Passage from Tuamotus to Tahiti

We are stunned by the sight of so many cars, planes and buildings and immediately notice the noise and smells of a city sailing into Papetee. It’s a stark contrast with the remote Tuamotus where we spent the last month and had such an amazing time. The snorkelling, diving and swimming was spectacular. We got used to having reef sharks around the boat and even started swimming again (always with someone on shark watch). We had cosy campfires on the beach at night. The boys had daily adventures ashore and became expert coconut pickers. We all miss those beautiful atolls already.

Our passage from Tahanea takes us three days and three nights, which is longer than expected. There is not quite enough wind to keep the average speed up and we have to slow down on the second day in order not to arrive in darkness in Tahiti. This results in a slow rocky motion and for the first time in a year I am properly seasick. It lasts twenty-four hours. I still manage to do my nighttime watches but not much else. The boys are absolutely fine, no complaints at all, and play with their toys and ask regularly for snacks. Our stores are low so we eat pasta, pasta and pasta. And some baked beans.

Tahiti is surrounded by coral reefs and there are several naturally formed passes to get in through. Arriving at the Taapuna Pass in the morning, there is strong ebb tide running against us. Full power on both engines is needed to make headway. There’s a bunch of surf dudes floating on the side of the reef waiting to catch that perfect breaker, there are plenty of big waves coming in. We manage to follow the channel in and anchor just outside Marina Taine.

As soon as the anchor is kedged in we go ashore and find an Italian restaurant to indulge in a filling meal and after lunch we hit the Carrefour supermarket to buy some essentials. It’s the best stocked up supermarket we’ve been in since the ABC islands and I’m happy to find some familiar products from back home.

A good night’s sleep and then it’s back to school. Seathan is organising the work that needs doing and we need to find some time for sightseeing and fun too. I’m sure that won’t be a problem!

 

Toucan exiting the pass in Tahanea

Toucan exiting the pass in Tahanea


good morning Tahiti!

good morning Tahiti!


surf dudes next to the pass

 

pass and channel with strong tide, moorea looms in the background

 

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Tahanea, Tuamotus

Tahanea is an uninhabited nature reserve and the third atoll we visit in the Tuamotus. After dropping our anchor on Sunday evening we stay for four nights in the same spot. From the four boats that arrived together only two remain: Toucan and us. Perhaps we were too loud for the others? After all we did have one late night with singing and guitar playing until the early hours…

It’s a beautiful anchorage. “But what do we do all day?” I hear people ask. In fact, our days are very busy and action packed. The mornings usually start early around 6 am (unless we have been up late, see above). I practice some yoga on the foredeck before the boys are up. We all have breakfast together and after tidying up we start school around 8 am. We only do school in the morning for a few hours (but we don’t have holidays and we tend to also have school on weekends). When we are sailing we usually don’t have school. Tyrii’s main focus is math, English and French. But he is also very interested in history, geography and science. He loves reading and devours one book after the other. We recently studied poetry and he wrote a few poems as part of his English lessons and they are beautiful. I hope he will let me publish one or two on the blog… Aeneas is learning to read so phonics is his priority but we also cover other subjects and he likes math. It’s sometimes tough teaching them both simultaneously. But we get by. And I have to admit: there’s often some bribing involved (e.g. IPad time or chocolate cake). While we get on with schoolwork Seathan usually has some boat maintenance or cleaning jobs to do. Or he runs the dinghy to the beach to get some coconuts for some delicious coconut juice. After lunch we have time for swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving or a trip ashore to explore our surroundings. And it gets dark early so we have sundowners around 5pm either on the beach by a fire or one of the boats we are travelling with. After dinner it is off to bed early, as we tend to be tired most evenings!

I’m also a qualified open water diver now! I’ve had theory and practical lessons and several training dives and I took my exam right here in Tahanea with Bruce from Toucan who is a qualified and very experienced dive instructor. Tyrii also had a go and went scuba diving with Bruce in the shallower waters. He loved it and wants to do more and go deeper but he will have to wait until he is a little bit older.

Tahanea is an uninhabited nature reserve and there is literally nothing here. There used to be a village but it has long been abandoned. We bought sufficient supplies in Makemo but we have to make our own bread and we also started making our own yoghurt (and I never realised how easy that is!). We often make a chocolate cake or another treat. And there are no new toys so we started making our own: cardboard robots from a cool book we once got given by a friend and never before had a chance to get stuck into. It’s fun to finally have time for all those things.

