Thursday, 18 April 2019

Tuamotos

We've been touring around the amazing Tuamotos for 10days. Sadly the
children have to leave to return to the UK, but we had an incredible
time. These islands are straight out of a magazine - crystal clear
azure water with palm fringed beaches stretching out to the horizon on
either side.

After arriving in the north of Fakarava, we headed to the south pass
for the diving....which was extraordinary. We (Rob, Lizzie & Bridget)
we dropped at the ocean end of the pass and drifted in with the tide.
The coral was built up into wonderful towers but the main 'attraction'
was the sharks who congregated there to feed - thankfully not on
humans. As we held on coral to hold us still in the stream, we gazed
out into the deeper part of the channel where there must have been over
50 sharks - mainly black-finned sharks about 1.5m long swimming gently
into the current waiting for lunch to drift. Strangely (perhaps
stupidly) it didn't seem scary and the fish that alarmed me more was a
pair of tuna, about 2m long. They looked positively evil!

From there we went a few miles east to the corner of the atoll, a place
called Hirifa. There was a house there, but no-one answered our
knock. Impossibly beautiful.

We then spent a couple of days and an overnight passage to get here -
Rangiroa - stopping at Tu'au en-route.

I had calculated the theoretical time of low tide at the entrance pass
and we arrived 30mins after that hoping the stream would be mild. In
fact it was streaming out at upto 5knots with large standing waves. it
felt a bit hairy, but Tintin is such a capable boat there was barely
water on deck and all was well.

Today we went diving at the entrance to the Rangiroa pass - on the wall
of the reef as it plummets into the depths. A few sharks this time but
we swam with dolphins. Up to 5 at a time, and one mother with a baby
that the guide reckoned was only a few weeks old. Once the was us from
the surface, they came down to our depth to have a look but we were
clearly more interested in them that they in us. They came quite
closely to have a good look and then drifted slowly away. The whole
thing was very cool.

Bridget was done a video of the kids' time out here which I'm sure will
be posted when she gets decent internet. Worth a look.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Fakarava, our latest most favourite place

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Fakarava atoll has us running out of superlatives. Each different anchorage for the last 3 nights has been "the best ever". This surely can't continue.

We had a peaceful overnight sail down from Takaroa, and timed our arrival at the Fakarava's North pass for slack tide early on Wednesday morning. This was a different sort of pass entirely to Takaroa, being about half a mile wide and just about 100 metres long. Standing at the bow approaching the pass the colour of the water changes from the deepest cobalt blue to marine blue/ green then shades of turquoise as it shallows up and the floor changes to sand, with darker browny shades for coral. The water is crystal clear. To our left and right were low lying palm covered islands (" motus") fringed with coral reef and beach, where the Pacific swells crash into white breakers.

First stop, we anchored off the village of Rotoava. Lizzie, Paddy and I went ashore to buy food and lingered by the freezers in the air conditioned grocery store. Aah, so nice and cool! Rotoava Is a friendly and very relaxed place where things don't need to be rushed. The village sits either side of a road, with open Pacific Ocean beyond on one side and the atoll's sheltered lagoon on the other.

Our aim was to get to the southern pass to snorkel and dive along the famous Wall of Sharks, so we continued down the eastern edge of the lagoon to anchor overnight at Pakakota, 10 miles away. Ashore at dusk we met Matthieu, a local sailor who sold us cold beer, gave us access to the best Wi-fi we have found in Polynesia, and offered sage advice on the best way to dive at the southern pass. Sunset across the lagoon was stunning, a few tiny islets with palm trees appearing to float on the western horizon. These little islands are in the very shallow part of the lagoon about a third of the way across to the other side (where the volcanic peaks once were, many millennia ago). The far (western) side of Fakarava atoll is just reef with no islands.

By yesterday afternoon we were anchored by the south pass. Rob, Lizzie and Bee linked up with Eric, local dive master, to dive and see the sharks close up. James, Paddy and I took the dinghy through the pass, then jumped out to snorkel as we drifted with the current on the flood tide through the pass, the sun dancing through through the water all the way to the sea floor. It was an incredible experience, drifting with the current past coral and colourful fish with occasional flybys below us from black or white tip reef sharks (who paid us no attention what so ever).
I must admit that I has felt ambivalence bordering on negative feelings about jumping in the water knowing it was shark infested. But my fear melted away immediately when surrounded by the mesmerisingly beautiful world below the waves.

