We stayed only a short time in Haahopu Bay. It was lovely with a sandy beach and we all had fun in the surf, and snorkelling the rocks around the bay. I very nearly managed to catch a large octopus for the freezer, but it got away at the last. I wasn’t that upset as it looked pretty big and I had no idea how it was going to react on the end of my lance. It was much more at home in its environment than I was, so I was slightly relieved when it and I retreated in opposite directions.
The weather looked settled and so on the evening of Friday 5th June we set sail for the 450 mile trip to the Tuamotoes, some times referred to as the dangerous archipelago.
The Tuamotoes are know as old islands where as the Marquesas are new?? Briefly, the Marquesas are tall volcanic islands that are not old enough for coral to have formed fringing coral reef. The Tuamotoes are old enough to have fringing coral reef but the islands themselves have sunk and eroded away, leaving just the reef and lagoons where the islands used to stand. The society islands (Tahiti, Bora Bora etc) are in between with tall islands and fringing reef and lagoons.
As the Tuamotoes are just low coral atolls, reefs and lagoons they are not visible from any distance and, due to strong currents running around the reef and motu (islands), have claimed many ships. To enter the lagoons and take advantage of the calm seas you have to get the tide right as the water can enter and exit the small passes through the reef at ferocious speed, making navigation impossible. In addition the lagoons are full of coral heads and reef so navigation is difficult and a good lookout with the sun behind / overhead is essential.
It is, therefore, not so much about speed on passage, rather the time of arrival. We wanted to arrive at our destination, Makemo atoll, in daylight and at low slack water. That put our perfect arrival at 11.15-1200 8th June.
We had a good sail down, with a rather lumpy cross swell, making 153 and 189 miles on the first 2 days. We caught a lovely big Mahi Mahi, but consigned it to the freezer as neither of us felt we could tackle eating fish yet!!. We were lucky and the weather was kind with 25 kts of breeze on the port quarter. We both still felt weak from the Ciguatera poisoning and it would have been a struggle had the weather turned nasty. But it was as expected and the following morning we spotted Makemo and headed for the northern pass. Our timing looked good, and we entered the pass at midday. Half an hour later we had the anchor down in clear, calm water at 17m depth. We could see the coral heads in the turquoise water and felt pleased and somewhat relieved that we had made our first pass without incident.
Lunch and ashore.
“Shark” cried Louis. “Look there” said JJ. There were 4 black tip reef sharks cruising the reef in 4 feet of water some 10ft from the beach. The boys were very excited, and it took some moments to persuade them that swimming with sharks was not a good idea. These were the first Pacific sharks we had really seen up close so we were all quite excited.
We walked down the beach and over to the windward reef looking for shells….one of our favourite pastimes. Its great to walk down a deserted windward beach as a family. The Boys love exploring the rock pools, finding crabs and fish, although there were quite a few baby Moray eels so we had to be careful, but they thought it was very exciting. Amanda and I keep a keen look out for shells and we always find a few nice specimens. There’s a lot to look at and see. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world…the boys love the beach. If we were back on the Isle of Wight, we would be doing much the same thing, although the marine life is more colourful and the shells more exciting in the Pacific.
Sometimes I find something useful…a marker buoy, a little piece of stainless steel, some rope…One day I found something I just couldn’t leave behind. It was spherical with a Perspex dome on top, a solar panel and Arial. It was clearly a piece of scientific equipment designed to float at sea, and had a bar code with serial number on it. .This, I thought, was worth the struggle. It must have weighed 20kg and after I had persuaded Amanda that we really needed this thing, I lugged it back to Pegasus. I thought I could trace the owner through the Internet and they must be keen to have it returned….the least I could do was to take the solar panel and LED light. My father googled the company and sent them an e mail. They replied that they weren’t interested in its return and that it had been lost a long time ago. Ok, so lets take it apart…With hammer and chisel I gave it a good shot but I have to say that it was pretty indestructible. After half an hour I thought the best option was to return it to its home in the sea. It gave me some pleasure to think that some other cruiser will do exactly as I did in time to come.
