Celebrated today here at Fakarava Atoll in French Polynesia! We went to dinner last night along with the crews of sv Trim, Beaujoulais, Bamboozle, Worral Wind and Onda. We sat in this small beach snack shack opened only on the weekends, and the food was good; a choice of steak frite, lemon chicken, chow mein, or croisson cru. There was a guy playing keyboards and singing, and the waitresses all smiled and made everyone feel welcomed. At about 0315 a supply ship came into the quay, but when we later got out of bed at 0530, he had already gone. Wind is up today, blowing ESE at 20 with higher gusts, but the sun's shining and forecast is for the wind to moderate tomorrow. Btw, a brief note about food prices. Two days ago, the post office converted USD at 1 USD to 88 ff. There are no banks or ATM's here at Fakarava. A 24 can case of Hinano beer was $72 USD; each can costs $3.00USD; eggs are $.48USD each; baguettes are 65ff, about $.74USD each; chocolate croissants are about $1.50USD each; pamplemouuse, which we got free in the Gambiers, is $4.77/kg here. We look for foods with a red label; those are foods subsidized by the French government, hence a bit less costly than most. Fortunately, we don't need too much as we're still eating those provisions we bought in Panama.
We motorsailed up the marked channel to the village of Rotoava, in the NW corner of the lagoon, where our friends on Soggy Paws and Visions of Johanna are spending one more night, before leaving for another atoll. Sherry had us all aboard for a delicious fish stew dinner, and we got the low down about the village here. We've got internet again, and are awaiting the arrival of our son Jon in a week. We'll explore the town, stretch our legs and enjoy our internet 'fix', load up on fresh, warm baguettes and croissants, and do some provisioning. We've also been welcoming and meeting boats coming in from the Marquesas...part of the PPJ group. Most boats on the 'milk run' go to Marquesas first, then stop briefly here in the Tuomotus, before heading to Tahiti and westward either to NZ or Australia for the cyclone season. Our current plan is to visit the Marquesas in July/Aug. and head to Hawaii sometime in September. It's nice not to have to rush and be out of French Polynesia in the usual 3 months. That extra work to get our 6 mo. extended stay visa for French Polynesia is paying off! We'd then return from Hawaii to French Polynesia in April/May 2011 for a new 90 day stay; thereby giving us a total of 9 months here over two seasons. Nice....
Last night we anchored at a beautiful spot named Hirifa, which has a sandy beach we went shelling at this morning at low tide, and a number of seasonal buildings used by the copra workers and fisherman. We used one of our many guidebooks to motor along a "fairway" marked with red and green markers to arrive at a small cove named Oreihara. A bow lookout is still helpful, as coral and rock shoals are scattered and await if you wander too far off the fairway. One of the electronic chart sources we use showed several markers that are no longer there, a somewhat common occurrence. One of our guidebooks had all five of its suggested anchoring spots one degree of latitude off, a typographical error. But, even with corrections applied, one of its anchoring suggestions was in 95' of water, a bit deep for most of us! So, the moral is to use guidebooks and electronic charts judiciously, and apply a healthy dose of skepticism and common sense.
