Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Tuamotus

Kauehi - May 1 - 5 

After a  a three day sail from Nuku Hiva, we arrived at our first atoll in the Tuamotus, Kauehi. We anchored in 3 meters of crystal clear water, that is like gin and tonic. Super clear, with black tip reef sharks, beautiful bommies (coral heads), parrot fish and a plethora of other fish I have yet to see. The silence is serene, broken only by the passing squawks of see birds.

drone shot of our anchorage
One morning I wake up to 4 black tip reef sharks swimming behind the boat, along with some parrot fish and another I don't know. On one of the days Paige and I go snorkeling to the coral heads. We got to see the turquoise chromis swimming within the coral head. Deeper, there is a large grouper and angel fish. We also saw big clams with their incredible colours of turquoise, lapis, gold and black lips. Upon our return to Element we got to see 4 unicorn fish swimming off the stern.

black tip reef sharks off our stern
Kauehi has a lovely long beach. It looks like sand from afar but, when you look at it up close it is made up of sand, coral and tiny white shells. It is surrounded by palm trees that stand tall against the stark white sandy beach, broken only by the water surrounding it.

the long beach

the "sand" is tiny white shells

the hut at the beach

the girls playing in the water that flows into the atoll
One evening, we wanted to have dinner at the beach so, we started prepping food for the bonfire. Our usual items are, stick bread (pretty much pizza dough), hotdogs or sausages, chicken, marshmallows, bananas with chocolate chips, and of course some beverages. Naddia and Manuel had a hammock that they set up between 2 palm trees. That evening we all got a chance to try it out. As we watch the gorgeous sunset amongst the stunning scenery, the plethora of hermit crabs came out of hiding. These guys are hilarious! With the night, not only the hermit crabs come out so do the rats..... not my favorite. The other beautiful aspect was when the moon rise, giving a silvery hue to our wonderful bonfire. Well into the evening, Manuel wanted to see if he could find a coconut crab. He had watched a Youtube video about how to prepare and eat them. Off he went with Jordan and Shaun to see about capturing one. They were successful! I advocated for it's life, so they freed it.

Element from the beach
the bon fire
chilling in the Manado hammock
one of the many hermit crabs
another crab
 adding to the fire
sunset at the beach during the bonfire

the coconut crab that Manuel caught

On May 4, we weighed anchor and headed up to the village, to see what was there. We all were sad to leave our picturesque spot but, were interested in seeing how the village looked. It took us about 1 hour to get there. Yes, this atoll is quite big. Along the way, Shaun was making a track by dropping new pins on the MacENC program so that our friends following behind us would have a safe passage. This marked any hazards that we encountered. Upon arrival, we made our way to the tight anchorage and dropped the hook. As soon as we did the remoras appeared. These are quite odd. They look like sharks but have a flat head that attaches to other fish/sharks/rays. The following day we decided to head to our next atoll, Fakarava.

a view of some of the homes

Element at anchor
a pile of coconut husks
the town church

these are used for pearl farming - they are used to capture the oyster young and allow them to grow
a great way to reuse an engine cover

chilling in the heat

May 5 - May 7 - Fakarava South pass (Tumakohua pass).

We arrived safely and in time for the 14:00 slack tide to enter the lagoon. As we were approaching the pass we noticed 3 darker fins floating on the top of the water. We thought they might be pilot whales. We also saw a huge flock of birds diving on a bait ball. Shaun maneuvered us through the pass with less than one knot at slack tide (the beginning of a flood tide). Shaun's intentions were to head 9 miles inside the atoll to a resort but, there was a free mooring ball just inside the south pass allowing us to stay for a couple of days and experience the wildlife at the pass. We were near the town of Tetamanu.

As soon as we were secure on the ball Manuel, Jordan and I jumped in the water to snorkel the mooring ball to make sure it was safe. There was a 2 meter grey shark skulking around and there was a VERY curious black tip that wanted to get to know Jordan. It scared her and she started to flail, which is a big no, no around sharks as it makes them think of an injured fish. We quickly got her to calm down and headed back to Element.