WE had planned to stay in the north of the atoll for a few days and spend some time alone as team Lawrence. We found a lovely anchorage 12 miles down the lagoon and spent a week exploring, walking on the windward reef, making fires on the beaches, shelling and generally relaxing as a family. We were also recuperating from the poisoning and by the end of the week we felt much stronger and ready to move on.
The outer reef was just spectacular. Once you had made it through the bush, across the sharp volcanic lava full of fossilised coral (which makes up the atoll) then over the coral rubble, the outer reef lies ahead in no more than a meter of water. It forms a barrier around the island only 30 meters wide and the very outer 5 meters is slightly higher and solid coral. The colours were amazing with the solid, outer coral a vibrant pink and the inner coral a multitude of colour. We walked through the coral surrounded by fish, looking for shells and watching out for moray’s and other nasties.
When on Pegasus we would all swim off the boat out to coral heads close by and watch the fish, keeping a constant look out for sharks as we had seen them from the dinghy when swimming. JJ is becoming a great diver and can touch the bottom in 3 meters of water, and Louis has just mastered his snorkel so we can all explore together. Louis got very excited when he really saw fish underwater for the first time. The Boys love to swim off the back of the boat, but we have a rule that we don’t swim early or late in the day as that’s shark-feeding time. At other times they’re quite docile.
The weather turns about every 10 days or so being influenced by frontal movement way off to the south. The wind backs from the SE through E, NE then NW through to SW then back to the SE over a 2-3 day period. This causes havoc with the anchor rode and coral heads and also brings rain, wind and cooler temperatures. We found ourselves sitting on the beach in shorts and oilies thinking it was not so different from the Isle of Wight in summer. Even so, the boys were happy on the beach, harassing the large hermit crabs, chasing each other with palm fronds and generally doing what children do on beaches around the world.
We waited for a weather system to move over us, and as the wind backed round to the SE again we headed out of the N pass of Makemo and off to the southern pass at Fakarava atoll, some 90 miles west, but in effect 3 tides away. We planned to leave at last light…we had a track on the GPS so could safely leave the pass at roughly slack water and last light.
We planned to arrive in Fakarava at close to 11am, low water slack, so we were in no great hurry, sailing with just the Genoa making 5 kts in light winds. We arrived on 16th June at 10.45 am…perfect timing. We motored in through the pass without difficulty, with the surf breaking both sides only 20 meters away, and found our way easily to a suitable anchorage inside the lagoon, dropping the anchor in 12 meters of water in good holding. There were a few other boats there and we knew 2 boats, Vagabond Heart (with 3 children) and Lucy Blue (2 children). The Boys were very excited to see their friends again and its always a bit easier for us when there are other children around…not to mention good adult social as well.
We knew Vagabond Heat from the SSB Net we had been part of, on passage from the Galapagos, and first Met Australians Bill and Debbie (Edward 13, Alice 11, Will 9) in Anaho bay in the Marquesas. Debbie is a doctor (we discovered later), and they were anchored next to us when we had the ciguatera poisoning and looked after JJ and Louis the day after so we could sleep and recover. Lucy Blue we had met in Huku Niva (Marquesas) but had only met Ina, (Simon 12, Amanda 9) as her husband Buck was at work flying SAR helicopters in Norway. He was now on board for the rest of their passage to Australia.
We had a wonderful few days at the southern end of Fakarava. There is a little dive operation with a few guest huts on the motu by the pass, and plenty of other beaches on other motu close by. We would go off to the beach or swim / sail the optimist in the morning and get the children together in the afternoons. Its amazing how well they all integrate despite the age difference, with poor old Louis at the tail end, but the older boys are very inclusive and they all had a great time. Usually we would go and have a drink on board one of the boats and the kids would all watch DVD’ s together for a hour or two, and it always made for a jolly evening. Debbie organised a treasure hunt on one of the motu one afternoon …. we built a fire, ate coconut and chatted as the sun sank over the horizon.
We drift dived / snorkelled the pass a few times. The boys loved it…loads of fish, rays, turtles, sharks, huge Maori wrasse, beautiful coral…quite spectacular. I took some great video for the production company and in a state of excitement viewed it on our return to Pegasus…..Nothing…a shark tail exiting the screen, fish just out of shot, close ups of nothing…really terrible. I had to go back and do it again the following day, but this time I got some great shots.
