Tuamotu Islands – The Dangerous Archipelago – 2016…..

Dear Friends and Family, (Written from Papeete, Tahiti – August 24th, 2016)

This blog is about our time in the Tuamotu Islands and arrival in Papeete, Tahiti

We looked at the weather which had been pretty rainy and rough in the Tuamotu Group and saw a 3 day weather window which would be just enough time for we cool fast cats to make the 500 mile sail from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus. Here’s Nikki doing one of her favorite “sun down rituals”, blowing the conch shell to say farewell to the day.
The approaching front at the end of our second day. We knew we’d get hit with some big wind in the early morning hours. We’d tactically planned for this staying way east so we could fall away with the wind shift we expected at the usual “O’Dark Thirty”…..:-) This would allow us to stay on a nice angle of sail and not get too beat up on the home stretch as we then headed southwest.
The weather was still going to be a bit strange. We were trying to essentially head due south which is a difficult thing to do with the normal South East to southerly winds. There were lots of unusual cloud formations as two fronts were getting closer to each other. Squalls and rainbows were the order of the day. Beautiful, but it also meant we needed to literally keep our “weather eyes” open.
On the morning of our third day, we arrived at Raroia. You can see from the disturbed water, that the current is running hard. Normally, this is no big deal for us as we are easily able to power through even 5+ knots of current. However, as you all may recall, our engines were VERY suspect. As such, we were making only 1 knot against the height of the entry current. Once on the inside of the lagoon, we were home free.
Currents can be as strong as 6 knots, but that’s not the norm. There are computer programs to help with entry times, but the best information usually comes from the boats inside the lagoons. Sometimes, you can even see “standing waves” which can be two meters (6 feet high). I had seen that at our trip to Rangiroa in 2009. It’s a bit daunting! This is one of the reasons that the Tuamotus are known as “The Dangerous Archipelago”.
s/v “Enchanter”  (Lisa and Rijnhard from Sydney) inside the eastern shore of Raroai Atoll. The main reason these islands were known as the “Dangerous Archipelago” is that there are 77 atolls, none of which are taller than a coconut tree. As such, navigation prior to GPS was to say the least harrowing. They were not widely visited by anyone prior to GPS and once the advent of modern navigation technology was easily available, they’ve been a cruisers Mecca ever since.  There are also what are known as “Bommies” located inside the lagoons. These are coral heads that sometimes are only a few inches below the water and require strict attention and judicious use of “eyeball navigation”.  More than one boat has come to grief in these islands. While we were in French Polynesia this year, at least two were a total loss.
“Kon Tiki Island” – This is the famous “motu” (or small island) where in 1947, the Kon Tiki raft with Thor Heyerdahl and crew washed ashore. Here is now a monument placed in 2007, commemorating his voyage. This proved it was possible to use indigenous materials from South America and literally drift/sail to islands of the Pacific. Heyerdahl was the world’s leading proponent of the theory that the Islands of the Pacific were inhabited from South America and not from East Asia which is still the predominant belief among most archeologists. As sailors, we think Heyerdahl had it right as it’s hard enough getting here downwind. Upwind is seemingly impossible – that is – coming from the west. For more on “Kon Tiki”, click the link here: “Kon Tiki” Expedition – Thor Heyerdahl – 1947
Kon Tiki Commemorative placard.
Here you can see how low lying the atolls are. At night, without GPS and accurate charts this would be a nightmare to try and sail around. In other words, don’t do it unless everything is working well and you’re confident of your abilities. One of the boats lost here was at night this year. There are at least 77 of these atolls and they are as close together as a few miles in some cases. There is also lots of current. Be careful out there folks! Heyerdahl’s raft washed up more or less where you see the reef’s edge in the background. It was pretty much pounded to pieces in the surf.
Socializing is a big deal with we cruisers out here and “beach barbies” a common event. From Left to Right: Kyle and Shelley of “Blowin’ Bubbles”, Scott and Nikki, of “Beach House” and Lanny and Ginger of “Swiftsure”.
Chuck, Nikk and Linda. (Chuck and Linda are from San Diego, California). Chuck and Linda were with me and Cindy in 2009 at Mexico’s Revillegegos Islands. It was truly one of the best experiences any of us had ever had, spending 6 weeks interacting daily with enormous Manta Rays. We hadn’t really seen each other in 6 years and it was great to have Nikki meet them and finally get some quality catch up time. We stay in frequent email contact.
s/v “Jacaranda” Chuck Houlihan and Linda Eidiken. They’v been cruising for at least 15 years.
Kyle looking at all that cash!….The big industry in the Tuamotus is Pearl Farming. Black Perls are the specialty of French Polynesia and here, we and the crew of “Bubbles” did a tour of the local pearl farm on Raroia. We have to watch out in the lagoon when moving around that we don’t run over their lines too!
Christine from “Bubbles” is observing this gal along with about 7 others, who were “pearl seed experts”. They know how to open and place a small synthetic (literally irritant) inside the pearl to maximize it’s shape, size and color. The “seeders” are imported seasonally from Asian nations to contract this work.
