THE TUAMOTU ATOLLS
Updated: Sep 8
18 YEARS ABOARD FIREBIRD AND COMPADRE - IN SEARCH OF ADVENTURE, PARADISE, HAVAIKI AND SELF RELIANCE
We sailed from the Marquesas early Monday morning and are now going to cruise the Tuamotus for 6-8 weeks. They are a group of 80 atolls, rings of coral and motes of land that formed around high volcanic islands eons ago, before the islands sank back into the sea. They are remnants, and only 12000 people inhabit them. The Tuamotus (total population 14,500 on 78 atolls), so different from the majestic verdant peaks of the Marquesas. These islands are the coral reefs that once surrounded ancient volcanoes, which long ago sank beneath the sea - so that all that is left is a ring of coral motus (little islands) to define each atoll. Huge in size (Rangiroa is 78 km. X 24 km. - all of Tahiti would fit in the lagoon!) but short on property. Each is like the shoreline on an island with the entire center missing, which makes a perfect location for the black pearl farms. The Tuamotus are known as the dangerous archipelago because they lie so low in the ocean that mariners often do not see then until they are upon them!
We had a good passage from Ua Poa to Takaroa atoll, a distance of 450 miles, and had sunny skies but little wind and we were forced to motor sail or motor the whole way! We did have the benefit of a spectacular full moon to guide us though so that made up for the lack of wind! We had fishing adventures as always and Jim and Dylan landed a tuna and a mahi mahi. The tuna made for an excellent fresh dinner and the mahi was quickly converted into 'ceviche'. We are now anchored in the lagoon of Kauehi at the motu of Mahuehue, where there are no people or boats! It is absolutely beautiful with crystal clear, and flat calm waters - like glass - surrounding motus that are wooded in palm trees, edged with white coral beaches and are altogether breathtaking. What a change from the Marquesas - No more towering beautiful 4000 foot spires and mountains, but also no rolly anchorage's! We have not had a chance to dive yet since our arrival but we have plans to shortly! The entrance through the pass into the lagoon was a thrilling and exhilarating ride. We did not wait for the complete slack tide and so there was still a lot of current (6 knots), and a lot of overfalls (breaking waves) and whirlpools. It had an appearance of being very dangerous! Although we were all a little anxious, this being our first attempt at a pass into a lagoon, Jim did a sterling job at the helm and guided us through the pass into the lagoon without a hitch! Didier, a local French man, who formed part of our welcoming committee, suggested an anchorage which we decided to move to, and now rest in peacefully. Unfortunately, in highlighting the dangers to us, fate stole years of experience from him in a flash, and he hit a coral head on his way over to the anchorage. The damage included one unserviceable starb'd rudder, which had to be cut away and a bent prop! It just goes to show you that "Murphy's" law is alive and well! We lent a hand through advice and tools and in return we were rewarded with a cooled bottle of Champagne! We will have to have a sundowner one of these fine nights!
We are now the proud owners of a number of somewhat imperfect black pearls, some purchased, some given to us by more new friends. Pearl farming is a fascinating and risky business, with the factory/office smack dab in the middle of nowhere, but with tranquil turquoise waters and constant sunshine. Please observe the proper dress code for work - mask and fins!
We visited Takaroa, Kauehi, Fakarava, Toau, Apataki and Rangiroa. This island group is called The Dangerous Archipelago, since there is nothing higher than a coconut tree and therefore they are difficult to see until you are close. Also, the passes are very narrow and have rushing currents that should be avoided. They can have as much as 6 - 9 knots of current and often the overfalls stretch out into the ocean several miles. The tide tables are not accurate, so we did our calculations to find slack high and low tides based on the time of the moonrise and moonset. Our first entrance through a pass was at Kauehi and it was a thrilling and exhilarating ride. We did not wait for total slack, so there was still a lot of current, with breaking waves and whirlpools. Although we were all a little anxious, Jim did a sterling job at the helm and guided us through without a hitch! We saw several wrecks that inspired us to take great care. And the charts that are available do not show the depths inside the entire lagoon, only the pass area, so we had to pick our way through these waters. Dylan and Vicki stood at the bow wearing polarized sunglasses, radioing Jim at the helm with information about shallow areas and coral heads that often lurked just below the surface. Even so, it was all worth the risk, since a lot of the places we anchored there were no people living ashore and most of the time we were the only boat around for miles and miles. Many of our experiences are the stuff dreams are made of - the endless shades of blue and green in the water, the glowing sunsets, the startling colors of the fish, being completely isolated, anchoring by stunning white beaches with hundred of palm trees to gaze upon and ponder, scuba diving in the passes with dozens of black tip sharks, seeing manta rays, spotted eagle rays (mating), napoleon wrass, lion fish, remoras, angel fish, etc.
Our last stop was Rangiroa, the most populated of the Tuamotus (2,700 people, 10 km of paved road and many small hotels and dive operations). We visited the upscale Kia Ora Hotel (www.hotelkiaora.com - quite beautiful with some rooms out over the water), just to prepare ourselves for the tourism blast we were expecting in Tahiti. We were also lucky enough to spend several nights anchored alone on the southern edge of the lagoon near some amazing small motus separated by channels that lead to the ocean side. We walked/waded there, with baby black tips swimming around our ankles. Near the pounding surf, there are towering sculptures of coral reef that were thrust up centuries ago, and have now eroded into spooky formations. Quite stunning!
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