On Thursday we feel it is time for a change and we move to a second anchorage. Our desire to move also has something to do with the fact that in the last day or so half a dozen sharks regularly started appearing and we are no longer keen to swim. They are mainly harmless black tip reef sharks but one shark is bigger than the rest and scary looking and he circles the boat in a predatory way. We think he is a lemon shark and they can be quite aggressive.

The second anchorage spot is gorgeous and close to a small pass. We drop our anchor right between several bommies in a patch of sand and manage to avoid a wrap. Of course, if the wind direction changes we might well wrap around one. As soon as the boat is settled into its new location we hop into the dinghy and go snorkel the pass. Toucan is with us and it’s always safer to be with two dinghies in case one of us breaks down. And our dinghy has been quite temperamental. Sometimes it just won’t start. Very frustrating! Seathan has spent many hours fixing it, taking the entire engine apart. When we get to Tahiti we need to drop it in for a serious review by an authorized Yamaha dealer or even consider buying a new engine. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of the bay and it can be dangerous too. We have paddles on board but if there is strong wind and counter current it is impossible to get anywhere. Our dinghy is like our car and it is our main mode of transport. We need it to get ashore, to get around, to do our shopping and to go on adventures. Without it we are totally stuck! In Tahiti there are a few other things we want to address. First of all: our icemaker. Ice is a hot commodity among cruisers. Everyone wants it and rum cocktails without the ice just aren’t the same! Our icemaker has gradually been producing less and less ice and the last time we got nine ice cubes after three hours of running the generator. I wonder what that works out as in terms of cost per ice-cube?

But back to our snorkelling trip in the pass… The pass or entrance to the lagoon is full of wildlife because of the current stream of incoming and outgoing water. The corals are amazing. They are like an extra-terrestrial underwater forest with an abundance of crazy colours and weird shapes. The four of us hang onto the dinghy rope and drift along the pass. The tide is nearly slack but still coming in so we drift into the lagoon. We see many different colourful fishes and Aeneas spots a black tip shark. When the tide starts to turn we clamber back into the dinghy and head back to our boats. The sun is going down fast so we head to the beach for a small campfire and some sundowner drinks. What a perfect day!

Friday morning the lemon shark is back and disturbs our breakfast. He’s circling the boat again and we will not be swimming or jumping off the boat as long as he is around! After school I go diving with Bruce and Di and Seathan takes the kids for another snorkel in the pass. In the afternoon we explore the abandoned village D’Otao. The villagers all left a few years ago but we don’t know why. There is also an impressive grave of a Frenchmen called Victor Michel Maurice Bernard who died in 2007 aged 51. We wonder what the history is here. It is something we must look up once we have Internet access again.

The days fly by and we’ve been here for a week now. We want to stay a few more days and try a couple more recommended anchoring locations. We’ll soon run out of beer though, which will probably force us to leave this beautiful atoll in search of some shops …

 

view from the cockpit

 

another spectacular sunrise

 

abandoned village otao

 

including a still fully operational church

 

mystery grave

 

anchored in crystal clear water

 

sharky

 

selfmade toys

 

juicing coconuts

  

happy camper

   

evening on the beach

 

sunset and moonrise

 

Passage from Makemo to Tahanea

No lie-ins for us this Sunday morning! We are up at six to get the boat ready for an early departure. We’re in Makemo in “the middle anchorage” which is halfway between the eastern and the northwestern entrances to the atoll. Three other yachts are anchored here and last night we agreed to all leave together.

We have to be at the pass by nine am to catch the outgoing tide and it’s about ten miles from our anchorage. The sun rises at six, so by seven we should have sufficient visibility. The only potential issue is our anchor. It is wrapped around several bommies and we may have to dive to get it off. Dive or drive… It’s all hands on deck with the kids on the foredeck pointing the direction in which the chain lies. Seathan manages to drive us off and the dive tank remains full.

Then it is two hours of bommie spotting before we reach the exit. The tide is still going out (so not slack yet) but because wind and tide are going into the same direction the water is sufficiently flat for us to exit. Every minute counts, as we need to get to Tahanea for the next tide gate, which is at two pm. Our destination is 45 miles away so this means we will have to average about nine knots… The race is on.

