Heading south, coconuts, pizza, snorkeling with sharks, a private islet, an old town
15 July 2016 | Tahiti
If you'd like to see photos from our stay in Fakarava, click on our Gallery, then open the album Fakarava.
After enjoying the northern part of Fakarava for a few days, we headed to Hirifa, an anchorage tucked into the southeast corner of the atoll, about 30 miles south. To get there, we had two choices: negotiate a narrow channel along the atoll's eastern edge, or sail through the middle of the atoll. The advantage of the channel was that most (but not all) of the large coral heads were marked with channel markers. The area in the middle of the atoll was wide enough to allow freer movement, but although its depths were charted, the positions of coral heads were not, plus it was riddled with pearl farm buoys.
We opted to take the channel, as the wind was very light and we'd be motoring anyway.
Traveling in a coral atoll requires constant vigilance to avoid coming in contact with any boat-crunching coral heads that might be lurking under the surface. For this trip, I would be the spotter; Eric would be the pilot. I took a position on the pulpit at the very front of the boat, scanning the surface of the water for shallow water and coral heads, holding a radio so that I could communicate any quick course changes to Eric. Eric's job was to keep us in the narrow channel.
For the first few hours, the sun was out, making my job easier, and we motored along at a pretty good clip in the channel. The bright green and pale tan of shallow water and coral heads were easy to see, even at a distance. Then the clouds started collecting. When the sky is overcast, it makes discerning the difference between the color of safe, deep blue water and unsafe, green shallow water, more difficult. Then the wind picked up, and SCOOTS was buffeted with wind waves, making my job even more difficult. With the weather like this, we were really glad that we were in the marked channel.
Squalls moved in. Up ahead, a waterspout snaked down to the ocean from beneath a cloud. We couldn't tell how far away it was, so we throttled back and waited; ten minutes later it dissipated. Whew, that was a bit scary! Three large squalls collected around us. Eric kept us out of most of the fray by monitoring their position with the radar and keeping us in the clear zone in the center.
Another navigation tool that was proving handy, was following the saved GPS tracks of friends' boats who had visited the atoll previously, and the tracks of boats who had come north in the pass while we were moving south. Besides e-books, cruising guides, music, and copious amounts of free advice, cruisers also share their GPS tracks, which can be loaded into a navigation program and followed by another boat at a later time. By following these tracks Â- and your own previous tracks as well Â- you can move with confidence through an area when conditions might otherwise make it difficult to navigate.
Eventually the clouds cleared, and five hours after leaving the northern anchorage we neared the picture-postcard-lovely anchorage of Hirifa. We were excited to see the bright red hull of s/v Cinnabar, shining in the sun. We hadn't seen her crew, Tom and Sylvia, for more than a month, and we had a fun reunion that evening, with snacks, sundowners, and stories.
Also anchored at Hirifa were Ilona and Frans, aboard s/v Omweg, a Dutch couple with whom we shared some fun times. One day, we attempted to find the path we'd been told about, that led across the atoll from the lagoon to the outside of the reef. It took us awhile, but we finally found it, but not before a fair amount of bushwacking. Coconut palms grow in profusion on these atolls. We picked a couple of low- hanging coconuts, and with the use of Frans and Ilona's machete, opened them and enjoyed drinking the coconut water when we reached the outer reef. It felt very Robinson-Crusoe-ish.
One night, Ilona and Frans came to SCOOTS, bringing pizza makings, coconuts, and a portable grill. We opened the coconuts the fast way this time (with an electric drill), and added some spirits for tasty tropical drinks (amaretto is especially good for this purpose, though rum isn't bad). The rest of the evening was spent in interesting conversation and making Â- and eating Â- pizzas. By the way, we learned that in the Netherlands, pizza is much more of a gourmet meal, than it is in the States. Dutch people consider wine to be the drink of choice to accompany a pizza, not beer.
One morning, we invited all five boats in the Hirifa anchorage over for Elevenses: three American couples, a Dutch couple, and an Austrian family of three enjoyed Eric's delicious espresso, snacks, and conversation for a few hours. It's a great way to get to know the other cruisers who are anchored nearby.
A few days later, we pulled up SCOOTS' anchor and headed a few miles west to another anchorage, near Fakarava's south pass. That afternoon, along with the crews of s/v Cinnabar, s/v Maluhia, and s/v Naoma, we snorkeled the pass during high tide. This involves dinghying to the outer edge of the pass, jumping into the water with our snorkeling gear on, and hanging onto the dinghy as it slowly drifts back through the pass. Below, for forty or fifty feet down through the clear water, we could see a profusion of reef fish of all kinds, including black-tipped reef sharks. It was amazing! Diving the pass is reported to be spectacular, but snorkeling it was awesome, as well. We floated through a couple of times before the calling it a day.
That night, we had a wonderful dinner at the Motu Aito Paradise restaurant. Nestled in a shady grove of Australian pines, on a tiny, isolated motu (coral islet) near the anchorage, this family-owned-and-run restaurant and lodge offers a wonderful tropical getaway. You should Google it and see how lovely it is! It's the next best thing to having your own boat...
Another day, Eric and I explored the tiny village of Tetamanu, situated on the motu adjoining the south pass. Back in the late 1800s, this town was the capital of the Tuamotus. While its original buildings consist mostly of coral-masonry ruins and a wide, grassy road suggesting former glory days, new buildings Â- small dive shops, bungalows, and a snack shop Â- now perch on, or even over, the edge of the pass. It's a quaint, quiet place, where you can stroll beneath palm trees or sit on the deck with a drink and look down into the clear water at the profusion of marine life Â- including many large reef sharks Â- swimming at the reef's edge and beyond.
All good things must come to an end, and so it is with our French Polynesian visa. With the 90th day of our 90 day visa looming, we eventually pulled SCOOTS' anchor up out of the white Fakarava sand and headed for Papeete, Tahiti, where we planned to do some provisioning and other projects before checking out of this beautiful country.