Monday, 22 May 2017
As we closed the land it took form and colour, showing deeply ravined valleys, richly covered in vegetation. To our right the land formed a low promontory called Venus Point, where Captain Cook set up his observatory to observe the transit of Venus across the face of the sun to determine the distance between the Earth and sun.
Beyond this the surf broke heavily on the outer reef, beyond which yachts were anchored on flat water. We could see lots of buildings up the lower slopes of the mountain, and much development on the shore line with large rocks ahead. I called Port Control on VHF Ch 12 and was allowed to enter the port behind a fast cat from Moorea. They then told me off for going left towards town quay rather than right to the Marina. I tried my best Polynesian politesse with " Mauru uru!" or thankyou, and then set off round the airport runway, needing a chat with port control at each end so that we could pass safely between flights landing and taking off.
We were lucky to get a place in the marina immediately, and it was a great luxury to be able to walk on and off the boat whenever required, and to have as much electricity and water as we wanted. The row of super yachts was impressive, and when we gate crashed the super yacht crew party that night we learned that Annata had the tallest mast in the world until last year, when a newer yacht took the record. We met a nice skipper, Fabien, and some hospitable crew who plied us with punch and small eats. It seemed that none of the aches were put out to charter, and all hung endlessly in port awaiting the whim of the owner. One Maltese deckhand, Luke, said that they had waited for 9 months for orders in San Diego. The owner had only been on board for three days in 14 months. They never put up the mainsail unless the owner was on board, for fear of damaging it, and in any wind over about 25 knots would have to take sail down. Every time they sailed they broke things it seemed. It
became a 9-5 job, endlessly polishing the boat, waiting for the owner to call.
Next day we explored Papeete a bit, and found it a charming town along the harbour front with a dual carriageway boulevarde shaded with mature trees. It seemed to have every kind of shop available. One evening we returned to visit the roulottes, which are food vans, twenty of which form a well organised open air food market in the evenings, with well laid out grid of dining tables under pretty lights. The range of food was impressive with a preponderance of Chinese, but also grilled meats, traditional burgers or galettes. We settled for Chinese, and I had one of the national dishes - chow mein.
Anne and I took the dinghy out to the reef, and came across a great Saturday party where boats anchored along the calm inner dege, and people partied in waist deep water on sand. Barbecues were set up, each on a singles spike driven into the ground, music pounded from big speakers, and young and old boogied in the clear aquamarine water. Surfers were paddling Cross the lagoon to the breakers. and one hitched aloft with us and we drove him out to the edge of the break.
We hired a car for a day and drove halfway round the island on the thin strip of flatland between the sea and the impressively steep mountainsides cleft with deep vertical ravines, all clothed in mature rain forest. We stopped at Vaiapu to see the water gardens. Here a sacred waterfall roars down into a pool, and here the legend of the conversion of a spirit into man is rooted. We enjoyed the gardens through which the clear waters from the falls meander in streams and pools, overhung with massive trees, giant ferns, bamboos and palm trees. We climbed a steep trail up the mountain to a viewpoint 200 metres above the plain which gave excellent views of the lagoon, and the lower island Tahiti Iti. In flips flops the muddy path and steep slippery steps were rather a challenge, but thankfully there was a new installation of thick rope handrails which stopped us skidding off the cliff. At the bottom we washed our feet below the waterfall, slightly nervous about the four foot l
ong eel that came fearlessly to investigate as soon as we entered the water. It reminded us that when we swam in the waterfall pool in Fatu Hiva there was something that slithered disconcertingly past us in the water.
The time came to say farewell to Justin, but with the nice thought that he and Siobhan will join us in Tonga soon. Julien arrived and he and Emily spent a few days in an AirB&B nearby. Finally Mark arrived laden with much needed spares - engine mounts for the generator, cooling water hose, navigation lights, deck hatch locks, and all sorts of items that I'd emailed him to get.
Thursday, 18 May 2017
We. Also dropped in at a little art atelier, where the bearded man in nothing but colourful Hawaiian surf shorts showed us his creations of driftwood and shells. His paints glowed on the shel backlit by the sunshine with the blue of the lagoon bright through the split cane sunshades. Nearby Stephanie at Fakarava Yacht Services took in our laundry and rented us bikes for the morning. We cycled out 12km to the end of the atoll by the pass into the lagoon and had a look at the old lighthouse built like a skinny Mayan temple out of coral blocks and concrete.
