Makemo, Tuamotus

Keyphoto Makemo 1
Author: Pete
Location: 1632.116S’ 14412.192W’
Date: May 17 – 22, 2015

 

May 17: Ran under the spinnaker to within a mile of Makemo before dousing the sail and motoring through the pass. There was a little rage going on, and we were a few hours early for slack tide, but current seemed minimal and we only encountered one knot against us as we muscled through. In the anchorage we floated our chain to avoid coral snags which plague boats in this region, attaching fenders at 10, 20, and 30 meters on 40 meters of chain in 13 meters of water. Being Sunday, nothing was open in town, so we snorkeled the lagoon and found significantly fewer sharks than in Raroia.

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May 18: Spent the day snorkeling in the lagoon and went for a long run on the island. My legs haven’t been asked to walk more than 10 meters at any given point so they voiced their objections about an hour and a half run loudly. The town is cute, with people biking all over on trikes, mothers riding around with one naked baby standing on the crossbar and an infant swaddled in blankets in the basket in the back. Found some internet at the post office in front of the harbor. Later than night had our friends Martin and Lexi over for drinks. We met them in Galapagos, and they were on our Tangaroa radio net on the big crossing, but we missed them in our Marquesian island hopping.

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May 19: Snorkeled outer reef and the pass. The undulating coral bed off the island was fantastic. In the pass a wall made for excellent snorkel drifting too. Went over to Martin and Lexi’s boat, Pao Hana for dinner and drinks again.

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May 20: Haircuts in morning. Liza busted out the trimmers and scissors and gave Felix, Martin, and I all haircuts. It took a good deal of the morning and when we finally weighed anchor to sail north in the afternoon, the glare off the lagoon was terrible. You couldn’t see the coral heads coming, so we made it about ten miles north, then pulled into a nice beach and set anchor again. Along the trip we caught a 50 cm Green Jobfish, which turned out to be really tasty. We made a bonfire on the beach that night and cooked the fillets in the coals with potatoes, carrots, onions, and old bay. Heaven.

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May 21: Flew the spinnaker on our morning sail to north anchorage. We pulled in and were immediately welcomed by our friends on Georgia, Continuum, and Free Spirit, but also the gray-green serpentine forms of black tip reef sharks. Dozens and dozens of them. I’d go so far as to say ‘shark infested.’ Apparently the two local guys up from the town in south Makemo had harpooned and cleaned a mahimahi in the anchorage.

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To their credit they invited everyone in the anchorage to a seafood bonanza at the copra shack they were using for a week as their fishing camp. Vaienui and Jonah were in their late 20’s, local boys excited about showing off their culture and fishing prowess. When we showed up in the afternoon they had great green slabs of mahi grilling on chicken wire over oil barrels with palm wood blazing. On the grill they threw a dozen blue lobster and a local chicken they macheted on the spot. To top it off they caught a dozen coconut crabs the size and disposition of snapping turtles, a delicacy in the area and in Tahiti. They were bright blue and orange, really beautiful crustaceans. Several of them went into boiling pots of water. The cruisers brought side dishes, desserts, and lots of booze to add to the feast. The boys didn’t have plates or forks, so we brought some. They encouraged us to go for the local style and crack the crab legs with the back of a machete, split and de-vein lobster by hand, and dug into the steaming mahi with our fingers. It was awesome. They showed us how to tear open the coconut crab abdomen and scoop out the gray goop they they likened to foi gras. It was a massacre. Shells, legs, bodies strewn across the rough table and weaved palm table mat the boys had made. Everyone had a ball. We left the treats and booze for the boys and gave them some money for the amazing spread. They insisted that they couldn’t accept the money, that the food and firewood was free, but we wore them down and they seemed pleased with the gesture. We all sat on the dock under the starry moonless sky and talked in broken French and English. It’s a lot tougher to communicate at night when gestures are removed from one’s arsenal of translation.

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May 22: Left Makemo Atoll today at what was supposed to be slack tide. The northern pass has a constant ripping current that we watched for three days before attacking. I lined up the boat with the two green navigation cans, unfurled some main, and ran into the melee with the engines roaring to keep some traction on the ripping water with the rudders. Deep swirling vortices pulled the bow this way and that. At some point we were making 13 knots. Weaved and staggered through the eddies until the pass spit us out like being shot from a cannon into a moderate rage. It was all very exciting.

Now we’re heading toward Fakarava under spinnaker, another atoll with some surfing potential. Should be there tomorrow morning after a quick overnight sail.