Pearl Seeding is an art form. Here are the tools of the trade. It’s quite the assembly line to watch. About 50,000 pearls of various quality are harvested in Raroia annually.
Off to Tahanea…. Another of the Tuamotus and a “night/day” sail (carefully!) was the atoll of Tahanea. You can again see the ripping pass currents as there are few outlets for the enormous amount of water trying to escape the lagoons.
Beach Party…..This anchorage was nicely protected from the 20 knots “breeze” just around the corner and we had about 6 boats here for our very brief stay.
Christine (crew on “Bubbles”) and Nikki checking out an occasionally used beach house. Locals will often move around the islands fishing and set up these temporary living quarters.
Nikki and I fell in love with this tree. It’s color, texture and anthropomorphisation was spectacular.
Human Form – This was clearly part of the appeal and the colors and texture were magnificent. We wish we could have taken it with us. What a center piece in a natural environment.
Rainbow at Tahanea Atoll.
Our third island in the group would be my favorite of all – Fakarava
The Greatest of Ironies. When Cindy and I were in Fakarava in 2010, we met the local dive guide Marc Reteneaur. Marc was just the best guy ever. He left Fakarava shortly after we did and hasn’t been back since. I had no idea, he had just returned! What a time we always have. Cindy and friends Jill and Dan and I dove with Marc in the South Pass at least 20 times. The memories were overwhelming and the diving was still just as great. Marc is the best!
Kyle and Scott go diving…. We did the south pass with the hundreds of Gray Reef Sharks and it was cool. Kyle and his wife Shelley are both dive instructors so the diving was extra easy.
Water Music – For those of you have followed us recently, you might remember I did a post on “We’ve just been passed by a sports car”! Well, here is the owner himself, Pascal Imbert aboard his “rocket ship” s/v “Water Music”. We figured he hurt his arm because he was going so fast, the wind bent it back too quickly. Pascal is a semi-retired music mogul and it turns out we had two friends in common back in the US. He and his crew Tom were great guys and we did “sea stories” on steroids over fine French Wine. Pascal also turned us on to some great Miles Davis music which Nikki and I now adore. As you can tell from Kyle’s face, he enjoyed the wine!
The gangs all here. Mostly, this is the crew of s/v “Kandu” from Marina del Rey (Ventura area too). The kids are big into diving – they just got certified and surfing is big too. Here, I’m dropping the group “up current” for the snorkel in the pass.
Sharks! This is what diving in Fakarava is mostly about. There are HUNDREDS of gray reef sharks as well as the odd lemon, lots of black and white tips too.
Lemons of Fakarava. These guys are about 2-3 meters. 6-8 feet long or so.
We had to finally say good bye to most of our friends and keep moving which we did inside the lagoon. It’s a day motor/sail up to the north pass where after a HARROWING night we’d had a few days earlier, the weather just went flat and gorgeous. To see about our night on a “lee shore” in a mini storm. I’ll let Kyle tell the story of Beach House, Bubbles and Swiftsure. Link to Kyle’s blog here: Kyle and Shelley’s Blog in the Tuamotus Notice from the THIRD PHOTO DOWN on this link, Kyle’s story of our riding out the storm in Fakarava on a sudden “lee shore”: Lee Shore – Fakarava Storm
Moods of Rotoava, Fakarava Lagoon – The Tuamotus. This is the second most populated island in the Tuamotus with about 750 people. Most are completely uninhabited. You can’t tell from looking at this photo, but there are dozens of “Bommies” in view. Very shallow rocks that are easy to hit. In the foreground, you can see some of their shadows.
Lagoon at north Fakarava. We would leave the next day for the daysail to Toau.
The day turned wet and wild and when we arrived in Toau, the current was so strong when we tried to pick up the mooring, our dock pole went for a swim. I had to dive to get it back. You can see our blue current line which I use for safety so I’m not blown out to sea. The current was about 2 1/2 knots which is too hard to swim against. The dock pole was rescued and I brought this live shell up to show Nikki. I returned it after viewing.
The locals eat these. But be careful, some species have a spear like projection that can give you a nasty poke. The animal has retreated into it’s shell for protection and it’s constant movement along the bottom is why the shell is so polished on it’s underside.
Entering Papeete Harbor – Weather Window Appears. As much as we’d have liked to spend a few more days at Valentin and Gaston’s “Anse Amyot” cove on Toau, the weather window opened and we were off for the overnight sail to Tahiti – the capital of French Polynesia.
Point Venus – This is the exact spot (Lighthouse) where Captain James Cook on his first voyage to the Pacific, sighted the “transit of venus” in 1769 to help prove mathmatically the distance that the Sun was from the Earth. It’s also the view that the “Bounty” sailors of the famous “Mutiny on the Bounty” had as they arrived in Papeete.

Entrance Buoy at Papeete Harbor. We would end up staying here almost 3 months getting our repairs done.  Remember you Yanks, it’s RED on the left when returning from the sea in most of the world outside the America’s!

Our next blog will be about our time in Tahiti some of our sight seeing and mostly about our BOAT REPAIRS!

Please recall that the definition of cruising a small boat is “doing boat projects in exotic locations”…..:-)  It is completely TRUE.
I hope to get this out as soon as tomorrow, Friday at the latest as we’ll be off on Saturday to finally go WEST!
Scott and Nikki
<p style=”color: #3b3b3b; font-family: Arial; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 400;”></p>