It's great to be able to read books that relate to the places I am in. Fakarava features in several of Jack London's gripping South Sea short stories, of which I've downloaded 138 onto the Kindle free of charge! He had a huge amount of experience in South Seas trading, the great Klondike Gild Rush, and writes very vividly of the challenges of life in those times. I first came across him in a book of biographies of sea faring authors. His best known book is The Call of The Wild. By chance I then found his name branding an antique Hawaiian surf board in a Galician sea side house where Anne and I stayed with my sister Sarah and Antony in 2016
Tuesday, 16 May 2017
Each community lives for pearl fishing or copra ( for coconut oil). Tourism had not reached the four islands we have so far visited Manihi, Ahé, Apataki, and Tao, but even this one Fakarava, being the second largest, has only a little more in terms of services: most people come here to dive. We've found a lovely waterside cafe , four bikes to hire to cycle around a good part of the atoll 25 k . Every island "capital" has at least one church : sometimes 3 ( the villages are empty during services, with a really strong delivery through the open windows of hymns and music with drums and guitars ) They are simple but beautiful, and well kept in every case. Every village has shop with a very limited range of anything , and is only is "full" a couple of hours after the boat/ freighter delivery ! There is tremendous activity as these delivery vessels come in once a week : everyone joins in .
Each atoll has one or sometimes 2 "passes" which empty the water to and from the inside lagoon according to the various states of the tide . Because of the speed of the race , it is very tricky to navigate , but after the first, Paul's got increasingly confident though it can be very hairy. The passes are where fish of all sizes congregate and sharks, all for general feeding . Emily has dived in these doing "drift dives " that take you gently through the gorges and currents of the pass. Once inside the pass it is all eyes for coral, as very few channels are marked : again amazing navigation and guts from Paul and Justin jointly to find us the most idyllic anchorages with no one else in sight just off coral reefs for snorkelling . Entering these waters is really only possible in full sunlight otherwise you can't see the changes in colour to alert you to a collision with coral .The quality of the coral has varied in each atoll , but the abundance, range, size, behaviour, and colour of fish is astonishing . In some places the coral seems almost dead , in others live and vibrant. We can only assume a dramatic change of some kind , or that the parrotfish are succeeding in their work of munching it and turning it into a film of sand over everything . You can hear them munching under water , but I guess they can't cull them . They are the loveliest rainbow fish .
Some atolls are so huge, and like a big lake you can't see the other side or the ends : our smaller ones have even so been at least 5 miles radius . As well as the passes , the sea swells in over the coral bank in places along the edge creating a ring of little islands called "Motos". Some of the shacks on the Motos look like Robinson Crusoe's makeshift shelter , others seem more substantial . This applies to the range of houses in every village : some are barely more than sheds and some are well tended buildings and plots . The government (French) supplies everyone initially with materials , but each household has to fund the construction costs and presumably the maintenance thereafter : which explains the variation.
Each main community also has a central building like a "Bastide" built strikingly and strongly on concrete stilts , where everyone shelters for the duration of storms . The last devastating cyclone hit in 1983 , but there have been numerous other storms since .
Tourism has definitely not reached the smaller reefs / islands .Few people are indifferent , most often offer a cheery hello , and sometimes long conversations will ensue . This is how we find out the most , chatting to fisherman on the jetty thus leading us to our pearl farm visit . You can do these on a "tour " in the larger Islands.
There are no harbour dues, no landing fees, but when we've moored against a wharf , eventually a good many people rock up to chat ( for hours ) ! Always a good source of local information and gossip , using the ubiquitous tricycle as a platform for conversation. These wonderful vehicles ( imported from China and universal here ) provide a seat to chill on and chat , and with baskets on the back to carry produce , a friend , children , dog or simply as a way of getting around the limited lanes and streets of their community.
Many unpushy dogs lounge around , most clearly attached to someone (sacks of dog food available in the shop) . When at Apataki there were several waiting for their owners working at the pearl fisheries just off shore . Cat's not widespread ( we've seen 3 ) and chicken which are wild and endemic everywhere in polynesia . No rats though one hears horror stories of them getting into boats via the mooring ropes . Justin found one nibbling his toe in his bunk 42 years ago on Ahé , so we were not unconcerned especially there, and I've seen the harbour banks at Gosport teaming with them !