The other option would have been a night time sail but then we would have to seriously slow down the boat in order not to arrive before sunrise. In a big sea that is quite hard to do and it can be very uncomfortable.

And a big sea it is with short and sharp three metres waves and winds between 20 and 25 knots. Rehua leads the way and we are first to arrive at the entrance to Tahanea. It is just before three pm and we missed the tide gate. The tide is rushing out against the swell. Will we make it in? Do we keep the sails up? We can use the extra power to get through the current but if we have to abort and turn around having the sails up could cause a heap of trouble. We decide to lower the sails and head in. There are whirlpools, standing waves and the sea is extremely messy. But we get through the pass and calm water awaits us inside. We anchor just around the point inside the lagoon and are happy to be here just before the sun sets (which is very early in these regions).

People have asked me how it is possible that we can update the blog while we are in a remote atoll. There’s obviously no Wi-Fi here. We use our satellite phone connection to access emails and weather information. We have a special email address that our family and other friend boats know and we can use it to send emails directly to the blog and then an update gets published automatically. Unfortunately it is impossible to upload photos, as the bandwidth is comparable to the old Internet dial-up connections.

Makemo, Tuamotus

Timing is everything! When travelling from one atoll to another we have to time our arrival carefully in order to enter the pass at slack tide. The current can be anything up to 9 or 10 knots otherwise. It is also important to have the sun behind (or at least high above) in order to see all the bommies (coral heads) once inside.

After a 20-hour sail from Raroia we enter the pass to Makemo on Wednesday morning at exactly the right time and we drop the anchor in extremely flat and crystal clear water just outside the village. There’s WiFi, a small supermarket, a bakery and even a few shacks that serve food! Woohoo! Our timing is brilliant: there is a local festival this week with pirogue racing, a sort of javelin competition, volleyball matches, and much more. We stock up on supplies, have some lunch and the kids play a game of football with the local children.

On Thursday we go and watch the javelin competition. The men are dressed in traditional outfits and start throwing spears at a coconut that is rigged up high. It’s quite a spectacle. We also go to the police station to check-in. We meet the friendliest police officer ever and the whole process takes less than five minutes. In fact, everyone is friendly and welcoming here. What a wonderful place!

Today we want to go a bit further west to another anchorage and then eventually exit the atoll on the west side in a few days. Our next atoll will probably be Tahanea, a nature reserve with spectacular diving and snorkeling so we’ve been told!

the anchorage near the village in Makemo

the anchorage near the village in Makemo

the shop!

the shop!

Javelin competition

Javelin competition

this is what they are aiming at!

this is what they are aiming at!

playing football with the local kids

playing football with the local kids

crazy fish beside the boat

crazy fish beside the boat

Raroia, Tuamotus

We LOVE Raraoia! This tiny atoll in the middle of the Pacific is home to around 200 people, of which roughly half are under eighteen. It consists of a narrow strip of land covered with palm trees surrounding a stunning lagoon. This is also the atoll where Thor Heyerdahl’s raft Kon-Tiki finished its epic voyage from Easter Island in 1947.

We arrive here on a Wednesday morning after a rather rough three-day passage from Nuku Hiva (including huge squalls during the last night of the crossing). We stand off just outside the pass, which is the entrance to the atoll, and wait for the sun to be high enough so we can see the reefs and zigzag our way in. There are two other yachts already anchored here and we are a group of three. The water is as flat as a pancake as we drop our anchor and we immediately jump into the turquoise water for a family swim. Toucan and Nelly Rose drop their anchors nearby and swim over for arrival beers on Rehua. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

After lunch Toucan and Nelly Rose go for a nap. We feel a bit jealous but have promised the kids to go ashore. Just as we are getting ready Florent stops by the boat in his pirogue and asks if we can help him fix it. Florent is thirteen and school holidays started a few days ago for the secondary school kids. They go to school in Makemo, another atoll 75 miles away, and only come home in the school holidays. We take him to the beach and Seathan helps him fix his pirogue with some of our spare rope. Afterwards Florent takes us for a tour of his village. He shows us the small shops (in somebody’s house, no signs or anything), introduces us to several people, he shows us the school, the church, the town hall, the post office, and the small airfield.

It’s a beautiful village, very organised, clean and happy! There are no hotels, no restaurants and no tourism apart from the occasional yacht that stops here. Back at the dinghy jetty we meet the other kids and they are all very inquisitive, friendly and cheerful. They have nice bikes, skateboards, cool clothes, but they’ve never seen playmobil, which Aeneas carries around in a little plastic see-through bag.

