Friday, June 30, 2017

Toau, Tuamotus

Toau, Tuamotus
June 15 - 18, 2017

A daysail from Fakarava, we headed to Toau. We were especially excited about Toau as Soggy Paws had claimed in their compendium, "this is our favorite place in the Tuamotus." After three days here, we still don't know what they're referencing.

I'll give Toau some props; they have a false pass which is neat. Anse Amyot on the NW side of the atoll allows you to only barely enter the atoll but does not give access to the lagoon. There are about 9 mooring balls available all run by Gaston and Valentine that will cost $5 USD a day unless you opt to eat dinner at there establishment for $30 USD then the mooring ball is gratis.

In search of what all the hype was about we toured Gaston and Valentine's compound. The many animals running around were a huge hit with the girls. Pigs, roosters, cats, dogs and the worlds cutest puppy.

We did enjoy snorkeling outside the pass where the world's most inquisitive sharks live. A little too inquisitive for my taste. 

Phil thought it would be an okay idea to spearfish outside the pass. Unfortunately the fish he shot got off the spear and was swimming around bleeding. Suddenly there were 6 sharks circling around. We sat and watched the sharks swim in a cirlce eight type pattern, in a frenzy. All was going well till a large shark decided to charge at me! I was like a cartoon character come to life. I all but walked on water getting back into the dinghy. Almost certain I've never moved so fast!

Gaston and Valentine used to own a pearl farm and have leftover​ pearls they trade with. Our friends off Cape D traded some T-shirts and hats for a handful of pearls. Toau is a neat place, however it doesn't deserve the accolade as 'best in the Tuamotus' in our book.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Fakarava, Tuamotus

Fakarava, Tuamotus
June 5 - 15, 2017

"I feel as if I'm living inside of a postcard." Phil.

Undoubtedly pictures of Fakarava make their way into the photograph trifecta every French Polynesian brochure uses. With Fakarava's stunning beauty it was no wonder we all felt trapped inside a screen saver. It was the type of screen saver I used to dream into while sipping low-budget office provided coffee in my work cube wondering, "How in THE hell did I get here?"

Highlights to this UNESCO biosphere reserve include the snorkel drift at it's south pass. A snorkel drift is when you use the incoming tide to push you over a mile (or miles) of a patchwork quilt made up of coral, fish and sharks. Simply dinghy to the entrance of the atoll via the pass and look for a dive buoy. Clip your dinghy to the dive buoy, get your gear on and once ready hop out of the dingy and drift with the tide. With one person holding a lead to the dinghy everyone glides over the sea floor. As the pass begins to narrow, the current picks up and pretty soon you feel like Superman flying over the ocean floor. About 40 minutes later, after you've drifted past dozens of black tip sharks, thousands of coral heads and endless schools of fish, you lift your head to realize the current has pushed you all the way back to your boat and that everyone is  ready to do it all over again. We snorkeled the south Fakarava pass 5 times!

During our stay in Fakarava we were lucky enough to enjoy a full moon. During our snorkel drifts the ocean floor was a blanket of grouper all spawning in conjunction with the full moon. It was borderline painful to look down at the hundreds of swimming 'fish tacos' and not be able to spear one. There was a special film crew floating around to video the black tip, grey and white tip sharks. They too were mating during the "special" full moon ~ something about the full moon nearest the solstice.

Just 5 miles north of the south pass is Hirifa. Hirifa is covered with endless stretches of white coral sand and swaying palm trees, the perfect backdrop for beach bonfires and kid camp out. Maybe it's because our girls have been watching too many episodes of Survivor, but they thought it would be fun to create their own shelters and have a beach slumber party with fellow cruising kids.

The white spit of sand seemed like the perfect place to throw up a regulation sized volleyball court and have a friendly competition. Team Daryl won.

After a few days of living in what felt like wall calendar photos, we, along with 3 buddy boats sailed to the north end of Fakarava. North Fakarava is where our friends on Coastal Drifter would be waiting for us to celebrate Captain Phil's 60th birthday. And what a celebration it was! There wasn't a boat in the entire anchorage who hadn't been invited and present for the birthday bash.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Makemo, Tuamotus

Makemo, Tuamotus
May 31 - June 4

On the advice of our buddy boat, Makemo was a must see although they had warned us that the anchorage in front of the village was awful. They were correct. We came through the pass of Makemo with no issues and two buddy boats following closely behind. It seems as though any time we get to a pass, it's "Hey Terrapin, why don't you go first?" We've started to refer to ourselves as the 'Sacrificial Lamb' when attempting to enter or exit a pass with a line of boats behind us. People usually have two things to say about the Tuamotus; it's absolutely stunning and getting through the passes requires perfect timing and can be tricky.

We've yet to "time" a pass perfectly and thus far haven't had any issues. Honestly, the whole idea of sailing through a pass at slack tide is starting to sounds like a myth. We have tide tables, none of them seem to be pinpoint accurate and so far we've just made our best guess as to when a pass is navigable. So far, so good.