Not a lot of bird life , since the trees and vegetation is limited except in bigger Motos ( mostly just coconut palms ) occasional heard beautiful song across the water , diving birds , boobies and noddies. The life here us UNDER the water !
Our pearl fisherman Oro took us to his farm which is a shack on stilts in the middle. of the lagoon . They are all like this except some big enterprises. He showed us each process from start to finish : from seeding and grafting through the four years of an oyster's life : the thrill of extracting a pearl and re seeding the oyster. The pearl culture industry developed in the 1960's , and it was like the gold rush , with some farmers making a huge profit in a very short time . Oro's father earnt 25 times what he earns now , but it is still a good living despite the market dropping out in the 80's. Some employ scores of people , he has 5 . The concession for his plot is not cheap : he has 38 hectares . He explained that the problem was that although the "industry " is regulated , it is chaotic and like any commodity vulnerable to the whims of the international market .
Emily and I have just swum off an idyllic beach : white sand and every shade of blue and Palm fringed : still mindful of the pesky "Nonos"*.We have been reading the pilot guides and advice about sailing the Australian seas: we have all unanimously decided that there can be no greater hostile environment in the world in or out of the water , compared to here where there is nothing unpleasant except for the invisible sandfly* and he is bad enough, but no death ensues.
Tomorrow we sail towards Tahiti and the capital Papeete which promises to be very different as the city capital of Polynesia, but apparently the island itself and those associated in the Society Islands are stunning with the mixture of volcanic peaks surrounded by reefs : the best of both such different worlds put together . However we are braced for the difference between our voyage of exploration in deserted places to meeting a higher density of other boats and more developed communities . This will be the first the sailors have seen since February in Panama. One of Emily's dive group said he saw Obama last week on Moorea who is there writing his memoires, so it's back to "civilisation "!
Monday, 15 May 2017
Recently we have been finding the bilges full of water almost up to the floor boards. Dipping a finger in confirmed it was salty sea water. Eventually we found the leak was in the generator. The yellow and black pipe carrying seawater to cool the engine had gone soft and had split the picture shows it squirting vigorously. Yesterday I taped it up as a temporary measure until we got to Papeete, but then the engine overheated and cut out. Today we set about fixing this and cutout the soggy bit of tube and re routed it so that it would still fit. When I cut the tube you could see that it had collapsed and almost blocked the cooling water flow. Justin did a great job in a confined space refitting the pipe and now it's working well again. B
But before all that took place we hired bikes and rode about 12km along coral trails along the thin atoll to the pass where we sailed through. On the way we passed the airport with its runway sandwiched between the sea and the lagoon. An old lighthouse but of coral blocks has been replaced by a red and white tower with solar powered lights.
This evening Justin treated us to a lovely fish supper at a little place with a terrace over the lagoon. We were the only guests served by a family team including a RéRé, a large man dressed S a woman.
Beneath us reef sharks, 4-5feetling swirled like extra in a Bond movie, but were then chased away by a dog which leapt into the water.
Saturday, 13 May 2017
Friday, 12 May 2017
Today, Friday 12th May dawned calm and after a six o'clock breakfast we set sail out through the pass, narrowly escaping contact with coral thanks to the pearl fishermen who yelled at us just before I went out a dangerous way between coral heads. We motor sailed into a light headwind for 40 miles to reach the atoll of Toau, where we anchored in mirror calm conditions off white coral and coconuts. Looking across the lagoon was like a vast infinity pool on the edge of the world, glassy surface for miles, with one or two tiny islands at the far side, but most impressive was the view of the six foot swell rearing up and curling in great white breakers to crash on the coral, yet with impossibly still water right up to the inner edge.
Mysteries abound and today's surprises were the failure of our depth metre and the speed and distance log. Dismantled again, but no apparent problems I could fix. Then wondering if they had got submerged in the bilges I lifted a floor board to find water almost up to the top!. Where is it coming from? Are we sinking? Last time I looked was 8 days ago, so we will have to check daily. Once the water had been pumped out the depth meter started working again, but the log/ speed is a mystery!
The second surprise was when we refilled the diesel tanks from our deck-borne fuel cans. For over 50 hours of motoring and 50 hours of motoring at high speed we only needed 280 litres, so that our fuel consumption seems like only 60% of the published figures, giving 3.1 instead of 5 litres per hour for the engine and just 1 litre per hour for the genset instead of 1.9 published.
