 3 pm for the 238 mile passage to Tahiti.
Take a look at the last page of the photo gallery for several new photo albums of pictures from French Polynesia, including from the atolls of the Tuamotus that we visited, Kauehi and Fakarava, and the first several in the Societies, Tahiti, Moorea, and Huahine. We've just arrived in Bora Bora, hope to get entries in here soon about our travels since the Marquesas. We're having a fabulous time, and hope that all our friends and family are fine. We'll have internet access off and on for the next week or so, and would love to hear news from you!
On our two day sail from the Tuamotus to Tahiti, Bryan caught our biggest fish ever - a 54" mahi mahi weighing an estimated 45#. Guess we'll be eating fish for awhile! More pics and details of Tuamotus and Tahiti coming soon.
Check out the photo gallery - the last two albums are pictures from the Marquesas, one added a week or so ago, the other just yesterday.