We've had a steep learning curve adapting to anchoring techniques here in the lagoons of the Tuamotus. The bottom of many of the atolls is a hard marl, mixed sand with rock and coral. Anchors have a hard time biting, and chain scorches across the tops of the coral and gets twisted below much of the coral. So, here's a typical scenario. Depth is 45'-50' and a small area of sand is spotted in decent light to consider dropping the anchor in. Consider, with the wind and current, dropping the hook exactly on that small patch of sand, actually hard crust, is problematical. Having enough swinging room so the boat doesn't hit another coral head when she swings is paramount, and snorkeling the anchor and surrounding area is a must. Example: three days ago we anchored west of the NW pass at Makemo atoll. Depth was 47', bottom marl and hard coral. Current was fast, and when we finally dropped, the anchor hooked in and the boat swung violently around to a standstill. I figured the chain had wrapped around a coral head, a typical occurrence, or the anchor fluke had grabbed underneath one. Sue donned her snorkel gear and I tied a line to her and had to pull her towards the bow of the boat against the current as she couldn't swim against it. When she finally spotted the chain, her comment after removing her snorkel was "It disappears in the abyss." "Shit", I thought to myself; she can't even spot the anchor. It had disappeared between coral heads, with who knows exactly how much chain along with it, and getting it out will be a challenge. Aboard, we maneuvered the boat forward and our powerfull Maxwell HWC 3500 windlass couldn't budge the anchor/chain although the bow was directly over the disappearing chain. The bowsprit dipped as we tried different angles of pull in an effort to free our 88 pound Delta anchor. I was about resigned to losing an anchor and chalking it up to bad luck when Sue said why don't we try one more time. Sure enough, the anchor broke free and we managed to retrieve it without damage to it or Infini. Luck, for sure.
Diving the anchor is often a solution to help free it, but the current was so strong at that time of the day we would have had to wait until the next morning for a slack tide to even consider donning tanks and wrestling with the big 88 Delta. So, sometimes luck really does play a part in this anchoring dance. We finally departed Makemo for an overnight sail to Fakarava atoll. Entering the pass with a two knot current behind us presented no great difficulty, but finding a place to anchor in front of the small village nearby the pass was another story. We first anchored amongst the coral and marl, but when snorkeling I noticed a coral head we hadn't seen previously. It rose just high enough to be a threat if the wind changed and Infini swung around. So, up came the anchor and we moseyed around looking for another patch to drop in. Attempt two went pretty well until I donned mask and snorkel and spotted old fish trap lines and buoys that our anchor was resting on top of, and the anchor itself was sitting pretty as she lay directly on top of a coral head! We had stopped swinging when we backed up and you guessed it, our chain was wrapped around a coral head, thereby stopping the boat. I felt fortunate we hadn't hooked one of the old wire and rope fish lines with our anchor, as that would have likely ended up with me scuba diving to free the anchor. So, with Sue once again in the water with snorkel gear on directing me as I ran back and forth from the helm to the windlass, we managed to untangle the chain and pull up the anchor again. On our third attempt, we managed to have the Delta dig in, and I had buoyed the chain with a large float about 50' from the bow. So, that helps keep the chain from wrapping around every single coral head surrounding us, but doesn't absolutely prevent a wrap. We use an anchor snubber as part of our anchoring process, and we're hopeful this third attempt will give us a restful night's sleep! In discussions with every other boat, it seems wrapping your chain around a coral head is a daily occurrence, and some folks don't even worry about their anchor "digging in." The only thing that gets me super nervous is if the water is too deep to even see the bottom; then it's really a crap shoot where the anchor is and if it's dug in or just the chain wrapped around a coral head when the boat stops moving upon backing down. Well, I guess that's one of the reasons the Tuamotus aren't on everyone's itinerary! It's been a learning process, for sure!
Lat S16deg27.1mi; W143deg57.8min. Happy birthday Tyson and Sophia! We raised anchor this morning and moved to an anchorage just west of Tapuhiria Pass at the NW corner of Makemo. We're just beside the pass channel, and you can see the current rip thru here (it's 1200 noon local time), by my estimate at 8-10 knots! We've got a good bite with the big Delta in 42' sand, so we'll put on our anchor alarm and relax! Next: exploration by dinghy at slack tide!
We had moved northwest in the atoll to another anchorage two days ago. Unfortunately, the weather hasn't been all that wonderful, so we haven't been able to explore off the boat. We are apparently under the influence of the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ); if you think ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone), you'll recall rainy weather, squalls, calms and high winds; a real mixed bag, and that's what the SPCZ is like. Our anchor keeps wrapping around coral heads, a very common occurrence in the Tuamotus, so we usually snorkel it and move the boat accordingly if necessary. Our friends at other atolls have had even worse weather; we keep an informal SSB radio net twice daily to say hi and chat. So far, we've had this anchorage all to ourselves (besides the small silver with white stripe ramoras that hang out under the boat); hopefully we'll get to explore the nearby beautiful beaches and coral heads soon.