Thursday, 11 May 2017
Lovely flower gardens and tin shacks, little winding sandy lanes, views through palm trees to blue lagoons ( through rain!)
There are constant repair challenges on TinTin. Making do with the assortment of kit on board can feel quite like Scrapyard Challenge or Apollo Thirteen. Latest is that the anode on the prop has almost disintegrated since installation mid Feb in Panama. The last one was barely corroded when we changed it in Feb, having been installed in Sept. Luckily Justin spotted it was loose, and then discovered it had lost a bolt. Amazingly I found a substitute with same thread, but longer shank, but a couple of nuts allowed us to tighten it. Justin was very courageous at diving down and removing the old one and fitting the new one. We hung a bucket over the prop to catch any bits that fell off. I tried doing it, but felt claustrophobic pressed up under the hull, with my mask askew and filling with water.
More frustratingly the speed/ log goes off unexpectedly so we don't know how fast or far we travel. Dismantled that, but no sign of a problem. However not solved. When dead I need to tap it hard with three fingers on top and it reboots. Most frustrating!
Then the aft heads won't pump to the holding tank but go direct to sea, which is inappropriate in harbours. Disassembled entire toilet, found all pipes and valves thickly crusted with calcium deposits. Valve handle had been forced and cheesed off so it didn't turn the valve. Cleaned it all down one lovely hot sunny day while the girls sunbathed, and it now works again!
We have been having northeasterly winds till last night, when it's gone southeast and right on the nose to our next destinations - Fakarava atoll. Pouring with rain and blowing hard with a 2 metre swell breaking in great white spray over the coral reef, so unusually we are sat in port, tied up to a pearl farm wharf. Opposite us are twenty people working hard in an open building on stilts in the lagoon, hauling up strings of young oysters, cleaning them, drilling holes in the shells, restringing them and hanging them in fresh net bags to go back for fattening up before grafting black pearl material to generate oysters.
Anyway the challenges remain, but I only have to look outside to see that I am in the most fantastic place. In fact we have to keep reminding each other not to take it for granted!
For more information on pearl grafting, go to www.pearl-guide.com/tahitian-pearl-farming.shtml.
Lonely Planet Guide
Tuesday, 9 May 2017
We arrived off the pass into Ahé at 15:00 as planned, and Justin helmed us into the lagoon. It felt wide and clear, and as it was,high water there was only a knot of current against us. The channel to the village crosses the lagoon for 5.5 miles and there are red and green beacons on the main coral heads making for an easy passage. The pilot book suggests anchoring off the village in 12 fathoms (24 meters) which is a bit beyond the scope of your chain, and so when e saw a Swedish yacht, Tina Princess, moored alongside we took the other side of the wharf. We were soon tied up and welcomed by an old man in a red T-shirt called Eric, who cycled over for a chat. No sign of a harbour master.
Ashore we wandered the concrete streets and found everything seemed less well cared for than in Manihi. There are apparently three shops, one of which is a snack bar. Everything seemed very deserted on Sunday night, but we came across a group of men sat by a field who each held a bundle of spears with sharpened steel points. They were out for a practice session before the inter-island competition of coconut spearing. The coconut sits atop a thirty foot pole, and the teams aim to stick spears into it. I was invited to cast a spear but the length of my throw was pathetic, and they told me I was too old! As we watched the three men launched their spears, rather like billiards cues, toward the lone coconut, behind which the moon had risen brightly. One man got two in, and the others one each.
Back at the quayside people gathered to chat, sat astride their tricycles. Wilson, an effeminately dressed ReRe, was most chatty and as Emily got supper easy to eat on deck, we became uncomfortable with the prospect of eating in company, but like all polite people they said goodnight and Bon appetit when we sat down to eat.
The next day we found the shop open, and terribly sparsely stocked, except for pumpkins and potatoes which we bought. Bread only comes occasionally from the bakery in Manihi on the inter atoll supply boat, Dory.
Justin and I took the rubbish and recycling to the public repository, and then walking back to the boat we spotted an old man in a pink thirst and camouflage sun hat hobbling across to intercept us. It turned out that this bearded, toothless old man was an American called Bill, who lived here with his adopted daughter and son in law. He had come by boat and reckoned he'd been here the years. Then it transpired that he'd met his wife in Manihi in 1975 and had been in Ahé for the Bastille Day feast that Justin had attended, when the visiting yachtsmen had been guests of honour. Bill had then sailed off with his new wife in his 32 foot yacht, Gallant, to Hawaii for 8 years where they'd lived working in boat yards and fisheries. Now back in Ahé cared for by family he was very impressed with French healthcare, which sent a special plane to take him to Papeete when he broke his leg in September. Not something he would experience in America as a poor uninsured citizen.
