10 February 2020
Living aboard a sailboat does involve sailing. This is somewhat overlooked as many cruisers live on a sailboat to get to where they want to visit. But we love sailing! Sailing up and down the east side of Fakarava is perhaps my favorite sailboat ride in the world.
Imagine a sailboat ride in 8 to 15 knots of wind, mostly reaching but sometimes a tight fetch or spinnaker, broad reach. The water is that mythical blue, temperature low-80s, the shoreline is filled with palm trees and white sand beaches. Waves are only about 3 inches high as we are sailing in the lee of land. The ride goes for 30 miles from Rotoava to Hirifa. We can stop anywhere and anchor near shore where no one lives for many miles. Uproar just glides along, at times we can't even feel that we are moving except for the quiet, hiss of our wake. Sailing just doesn't get any better.
Rotoava is the main town with several hundred people and three grocery stores. Hirifa is a motu with extensive, white sand spits where only 4 people and a lot of pigs live. There are a few pearl farms closer to Rotoava and some nice vacation compounds in the area. But a few miles south of Rotoava there isn't much in the way of civilization.
Fakarava is about 35 miles long and 14 miles wide, almost exactly the size and shape of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. Lake Winnebago is quite shallow, averaging under 15 feet. The lagoon surrounding Fakarava probably averages 80 feet deep BUT, there are coral reefs inside the lagoon, everywhere. Any one of them is capable of ripping the bottom out of Uproar! There are some marked channels but “bombies” are perilously close to the channel. The rest of the lagoon is not surveyed for depth. We have to be watching whenever we sail outside the channel.
The extensive coral formations are teaming with fish. Jacques Cousteau said the highest concentration of fish he has ever seen is in the Tuamotus. Snorkeling the reefs and the south pass through the reef rank as our favorite snorkeling sites of any place we have visited.
Don from Huakai, took a Google Earth shot of Fakarava and marked the bombies with waypoints. We loaded these hazards into our chart plotter. Our chart plotter also shows all of our previous tracks. We know if we just follow the previous track, we will be safe. We no longer have to keep watch when we make this passage. It is a relaxing, beautiful and refreshing ride.
Uproar is a performance oriented boat. She was designed by Bruce Farr as a race boat but with comfortable living quarters. We have high tech, composite sails and just love the performance feel when Uproar is sailing in the groove or sweet spot. Sailing this passage, in flat water, best shows Uproar sailing at her finest.
Perfect conditions, beautiful scenery and the boat we love to sail. Sailing the east shore of Fakarava combines the best of sailing and fills our hearts on every passage.
Geology lesson on atolls:
Fakarava is an atoll in the Tuamotus, the Dangerous Archipelago. This area was avoided by mariners until GPS made navigating much safer. These atolls are ancient volcanic islands without the island. The islands slowly sunk over millions of years due to tectonic plates moving around under them. Coral reefs grew continually while the island sunk. Now all that is left is the coral ring surrounding the lagoon. Some of the coral reefs have built up enough to be land and some are submerged. The land is called motu. The east motus of Fakarava are extensive and have about 10 miles of road. At most the motu is ¼ mile wide and only about 20 feet above sea level. But the motu has a barrier reef on the ocean side. This shallow, barrier reef protects the motus from storm damage.
French Polynesia's newest island group is Marquesas. These islands, like Hawaii, are not old enough to have extensive coral reefs surrounding them. Next oldest are the Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, etc) These islands have coral reefs surrounding most of the island. There is navigable water inside these coral reefs, space the island has left as it began to sink. These islands still have the mountainous beauty, safe anchorages and great snorkeling reefs. We love this group, especially Huahine. But the Tuamotus have a stark, wild beauty and amazing waters, perhaps our favorite group in French Polynesia.