Lat S16deg37min/Long W143deg34min. We're safely anchored at Makemo Island, after going thru our first pass in the Tuamotus. (Arikitamiro; all the passes have a name, though we can't pronounce them!). We departed Rikitea May 4th thinking we'd stop at Hao Island, but strong winds and waves prevented us from doing so. A nearby motu, Amanu Island, was tempting, but again, we were stymied by strong weather. So, with little choice, we continued on for another two nights and went thru the pass here at Makemo at 0847 and were anchored in front of the village by 0915. The sight of five large windmills in the village shocked us, as they were probably the last thing we expected to see in the Tuamotus. Timing of your transit thru the passes of all these islands involves more, I think, black magic than art. It's important to time your passage as close to slack water as possible, as tidal outflows at some islands can reach 20 knots! Yikes! But, every guide book quoted a different methodology of calculating slack water, and everyone we met also was confused. So, you've got to figure the time of high tide, low tide, when the meridian passage of the moon is (no,I'm not kidding), and when moonrise and moonset are. Then you try to figure the passes of the motu itself....is it a large atoll like Makemo (40 miles in length and 10 miles wide (at it's widest point!), allowing a constant flux of water in, thereby shutting down all bets as to timing. It just goes on and on. We probably just got lucky, but we found this pass easy to navigate without any appreciable current against us, and had a small handkerchief of jib out in the 18 knots of wind forward of the beam. We had short tacked all night, and we used the computer nav. program (we're using Max Sea) to help calculate set and drift to allow us to be just off the pass at the time we wanted to be there. The weather cooperated, and our big problem was slowing the boat down! We had practiced heaving to, and used various sail combinations up during the afternoon, but I still wasn't happy. We were going just as fast under bare poles than with a small amount of jib out! At the time, winds were 20 knots, seas 4'-6'; not bad for around here! So, we're tired but very happy to be here. We've snorkeled the anchor, (crystal clear water!) and the chain is partially wrapped around a coral head, but that seems to be what it's like around this particular spot. We'll launch the dinghy and explore the town tomorrow, and possibly move to another anchorage in a day or so.
Btw, a short bit of Tuamotus factoids. Before the use of GPS and accurate charts, the islands here used to be called "The Dangerous Archipelago." Many ships sank due to uncharted reefs and unpredictable currents. Numerous coral heads lurk just beneath the surface inside the lagoons of most motus. But, the fishing, diving, and beaches are reputed to be excellent, and it's certainly far enough out of the way to not worry about an over abundance of tourists! There are 76 islands, of which 45 are inhabited and 29 atolls have airstrips. The Tuamotu Island chain runs from the SE to the NW, and lies between Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands, and are under French jurisdiction. Pearl cultivation, as well as copra harvesting, are found throughout the islands.
The picture is of when we were coming in the pass.
We've really enjoyed the anchorage here at Rikitea. Last night we watched the practice session from the local group that will compete at the big yearly competition that takes place for the two weeks before Bastille Day (July 14) in Pape'ete. Heiva i Tahiti is a major Polynesian festival. There was music and singing, (amazing harmonizing), wonderful drums, and dancing. This after a meal ashore with friends from Attitude, Fellow Traveler and Soggy Paws. We're leaving today for our 4-5day passage to Hao, our first stop in the Tuamotu Group. Some of the motus are off limits to boats, as they were sites for French nuclear bomb testing. Hao was a support center for operations at that time. We expect 24-36hrs. before the wind goes below 20kts...the further north, the milder the winds. We'll be entering our updates as usual. Ciao.
(The picture is of leaving the Gambiers behind))