Sunday, 7 May 2017
I had always thought that pearl farmers popped a grain of sand into the oysters and then had to wait many years for a pearl. However, Oro showed us the technique learnt from his father, who in turn had learnt from the Japanese. He mounted a shell in a clamp at his work desk, inserted metal foreclosure which prised it open. He then took one of an array fine tools reminiscent of dentistry and fished inside the oyster, pulling out a perfect blue black pearl, balanced on a little ring at the end of his probe. He then selected a ball made of shell, which was larger than the pearl, and with great care inserted it back into a special sac in the oyster. Each oyster is used to make 4 pearls in successive years. The shell for the spheres comes from Mississippi and is sent to Japan to be manufactured. The balls are treated with antiseptic to avoid infecting the oyster. The first seeding of the oyster is critical, as a small shell sphere is placed in contact with the small 2mm square of tissue harvested from the donor oyster. It must be carefully done so that the host grows pearl of the right colour and surrounds the ball of shell perfectly. If an oyster produces a nice spherical first pearl it is reseeded with a larger shell ball, but there is no need to add the piece of tissue that is used to seed it the first time, as it will now continue to produce the same colour pearl each time. Poor placement results in misshapen pearls, or in rejection of the ball. If the oyster produces an irregular shaped pearl it is not used again. Oro said that 50% success rate was the minimum he could accept. He had hired 4 Chinese workers last year but although they had worked fast, their success rate was terribly low, but he didn't find that out till a year later. He said he would hire locals next time.
His friend Norbay had worked there for six years, but had now set up on his own as an eleveur. He put strings of fuzzy material in the lagoon to which oyster seeds would attach. Once he had grown them to a reasonable size, Oro would buy 20,000 a month at 50 cents each. During the season he and his seeding team would work for three months seeding 500 oysters a day each. He reckoned he had 300,000 oysters on the buoyed lines radiating from his work island. However it is hard to get started as he must pay the government to lease his 38 hectare concession,many then it takes four years before any return can be had. He remembers that his father eclipsed 16million Pacific Francs (CFP) for 700 pearls taken to Tahiti for sale. His last harvest was 10,000 pearls, but they only sold for 9 million CFP. Sales happen every three months in Papeete, where Chinese and Japanese buyers come, look over the pearls I offer and make sealed bids to each vendor. As well as dropping prices, there have been years when the oysters died from pollution resulting from over-exploitation of the lagoon.
As a finale he cleaned off a number of rejected oysters and cut out the muscle, laid them in a shell and squeezed lime juice over them. Crunchy and delicious!
He sped us back to his home and invited us in. The big screen TV came on for the soccer World Cup final between Brazil and Tahiti, and Norbay was excitedly cheering on his nephew at No. 8 and his mate, Jo, the goal keeper. Sadly Jo let in 6 goals, and Tahiti scored zero. Nonetheless it was a victory to be in the final. What was new to me was that it was the beach soccer final! A good one to add to the Olympics!
Oro brought out pearls and jewellery made by his sister, and we pored over them looking for a beautiful memento. A string of black pearls was about £350, and a bracelet £50. Unfortunately we were low on cash, but everyone came away as a satisfied customer!
Meanwhile my planned exit for Ahé was getting short on time, and so after giving us a fresh coconut to drink, and showing us the sack of coconut crabs that he was sending by plane to his mum in Tahiti, he dropped us back to the boat. We were away quickly and motoring flat out managed to force our way out past the incoming flood tide by 12:30 and set sail the 29 miles to Ahé, last visited by Justin 42 years ago. Once in the lagoon we will have to traverse 5 miles of coral heads to reach the village, or if the light fails us try to anchor just inside the lagoon.
We set off with the dinghy to snorkel around the coral heads and saw fascinating clams with deeply wavy shell opening and iridescent blue and emerald green lips which retracted as soon as they sensed one's presence. The coral looked mostly dead, but there were some brain corals and a few others. There were Angel fish, zebra fish and various others. After lunch we went on foot to explore the motu (island forming part of the atoll ring) and walked happily under shady trees, spotting large holes made by coconut and land crabs. Wrecked pontoons, pearl fishing equipment and debris from an old shack spoke of recent cyclones, the other of which was 3 months ago.