We dropped anchor in front of the Makemo village next to the only other boat there, a French boat with a couple staring at us with the worlds largest set of binoculars. Not sure if she was trying to see up my nose or what, but at only 70 feet away the binoculars seemed a bit overkill. Excited to see a village bustling with almost 1000 people, we hopped in the dinghy and went to shore. We pulled up to the quay to see a few villagers plucking items off the supply ship that had just docked. To our surprise men were walking back into town with weed whackers? Where were the baguettes and beer? Weed whackers?

Most of French Polynesia closes from around noon till 2:00pm in the afternoon, their "siesta" break, yet there's always people mingling about. Today the village seemed vacant, not a soul around, we began to wonder if we had come on a holiday. A quick walk through town revealed large concrete paved roads, large enough for all 4 automobiles on the atoll. Almost everyone living on Makemo rides a bicycle - the beach cruisers type reminicent of those I rode up and down the boardwalk in San Diego. Local bikes have 3 wheels with large wire baskets mounted over the back two tires. Their baskets carry everything from barrels of gasoline, groceries, supplies, children to their beloved boom boxes blasting out tunes. Walking towards the lighthouse we unanimously stopped and took a huge whiff. "I smell fresh cut grass!" Within seconds we spotted the huge John Deer riding mower cutting along a field. Across the street from us, on the curb, was evidence that they indeed utilize weed whackers. Ever blade of grass trimmed to perfection. The entire island was pristine and every homeowner had a manicured front yard displaying pride of ownership. Just about every front yard had a small orange-yellowish flag blowing in the breeze. The flags had a sort of Polynesian design on them and appeared to resemble people sitting in an outrigger. We thought maybe there was an outrigger festival about to take place and that's where everyone had run off to. Later in the day we came across a long rectangular billboard with about four movie sized posters on it. Each poster had the faces of those who were running for some sort of official office. On the poster of what appeared to be the worlds happiest Polynesian couple was the emblem from the flags seen all over town. Dressed in colorful traditional clothing, the couple's bright smiling faces stared right back. The poster next to theirs was of a challenger, two French men. The one French man looked as though he had a flashlight shinning in his eyes, squinting, showing his teeth through a possible growl. The man behind him looked like he was desperately trying not to flatulate. Based on looks alone, the Frenchmen didn't​ have a snow ball's chance in Tonga at winning the election.

Back at the boat, it was time for a cold beer while watching new boats attempt to anchor in 25 knots of steady wind in what is quite possibly the worst anchorage spot in all of the Tuamotus. We had our first experience of a boat attempting to anchor on us. Not near us, not close to us, ON us. The entire time the catamaran was backing up on us, we sat in the cockpit both shaking our heads NO. The woman driving the boat ignored us, dropped anchor and then disappeared into the boat with her husband. We quickly exchanged a few words on the VHF, never changing from channel 16, expressing our concerns. The man acknowledged our concerns without ever committing to moving. Ten minutes later and we were hanging off the side of their catamaran in our dinghy, nicely asking that they move. I don't get people like this. I don't expect anyone to give a rats rip about my boat, but shouldn't people care about their own?

Paddling home after hanging out in their own lagoon 

Back in the cockpit, resuming our cold beer enjoyment, we sat back and watched the shit show. The man of the catamaran was not a happy camper, especially when he couldn't get his anchor up as it had gotten fouled on corral (he had never attached floats to his rode, hell, he never backed down to set his anchor). As he was stomping around, getting his scuba gear on, their boat was wildly sloshing around between us, another boat and the quay. As dickish as it sounds, it was nice to finally not be the boat on center stage for the shit show. Looking through the anchorage just about everyone was on deck as more boats attempted anchor. People yelling, boats dropping anchor and not catching, boats drifting all about. One of our friends was on the bow of his boat looking like a scene out of Titanic as another boat was drifting towards him ready to Tbone him. What a mess.

The next morning after not much sleep, we upped anchor and motored into a steady 27 knots to get to a more protected anchorage spot and away from any other boats. Within two hours we were tucked behind our private motu and back to a lake like setting. We spent the next few days enjoying being the only boat around and exploring our own fingerlets. The girls loved being able to take their kayak and hang out all day exploring their own private lagoons, finding their own oysters complete with pearls inside, combing through coral and snorkeling. Phil enjoyed spearfishing after confirming with locals that he didn't have to worry about ciguetera. He was only able to spear one fish that made for a decent sized taco, an extremely enjoyable taco.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Rarioa, Tuamotus (Eye Candy inside)

Rarioa, Tuamtous
May 23-30

After three weeks in the Marquesas we were more than eager to get going. For us, Marquesas didn't quite make the cut. Fellow cruisers who had sailed the Sea of Cortez, understood our perspective. Cruisers who had never sailed the Sea of Cortez thought we were insane. How could you possibly cross an ocean only to be disappointed? It was best explained by, "It's like breaking up with someone after two years. There was no reason to split up, other than wanting to see what else is out there. The Sea of Cortez is a remarkable place, almost perfect in every way."

