Sunday, 30 June 2013

inside an atoll

We. have. arrived.
The sky was grey that morning,  but it was time to head further south into the atoll. We decided to take our chances since we had waypoints to get down there. While underway, we saw a squall form, and then another. It got bouncy and wet for a while, especially for me at the bow, but we were fine.1 By the time we got to the loveliest spot we’ve been to so far in the Tuamotus, the rain stopped. Of course, the first thing we did was jump in the water with our snorkel gear.

Clear waters, lots of fish

We spent nearly a week in the southeastern corner of Tahanea. It was pure bliss. Bonfires under the light of the moon, snorkeling the nearby reefs, drinking coconut water, reading in the hammock, exploring ashore, crossing to “the other side” and looking out over the vast expanse that is the Pacific Ocean. I think for this bit we’ll let the photos do the talking.

1 We would have waited for sunshine had we not had the waypoints from the Soggy Paws Compendium. When we made our own route to the eastern anchorage in Makemo, we would not have considered leaving in bad weather, we left when the sun was high and allowed us to see coral heads clearly. When it’s overcast, the waters turn a steely grey and you can’t see coral heads well from afar. We had no problems crossing Tahanea, but I still kept watch at the bow.

Palm Tree!
It really looked like this.

The occasional cloud cover would quickly
Rick the explorer

Rick's sexy jungleman pose... (or so he thought)
(Kids don't hold a machete like this at home)

A glorious sunset, it's been a while I've posted one

Nyon, at rest

Here fishy, fishy

Aged coral

Flying our kite on a windy day

Nerding out with my kite

Dinghy sailing, a relaxing way to explore

Rick putting on his cardshark face

Last bonfire in Tahanea... by the full moon

go in, turn right

Yep, more gratuitous Palm tree and turquoise water shots...
The water is so clear in Tahanea, last night we could see coral heads 35 feet below Nyon
Pip Squeak waiting for our return
by moonlight. Seriously, how cool is that? We’ve been in the anchorage near the middle pass of Tahanea for three nights, waiting for skies to clear and the northerly winds to die down so we can head to the southeastern side of the atoll. While here, we collected rainwater (yep, it’s been raining on and off here too). We did 4 loads of laundry. We have been jumping off the boat into crystal clear waters during the bouts of sunshine and pretending we are card sharks during the rainy spells. We’ve explored ashore, and while walking on coral looking for coconuts, we wondered how anything grew here.

View from the shack ashore
At first, we were the only ones here. Now there are 5 boats in total. As strong winds were coming from the north, this anchorage was a good bet to sit out the nasty stuff. I do look forward to crossing the atoll and finding somewhere to park for a while. We want to fully enjoy this spot. Since we decided not to go to Fakarava before heading to Tahiti, we no longer feel rushed. And that my friends is our kind of cruising.1  

Yesterday, a Mahi Mahi (Dorado) was zipping around our boat terrorizing bait fish, it would leap out of the water and catch its preys with gusto. One poor fish found its demise because of Pip Squeak. Stunned after hitting our dinghy’s bottom, Rick saw the Mahi Mahi take advantage of the situation: no more bait fish. It was wild to watch from nearby and see it all so clearly. I’ll admit, we dreamt of sashimi as we watched the predator’s shimmering blue and green scales play with the light…

The shack. We met a couple guys that sometimes stay there.
They gave us fish.

Laundry day...

in between

"The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet so full of life, so noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective."
- Henry David Thoreau

Goodbye Pouheva, goodbye Makemo
A strong floral fragrance filled my nostrils. It lasted all of 5 minutes, and then the particular scent of coral dust replaced the pungent aroma. What was that? 1

It is the middle of the night. We’re on our way to Tahanea. The chart plotter tells me there is a small atoll to our port side, Tuanake is its name. I strain to see something, but the light of the Milky Way is not bright enough. So I continue on blindly, intermittently sniffing the air while Rick is sleeping in the sea berth.

Perfect conditions, appreciating every moment
We left Makemo frustrated and relieved. I’d spent hours splitting my time between emails to our WIFI adapter supplier and trying to get SkyFile to work as a temporary back up. 2 When it works, the WIFI adapter lets us connect our iPad to our satellite phone in order for us to download weather forecasts and Grib files. The adaptor also allows us to send short emails to our loved ones to reassure them we are okay. (When I say WIFI, I don’t mean surfing the internet anymore.) We have less wonderful ways to acquire weather information (our cranky shortwave receiver), and if needed, we can call a family member with our satellite phone, but neither option is as good or as affordable as what we’ve gotten used to.

Having said that, we decided we’d put off solving everything now and left with the favourable forecast instead of staying tethered to a village with Internet. (We knew the weather would turn in a couple of days and didn’t want to be in that anchorage, as it would have been uncomfortable.) As we raised the anchor, we felt the weight of the last 24 hours lift off our shoulders. We left with a nice breeze, and Nyon happily spread her wings in the bright sun as we quietly chatted in the cockpit, feeling good. Sometimes, a bit of space is all you need. We’ll deal with the issues, but for now we’re sailing. And sailing is a fine way to spend one’s time.