Later, Manuel, Naddia, Jordan and I went on a drift snorkel. This pushed my comfort level, but well worth it! We drove the dingy halfway up the channel and hopped out and took hold of the painter line. We flew through the water like superman, literally. It was awesome! Diving down and flying over the fish and corals. I felt like I was in an IMAX movie. As we glided along we saw sharks, trumpet fish, cornet fish, chromis, napolean fish, angel, unicorn and pipe fish. If you ever have the chance to experience a drift snorkel, it is highly recommended.

Once we were finished, we went over and tied up to the restaurant dock so that we could talk to the dive shop about diving. Originally, I was not planning to dive because my last dive scared me. Mark, the dive instructor sold me though, and Naddia, Manuel and I were booked for the following day at 16:00. That is when slack tide would turn to a flood tide, the best time to see the sharks in the pass. 

black tips in the shallow pool waiting to be fed
black tips hanging out

black tips from above
One of the days, Paige, Jordan and I headed out on a walk around the area to see what we could see. It is a beautiful part of the atoll. If you can get a mooring ball, it is a must stop!

a local pig munching on a coconut
a vine covered tree
ready to explore

can you spot the purple coral
a great way to use some extra coconut husks
a tree reclaiming an old hut
The following day we headed north.

May 10 - 16 - Fakarava north

After leaving the south pass, we headed north and arrived into Rotoava. Once we were anchored we headed to land and walked around. It was getting close to dinnertime. We were having trouble finding a place to eat. It seemed like everything was closed (we found out later that most places had run out of food to serve and were awaiting the supply ship that was scheduled the next day). We eventually stopped at a fancy hotel, Havaiki Lodge for a drink before locating a food truck that served French cuisine. The atmosphere was lovely, there were several tables (which were all full as this was the only place open).

view at the end of the dock at the Havaiki Lodge
french cuisine out of a van

May 11 - went to The Pearl Farm at Havaiki Lodge to learn how pearls are grown and harvested. They have a pearl lottery, where you pay $35.00 local currency and choose an oyster. They shuck the oyster and you get to keep the pearl inside. Each person is guaranteed to find a pearl, and if you don't find one another oyster can be chosen. Here is a little history about pearls in Fakarava:

  • pearl farming started in Fakarava 1958.
  • The first pearls were harvested 1960.
  • It takes 2 years to grow a pearl.
  • The nucleus of the pearls are from a mussel shell that is imported from the Mississippi River. It is shipped to Japan where they make the different nucleus sizes.
  • The black plastic bunches are placed on the west side of the atoll to grab the plankton and start to grow the oysters.
  • The new oysters are gathered and brought to grow for 2 years in plastic bins protecting them from turtles, Manta rays and a type of grouper.
  • Every 3 months the shells are cleaned of eggs growing.
  • To implant the nucleus they take 20 shells at a time. One ouster is sacrificed to make 19 pearls. 
  • The outer black lips are used for the graph. They put a piece of the lips with the nucleus and place it in the stomach to grow.

shell cuts, naked nuclei, pearls, and a cut pearl

The pearls that Paige, Jordan, and I acquired. 
These were the pearls after shining.
Also, during our visit in Fakarave North, there was a French patrol and utilities ship in port. We ended up arranging a "private" tour with several cruising boats. It was super fun.

On another day we decided to rent bicycles from Fakarava Yacht Services (http://www.fakayachtservices.com/en/) to explore the area.  Stephanie and Aldric are very accommodating. They offer laundry services as well as wifi. 

It was windy and hot but, we had a great time.

During our bike ride we happened upon another pearl farm run by a German fellow.

pearl harvesting

excess shells
jewelry being sold
new pearl earrings
While we were in Rotoava, I pushed my boundaries by going on a dive by myself (meaning without anyone I knew). It turned out that there was only two of us with the dive master. Hopped in the boat and headed to the North pass do the reef dive. I was nervous when we arrived and there were wavy conditions and we had to descend fairly quick. I was lucky to be able to equalize quickly. 