We were soon across the thin wooded strip and facing the ocean, where the swell broke lightly on the reef. We walked out across a wide shallow area, disturbing a small reef shark. Emily later saw an octopus and more reef sharks. On the shore the coral debris is banked up by the waves, and amongst the grey bits of coral are old shells, one or two of which were worth collecting. Back on the coral beach we saw dozens of hermit crabs all dressed in different shells scrabbling around on the water's edge.
Later that afternoon we took the dinghy a mile back to the village, and walked down a long sandy lane bordered by rather elegant and nicely maintained bungalows. Some on the lagoon side had docks for their boats. Everything seemed very lush and green, and we saw rather inviting gardens with deep shade. The village had three little shops, one of which also opened as a snack bar/ restaurant at 6pm. We found the first store very well stocked with carrots, apples, pears and grapes as the supply boat had just come in. We loaded up and left our bags there for later while we explored.
The village has a nicely presented harbour, dredged of coral to look like a bright blue swimming pool, with smart low dock walls on three sides, and fast open boats moored bows to. Children were swimming in the dock happily, with a little one year old being looked after by his five year old sister while the mothers sat in the shade of a tree.
Once we got round to the pass, we could see the strength of the tide, and watched local boats with big 200 HP engines forcing their way into the lagoon against the outflow. A Commune de Manihi launch was ferrying from the wharf across the pass to the side which connected with the hotel and airport. A little square with seats under a big tree allowed people sit outside the little store and watch the boat traffic. Further on was the pink painted church that had stood out as we entered the previous day. It is dedicated to Saint Jerome, and marked 2013, so may have been rebuilt after a cyclone. The priest was meditating in the front row of the stalls, while we popped our heads in to admire lamp shades made of shells
It was getting towards sunset, and lots of people were gathered outside houses and on the dock drinking big bottles of Henana Tahitian beer. We joined in the Friday evening spirit and beers in hand chatted to a group of fishermen on the dock. Tomorrow, Saturday, was the final Election Day for the French President so there was some talk about Macron and Le Pen, but nobody seemed to know what they stood for. We were invited by a man, one of whose ancestors was an English lady called Leighton, to visit his son's pearl farm on Sunday, and readily agreed. His wife is the mayor.
Saturday was then spent doing maintenance - Anne and Emily festooned the boat with washing, whilst Justin tackled navigation lights, cupboard door locks and dismantled the electric winch for greasing. I dismantled the aft toilet to discover why it was pumping into the sea when one didn't want it to. It was a longer job than I'd thought, but I found that the critical valve was jammed, so I hope it will now function OK. I then dismantled the instrument panel to see why that wasn't working and it was then 2pm and time for lunch. We made a foray ashore and I installed myself in the shade for a happy hour sketching and painting the sweep of the shore round the lagoon, fringed with coconut palms.
Friday, 5 May 2017
Deciding where to go is an interesting test of navigation, juggling distances, times, winds and tides. We have three pilot books on board covering the area and they give differing amounts of detail and advice for entering atolls. I had read through all these and shortlisted the places that seemed most suitable. An atoll is an extraordinary ring of coral protecting a central deep lagoon from the pounding of the Pacific surf. Much of the coral ring is covered with coconut palms and other trees, but in between there are breaks where the sea washes through over the coral. The constant pouring of surf over the windward end of the atoll forces water out of the other end where there is usually a pass that can be navigated into the calm of the lagoon. However I found it tricky to know how best to plan this approach.
I'd settled on Fakarava as a first stop as it has a wide easy pass, but one still has to aim to make the transit at slack water because otherwise it's a roaring river flowing in or out and one cannot necessarily keep control. So when is slack water? Various books offer various suggestions, such as one and a half hours after low water, or at the time of the moon's meridian passage. All agree that it actually depends entirely on how big the surf is, pushing water over the reef. The next factor to consider is to arrive with the sun high, so that one can spot the coral heads underwater which are a hazard to navigation, so an evening arrival isn't safe.