Given all the wonderful things we had heard and read describing the Tuamotus we were ready to set out on the 500 mile passage. The passage from Marquesas to Tuamotus was our best passage ever. With jib and jigger out and a steady 15 knots off the beam, we sailed our quickest 24 hour passage yet, sailing 160 miles in 24 hours.

Unlike sailing upon the Marquesas, there were no standing mountains rising out of the ocean, visable from 30 miles away. Rather, we took turns squinting through a pair of binoculars, "I think I see land. Maybe a palm tree or two." Sailing up to our first pass entrance was a bit confusing. There's nothing terribly obvious when looking through a pass and we relied heavily on our charts. Using our chart plotter and way points provided by the Soggy Paws Compendium, we sailed our way, zig zag, to the eastern side of the atoll and dropped anchor behind our very own motu. Paradise as we had imagined it!

Anchored directly behind our own palm tree covered island created a lake like sea state while still being able to enjoy the 15 knots of wind blowing over the boat. The girls would take turns asking us to "Turn on the AC", which meant opening the large hatch in the middle of the boat to allow the gusting wind to funnel through the entire boat. They got a kick out of standing in the middle of the boat with their hair wildly whipping around.

We spent the next few days kayaking over to our private island and exploring our newly found paradise for hours on end. On one side of the small motu was the inside of the atoll, a lagoon, the other side of the atoll (sometimes only a few hundred feet of separation) was open to the ocean outside, completely different sea states. The worlds largest hermit crabs live on this atoll.

After a few days of relishing in cool, gusting air, a lake like anchorage and watching hermit crab battles, we moved a few miles east and anchored near the pearl farm. The pearl farm is a Mon. through Fri. operation with about one dozen people (who all live on premise) working 7 hours a day. The pearl farm was well worth the visit and taught us exactly what the process is to create a cultured pearl. Using what appears to be dental tools, Chinese grafters carefully insert a marble of varrying size into an oyster. Yup...a marble. Once the marble is carefully placed, the oyster is then attached along with a dozen others to plastic mesh and later attached to a bouy that dangles in the open ocean. After about one year, once the oyster has had a chance to cover the marble with pearl, the grafter will extract the cultured pearl and place another marble into the oyster, and the process starts all over. The entire process requires more than just the grafters, other people pick up the oyster bouys at sea, some men crack open fresh oysters that hadn't already been used in the process, etc.

During the tour we attempted to buy some of the real (yet very small) pearls that the grafters had pulled out of the oysters while extracting the cultured pearls. The owner, Gigi wasn't willing to sell or trade with us. Everything, real and cultured pearls, were all to be sold in Tahiti. Period. While the entire process was intriguing to watch, we walked away in agreeance that we wouldn't be willing to spend more than $10USD for a cultured pearl or as we call them, "fancy marbles".

We were intrigued by who lives on an atoll in the middle of the Pacifc ocean, so we motored across Rarioa to its village. The small village had everything one could need; school, air strip, 2 grocery (this term is used lightly, very lightly) stores, church, cemetery, soccer field, post office, and cute houses scattered about, all for 250 inhabitants. Walking through town we met several extremely nice villagers, many whom spoke English. One lady whistled us over to her house and asked if we would be interested in buying pearls. She laid out on a towel covered table about two dozen cultured pearls. After a quick look, Jessica said she was interested but wasn't sure if she wanted to buy them there or in Tahiti. Once the children came out and grabbed hold of their mothers leg who was selling the pearls, it became clear to Jess. She bought a $10 cultured pearl and was happy to support a local villager rather than a shop owner in Tahiti. Emma was holding out for the real pearls. We stayed in the village to provision, hang out with the villagers and watched the local children play their daily soccer game at 4pm.

After a week visiting our first atoll, it was time to move on...the French have only given us 90 days to enjoy all of French Polynesia. Just before getting ready to set sail, Emma asked is she could go back to the village in search of real pearls. Phil and Emma went back into the village, negotiated a fair price and came home with huge smiles. Emma was happy with her purchase of 4 real pearls for $20. While making her purchase in the village, a man with about 2 dozen real pearls asked to trade his pearls for a headlamp. Not needing any more pearls and not sure if we had anything to trade, Phil said he'd check on the boat for a headlamp.

As we were getting the boat ready to set sail, the man from the village appeared next to the boat having swam out to us, all but begging for a headlamp with the promise of real pearls. Regardless of not wanting more pearls, we were making a trade! We gave him a headlamp that hadn't been used since we first sailed off and the girls received a handful of new pearls. With new pearls in hand and our anchor up, we were off to the next atoll, Makemo.

It's nice to be falling in love again with a spectacular area that offers endless beauty, crystal clear water, amazing sea life, an best of all, smiling faces of friendly locals.