It took me awhile to calm down and get my buoyancy but, once I did I was able to concentrate on the fish. There were Napoleon, snappers, groupers (blue spotted, black and white one), thorny crowned sea stars, a black and white polka dotted fish, green moray, white tip, grumpy old man squirrel fish being cleaned by a blue and black striped fish, White Sea star, corals, squirrel fish, unicorn fish, file fish , crown of thorns sea star.

May 16 - 18 Anse Amiotte

This was such a lovely stop. It is a false pass that has been equipped with several mooring balls. Another recommended stop! Gaston and Valentine live here. They are a lovely couple that really enjoy interacting with cruisers.

pearl buoys

Napolean fish aka hump headed wrasse
May 19 - Apataki 

Buddy boated with Beachlands from Fakarava north with Natalie on board Element.
We arrived at the pass 1.5 hours before slack tide. There were surfers enjoying the nice rollers on the right side of the entrance. The pass looked good so we entered. As we rounded the bend we saw just how much current there was....... eddies, and waves.

The following day we headed further down. We hit a big squall which required all adults on deck to navigate through pearl buoys and watch for coral heads. We managed to squeeze in a shower as well. That's how much water was falling from the sky.

Upon arrival to the anchorage, we were hailed by a fellow cruiser who directed us around some coral heads. Apataki has a haul out facility (Apataki Carenage). It looks like a precarious haul out area however, many boats were hauled here. It is pretty remote but if you have an emergency, this is a possible solution.

The atoll itself is beautiful. There are two nurse sharks that are residents. They are regularly fed by a local. One allows people to pet it. It was an awesome experience!

On one of our walks on the beach, we found a lovely spot to snorkel. Manuel went back to Element to grab drinks and snacks while Jordan, Naddia and I gathered wood for a fire. When he got back we decided against the fire but we sat in the water drinking our beers and message in a bottle (rum and coke). The message was "drink me", and we floated it back and forth amongst ourselves. We also were looking for tiny spotted cone shells.

On one of our last evenings we invited our good friends on Anima out for a bonfire. Fun was had by all!

Manuel (sv Anima) and Shaun

Paige in her Element

Jordan enjoying her creation

On May 22 we headed for the small motu called Rua Vahine. We went to land and met Michel and Claudine who have lived there for many years. They have many dogs who help keep the rat population down. 

Michel builds fish traps near his motu, and he then sells the fish to local restaurants and fish markets. We happened to visit when the traps were full. Michel took us out to see the many fish that would be sold. There were large Napoleon fish, Goat, Parrot, Bar Jack, Snapper, Mullet, Seabream and many others. We were lucky to be able to see them before the boat from the village arrived to empty the trap. In order to have a fish trap in the Tuamotus, you must ask permission, and pay an annual fee. Not everyone is allowed to build fish traps.

After seeing the fish, we were taken to the rock of Apataki. A sacred rock in the shape of a bird. The locals believe, if a lei is placed over the birds beak, it will bring luck for fishing. In past times they would perform this ritual, to have luck in turtle hunting. The practice of hunting for turtles is now forbidden. 

pandanus fruit
the rock of Apataki
a small watermelon growing in one of Michel's gardens
Element anchored near the motu Rua Vahine

May 24 - May 30 - Rangiroa 

We anchored very close to a lovely resort called the Kia Ora. This was our view from the boat.

This was the view from the resort.

While visiting Rangiroa we went diving on the outer reef with a great company, Six Passengers Dive Shop (https://www.the6passengers.com/en/). The staff are wonderful, I would highly recommend diving with them. I was fortunate enough to see loads of new fish from Titan triggers, a huge green moray, barracudas, a bird nosed wrasse that was eating my bubbles and at the end of the dive, I saw 3 dolphins swim by. Superb!!!!!! Rangiroa is famous for their dolphins. There is a local pod of dolphins that sometimes allows you to pat them while diving. I did not have the opportunity however, John and Ziggy from Windancer4 had a wonderful experience.

While we were here, we celebrated Naddia's 30th birthday. Six Passengers Dive Shop was gracious enough to offer up their premises for our celebration.

Paige and I also went for a dive on the outer reef. We heard the dolphins but, didn't see them. Paige got to pet a turtle and see the large green moray

It was a wonderful time at our final atoll before making our way to the Society Islands.

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