 

Overnight and Landfall in Makemo

Keyphoto Overnight to Makemo
Author: Pete
Location: Passage Raroia to Makemo
Date: May 15 – 17

 

Sailed back from the western chain of motu in great morning sun and anchored just north of the pass on an uninhabited islet. We took advantage of the turning tide and went out for another amazing drift snorkel in the pass, then I foraged around the islet. Came home with a couple coconuts and a oyster net buoy that I’ll use as a float.

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The 16th saw us waiting for the slack tide at 3:15PM. We were a little sharked out by then, so Liza and Felix explored the islet. Meanwhile, I went on a repair spree and fixed the 120V inverter, two 12V oulets, and a exhaust hose.  A hole was worn through the aging hose and it was spewing exhaust water into the port engine compartment when the diesel was running. The water was vented to the bilge and the pumps were kicking on more frequently than normal when we were motoring. Some plastic, vulcanizing tape, an a little duct-tape on the top just for good measure, and we’re back in action, at least until I can replace it in Tahiti.

After the repair fest, I jumped in to check the anchor and found it pretty terribly tangled in a mess of coral. The anchor was sitting happily in the sand, but the boat was hung up almost directly about the coral head, the chain wrapped tightly under and around a mushroom-shaped dome. Bad news. It came down to a team effort getting us free. Miranda let more chain out to give the boat some wiggle room. Felix towed the boat forward with the dinghy to give the chain some slack, and I swam the 17 meters down to the coral head and tried to pull the chain out from the crevices, then up and over the 6 foot coral heads, and deposit it in the sand on the other side. It took me about 6 dives to get it, each time I’d run out of breath, the boat would pull back tight on the chain in the wind, and we’d have to do it again. This was probably my limit for working at depth and each time I came up it didn’t seem fast enough. I ended up with my hand inadvertently on the clasp of my weight belt. Good practice though. As if 17 meters wasn’t a pain enough, half way through our rigmarole a couple sharks showed up and loitered for a while. We are researching floating the chain next time.

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After a nap and a little lunch we motored out the calm pass with the main up. Back in the open water we unfurled the jib and took off at a nice 6.5 knots heading southwest towards Makemo, our next atoll in the Tuamotus with an easy pass. A couple miles out a dark, ominous shadow slipped past Tayrona’s starboard hull. It looked like a really big shark to me until it jumped out of the water. It was a ten foot long porpoise, dark with some white blotches. Another showed up and they played in our bow wake for a while, showing off, jumping and swimming belly up just under our bows. It’s a good omen, I hope.

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Then it was sunset and in no time we were out of sight of the low atoll and back to the open sea. Huzzah! The dark crept in as we made dinner and ate under the canopy of a moonless starry sky. Went to bed around 7PM, woke at 2AM for our turn around the atoll Taenga, a passless, uninviting coral berm. It was out there hiding in the dark, and with no moon it was a little disconcerting to know it was lurking four miles off our port. We lit it up with radar and the low islands showed up clearly out of the darkness.

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Went to bed anticipating our landfall in Makemo the following morning. Looks like we might be slower than we calculated, missing the slack tide we hoped to hit in Makemo’s south pass, but plenty of time to figure that out when we arrive. Worrying about speed while traveling by sail is pretty wasted emotion.

 

Raroia, Tuamotus

Keyphoto Raroia
Author: Pete
Location: Raroia, Tuamotus
Date: May 11th – 15th, 2015

 

May 11th: Spent a day around the town on Raroia. It’s an flat, open island with tall palms dropping toddler-sized coconuts and coral-rubble ground. A few streets crisscross the island, which takes about two minutes to walk across and ten minutes to walk the length of. Calling it ‘sleepy’ is an understatement of epic proportions. There’s a store, but it has no sign pointing to it and is in someone’s house on a dirt path off a side road. The locals are friendly, but not as ridiculously welcoming as the Marquesians. They pilot hand made wooden boats with the captain standing a hole in the bow deck, holding a joystick and throttle. They zoom up and down the motu, to where, we don’t know. On the north side of the motu there is a small pearl farm with Chinese workers who tend the myriad oyster cylinders, floated with white and red buoys.

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May 12: This morning was a treat. After breakfast of blueberry scones and papaya we took the dinghy back to the pass north of our anchorage and out towards the deep, open blue. We arrived purposefully just before slack water at high tide, so the current in the pass was still flowing into the lagoon. We motored to the outside of the pass in 10 feet of water, just before the knee-quivering, courage-shattering, drop off to two-thousand feet and splashed in.