Having found the tide times for various atolls and looked at distances and times of arrival I changed our plan and with 24 hours to go we headed to the nearer more northerly atolls of Manihi and Ahé, aiming to arrive at midday. Sure enough, with a bit of motoring when the wind went light, we were there on time, and I was faced with my first entry into an atoll. High tide was at 13.20, so the tide was still flooding in for an hour or two, but as we arrived the pass looked calm past the jetty and little pink church. Beyond I could see white water breaking in rapids as it rushed in through a narrow gap between the coral reefs, but it didn't seem too much to handle.
With centre plate up we passed serenely towards the channel, waved at by several fishing boats in what seemed like a welcome rather than a warning. At the wharf people sat under an old tree and watched us go through. Ahead the white water reminded me of shooting rapids in a canoe. Aim for the V in the waves to stay in the deepest water. We shot through into the lagoon, and as I watched the depth meter it dropped to 2.5 meters - a close thing if the keel was down.
Immediately after the inner reef I swung hard right and then we were in deep water with 20 miles of lagoon stretching into the distance. Channel markers along the edge made it easy to miss the main coral heads and we were soon anchored a mile from the village in deep blue water just off a white coral beach lined with tall Palm tress. Perfect! We had arrived in Manihi atoll, and were the only yacht in the lagoon.
Monday, 1 May 2017
Inside was a very high quality exhibition of historical artefacts, stone adzes, pestles and mortars, sharpening stones, shell fish hooks, carved stone Tikis and most amazing of all a 500 tonne boulder shaped like a turtle, carved with superb petroglyphs including men, turtles and great mahi-mahi dorado fish.
Alfonse had for years been involved with archaeological research in the valleys and, in one extraordinary project, they had taken a detailed cast of the two boulders with the most spectacular petroglyphs and the cast was now in the museum. It explained an odd structure I'd spotted stored in a shed which might have been a mould for a boat, if it hadn't been such an odd shape. K
There were displays of tattoos and the instruments used for the job. A photo of a regal lady in long black dress was the queen of the Marquesas, and she was recognisably the great grandmother of our hostess Yvonne. Altogether a fascinating place. Yvonne calls it the Salle Patrimoinale (Heritage Room) rather than a museum, as otherwise it would be run from Tahiti!
We returned to the restaura and were much feted with garlands of seeds round our nebula, and sacks of pamplemousses, bananas and mangoes given by the musicians. They even drove us to the dock to wave farewell. We left a coule of hours later, happy to have shared time with new friends, sad to be leaving and full of wonder at the extraordinary islands we have visited.
As we sailed along the coast, the dramatic scenery redoubled its power over us with cliffs disappearing vertically into cloud 2000 feet up, whilst jagged volcanic teeth gleamed green and black in the sunshine against the dark gloom of the heights behind.
We met Alex, his uncle Henri, and wise old man, Alfonse playing a big drum, guitar, and 8 string ukelele whilst singing some lovely local and French songs. The table was already piled with beers to which we added more, and Justin and I produced the two ukeleles from TinTin, called kamakas, which were duly played, but not much by me as I'm still a clumsy fingered beginner. However I was pleased to be able to join in with many of the French lyrics which were easy to pick up, including a different version of "She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes!"
Best of all was to hear Polynesian songs, including some that Justin remembers well from his youth here. We were still singing "Oahe ite vaca" - paddle your canoe- as we sloshed back through the mud and streams to the quay later that night. Mid concert we broke for supper while the group played on, and afterwards I had a " doh, fa, sol " chord lesson from the experts. Justin meanwhile was strumming away like a pro.
It was very special to have shared an evening with Alex, Henri and Alfonse, and Yvonne said it was a rare treat to have people playing for fun. Normally they play when the Aranui supply ship arriveda and 130 passengers come by taxi for supper and entertainment.
Eventually we reached the saddle and had a spectacular view down into Anaho. I sat on a rock and sketched while the breeze cooled me down. Justin however set off down the zigzag path down the precipitous hillside and found Anne and Emily enjoying galops along the broad arc of sandy beach.
I eventually made my way down, meeting Justin struggling back up. I also met Raymond, carrying a guitar in a gunny sack, walking over the hill in search of a guitar string.
Down on the beach, the tide had ebbed showing the coral which looked very dead. It's rare in the Marquesas.
Robert Louis Stevenson had spent HAPPY times here with his family relaxing under the fringe of palm trees, and enjoying the hospitality of the community. There is a little church and a school both seemingly deserted.
I set off up the hill again, and hearing the horses behind me managed to reach the crest before them.