1While exploring a motu in Tahanea, we came across a flowering tree. Clusters of small white flowers that smell divine… I’m not sure what these trees are, but the scent reminds me a little of honeysuckle.

2 SkyFile is an email compression program with which we can use a USB cable to connect laptop to satellite phone. (Our usual program, AxcessPoint, can only be used via a WIFI modem.) We prefer using our iPad to download Gribs as we can load them right onto our chart plotter. (Our iPad is our chart plotter.) But when it comes down to it, SkyFile is better than our shortwave receiver, because we can read the information, and it’s easier to make sense of it than by listening on the crackling shortwave radio. Hopefully, I can figure out why SkyFile isn’t working so we can use it until we can replace our adapter. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

the colour turquoise

Rick in his happy place
"Why don’t more people come here?” Makemo is our first atoll, and perhaps the other more popular ones are that much better, but still.  We saw one boat at the village for an afternoon, and SV Landfall spent a few days here with us. When we returned to the village, we saw two more boats, one was leaving. And that's it.

Our first stop in Makemo was Pouheva, the atoll’s sole village. We tried to tuck in behind the concrete quay as much as possible, to avoid the fetch that travelled some 10 miles across the atoll before reaching Pouheva. Twenty knot winds are not ideal in this anchorage, but after our challenging passage, we were happy to make do.  The day after we arrived, SV Landfall came into the atoll. The other sailboat that had been there when we arrived told us about the eastern anchorage before leaving. Armed with SV Andromeda’s recommendation, we decided to go check it out with Denny and Barb.

We headed out of the harbour with Rick at the helm and me at the bow on coral head watch. My job was to scan for evidence of waves breaking over coral, or simply brown and light turquoise stains in the water and soon enough I’d spot them and Rick would adjust course. By 1500 it had become more challenging to see coral heads and we were relieved to drop the hook. (We anchored at 16* 39.463’ S 143* 23.624’ W.)

Our first morning there, we were oohing and aahing over our coffees at the incredibly turquoise waters fringed with palm trees. As we looked further south, we could see the atoll’s outer reef and the waves from the Pacific Ocean crashing into it. Yet, here we were in an incredibly flat and peaceful anchorage. It didn’t even feel like we were on a boat, the water was that still.

So what do you do when you end up in a place like this? Well, you do laundry, scrub the hull, tackle maintenance on the head, fix leaks, and… I’m kidding. Well, no I’m not. We actually did those chores. More importantly, we went snorkelling in the reefs, explored on land, and shared meals with friends, you know: the good stuff.

The outer edge of the atoll

What we call "coral hiking"
Can you see the water inside the atoll beckoning?

This is kinda nice

A young reef shark in the shallows
Rick a.k.a. coconut man

Only two boats here
Our first foray on land we walked on the outside fringe of the atoll with Denny and Barb. We crossed back inside the atoll and walked among the coconut trees, until we stopped for lunch. At some point we spread out, Barb and I chatting away at a leisurely pace; Rick bee lining it to the dinghy like a horse to the barn; the plan was to go snorkelling next, anyone who knows Rick understands. Denny, our resident social butterfly, went by one of the shacks near the beach and met Otto. When Denny goes on solo forays, one never knows what will come out of it. This time, it was a dinner invitation from the copra workers ashore. But he wasn’t sure. You see, Denny doesn’t speak French at all, but he makes friends everywhere. After meeting him, Otto had motioned eating, pointed at his wrist and held up four fingers. That’s all Denny needed to drag us all ashore at four, “just to see”. There we met Otto, Teophile and Napo (Napoleon). And we were indeed invited for supper. We walked up to Napo’s place, a simple shack with a corrugated steel roof and some walls.

Napo getting coconuts ready
for consumption
Photo courtesy of SV Landfall
Teophile is a retired legionnaire and a chatty sort of fellow. The younger two imbibed and mostly let Teophile do all the talking. Napo sometimes rolled his eyes as Teophile pontificated, but mostly he smiled. Otto came and went and jumped in and out of the conversation. We found out later he had prepared the whole meal.

I lost count of how many times they told me they were glad I spoke French. I endeavoured to translate as best as I could for both parties. The conversation covered a lot of ground: “But why? Why do all these sailboats come here and go diving?” “Oh, we’ve heard of Celine Dion, we know her.” (I apologized.) “We don’t eat, you eat!” “Sometimes they don’t come ashore.” “The younger generation doesn’t eat fish, it’s only steak frites for them. It’s terrible.”  “We don’t want independence, I’ve seen what independence has done in other places. Look at Chad.” “Ha! You are the tenth boat to ask if there is ciguatera here! No, no there isn’t!”