Our last night there, we all had dinner at the dive shack restaurant over the water. We had a great evening in the most spectacular setting Just 13 of us and 6 of their guests….flowery shirts bare feet and our dinghy’s tied up outside the restaurant like horses outside a bar in a western.. I love travelling out to dinner in the dinghy…... There’s always that little bit of adventure to look forward to on the way home.
The following day the Vagabonds and the Blues headed up island and we planned to meet them after lunch 15 miles further up the lagoon…I wanted to go and dive the pass one last time.
We motored up island and arrived in a beautiful anchorage early afternoon. It was perfect, just the 3 boats, no other people and virgin beach. We walked the beach looking for shells while all the children played and swam.
Now the shell thing was getting interesting, and there was just a little competitive edge starting to show between the girls. Ina found a rare and perfect shell right where we were all sitting on the beach…I think that started it. Anyway the following day we all went for a long walk on the windward side to try and find some large Cone shells, which had so far eluded us. We found some shells and Debbie was particularly pleased with a large cone shell she found..
That afternoon Amanda and I decided to walk across the island from where we were anchored, to try and find some beach that had not been picked clean. I reasoned that the more difficult it was to get to, the greater the reward…..extreme shelling…sounded up my street. An hour later it was apparent that we needed some tools to get through the jungle…a compass and machete. We had to abort.
The next day we cut a path through the jungle to some beach that I would doubt any one has ever been on. The boys handled the thick jungle well, and after an hour we arrived at virgin beach. We found some beautiful large cone shells, cowries and others and it was all very rewarding. We tried in another spot to cut through the island but after an hour had to give up. I think we were lucky to get through once.
The downside to extreme shelling is that your body gets pretty scratched up, especially if you happen to be up front with the machete. Not usually an issue, but when your swimming in the lagoon which is rich in coral and coral spores, any scratches soon get seriously infected. 2 days later I was off games and on antibiotics, but Amanda has some great new additions to her collection.
The weather was due to turn again, so we headed up to the North of the island to the village. Here we bought some provisions and had a few meals out as we waited for the winds to swing and return to the trade wind set. After a few days things looked a little settled but brisk and we decided to head off to Toan, the next atoll north. As the wind had been strong there was a lot of water flowing out of the pass and even though we left at slack we had a pretty rough little exit from Fakarava. We sailed gently round to Anse Amyot some 30 miles away, and arrived just before dusk. We dropped the hook and spent a few windy nights at anchor. Lucy Blue and Vagabond heart arrived and we had drinks and dinner on board Pegasus. We set off to Tahiti the following day, as we needed to arrive at least by The 3rd July to buy some presents for Louis’ birthday.
I was looking forward to Tahiti. It’s of one of those iconic places one dreams of sailing to, and finally on 1st July I could make the log entry “Bound for Tahiti”
Its 220 miles to Tahiti which means a day and a half, so we left early in the morning and sailed in a confused sea out through the atolls. Again we caught good fish, and filled the freezer with Tuna. When we cleared the islands the sea settled down but the wind was strong, and it was a squally, windy night, which kept me on my toes. After a fast passage, passing other sailing boats and some shipping, we saw Tahiti the following morning rising above on the horizon in front of us.
We anchored that afternoon having entered the lagoon at Papaeete, and motored round to Tahina Marina. The marina was full of super yachts and it all felt quite Mediterranean. This anchorage was great for us as there was a huge Carafour supermarket just round the corner, making restocking and servicing the boat an easier task, and the bus into Papaeete was close and apparent. The marina services were also available and there was a great atmosphere in the quayside bars and restaurants.
I think after so long at sea and in the islands we were all looking forward to a bit of civilization. We hadn’t been to a city since Panama back at the beginning of April, and the boys were excited about their birthdays. Their key request for their birthdays was a trip to “Old Macdonalds”, and, can you imagine, we found one close to the marina and it had its own beach!!!!…..now that really would go down well in Wandsworth!
See our photographs of the Tuamotoes at