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The visibility took your breath away and there was a collective gasp at the undulating coral, stretching as far as the eye could see. It almost gave me vertigo, the water was so clear, I felt like I should be falling. The current whisked us briskly back toward the lagoon. We screamed along, floating along side the dinghy. Someone each pass was in charge of holding on to the painter (bow line on dinghies). The others swooped along the bottom, arms out… it really was about as close to flight as it gets without an airplane, even coming from a couple of years of paragliding in Chile.

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There were fish of all shapes and sizes. The swarthy Red Snapper, and the painted Emperor Triggerfish were highlights, but there were thousands and thousands of fish. It was incredible. Along with the fish there were sharks. Dozens of sharks. They were harmless and not too big, mostly Black and White Tip Reef Sharks. They cruised along with us, not coming too close. Maybe we’re getting desensitized to them. Or the lack of oxygen from the free diving is getting to our brains.

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We must have made 8 or 9 laps, floating in, motoring out, each pass getting progressively slower, until we were at slack tide and the water was still. It only took about five minutes and the current reversed and started pulling us out to the deep blue. We headed back to Tayrona.

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In the afternoon we pulled anchor and motored upwind to the pass, then turned east to cross the lagoon. There problem with these lagoons is they’re not surveyed, so we’re going in blind, but there’s a reward on the other side. The site where Thor Heyerdahl landed with the raft Kon-Tiki in 1947 proving it was possible for South American Incans to have settled French Polynesia. There’s a great movie recently made about it called Kon-Tiki about his 101 day float from Peru. Watch it! The sun was at our back and it was easy to dodge the coral heads rising up from 100 feet to just ankle-deep at the surface. They showed up pale yellow and green spots amidst the expanse of azure. We anchored off the Kon-Tiki island, the sun lighting up the sand and coral bottom. Speared two Camouflage Groupers in the afternoon and had them grilling by sunset.

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Now I’m writing on the trampoline in the absolute flat of the lagoon. The roar of the sea breaking on the reef a few hundred yards east of us is soothing and alarming at the same time. The stars and Mikly Way are the only lights, even across the pond. I love being this far out… I love it.

 

May 13: Spent the day jumping off the boat and snorkeling on the coral heads around the anchorage. The two boats from the Raroia anchorage came over and we made a bonfire on the tiny islet, facing the crashing reef. We cooked foil packets of potato, onions, carrots, and sausage right on the coals, then played guitar and harmonica into the night. Okay, until 9:00, but that’s really late for cruisers.

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May 14: Moved a few islets north today, only about 4 miles to check out a great spit of land with one single palm tree on it. Reminded me of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons. More snorkeling. More sharks. This place is full of them! In the afternoon I walked around one of the un-named islands. The palm trees give way to coral rubble that extends towards the open sea. The water is calf-deep, and punctuated by coral boulders.

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I walked out into the shallow water, watching the dark blue sea heave wave after wave upon the coral reef, some 200 meters out from the islet. I was almost out to the reef when a fast moving form came scooting in towards my feet, a black-tipped fin cutting the twelve inches of water. I hollered and jumped bravely onto one of the coral boulders, like a 1940’s housewife balking at a mouse. In my defense, this mouse was a black tip reef shark. And he wasn’t alone. Four little sharks, between two and three feet long, circled my little rock, attracted by the splashing sounds of my shoes in the water. They were almost cute, being so small, aside from the fact that they were SHARKS. The “duh-DUMP” music from Jaws played in my head as their fins weaved around. I threw a few stones at them, and they spooked and took off, but didn’t go too far. I dawned on me that I was playing the age-old kid’s game, Hot Lava, where you can stand on certain locations, but in between you’ll be melted, or in this case, eaten by tiny sharks. Fun! I courageously bounced from boulder to boulder, standing like a meerkat on each one looking for predators. I did make it out to the reef eventually. It’s incredible, the reef is bright Peptobisthmol pink and is pretty much level with the surface of the water, but drop off like a cliff into deep deep blue sea. The waves pummel the reef, and the energy is absorbed and the water returned to the sea through narrow, evenly spaced channels. Really neat. I played the Hot Lava game back to the island. Despite the sharkies the area was so neat I brought the rest of the crew back later to check it out.

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While I was traipsing around the the fishes, Miranda made Eggplant Parmesan for dinner and baked a cake for dessert! How’d I get so lucky?