After leaving SE Asia due to being so ‘over’ sandy beaches and palm trees, we are soooo happy to be back in same. The Tuamotos, over 300 miles of atolls, with the southern group being out of bounds near the infamous Mururoa Atoll, are just divine and very much remind us of our amazing Maldivian experience.
Our first priority was to go to Apataki Atoll for our haul out in paradise and get our very dirty bottom seen to. We decided to choose two atolls to visit so we were not rushing from place to place. Every atoll has its own unique aspect, but they mostly have amazing coral and fish with stunning clear water that we all love to float around in.
Every atoll has a pass which can be tricky. They have been written up by past cruisers as having 8 foot standing waves that try and sink the boat as you pass through them and spinning the boat sideways. All in all, if you can plan your entry and exit close to slack water, they are manageable. Mind you, we do not have 30 knots of wind!!!!!!!!!!
Our entry into Apataki was a little earlier than planned as we had been waiting outside for 3 hours, arriving at 0400 hours. We got the last of the ebb through the SW pass, which gave us 2 knots against us as we entered from the ocean and 4 knots as we went into the lagoon. We had good leads and a marked channel, so all was easy. It’s good to be back in IALA A territory.
The lagoon was all that we expected. We decided to go exploring the first few days as the weather was so nice. Sandy cays, nice coral and good snorkeling.
I did have a bit of a scare as I went for my morning swim out to the anchor. On the way back, this large Remora (almost as long as my arm) came at me from under the boat. I was thinking reef shark (as there are many) and he would go away as they do. However, the Remora kept coming and I thought it was a shark coming for the attack. I made lots of splashing whilst at the same time making haste towards the ladder and yelling for Peter to rescue me. The Remora did not like the splashing and looked a little confused and kept coming at me when I stopped splashing. This little game of ours lasted a few minutes, which seemed like a long time! Where was Peter?? Enjoying some loud opera music below which of course screened my shouting! Got the heart rate up a little!! Since then, we have swam with lots of black and white tipped reef sharks and are sort of used to them, except when the bigger ones eyeball us!
Tony, the son of the Lau family who run the yard came out to greet us on arrival and invited us ashore later. They are the only family on the island with the small village is 9 miles across the lagoon at the pass. So it is quite isolated and quiet. We inspected the yard and listened to how the haul out works, with one boat going in so we could watch how it all happens. As it turns out, the whole family and all the yachties there come and watch the proceedings.
The yard consists of compressed coral and has been raised to about 5m absl with many yachties choosing to dry store their yachts for the cyclone season. It’s a risk you take but it has been a while since the Tuamotos have had a full on cyclone.
The drill was that we weave between the marked coral heads and drive onto the trailer. Tony is in the water guiding you onto the trailer, with his dad, Alfred, driving the tractor. Another chap is in the water as well.
With no wind and little swell this is actually not a problem. We draw 6’ and had 100mm under the keel as we drove onto the trailer. Once on it, Tony is underwater pushing the boat so that he can line up the hydraulic pads.
The trailer is designed and built in France and can lift up to 20 tonnes. As we came out of the water, the trailer was continually adjusted so that we were level and close to the ground. For us, this was much less stressful than being hauled out in the more conventional travel lift. There was a moment where the tractor could not pull us over the join in the concrete pad at the water line. With the back hoe extended and chain tied around the bucket, it was pulled in as the tractor reversed providing more pull. Although we theoretically weigh 14 tonnes, we figure we are about 16 tonnes loaded.
We had to wait an extra 3 days on the hard due to inclement weather. As it was not our fault, we did not have to pay any extra. Our haul out, including 3 nights on the hard, high pressure wash and props cost us around $400. They had ordered our bottom paint for us from NZ at a cost which was only a little more than what we would have paid in Australia. This was far more acceptable to us than the $3000 it would have cost us to do the same in Panama!!
After one coat of antifouling, Peter twisted his back again. Under his instruction (for a while!!), I had to finish the job. I am not sure which was more painful for Peter…his back or him trying to instruct me on EXACTLY what he wanted done!
Mum, Pauline, speaks good English, answers all the emails and does the accounts. The family also run a pearl yard (infamous black pearls) and the grandparents export copra, which is still used in the making of cosmetics.
Others who are around help out with other coconut products. After they (the coconuts) have sprouted, the soft flesh inside is extracted and pounded up with crushed hermit crabs (who provide important oil) and made into an oil that repel nonos and mosquitos. Every night barrels are lit to burn coconut husks to keep these bities away. They are very ferocious.
With jobs done, like swapping our new VHF onto the more powerful cable so we have a 20 mile plus range.............
it was off to Rangiroa, the next atoll, an overnight sail. As we had had isolation for a week, we were keen to see village life with restaurants, fresh food, wifi and seeing what passes us by.
Arriving at Rangiroa just after slack water low at 0730, we went straight in the pass with a gentle flood tide and flat water. Our overnight passage was what dreams were made of at sea; starry night with half-moon, calm seas and enough wind to push us along between the atolls.
Anchoring in a nice calm anchorage was once again a welcomed relief. Terry and Elaine from Virgos Child (one of two out of 14 Australian boats we have seen that are actually circumnavigating) came over for a chat and to give us the low down on the where and when on the island.
Josephines, a restaurant in the pass, is one of the local hang outs. We can watch the ebb racing out and the dolphins jumping.
Dave (La Fiesta, Aussie as well) Peter and Terry relaxing after a beer!
Some 20 miles across the main lagoon is ‘Blue Lagoon’ and a worthwhile visit. We opted for a fast boat ride to do this in a day and so we were not anchored overnight on a lee shore. Snorkeling was average but we did get to snorkel in the little pass there with many black tipped reef sharks and large schools of fish.
Before we left on our tour, we did a drift dive on the western pass, which was stunning. Clear water, lots of coral and fish…we were drifting along at around 2 knots for half an hour.
Whilst we were off swimming in Blue Lagoon, our hosts prepared a wonderful local B-B-Q lunch with coconut bread. It was yum!
Near the small motu in the main pass is what the locals call the ‘aquarium’. It is by far the best snorkeling we have done with a stunning array of coral, fish, turtles, and 5 large moray eels. The latter were massive and slinked around near the rock ledges. One came at us, so being the brave soldiers that we are; we made a very hasty exit.
The above Moray Eel is slinking along the bottom with another sticking his head out to see if its safe.
Our anchorage in Rangiroa is wonderfully calm and protected and we will be here for a week or so before we set sail for Tahiti. Peter would rank this as THE best place he has ever been in THE world.
It is 180 miles to the northern end of Tahiti and should take us 1 night and the better part of 2 days on an easterly wind. Our course is 203 degrees to Punta Venus where we can anchor for a night before going around to the main anchorage. We will have a near full moon and have made a booking for the marina to get our engine sorted and some welding done on our boom. Of course from here on in, we have to lock up the dinghy and put away anything else on deck that could be removed!
By the time we leave French Polynesia we would have stayed our customary 3 months. That is never enough time for such an amazing place. Understandably, the French are strict with the visa situation. Otherwise no-one would leave! The French yachties can only stay 2 years without importing their boat, even though duty has been paid in France.