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.


  1. Hi Kyra, What kind of underwater camera do you have and do you like it (the pics look awesome)? Hope you guys are well, writing you from our Lasqueti Island anchorage--heading north! Michael

  2. Hey Mike! Hope you guys are doing great! Yay for going north, very excited for you! We have an Olympus Tough. Only complaint is it takes a few seconds to turn on, so you may miss a good shot here and there... It works well in clear waters obviously, sometimes Photoshop is your friend to bump up the contrast if visibility is not so great.

    I look forward to reading about your new adventures, say hello to Desolation Sound for us! Hugs to the family

  3. Hi Kyra,

    What kind of fish field guide do you have /useto be able to identify all these beauties? Thanks for sharing your adventures!

    1. Hi there, we use "Reef Fish Identification: Tropical Pacific by Allen/Steene/Humann/Deloach. It doesn't give behavioral info like it's companion, the Baja to Panama book we used in the Sea of Cortez, (there are too many fish to include I guess) but it's good for identifying what we're looking at!

  4. Looks beautiful. Keep enjoying the Tuamotus. We're in "chore mode" in Tahiti :S

    1. Thanks Annie! We've taken the Starship approach of late: fewer anchorages, more quality time... we may not make it to Fakarava as a result, but the plan is to head to Tahanea today. Here's hoping it doesn't get too crazy windy!

  5. Reading about those semi isolated men that made dinner for you all, made me wonder about some things.

    How do they earn a living?
    Men being men what do they do about women?
    What do they do with their time?


  6. Say hello to Pura Vida for us!
    Dan and Kelly



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