Today we have come a few miles east to the southeastern corner of Fakarava, and we have found a sandy anchorage with no coral bommies to dodge, a rose pink coloured sandy spit, and water of the most wonderful blues to float on. This is THE best anchorage. The drone was flown and we are all in awe of this little part of our planet.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Takaroa

We're now on passage overnight from Takaroa to Fakarava, passing close
to Apataki.

All these islands are atolls, which I would find hard to
believe could exist if I hadn't seen them. Atolls form when
mountainous volcanic islands like the Marquesas develop coral reefs
around their coasts - like Tahiti. The central volcanic islands
is gradually eroded as coral keeps being added to the reef leading,
over countless millenia, to these strange shaped islands. They are
anything from about 5 to 50miles around, thin bands of reef and very
low-lying sandy land encircling a lagoon. The strips of land
('motus') are invariably narrow, typically 100-200m but can stretch for
many miles around the lagoon, often interspered with gaps where there
is just reef - sea between 0 and 3foot deep. Most islands have
'passes' - small gaps in the reef that have been formed by the tidal
currents flushing in and out of the lagoon. The currents can flow very
strongly in these passes as they empty and fill the entire lagoon
through a very narrow gap.

Information about the pass on Takaroa was sketchy. We could calculate
the theoretical time of high and low tide - which is a guide to the
slack water - but that doesn't take into account other factors such as
they need to empty the lagoon of water that is pushed over the reef by
the swell on the windward side. We approached Takatoa about 40mins
before low water. The island supply ship, the St X Maris, was just
leaving - which was just as well as it occupied nearly the entire width
of the channel. It had docked at the town quay which lies at the
entrance to the channel and reversed out on what we thought was the last
of the ebb tide. We entered the channel - James on the first set of
spreaders to look for reefs, Bridget on navigation and the others using
polarised glasses to guage the depth. The tide was still flowing fast
in the channel - about 3 knots, but we could see at the head of the
channel an area of disturbed water where the entire flow entered the
channel from the north over a shallow patch before turning v sharply
west. For those that know it, it was like the tide running out past
Scoble point in Salcombe, but 3 times as fast and with a wall of reef
20m to starboard. The stream took the bow and for a brief moment I
wondered if it wuould spin the boat around completely before the stern
caught the stream as well alllowing me to steer to port. At full revs
we made 1.5 knots through the little cataract before breathing a sigh
of relief as we entered the lagoon proper.

The google earth photo shows our track. Judging from the Latitude
scale on the left, the pass is about 30m wide.

Anyway, safely inside, we poked around for an anchorage eventually
settling on a spot about a mile north of the entrance. It was great to
get the anchor down, safely wedged under a coral head(!) so we could
relax, swim & sleep. Paddy - his first trip on a boat being this
450mile ocean passage - seemed particularly pleased to stop for a while.

Lizzie and Bridget went diving, hunting for sharks and sorting out a
tripping live for the anchor. Lizzie has developed an alarming habit
of shouting 'Shark' v loudly, and then jumping in the water to chase it.

We all slept well and woke up in time to host the radio net at 9:00am.
But we couldn't hear anybody! It's surprising how silly one feels
doing a long, cheerful introduction to the day's net and the get in
return ..nothing. Rather like having a conversation with somebody
before realising they left the room minutes ago.

The morning was lovely. A gentle breeze wafted over the flat sea meant
the boat was cool and flat. All the crew were content to relax
onboard, waving to locals passing in their proa canoes but actually
DOING very much at all.

Leaving the pass was slightly less hairy than entering - we timed it
so the stream in the main pass was pretty slack, but there were still
overfalls at the corner.

We've got a few boat jobs to do in Fakarava:
- rethread lost spinnaker halyard in the mast
- investigate non-reception on the SSB
- investigate gearbox which was re-developed the habit of not
going into gear when asked
- Find out why our tender, Snowy, continues to gradually leak
air.

Blue water Cruising is, indeed, boat maintenance in exotic (in
this case v exotic) locations!