28 May 2009
Thursday, 21st. The wind died as we approached the north east pass into Makemo atoll. With Wasabi, we circled, waiting for the outflow to stop. Both boats cut across the heart of the flow, into the standing waves and eddies, trolling for those huge tuna we saw at Raroia. This time, we were in the company of a group of small whales. Wasabi took the lead and we followed soon after. The anchorage is in sand, with coral lumps.
There is a long concrete wharf between the anchorage and the pass. To go ashore, we had to pass along the side of the wharf, then close along the shore, through a small gap between the shore and coral heads, then turn into a narrow channel. On the way in, we met the couple from Camelot, the lone sailboat that was already at anchor. We met them first in Nuku Hiva at a soiree on Kachina. They explained that they'd been here for 5 days, had bicycled all over the place, and were planning to leave the following morning. There's a small magasin (store/shop) at the head of the channel, so the first stop was for beers, polished off in the shade outside. Wandering the streets, we found another small store, then a little further on, a small restaurant where we stopped for lunch. The tables (all four of them) are outside under an awning, so with a trade wind breeze, it's very pleasant. The cook, the waitress, and the owner were very friendly. We organized dinner for the following evening, and were told that a local school group would provide entertainment. More wandering found the main supermarket. After taking provisions to the boats, snoozing, and swimming, we returned to a restaurant attached to the supermarket. This was a much more up-market affair, with excellent food and prices to match. Someone on the island had recently caught a large yellowfin tuna, so sashimi and tuna steaks were the prime choice.
Friday through Monday. Now we're on island time! With Brian and Isabelle (Wasabi) and the two dinghies, we floated the pass. The currents are very strong, so once again we enjoyed the sensation of flying over the coral and it's denizens. In this case, there were only a couple of isolated sharks around. It turned out to be yet another public holiday on Friday, and since we needed gasoline (petrol) for the outboard, we would have to wait until Monday. The dinner on Friday night at the first restaurant was great fun. Tane and Isabelle brought their guitars. The entertainment was a group of six high school students with a ukelele, guitars, and a plastic drum for percussion. They did a great job---the songs and sounds are very similar to those of the Maori tradition. Tane played a few of his songs for the group, and we had way too much beer. There's a pool table at this restaurant as well, and it saw a lot of action.
Wasabi seemed to be having a computer meltdown---they had problems with all four of their laptops. I offered to help sort things out, but it was hard going. One computer appears to have a bad video board, another needed a complete reformat. The other two, the navigation computers, were having problems communicating with the touch screen panel in the cockpit. So... it's been quite a puzzle.
Brian, who owned a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles, offered to do a sushi/sashimi night on the weekend. Tane and Sal went over to Wasabi early to watch, to learn, and to help. The dinner was great, complete with Sapporo beer and plenty of sake.
On Monday, the bakery was finally open, so we had our first baguettes on Makemo. The lady who owns the bakery is going on a trip to Chile with four of her girlfriends, so she wanted to exchange for US dollars. We, and Wasabi, obliged. Isabelle managed to persuade her to make breakfast for us the following morning.
Sal, Bruce, Tane, and Isabelle managed to find someone selling black pearls and came away with a selection of them.
Kalalau arrived on the second day we were there. George and Kathleen (they are teachers) had had great success visiting an English class on Ua Pou, so they sought out the local teacher for a class visit. They turned up at breakfast on Monday after the visit with leis and paraes, gifts from the children. Later, they took the kids out to their boat --- apparently several of them were quite afraid of the dinghy ride, which seems strange for atoll dwellers.
We checked in with the local Gendarme on Monday, and got advice for traveling in the lagoon. He explained that the pearl farms are visible by their floats on the surface. Lines are strung between the floats about 5 meters below the surface. Although we should pass over them, he recommended passing around if possible. He also said we should leave early to have the sun behind us so we could see the coral heads.
At 10am on Tuesday, we started up the lagoon. Tane was hoisted to stand on the first spreader, and Kena took the lead with Wasabi following. Right away we were in a maze of pearl farm floats and coral heads. We headed out to go around, but there seemed no end, so we chose a path between them. Although we were a reasonable distance from any of the floats, we kept passing over submerged floats which were, luckily, deeper than our keel. We draw 7 feet and Wasabi draws 8 feet, so although they looked to be quite close to the surface, the water is so clear it is quite deceptive. Further up the lagoon, there were fewer floats until they seemed to peter out completely. Just after Tane announced that we seemed to be through them all, he announced we were passing over another line!
We anchored behind a reef that jutted out from the shore at about 15 miles up the eastern side of the atoll from the pass where we entered. The scene was classic postcard south pacific. A deserted white beach backed with coconut palms, clear water ranging from pale white-green near the shore to deep blue further out. Snorkeling was good, but nothing like the passes. On Wednesday, we went exploring on shore. We brought our new machete to try our hand at coconuts, but to our amazement, every single coconut on the ground, green or ripe, had a hole in it. This is the work of the coconut crabs, so for a while, we searched for the crabs themselves, but with no luck. Finally, we found a long pole and a short coconut palm and knocked down a few. Then the fun began. It is amazing how difficult it is to get at the nut within the husk, and our cheap, blunt machete was no match for the hardy coconuts. Brian went back out to Wasabi and returned with beers and his machete---a US marine corps brute that belonged to his father. It was much more effective, but even then, it was hard work.
We spent the evening on Wasabi, imbibing rum with coconut milk, pastis, beer, and snacks, while shuffling and sharing movies and photos. In the morning, we made our way to the north western pass, anchored in deep coral heads, and went diving at the pass. This time, as we drifted into the deepest water outside the pass, we were met by a large manta ray that circled us many times, coming very close. There was also a large school of barracuda, hanging in the blue. On our return trips in the dinghy to start the floating again, we were accompanied by a school of dolphin---Tane has some great underwater movies of them playing under the dinghy, inches from the camera. The passes by the coral featured a great array of fish, including one large wahoo totally motionless with its mouth open as small reef fish darted inside to clean it. Although there was no large school of sharks, we had one or two circling near us almost all of the time.
There's a significant increase in the trade winds on the way, so Wasabi returned to the anchorage we left from. We decided to stay in the exposed anchorage near the pass, and were joined by Kalalau, which came around the outside of the atoll from the other pass. The wind increased, with gusts to 23 knots, overnight and we had a bouncy, sleepless night on a lee shore. The bow was dipping into the seas at anchor most of the night, so this morning, we decided to up anchor and go out through the pass as soon as possible. We had a few anxious moments as the chain caught on the coral---it took some to-ing and fro-ing to get it up as it was in over 60 feet of water.
With Kalalau, we've just sailed the 16 miles to Katiu atoll---Kalalau has entered against the rip. They bounced around wildly and rolled severely. Since they have a much larger engine than we do, we've decided to wait until the flow slackens, so we're tacking back and forth outside.