The next few days we spend catching up with schoolwork, swimming, snorkelling, fishing and hanging out with the local kids. The boys have a great time. On Friday Seathan goes shark diving with Bruce, Di and Pim just outside the pass. The report comes back that the water is gin clear and the sharks are not of the Tiger variety (as recounted by our neighbours Jess and Chris). I stay on the boat with the kids and we go for a quick snorkel before school. We see a black tipped shark accompanied by a remora just under the boat. It is a small shark but I still feel quite nervous. The boys are not troubled at all and think it’s super cool.

In the evening we are invited to the end of year performance of the local school children. There is a nursery and primary school on the island. The thirty or so kids are divided into two groups and there is one teacher for nursery and one for primary school children. We love the show and feel very privileged we are allowed to join the local community in their celebrations. The children are all dressed in local attire and perform a Polynesian dance. Afterwards the adults bring some more dances. It’s a fun evening and after the show the boys are invited to eat along with all the children and join their party. I get offered the flower outfit from the main dancer, a stunning arrangement that smells divine.

We spend a few more peaceful days near the village and on Monday we sail across the lagoon. We leave around midday when the sun is high and we can clearly see the coral head “bommies”, or “patates” as the French call them. Tyrii and I sit on the bow and he says, “ The world is full of amazing places. You just have to look for them.” He is right. A lot of wisdom coming from our ten year old!

We pick one of the many desert islands and drop our anchor in three metres of turquoise water above sand. It’s the most stunning anchorage and we are in heaven. In the evening we have sundowners aboard Rehua and start planning the beach barbecue party for Di’s birthday on Thursday.

On Tuesday I have my first diving lesson. Bruce is a qualified dive instructor and Di kindly lends me her gear. I’m a bit nervous about breathing under water but after a short lesson we plunge into the sea and I’m amazed at how natural it feels. I love the colours of the coral and the fishes as seen from the underwater perspective. It’s even better than snorkelling. I’m very lucky and privileged as I get to see an enormous manta ray on my first dive. It swoops by us and turns around floating away like an alien spaceship.

We plan to stay here a few more days, it will be hard to leave this place… but we want to see a few more atolls before sailing to Tahiti. We want to enjoy paradise just a little longer before we head back to civilisation!

Anchored near the village, view from our cockpit

Anchored near the village, view from our cockpit


Seathan fixes Florent's pirogue

Seathan fixes Florent’s pirogue


Walking through the village playing coconut rugby

Walking through the village playing coconut rugby


the local school

the local school


the monthly supply ship is anchored off the village

the monthly supply ship is anchored off the village


unloading of supplies

unloading of supplies


the local kids

the local kids

Stocking up on essential supplies (i.e. beer!)

Stocking up on essential supplies (i.e. beer!)

The boys and Felix

The boys and Felix

end of school year dance performance by the local children

end of school year dance performance by the local children

local flower outfit

local flower outfit

sunset over the village

sunset over the village

on our way across to the other side of the lagoon

on our way across to the other side of the lagoon

on the lookout for bommies

on the lookout for bommies

anchored near our own private desert motu (or reef island), our second anchorage in Raroia

anchored near our own private desert motu (or reef island), our second anchorage in Raroia

Boys going ashore

Boys going ashore

moonrise

moonrise

sunrise

sunrise

Rehua from the top of her mast

Rehua from the top of her mast

Rehua from the water

Rehua from the water

Toucan and Nelly Rose, our travel buddies

Toucan and Nelly Rose, our travel buddies

The lagoon is protected by a huge reef

The lagoon is protected by a huge reef

There are plenty of motus or reef islands to explore

There are plenty of motus or reef islands to explore

Tyrii snorkelling

Tyrii snorkelling

first dive lesson

first dive lesson

visit to a pearl farm

visit to a pearl farm

labour intensive work to prepare the shells before they can grow pearls

labour intensive work to prepare the shells before they can grow pearls

Kon-Tiki monument: Thor Heyerdahl's raft landed here in 1947

Kon-Tiki monument: Thor Heyerdahl’s raft landed here in 1947

hermit crab

hermit crab

BBQ on the beach

BBQ on the beach

Later on in the evening!

Later on in the evening!

two cuties!

two cuties!