2016-08-04 – 2016-08-08
Like Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon Tiki raft we were on our way towards the atoll of Raroia at the eastern edge of the Tuamotu archipelago. Instead of crash landing at the rough reef on the windward side we made our way to the pass at the leeward side of the atoll. Even though the atoll passes can be quite tricky to navigate, we felt we were in for a smoother entrance to this place than the Kon Tiki raft back in 1947.
The Tuamotus, meaning “the distant islands”, is a group of atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s the largest group of atolls in the world with its total of 78 atolls of which about 50 are inhabited. Most inhabited atolls only have small populations of about 200 people or so but some, like Rangiroa, inhabit as many as 3 000. In total the population is about 18 000. Most of the atolls are quite big, about 15-40km across, but even though the Tuamotus spreads over an area equal to western Europe the livable land mass is very small. Only the small islets and islands on the reefs surrounding the lagoons raise over the surface and they are only as high as the tallest palm tree. You really have to zoom in on Google earth to even see that there is something here (Try it..). The economy is based on subsistence agriculture, self-sufficient farming where the output is mainly for local requirements rather than for trade. Most important sources of additional income are cultivation of black pearls in the atoll lagoons and production of copra (coconut product). Tourism is very limited except for a few resorts on the bigger atolls and some cruising and charter sailing boats. The Tuamotus used to be called “the dangerous archipelago” because they were difficult to navigate, especially in the dark the atolls are difficult to spot until you are right in front of them. Very few cruising boats used to visit but because of new technology like GPS it is now possible. In other words, yet another remote and exotic place for us to visit.
Having carefully planned for the best time to enter the pass at Raroia, we approached the area from the north at 11 a clock, about an hour before estimated slack tide. With a little help from the GSP we found the right channel to aim for, getting closer we found the pass well marked out and the surrounding reefs clearly visible. Now the only challenge was to figure out the actual state of the tide and the current, as we wrote more about in the previous post, entering through an atoll pass can be tricky business with a lot of factors to take into account. We circled the area for a while and found that the current was still outgoing and since the wind came from the same direction we didn’t find any large standing waves adding to the challenge. After a few test runs in the current outside the pass we decided to not wait for the slack and just go for it. Going through we had about 3kn of current against and a smooth ride, first atoll pass completed!
One challenge down, a few more to go. Now we had to navigate through the lagoon keeping away from the scattered coral reefs and avoiding all pearl farm bouys, and then try to find a good spot to anchor with nice sandy bottom for holding and as few coral heads as possible to avoid getting the chain tangled… It did not get any easier when the rain came down on us, limiting the light and visibility as we were approaching the little reef islet we were anchoring off. We were in for a well-deserved “Ti’ Punch” (standard Kenobi drink) after this sailing leg! It kept raining the whole first evening and through the night, is it supposed to rain like this in paradise?
The heavy clouds were still over us in the morning of day two but the rain had finally stopped. Around lunchtime the sun started breaking through unveiling the real beauty of our surroundings, clear water in shifting blue and turquoise colors, and the chain of small palm tree islets on the reef surrounding then lagoon. This is probably as close to paradise as you get on Earth. This place is difficult to describe in a few words, I refer to our great pictures instead (see linked photo album).
After some nice snorkeling in the afternoon we decided to try an anchoring technique we had read about in “The Tuamotu compendium”. In the atolls the bottom at the anchorages are usually scattered with smaller coral heads that you want to avoid getting your chain wrapped around, seriously endangering your safe anchoring and/or equipment. The technique is to put fender/s along your chain to make it hang in the water above the coral heads, it takes some experimenting to get the right buoyancy but we are getting there. Fortunately, at this anchorage there are not too many heads around but this set up will probably be useful ahead.
Today we have to keep ourselves busy! Over dinner last night we decided to try a 24h fast, not allowed to eat anything until dinner the next day. There are popular diets based on this component (eg. 5/2) and several health personalities (like the Swedish triathlete and pod cast host “Kolting”) promoting these short term fasts, so we wanted to try it. To keep ourselves from thinking about food we set out for a day of activities. In the morning we went snorkeling two coral reefs with the dinghy, these isolated reefs rise all the way to the surface on narrow hills in the middle of the lagoon. The coral is really in good condition and you’ll find a lot of different species, from smaller reef fish to large groupers, morays, octopus and sharks. In the afternoon we went exploring “ashore”, the major reef surrounding the lagoon is actually quite wide (around 200m) but is partially covered with shallow water and springs, partially with sandy islets of different sizes with palm trees and some lower vegetation. We went on a small excursion along the shore line to the next islet, getting there we had to cross banks of spikey hard coral/sand mixture and wade through the many springs, some wide and deep with a lot of current. We saw a few sharks in the shallow waters while wading but the most surprising animal spotting was the four stray dogs that came down the shore line and swimming across the springs. They stopped briefly to take a quick look at us, then continued on their northbound route. The strategy for the day worked well, none of us were complaining from the lack of food, but going back to the boat late afternoon we were all looking forward to a big dinner! Wahoo green curry coming up. Next morning we all enjoyed a big breakfast again.
