Wednesday, 15 July 2015

First pass

On a map, the distances look so small. Marquesas to Tuamotus.  Just a small hop. It took us four nights.

Four beautiful nights though.  It’s not often you’ll get me enthusing about night sailing. I miss my sleep too much. But there was something so smooth, so soft and pacific about the ocean, something that said, ‘you will never again be at sea on a night quite this perfect’.

The gentle night en route to the Tuamotus

We left the Marquesas from Ua Pou which remains for us an unknown island. The first time we couldn’t get the anchor to set; this time we couldn’t get ashore.  Perhaps we could have tried harder, but cruising is meant to be fun.  Bringing the dinghy into the village of Hakatehau looked as though it might involve crushed limbs and/or shoulders torn out of armpits.  It was enough to watch the clouds tangle with Ua Pou’s monumental rock obelisks from the anchorage, and then watch the sun set.

Hakatehau bay on the northwest corner of Ua Pou

 After 24 hours, we told ourselves that it couldn’t be rollier at sea. We might as well get going towards the Tuamotus. The east wind was fresh. The sea outside the anchorage looked flat. In fact, it was.

From the Marquesas to the Tuamotus

Good bye Ua Pou - and the Marquesas

The moon rose late, so for many black hours the stars  were…well, stars. No haze, no cloud.  Just great handfuls of cosmic brilliance flung across the vastness.

The clouds caught up with us, of course. They always do.  The weather is the weather.  Restless.

By the time we were approaching our first-ever coral reef pass, we were dodging rain squalls. Plus the sun was just rising which isn’t such a smart time to come through a pass, but it was a trade off between visibility and state of the tide. We entered Kauehi atoll, where the current runs very strongly out of the lagoon, at low water slack. It was ok for a first pass.  Nothing to bump into if you kept to your course.  No trauma, in other words – this is important, I think, when you have half an ocean of coral atolls still in front of you.

A lagoon is a wondrous thing. It blocks the ocean swell. When we dropped anchor off the village, increasing the crowd of yachts from three to four, the boat was finally still, for the first time since we left Panama. The day the motion stopped I could feel tension escaping out of my body.  I hadn’t known it was there. We slept so well that first night in the lagoon inside Kauehi atoll.

Our dinghy and the anchorage of the village on Kauehi

The church is made from coral, and coral limestone

The exodus to Fakarava - in relays
Kauehi is a very quiet place all round, and even quieter this week because last Sunday a  50-strong contingent of dancers and singers, footballers, paddlers and bowlers, left for Fakarava to compete and perform in July festivities.  We saw them board the ferry, one-third of the island’s population. That same day the supply ship Mareva-nui called in, as it does once a fortnight. The rest of the population came down to the wharf to snap up carton-loads of food – nearly 100% junk , as far as I could tell. The ship took away sacks of their copra. The movement of their other crop, black pearls, is not so easy to track.

The copra shed at the dock

Waiting for supplies

Pissing on junk

The people swarm the landed supplies on the dock (and below)

Martha (right) from Silver Fern compares product notes

A barge transports goods between ship and shore
We’ve come to Fakarava for the festivities too.  It’s just five hours sail to the west of Kauehi, and who can resist consecutive evenings of traditional dance and singing,  competitive coconut  spearing and fruit throwing,  another Miss/Mister/Mama island contest, not to mention takeaway mahimahi frites?

La fete de Heiva - July festivities (and below)

Fakarava is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotus. It has an airport. Its village, called Rotorava, has a post office, and several shops. You can get internet here. There’s no internet service on Kauehi.

Kauehi pearl fishers live on the lagoon (and below)

If we’d just wanted to stay still, snorkel/dive in  stunningly clear water, watch the palms wave in the breeze, and a very small world go by slowly, there would have been no reason at all to leave Kauehi.  For a first South Seas atoll, the one which will be most strongly imprinted on our memories, we couldn’t have chosen better.

This is how you grow a Tahitian pearl

Silver Fern's water crew - Bryce and Martha, Alisdair and Vivienne (and Diana)

New Zealand-flagged yacht Silver Fern

Dive (and snorkelling trip) with Kauehi divers Gary and Sabine

Not that we chose exactly, but that’s another story. Something about the wind shifting further and further into the south, and the currents bending up, and the time of the tides. But you don’t need to know all that.  Just that Kauehi is there, and unless the oceans rise, probably won’t change much if you don’t get there for another decade or several.

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