Tikehau, back to the Tuamotus
06 December 2019
Our beat to weather brought us to Tikehau. Ah, to be back in the Tuamotus. The only thing in common with Tahiti are smiling Polynesians. With wind from the SE, we found a quiet anchorage in the SE end of the atoll. But first we had to enter the pass into the lagoon.
Much has been written and discussed about the Tuamotu passes. The Tuamotu atolls are rings of coral surrounding a lagoon. Motus are islands that have built up on the coral rim. Older atolls have extensive motus that may be 15 miles long. Other areas have just dots of small motus and coral reefs awash with waves.There are usually only one or two passes in the atoll where boats and rushing tides can enter and exit.
Even though tides are only about a foot, there is a lot of water forced through the passes when the tide changes. Wind and ocean swell bring additional water into the lagoon over the coral reefs. That water too has to exit the narrow passes. There is even a Tuamotu Pass Calculator in circulation that a scientific minded cruiser compiled to predict the safe times to enter and exit the passes.
Current in the passes can be in excess of 6 knots. That's fast for cruising boats with a top motoring speed of less than 8 knots (some far less). One look at the standing waves when this current is against the wind will turn even a seasoned sailor pale! It can look like the devil's own tempestuous sea!
We have studied the Calculator and come up with our own, easy formula. We negotiate passes an hour after high tide or an hour before low tide. If we don't hit these times, we judge for ourselves if the pass is safe. So far, we have just forged ahead. There have been some exciting rides but nothing dangerous. But we don't underestimate the sea and know we must always use sound judgment.
The Tikehau atoll is about 12 miles long and 8 miles wide. As with all atolls, coral heads can be anywhere. We always watch carefully when sailing or motoring in an atoll. Depth can change from 150 feet to 2 feet in a boatlength!
Weather forecast indicated a trough of low pressure was coming. We were just getting comfortable in the SE corner of Tikehau but with a passing trough, wind would swing west then north. There was a small anchorage just north of the pass that would be good protection in these conditions. Uproar made the trip back to the pass, just to be safe. We were able to follow our breadcrumbs (previous track line on chart plotter) without watching for coral heads. Yes the wind did swing around but was light. We would have been fine in our initial anchorage. But near the pass was a small motu we explored. Two men were living there with three nice dogs. They harvested copra (dried coconut meat for coconut oil) and lived on fish. These guys were most welcoming. It is hard for us to imagine their lives in such primitive conditions. Their house was the size of a garden shed and not as nicely built.
Back to the main village, we found settled weather and a quiet anchorage. The village is cute. There are some high-end resorts nearby and the village provides infrastructure and employees. We were able to visit some snack restaurants for typical Polynesian dishes (steak, chicken or fish and fries, or chow mein). Ocean Blue was also anchored nearby. We met Derek and Leslie in Tahiti. We enjoyed a few cocktail hours and dinners with them.
Tikehau has a Manta Ray cleaning station! This is a coral head where Manta Rays visit to have small wrasses swim in their mouths and eat parasites. We dinghied there with Ocean Blue on a gray day but were rewarded by the sight of a huge Manta getting dental work done. He was about 8 feet across. We watched him slowly circle for about 20 minutes. These majestic creatures are some of our favorite friends in the ocean.
Sailing north in the atoll, we anchored near the Garden of Eden. We were told it was an amazing organic farm. It was much more! Elijah Hong, prophet of the New Testament Church of Taiwan, visited in 1993 and had a vision of the original Garden of Eden. He established a commune there inhabited by his followers. They readily show visitors their farm and sell produce to cruisers. As far as we could determine, their mission is simply to teach people to eat clean food and stay away from GMO or chemical laden foods. Our guide had lived there for 20 years. He is married and has two small children they home school. There are only 3 or 4 families living there. The church has similar farms in California, Taiwan and South Africa.
He explained that with coconut palms, you can grow almost anything. Their ingenious methods are an example of determination and hard work. They shred coconut fronds and mix with chicken manure. This compost is the only soil available on the motu. From it they grow lettuce, cabbage, beans, vanilla, bananas, papaya, eggplant, citrus, etc. There were even cherry and mulburry trees! They have to dig ditches around the coconut groves to keep their roots from invading the vegetable gardens. Pigs and chickens are special breeds that are naturally healthy, not bred for rapid growth. They even have a sea salt house for essential minerals.
Our host filled our bags with veggies including hot peppers he claimed were too hot to eat. That's a challenge to the Uproar crew. We made some hot sauce from them named Black Devil sauce!
They do have a gift shop where they sold their own pearls, salt and coconut oil. We bought some but the veggies were free. We sure enjoyed the visit and learned that with determination, farming on the rocky motu is not only possible but can be prolific.
From the Garden of Eden to the pass was uncharted water. We rely on our GPS chartplotter for safe navigation. This part of the atoll was simply a blue patch on the chart. Even though the afternoon was gray, we carefully motored 6 miles to the pass anchorage for our departure. We are learning to be self-reliant as are the farmers at the Garden of Eden.