During a trip like this you want to challenge your ordinary routines and try new things. Ever since early on this trip we talked about having “theme weeks” on the boat when we do something different together. Until now we haven’t really had the time or motivation to focus on this, but now it is time for the “raising with the sun”-week. This week we will do as the locals do and get out of bed one hour before sunrise, 05.00 sharp. It is actually quite a nice setup as you get to use all hours of sunlight and you get a lot done in one day, even some boat fix. When the sun sets at about 18.00 you really cannot do that much stuck on a boat surrounded by complete darkness. You will probably not find me on deck at 05 during next week but hopefully a little bit earlier than before at least.
Other theme weeks we have come up with so far are the following:
Workout week (1h workout a day)
Board game week (play board games every night)
New food course week (one completely new recipe a day)
Survivor week/“Robinson” week (eat only things we pick/catch ourselves + rice)
Difficult/artsy movie week (one movie every night, eg “the Turin Horse”, Roy Andersson etc)
Learning new things week (Learn something new)
Ps. If you want to suggest any new themes for us, please leave a comment to this post below
The ”Survivor” week is probably the most exciting of the themes. We have not yet decided how hardcore it’s going to be, it will have to depend on the spot where it’s carried out. For this challenge it feels comforting that we have gotten into, and quite good at, spear fishing. Especially Simon has engaged himself in this activity, learning from the locals in Marquesas he now easily spots and catches octopus and other fish. Here we caught two octopus that we had for dinner, one we had fried with garlic, chili, parsley and butter, the other turned into a great pasta dish. Catching an octopus is quite tricky though, it takes some practice to learn how to handle this soft and slimy creature once you got it on the spear. The many tentacles easily wrap around everything with a firm grip, including your arm. Back at the boat we read in a fishing book that “you should keep the octopus away from your body since it can pinch you with its strong beak-like mouth”, oops!
Like mentioned before, within the cruising community you can always trust your fellow cruisers to assist you would any problems arise. Today it was our turn to help out. A German boat called Zig Zag, that we met briefly in Nuku Hiva a few days earlier, anchored close to us one late afternoon. On this boat there is a German couple with two small kids, one of which turns 1 during August, talk about using your paternity leave to the fullest. Their watermaker had broken down on the way here from Marquesas and by now they were left with only 30L of drinking water. Since our 800L tanks were pretty full we had plenty to share and we got some well needed yellow bananas in return. Probably one of the worst places in the world for vital equipment to break, hopefully they can get it fixed in Tahiti.
Shortly after, we left the first anchorage to head up the Kon Tiki landing spot about 4M north along the east side of the atoll. This place was also pretty awesome, you can’t stop being amazed by the colors of the water and the scenery… We heard it was supposed to be a nice anchorage with good holding for the anchor, something we really needed now when the wind had picked up to above 20 kn and the low islets offering very little wind protection. Here we also did some nice snorkeling (surprise!) and explored the Kon Tiki monument which they put up in 2007 with support from the Kon Tiki museum in Oslo.As you have come more or less the same route yourself it is easier to imagine what it was like for the crew of the raft, even though their adventure was far far greater than ours. It took the Kon Tiki 101 days to cross the pacific from Peru, relying solely on the current and the easterly trade wind to take them to Polynesia.
After 5 days at Raroia it was time to leave for the next atoll, we plan to visit three or four more atolls on our westward route to Tahili. Next stop is Makemo, situated about 80M to the south west. Since we need to consider timing of tides exiting and entering the atolls passes we had 18 hours to complete this leg. Normally covering such a distance in about 10-12 hours in conditions like today we had to reduce our speed to a minimum by using only a ridiculously reefed genoa. It felt a bit strange slowing down this much in such good sailing conditions, but on the other hand we don’t want to wait outside the pass for too long. On the morning of the 10th of August we motored through the east pass of Makemo (which has two passes) without any problems. Here we are looking forward to some alleged good fishing, more snorkeling and hopefully trying out our kites.
See you soon
Raroia - Tuamotus*