Coconut water, yum!
Photo courtesy of SV Landfall

Otto, Teophile and Napo hamming it up for the camera
Photo courtesy of SV Landfall

Denny and Barb
Photo courtesy of SV Landfall
The evening proceeded, and eventually pots came on the table. They categorically refused to eat with us, they wanted us to eat before them. At first, we balked but they insisted it was their custom to make sure the guests were fed first. Dinner consisted of sashimi, poisson cru, and grilled parrotfish with rice. We all enjoyed the meal. We ate our fill, but left soon after thinking they might be hungry! By then it was after dark. Otto, holding up a large lantern, walked us to our dinghy which was anchored in the shallows off the beach. We shouted farewells and headed toward our anchor lights. Otto turned back to the beach, his trusty dog following his every step. We saw each other again, but saddly didn’t manage to get them over to Nyon before we left. Rick decided to bake a banana loaf, and brought it to them as a thank you.

Pretty fish and lovely coral... so different from Mexico

Here's one of our buddies, a white tipped reef shark
At the very first coral reef we explored and within minutes of being in the water, I turned around to see a 3 foot reef shark behind me. Heart pounding, I inched my way toward the dinghy, telling myself “It’s just a reef shark, it’s just a reef shark, they're not aggressive...”. (Come on, give me some slack, it’s a highly ingrained response: shark = danger.) After a few trips, I got more comfortable with their constant presence and turned my attention to the very colourful fish of the South Pacific. The only times I’m nervous around these sharks now, is when Rick is spearfishing. Spearfishing turns him into a magnet for sharks. What you do once you have speared a fish, is hold both spear and fish out of the water and out of shark range, until you get to the dinghy. I like my Rick in one piece and so far, he’s had no trouble confusing the sharks. Though I did see one frantically sniffing around after Rick left the area with one of his catch. Being the thoughtful person that I am, I decided not to disturb said shark and headed to the other side of the reef.

A female Spotted Boxfish
A Tiger Snake Moray Eel peeking out at Rick

Whenever I see Moorish Idols, I can't help but hear
Willem Dafoe's voice (Think Gill in "Finding Nemo")

Splashes of Blue Damsels

These ones are Lemonpeel Angelfish

Christmas Tree Worms, looking festive

After SV Landfall left, chores and swimming filled our days. We discovered our Wifi Modem for the SAT phone stopped working. That was upsetting. We expect having to fix things on our old boat, but when something brand new packs it in, it’s a lot harder to accept. So that decided it for us, we had to head back to the village (where there is Internet) to let our families know we are fine and to start the process of dealing with this new challenge. Luckily Rick sweetened the deal with a delicious pancake breakfast and we threw in a few more dips in turquoise waters for good measure.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

it’s raining, it’s pouring, and we’re smiling

Hakatea from the rim

You can't tell but this was a very wet hike, they all were
Hakatea was wet. It rained, it rained again, and then it rained some more. But we loved it there. After all the work we’d been doing, we wanted to play, and play we did. We explored all over the place, forded rivers and waded through mud. Occasionally the sun would peek out and we would gratefully soak in its rays, however briefly. I even managed a yoga session on the bow, one blissfully sunny morning. Yet that same afternoon, it rained so hard we collected nearly 60 gallons of water. We had water to drink and water to do laundry with, (the laundry water was collected from our dinghy).

Goats are hunted here, they don't like us humans
(I don't think this one cares anymore)

Looking over the next door bay

A beautiful moonrise

The highlight of our stay here was the hike to the waterfall with Dennis and Barb (SV Landfall). We hiked among vibrant green plants and tall coconut trees; through the ruins of a settlement of long ago, and across the same river 6 times each way. There were trees with incredibly long roots, and other trees with undulating roots. There were cliffs, there were fields of greenery. It was beautiful.

Happy hikers

The village gardens were incredibly beautiful

Green might be my new favourite colour

The waterfall from afar

Getting our feet wet again and again
(Soon enough, we were wet from head to toe)

This one had a little more current

Someone was making fun of someone here, but I'm not sure
who or why

Barb and I, blissed out

As we got closer to the waterfall, there was
an enormous amount of spray

The guys, deciding they just had to get a closer look
On the way back, wait, what is that? Sun? Yeah baby!

When the skies clear, look up

Loved the play of light through the leaves

Muddy and scratched, we went home satisfied, after meeting Zachariah in the village who offered to supply us with fruit the next day for our trip to the Tuamotus. And so it was: a wet, luscious and muddy visit in Hakatea was probably the highlight of our stay in the Marquesas.We stayed there longer than we’d planned as we had to wait for a good weather window to leave for the Tuamotus, and it turns out, that was a good thing.

Zachariah helping us load up with fruit after we enjoyed
very bad coffee and good conversation with him

The edge of the village, when it's not raining


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