Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Îles des Tuamotu

Osprey at anchor in Kauehi, Tuamotu
(photo courtesy of
Kyanos)
After over a month in the Marquesas we finally pulled up the anchor and, after our third attempt, left the Marquesas and headed for the Tuamotus. The Tuamotus are an archipelago of over 70 atolls (coral fringed lagoons with very little land mass) with crystal clear blue waters, abundant sea life,and coral beaches fringed by coconut palms...in a word, paradise. The ocean can be raging outside the atoll and while the winds might be felt inside the lagoon, the waters are typically glass smooth which makes for very comfortable times on the boat.  No more rocking and rolling for us!

  
Have I mentioned how much I LOVE my GoPro?!
The first atoll we visited was Kauehi, a fairly round atoll approximately 8 miles both north to south and east to west.  As we entered the pass, our buddy Ben from Kyanos, and his new crewmate Rob dinghied over to take some GoPro videos of us approaching the anchorage and also offer some useful information regarding the numerous coral heads scattered across the anchorage. The thing about the Tuamotus is that you are constantly standing watch for coral heads which are a boats worst nightmare; coral can gouge a hole in your hull in no time flat so whenever you enter an anchorage it is always someone's job (usually mine) to stand watch at the bow for anything that resembles coral heads.  Luckily, the water is so clear that it isn't hard to miss them, especially if you enter with the sun directly above you (as opposed to early morning or early evening).  With the anchor down, we pretty much donned our snorkel gear and jumped off the boat into our "backyard" and started to explore the coral reef that was located directly behind us.  The coral formations and fish were amazing and the clarity of the water made it easy to spot numerous new species of fish.  We`also saw giant clams for the first time and they are very striking; the clams are typically embedded into the coral and all you really see are their black and neon-colored lips which close as you approach.

We spent four days in Kauehi hanging out with the crew on Kyanos and had some fun potlucks, walks on the atoll and even a snowball fight...yes, you heard me right, a snowball fight in the middle of the tropical Pacific.  I have a new-found appreciation for what had been a dreadful task, defrosting the freezer.  And now that I have something to do with all that frost all I can saw is that other boaters have been warned and should expect to hear the "clunk" of a snowball hitting their decks if they are anchored next to us. Check out the video.
video

One day Richard and I were walking back from a hike on the atoll and ran into Ben and Sarah and they asked if I would mind translating for them as they went to purchase some pearls.  seeing this as an adventure, I agreed and they ended up getting a sweet deal on black Tahitian pearls.  They even threw in a pearl for me as a translating fee.  So now I have this single pearl sitting in a tiny container on my boat. Not sure what I'm going to do with it, but if my Mom isn;t reading this, maybe can I surprise her with it when I get back to the states.  Opps, I guess the cat's out of the bag.


Yes, that's a shark and I'm trying to untangle the anchor.
We left Kauehi and made the short trek over to Fakarava. Getting into the atoll at Fakarava involves timing the South Pass carefully because the flooding and ebbing tides can reaches speeds of 5 knots and you definitely don't want that against you as you are trying to either enter or exit. When we came in, right around slack, we only had around 2 knots against us which was quite manageable. We anchored on the east side of the pass and much to our disappointment noted that we were not completely out of the coral beds when we dropped anchor.  Oh well, forget about it for now and deal with it later. And then later came and we had to dive on the anchor. Now diving on the anchor isn't all that bad and I can usually handle depths down to about 20 feet but at that depth you have limited air left in your lungs to things, oh I don't know, like, untangling your anchor chair that has wrapped itself around a coral head.  Oh did, I mention that at the very moment that you decide to dive on your anchor the sharks usually show up?  Okay, let me mention it.  At the very moment that you decide to dive on your anchor the sharks will show up...just to put you on edge.  Everyone can tell you that they are harmless and not interested in you but I would prefer them to be not interested in me AT A DISTANCE, preferably out of my immediate field of view.  The truth is, these black tipped reef sharks, which are typically in the 5 foot range, aren't too interested in you but they do hang around as though they are interested in making sure that you don't infringe on the open water buffet.  Fast forward and the anchor is now free (but don't worry, as we stayed a few more days the anchor had plenty of time to get stuck again).  


Giant clam.
One of the highlights of coming to the Tuamotus is drift diving in the passes.  The way this works is you take the dinghy out to the pass a little bit before the changes from an outgoing tide to an incoming tide and tether your dinghy to your leg then get in the water and drift in with the incoming tide. We experienced this with the crew of Kyanos and had a great time.  We saw all kinds of fish, including marbled grouper and blue and gold snapper, giant clams, in addition to lots of sharks. I know, again with the sharks.  The incoming tide allows you to slowly drift in with the tide and expend less effort snorkeling.  It was amazing!

Our time in the Tuamotus was cut short by the emergence of a favorable weather window which we were quick to take advantage of given our previous experiences in waiting for weather windows.  With that in mind, we picked up our anchor, after I dove on the anchor amid all the sharks to free it from the coral, and headed to Tahiti...finally, Tahiti!