Sunday, July 24, 2011

YOLO in Tahanea Tuamotus


Colorful clams at Tahanea in the Tuamotus. They come in all colors from purple, teal blue, brown and green.

The coral itself is purple here!

The view from the boat in the south end of the lagoon at Tahanea. Absolutely gorgeous here.

Marina and John on Kailani, another PDQ catamaran. The banner they're holding says Happy Birthday and was the first thing we saw once we cleared the pass into Tahanea. So sweet!

May 5, 2011 Jason's Birthday

We made the crossing from Nuku Hiva to Tahanea in the Tuamotus with no problem. Our friends were all heading for different atolls, but we hoped to run into them island hopping up and down the chain as we all figured to visit some of the same ones. As we got close to Tahanea, our friends John and Marina on Kailani let us know they were anchored just inside the pass there and had made this atoll their destination to celebrate Jason's birthday (5/5) with him. They'd kept it a surprise until the last day but wanted us to know they were there so we didn't change our destination at the last minute, as often happens here because of timing for tides and currents. If you don't hit it just right ,at slack tide, it can be problematic, so some folks just keep going to the next atoll to try the pass there rather than waiting for up to 6 hours for another slack tide.

Since these atolls are ancient sunken islands with only the surrounding coral reefs still above water, the tides rushing out of the lagoons can create nasty standing waves and very, very strong currents that would toss YOLO around like a toy. So we approached with caution. Our speed went from over 5 knots to .6 knots and the current tried to turn the boat 90 degrees. A wee bit of adrenaline flowing there for a few minutes, but we powered through and as we passed Kailani, they held up a huge Happy Birthday banner--how sweet! We'd helped celebrate John's birthday a month earlier when they reached the Marquesas (our brain cells were just now recovering) and Marina had baked a cake for Jason.

They helped us as we anchored in 35-40' of patchy sand and coral heads. From their dinghy, looking through a site bucket, they confirmed our anchor hit sand, but it took no time at all to get it wrapped and caught on coral heads that came to within 10' of the surface. We tried to find swing room where we didn't risk hitting a coral head when the wind changed, but any change in direction meant the chain would get caught on coral somewhere along its length. Of course I worried about that and we eventually had to act on it to avoid too much strain. We (Jason) clipped fenders onto the chain at several intervals to float the chain above the coral heads nearest the boat so we didn't lose our scope. We'd read about that in a sailing magazine and it really worked! Jason went over and helped Kailani buoy their chain after getting it unwrapped. Theirs had caught a coral head close to the bow and wind and waves had put so much pressure on it that it actually bent their stainless steel bridle catch and bent the steel nut in their bow roller, so finding this other solution was good for them, too.

They stayed only a couple of nights as they wanted to get to Tahiti and on to Australia so he could return to Canada to spend some time with his ailing Dad. They gave us both tiny Canadian flag lapel pins and we are now honorary Cannucks. And we had the lagoon all to ourselves and 1 other boat.

We headed to a sandy anchor spot in the SE corner of the lagoon, directed by waypoints that had been published by a boat from last year. Water in the lagoon is over 100' deep most places except the edges, but there are coral heads that come right to the surface in odd places. We put the hook down in fine white sand in shallow clear water and didn't have to worry about wrapping it on any nearby coral heads in our new location; what a difference! This is like living in a calendar photo! Palm trees a snorkel away on the coral beach across the turquoise waters where we can see the individual grains of sand on the bottom below YOLO. One big coral bommie could be an issue if the wind swang just right, so we put a buoy on it so we could see it at night if we had to make a move. Bad things always happen at 3-4 am so we wanted to be able to see where the coral head was in the dark, just in case. We'd found 4 big fishing floats when we walked the windward beach across the lagoon and used them to buoy the chain and mark this coral head. No need to risk losing one of our fenders and there is no shortage of basketball-sized floats that come ashore on these atolls.

The beach is broken coral and shells, with very little real sand yet, but the sand that is here is pink or salmon colored. The sea-polished cowrie shells in pinks, purples and blues are gorgeous and the long pointy spirals are quite a find. We found a huge oyster as big as my hand (no pearl inside) with smooth mother-of -pearl insides that are lustrous and shiny. The sparkly teal, blue and purple lips of the clams on the coral heads amaze me and it was only the sharks cruising around that could drag my attention away. There always seems to be one or two around the boat and in the distance when we are in the water. When they get to about 6' from me, I splash to scare them away. They are black-tipped reef sharks that folks say won't bite or bother you; they are just curious. I'm still wary. Especially after I was walking from one motu (part of the fringing reef) to another at low tide, splashing through the shallow water, and a 2' shark swam at me in barely 6" of water! I thought he was going to bite my ankles. I high-stepped it the last few yards across the water and on to the coral of the next motu in a hurry, believe me. And looked real hard before I crossed back...

We had the anchorage all to ourselves for over a week (makes clothing optional) and we got some boat projects done and did some exploring and snorkeling, too. The reef/ocean side of the motu looked like a lunar landscape, with jagged grey coral and pounding waves. The storms and rushing high water scours the surface and makes it very unfriendly for feet. Folks ride the current into the lagoon while snorkeling and say it's like flying in the water. Inside its calm and still and sandy on the bottom. And it rained here so we did the laundry, rinsed the rugs and pillow covers and refilled every container we have with water. So much for the Tuamotus being 'dry'.

There are coconut trees on the motus and I found and opened my first one with the machete I'd traded grapefruit for. Warning: cocunut husks also stain! My Cayman Brac t-shirt now looks permanently dirty on the front from where I was husking the nut. Jason has since sharpened the machete so it now does a better job and he has cracked open a few of them and we've enjoyed fresh coconut, coconut rice, curried coconut pork, coconut rice and get the idea. A coconut goes a long way when it's grated. We had to find recipes for bananas, too, since they all seem to ripen on the same day.

We heard about 7 old-fashioned, traditional sailing canoes that had arrived from Auckland, New Zealand, Rarotonga and Tahiti on their way to the Marquesas, Hawaii and then California. They are said to be quite pretty works of art and the 16-man crews are following traditional routes using traditional methods. So we headed to Fakarava to see if we could catch them before they left. We had to motor overnight in the calm and still reached the pass at the worst possible time in the tide schedule. We motored through the rough entrance and down the inside of the atoll to the village and dropped anchor not far from where the traditional vessels were tied to the town wharf.

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