After 500 miles of beam reaching we reached Raroia, as did Thor Heyerdahl, who landed there in 1947 with his Kontiki. Only at a distance of about 6 miles you can see the atoll with its palm trees, there are no mountains. During the night we had to slow down a bit, so that we could enter through the pass into the atoll at the morning slack. If the current in the pass is too strong, standing waves will form and the boat will be difficult to maneuver through the coral reefs. An atoll is a coral ring that sometimes has one or two openings called a pass.
Due to the tidal difference of about half a meter, there are four slack times per day. However, there is another influence on the current in the pass. If there is big swell outside in the sea, the waves break on the reef and water splashes into the atoll, which then has to flow out again through the pass. This flow can sometimes be so strong that there is no slack time. A good way to pass a pass is to get an hour before the calculated slack time to the pass and check the situation. If there are no standing waves, you can enter the atoll and …oh wow, no swell anymore :=)
The Tuamotu archipelago measures 1000 miles in its diagonal, which is about the distance from London to Sicily. There are 76 atolls, of which only a few have a pass. A typical atoll where we were is about the size of Lake Neuchâtel, but only 20 meters deep and spread with coral heads that reach just below the water surface.
So somebody always has to be at the bow or up the mast to help the helmsman navigate. Of course this can only be done if the sun light is good, say from 10 o’clock in the morning until 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Except one has GOOD satellite imagery overlaid with the GPS position :=). Along the inside of the reef you can drop the anchor on 1-10 meters. Since SE winds are typical, one goes to the SE side to throw the anchor, but rather not on a coral head. Outside of the atoll you can’t anchor, because the slope is steep and quickly reaches 3000 meter.
You often sail between the atolls during the night because the distances are too big, the boat is too slow and the slack times are not “right”.
We visited 7 atolls in the 7 weeks, which we briefly describe.
Our first atoll was WOW! Coming from a depth of 3000m you reach the 20m deep pass and the water is clearer than ever before and full of fish and corals. Around the corner we anchored at the village with about 50 inhabitants. The children showed us their homes with solar panels and big water tanks for the rainwater.
We showed them our boat and gave them some grapefruit. In the afternoon we motored to the East side to the Thor Heyerdahl memorial. Of course we met our Norwegian friends and La Cigale there. On the shore, the so-called motus, the children played together and the adults did what they had dreamed of for years: climb up a palm tree and then open a coconut with the machete. Climbing up the palm tree was only possible with the small palm trees, which have already grown diagonally :=).
In the evening we all met at the fire and baked bread around a stick. It was soo nice :=)
Here we said goodbye to Martin, who has been traveling with us since Panama. We like the memories from the big crossing, at the sunset, when Martin was telling the stories of Odysseus. Martin wanted to get to know better the life on the Atolls. Fortunately, the mayor found a place in a shared flat for him.
In Tahanea we met Pelizeno, Yonder and Raftkin.
We were lucky and we had a week without wind, so we could snorkel with the kids every day and explore the Motus. The atoll is actually uninhabited, but there is a small hut where fishermen from the neighboring Atoll sometimes stay overnight.
The South pass is known for the 700 sharks that come in June to hunt the breeding groupers. Various TV-teams have already made documentaries here. At the anchorage there are typically 20 boats and most of them we have already seen somewhere. At slack time or slightly incoming current everyone drives to the pass with the dinghy, jumps into the water with snorkeling equipment, drifts across the coral landscape and watches the black-tip-reef-sharks.
This is a spectacular event for young and old. Surprisingly, there is also a pizzeria which makes crusty pizzas. Together with the other Swiss, who did not spend their first season in the Tuamotus, we went there to eat pizza. Drive-in with the dinghy of course :=)
The Fakarava Atoll is big and in the North is the village. On the way there we stayed at the Pakakota Yacht Service and could have ice cream :=). On the outside of the reef, the ocean washes the plastic waste. Together with the kids we collected the plastic and filled a few buckets, which will be brought to the village and burned. But nevertheless, it’s sobering.
In the North there is the airport where Asia and Gaia landed. Together with them we visited a pearl farm. The owner showed us how they work and what the pearls are about. Many pearls are then brought to Tahiti and the Societies.
In Toau North there is a so-called faux pass, a pass where you can’t get through with the boat. There it’s good for snorkelling and there is a small restaurant. Otherwise the atoll is uninhabited. However, we were in the South, together with the German boat Moya with their two boys.
When they left we were alone for almost a week, just our family. It becomes so remote as you imagine an island in the South Pacific :=)
The atoll with the easiest pass we heard. Even inside it’s easy to navigate, as there are almost no coral heads. We did not visit the village in the NE, only the Motus in the SE. There were swimming, jumping and enjoying the beach.
Fakarava once again
Before we left the Tuamotus, we went again to the Fakarava South Pass, but this time to Hirifa, which is a bit more east. There we finally met the boat Moana, with whom we had agreed to meet two years ago. They had all kinds of equipment, such as MiniKat and diving equipment, which we were allowed to use. In Hirifa the water is shallow and it has a sandy beach. As the wind was picking up, it became a kite-surf-paradise.
However, we did have children’s programs with swinging on palm trees, slack-lining and jumping on an old net of a catamaran installed between the palm trees.
The atolls in the Tuamotus were unique and beautiful for us. We have never seen such a landscape and we will probably not see it again so soon.